Here’s an excerpt from Wedding Bells and Blood.
Content Warning: mention of domestic abuse, trauma
“You okay, Tally?” Amara stood cautiously above her client.
“I need a minute,” Tally panted out. Sweat glistened on her dark brown skin.
“How about we take a break?” Amara suggested. It was normal for them to be out of breath, but she’d noticed Tally panicking a bit. Her breathing wasn’t that of exertion but of fear.
Tally had been abused by her husband for years and found the courage to leave him a year ago. But even though he wasn’t in her life any more, he still scared her. And being in positions that reminded her of those times occasionally still brought on panic attacks. Amara hoped her lessons would help Tally regain some of her control. She stood and extended her hand down to Tally, who nodded and took it. They took off their gloves, sat on the floor against a wall, and sipped water.
“I’m sorry if I pushed too far,” Amara said. “You told me you wanted to move faster and I thought that was what you meant.”
“No, you were right. That was what I meant. I just didn’t know it would trigger so many memories.” A tear slipped down Tally’s cheek.
“I’m sorry he did that to you.” Amara reached over and took her hand. “But soon, you’ll be able to defend yourself. If he ever comes back or if anyone else tries that, you’ll have the tools you need to fight back. You’ll never be that helpless again. I promise.”
“Thanks, Amara. You’ve been so great helping me through all this. I didn’t think I would ever be able to move past what he did to me. But I think I’m finally starting to heal.” She squeezed Amara’s hand.
“Good. Did you venture out of your house this week, like I challenged you to?”
“I did,” Tally answered as she sipped on her water.
“And?” Amara pushed. “How did it go without me being with you?”
“It went alright.” Tally looked down and fidgeted with her water bottle lid.
“Then what’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. I hated being out there. I was open and exposed. I felt like he could see me, he could find me. I hate being in public,” she told Amara.
Amara knew it wouldn’t be easy for Tally. She wished there was some way she could help her but Tally needed to put in the work herself, Amara couldn’t do it for her. “I know.” She shifted so she was sitting in front of Tally. “But it’ll get easier. I really don’t think he’ll try to find you. That restraining order was pretty clear.” She smiled at her. “And if he does find you, it’s not you who needs to worry any more.”
Tally chuckled. “You’re right. I know you are. And it’s silly to keep myself trapped here, I realize that. I’ll keep working on it.”
“I’m glad. No one deserves to be stuck in that place. You deserve to be able to move on.” Amara smiled, glad that her friend was doing better. “Let’s finish up this lesson. I’ve got wedding plans tonight!”
“Oh yeah!” Tally perked up. “How’s Tucian? How’s the wedding coming along?”
“Uh-uh,” Amara chided. “If you want info you’ll have to fight me for it. On your feet!” She extended her hand to Tally and pulled her up. She put on some punching mitts. “No more intense training today. Back to basics.”
Tally laughed as she put her gloves back on. “Alright.” She threw a right hook, followed by a left. She repeated as long as Amara wanted her to.
“The wedding is coming along. Now uppercuts,” Amara instructed. Tally followed her instructions, alternating hands, hitting the mitts with all her might. She continued. “We chose our cake today.”
“What.. flavor… did you… choose?” Tally asked as she did the hits.
“Quick jabs, sets of two,” Amara told her. Tally switched: left, left, right, right, left, left, right, right. “Good! That’s good. A few more and we’ll switch to knees. Tucian let me choose my favorite. It’s milk, dark, and white chocolate.”
“That sounds… yummy…” Tally breathed out, trying to keep her breaths in sync with her hitting. She paused. “I’m happy for you. One of us should have a good man.” She smiled at Amara who smiled back.
Amara’s phone rang in her bag. “Hang on.” She paused and set down her training gear to fish her phone out. “Sorry.” She looked back at Tally. “It’s the police. They might have news about the murderer I’ve been helping them track down. You mind if I take it?” She stepped outside the room when Tally shook her head and smiled.
“Hello,” Amara said in the hallway. “Hi, Brad. How are you? I’m good. I’m so sorry. Can I meet you at the station later? Perfect. I’ll see you then. Thanks.”
“Any good news?” Tally said when Amara walked back in.
“No.” Amara picked up her punching mitts and nodded for Tally to continue.
“What was it?”
“Another missing person. We thought we had him this morning. But he got away… again. I hope he slips up soon. We really need to get this guy locked up.”
Amara packed up her stuff at the end of the lesson and went to say goodbye.
“Promise you’ll be careful?” Tally asked. “With your police work? I have a bad feeling about it.”
“Of course. I’m always careful,” Amara answered as she tripped over her gear bag and nearly fell on her face. She and Tally laughed. “See? Careful.”