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By´╝ÜKaren Lynch

Chapter 1

I FELT IT coming even before he slammed into me and sent me flying back a dozen feet to land in a heap against the wall. “Ow.” Little pinpoints of light floated before my eyes, and I tasted blood in my mouth where I’d bitten the inside of my cheek. That pain was nothing compared to the bone-deep aches all over my body. God, how much punishment could a body take?

A shadow fell across my face. “Is anything broken?” asked a gruff Scottish voice that rang more of impatience than concern.

I rolled onto my back and stretched my sore limbs to test them for injuries, grunting when my shoulder made a small pop. Satisfied that my body was still in one piece, even if it was as bruised as a ripe peach, I peered up at the dark-haired man standing over me with his feet planted apart and his hands on his hips. “I’ll survive,” I muttered, not sure if I was happy about it.

He extended a hand, and I took it reluctantly, letting him pull me to my feet. When he let go of me, I leaned against the wall as the training room did a little spin before my eyes. I didn’t need to see straight to know that my painful flight had been witnessed by Terrence and Josh – the two other trainees in the room who were watching us while pretending to focus on their own workouts. I couldn’t blame them. My daily training sessions were something of a spectacle, like a pileup on the highway that you can’t help but slow down to watch.

Callum crossed his arms over his wide chest and fixed me with a reproachful stare. Solid muscle and taller than me by almost a foot, he was my penance for every one of my past screw-ups. At least that was what I told myself every day when I lowered my freshly bruised body into the healing bath. How I ever thought it would be fun to train with the smiling warrior with the sexy ponytail and chocolate-brown eyes was beyond me. It took less than five minutes of our first session for me to discover the scourge hiding behind that pretty smile.

“You are still not working with your Mori, and you will never be able to fight or defend yourself unless you open to it. Remember, without that demon inside you, you’re only human and just as helpless as one.”

Not quite human. Not that Callum or anyone else in this place would know that. Only a handful of people knew my secret, and they were all far away from here.

I rolled my shoulders to work out a kink. “I know what you told me. I’m just not sure how to do it. Maybe my demon is defective.”

His scowl deepened. “Your demon is not defective, and this is nothing to joke about. How do you expect to become a warrior if you cannot fight?”

“Maybe I don’t want to be a warrior.”

Callum barked a laugh. “You attract a lot of trouble for someone who doesn’t want to be a warrior.” I blinked in surprise, and he shook his head. “Oh, I’ve heard of your little adventures, and how you kept a whole unit – not to mention two of our best warriors – running around Maine for the better part of a month.”

His remarks conjured an image of a dark-haired warrior with smoldering gray eyes. I brushed it away angrily. “They were there because of the vampires, not me, and they could have left whenever they wanted. In fact, I told them to leave more than once.”

“So I’ve heard.” Was that actual amusement I saw in his eyes? “There are not many people who would challenge Nikolas Danshov. I expected more from someone who did.”

He was baiting me, and I refused to bite. “Sorry to disappoint you. Maybe you should find another trainee who will meet your expectations.”

I got three steps away before he growled, “Where do you think you’re going? We are not done with this lesson, and you leave when I say you leave. Now assume your position.”

So much for pleasantries. I adjusted my padded vest and went to the area he had marked off for us. There was a painful twinge in my lower back and my butt was already protesting the punishment that was sure to follow, but I pushed the pain aside and turned to face my trainer. I might suck as a fighter, but I still had my pride and I’d see this through if it killed me.

Callum, however, was not where I expected him to be. I looked around and found him by the door talking to two men and a woman I had not seen before. The woman was tall and beautiful in a knee-length red dress, with flawless skin and long, straight black hair. I could not help but notice that the boys had stopped pretending to train and were ogling her. She seemed not to notice them as her emerald eyes found me and her nose wrinkled delicately. I almost laughed because I could only imagine how I looked and smelled after two hours with Callum.

My attention shifted to the men with her. They were both tall like all Mohiri males but very different in appearance. One had a plain face with curly brown hair and tanned skin. The second man had long blond hair pulled back in a ponytail that suited his finely sculptured face. His blue eyes swept the room as he listened to whatever Callum said to him, and they lit on me briefly before returning to my trainer. The man’s commanding air and the way the other trainees had perked up told me he was someone important. This place was a hive of activity with warriors coming and going almost daily, so it was impossible to know everyone. But I was obviously the only person in the room who did not recognize the blond stranger.