“That’s thoughtful of you,” I said. “But I suppose, you are friends.” I cleared my throat and kept my eyes straight ahead.
I could feel Killian’s gaze on me, but I chose to ignore it, because otherwise that would mean looking at him.
For the first time I’d ever seen, Killian wasn’t wearing a ludicrously expensive designer suit.
Instead he was in one of those fancy, moisture-wicking t-shirts, and black jogger pants. He looked like a fitness model, and I was willing to bet that when he did train, he never sweated a drop. (Not fair! As a wizard my temperature always ran hotter, and whenever I trained with the Drakes they turned me into a sweaty mess.)
I didn’t want to ask him about the fitness clothes, or give him the satisfaction of seeing me eye him, so I kept my eyeballs facing forward and my mouth shut.
“The Paragon and I are not friends,” Killian stressed.
“Sure you are,” I said. “That’s why you don’t want to involve him in this mess.”
“No, it’s not.” Killian insisted.
“Just keep telling yourself that.”
Killian opened the door for me, conveniently letting me slip in front of him.
“Thanks,” I started. “So are you…” I slowly trailed off as I got a good look around the gym.
Every time I’d trained here, there were at least five other vampires working out—whether that meant lifting weights or practicing combat over in the padded section.
Today, there was no one.
The gym was deserted.
I sucked my neck into my shoulders and felt my nerves crackle to life. “What’s going on?” I reluctantly shuffled around so I could suspiciously peer up at Killian.
He smiled at me and gestured to the ground.
I looked down, and my hackles rose at the red and white rose petals that were scattered on the floor, making a trail over to the thickly padded section of mats. I returned my gaze to Killian. His smile turned bemused.
“You want me to follow the petal trail?” I guessed.
I followed the petals, which wound around a few pieces of weight lifting equipment, and—as I had guessed—eventually ended up over on the mats. The white petals stopped about halfway there, so the only petals in use were red. That was why, when I got to the mat, the message spelled out in petals looked so disturbingly like blood spatters I had to look twice.
“I’m Sorry,” I read the words. I stared at the flower petals before I dared to ask, “Is this another apology?”
“Is there a reason why you keep going for a romantic vibe?”
“I’m certain I don’t know what you mean,” Killian smirked.
I inhaled deeply and started massaging my temples. “Where did you get this idea?”
“I assigned Rupert the task of watching several human chick flick movies. He said this method usually returned wayward males into the good graces of their significant others.”
“Why would you make him do that?” I asked. “You could have just asked Celestina!”
“I did ask Celestina what bribe she recommended,” he said. “She suggested what she called a spa day and insisted she’d go with you as your protection detail, which meant the day was probably more for her than you, so I discarded the idea.”
I set my hands on my hips. “Ah.”
“After hearing Celestina’s suggestion, Josh wanted me to get you a gun.”
I raised a finger in the air. “I definitely don’t want that.”
“I figured as much. Julianne suggested a sword.”
I made an appreciative noise. “Not a bad idea.”
“You really would forgive me if I got you another sword?”
“I already told you I forgave you.” I looked around, hoping for a broom or something to sweep the petals up—I now understood why all other vampires were conspicuously absent.
“But we aren’t back to the way we were,” Killian persisted.
“I told you just because I forgave you doesn’t mean there aren’t any consequences.”
“Hazel.” Killian moved to stand in front of me, forcing me to look at his well-defined muscles that were visible through his shirt, which made me realize just how much his suits hid. (And how much he had to train. Seriously, did he ever sleep? As long as I had been around I’d only seen him work all night, but he had to do some serious training by himself to have that kind of muscle definition. Also, it made me suspect he was really vain, because wearing a shirt this tight was totally unnecessary and not appreciated given the tiny amount of definition I’d managed to achieve with all of my work. Was it getting hot, or was it just me?)
Killian’s eyes were a little more red than usual. “If you just tell me what I have to do to fix this, it would make things easier.”
“And I told you, I just want you to trust me.”
Killian made a frustrated noise that sounded like a growl. “And you want proof of that trust?”
Killian narrowed his eyes. By the way he’d fallen silent, I had a feeling he wasn’t happy with my response.
Too bad! I didn’t care, buwahah!
I folded my arms across my chest and looked down at the blood-red flower petals again. “This looks like a murder scene.”
Killian studied the flowers with too much interest. “It does bear a startling resemblance.”
“Should I go find a broom to sweep them up with since whoever is training me hasn’t shown up yet?” I did a few torso twists as I looked around.
Maybe there’s a broom in the locker room…
“I’m training you.”
I froze mid-twist. “Say what?”
“I’m going to be your trainer.”
All the muscles in my body went slack. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Since you insist you are only available for training twice weekly, it is important that your sessions count,” Killian said. “Thus, I decided you should learn from the best.”
I squinted up at him. “I don’t believe you. Is this revenge for something?”
Killian raised both of his eyebrows. “I am merely giving you what you asked for in the terms of our contract.”
“Hah! Likely story!” I shook my finger at him. “Come on, what is it really? There’s no way you intend to waste your time like this.”
“Any time spent with you is never a waste.”
I whipped around real quick and put my back to him so he couldn’t see my blush. “I still don’t get it. Celestina and Josh were amazing trainers. They’ve got to have an endless supply of things they could teach me. This seems awfully…lame to make you train me when I’m so bad with martial arts and I’m still a newbie with my sword—not to mention I’ve only covered the bare basics with guns.”
“True,” Killian said. “But since we have limited time, we’re not aiming to make you a martial arts expert or a sword master.”
“What do you mean?”
“We have six months to make you a better fighter,” Killian said. “And while Josh and Celestina are superior to you in many ways, given the additional training you’ve undergone of your own volition these past weeks, you’d be able to take them in a fight if allowed to use your magic.”
“You can’t know that,” I scoffed.
Killian smirked. “You’ve held the majority of your training practices on your front lawn. There is very little I don’t know about your current fighting condition.”
I scrunched my nose at him. “Talk about getting your underlings to do your dirty work.”
“And quite effectively so.” Killian stretched his arms out as he studied the matted area. “I’m thinking a practice match is in order.”
“Practice—are you out of your mind? You’ll squash me like a bug!” I wouldn’t put it past him to start the match without my approval, so I hastily pulled magic through my blood, making heat crawl across my face as my wizard’s mark surfaced.
“I’ll hold back,” he assured me. “But you shouldn’t. Use everything you’ve got—though I’d appreciate it if you didn’t trash the place. The Curia Cloisters is still getting repairs done from that storm you conjured.”
“Momoko and Felix helped—it’s one of our new strategies.” I kept my magic rolling as I copied Killian and started stretching. “You know, when we finally do start having confrontations with the Night Court…I think it might be most effective if we didn’t keep our forces entirely separate, but had them fight together—or at least had some of our best fight together.”
“Why would you say that?”
“When we were attacked at Leila’s it worked really well to have two of us wizards paired off with a vampire. We could protect our vampire, but Celestina and Rupert were able to sense the fae more easily since they didn’t bust out magic right away. And once we wizards flushed them out, it was easy for Celestina and Rupert to subdue them.”
Killian tilted his head in thought. “It’s an idea that has merit. It will be interesting to see what my First Knight reports. Fighting with wizards is perhaps a little more intimidating for vampires than you realize given your friendly familiarity with the Drakes who inherently trust you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean a stray lightning bolt could do great damage, particularly if it was cast by a wizard trained by you, which makes them more competent than most.”
I snorted. “Yeah, and you can recover really fast from pretty much any magical attack. But I know what you mean. There are a few members of my House who wouldn’t be thrilled to have a vampire at their back when you guys could snap our necks before we realize what’s going on.”
“And yet, here we are, about to enter a practice match together.” Killian grinned at me.