"Reese, I can't. It's too hard. I'm just not strong like you."
"Sure you are, Nikki. You're getting stronger every day. Now go ahead... hit. Remember left, right...jab. Okay? Go.... good... good! That's it! Right hook... left hook. Jab... arms up... protect your face. Keep your elbows tucked. Keep those feet moving... dance around. Don't give them a chance to get the ribs... good... you got it!"
Nikki swung a right jab and punched him in the face instead of the punching pads he was wearing. Not for the first time that day. For some reason, his face was taking most of the hits all through training.
Reece stopped in his tracks with his face slightly turned to the side with a dumbfounded and unamused look. He rubbed his jaw slightly moving his mouth to adjust. Nikki just covered her mouth with her gloves trying to not laugh.
"That's it. You're dead."
He threw the punching pads to the side and rushed her knocking her to the mat. She was laughing now and he pinned her arms with his legs and started tickling her. Nikki just laughed hysterically, leaving her unable to push him away. He started tickling her with the stubble on her neck and she wiggled under him begging him to stop his tickle attack.
"Reece! That tickles. Stop! No... no... uncle!" She giggled.
"Uncle? What are we five? There's no mercy here woman. Haven't you seen Karate Kid? Mercy is for the weak."
(Giggles) "Mercy... mercy!"
He laughed tickling her more. "What was that?"
"Mercy! (Laughter) stop..."
"What did you say? Can't hear ya."
"No mercy... No Mercy!"
He stopped looking down at her with a wink.
"That's my girl. No mercy. You're stronger than you know, Nikki. Don't give up."
She smiled up at him nodding. Reece felt the shift of her hips beneath him. Her eyes darkened with a bite of her lips. Reece leaned down taking her hands pushing them over her head. They sat for what seemed forever just looking into each other's eyes.
He leaned over, running his lips under the soft skin below her earlobe. He could feel the rise and fall of her breast beneath him. Dare he? He wanted to taste her. Feel every inch of her. Kiss every bruise and pain away. He felt her turn her head and their eyes met. Lips inches from bliss.
Suddenly a ding of the front door startled them back to reality.
"It's the front desk. I should..."
Reece rolled away and allowed her to get up from the mat. He felt his heart racing from her touch. Everything in him knew that he couldn't seduce a married woman. Even if they were estranged. It wasn't how he was raised. It wasn't who he was.
"Right... probably a client. I'm going to step out for a bit. I'll bring you back some sushi from that place you like."
"Thanks, Reece. You're the best. I'll go talk to the client."
Nikki jumped up looking back at him. He looked up from the mat giving a fake half-smile. He almost broke his own rule. A second later and he would have kissed her. It was getting harder and harder to fight it. Nikki smiled back and headed to the next room to the lobby.
Reece took a detour to the cemetery before heading to the restaurant to pick up food. The one person he wished he could talk to most was there. His loving father.
Reece sat on the grass in front of the gravestone, with his arms dangling in front of him, over his bended knees. He looked up to the sky as of talking to someone in the clouds.
"Dad... if you can hear me, I could sure use your advice. I'm sure you're up there in heaven sparing with St. Peter and making God laugh at your goofy dad jokes. But, if you could give me a second, I could use your help."
He laid a bouquet of fall flowers in front of the grave. Looking at the weathered stone that had a pair of boxing gloves engraved on the front he felt lost.
"I'm falling in love with a married woman who was abused. Just like my mom with that bastard, Ronnie. He hurt mom over-and-over. I tried to stop it, but I was just a kid. I'm glad that he went to jail, mom's safe now. But, how do I help Nikki? How do I tell her that there are real men out there that would never hurt her?"
He rubbed his face wiping away a tear. "How do I tell her that I would be that man? I wish you were here. I could sure use some advice."
"Maybe I could help with that."
Reece looked up seeing his old retired boxing trainer standing above him. A little more wrinkles and grey hair showing, but still the same heartwarming smile that always gave him comfort."Mick. What are you doing here?"
"Visiting the wife. She always loved fall. I saw that fine ride you pulled up in. Finally got the car finished, huh?"
"Yeah. My... friend helped with the cosmetic work."
"I heard your crazy ex-girlfriend hit your car. Edward told me. He also told me about your "friend". I heard you almost got yourself in a pickle at the Dumont insurance place."
"He abused her Mick. You know about my ex-stepdad. I can't stand a man who hits a woman. I tried to stay out of it, but I can't bear to see her hurt anymore. Dumont hasn't changed. He's still the same creep he always was."
"Trust me. I know. Carson Dumont is a weasel. He put you Hook boys through hell. My team was the real winners at that tournament. Not that cheating Dumont team."
"We are getting close and she's getting a divorce."
"So, this friend? Do you love her?"
"Nikki is amazing. You'd love her. She's beautiful, smart, kind. I feel more for her than I care to admit. She's still a married woman. But, I am falling for her."
"Hell, son, the moment he raised a hand to his wife made those vows worthless."
"Yeah, I guess so."
"I know you think your mom cheated on your father, and that's why she remarried so soon. Probably why marriage vows always meant so much to you. She was hurting Reece. She was depressed and lonely. She loved your father. She ran into that jackass's arms because she was looking for comfort."
"So you're saying she didn't cheat?"
"Of course not. Ronnie jumped in because she was vulnerable. He was your father's friend and he took advantage of a grieving widow."
"At least that's a relief. Mom and I didn't talk much about it."
"Listen, I am not saying it will be easy to deal with this. Probably right now being a friend to Nikki is most important. When the time comes to tell her, you'll know."
"Thanks, Mick. I'm sure you're right."
"So, Mason says he pushing for you to get back in the ring. Says this book you're working on will set things right."
"Jeez. Does everyone tell you about my drama?"
"Yep. My star pupil isn't calling me as much as he should." The older African-American man teased.
"Sorry about that."
"Nah. You're busy bringing my old gym to the top. I'm proud of you, son. So? You miss it?"
"Every day. My life was in that ring."
"Good then stop being a pussy and fight. Who cares what those idiot media hacks and fake fans say. You are not the Big Bad Wolf. You're the hero in this story, son. Be one."
"Did you just call me a pussy, old man?"
"Someone had to. My Reece never backed down from a fight. Just like his dad. If you want to be the man this girl needs, show her what a real fighter is. Stand up! You heard me... get on your feet!"
The man nudged him with his foot. Reece hopped up and the two started pretending to spare. Mick grabbed him into a big hug.
"You're a good man, Reece. I know you will do what's right. Show her to be a fighter. Just like I did with you when you and your mom went through it. She will come out better for it in the end."
"Thanks, Mick. I will."
"And, for gosh sakes! Tell the woman you love her."