I nodded. “I believe that. But . . .”
I didn’t want to be another photo in his wallet. Hell, I didn’t even know what that was about, but I knew that I was here, and she wasn’t. Maybe he couldn’t save her. Maybe she didn’t need saving. I had no idea where to start or what to think. “I’m tired, Rhys,” I whispered.
I sank down a little, and he lifted the cover and tucked me beneath his arm. His warm skin and hard muscles folded around me and made me feel instantly safe.
I wasn’t the girl in the picture. I wasn’t Sara. I had no answers and no clue what I was doing. All I knew was, when I was with Rhys, I felt the most taken care of in my whole life, and I was terrified that every moment I spent in his arms would only make it harder to walk away.
“Rise and shine,” Rhys bellowed and I shot up on the couch with a wicked neck ache.
“Good God, ever hear of a frickin’ rooster?” I could tell by the crisp morning air and faded beams of yellow coming through the window that it was barely sunup.
“I got some supplies to fix this place a bit. Clean up the weeds, plant some flowers and do some basic housework,” Rhys said, like this wasn’t something he could have waited to share with me until, say, after I had my coffee.
He looked around, obviously pumped and ready to take on the day. I wanted to punch him. Instead, I rubbed sleep from my eyes and faced him.
“I also thought a lot about what you said, and you’re right.”
I frowned at him, having no idea what he was saying, my poor brain still half asleep.
“Huh?” I yawned.
“You said being able to defend yourself is more beneficial than relying on someone else to do it for you. So I’m going to teach you how to protect yourself.”
“While I appreciate your enthusiasm,” another yawn took over my mouth, “why couldn’t you have told me this later today . . . after I woke up?”
He grinned. “Get dressed. Striker’s Self-Defense class starts in fifteen minutes.” That got my eyes to fully snap open. “You’re at your most alert in the mornings, now get your ass moving.”
With a groan, I headed toward the bedroom to change.
“You’re going to have full-blown rules, aren’t you?”
“You know it. Rule number one is don’t hold back.”
“Oh, I won’t,” I grumbled.
“Oh, and groping the instructor is optional.” With a wink, he headed outside and I wasn’t sure if I should follow him or hide under the covers.
“I’m going to knee you in the junk,” I said happily, responding to Rhys’s question.
“That’s the first thing you’d do to an attacker coming at you from the front?”
“Yeah.” I was pretty confident, seeing as how I’d had to knee a few guys in my time. Granted they were high, spastic, homeless creepers, but whatever.
“Okay, I’m going to come at you and you do what you do to defend yourself,” Rhys said.
His fitted T-shirt clung to his chest and his low-slung shorts made him look like the sexiest pretend predator I’d ever seen. My whole body flushed and the skin that my yoga pants and tank top didn’t cover instantly broke out with goose bumps.
I smiled. “Bring it, big guy.”
Rhys came at me, the dirt and leaves crunching beneath his steps. I went to knee him just like I said, only he deflected my knee, grabbed my ankle and —
“Umph!” I landed flat on my ass.
“Guys expect you to go for the groin first.” He held out his hand and helped me up. “And an attacker can see a foot or a knee coming. Once they get a hold of your leg and you’re on the ground, it’s over. Rule two: Stay on your feet.”
I nodded, hating that I was just bested, but the way he was instructing me pumped a different kind of adrenaline through me, one I didn’t recognize. I wanted to learn. Wanted to make him proud. Rhys was all calm, focused and everything from the way he spoke to how he moved showed that this man was definitely good at what he did.
I could see how he led a unit. How he led a company. It had been two minutes, one fall, and already I wanted more. Wanted to prove myself. Be worthy. For him.
“Rule number three,” he held up his hand, “don’t punch with your fist.”
I frowned. “Uh, what am I supposed to punch with, then? Kindness?”
He grinned. “No.”
Reaching out, he took my hand and heat instantly spread up my arm. Was this why some people liked rough sex? My heart was pumping and my chest was rising fast with quick breaths. I wanted to own something. Overpower it. Be overpowered by it. And it was Rhys.
He closed his hand over my fist and held it up in my line of sight. “This is such a small surface filled with fragile bones. You’ll hurt yourself more than him if you go to hit him.” His thumb brushed across my knuckles. He placed my arm up in a swing position. “You’re going to throw your arm out like you’re going to punch me with your fist, but instead I want you to hit me with your forearm.” He patted his torso. “Right here.”
I paused and my arm dropped. “I won’t hit you, Rhys.”
He smiled. “While I appreciate that you have a stance against hurting me, I promise you that you won’t.”
I chewed my bottom lip. Still not sure. Before, when I went to knee him, he knew it was coming and I didn’t even try that hard because the idea of hurting Rhys just felt wrong.
“Here.” He put his palms up. “I’ll catch your hit. But I want you to go as hard as you can.”
“You’ll catch it?”
He nodded. “Hard as you can. Use all your strength.”
Okay then. I made a fist and swung, throwing my forearm into Rhys’s waiting hands. He actually stumbled on his feet . . . barely. But still it was enough force to make him adjust his stance.
“Whoa,” I said in shock.
“That was perfect. You have a lot more force and are you hurt?”
I shook my head. “No.”
“Good. Use your height and your size to your advantage. Crouch low and instead of kneeing him in the nuts, jab with your elbow. You’re too low for him to get a good grip on you before he realizes you’re pounding him in.”
I smiled. Loving the sound of that. Feeling powerful from Rhys’s instruction.
“Now, I want to work on the frontal choke attack. Are you okay with that?”