Her back hit the mat with enough force that knocked the air from her lungs. Nova blinked up into the ceiling, trying to catch her breath while she heard the bellowed laughter of Vicious from behind.
Weez, the man Vicious brought her to came into her view and looked down at her, hands on his waist, and arched a brow. "I didn't hit you that hard, and you went down so fast. That's embarrassing."
Vicious laughed harder at Weez's comment, urging Nova's desire to throttle both men. Compared to her, Weez was thrice bigger. He couldn't expect her not to go down so easily. She was tiny! He was huge! What part about that was so hard to understand?
She grabbed the hand he extended to her, yanking her up to her feet. Around them, the gym wasn't alive with noise and activity like she had expected. There was no one else except the three of them. The gym was closed for today, so she could be taught how to fight by the gym owner, but it felt more like she was getting her ass beat up while the guy she was screwing around with laugh at her expense.
Wiping the sweat away from her forehead, she turned around to face Vicious, who was lounging on a chair with one leg resting on the armrest and the other on the ground as he ate from his bags of chips, which emitted a crunchy sound every time he took a bite.
"I just don't understand why you can't be the one to teach me how to fight," she growled because this was unfair. If he expected her to learn anything, he should have sent someone her own size, or twice her size, and not someone who could break her arm in one go.
He shook his head and grinned. "Because it's fun to watch, and you can't find anyone better than Weez. You're welcome, doll. Maybe try paying attention and stop zoning out in the middle of the fight, and you won't get your ass kicked."
She flipped him off despite being right. Her thoughts were still stuck on what happened yesterday, and the fact that the FBI had interrogated her, and how close her life came to being ruined.
Nova never thought she would find herself in an interrogation room. It had been scary, but she was glad Ben hadn't been there because he would have seen how livid she was. Bastard. He was such a coward. The least he could have done was show up and interrogate her himself, not send his colleagues. And to think she almost considered going out with him. But he had to know right now the chances of that happening were zero.
"You have zoned out again, Nova."
"Sorry," she muttered to Weez, turning around to face him. "It won't happen again. I'll try to be here."
He moved with lightning speed, hitting her first on one knee, then her shoulder with slaps that had her groaning out. "Do you think your attacker is going to wait until you've finished zoning out and then alert you that he's coming for you?"
Nova crouched down to breathe. She could hear Vicious munching on his chips, and she wanted to punch him in the face so he would feel the pain her body was feeling right now. Weez crouched as well, his dark eyes watchful and amused.
"Doing good there?"
She gave him a thumbs up and rise, assuming her position. She paced around him before going in to hit his shoulder, but he twisted around and rammed her back. Nova went down on her knees.
"Come on, Nova. You're doing great!" Vicious yelled with an encouraging cheer that sounded more like he was trying to hold back another laughter, and not boost up her courage. She blew a strand out of her hair and glared at him. "Don't look at me like that, baby, I ain't the one knocking you down to your knees. Although I do like you in that position."
Weez snorted. She flipped him off for the second time today.
"Remind me to get you on your knees later with nothing but your heels on, darlin'."
Weez looked at her. "If you want me to give you a minute to punch him, I will."
Nova shook her head with a slight smile, ignoring Vicious as she concentrated on the technique Weez was showing to her. An hour later, she was seated on a bench, exhausted, with body aching all over. She was alone in the gym; Weez left to take care of things, and she had been pressing on her neck and arms when Vicious walked in, his teeth glistening under the amused slur of his grin.
"There she is, the woman who miraculously evaded the FBI. Sure you ain't hiding anythin', darlin'?" He sat beside her, his hard, muscled thigh hot against hers. Nova rolled her eyes and turned to regard him. Up close, he was just so beautiful. His green eyes were brighter than before. "Wanna tell me the story?" He nudged his leg with hers.
She tilted her head. "Didn't you tell me to take care of it myself? You shouldn't worry about what I said, darling." She patted his soft cheek with her palm, almost wanting to keep the palm there for a few more seconds before she retracted her hand and kept it on her thigh.
"Yea, when it comes to you, I gotta worry a lot about stuff." His mouth found her ear, and he tugged at the lobe with his teeth, sending currents of need sweeping through her. This was neither the right place nor the right time; any second now, Weez could sweep right in and see them in this position, so she pushed him away.
Nova smirked, looking at him like she knew exactly what he was thinking about. "Okay, king of paranoia, I didn't collaborate with them if that's what you want to ask."
"Nah, I know you ain't that stupid. Besides, you can't lie to me."
She arched a challenging brow. "Because...?"
"I see right through you," he confessed confidently, then darted his gaze to the ring. "You did good out there."
"I had my ass kicked, and you sat there laughing at me."
Proving her point, he started to laugh, then subsided to say, "Nah, I laughed and cheered you on. I did two things." He lifted two fingers proudly, and she wasn't even sure whether to laugh along or punch him. "I knew you were gonna be annoyed, so I had to find a way to cover my ass. You don't look annoyed to me right now, so it worked."
"Tell me that's it, though." She jerked her chin towards the ring, reliving the hits she had gotten and the falls she had endured. Nova didn't think she wanted to go back in there again. She barely learned anything besides embarrassing herself. "I've had enough."
"It's your first day."
"And it's a good first and last day."
Vicious watched her, an amused smirk coming across his lips. "Not even close, doll. You still have a lot to learn, but I can ease up on you, though. No one said I ain't nice, well, besides the guy whose car I rammed into this morning."
She shook her head again. "Pretty sure you're the only one who says that."
"Pretty sure you will say that too when I give you more orgasms than you can count, then imma watch you thank me for my services," he purred.
He knew the right things to say, that was for sure because the longer she was around him, the more she always felt control slipping out of her fingers. Her breath stilled in her throat. She slowly raised her head to look up at him, trying to steady herself, so she didn't fall backward.
Vicious reached down and carefully ran his fingers across her collarbone, soft like feathers until his hand slips behind her neck. He held it gently, firmly.
She could barely breathe. Not because he was choking her, but because the feel of his palm at her neck was rendering her incapable of anything. Any thought. She was just here, and he was here, and she was feeling everything sink into her skin.
"Come on." He brushed his lips over her nose before rising to pull her with him.
"Where are we going?"
He grinned and leaned down, so those blazing eyes of his were visibly close to hers. "You will see."
He pulled her along with him, and instead of going for the exit door, Vicious was leading her down to a door. They found themselves in an empty corridor, and just right around the corner were stairs that led down to god knows where. She didn't question him when he walked them down the stairs.
A metal door was at the bottom of the stairs, which he held open for her, waiting for her to enter first. Without any thought, Nova stepped through the doorway and saw a large space with several targets set against the back wall.
"Is this where I think it is?" She never closed her mouth when she heard a clicking sound, turning to find Vicious holding a gun with a silencer attached. Nova took a step back, and it was all she could do not to retreat a few more steps. "Vicious...."
He quickly interrupted, stepping up to her. "Wasn't joking when I said you are gonna learn how to shoot." He walked past her, then paused to beckon her with a tilt of his head towards the target.
She shook her head.
He sighed and let the hand holding the gun fall beside him. "You need it, Nova. We talked about this. Your association with me puts you in danger. You need to learn how to protect yourself." The way he said it made it sound like a decree, an order passed down from a boss that was expected to be obeyed.
Nova crossed her arms as she stood her ground. "I'm fine the way I am." She knew she hated guns after all she had seen, and she was scared if she held the gun in her hands now, that if she learned how to shoot, someday, she was going to have to pull the trigger and hurt someone. She couldn't stomach the thought. "I'm completely on board with learning how to fight with Weez, but a gun?"
There was a pause as he looked back at her, expression totally blank, and she doesn't think he was going to answer at first, but then he said roughly, "You have a better chance at defending yourself with a gun if your enemy carries one too. You can't charge towards an armed person with your fist and expect not to get shot."
On the other hand, he made a valid point. She would die before she could ever land her first punch. With one final sigh, she was striding to him, stopping when she reached beside him.
Vicious grinned. "Good girl." Then waved his gun. "Gun, meet Nova. Nova, meet gun."
She snorted, then tilting her head to one side and squinted at him. "Kinda looks familiar. Isn't it the one you pointed at me a few months ago?"
"Ha." He rolled his eyes. "This is a .22. It's a cute gun, like you. The first thing you need to remember is to always check if it's loaded." Vicious made sure she was watching before he pressed a button on the side of the handgrip that ejected the magazine. It was a loaded gun, alright.
He took one bullet out before inserting it back into the top of the magazine. "See how easy that was, darlin?" He reinserted the magazine, moving it briskly and firmly upward into the handgrip. Nova heard a clicking noise. "It's locked in place now. It ain't gonna work if you don't hear that clicking sound."
Her brows inched up. "I almost don't want to ask you who taught you how to shoot."
"A lot of things I taught myself, but the first time I held a gun, it was a stolen one. It was years ago, of course, when Mario and I robbed a grocery store. The cashier thought there was only one robber, so he pulled out his gun on Mario. I snuck up from behind and hit him to unconscious, and that's the story of how I got my first gun." He smiled, flashing two rows of very white, very straight teeth.
"Have you ever done anything that isn't illegal?"
He was still wearing an amused expression, and it did have to do with her question, and she wondered if the wheels in his head were turning, and guessing that he had no answer to the question because everything he had ever done was illegal, Vicious kept the gun pointed away from her. "What's the most important thing when you're holding a gun?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "Make sure the bullet reached the target?"
"Yeah, but the most important thing is don't pull the trigger if you don't want to fire it. Always have your finger off the trigger until you're sure you want to shoot."
Nova's mouth quirked up into a dry smile. "If you drill that information into my head, Vic, it will stick, and then I won't be able to shoot at all." She didn't even realize that she had called him Vic, didn't see him reeling back a bit, or the surprised look on his face, then the delight. No, she was too busy looking at the gun in his hand to see all of that.
"Trust me, when you get a gun pulled on you, your survival instinct kicks in," he drawled, and when Nova looked up at him, he was putting his hands on her shoulders and guiding her in the right position, her feet wide apart as he slides the gun into her hand.
The weight was less heavier than the first time she was forced to hold a gun by him, and maybe it was because she wasn't being forced to point it at her brother and forced to shoot him.
"How does that feel?" he asked.
"Well," she paused, couldn't immediately find the words, then scrambled briefly. "Better than the first time." She angled her head towards him. "Remember that?"
"What's with all the trips down memory lane? Shall I remind you that you tied me up once, or when you kissed me back? Still tryin' understand why you'd do that after I tormented you. Gotta be sick in the head." He huffed out a burst of loud, snotty laughter.
She was so mortified that she stepped on his right leg, and look he gave her then was something between apologetic and amusement, and if she had not been holding a gun, she would make a point of slapping him, but just—she thought that would wait for now.
Vicious was turning her around again, telling her to bring the gun up to her eye-line, to align the sight to her chosen point on the target, and to fire. She didn't. Her finger trembled on the trigger, hesitating to pull, and then she dropped her hand and looked back at him.
"Can't do it." She winced.
"Yes, you can."
She was about to argue when he pressed on, "You wanna die, Nova, cause you will. So, put your big girl's panties on and shoot." His words bounced off the empty walls, hitting her hard and filling her ears.
Her nose scrunched, eyeballs shifted upwards, as if she was baffled, utterly bewildered by his remarks. "Fine." She chewed on her lower lip, shifting around to lift her heavy arm to aim the gun at the target again. Nova shifted her weight back and forth on the balls of her feet as she steadied her aim.
She held her breath and pulled the trigger. The soft kickback of gun sent a small jolt of shock through her arms, at the same, Nova registered the loud pop of the weapon discharging, despite the silencer, and then, she was releasing the breath she took seconds holding as she peered at the target, which, as embarrassing as it was, had remained completely unscathed.
She found her eyes back to Vicious, pressing her lips together, as if to say oops or something along the line of I told you I'm not cut out for this.
"You didn't think you were gonna succeed at the first try, did you?" He huffed and grinned. "Do it again."
Nova turned and aimed again, but her breath caught in her throat as she felt him right behind her now, his body flush against hers, and then he was reaching forward, his strong arms bracketing her own, and his rough hands steadying her grasp on the thick base of the gun.
"You can't hesitate. Every second count. It's you or them, darlin'," he said, breath hot against her neck and ear. "And stop holding your breath. Keep your arm steady." His fingers trailed from her fingers and up to her arms, and then to her shoulders, trying to relax the tight knots in there.
She did what he said. She slowly tried to even her shallow breathing and aligned it to the deep and rise fall of his chest against her back. "My dad will be so proud of me," Nova remarked. "Always thought I'll aim higher than Grant. He sent me to medical school, and I dropped out. Now, look at me, I'm learning how to kill someone by someone who kills for a living."
Vicious chuckled. "Assassins kill for a living," the low rumble of his voice doing all kinds of sinful things to her insides. "I ain't an assassin."
"What's the difference? You all kill people and for the wrong reasons."
"I never pull a trigger for the wrong reasons. I pull the trigger cause my guts told me to." The words were light, but she knew him well enough to hear the undercurrent of tension in his voice. "Remember, you squeeze and don't pull. You pull, and you can't hit anything."
His hands found their way back to hers, steadying her trembling ones as she nodded, then pulled the trigger. It took her a second to register that the bullet had pierced the head of the target, and she was squealing, turning around to face him as their arms dropped together.
"I did it!" She didn't have to see herself in the mirror to know that she was beaming.
He grinned back at her. "Don't count on it happening again. You need more practice." Vicious stepped backwards until there was space between them. He checked his watch. "I think we're done for today. There's somewhere I gotta be in twenty, but remember that you need to come by twice in a week, yeah?"
"And if I don't?"
"I'm gonna drag your ass back here myself."
She rolled her eyes.
"Let's go." And he was spinning around, leaving her to catch up with him. Just as he was about to take a few more steps, she called his name.
He turned, found himself in front of a pointed gun— his gun, which Nova was now pointing at him. He didn't flinch. He didn't blink or move. Vicious didn't look the slightest bit of concern as he leveled his steady gaze with her. Then, he brushed a hand through his thick hair, blowing hard down his nose before he chuckled.
"Boo," Nova finally said, hands down and lips twisting in annoyance for being deprived of seeing his fear. "I thought you were going to flip your shit out."
His mouth exploded into a wide smile. "It takes a lot to scare me, baby." And beckoned her over with a finger. "Need the gun back. I will get you yours. Say pink and wrapped in glitter, yeah?" he arched a brow, a teasing smile lingering on his mouth.
"And a bow," she added casually, dropping the gun into his hand. "Engrave 'Queen' on it as well." She knew they were both joking as they stepped up beside each other and climbed up the stairs.
"Don't challenge me," Vicious warned as they reached the last step. Opening the door, he let her step out first, then closed the door behind him. "Or maybe I do like the challenge."
"Can't resist feeding your dick, huh?"
His eyes widened, and he was pausing to laugh. "Bitch, look at you, soaring into the sky. Who would have thought?" He patted her shoulder like he was impressed, earning a swat from her.
"Don't call me a bitch. That's the last time you're going to do that, bastardo."
Vicious' eyes twinkled. "Aw, did you look that up for me, baby?" She continued to walk as he followed behind. "I can teach you how to say 'suck my dick' or 'fuck me hard'," his voice echoed loudly in the corridor, and she was glad no one was there to hear it.
Nova ignored him.
But he jogged over, adding, "Or how about I just teach you how to say 'I'm wet for you, take me' so I would know when to send people away and provide my services?"
"Knock it off." She pushed him away, trying not to chuckle and give him exactly what he wanted.
His laughter was the last thing that could be heard before they walked out.