Gilda Wright’s life seems to finally be on track. Her love life is looking up with her hot boss, Mick, and she’s planning and promoting a grand opening extravaganza for his new martial arts school. But things go awry when their special guest referee for the opening’s exhibition match is found dead on the beach. To make matters worse, the school’s sexy new weapons instructor, Kane Garrick, stands accused of his murder. In spite of her promise to Mick and nearly everyone else in town to not get involved, Gilda—a.k.a. the Brunette Sherlock—wades into danger one more time. The only question is, can Gilda catch a killer before the killer catches up to her?
When Sensei Mick Williams dreamed, he dreamed big—much to the chagrin of his receptionist Gilda Wright. After spending a late night designing fiery logos for the new Phoenix Martial Arts school and printing off scorecards for Mick Williams’ MMA Extravaganza, Gilda had fallen asleep on top of her covers with nightmares of martial arts clip art coming to life and chasing her through the new training hall.
Mick had finally texted at two in the morning to apologize for being tied up. By then Gilda was no longer concerned with where he was and why he hadn’t bothered to show up. She needed sleep more than snuggling up to her handsome boyfriend. Well, that was only partially true. While she would have loved to fall asleep with his strong arms around her, rebuilding the school had taken him away from her several evenings lately.
So had dozens of mysterious phone calls that he’d taken behind his closed office door. Practically everyone in town had warned her against falling for her boss and sensei, but she’d convinced herself they didn’t know him like she did. After working alongside him for over two years, she was sure his womanizing and secrecy were things of the past.
Tired and grumpy, Gilda got up early and shuffled into the kitchen to stare at the screen of the laptop she’d borrowed from work. No fresh ideas. No motivation. Just a stiff neck and deep frustration. She needed fresh air and something to get her blood circulating.
Since the old Yoshida school had shut its doors over the summer, Mick and his good friend Razi Mauli were determined to build an even bigger and better martial arts school to attract more students. Working on the new school side by side with Mick was fun at times. When they weren’t painting walls and building changing stalls, however, Gilda was glued to the computers, redesigning all the invoices and other stationary they’d soon need.
She ate a banana then called her best friend. “You want to go for a run?”
“Are you crazy?” Marion Yearly snorted. “I want coffee and a couple Danish.”
Gilda sighed. “Come on. You keep saying how much you want to get in shape. This would be a great morning to get started. Meet me at my place. We’ll go for a run on the beach.”
“In view of handsome hunks in Speedos? Don’t you have somewhere no one would see me flopping and jiggling? A big-boned girl like me might scare people.”
“You’ll be fine.” Gilda smiled as she poured a glass of water. “Come on. We’ll go slow and easy.”
Fifteen minutes later, Marion arrived on the front porch. Baby-faced and built like a fifty-pound overweight linebacker, she grimaced. “You know you have a warped sense of fun, right?”
“I know, but you keep showing up for karate classes so I guessed you were somewhat serious about getting in shape.” Gilda led Marion out the back door, cutting through her garden toward the shores of Lake Erie. “You ready?”
Marion scowled then nodded. “Let the fun and torture begin.”
The beach was so close to Gilda’s house the ground had barely changed from rock to light sand before Marion puffed, wiping a hand across her pasty forehead. “Can you slow down a little? I’m getting a side cramp.”
“Seriously?” Gilda rolled her eyes. She and Marion had left her house only three minutes earlier, including the time it took her to lock the door. “You know you should drink more water.”
Marion wheezed. “Don’t need it. I think I’m dying.”
“You’ll be fine, just slow down a bit.”
“Nope.” Marion gasped. “Not going to make it. Go on without me. Tell Razi…” She wheezed and clutched her chest. “Tell Razi I tried my best.”
Gilda sighed. If she forced Marion to run any farther, their friendship might be short-lived. “We’ve only run a hundred yards. You can’t be cramping up already. Besides, you were the one who wanted to get in shape to wow Razi so he’d ask you out.”
Marion doubled over in the middle of the path still wheezing. “I know, I know, but that was before I thought things through.”
“What do you mean?” Gilda hopped up and down on the spot to warm up. Her usual five-mile run might have to be postponed due to her best friend’s change of attitude.
“Well, if I run, I’ll lose weight.” She paused to cough. “If I lose weight, all my clothes will be too big.” Another pause to suck in a deep breath. “Then I’ll have to go shopping…”
Not averse to the occasional shopping trip, Gilda shrugged. “What’s so bad about that?”
Marion didn’t answer. She seemed to look past Gilda toward the beach. Her jaw dropped, and her unblinking eyes widened. It was the same look she got when faced with a buffet dinner.
“Are you okay?” Gilda knitted her eyebrows together and waved a hand in front of her friend’s ruddy face. “Marion?”
She released a long, slow sigh. “Oh, Gilda. I think I’m in love.”
“Yeah, with Razi. I know. We’ve had many wine-fuelled, in-depth discussions about how you imagine your future together.”
“No.” Slack-jawed, Marion shook her head and pointed. “Him.”
Gilda spun around so fast she tripped over both feet then lay sprawled in the sand with her eyes wide. A brilliant flash of light briefly blinded her. As the spots faded from her eyes, she made out the figure of a half-naked man, with loose, long blond hair, swinging a sword on the beach ahead. Her arms twitched, and she fought the urge to make sure her head was still attached to her shoulders. The bare-chested man wielded his weapon well over a hundred feet away.
“Are you okay?” a man off to her left asked.
Gilda tore her gaze away from the muscular man with the weapon for a brief moment to where Detective John Fabio gazed at her over the rims of his dark sunglasses. He and Detective Jason Thayer, two of Sandstone Cove’s finest, sat on a bench with coffees and breakfast sandwiches from Café Beanz. Despite the rising heat, both wore suits with white button-up shirts and shiny black dress shoes.
Marion remained wide-eyed, slack-jawed, and motionless behind her.
“What are you two doing here?” Gilda asked.
“Our jobs.” Thayer, Gilda’s former boyfriend, had cheated on her more often than the tide came and went. Even after they’d been forced to work together to solve a series of murders, he still couldn’t seem to give her a straight answer without a couple snide ones first. “We were hired to serve and protect, weren’t we?”
She snorted. “Well, it doesn’t look like you’re doing much serving or protecting. Did you see that guy?”
Fabio, who resembled a hunched stone gargoyle, nudged Thayer. “We got a call about some lunatic waving a sword on the beach. I thought it would be Mick. Clearly, I lost the bet and have to buy lunch.”
“Nope, that’s definitely not Mick,” Marion sputtered. “That guy’s gorgeous. Not that Mick isn’t. I mean…he’s hot, but…this guy…wow.”
The long blond hair and mahogany surfer tan, enhanced by his white board shorts, set the stranger on the beach far apart in appearance from Mick Williams. Even the thought of Mick, with his dark hair and lightly bronzed skin, was enough to make Gilda’s face warm. Or maybe the sudden heat came from watching the rippling muscles of the Adonis, who seemed so focused on his training he didn’t appear to notice any of them.
Gilda averted her gaze, blew out a breath, and rubbed sand off her arms and legs. “Yup, clearly not Mick.”
“Water?” Fabio handed her a plastic bottle. “You both look like you might need some. You’ll have to share.”
“Honestly, Gilda,” Thayer snorted. “What is it with you and athletic types, anyway?”
Gilda made a face but returned her gaze to Mr. Tall, Blond, and Well-Armed. Even after being a big part of the local martial arts community for the past two years, she’d never seen him before. “Do either of you guys know who he is?”
“He does look familiar.” Fabio crumpled his sandwich wrapper and stuffed it into a bag. “My guess is he’s a friend of Mick’s or Razi’s. Are you sure he’s not here to help with the new martial arts school?”
“He could be. If he is, he’s one of the instructors I haven’t met yet.” Gilda folded her arms.
Mick had mentioned he was bringing in new instructors, but she hadn’t actually met many of them yet. Of course, she hadn’t seen Mick a lot lately either. The day Yoshida Martial Arts closed, he and Razi had scrambled to create a new school out of the remains of the old one and planned the one-day MMA tournament to celebrate. They’d even borrowed an octagon from a school in Buffalo just to give the tournament a more authentic feel.
Phoenix Martial Arts was set to officially open in two days, six blocks up the street from the former Yoshida Martial Arts school. She was glad Mick and Razi had pooled their resources to buy a new building. No amount of fresh paint, new mats, or shiny mirrors could mask the chills she got whenever she walked into the old building to move out files and her office equipment.
Thayer ran a hand through his sand-colored hair and grinned, apparently taking her silence for anger. “I told you not to trust Mick Williams, but you wouldn’t listen.”
“Shut up, Thayer,” Marion said. “You don’t exactly have a great track record when it comes to Gilda, or any woman, for that matter.”
“Oh, that’s why you brought Marion.” Thayer flared his nostrils. “So she could do the talking for you. Seriously, Gilda, you could have worked anywhere in town instead of holding out for the new karate school,” he reminded her. Again. For about the sixth time that week.
Before Yoshida Martial Arts closed, Gilda was receptionist, accountant, and cleaning staff all rolled into one five-foot-six-inch bundle. Its closure had pushed her into the arms of Mick Williams, her boss and one of Sandstone Cove’s most eligible bachelors. The fact that she hadn’t been able to spend much alone time with him lately, combined with Thayer’s negativity, only fueled the tiny doubts that sprouted in the back of her mind.
Marion wiped her forehead. “The girls at work will never believe this. I should snap a few pictures of that hunk of beef. Look at the way the sun gleams off those biceps and lights up his hair like a halo. Wow.” She sighed. “He looks like a Greek god.”
Gilda looked. With the man’s image burned into her brain, she blew out a slow breath and turned to Thayer. “So, are you going to ask the guy with the big pointy sword who he is and what he’s doing here on our beach?”
“Nope.” Thayer clutched his paper coffee cup. “He’s got a sword. He could be crazy and dangerous.”
“Could be?” Gilda raised one eyebrow and eyed the blond man as he swung the blade and gave a loud yell, a kiai, that made her flinch and sent a shudder through her. “Good guess.”
“You have a gun and a badge, and we already know you’re dangerous.” Fabio tapped his partner’s arm. “I think you’ll be fine.”
Thayer’s eyes bulged. “What? Are you kidding me? I can’t shoot him. What if I miss?”
“Then we’ll both know for certain you shouldn’t be a cop.” Fabio grunted and picked a long stick up off the sand and limped toward the sword swinger. Always prepared. He’d probably brought the stick from elsewhere along the beach when he heard about the sword. After being knifed in the back while on duty in Detroit, he always seemed to be prepared.
“Maybe I should go too.” Thayer hesitated. “As backup.”
“You think so? He is your partner, after all.” Gilda clambered to her feet, not wanting to miss anything when the detectives confronted the swordsman.
Thayer paused then met her gaze. “Wish me luck?”
Gilda snorted. While she wished him a lot of things, luck wasn’t among them. With a quick glance back at Marion, she followed Fabio and Thayer toward the armed man, who paused and narrowed his eyes as he lowered his sword.
Sweat cascaded off his long, dark lashes, dripping in front of his eyes like waterfalls before rolling down his shiny chest. “Hm. Suit and tie on the beach, eh, mate. You’ve got to be cops.” His accent hinted at Australia.
“You’re smarter than you look,” Thayer muttered.
Fabio stopped just outside of poking distance of the sword. “That’s a beautiful weapon you have. Is it Japanese?”
The man’s eyebrows rose. “This old thing? It’s just a training sword, mate.”
“Are you a kendoka?” Fabio leaned closer to examine the sword.
“A what?” Thayer stepped back.
“A kendoka.” The blond man rolled his eyes. “A student of kendo, Japanese fencing.” He turned to Fabio and bowed then spoke in what sounded to Gilda like fluent Japanese.
Fabio gave him a blank stare then winced. “Sorry, mate, I’m out of practice.”
“No sweat.” He nodded. “Am I under arrest then?”
Thayer’s nostrils flared. “Not yet, but the more you keep talking and waving that thing around, though, the odds increase.”
Fabio grunted and extended a hand. “Detective John Fabio.”
“No kidding.” The sweaty man’s pale green eyes widened as he lowered his weapon. “You’re John Fabio? Holy crap. It’s an honor. I’ve heard a lot about you from Mick Williams, mate.” He stuck out a hand, his arm heavily veined and more muscular than both Gilda’s legs combined. “Kane Garrick.”
“The Kane Garrick? I thought you looked familiar. I’ve seen you fight a few times.” Fabio chuckled. “You’re gushing about me and here you are an MMA legend in the flesh. I thought you retired. What are you doing kicking around Sandstone Cove?”
“I came to hang out with my buddy Razi Mauli.” Kane grinned. “You know him?”
Marion leaned on Gilda’s shoulder. “Uh-oh, he knows Razi. This could get awkward.”
Considering Razi hadn’t even seemed to notice Marion yet, Gilda doubted that.
“Know him?” Thayer snorted. “Boy, do we.”
Kane examined him and smirked. “You’re Thayer, right?”
“He is, unfortunately.” Gilda elbowed Thayer in the ribs, knocking him aside. “I work with Razi. He’s a good friend. By default you must know Mick Williams.”
Kane raised his eyebrows as he studied her. “Ah, the elusive Gilda Wright. Mick told me about you over pints last night, but he’s held off introducing us. Now I see why, love. He’s afraid to lose you to the likes of me.”
Warmth spread from Gilda’s cheeks down over every curve to her toes. Marion was right about things becoming awkward.
With a sly wink, Kane grinned. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Gilda. It sounds like we may be working together soon. Mick wants me to teach a few classes at the new school, and rumor has it you’re the best and the prettiest receptionist in town, love.”
If her cheeks got any warmer, she might spontaneously combust. With her luck, Kane would probably gladly help to smother the flames. Stop, drop, and roll on the beach with a guy like Kane wasn’t exactly what she had in mind when she woke up that morning.
“And this pretty little lady must be your partner in crime.” Kane turned and bowed. “Marion, isn’t it? You’re not what I expected.”
Marion, for the first time Gilda had ever heard, giggled.
Thayer snorted, stepping between Gilda and Kane, as if to shield her from further smoldering leers. “Do you have a license for that thing?”
“If you mean the sword, I don’t need a license. It’s a training sword.” To prove his point, he poked Thayer in the chest with the tip then winked at Gilda. “Other parts of me are much more lethal.”
“I think I need a drink.” Marion fanned her face and sat on the sand.
“Dull.” Fabio grabbed the blade with one hand. “The worst thing this sword would do is leave a nasty welt. It’s still sharper than you though, Thayer.”
Kane handed his katana to Thayer and held his hands up at his sides. “Go ahead, mate, take the first swing. I’ll even let you strike me.”
Thayer reddened and held out the hilt of the sword. “I believe you. I don’t need to slash you to prove anything.”
“Not even to Gilda?” Kane asked.
Thayer flared his nostrils and lowered his eyebrows. “No.”
Kane grinned. “Then you don’t need to know she thinks you’re a fool, mate.”
“You know I could arrest you for slander.” Thayer stuck his fists on his hips.
“Correction. You could sue me, not arrest me. But only if it isn’t true.” Kane glanced at Gilda. “Is it, love?”
Gilda shook her head and lowered her voice. “No, he’s just trying to make you incriminate yourself.”
“Aww, and you think I’m innocent of all charges.” Kane patted her hand. “That’s so cute.”
She grimaced. “You know he’s itching to snap those handcuffs on you for no reason.” What woman wouldn’t want to cuff a man like Kane?
As if he read her mind, Kane flashed a sly smile. “And right when I’m about to give him a good reason to, love, here you are protecting me.”
Yes, she was. “What was I thinking?”
Kane chuckled. “You were probably thinking about putting those cuffs on me yourself.”
Gilda’s face burned. She forced her gaze toward the lake, away from Kane’s bare, broad chest and damp hair.
“Hand me your sword.” Fabio cleared his throat and broke into the conversation. He set aside the stick and took the katana. “I’ll give it a try.”
Kane picked up the stick and blocked Fabio’s swing without much obvious effort. “So, how are things? Last I heard, you got shot, mate. Mick said you made a solid recovery though.”
“Mick’s lousy at keeping secrets.” Fabio took another swing.
Kane blocked again, glancing at Gilda with a sly grin. “Especially about women.”
Gilda gritted her teeth and glared. Suddenly she itched to take a swipe at him with the training sword, dull or not.
Marion leaped to her feet and pushed her way between Kane and Gilda. “You leave her alone. She’s Mick’s girlfriend, and you don’t stand a chance.” She tossed her hair. “On the other hand, I’m single.”
While Marion seemed smitten, Gilda’s gut churned. She already had mixed emotions about Kane. Handsome and built like a bodybuilder, he seemed to make himself a little too comfortable—particularly as he draped his arm across her tanned shoulders to lead them all to Phoenix Martial Arts.
Before they’d walked up the beach five feet, a lean woman dressed in black yoga pants and a short purple tank top stormed toward them. Her long chestnut hair glistened with golden stripes and fluttered around her face in the breeze coming off Lake Erie.
“Uh-oh.” Kane sidled over until Gilda was in front of him.
The woman stopped in front of them and folded her arms, enhancing the already impressive cleavage that threatened to spill out of her low-cut top. Her dark pink lips jutted out in a dramatic pout. “Kane, what on earth did you do this time?”
Thayer came to an abrupt halt. His mouth dropped open as he stared and stammered. “I…we…this guy…”
Kane leaned down until his face was near Gilda’s and he peered over her shoulder. “Aww, crap. Protect me from this one, will ya, mates? This is the rare Tasmanian She-devil.”
The woman huffed. “Is that what you’re calling me these days?”
Gilda tried to shrug Kane off. “Are you crazy?”
“Well, I don’t have the market cornered on crazy,” Kane said. “I’m just an innocent by-product, although I am doing everything I can to perpetuate the myth. If you can get me away from her, I’ll be indebted to you forever, love.”
Gilda inched away. “You are crazy.”
Kane sighed. “You would be too if you’d lived my life, love, especially with that she-devil.”
“Police?” A smile bloomed on the tall woman’s face like a summer rose and her sky blue eyes lit up. She toyed with her hair and batted her fake lashes. “Did you get in trouble again, Kane? I can’t leave you alone for a moment, can I?”
Kane’s face reddened as he scowled. “No, but it would be nice if you would.”
“I should let them lock you up.” She laughed.
“That would get me away from you for sure then.” Kane held out his wrist to Fabio. “Take me. I’m yours. I’ll even invent a charge for you to slap on me.”
Excuse me. How do you know this man?” Thayer puffed out his chest and brushed back his short, blond hair, assuming what Gilda not so affectionately called his peacock pose. “He was caught wielding a dangerous weapon on a public beach. I could charge him with several misdemeanor offences related to the sword alone.”
The woman seemed amused. “Trust me, his weapon isn’t lethal. Neither is the sword.”
Gilda raised one eyebrow. Fabio had already proven the sword wasn’t lethal. She didn’t want to know about any other “weapons” Kane could be armed with, but Marion tilted her head to study him from head-to-toe with keen interest.
“You are such a liar.” Kane grunted as he retrieved the sword from Fabio. “It seriously couldn’t hurt anyone, mate. Well, not the way I was using it, anyway.”
“More to the point, he couldn’t hurt anyone.” The woman latched onto Kane’s other arm. “For a flashy MMA fighter, he’s a total pussycat. Even his trainer couldn’t turn him into a real man.”
Marion snorted and shot the woman an evil glance.
“And who are you?” Fabio asked.
“I’m his girlfriend, Mena Trava. Am I under arrest too?” She didn’t bother to stick out a hand, just her chest and lower lip. “Do you need to search me, Officer?”
“No.” Thayer blushed.
Gilda rolled her eyes.
Mena held her hands out from her sides and gave him a long, lingering look. “Pity.”
Kane shrugged out of her grip and dragged Gilda up the beach. “Ex-girlfriend who stalks me everywhere I go. Could you arrest her for me, please?”
“Ex-girlfriend with numerous flexible benefits,” Mena called after them.
“Whatever.” Kane reddened. He stopped and turned around to face the others. “Can I press charges, mate? There’s a long list of lines she’s crossed today alone.”
Thayer and Fabio exchanged awkward glances but said nothing.
Gilda frowned as Marion tagged after them. Didn’t anyone believe in a real relationship anymore? All she’d ever wanted was an old-fashioned, fairy tale romance with a happy ending. What she’d ended up with was Thayer, who cheated on her, and Mick… Well, since her relationship with Mick was still in the infancy stage, she’d have to wait and see. His track record with women wasn’t great, and Thayer seemed determined not to let her forget that point.
“Kane and I are here to teach classes at the new martial arts school for Mick Williams. I’m the new yoga instructor.” Mena smiled as she caught up to Thayer. “We plan to open a New Age store in town as well.”
Kane’s face tightened. “What do you mean ‘we’? I told you, I don’t want anything to do with your wacko voodoo shop.”
“We’ll talk later, sweetie. I’ll convince you to invest in it yet.” She stumbled and toppled into Thayer with a squeal then grabbed his arm to keep from falling. “Are you really a cop?”
Thayer reached into his jacket then flashed his badge. “Yup.”
“I do like a man in uniform.” Mena leaned into him.
Kane tightened his arm around Gilda’s waist as Marion caught up to them and lowered his voice. “Actually, she prefers her men out of uniform, if you know what I mean.”
“You are so jealous.” Mena turned to Gilda. “Are you a cop too, sweetheart? You don’t look like you can meet the entrance requirements.”
Gilda shook her head, shoving away from Kane. “No, I’m—”
Marion jumped in. “Gilda is Mick’s girlfriend and the receptionist at the karate school.”
“Mick has a girlfriend now, huh?” Mena arched her waxed eyebrows. “That’s interesting. So I guess that means he finally got over his ex-wife and is playing the field again. I’ve been waiting to hear that news for a long time.”
Marion growled. “Back off, sister. He’s taken.”
“For now.” Mena smiled.
Gilda wasn’t sure how interesting her romance with Mick actually was, but she certainly didn’t like Mena’s tone of voice. It seemed Marion had unwittingly issued a challenge.
“Don’t let her rattle you, love.” Kane took Gilda by the arm. “Mena has an insatiable desire to make a fool of herself everywhere she goes. When it comes to men, she’s got pretty low standards.”
“Oh, please.” Mena batted her fake eyelashes. “Honey, I’ve got heels higher than your standards, and you haven’t kicked me out of your bed yet.”
“Not that I haven’t tried.” Kane sighed. “How many times do you have to swat a mosquito before it gets the hint?”
Gilda glanced at Thayer as she struggled out of Kane’s grip. “If you ever find out, let me know.”
The two police officers led Gilda, Marion, Kane, and Mena toward the newly renovated warehouse Mick and Razi had purchased for the martial arts school. Just shy of Ponderer’s Point, Mena waved and disappeared into the pharmacy.
“Good riddance,” Kane muttered.
Marion frowned. “I thought she was your girlfriend.”
“Was being the operative word there, love,” he said. “It’s hard to know where a guy like me stands with that one.”
Marion leaned closer to Gilda. “A guy like him? He can stand in my bedroom anytime.”
When Kane’s breath hitched beside her and he reached for her arm again, Gilda bowed her head to hide a smile. Marion wasn’t normally one to be so blunt about men in front of anyone, but Kane’s attempts to flirt with Gilda seemed to have brought out the worst in her.
Fabio opened the front door of the school and waved the others inside.
Gilda led them all into the once-empty warehouse, now a maze of freshly painted mint green walls, blue tatami mats, and new laminate flooring. She strolled through the front lobby and parent seating area and up the wrought iron stairs to the new yoga studio. “Mick? Razi? You guys up here?”
“It’s about time you showed up.” Mick glanced up. His shoulders sagged as he placed the last of the new laminate. “I see you brought an entourage.”
“Yeah.” Gilda winced. “Long story.”
“The cops are with you too?” Mick sat back on his heels and wiped his face with one hand. “Oh crap. What did you do now?”
Her eyes widened. “I didn’t do anything.”
Kane leaned closer, placing his hand on her lower back as he whispered loudly, “Actually, I think he means me, love.”
Razi pushed over a bucket of water to wipe away the dust. As water sloshed over the new mats, he cast a wary glance at Gilda that asked a dozen different questions then turned to Mick and frowned. “I told you this would happen, Sensei.”
Although Thayer opened his mouth, Fabio spoke before his partner could get a word out. “We found Kane on the beach swinging a training sword.”
“Of course he was.” Mick groaned. “We can’t leave him unsupervised for a minute. What do you think, Gilda? The new floors look pretty good, don’t they?”
Gilda pried out of Kane’s grasp to join Mick, who hugged her hard, almost possessively, then kissed her forehead.
She smiled. “They look great. What else do we have left to do before the grand opening?”
“You mean the big MMA Extravaganza?” Kane asked, far closer behind her than she expected. Dangerous and silent. The guy reminded her of a venomous snake. Well, maybe not venomous, but certainly a snake.
“Our fighters will show up tomorrow ready to roll,” Mick said. “I think, for the most part, we’re ready. Razi said he’d pick up a few cases of water and a couple fruit trays. The owner of Café Beanz offered to provide muffins and coffee in return for free advertising. All we need is to put the signs up and set out the benches for our spectators.”
“That’s it?” Gilda blinked. “No working until midnight to get things finished?”
“Not tonight, babe.” He kissed her. “Actually, except for the scorecards and the logo, we’ll finish right on time. We’ll have the octagon set up by tomorrow morning. Most of the fighters are coming into town right after lunch tomorrow then we have the meet and greet at Razi’s at five. Aside from picking up the food and dealing with an unexpected change in the program, everything’s under control.”
She sighed. “Then you don’t need me for now. I’m going home for a shower.”
Mick grabbed her arm. “Not just yet, Sherlock. I need you to pick up a couple things.”
“Of course you do.” Gilda smiled when he kissed her nose.
Sherlock became Mick’s nickname for her when she snooped around to catch a killer at the old Yoshida school. It seemed the name had stuck.
“Wait, what unexpected change? We have the posters and everything else done. I won’t be able to change anything at this point.”
“Sherlock?” Kane snorted. “Now that’s an interesting nickname.”
Her face warmed. “Long story.”
“I’d like to hear it over breakfast in bed sometime, love.” He winked.
Not looking amused in the least, Mick shook his head. “Back off, Kane. She doesn’t need your help. She’s perfectly capable of getting in trouble all on her own.”
Razi, who’d mopped the floors in silence up to that point, stood back. “It is a very long story. Leave her alone. She has no time for the likes of a jerk like you, so do not harass her.” He turned to face her, nodding his head over the chest-high wall toward the open room below. “What do you think of the new training hall, Gilda?”
She drew even closer to Mick, impressed at how calmly Razi had put Kane in his place. “I think it all looks great. Where are we getting benches from?”
Razi smiled. “Doc Graham knows someone who builds them. Mick and I need to pick them up in one hour. We will move the new tatami mats out of the way so they are not damaged.”
“Kane,” Mick said. “If you have nothing better to do, we could use an extra set of hands for today. Gilda’s been running off her feet and could use a break.”
“Aww.” Kane stood his ground. “Maybe I’ll stick around for a while and rub her feet while you guys do all the work.”
When Razi frowned, Gilda got the impression he didn’t want Kane Garrick anywhere near the new school, Mick, or her. He seemed aware of her gaze and glanced at her. “Yes, she could use a break. We all make a very good team. I am grateful she did not go to work at Happy Harvey’s Hangover Hut after all.”
Her chest swelled with a dose of pride. After the rocky start she and Razi had gotten off to when he first arrived at the Yoshida school, those words were high praise. “Thanks. Me too.”
“Happy Harvey’s Hangover Hut?” Kane smirked. “Sounds like my kind of place. Where is it, love?”
“I’m sure you’ll sniff it out on your own. Let’s go get breakfast.” Mick wiped his hands on an old towel draped over a sawhorse. “I could go for a huge coffee and an omelet.”
“Perfect,” Kane said. “I could eat a goat. What about you, Razi?”
“If you know somewhere in town where they serve good curry goat, I am in.” Razi grunted. “Give me a moment to empty the cleaning bucket.”
“Curry goat for breakfast, huh?” Kane raised his eyebrows then glanced at Gilda and shrugged. “Eh, why not? I’ve got time to kill before I check out the voodoo shop, anyway.”
“The voodoo shop?” Mick asked.
“A new store he and his girlfriend Mena are opening here in town,” Gilda said.
“No, no, no.” Kane held up both hands. “I’ll have nothing to do with her or that place, love. That lunatic’s on her own. I don’t talk to rocks, and I won’t sell magic potions to anyone.”
Mick stared, his mouth open. “Rocks and magic potions, huh? Sounds like a good place to stay away from. Razi, you ready for some breakfast? Let’s head over to Beanz. I need a good cup of coffee. The stuff you make is lethal.”
Razi flared his nostrils. “I will meet you there as soon as I put the mop and bucket away.”
Gilda kept one eye on Razi, worried he might dump the bucket of filthy water over Kane’s head if they didn’t leave soon. Odd. If Razi and Kane were such great friends, why did Razi seem so wary?
“Come on, love. I’ll buy you a coffee.” Kane flashed a smile.
Gilda glanced at Mick, who frowned when his phone buzzed. He tapped the screen then stuck the phone in his pocket. She had a feeling the text had to do with the unexpected change in the grand opening he’d mentioned. Whatever was happening, he didn’t seem very happy.