It was so good.
We’re getting ready to start training with the swords, and I don’t want to be impaled because I can’t breathe from too much Bene’s. I leave Eli, who is talking to Jake about the layout of Edinburgh, in the kitchen and hurry through the front sitting room, where Lucian and Ginger are talking to Victorian, and bound up the steps to the second floor. Jogging to the end of the corridor, I slip into my and Eli’s room, cross over to my duffel on the floor where I dropped it earlier, throw it onto the bed, and start rifling through it. I find a tie for my hair and pull it back into a ponytail. Next, a pair of black Lycra pants. I toe off my boots, unbutton my jeans, and slide them over my hips. Kicking them into a pile, I pull on the Lycra and fish in my duffel for a shirt. Finding a black tank top, I grab the hem of my sweater and pull it over my head.
“How long did it take to ink that dragon onto your back?”
I don’t jump in surprise, nor do I snap around and cover myself. My modesty went out the window years ago. “I heard you cracking your knuckles as you left your room, Noah Miles,” I say. I pull the tank over my head and turn around. “You don’t think you can possibly sneak up on me. Do you, bro?”
“Maybe. But I don’t see how you can sneak up on anyone, woman. I can hear the fish and chips sloshing around in your gut,” Noah says. He’s leaning against the doorframe of my room, arms crossed over his chest, grinning. Clad in a pair of black running pants and a plain white T-shirt, he looks about as average as any guy in a gym. Well, except for his extraordinary good looks. Painfully good, even.
He grins. “So. How long?”
I ignore the fact that he randomly reads my thoughts any time he wants. “It took several sittings, maybe four to five hours each,” I answer. “You outline first, then once it heals, maybe in three to four weeks, the color is added.”
“You miss it?” Noah adds. He walks over, lifts one of my bare arms, and studies the intricate dragon’s tail winding from shoulder to fingertip.
“Yeah,” I say. “Why—you want one?” I grin at him.
Noah’s head is bent over my forearm. “Maybe,” he says, lowers my arm, and looks at me. “You’re going to have to keep covered while we’re here,” he says. “You know that, right?”
Grabbing my black Nikes from my bag, I pull them on. “What do you mean?”
“Like Andorra says, you need to draw as little attention to yourself as possible,” Noah says. “This isn’t Savannah, babe. Your ink sticks out. Draws unwanted attention you don’t want to have to deal with. Locals.” With a knuckle, he grazes the wings at my eye. “And, yeah, I know you can handle yourself.”
He does, too. I like that about Noah. He has my back if I need it, but I seriously have to need it before he jumps in to cover me. He respects my abilities. Gotta love that about a three-hundred-year-old vampire. With dreads. And, maybe he’s right. Although the guys at Bene’s accept my body art, I definitely don’t want to stick out.
“And my alluring silver eyes, don’t forget,” he adds, batting his long lashes. Infiltrating my thoughts. Again.
“You’re ridiculous, Noah,” I say, and I can’t help but smiling at him. He’s such a freaking kid. Yet . . . to see him change, to see his fangs drop, and to see him fight? Breathtakingly beautiful. I know that makes me sound a little sick, and I guess I am. I punch his arm. “Let’s go.”
Noah and I walk out of the room together and head down the corridor.
“This place is a little creepy. Don’t you think?” he says as we near the steps. “There’s something, I don’t know, weird about the idea of little unruly schoolkids that freaks me out.”
I shake my head as we jog up the steps to the third-floor training area. “Yeah, I agree. Little pale-skinned Victorian-era kids, wearing black dresses and stockings and button-up boots, is definitely creepy,” I say.
“Slipping around corners, talking in hushed whispers, and just being . . . weird,” Noah adds. “Kids,” he says with a shudder.
We both chuckle as we hit the third-floor landing. Halfway down the corridor is an open set of dark double doors. We step through, and Jake, who is standing close by, gives me a grin.
“You’ve reason to suspect the children once housed here were creepy,” he says. “They were”—he strokes his chin—“extraordinary, one might say.”
“Extraordinary?” I ask. The others in the room—Ginger, Lucian, Victorian, Noah, and Eli—all turn to listen.
“Aye,” he continues. “All had exceptional gifts. Levitation. Mind reading. Transversing space. Just to name a few. Unfortunately, though, their families and the general public of Edinburgh thought they were mad,” he says, and looks at me. “Insane.”
“We’re staying in an old Victorian-era children’s insane asylum?” Noah asks. He looks at me. “I knew it.”
“The chamber you’re residing in, Noah, once belonged to one Professor Gallagher,” Jake says.
Noah nods. “And?”
“He was found dead, huddled against the wall near your bed,” Jake adds. “An expression of terror frozen onto his weathered face and one hand held up in defense.”
“The other hand?” Noah prods, clearly enjoying Jake’s tale.
Jake’s gaze narrows. “Clutching his rosary.”
Noah nods. “I’ve caused a similar response in folks myself a time or two, Andorra.” He eyes me and winks. “Before I became a guardian, darlin’.”
I just look at him sideways. “Hmm.”
“The professor was literally frightened to death,” Jake continues. “By one of his pupils.” He smiles. “Little Lily Johnson.”
“Och, Lily,” Gabriel says as he enters the dojo. He’s wearing black martial arts pants and tunic tied with a black belt. The man is huge—nearly larger than Eli. And all that long, straight black hair clasped at the nape and hanging down his back. Impressive, to say the very least.
“What about Lily?” Noah asks.
Gabriel almost smiles. “Let’s just say if you encounter her, dunna look her in the eye.”
I stare at Gabriel, and he lifts one brow. I can’t tell if he’s joking or not. At this point I’ll believe anything. Freaky little Victorian Lily equals no eye contact. Besides. Anyone who bears the name Little Lily Johnson? Shudder.
Now we’re all gathered in the dojo. A large, spread-out room the size of at least four bedchambers with windows lining the wall and facing the courtyard. Outside it’s gray, dreary, and bleak. It looks cold. Fortunately, I don’t feel temperature the way I used to, so I’m rarely either hot or cold. The floor is covered with a dark gray padded mat, pretty much like the one in the Duprés dojo. Along one wall there’s a wooden stand containing a myriad of swords. Big ones. Sharp ones.
“We’re going to break off into groups,” Jake says. He looks at Gabriel, then at Darius, who’s just entered the dojo. “But before we start with the blades,” he scans us all with an inspective gaze, “we’re going to see what other skills we all have combined.”
“You want us to show off our tricks?” Victorian asks sarcastically.
“We’re all going to show off our tricks,” Jake replies. “Two at a time. Let’s start with . . .” He studies each of us. “The wolves.”
Without a word, all of us except Gabriel back against the wall as Lucian and Ginger take the center of the room. Lucian looks at Gabriel. “Human or lupine?” he asks.
I find that very interesting.
“One at a time,” Gabriel instructs, his face expressionless. In his hands is a pair of long, wooden training sticks, probably four feet in length. He tosses one to Ginger and she catches it. “Ms. Slater first. Human.”
Ginger, wearing a pair of navy blue training pants with double white stripes up the sides and a gray V-neck T-shirt tightens her grip on the stick and moves toward Gabriel. Her face is drawn, intense, and she is concentrating heavily. Her focus is solely on Gabriel. Eyes frozen to his. Without hesitation, she moves in.
Ginger Slater is all of five feet, three inches. Maybe 115 pounds soaking wet, with all of her clothes on. She looks like a porcelain doll; her features are so sweet, skin blemish free. Even her voice is soft. Confident, yet soft. She reminds me of the sweet-spoken female cop in that old comedy Police Academy. Seemingly so . . . innocent. Possibly even a pushover. Easy to overtake, especially by a big man—or a big otherbeing, without a doubt. Gabriel is both and he towers over her, by more than a foot, and outweighs her by God knows what.
She moves like lightning.
It proves to be one of many advantages.
Showing no fear and a face lined with determination, Ginger strikes Gabriel first. Their training sticks collide with repetitive, echoing clacking as they pose offense and defense. I study Gabriel’s movements hard, watching everything closely. I’m having a difficult time deciding whether he’s working to keep Ginger’s stick from knocking him in the head or if he’s simply toying with her. As usual, his features are stoic and stony.
Ginger’s expression is . . . mean. I can’t think of another adjective for it. She looks mean as Hell. But even mean can’t fend off a six-foot-three-inch, two-hundred-plus-pound immortal from charging you and throwing you against the wall. I continue to watch her. Ginger’s hands grip the stick tightly, and the little muscles in her biceps tighten with each strike she makes on Gabriel. She reflects each of his strikes, too. I glance at Lucian, and a satisfied smile pulls at his lips. He looks at me and nods proudly.
“Lupine,” Gabriel simply says.
My eyes are glued to Ginger, because even with all the extraordinary things I’ve seen in the past several months with vampires, I’m anxious to see another otherbeing. My mind now logically accepts things like vampires, werewolves, immortals, humans with tendencies. I know them to exist. Yet there’s a morbid part of me that has to see it in action first. Wants to see it. My insides tighten with anticipation.