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By Linda Style
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"SANTIAGO, GET UP HERE!"
Sixty recruits in the Houston Police Academy and the instructor picks her to be the guinea pig for their first self-defense demonstration. "Yes, Sir." Crista crossed to the mat and stood at the edge.
"Okay. I'm gonna show you guys how to get away from someone who's grabbing you, regardless of your size. Santiago, pick a partner."
"Oh, pick me," Bernie Schwartz, the largest, most obnoxious man in the class, said in a girly voice and elbowed the recruit next to him.
A rash of laughter filtered through the group. "Yeah, if she wants to be in traction tomorrow," someone else said.
"Don't listen to him," Mei Lu Ling whispered.
Crista couldn't help listening. The women in the class had nicknamed Schwartz "The Mouth" because he continually harassed them. Every other word had a sexual connotation or was something related to how the women would never make it through training. So far, Crista had ignored his gibes, but she was tired of it - and there was only one way to shut a guy like that up.
Her adrenaline surged. "Okay, Schwartz. You're on."
The man grinned. "Uh, maybe you better pick someone else, sweetheart. I wouldn't want to hurt a little thing like you."
Her nerves bunched at the condescending tone in his voice.She wasn't sure which was bigger, Schwartz's mouth or his inflated ego.
When she didn't back down, he glanced at the other recruits and shrugged as if it was going to be her fault when she got hurt.
"Get up here," the instructor ordered.
Schwartz sauntered over, so impressed with himself Crista wanted to puke. Instead, she stood quietly with her arms crossed and, after glancing at her friends on the sidelines, she gave them a tiny, satisfied smile. It was time for Bernie Schwartz to go down.
Chose your fights wisely. Crista remembered Catherine Tanner's warning. Catherine was their first instructor at the academy and had privately told the women in the class that they might not like some of the things that happened during training. The police department was still a brotherhood of sorts, and if the women wanted to make it through their six months, they'd do well to ignore a lot of things.
The thought galled Crista. She'd had enough abuse in her life and had vowed never to get in that position again.
But right now, it was more important to protect her future. Getting hired by the Houston Police Department was the single most significant thing she'd done with her life, and it wouldn't mean much if she didn't make it through the academy. Heeding Catherine's advice, she'd kept her mouth shut. All the women in the class had done the same.
Only this time, the situation was different. She had the perfect opportunity to make a statement without saying a word.
"Okay, you two, over here on the mat." Their instructor, Max Wilson, pointed to where Crista and Bernie should stand, and then he explained the maneuver, point by point.
Crista considered her opponent. Broad chest and biceps that strained at the seams of his tight T-shirt, overdeveloped thighs that rubbed together when he walked. Schwartz was a bodybuilder, and bodybuilders weren't known to be fast on their feet. Certainly no match for her expertise. She wasn't a Master's level yet, but she knew she was a worthy opponent for any man.
Wilson looked at Crista. "Santiago, Schwartz is going to grab you and you're going to attempt the maneuver."
Schwartz gave a lecherous grin and did a Groucho with his eyebrows. More laughter tittered through the group.
Crista focused on her attacker. "Okay, Schwartz, do your thing."
Just as he reached out, Crista grabbed his left arm at the elbow, shoved her leg behind his and pulled hard as she turned into his body. In one quick flowing motion, she bent over, yanked his arm to bring him across her back and he landed on the floor in front of her with a thud.
A hushed "Ohh," emanated from the recruits and then - utter silence. After a moment, isolated clapping broke the air. One of her friends, no doubt. Then she heard a couple hoots and one of the guys said, "Hey, Santiago! I want you to be my partner." Another said, "Yeah, you can cover me on the streets anytime."
The Mouth, still flat on his back with the air knocked out of him, glared up at her. She reached out a hand to help him. "Thanks for volunteering, Bern."
Schwartz batted her hand away, rolled to a sitting position and then launched to his feet, every muscle in his body tensed for a fight.
"Okay, let's do a few more routines before we take a break." Wilson gave Crista a nod and said, "Good job, Santiago."
Later, as the larger group scattered and Crista's friends rushed to her side, she heard some of the guys ribbing Schwartz about getting taken down by a woman. Then she heard, "That bitch better watch her back."
Mei was standing next to Crista and patted her on the shoulder. "Nice work." Lucy gave her two thumbs up, Abby reached out for a hug, and Risa said, "Way to go, sister!"
Crista nodded and smiled, the rush of adrenaline still pumping through her veins.
"Did you hear him?" Abby asked. "It's gonna be tough on you to go through the rest of training with that jerk hauling his bruised ego around."
"Crista can handle Schwartz," Risa piped up.
"I made the decision, I'll live with it," Crista said softly. "Besides, I have my friends for moral support." It was true. The closeness and camaraderie they'd developed in such a short time meant a lot to Crista.
By the end of their first week at the academy, the women in the class - Risa Taylor, Lucy Montalvo, Abby Carlton, Mei Lu Ling and Crista - quickly realized they needed to support one another and had formed a sisterhood. Catherine Tanner, who'd taught the Law Enforcement Ethics class and had warned them right off to play it cool, joined, too.
In her whole life, Crista had never felt such a close bond with anyone as she did her five friends. She doubted anything could tear them apart.
Excerpted from The Witness by Linda Style Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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