Liam’s bright blue eyes danced as he gave me a fierce grin, the sort of happy expression a dragon might make right before it chomped on you. It was all the warning I got before he swept my leg out from under me. I hit the mat with a grunt, surprised and startled at his speed.
When would I learn?
I sat up, frowning, even as I rubbed the offended spot on my backside. It was the exact same butt cheek on which he’d dumped me three times so far.
“What were you saying about old men?” he asked, not showing an ounce of repentance for my pain.
I grumbled as I leveraged myself to my feet again, debating the odds I’d land a worthwhile blow before this session was done. Not good, I was thinking.
In the two months since these training sessions had become a regular occurrence, I’d only landed a legitimate punch—not glancing or blocked—a handful of times. Worse, was the suspicion he was still holding back with me.
“They should know when they’ve become fossils and find a deep dark hole to crawl into,” I fired back.
His grin flashed. “When the children prove they’re good for blowing more than hot air, maybe they will.”
I couldn’t help my amused snort.
Much to my surprise, I was starting to enjoy these weekly sessions with Liam. He was growing on me—like fungus.
He knew it too and took full advantage whenever he could, pushing my boundaries just a little bit more each time, making his interest obvious.
It was an interest I returned, enjoying the flirting and banter these nights inevitably brought.
“Have you given any more thought to my proposal?” he asked as I started stretching out my kinks.
He hadn’t yet indicated the match would resume. Until he did, I was going to give my poor, abused muscles the care they deserved.
“Let me think. Being at your beck and call with a bunch of enforcers—half of whom dislike me—as my bosses. Not sure how I feel about that,” I said, wincing as a particularly tight spot protested the movement.
“Becoming part of a team and getting paid a living wage. Not really sure what the issue is,” Liam shot back.
I frowned at him. He’d gotten good at finding arguments that would have the best chance of influencing me. It demonstrated an understanding of what drove me and was slightly disconcerting, given his inclination towards manipulation.
Much as I hated to admit it, he had several valid points. The money especially, would be welcome.
“I’m still waiting for you to show me the bright side in all this,” I complained.
“Be here Friday night and I will.”
Oh. A field trip—that sounded interesting.
“Will you make it worth my while?” I asked, a playful note entering my voice.
His smirk turned seductive, his eyes half-lidded as he gave me the look a man gives a woman he’s attracted to. “Show up Friday and find out.”
I couldn’t contain my small laugh, choking it back before he took it as a sign of encouragement. Until I knew which direction I wanted to go, I found it best not to give the vampire any bright ideas. He took every opening as an invitation to push harder, displaying a distinct resemblance to a battering ram.
Avoidance and ignoring the charge between us wouldn’t work much longer. I needed to make a choice.
I frowned at him as I remembered all the reasons he and I were not a good idea—starting with the fact his loyalty to the vampires would always outweigh anything he felt toward me.
Then there was his age. He wasn’t just a few decades older than me. He was centuries. Three to four hundred years older, at least. Some of the things he’d let slip made me think he could be even older. Thinking about it was enough to make my teeth hurt.
His gaze flickered as his attention fastened on something behind me. I turned to see Eric standing at the edge of the gym, the normally reserved enforcer appearing even more intense than normal.
That was odd. Liam’s enforcers didn’t typically interrupt during our training periods.
Whatever message he brought must be important.
“We’ll end here for the night,” Liam said.
My eyes lingered on Eric for a beat longer as I tilted my head in question. Yes, whatever this was about, was very important.
Curiosity took hold. I shook my head, mentally rejecting the urge. As tempting as it was to ask questions and pry into matters that most likely didn’t concern me, that was a good way to get drawn deeper into vampire politics. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that step yet.
“And here I thought vampires were supposed to have stamina for days,” I said as I bent to grab my shoes from the edge of the mat.
Liam stepped closer and trailed a stolen touch across my shoulder. Goosebumps skated down my spine. I stilled.
“I would be glad to show you just how long my stamina can last,” he said, a seductive smile edged with sly humor taking over his face. “On the mats, of course,” he added as an afterthought.
Amusement invaded and I cocked my head, taking pleasure in the game. “Another time—perhaps when dreams become reality.”
Appreciation at the jab passed over his face as he inclined his head.
I sauntered away, saying over my shoulder, “See you Friday.”
I bounded up the steps of the clan’s mansion Friday night, anticipation and eagerness giving me urgency. I had a good feeling about tonight.
Drinks with Caroline had cleared my head and given me much needed perspective when it came to what I wanted out of life. I’d been stuck in survival mode for so long that sometimes I forgot the other things in life. Maybe it was time to loosen up and live again.
Liam could be the beginning of that, starting with my taking him up on his proposal of a field trip.
Afterwards, we’d see where the night led. Either way, I was tired of fighting this attraction between us.
I walked into the gym with a smile on my face. “I’ve thought about what you said and I’d like to take you up on it. You were right.”
Nathan straightened from his stretch, looking up in surprise. “What am I right about?”
I ground to a halt and frowned. “What’re you doing here? Where’s Liam?”
“He’ll be gone for a while. He asked me to take over your training in the meantime.”
Everything in me went still. “For how long?”
Nathan shrugged. “Don’t know. The mission is hush-hush. Until then, you’ve got yours truly.”
My nod was slow. Liam had left.
All the anticipation I’d felt moments before drained away, leaving behind ice.
I was quiet.
“Nope.” I gave my head a slight shake.
Nothing. Nothing was wrong. Liam had a job. He didn’t owe me any explanations.
“What was Liam right about?” Nathan asked, his eyebrows climbing in question.
I jerked my attention back to Nathan. It took a second for me to form words. “He said my form needed work and my endurance was still lacking.”
Nathan pursed his lips, as he gave me a slightly disbelieving look. He shrugged his broad shoulders a second later. “Don’t you worry, cupcake. I’ll get you into top shape. He won’t ever complain about your endurance again.”
My smile was strained. “Sounds good.”
When he returned to stretching, my smile faded, and I rubbed my forehead. My excitement had turned to ash in my mouth. I should have known better.
I was alone in this. Liam and Nathan felt a duty to help someone who’d gotten a rotten start. That was all. They were free to come and go as they pleased. It’d be best not to forget that or form attachments that wouldn’t last.