Authors: Dannika Dark
Tags: #paranormal fantasy
My heart almost leapt out of my chest. A strong forearm pinned Sunny against a grimy brick wall. Although a scarf covered her head, I recognized those red shoes I used to borrow. Fire filled my veins as I studied my surroundings, searching for a weapon. I learned plenty in the training room, but much of it involved flashing moves. From the weak energy, this was a human, and I was not getting cocky about my hand-to-hand combat skills. I lifted a glass bottle, lying on its side.
Not wanting to give him a chance to see me coming, I rushed in and cracked the bottle over his head. Shards of glass sprayed to the ground as he hunched his shoulders, making a sound between a groan and a yell.
The air squeezed out of my lungs when I was tackled and a large set of arms wrapped around me. Sunny was wide-eyed, and when the man in front of her lifted his chin, I cringed.
Three familiar faces came into focus: Sean, Matty, and John. Except Sean was slightly bloody, thanks to a bottle of carbonated sugar.
He held a chubby hand over Sunny’s mouth. John stood to the side, looking like an ink pen ran over him. His tats covered his neck and arms with the most unattractive and amateur markings. I also noticed how much he looked like Sean. I would have bet they were brothers. They were stocky and close to my height.
Matty tightened his grip, smelling like an ashtray and swinging me like a doll.
Sean snapped the scarf from Sunny’s hair as she wrestled against him.
Sunny’s eyes went wild with panic when his other arm slid down her side. John was wired with excitement—anticipation.
They looked like a fucking tag team.
My jaw unhinged enough that I could clamp my teeth down on some flesh. Matty pulled his hand away so I twisted his other arm, spun around, and broke his nose with the flat of my hand.
I heard the crack the second my palm struck him, and I didn’t pause for his reaction. My knee made a friendly acquaintance with his testicles, and I hit him in the throat with my knuckles. He dropped like a weight, and I kicked him in the crotch. Justus taught me well, but I was also willing to fight dirty.
The time I spent training with Justus—although most of it was basic sparring—was about to be put to the test. I was confident when I could use my Mage abilities, but fighting these men by hand was something else. Justus said it wasn’t about strength or speed, but guts and skills.
Skills I knew it would take years to acquire. You can’t expect a girl who spent her Sundays at a sandwich shop reading a tabloid to turn into a ninja overnight.
Getting my feet wet in a real fight was the only way to understand my fears, limitations, and weaknesses. Forbidden to use my gifts, it was just me against him.
I faced John, but what rattled me was his confidence.
The smell of garbage was unbearable. Something scurried behind the dumpster, and Sunny scraped her nails against the brick.
“Silver, run!” Sean cut her off with a press of his arm.
John smirked. “Silver? What kind of fucked up sense of humor did your parents have?”
“You tell me? Yours let you live.”
Energy buzzed in my fingertips and I felt alive, more than I expected. It was a natural reaction for my light to increase as a defense mechanism. I reined it in, keeping it under control. He bent forward, swinging his arms, waiting for me to strike first.
When he reached for my leg, I planted a solid kick to his shin and threw my hand out, striking him in the face. I wiped the rain from my nose.
“Just so you know, I hit back,” he said, spitting out a mouthful of blood.
“Bring it on, Hercules!”
I was asking for it, but smack talk was one skill I perfected. It took years to refine it to an art form. The name I used rubbed him the wrong way, as I guessed him to be a man insecure about his height.
He threw a punch and I ducked, spinning behind him. I was afraid to get too close, so I kicked him behind the knee hoping to knock him off balance. Instead, he bent forward and thrust his leg back.
I moved to the side and he stood up, scowling.
Somehow, I was under the impression there was an honor code among street fighters. When Matty suddenly kicked me in the back, I realized how naive I was.
I stumbled forward and John swung his arm, making contact with my face. Pain exploded in my cheek and I hit the ground, falling on my shoulder. The grit from the dirty alley roughed up my chin and I turned my head in time to see him kneeling. I rammed my thumb into his eye and he shouted, squeezing them shut.
“Jesus, John!” Sean yelled out. “You’re letting a girl kick your ass?”
Without missing a beat, I punched him in the jaw and kicked him in the gut, which knocked him to the side. I was foolish to think that would be enough to take him down, because when he lifted his eyes, there was excitement flashing in them. I saw an ass-kicking coming in my direction and he was the deliverer.
I scrambled to my feet, but John reached out and balled up the material of my shirt within his iron fist. I saw nothing but thin razors staring back at me.
“When will you bitches ever learn that you don’t fuck with—”
I flinched as he swung his arm.
The voice that spoke wasn’t John, but a baritone that could straighten your spine like an arrow.
Justus held John’s fist in the palm of his hand. He caught it mid-swing, and it looked like a ball in a catcher’s mitt. I pried John’s fingers from my shirt and took a deep, calming breath.
“You like to hit women?” Justus forced him into the shadows until all I could see were his powerful shoulders, illuminated by an overhead light. I shuddered when I heard what sounded like knuckles cracking. John screamed.
“Answer me, you coward!”
My Ghuardian was not only a Charmer, but he was also Thermal. Energy took all forms, including temperature. He was able to control his body heat—except when he was angry. John’s eyes watered as if he stuck his head inside an oven.
Justus was karma in a pair of combat boots.
It marked a turning point between us. No matter how often we quarreled, this man would always be at my side when I needed him. Every lesson he taught was invaluable, even if I was too childish to understand it. He had hundreds of years of experience on me, and knew no fear.
While John took a beating, I slicked back my hair and glared at Sean, who twirled around using Sunny as a shield. Her upper lip was swollen, not from him, but something that naturally happened whenever she was upset.
My cheek throbbed where John had hit me, as if my heart found a new place of residence.
“I was thinking about letting you go, but that’s not going to happen.” I flicked a glance at Matty. “I see you like your friends to do all the dirty work. I bet you fight like a girl. Let her go, and it’s just you and me.”
“Silver!” Justus bellowed from the shadows.
I ignored him.
I tried to think of a word that would provoke. Granted, I threw around a cuss word more than a lady should, but I cringed at the vulgarity about to pour from my lips.
“Unless you’re a
Fifteen minutes later, I sat in the back of Justus’s car with Sunny. He drove to the hotel and put her bags in the trunk. She was coming home with us because I insisted. We made a detour so Justus could buy back his expensive Cartier watch he had traded the bartender. I never understood why he wore those things, but Justus was all about image, even in workout attire.
The heater fogged up the windows, leaving the tips of my fingers sticky from the humidity. Justus breezed out the door, biting down on his wallet as he slipped on the watch.
“He looks really good wet,” Sunny remarked in a soft voice. She was feasting on him as he approached the car.
“You are a hot mess; that’s my Ghuardian.”
“In the flesh,” she gushed, with an appraising smile.
The rain polished his arms, and his muscle shirt was so drenched it clung to him. I really didn’t need Justus saucing up my friend with his sex voodoo, but we were driving in a small car, so there was no way to put distance between them.
“Sunny, there’s something else you should know. We all have special gifts that come with the package.”
Drops of cold water fell to the seat when I squeezed the ends of my hair. “Some move different than the rest of us, others read or send thoughts using energy.” I cupped my hands, warming them with a breath. “That man you’re fawning all over is a Charmer; he leaks a special kind of energy that’s like a love spell. When he’s farther away, it’s not as strong. Don’t get the idea you actually like him, because it’s false.”
“You mean he can make
woman fall for him?”
“Fall isn’t the right word, unless you mean in his bed. Trust me when I say that you are better off keeping your distance. He can’t turn it off, but he sure can turn you on.”
“Oh sweetie, you must be in trouble then,” she giggled.
I smiled. “I’ve been blessed with immunity.”
“Wow, I bet that’s a blow to his confidence, especially with your good humor.”
“I doubt I’ve put much of a dent in that ego, he’s had centuries to perfect it.”
“Well, now that I know he’s a love magnet, I’ll make a conscious effort not to succumb. He’s a hottie. Are you sure you don’t lust after that body just a teeny-weeny bit?”
“I’m not even going to dignify that with an answer, Sunshine. What did you do last night?”
She made an awful groan, rubbing her face. “I made such a fool out of myself. I invited Knox up to my room and threw myself at him.”
“What?” I laughed, turning to face her. “You’re kidding, right?”
“No,” she said, staring at the roof of the car. “I don’t know
got into me. I can’t explain it because he’s nothing like the men I date. He’s just… sexy in his own way.”
“You’re serious? Was it because he came to your rescue, oh princess? Maybe you have that deer in the headlights hero syndrome.”
She looked around the Mercedes with detached interest. “Most men play hero, but few men are. There’s a chemistry when I’m with him, when I think about him.” Sunny sneezed and quickly wiped her nose. “Too bad he wasn’t here tonight. I can’t believe you found me. When I rounded the corner, I ran right into them, and that guy recognized me immediately. He was talking about Knox like he wanted to kill him.”
“Do you think you can keep all of this a secret? Not just about me, but everything you’re learning about us.”
“I would never break our trust.” I caught her eyes looking me over, still skeptical. “I miss the old you,” she said wistfully.
My punishment would not be private
. Justus hit speed dial as we careened down the road, requesting that Novis come to the house immediately. Each time he referred to me as
I squeezed water from my hair onto his leather seat.
“Learner, why did you provoke the human? I had it under control.”
Justus had to drag me out of there by the waist. “He let her go, didn’t he?” I drew an infinity symbol on the fogged up window. “Ghuardian?”
He flashed his eyes at me in the rearview mirror, and I could see a hint of his light in them. I leaned in close, lowering my voice.
“Pull over and heal me.”
The car lurched when his foot slipped on the pedal.
A Mage heals faster than a human does, and sunlight contains healing properties, as does energy from another Mage. Borrowed light is full of moving particles and emotion; it’s a personal imprint. Sharing energy with a Mage is like a drug, and I never wanted to get too comfortable with the dependency. It was preferable to allow nature to take its course, or borrow a little sun. That required strict concentration because it is so pure, but the advantage is it doesn’t come with the addictive feeling as taking from another. Anyhow, it always zapped my energy later on when I took too much. Anytime you borrow something, you have to give it back.
“You will heal.”
“I don’t want Adam to see my face.”
“Perhaps it serves him right to feel shame for the trouble he has caused.”
“Very true,” I sighed. “I guess I’ll just sit back here with my throbbing cheek so I can be a valuable lesson to someone.”
Laying on guilt like thick frosting was something that required a little finesse. I learned that no matter how much he grumbled, Justus had a tender heart.
The car crawled to a stop and I maneuvered into the front seat while he flipped on the interior light.
“You might want to get out your camera, Sunny. He hates touching me, so this one needs to go into the Hall of Fame.”
“I think you mean Hall of Lame,” she said. “If I have to sit back here and watch you two make out, then you’re paying for my plane ticket home. I didn’t sign up for this tour.”