The first time I saw Yelena Nevsky, she tried to kill me.
I didn’t know who she was—hell, I didn’t even know she was a she. Hidden underneath an authentic kit of Russian medieval chain mail, brandishing dual swords, Yelena was just a whirling dervish trying to go through the only thing standing between her and the Maryland Renaissance Fair’s Grand Champion title.
Me. A guy wearing home-made heavy plate armor, lugging around a shield, and trying to breathe through tiny slits in a ten-pound steel helm.
Lighter, faster, and able to see better in a helmet that only partially covered her face, Yelena made me look like a drunk armadillo. She used both swords to hack away at my legs and my shield, keeping me backpedaling and focused solely on defense. And just as I thought I could anticipate her movements well enough to slip in an attack of my own, she did something I’d never seen before: she jumped at me. Spun around in mid-air. While wearing at least thirty pounds of armor.
For an instant, she was eight feet tall, swords spinning like helicopter rotors. I barely raised the shield in time—the clang of metal-on-metal vibrated my teeth. The voice of the crowd swelled in appreciation, then dissipated into groans as her gutsy move failed to bring home victory. Raucous cheering for the jumping-spin lunge, though, led to her first and only mistake: she tried it again.
This time, gravity and a trampled, muddy field favored me. Her foot slid as she planted for the jump and Yelena fell. She rolled, scrambled to her hands and knees, but not before my sword tapped the back of her neck for the “kill.”
Victory by pure luck.
The awards ceremony went as expected. I received my oversized turkey leg and ceremonial plastic goblet of “mead”/Miller Lite while being showered by enthusiastic boos of a crowd far more impressed with the tournament’s runner-up. Until, of course, said runner-up removed her helmet. Yelena shook out her mane of dark sweaty hair, and those boos meant for me quickly morphed into cheers for her.
She waved to her adoring fans from beside me on the victory stand. The crowd roared their approval, but they were too far away to see her the way I could. The high cheekbones, pointed chin, brilliant smile—all beneath golden-brown eyes that burned with flecks of yellow fire. Breathtaking.
“I like your armor,” she said without looking at me.
The compliment—along with a Russian accent that brought the hairs on the back of my neck to attention—broke through my daze. “Uh … thanks. Forged and welded it myself. It’s a hobby,” I said, immediately regretting the uber-geek overshare.
She turned, looked me up and down. Her quick appraisal of the armor—and maybe me—won an appreciative nod. Then she leaned over and whispered “You know I should have killed you, yes?” Her accent turned the “killed” into keeled.
I nodded, unsure whether it was in agreement or submission.
Standing on a victory platform made of plywood, greasy turkey leg in hand, I realized that Yelena Nevsky was so much more than breathtaking.
She was fierce.
“How long have you been seeing her now?” Trevor asked.
I slid his complimentary macchiato across the counter, trying the suppress the dopey grin I’d worn, for, well …
I skipped out from behind the register and followed Trevor to the two-top nestled in the back corner. He plopped down and stared at me over the frames of his Revo sunglasses.
“Aaaaaand the sex?”
“C’mon man …” My eye roll and disgusted sigh had been honed by years of Trevor’s douchbaggery.
“Dude, you’re dating an exotic foreigner. If there was ever a time to break free of missionary position’s tyranny, this is it. I just want to make sure you’re living life to the fullest.” He waited until my continued silence finally broke his will to be annoying. “Okayokayokay. Keep your secrets. What does your supermodel girlfriend do for a living, again?”
“She works at the Russian embassy here in DC. She’s a cultural attaché to the—”
“Dude, ‘cultural attaché’ at an embassy? Trained in combat? She’s got spy written all over her.”