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The Master Will Appear
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Dr. Mikhail “Misha” Budnikov takes one look at fellow fencer Ryan O’Connor and instantly knows his type. The undisciplined hothead is all ego with no finesse and even less control. In short, Misha’s pet peeves personified. To put the arrogant kid in check, Misha challenges him to a sparring match, which he predictably wins.
Not so predictably, Ryan asks him to be a mentor and show him how to fence. Startled by the moment of humility, Misha agrees.
What begins as fencing lessons becomes something much hotter, and before they know it, Misha is giving Ryan an entirely different kind of education. Dominance, submission, pain, pleasure—at the hands of an older, experienced man, a whole new world is opening up for Ryan.
As the trust deepens and their bond strengthens, though, Ryan retreats because that sham called love left him jaded long ago. Cynical beyond his years, he’s not letting his guard down, least of all for a thrice-divorced man twice his age.
Now Misha has to find a way to crack through those defenses…or accept defeat and walk away from the submissive who might just be the love of his life.
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“Oh for God’s sake.” Fred groaned as we walked out of the locker room into the NorCal University fencing club’s training area. The fluorescent lights gleamed on his bald spot as he shook his head. “I was hoping that asshole wouldn’t be back.”
I looked around. “Who?”
But a split second later, I knew the answer.
The crowd was light today, as it often was in the afternoons, but every piste was occupied by sparring pairs. Most were in decent form, including a sizable portion of the novices. The footwork was solid, even if the blade work was a little clumsy. Pairs moved back and forth as one person gained the advantage, then the other, then the first again. Blades clanged and clicked and scraped.
And on the second-to-last piste, there was one of those juggernaut assholes who frustrated the novices and irritated the advanced. His technique centered around aggression and nothing else. With no finesse and no real control, he drove his opponent to the end of the piste until she was rocking back on her heels to avoid his foil.
I rolled my eyes. “Another one of those.”
“Mmhmm,” Fred grumbled as he pulled on his glove. “Seems like we get one or two every year. That one came in last week, and now he’s back. Oh joy, oh joy.”
I gave a quiet sniff of amusement. As we watched, the cocky prick scored the winning point against his opponent, knocking her back a step. They both lowered their foils, and she tucked hers beneath her arm so she could take off her mask and gingerly rub her shoulder. He also took off his mask. His fair skin was flush, dark hair damp enough to curl around the edges. I suspected he was in his mid-twenties or so, and even if he wasn’t a good fencer, he obviously kept himself fit. Maybe a weightlifter? A basketball player? Too lean for football, too built for a runner.
And entirely too young for you, Budnikov.
They were both oblivious to me, fortunately.
Ending their bout, they shook hands. Well, at least someone had taught him that much. His sweaty, beaming face was as smug as it was handsome, though, which dampened the sportsmanship of the moment. His scowling opponent muttered something to a friend as she left the piste.
I hated fencers like him. They weren’t even fencers—just brutes with foils. Like so many jackasses before him, this kid had won by virtue of being so violently aggressive that his opponent couldn’t retaliate.
The woman tossed her blonde hair as she and a friend strode toward the locker room. Her features were taut and her eyes narrow, irritation radiating from her as palpably as arrogance radiated off her opponent. Understandably so, too—she was probably a competent fencer, but she’d been too busy defending herself to get a thrust in edgewise. A win for him in the end, but abysmal form.
Abysmal form that wouldn’t hold up against a seasoned fencer.
“You know.” I adjusted my mask under my arm. “I think he needs to spar with someone who’s more on his level.”
Fred looked at me and grinned. “You gonna show him who’s boss, eh?” He slapped my shoulder. “Go get him.”
I chuckled and headed for the piste.
The idiot was challenging another fencer—someone his own size who was wisely uninterested after watching the last bout.
“Looking for someone to spar with?” I asked.
He turned toward me and grinned, brown eyes still gleaming from his victory. “Bring it, old man.”
I raised my eyebrows. Old man? I probably had twenty years on him, but… “All right. You’re on.” We’d see who the old man was after I’d cleaned the floor with his arrogant hide.
Las Palmas Fencing Club, my non-collegiate team, was much too quiet on the weekends for my taste, and my own university’s club was lacking in members and equipment, so while I worked at prodding for more funding and exposure, I fenced here sometimes with friends from the faculty. Usually, it was an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, especially if some of the humanities professors showed up. While I tried to maintain a certain level of decorum, I wasn’t above some good-natured science-versus-humanities trash-talking.
Once in a while, though, we had these boys show up to lord their “talent” over the less experienced members. Usually all it took was a skilled opponent or two giving them a lesson in humility, and they’d either leave or pull themselves together.
Your turn, kid.
We stood on the piste and put on our masks. He gave a half-assed salute, which I expected. I refused to do the same, and gave a proper one—touching my hilt to my mask, then making a downward sweep with the blade. The whipping sound of the weapon slicing through the air made him jump. Good.
I sized him up as we faced off. He was slightly taller than me, so probably hovering just above six foot, but he was a fraction of an inch narrower in the shoulders. If this were wrestling, we’d have been evenly matched. In fact, he’d probably have had an edge since he was at least twenty years younger than me, and although I kept myself in peak physical condition, there was something to be said for the stamina of youth.