Excerpt: The Clockwork Heart

Libby flopped back onto the pillow. “Let’s do that again.” Her chest heaved as she tried to catch her breath.

“Get into position then,” said Helen, standing over her.

Libby groaned as she sat up and pushed a black strand of hair from her face. She stared at Helen, who looked like she had hardly exerted herself. How does she do it? Her own skin glistened with sweat from the session. Her body ached, but she was determined to keep going and push herself further.

“Come on.” Helen held out her hand.

Libby brushed it away and stood up on her own, stumbling back a few steps before regaining her balance.

“Ready?” asked Helen.

Libby answered with a roundhouse kick to Helen’s toned belly. Helen deflected with an arm block, then attacked her with a series of quick kicks. Libby ducked, taking on a defensive stance while she waited for an opening to fight back. Helen dropped her arm to keep her balance, and Libby took the advantage by executing a punch, followed by a snap kick, forcing Helen backwards.

“Now I’m getting the hang of it.” Libby increased her speed but before she could work out what had happened she was falling backwards into the pillows. Despite the soft landing air was pushed from her lungs and a jolt shuddered through her body.

“Enough,” Libby gasped. She lay on the white training pillows, breathing hard. She loosened the top buttons of her skin-tight leather vest to make it easier to breathe.

“Pushing you is part of the training,” Helen said. Her voice held a crisp English accent despite living in Australia for the last five years.

“I know.” Libby didn’t talk about what had happened. Her experiences kept her silent. There had been too many fights, and too many risks that had left her with physical and mental scars. Things didn’t always go to plan when retrieving artefacts, but what had happened with Scarlett was something else. The old nightmare began to wake in her mind…

“Let me help you.” Helen’s words jolted her out of the memory. Helen held out her hand.

Libby groaned, her body protesting having to move to stand. Helen tightened her grip, supporting Libby. The touch of her skin sent a new sensation of fire within Libby.

“Maybe you shouldn’t train so hard every day,” Helen said.

“I have to.” Libby looked at her trainer. Helen’s blonde hair was tied back in a bun. A few strands of hair had come loose, but she looked composed despite the heavy training session. Libby didn’t need to be told what she looked like now. A mess. Sweat dripped from the ends of her hair, rolling down her soft leather training gear. Libby peeled off her leather gloves and threw them on the floor.

“But you’ve improved so much since you started training with me.” Helen stopped speaking as Libby glared at her.

“I still have things to learn.” Libby’s dark stare silenced Helen. She didn’t want this conversation leading to the nightmare that she was struggling to keep out of her mind.

Helen’s shoulders slumped as she turned away. Guilt stabbed at Libby’s heart. She didn’t mean to be so abrupt with Helen. She watched Helen move gracefully cross the square room; her footsteps were silent on the wooden floor and her hips moved in a mesmerising motion. Helen stirred something inside of her that she was scared to follow. Yet she couldn’t take her eyes away from her trainer. Helen picked up a tray of neatly rolled towels and returned to the centre of the room, stepping over the pillows they had used to soften the falls during the training session. A new heat flushed on Libby’s cheeks. She grabbed a towel and wiped her face quickly not wanting Helen to see how she really felt. She’d kept her heart locked against future hurt because of the memories. She didn’t want to be reminded of the nightmare. Libby threw the damp towel on the ground, fighting to keep the memories from surfacing.

Helen held out a glass of iced water. A slice of lemon bobbed on the top of the liquid. That’s what I need. A refreshing swim would clear my head. Libby wrapped her hand around the glass and took a sip. Coolness flooded through her body, memories clawing at her mind. Libby found it hard to breathe as she struggled to push the past away. She forced herself to swallow the cool water, the memories faded.

“Same time tomorrow?” asked Helen. “Maybe we can try the sticks?”

Libby put the empty glass back on the silver tray. “Can’t wait, darling.” She didn’t know how Helen managed to always look so fresh. That’s why I’ve employed her. I can learn from her, and if anything like before happens…

“You look flushed. Make sure you cool down,” Helen said.

“I will.” Libby left the training room, which had once been the old ballroom. It hadn’t held any parties since she’d bought the place. Instead of letting the ballroom go to waste, she had converted it to a training room. On the way out Libby hit the punching bag that hung from the ceiling, alleviating some of the frustration that built up inside of her every time she was with Helen.

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