Authors: Gena Showalter
“How do you know this?” she asked.
“My mother taught me.” And so had X and Dr. E. “I wasn’t sure I believed her at first, but intense study proved her right.” He’d wanted to know more about the creatures following him. He’d wanted to know whether or not he was crazy.
“Go on,” she said, interest clearly intensifying.
“As spirits, we have more direction than we realize. Listen deep inside yourself. There’s a knowing that supersedes emotions and mental capabilities. That knowing will lead you to victory every time, if you’ll pay attention to it.”
She closed her eyes, concentrated. One second passed, two. Her eyelids flipped open, and she frowned with disappointment. “I listened, but I didn’t sense anything.”
“Sometimes it takes time and practice, shutting out the rest of the world, the noise.”
Her lips pursed with a hint of irritation. “There’s a problem with your theory: I don’t hear any noise.”
“Actually, you do in your head,” he said, and she couldn’t refute it. “Everyone battles their thoughts at some time or another. Negative thoughts, wrongful thoughts, wicked thoughts. You have to cast them down and refuse to dwell on them.”
“If you entertain one, it will welcome another, and the more you entertain those, the stronger they become, developing roots and sprouting thick sprigs of
leaves, until you can no longer see through the dark forest in your mind.” He knew that firsthand.
She deliberated for a moment, nodded. “You’re right.”
She snorted. “So what happened to the boy after the fight?”
“He became a symbol of victory to his people and was later crowned king. Now, allow me to help you, Vika. There’s a very good chance I was placed in your life for this reason. And besides, if you want a different life, you have to do something different.” The words gave him pause. He was beginning to sound like X.
Well, that wasn’t such a bad thing.
Solo waved his fingers. He would be careful of her injuries, but he would teach her the way Michael had taught him: hand-to-hand combat, inflicting whatever was necessary to force the knowledge into the well of instinct.
“Truly?” she asked.
“Truly. You must always be ready to defend yourself against whatever comes against you, and learning the rules of battle is a good start.”
She deliberated for a moment more, sighed. “Oh, all right, but only because I’ve always wanted to be a queen.” Her hand at last fluttered to his, and he gently tugged her to her feet. She inhaled sharply and swayed, and he wrapped an arm around her waist to hold her upright.
In the place where his own instinct swirled, he wanted to shout with satisfaction. A beautiful female—
beautiful female—leaned against him, resting her head in the hollow of his neck, trusting him.
“Just need a moment to steady,” she murmured.
He caressed the line of her spine, the exquisite curve of her waist, and had to grind his molars to stop himself from groaning. Slow and easy, he reminded himself. He’d known this would be difficult.
“You’re so hot,” she said.
“Sorry,” he said, but he knew she couldn’t hear him.
Really gonna kill me.
“This won’t make me like my father, will it?” she asked.
And there was the crux of the problem, he realized. He moved his hand up, up, and tilted her chin. “He fights to inflict pain. You fight to save. You’re nothing like him, and you never will be.”
Tears of gratitude welled in her eyes, and his heart suddenly felt as if it was being squeezed by an iron fist.
“Ready?” he asked. Any more waiting, and they wouldn’t get to the fighting.
For the next several hours, he taught her how to (properly) make a fist, exactly where a lightweight like her could punch a man to inflict the most damage, to disable, and how to use even the most innocent of items to slow an attacker.
She was timid at first, and even frightened to the point of trembling, but she soon found a core of strength and met his attacks with vigor. She absorbed
everything he said and concentrated with every ounce of her being to do the best she could.
“You keep tucking your thumb under your fingers,” he said. “Don’t do that. You’ll break it.”
“See! I once told you that breaks were bad, but you pretended not to believe me.” Once again she made a proper fist. “Like this?”
“Yes. Now swing.”
She did, going out and around. An ineffectual action that would have irritated her attacker rather than hurt him.
“No. Forward. A jab, jab.” He demonstrated what he meant, then tapped the ridges of his stomach. “Hit me.”
Her eyes went wide, shimmering amethysts backed by black velvet. “No.”
“Yes.” The only way to get her comfortable with fighting back was to get her used to hitting actual flesh. “Don’t be a princess babycakes. Hit me as if it’s the only way to free the otherworlders.”
He expected her to yell at him. She punched him instead. Just straight-up nailed him in the gut, not once, not twice, but three times. If he’d been any less of a man, he would have doubled over.
“Good,” he managed. “That’s good.”
She punched him again.
He caught her wrist, studied her, worried she would revert to her earlier fear of becoming like her father. But her cheeks were flushed and her lips parted, on the verge of grinning. She wasn’t about to break down. She was about to celebrate.
“I’m impressed with your . . . technique,” he said.
“Did I hurt you?” she asked, reaching out to stroke her fingers over his stomach.
He sucked in a breath.
“I’m surprised these kitties didn’t break my hand,” she said, gaze locked on the ridges of muscle. “They’re so hard.”
Darling, you have no idea.
“These puppies,” he corrected.
“Puppies . . . kitties . . . both are baby animals and therefore appropriate.”
He took her hand before the training session switched gears. “Now it’s time to learn what to do when someone tries to hit
. I’m going to swing at you slowly.” Very, very slowly, every inch measured. That way, if she failed to heed him, he could stop himself before contact. “I want you to duck before I reach you, then come up swinging yourself, okay?”
A nod of determination.
They performed the action over and over, until she could defend and attack in quick succession, without pausing to consider her next move. And oh, was she gorgeous as she worked. All that golden hair danced around her shoulders, down her back. Her chest rose and fell; her tee soon became streaked with sweat—hers and his—causing the material to cling to her breasts. Her more-than-a-handful breasts.
hold in his hands. One day. Soon.
Her legs kicked out, and she knocked his ankles together. He stumbled to one side, but caught himself on the bars.
Clapping, she jumped up and down. “I did it! I really did it!”
“You sure did.”
“Wow! I’m amazing! And I have to say, this is much easier than I anticipated.”
A growl lodged in his throat. It should have been more difficult!
Get control of yourself, Judah.
He was a trained assassin. He could do better than this.
“Let’s take this up a notch,” he said.
He varied his pretend hits, forcing her to think while staying in motion. She began to anticipate his moves before he knew in what direction he was going. A survival technique she must have developed growing up as Jecis’s daughter.
He was saddened and angered by that, but proud of what she’d accomplished, too, and all the more determined to teach her more than survival. He would teach her how to win.
“You’re very good at this,” she said.
“I have to be.”
. Dangerous territory. “When I was little, I had several run-ins with humans who hadn’t yet accepted the otherworlders living on this planet. I had to learn how to control my strength, as well as inflict enough damage to save myself.”
Her hand fluttered over her heart, and she looked ready to burst into tears. “That’s so sad.”
So sensitive to other’s pain. “It’s more common than you realize. But Vika?”
“You shouldn’t have let me distract you.” Solo sprang into action, knocking her to the floor, catching her before she hit to prevent her from banging her head, and pinning her in place. No matter how forcefully she squirmed, she couldn’t manage to free herself. The sadness had left her, at least.
But desire had taken its place.
She smelled of the jasmine and the mint, and he needed more of both, but one second passed, two, and he stopped breathing. This was too important to mess up. So far he’d kept his touches mostly business, never slipping his fingers past clothing and onto bare skin. Now, the restraint caught up to him, his own desire rampaging through him. He could feel her, every inch of her. Could feel every curve he’d previously denied himself.
“I want to kiss you,” he said.
“I won’t do anything else.”
“Afraid?” he asked.
“No,” she whispered.
He looked at her lips. So pink and pretty, with only the barest hint of a wound.
Was she ready?
He prayed she was ready.
He couldn’t stop himself.
He leaned down, pressed the softest of kisses onto her mouth. Her nails dug into his chest, and he wasn’t sure whether she meant to push him away or drag him closer.
Well, well. He
stop himself. He lifted his head to peer into her eyes. Wonder stared up at him, more intent than ever before and as thrilling as it was tantalizing. She definitely hadn’t meant to push him away. So he did it again. He kissed her, lingering this time, and a needy little moan left her.
“Open,” he commanded.
The moment she obeyed, he slid his tongue into her mouth. And oh, her taste was
just as he remembered, like summer berries dipped in fresh cream. Last time, he’d become instantly addicted. This time, he was forever changed. He could not exist without this—without her. She was the only light in a vast expanse of darkness.
Her body heat enveloped him. Her fingers tangled in his hair, and she tilted his head to the side, forcing deeper contact. As if she needed to force him. He took and he gave. He drank her in, greedy, ravenous, using what remained of his willpower to keep his hands on the ground beside her shoulders.
She began to meet his tongue thrust for thrust, asserting more pressure. Her panting breaths mingled with his, and he liked that almost as much as the kiss. He was taking of her, and she was taking of him, and they were becoming one, even in so small a way.
He wanted to touch her.
to touch her, all of her, soon, soon,
and he would. There would be no part of her he ignored.
But even that wouldn’t be enough. That would never be enough—nothing would. If he touched her,
he would take her. And he couldn’t allow himself to take her on a bloodstained floor. Not today, and not tomorrow. Not for their first time. Not with Jecis’s trailer beside his cage. Not until she was ready, until regret would no longer be an issue.
And if he didn’t stop now, he never would.
Solo rolled back, sitting several inches out of reach. Surely the most difficult thing he’d ever done. Vika sat up, her fingers going straight to her mouth. Did her lips throb as deliciously as his?
“No more for today,” he said, more gruffly than he’d intended.
Her fingers lowered, and the pink tip of her tongue emerged, as if she wanted to capture more of his taste. “I like doing that with you.”
He stood, strode to the supplies. “Drink this,” he said, and tossed her a bottle of water. “You need to stay hydrated.”
She missed by miles, and had to lean over to fetch the bottle from where it had rolled.
“How did you know what I was planning to do during training?” he asked to distract himself.
She struggled with the lid as she said, “You ignored me, but I’m supposed to answer you?”
She laughed, and it was a beautiful though rusty sound, and when she blinked in amazement he knew she had not had cause to laugh in a very long time. “Very well, then. I will reward your honesty.” She drank half the bottle, and motioned for him to take the rest.
“The knowing you told me about. When I got quiet inside my head, I could sense the changes in your body just before you leapt into action.”
“Good.” She needed every advantage she could get. “Use that knowledge, no matter how big your opponent is.”
A reluctant nod greeted his words. “Who taught you those skills?”
“John or Blue?”
“Neither. Michael. John and Blue trained with me.”
“Are they like you?”
He knew what she meant. “They are otherworlders, but not the same species.” This topic usually propelled him into a rage. No one knew about the Allorians, and because they didn’t know, and he refused to say, they invented names for his race. But Vika meant no insult, and he knew that, too. “I’m Allorian.”
A curious glitter in those velvety plum eyes. “Have you ever been there?”
“Not that I remember.”
“Well, you’re definitely one of a kind. And I mean that in the best possible way, of course.”
“I know you do.” He shifted from one foot to the other, suddenly uncomfortable. All his life, he’d wanted someone other than his parents to like him for who he was. To admire him. And now, his pretty little human was doing just that, and he was unsure what to say or how to react. “Will you use what you learned today?”
“I hope I won’t have to, but yes. If anyone comes at
me, I’ll leap on them like a wounded wolverine with a blood-cream fetish.”
He tried to hold back his chuckle, but failed.
Vika’s expression softened. “I love seeing you like this. So . . . relaxed. And I want to know more about you,” she said. “I want to know everything.”