Elizabeth moved her thumb to the outside of her fist. "Like this?"

He nodded approvingly. "Exactly. But we were going to study kissing today."

"No, let's save that." She thrust her arm forward a few times. "I'm rather enjoying myself."

James groaned, not quite sure what was bothering him more—that he had to put off kissing her another day or that she had the weakest punch he'd ever seen. "No, no, not like that," he said, positioning himself behind her. He let her bag fall to the ground as he put his hand on her elbow and readjusted the angle of her shoulder. "You punch like a girl."

"I am & girl."

"Well, that much I've always found obvious, but you don't have to punch like one."

"And how," she asked, mocking a deep male voice, "does a man punch?"

"Girls, I've learned, punch like this." He made a fist and moved his arm forward and back, his elbow never straying far from his side. “Men, on the other hand, put a little swing into it."

"Do please demonstrate."

"Very well. Back off, then. I shouldn't like to injure you."

Elizabeth offered him a dry smile and took a few steps back. "Is that enough room for a man?"

"Don't mock. Just watch." He drew his arm back. "I shall have to show you this at half the usual speed since I'm not actually punching anything but air. The momentum is likely to take me with the punch."

"By all means, then," she said with a magnanimous wave of her hand. "Half speed."

"Pay attention. You're watching a master."

"Of that," she said dryly, "I have no doubt."

He moved his entire arm forward, the motion beginning at the center of his back and surging through his shoulder to his fist. If he had been moving at full speed, and if there were someone standing in front of him, James rather thought he might have knocked him out. "What do you think?" he asked, thoroughly pleased with himself.

"Do it again."

He raised his brows but complied, putting even more swing into it this time. He looked up to her face; she had her eyes narrowed and was studying him as if he were a prized piece of livestock.

Looking up briefly, she asked, "One more time?"

“Are you paying attention or just trying to make me look like an idiot?"

"Oh, I'm definitely paying attention. If you look like an idiot it has nothing to do with me."

James pulled his arm back one last time. "To recap," he said, "a woman punches forward from the shoulder, without using the muscles of her middle back."

Elizabeth imitated his female punch. "Like this."

"Precisely. A man, on the other hand, utilizes the strength of his back as well as his arm."

"These muscles here?" She lifted up her right arm and used her left hand to motion to the muscles wrapping around her right rib cage.

His mouth went dry. Her dress was tightening around her in most unusual places.

"Here, James?" she demanded, poking her back. "Or here?" This time she poked his back, except that she missed, and got him more in the side, rather close to his waist.

"Right the first time," he said, darting away from her finger. If she missed his back by another inch or two in the southerly direction, he wouldn't be held responsible for his actions.

"So it's a little like this." She threw a half-speed punch, moving only marginally faster than he had while doing it.

“Yes. But you need a little bit more lateral movement. Watch me one more time." He threw another punch. "See?"

“I think so. Would you like me to give it a go?''

"Yes." He crossed his arms. "Punch me."

"Oh, no, I couldn't."

"No, I want you to."

"I couldn't possibly. I've never intentionally hurt another person before."

"Elizabeth, the entire purpose of this lesson is so you can injure another person if the need arises. If you cannot bring yourself to punch a human being, this has been a total waste of time."

She looked doubtful. "If you insist."

"I do."

"Very well." With barely a moment for either of them to prepare, she drew back and let fly. Before James had any idea what was happening, he was sprawled on the ground, and his right eye socket was throbbing.

Elizabeth, rather than displaying any sort of worry or concern over his health, was jumping up and down, squealing with glee. "I did it! I really did it! Did you see it? Did you see it?"

"No," he muttered, "but I felt it."

She planted her hands on her hips and beamed, looking as if she had just been crowned queen of the world. “Oh, that was brilliant! Let's do it again."

"Let's not," he grumbled.

She stopped grinning and leaned down. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"Not at all," he lied.

"I didn't?" She sounded disappointed.

"Well, maybe just a little bit."

“Oh, good, I—" She choked back whatever it was she was planning to say. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I swear. I don't want you to be injured, but I did put all of my strength into that punch, and—''

"I shall be showing the effects tomorrow, have no fear."

She gasped with gleeful horror. "I gave you a black eye?"

"I thought you didn't want me to be injured."

"I don't," she said quickly, "but I must confess I've never done anything remotely like this before, and it's rather satisfying to have done it right."


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