Authors: Sondrae Bennett
And if he never trusted her enough to give her the object? She certainly wasn’t done trying to gain possession of it. But if Cameron planned on keeping whatever it was he had, then he was damn sure going to learn how to protect the thing.
Kalindra rapped on the door to his bedroom. She hadn’t seen hide nor hair of him since dinner the previous night. He hadn’t even slipped out for a snack. She knew, because she’d staked out the kitchen. At first to yell at him some more, then later to talk. The whole time he just sat in his room. Or paced, as the shadow in the crack at the bottom of his door indicated.
“Do you answer, or do I tear this door from its hinges?” she asked with another knock, louder this time. She would do it, too. Kalindra never made idle threats.
The door swung open and she took a hasty step back from the fire blazing in his eyes. While her anger had cooled, it was obvious his had grown. Seeing him so fierce lit fires inside her, and heat suffused her body. She felt lightheaded. Her belly clenched, and she licked lips that had suddenly gone dry.
There wasn’t a thing welcoming about his demeanor, but gods help her if the sight of him all fired up didn’t turn her on.
“Yes, Mistress?” His words pulled her up short.
“I want to talk.”
“Whatever my Mistress desires,” he all but sneered at her.
This wasn’t at all what she expected. She didn’t like it one bit.
An innocent look crossed his face, but his eyes still spit lava at her.
“Stop what? I’m only behaving like a good little prisoner. That is what I am, isn’t it?”
“This is beneath you.” The man she’d come to know, respect even, the past week wouldn’t stoop to this level. He’d fight for what he believed was right. And damn it, he hadn’t acted like a prisoner. Not even that first day. His company had brought humor and light into her life. But this… This just made her sad.
Kalindra turned and stalked back into the kitchen, all good intentions gone. If he wanted to act like a petulant child, so be it. He wanted to be a prisoner? Fine. Then prisoner he’d be. She didn’t need the aggravation of training him to fight.
Besides, she wasn’t going to let him leave until he’d forked over the object anyway. Maybe things were a little too comfortable for Cameron. She flopped into the chair, throwing her legs over one arm.
She’d gone out of her way to accommodate him. Giving him the previous gatekeeper’s clothes to wear. Cooking great meals. Really, what prisoner got chicken piccata? Gruel. That’s what prisoners ate. With stale bread. Hard-as-a-rock bread. They didn’t get comfortable beds either, but cots with a single pillow and blanket. No, they got the cold dirt floor. Bathrooms? Hell, no. Prisoners got buckets in the corner of their cells.
When the throat cleared behind her, she almost toppled out of her chair. She knew it had to be him, but she hadn’t expected him to follow her. He either wanted to bust her chops some more, or he was ready to talk. She narrowed her eyes, and waited to find out which. Damned if she was going to speak first. Been there, tried that. The olive branch she’d planned had been stomped on before she’d even had a chance to offer it. This time, he’d have to come to her.
“What, did I forget to lock your cell door?” The words left her mouth before she could stop them. So much for letting him do the talking. Guess she was more bitter about losing their easy companionship than she’d thought.
“I came to talk.”
No apology. She hadn’t really been expecting one anyway. Hoping, maybe. But not expecting.
“Now you want to talk, huh?”
“I want to hear whatever you were going to say earlier.”
At least he was direct. Even if he was being an ass about it. She waved her hand to the table. Not a demand, as much as an invitation. No reason they couldn’t be civil about the whole thing.
After a moment of hesitation, he moved to obey. Taking orders clearly didn’t sit well with him. She could understand. They both had dominant personalities, which would make negotiations difficult. But for right now, she wasn’t demanding anything. That would come later, if she wasn’t satisfied with his ability.
“We have a problem,” she began. “You have something that shouldn’t exist. That needs to be guarded. For whatever reason, you don’t trust me with it. Even though it’s kind of my job, and I’ve been doing it far longer than you’ve been alive.” She held up her hand when he started to interrupt. “Sorry, that was petty. True, but petty.” He glared at her, and unbelievably, she found herself smiling. “To be frank, I can’t trust you with it. Especially considering every force of evil…hell, every force period…is going to be coming after it. I don’t trust that you can keep it safe against them.”
“I can hold my own in a fight.” The timbre of his voice had deepened.
She didn’t care if he was offended. This was too important to worry about hurting his feelings. “Against humans, I have no doubt. Against the beasts that could come after you, no you can’t.”
“Isn’t it your job to make sure they don’t get through?” More scorn.
Kalindra took a deep breath to cool the anger burning in her gut. Couldn’t they get through one little conversation without fighting?
“What happens if I fail? Or if one of the others fail? All it would take is one moment of weakness, and it’d be over. If they get their hands on it, they could cross over undetected, and there would be nothing any of us could do to stop them from wreaking havoc on the entire human race.” She paused for effect, relieved to see he was listening, even though the stubborn set of his jaw remained locked. “I cannot send you off into the world without doing all I can to protect you, and whatever it is you have.”
“I don’t understand–”
“I’ll train you. Teach you about the different creatures. Teach you our weaknesses. Where to strike, and how hard. If, and only if, I’m satisfied that you can do what needs to be done, I’ll let you go.” No need to tell him she doubted she’d ever be satisfied. No human could take on the creatures from her world single-handed. But she’d give him a fair shot.
“Okay. When do we start?” His eagerness was evident, his skill not as much.
But who knew, maybe he’d surprise her.
* * * *
“Keep your arm up. If you can’t take me on in human form, you don’t have a prayer when I’m harpy,” Kali yelled at him.
A grin split his face as he raised his arm to block another blow. He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t having a hard time concentrating on the lesson. Kali was magnificent, her bronze hair flying as she spun around and attacked him with an upward blow. He quickly lowered his sword to block the attack. The glow of battle lit her eyes.
“You can’t just block. Attack,” she screeched at him, making his smile widen.
At first, her constant harsh critique had bugged the hell out of him. The first hundred barbs she’d thrown his way had hit their intended target. So much so, he’d walked out almost every day that first week. But then, something changed. Her verbal attacks no longer angered or annoyed him. Instead, the blood shot straight to his groin whenever she got mean. And when she pursed those full lips in a scowl? He was a goner.
“You left your right side wide open. I could have killed you.”
The clang as their swords connected rang throughout the room. He almost groaned as he became even harder. The woman would kill him if she kept yelling.
“Stop harping, woman,” he joked as he thrust her away from him, causing her to stumble backward a few steps.
That’s what he loved about the broadsword. Brute strength went a long way. Of course, he knew she could take his head off with technique if she wanted to. But his strength helped him hold his own.
“I’m a harpy. That’s what we do. We harp.”
Then she laughed, the sound breaking his concentration. Did she even know how sexy she was, laughing her head off with a broadsword in hand? Pointed toward the ground, maybe, but he wasn’t fooled. If he tried to attack right now, she’d have him pinned to the ground before he even knew what hit him.
Huh, maybe he should entertain the idea. There were worse things than being pinned by Kali.
In the past three weeks, things had more or less returned to the way they’d been before their big argument. Except now, instead of watching her train, he was training with her.
So far they’d only covered a few different weapons. Although, he couldn’t really see the point in learning how to use all of them. Maybe for her, he could understand. But when he left, he planned on going back to his home in New York. Where was he supposed to find a javelin, or a katana, in downtown Manhattan?
But Kali had insisted she wouldn’t release him unless he knew how to fight with all weapons. He didn’t need to use them all, but he needed to be able to defend against them all. Never could tell what a creature from Outremer would attack with.
Kalindra lunged forward. And they were back to trading blows.
Considering how long it’d taken him to learn the basics, it was going to be a long time until he’d mastered fighting against all the weapons in her arsenal. He’d been grudgingly impressed when she’d shown him her stock. Every type of weapon from every era and country on Earth. Throwing stars, maces, staffs. Hell, she even had a rifle with a bayonet.
He almost lost his balance when her sword nicked his cheek.
Biting his lip to keep from smiling, he swung his sword in an upward arch, which she easily blocked. He’d worried about using real weapons at first. Had pulled his punches, so to speak. Until he realized she was hitting him full blast, and that she could easily block anything he threw her way.
He’d often wondered those first couple weeks whether she was trying to kill him. But the few times he’d let his guard slip, she stopped faster than he would have believed possible, inches from gutting him or slicing his throat. Her control awed him and scared him at the same time. Would she ever believe he could hold his own?
Not for a while. Years, maybe. The thought should have depressed him. Made him despair. Oddly enough, he wasn’t unhappy at all. In fact, for the first time in his life, he felt…right.
It had taken him a while to figure out why. This woman…harpy…whatever, had not only given him a chance to prove himself, but in training him, she’d given him a purpose. A noble one at that. It had been a long time since he’d had a purpose worth fighting for. Maybe never. Learning how to protect the shard, the duty he’d neglected–fighting for the right to carry on with that burden–well, he could be proud of that.
That was the crux of it. Kalindra had given him pride in himself. The greatest gift he’d ever received. And he wasn’t sure he was ready to go out on his own. This place no longer seemed to be the prison he’d once thought it. Staying here no longer seemed as bad as it once had. He had a lot of training left to do.
And there were a lot worse people to spend his time with.
He blocked another couple attacks from Kalindra, admiring the strength and beauty in her movements. His heart sped up, and it had nothing to do with physical exertion.
She pulled at him. Exposed his protective instincts while at the same time, made him realize she could take care of herself. He admired her skills. Here was a capable woman, who needed no one. If anything, he needed her.
But even knowing all of that, he still felt the need to protect her. To be strong for her. To be the warrior she believed he could be.
Her breasts swayed as she lunged, drawing his gaze. He lifted his sword to block her attack, but not fast enough. At the last moment, Kali spun away, falling into him in an effort to not take his head off. Suddenly, his arms were full of supple female. Hard and soft at the same time. Her breast brushed the inside of his arm as she struggled with her balance, and Cameron had to bite his lip to keep from moaning out loud.
If he moved his hand just a little to the right… Ah, there it was. Her breast slipped into his palm.
Her nipple hardened under his touch. Now wasn’t that interesting? He slid his thumb over the peak, and felt her breath catch before she shoved away from him.
“Damn it. I could’ve killed you. You have to pay attention!” But the tension of her posture felt more sexual than angry.
“Oh, I’m paying attention.”
Awareness flashed in her eyes. Then she lunged. Her blows had more force than before. Fighting him? Or the attraction buzzing between them?