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Dirty Rich

By:Amelia Wilde

Chapter 1

Cate


Carl swings at me, a vicious right hook, and my body moves before my  brain has time to think hook, twisting, ducking, legs bending in a  half-squat so I can pop up on the other side of the motion. Head cocked,  I keep my eyes nailed to his hands even as I rise up on the balls of my  feet, ready to make the next move.

He's no amateur.

Neither am I.

Sweat drips from my hairline, and a lock of dark hair has fallen across my vision. I dismiss it.

Light on his feet, Carl steps out of my range but I'm right there with  him, pressing in close. Closer. I go for his gut but barely connect, the  force of the blow mostly meeting the air where his muscles used to be.

Guard up, I spring back a few feet, opening the distance between us. My  heart hammers in my chest but I keep my breathing measured. Don't give  anything away. Don't give anything away.

"Had enough yet?" Carl calls, his voice echoing against the bare walls. There's nothing plush to cushion his voice.

I let out a barking laugh. "Fuck off."

He grins. His cut muscles flex under a sheen of moisture and his tank top is dark in patches. "I'll give you one last chance."

"You're too kind." Even as I say it I'm rushing back in, adrenaline  spiking through my system all the way to the tips of my fingers.

With a tiny shift of my weight I lead Carl on for a fraction of a  second, a head fake that gives me just enough time for an uppercut  followed closely by a left hook that barrels toward the side of his  face. He takes the full brunt of the uppercut but at the last moment  gets a hand around to block the hook, the crack of his dismissal ringing  back at me.

I'm not done. I assess the risk and drop my guard to go at him with my  other hand, everything I have, last-ditch effort. Laser focus on every  move he makes, every shift, every shuffle, lungs screaming. He's batting  away some of it but he can't catch all of it. I'm on another level,  relentless, unstoppable. His exhales get harder, harder, and I press  what little advantage I have, the fierceness in the pit of my stomach,  the drive that keeps me up at night channeled into every swing of my  fists, every tiny step that advances me closer to Carl, closer in,  closer still. I'm going to back him into a corner, no matter that he has  six inches and fifty pounds on me, I'm going to-

The alarm on my phone rings loud, blaring, the sound ricocheting off the  walls and bouncing back into my ears, jolting me out of the moment. I  take two steps back, dropping my guard, all the tension and fire going  out of me.

As I head for my phone, perched on the top of my gym bag, Carl lets out a little sigh, almost too soft for me to hear it.

In the ten steps to my bag I slip off my sparring gloves and headgear,  dropping them to the floor as I scoop up the phone, swiping once across  the screen to silence the alarm. Quick scan for emails or texts from  Sandra. It would be rare for five in the morning on a Monday but not out  of the question.

There are none.

My heart rate slows.

Carl drops his own equipment into a chair next to my bag and reaches for  the bottle of water he put there earlier, drinking from it deeply.  After he swallows, he gives me a brotherly pat on the shoulder.

"You're something else, Cate. That was pretty kickass."

"You think?" I pull the elastic from my hair and smooth my hair away  from my face, tying it up again in a neat bun on the top of my head.  I've been training with Carl for almost a year, paying him well for  opening his studio before dawn so I can fit in private sessions.

"Yeah. I wasn't going easy on you."

"Good."

"I mean it."

"Me too. I'm not interested in being coddled."

He laughs, his voice warm in the white room with a floor covered entirely in black mats. "I got you, Cate. I do."

While I pack my gear into my bag, he disappears behind the counter at  the front of the studio and comes out with his own bag. I straighten up,  giving him a look. He usually doesn't leave with gear. As far as I  know, he comes straight from home to work out with me and goes home  after.

"Where are you headed, Carl?"

He gives me a sly smile. "What's it to you?"         

     



 

I shrug, a tiny blush spreading across my cheeks. "You never bring a bag."

"Correction: I never brought a bag." He flips the light switch, plunging  the studio into darkness, and we walk to the door of the studio  together. Carl holds it open so I can step out first into the hallway.  It's a second-floor walkup. One half of the building is Carl's boxing  studio, and the other half is a yoga studio. The word "studio" is about  all they have in common. About a year and a half ago, I spent three  months taking classes there before all the chanting and peaceful energy  started to grate on my nerves. Something drew me to the other side,  literally and figuratively, so one day after an endless forty-five  minute vinyasa class I slung my mat in its matching bag over my shoulder  and went across the hall, slipping in as silently as I could.

Carl had been with another client then. It took two minutes of watching them go at it before I wanted in.

"Turns out," Carl says, turning the key in the lock, then dropping his  key ring into his bag, "you're not the only one who likes to be up  early."

"But you hate getting up early." Carl told me that during one of my  first few sessions with him. He normally doesn't open the studio until  2:00. Getting him here at 4:30 isn't cheap.

"You know what I love?" he elbows me lightly in the ribs, and I shove his hand away with a laugh. "Money."

"So you're cheating on me, is that it?"

He throws up his hands. "Hey, hey, I showed up. I didn't even make some  bullshit excuse about working late." Our feet are thunderous in the  empty stairwell. "No, I told Money Bags the earliest I could be there  was 6:30, so he settled." Carl flashes me a winning smile. "I'd never do  anything to lose what we have going on."

"You're the worst, Carl," I say, shaking my head but smiling too. "So, who's the lucky guy?"

He purses his lips, pretends to lock them and throw away the key, a  dainty gesture for a muscled boxer with more tattoos than a t-shirt  could hope to hide. "Not supposed to tell. Let's just say … he's rich as  sin and can pay my outrageous early morning rates."

We stop outside the black town car idling by the curb. After my first  year working for Sandra, she called me into her main office and gave me a  laundry list of criticisms, followed by a clipped, "You'll have a car  now. Twenty-four hours. Be available."

"Need a lift?"

Carl shakes his head, bouncing a little on the balls of his feet. "I'm  good. You really woke me up in there, Cate!" He cups his hands around  his mouth and lets out a whoop.

I laugh, but standing near the car has hit the kill switch on my workout  buzz. I trace the outline of my phone in the outer pocket of my gear  bag. The list tumbles into my mind, beginning with the four meetings  before lunch that need to be confirmed.

I can hardly let the thought all the way to the surface of my mind, but  now that I'm changing to work mode, the fatigue is starting to set in.  It's hard to keep up this breakneck pace.

But I have to.

I can't fail.

Can't end up like Dad.

Mark, my driver, hustles around to my side of the car and opens the door, and I slide in.

"See you on Wednesday?"

Carl puts a hand on the door, freeing Mark up to come back around to his side. "Wouldn't miss it for the world."

"Neither would I."

"I'll tell you all about it then."

My hand is already on my phone. I have no idea what he's talking about, and it must show in my face.

"The new client who wants your slot," says Carl, giving me an incredulous look. "Don't you want to know who the other woman is?"

"Thought you said it was a man," I tease.

"That's right," says Carl, dragging out the word, eyes shining. "And not  that it matters to me, but he's hot. Even you wouldn't be able to help  yourself."





I step out of the town car at 7:30 sharp, a full hour before the rest of  the office generally arrives. At Basiqué, regular hours aren't a thing.  I never know when I'll be leaving for the night. Depending on when  mockups come in, it could be 10:30. But that's only if Sandra's done for  the day. She has an eight-year-old son and his schedule has as much  sway over my life as hers does. But that's irrelevant now-now is when I  set up for the day. And my setup needs to be perfect, and perfectly on  time.         

     



 

"Thanks, Mark," I call back into the interior of the car and a wild urge  bubbles up in my chest. I could get back into the car right now and  tell Mark to drive me all the way back to the Midwest, back to the  sleepy little town I grew up in, back to the second bedroom on the right  on the upper floor of my parents' house. The room's not quite the same.  My mom gave it a fresh coat of paint and a new bed and packed all my  things into the basement. But if I went there she wouldn't care if I  slept for two days straight. Maybe three.

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