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       Emblaze, p.3

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  He was right, of course. I bent down to my toes so I didn"t have to look at him. „It won"t happen again."

  I didn"t know why Phoenix kept sending exiles to fight me this way. Other than consuming people"s time and annoying me it did nothing for him and almost always resulted in him losing his forces. I mean, protective barriers or not, Phoenix knew where I lived. He could have sent exiles after me easily but none had entered my home. I knew part of it was his twisted sense of fighter ethics, but it was more than that. Tactically, none of us could work it out.

  „Any contact I should know about?" Griffin asked, getting business out of the way.

  „Nope." I kept stretching, hoping they"d both leave it.

  Griffin knew I wouldn"t hold back it I had an update. He seemed to pick up on the vibe an turned his attention to Spence. „How was school?"

  „The place is already a faint memory, one I intend to keep in my past," Spence said flippantly.

  Griffin smiled. „You"ll adjust."

  Spence scowled. He knew full well that if he wanted to stay in this town he"d be finishing off his schooling. Finding somewhere to focus on his retaliation he came closer to me as I stretched out my calves. „Man, you"ve gotten cocky, Eden."

  „Sorry?" I responded, but I knew where he was going.

  „You really think you needed to bring the Griffster along?" He scoffed. „As if I won"t be able to hand you your ass!"

  I just kept stretching.

  It wasn"t that Spence wasn"t a great fighter, but I was getting better all the time, stronger and faster. Not as strong as Lincoln, but my being trained by him had really paid off. Since I"d started doing my sessions without him I"d been adding extra ones no on else knew about - taking long runs early in the morning and working out late every night, having converted half of my studio into a gym. I was fitter than ever.

  I knew all of Spence"s moves and he relied on the easy wins. When they failed he had a flair for the dramatic, but to be honest I think he was a bit scared to try out the wing-and-prayer stuff with me. Tactical fighting had me beating him regularly these days and I needed to keep challenging myself.

  „Okay. Leg-only combat. No hands," Griffin said, then added, „and no hands."

  I smiled at Spence, jumping up and down on the spot to stay warm. „You told him I head-butted you."

  He looked guilty. „That shit hurt, Eden."

  „Let"s go," Griffin said, clapping his hands together and taking up umpire position under the cover of the tree.

  I wiped the rain from my eyes and quickly made sure we didn"t have an audience.

  Spence came straight in, gung-ho, like always. I dodged his first three kicks and worked to move him around to keep his focus on staying in time with my movements. His leg struck out again and I dodged, but he kept swinging, hitting hard into my ribs with his second pass.

  I stumbled back.

  „You right?" Griffin said calmly.

  „Yep," I said, without hesitation.

  I swallowed down the pain and told myself it was fine. I needed to be able to take hits, too.

  We faced up again. Spence was feeling good about getting the first blow in but I had a renewed determination. I ran him around the same way as before but this time it was my strike that counted. My leg went up and out, kicking him with the sole of my foot right between his shoulder blades. Before he"d even reacted to my other foot had followed, taking a swing out wide and smashing into his stomach.

  He went down.

  Griffin cleared his throat. „You right?" he asked, not quite as calm this time.

  Spence was on his knees, sucking in a few deep breaths, winded.

  „Fantastic," he said, standing up to face me for round two. „Barely tickled."

  We went six more rounds, each playing out fairly similarly, Spence getting increasingly irritated that I had his measure. When I put my hand out to pull him up, he swatted it away.

  „I"m not beat yet, Eden. I could go all night." He waggled his eyebrows.

  „No doubt, Spence," Griffin said from the sideline. He pulled off his jumper, revealing a white long-sleeved T-shirt.

  Shock horror, a deviation from his standard button-down!

  Griffin was a conundrum. He looked like someone in their mid-twenties, acted like someone in their late forties and was really in his eighties. But no matter how old he got, he"d always be a little stuck in his time. That wasn"t to say he couldn"t kick ass, though, which was clearly on the cards.

  „How about we swap places for a bit?" he suggested.

  Spence got up and tried his best not to hobble to the sideline. "At least you can heal me,"

  he grumbled as he passed me. "Even if it does hurt worse than the damn kicks."

  Healing other Grigori, bar Lincoln, tended to be quite painful, and made me a bit of an anomaly.

  One more thing.

  But I wasn"t worried about that at the moment, I had my eye on the prize and I gave my full attention to my new opponent. I didn"t often get a chance to spar with Griffin.

  He kept a distance from me. Stalking me. "You"re getting stronger."

  I just nodded and pushed aside my fear that it wasn"t true, reminding myself he meant physically.

  „And braver," he said, which I took as a warning. Griffin is deceptively fierce and fights with his head. I couldn"t out-manoeuvre him so easily.

  „One round," Griffin said, still moving, backing up towards the tree.

  „Why?" I teased, as if he couldn"t handle it.

  „Because you don"t get practice rounds with exiles. Either beat me now, or don"t bother."

  Nerves tingled in my gut. But this was a challenge I wasn"t about to shy away from.

  "Fine," I said, ignoring my dry mouth. I was up to it. I was sure I was fitter than Griffin, he didn"t put nearly the hours I did into training. "I"ve got somewhere to be, anyway. Any rules?"

  „First with their back on the ground is out."

  No way I"m going on my back again today.

  „Works for me," I said. But I didn"t like the smile on his lips.

  I moved in. I knew what he was doing, backing up the way he was, luring me in, but I couldn"t show fear. I kept my footing, watching his feet and hands. He was almost beneath the tree as I closed in. then, fast as lightning, his hands went out - a fist right across my face that felt like a metal bar. I stumbled but was quick to right myself. He"d have to do better than that to get me down.

  He took another step back and that was his mistake. He"d cleared the room for a kick and I was in the perfect position. I didn"t hesitate. My leg went out and I put force behind it, too. But instead of swerving he moved into me, grabbed my leg, and used my own momentum to throw me. Straight up. Into the tree.

  The wind was knocked out of me as my back and shoulder slammed into the thick overhanging branches and then I fell down fast, my right arm snapping a large branch and several smaller ones a I ricocheted off them on my way down.

  But one crack wasn"t from the tree.

  I hit the ground, hard. On my back.

  „Whoa!" I heard Spence cry out. He was half freaking out, half laughing.

  I opened my eyes and brushed away the dirt and bark from my face.

  Griffin was standing above me. "Stronger and braver, yes, but years of experience count for something. I just spent the last hour sizing you up, picking your routine. You change it up, but everyone is predictable in the end. If you see the chance for a kick - you take it."

  He put his hand out and I moved my right arm to take it, but winced in pain as I did, working hard to hold back a cry. My head went back to the ground again.

  „Broken?" Griffin asked, casually.

  I turned my face to the side, angry with myself. "I think so." That was the other crack I heard. Damn it

  „Perfect," Griffin said, as if it were all part of the plan. „This will help."

  I glared at him. If he thought I was going to ask Lincoln to heal me tonight he had another thing coming.

 
„Whatever it is, it„ll have to wait. I have dinner tonight with Dad," I snarled, pushing myself up with my good arm. Spence was behind me and helped me to stand. My head spinning out of control.

  „Easy, girl," he said, as if he was talking to a racehorse. I pulled my good arm out of his hold to stand on my own. Then desperately wished I hadn"t.

  While my stomach churned and I fought the urge to throw up, I took a few calming breaths and tried to centre myself and control the pain.

  That was when I felt it.

  The invisible tendril that linked us sizzled. I could feel his heart beating, steadily at first, ad then, as if recognizing me, it picked up.

  He knows I"ve been hurt. What the …?

  Then the connection snapped. I didn"t know if it was him or me. Him, I think, because I hadn"t thought to try. I could taste something in the back of my throat.

  Honey. Since when could he sense me like that?

  Griffin"s phone started to ring. He walked away to answer but I could hear him anyway.

  Grigori have better than normal senses, too. We can"t hear through walls, but we can hear, see and smell better than average.

  „It"s fine … you knew? … Impressive … No … Training … No … We"re exploring … I"ll cal you after." He sounded like he was trying to diffuse something and couldn"t get off the phone fast enough.

  „Lincoln?" I asked, trying not to look like I cared but knowing he was probably on his way by now.

  Griffin raised his eyebrows. "You felt the connection, too?"

  I shrugged. I"d always been able to feel it, since just before I"d embraced and Lincoln had been hurt. It wasn"t something I felt the need to advertise. I hardly needed to anything else to the "special" list.

  He watched me for a moment. Griffin saw all too easily through my bullshit, but he wasn"t going to anything about it now. He was good like that.

  „He"s worried."

  I knew he was right, I even felt the little bit of truth he bled into the words for my benefit, but I just didn"t want to have to think about it. Mostly, I didn"t want to feel that intense desire to be near to him, to fill the emptiness in me that was always there when he wasn"t. It"s not like I couldn"t hear the concern in Griffin"s voice, too. No one wanted Lincoln and me to be together. We weren"t the only ones to see what happened to Nyla and Rudyard.

  Spence handed me a bottle of water.

  „Violet, I want you to try and heal yourself. I"ve been looking for an opportunity but you"ve been doing so well in training so one hasn"t come up till now." Griffin slipped his jumper back on, perfectly timed to cover his smile. Even Griffin was guilty of competitiveness.

  No wonder he sounded defensive with Lincoln.

  „Lincoln"s not coming?" I asked, giving him a look that said I saw the smile and there would be a rematch.

  „Not unless we need him," he said with a shrug, which also responded to my look. We were holding two conversations at once.

  That part of me that had started to anticipate Lincoln, sank.

  „Okay," I said, trying to ignore my disappointment.

  „Let me tell you what we are going to try," Griffin said, before proceeding to talk through how he wanted me to heal myself.

  At first, I thought he was mad. I"d only just mastered the ability to heal Lincoln. Sure, there had been some discussions that I might be able to do more, prompted by my sometimes being able to send the flow of power back into myself and heal injuries that would have otherwise been too great for Lincoln to do alone. And I"d managed to heal other Grigori - well, only Spence so far, we hadn"t tried anyone else yet. But still …

  Griffin suggested ways of tapping into my power, but they felt wrong. Lincoln was my partner - he was supposed to heal me. But, things were … the way they were. He was trying to stay away from me, like I was supposed to be doing from him.

  Standing in the dim light, rain still spitting, under a tree I"d just had a head-on collision with, I did as Griffin instructed and drew my power within, trying to coerce it to heal my arm.

  To my delight … and horror, I received an answer.

  CHAPTER FOUR

  „ No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

  Friedrich Nietzsche

  The full-length mirror inside my wardrobe shot back an image I barely recognised. I was wearing a little black A-line dress. I opted for stockings. I didn"t usually like them but they were good for hiding the evidence. Over my arms, I draped a silver shawl I"d borrowed from Steph ages ago to cloak the bruising. Luckily for me, most of the damage had already healed on my face and what remained was covered up by a layer of foundation.

  It could have been worse. I"d actually managed to tap into my power earlier and manipulate the healing I usually sent to others. It hadn"t done a complete job, but enough to fix the break in my arm and the cut on my head. It had also relieved some of the pain and bruising, even if my arm still hurt like I was plunging it into a vat of acid every time I used it.

  It would take a few more days to fully recover. Griffin had suggested I try again, but for now I wasn"t up to it.

  I assessed my ensemble again. At least Dad would be happy. Fathers seemed to feel a sense of accomplishment when daughters dressed conservatively, hence my putting on the black knee-high boots Zoe had given me before she left. Along with a smudge of eyeliner, they changed the overall look just enough.

  Petty, yes, but right now Dad invoked that reaction in me. I hadn"t told him about what I was, or who had made me like this. Most of the time I felt terrible for him. And guilty. He"d had a wife who had deceived him the whole time they"d been together and then died, leaving him completely broken. Now, he had a daughter who really wasn"t any better.

  But he wasn"t blameless either.

  I came home regularly with bruising, or blood on my clothes. I was always out - not that he wasn"t as well, but a father is supposed to pick up on these things. Not to mention I"d flown to Jordan recently without him so much as noticing. The only thing he questioned was the thousand dollars I"d withdrawn from his account to pay off Onyx for much-needed information - about my likely demise. Half a dozen fabricated household bills later Dad had accepted there was no drama and gone back to his work.

  So sue me. I wasn"t about to turn up to our quarterly, sometimes half-yearly, „family"

  dinner wearing an outfit that would make him relax into his seat and feel certain everything was as it should be.

  I closed the wardrobe door and slipped on the silver bracelets I wore to hide my angelic markings and made a mental note to buy some new ones. I was sick of wearing the same jewellery every day.

  Dad had arranged to meet me at The Orchard, our favourite Thai restaurant. When I was younger, he used to take me there three or four times a week, whenever we were nanny-less. It was as close as we came to a home-cooked meal. He knew the staff and liked it there. They called him "John" instead of "James" and I think in some ways he liked that the most.

  Issues? Us?

  I"d decided to walk to the restaurant. It was near our apartment building and I was early anyway, plus I knew Dad would be running late.

  Not far into the walk, my angelic senses kicked in. I smelled the flowers first, which only ever happened with him, that distinctive bouquet dominated by scents of musk and jasmine

  - a particularly moreish combination. The taste of crisp, ripe apple came next and I saw the flashes of power that echoed morning and evening. Even though he wanted me to know he was there, my senses were less perceptive of him compared to other exiles, the flashes more gentle but still, unnervingly, swaying in favour of evening.

  I stopped outside a department store window and stared at a mannequin wearing a beautiful strapless black dress with an intricately laced bodice from which fabric flowed to the floor in a sublime drop, a long slit in one side. The model was emotionless even though it showcased one of the most stunning dresses I"d ever seen. I locked my own reactions down and tried to replicate her numbness while I waited.
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br />   I didn"t need to turn to know when he was right behind me. He was so close - I could feel his breath on my back, feel the flickering emotion he was sending me, the kind that wrung my insides in terrible delight. I focused on being like the mannequin.

  „Stop it," I said, through gritted teeth.

  He moved to stand beside me. The pushing eased and I could breathe again.

  „That would look ravishing on you. Would you like me to buy it for you? I could even throw in the ravishing if you like," he said, teasing and not at the same time.

  I looked down the street. A moment before it had been filled with city-goers, hurrying from buildings, heading out for the night or trying to get home. Now, it was quiet. Apart from a few hesitant passerby it looked like the area had been evacuated. Even the traffic had lightened considerably and seemed to creep past, as though the engine sounds were somehow muted. I knew it was Phoenix, I just didn"t know if it was an illusion he was creating in my head, trying to give us some sick kind of privacy, or if he had poured something terrible into the minds of those surrounding us, something so awful that they had fled.

  I could see our reflections in the window. He was taller than me, though he often slouched. He always dressed smartly these days. Today he was in black pants and a charcoal shirt. He looked both handsome and dangerous and I couldn"t help staring at his hair in the glass - the way light danced across the black roots that were illuminated by ripples of deep purple and strands of dazzling silver. Even in the image bouncing off the window, it was mesmerising.

  He was watching me, too. I knew what he was thinking, standing there surveying me the way I had him and I hated that we looked so good together. I could feel that he hated it too.

  Hates me.

  There were some other emotions there as well. He wasn"t good enough to hide them completely - or didn"t want to. And every time he bled those intoxicating feelings of lust and seduction into me, I sensed they were laced with an honesty he would deny even to himself.

  But none of that mattered. Not any more.

  He recoiled, taking a small step back, into the shadows of the reflection. I wondered if it was a reaction to me and my emotions or to his.

 
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