abe Blackwell never saw me coming.
In the tick of a hummingbird’s wings, I had launched myself at his back, taking him down in a tangle of arms and legs. Our bodies hit the blue mat in the middle of the Blackwells’ gym with a thud that shivered from my teeth to my backbone.
Gabe’s breath hissed out when Asher, leaning against a rack of weights, laughed at his older brother’s defeat at the hands of a gangly girl half his size. I took advantage of Gabe’s distraction to wrap an arm around his neck, putting the whole of my weight into pinning him. My height rivaled his, with me close to six feet and him just over, but he had a good sixty pounds of muscle on me. Unwilling to loosen my hold for even a second, I considered biting him in retribution for the thousand times he’d insulted me. And then I wondered if I might have given away my abnormal speed. I really hoped not.
“What is it you’re always yelling at me?” I pretended to think about it, enjoying my little victory over my boyfriend’s brother. With his sculpted features, Gabe never lacked for company, and he never let anyone forget it. I savored any opportunity I had to take his ego down a notch. “Oh right. I remember now. Never turn your back on the enemy, Protector.”
Gabe cursed and cut my amusement short when his muscles tightened and gathered under me. He might look twenty to my eighteen, but Gabe had lived more than a century, and his experience with our powers surpassed mine. Too late, I tried to strengthen my grip. The thought had scarcely occurred to me when I found my face planted in the mat with his knee bending my spine like a bow.
“I also told you to concentrate instead of getting cocky.” The cheer in Gabe’s proper British voice grated on my nerves. “Now, be a good little mortal, and say it.”
His humiliating version of saying “uncle,” he meant. Ten minutes ago I’d bet him that I could take him down in a fair fight, and he’d agreed with terms of his own if I lost.
“Come on, Healer. Say it. Tell me I’m the greatest Protector who ever lived.”
His knee pressed harder, as he settled in with more of his weight. Grunting, I tested my range of motion and felt an electric storm of agony gathering inside my body. Powerful energy, but not enough to turn the tables.
Almost there, you smug jackass.
“All right.” Defeat colored my tone, and my body went limp. “You win. I’ll say it.”
I could picture the smirk on his carved, handsome face, and I used the anger to steel myself against the coming pain. In an explosion of movement, my body jerked backward, forcing his knee to dig in that little bit more I needed. A disk popped in my spine and slid sideways. The tempest exploded out of me, firing my pain into Gabe. Another
and he collapsed with a
next to me, his back now screwed up, too. Poetic justice. In the quiet that followed, I pressed my cheek into the cushioned mat and studied my nemesis, curled up in the fetal position next to me.
My voice came out weaker than I intended when I declared, “I am the greatest Protector who ever lived.”
Asher choked on a laugh and came to kneel at my side. With his dark chocolate hair falling forward to cover the two-inch white scar cutting through one eyebrow, he looked like a less perfect, leaner version of Gabe. The concern in his dark green eyes almost made up for the pain. He hated watching Gabe pound me in these training sessions, but he’d tried training me himself and it had been a disaster. We’d been too afraid of hurting each other to take it seriously, and we both knew the training was necessary. I could choose to ignore the danger in the world I’d fallen into these last months, or I could do my damnedest to be prepared for the day the other Protectors—the ones who were not like these two—found me. Was there really a choice when it came to protecting my new family? My dad, stepmom, and sister needed me to be ready.
“You okay?” Asher asked, looping a wayward strand of blond hair behind my ear.
Are you kidding? I shut Gabe up for once. I’m friggin’ brilliant. Except I think I need a chiropractor.
Asher smiled at my triumphant thoughts, more at ease with hearing my voice in his head than any person should be. Our bonding had its ups and downs. “Want my help?” he asked.
He meant to allow me to use his Protector energy to heal myself.
I shook my head. “Let me take care of Gabe first.”
Asher nodded and eased me closer to his brother.
“Would either of you care to explain what happened?” Gabe said in a tight voice.
He lay unmoving, his spine out of alignment in an injury that mirrored mine. Unused to the return of their sense of touch after a century of feeling nothing, all the Blackwells suffered when my power reminded them what it felt like to be human. Of course, Gabe rarely let me get close enough to use my ability on him, and I couldn’t really blame him. The two times I’d slipped through his defenses during training had resulted in my breaking his arm and dislocating his shoulder. And now this.
I didn’t particularly like Gabe, but pain humanized him. It tightened the corners of his green eyes, making him look vulnerable. For once, he reminded me of Asher, instead of his usual distant self. I fought the instinct to comfort him, knowing he would tear me apart before admitting to a weakness.
“Isn’t it obvious?” I answered, setting aside my pain. “I took you down. I wiped the floor with you. It was a WWF Smackdown, and I won. Twice.”
“Like hell you did.”
He breathed through his nose when I ran a hand over his spine. I couldn’t loan him my energy like the Protectors could do for Healers, but I could use my own to reorganize his insides. Gabe didn’t like my touch, or the sensations it brought with it, but he put up with it at times like these. Taking pity on him, I adjusted my ability to the workings of his immortal body. The racing heart, the sleek, oiled machinery that ran hotter and faster than any human’s; these things had to be accounted for when I sent my energy unwinding into his body. The
of my power charged the air, and green sparks crackled where my fingers touched him.
“Twice,” I crowed, and Gabe groaned when his back snapped into realignment.
I patted him on the shoulder because the friendly gesture would annoy him, and then collapsed on my stomach, shivering with the near hypothermia that always set in after a difficult healing. A warm hand stroked down my spine, and a little of Asher’s familiar power seeped into me. Closing my eyes, I borrowed his energy to imagine my spine realigned and perfect. I winced when the slipped disk nestled back into place with a sickening
. Sighing, I rested a moment, enjoying the heat of his skin through my shirt. This was how Protectors and Healers were meant to work together. Before the War. Before the Protectors had nearly hunted the Healers into extinction.
A few moments later, I let Asher haul me to my feet. Both of my arms slipped around his waist to press closer to him, and his fingers caught the belt loops of my jeans to keep me there. He smelled of everything I loved—the woods, the sea, and him.
Gabe rose to his feet with easy grace and stared at us with open disgust. He couldn’t figure out how I’d overpowered him, even for a brief moment. In our months of training, I’d never been able to match his speed or strength. Despite my height, I had no curves and most seven-year-old boys had more muscles than me.
My only defense against Gabe had been my ability to transfer my injuries to him, but I couldn’t control that power and it only worked after he’d hurt me, and only if I could catch him. Odds had been against me 99.9 percent of the time, which meant a lot of bruises for me and scarcely a scratch on him.
But things had changed a month ago when my stepfather had arrived in Blackwell Falls, Maine. He’d kidnapped me from my new home and nearly tortured me to death. Dean had shot my half sister, Lucy, so he could see how my powers worked when I healed her. Asher had almost died, too, when he stepped in front of a bullet meant for me. To save us both, I had hijacked Asher’s energy, using it to stop Dean. My stepfather had died that night, though only Lucy, the Blackwells, and I knew that.
I’d thought that I would die, too, when I’d healed Asher and returned his powers. Two days later I’d woken up in the hospital and discovered instead that some of his abilities had remained in my body. A tiny detail I’d hidden from Gabe with every intention of getting a little petty revenge for all the times he’d mocked and threatened me.
“Show him, Remy,” Asher said, his accent falling somewhere between American and British.
I frowned into his T-shirt, the soft blue cotton warm from his skin. “Do I have to? I like him so much better when he’s not acting like he’s a god.”
His voice hinted at a smile. “I know,
but it’s time to come clean.”
If we were together for fifty years, I’d never tire of Asher calling me “my heart” in Gaelic.
“Then I’ll never stop saying it,” he said, answering my thought. “Stop stalling, and show him.”
Sighing, I stepped back from Asher and turned to face Gabe. “Remember when Asher was dying, and he forced his power on me?”
Asher winced at my description. He’d meant to allow me enough time to save myself from Dean, to heal my injuries. None of us had known that the immortality went both ways, or that I could become like them.
Gabe waited in watchful silence.
“Even though I returned his power when I healed him, it changed me.”
“Changed you how, Remy?” His low tone reminded me how dangerous Protectors could be. His rare use of my name sent the bad kind of shiver down my spine.
I sucked in a breath and let it out in a rush. “Like this.”
A heartbeat later, I’d done two laps around Gabe in a time that would have shamed an Olympic sprinter. The breeze of my movement still ruffled his wavy brown hair long after I’d returned to Asher’s side. To any stranger, Gabe’s stony expression remained inscrutable, but the tic in his left eye said there would be hell to pay for hiding this new ability from him.
Too calmly, he said, “This happened in May, and it’s now June. It’s been weeks. Neither of you thought to mention this?”
Asher took a not-so-subtle step in front of me, and I glared at his back.
Don’t do that. I don’t need you to protect me from your brother.
I considered slugging him when he ignored my thought, but that mental image had no effect on him, either.
“It didn’t matter before,” Asher said. “Remy’s been too weak to train until she recovered from her injuries. She’s better, so we’re telling you now.”
I tried to shove Asher to the side, but even with my increased strength, he proved immobile. Rolling my eyes, I moved to race around him. He heard my intention and grasped the waist of my shirt in his fist to keep me at his side.
Contrary to what you may think, you Neanderthal, this behavior stopped being attractive the first time you were eighteen.
Asher shrugged in response, and I scowled.
“Enough,” Gabe commanded, irritated. He hated it when his brother and I communicated silently, leaving him out of the conversation because he couldn’t hear my thoughts, too.
Giving up on the tug-of-war with my shirt, I told Gabe, “It was my idea. I wanted to try out my new powers in a fight with you. Learn my limits. And it worked. I learned something.”
“What’s that?” Gabe asked.
His curiosity sparked, temporarily overcoming his anger as I’d known it would. There had never been another like me with half-Healer, half-Protector blood that we knew about. Every time we thought we knew the limits of my powers, I surprised us all by breaking one of Gabe’s bones from across the room during training or causing all of the Blackwells to smell roses when they had traded their senses of touch, taste, and smell to become immortal long ago.
“You’ve been going easy on me all this time, you big softy,” I said. Gabe looked pissed at my accusation, and I laughed, adding in a singsong voice, “Come on, admit it. You
Hate would have been a better description of the expression on his face. Healers and Protectors were natural enemies. At best, Gabe put up with me because he loved his brother almost as fiercely as I did. We’d settled on an uneasy truce based on that fact alone. Yet, I could never forget that if not for Asher, Gabe might have killed me the first time our paths crossed. Or worse, I could have ended up bonded to him, the eldest brother, instead of Asher in the natural order of things between our bloodlines.
The idea of Gabe reading my thoughts and using his energy to heal my injuries, freaked me out. I loved Asher, and I’d only just grown used to our connection and the way he could read my mind, fighting it every step of the way since we’d met when I moved to Blackwell Falls to live with my dad three months ago.
Gabe knew the relief I felt bonding to his younger brother instead of him, and whatever he thought about it, he never said. He criticized and bullied me, and I retaliated by teasing him and shoving back. And Asher stood between us, ready to keep us from doing too much damage to each other in the process.
Gabe raised one dark eyebrow at my taunt. “I like you about as much as you like me, I suspect.”
I grinned. “Too true.”
If I believed Gabe had a sense of humor, I might have thought the corner of his mouth twitched up in amusement. Thank goodness that was impossible. I couldn’t handle Gabe if he started cracking jokes. Swinging back toward Asher, I punched his arm, hurting my hand more than I hurt him.
“What was that for?”
“You could have told me that Gabe was holding back all this time.” Even with my increased power, he’d taken me down with ease. No way had he been using his full strength in our training before now. Which meant I had more to worry about with the Protectors than I’d realized.