Across the dojo, Eli all but growls. I try not to laugh. I shoot him a mock stern look and turn to meet my mentor.
“Tristan de Barre, this is our newest and most human WUP member, Ms. Riley Poe,” Jake introduces, and looks at me. He lifts a dark brow.
Before I can acknowledge the intro, Tristan de Barre grasps my hand and lowers his head over it. His eyes, a striking shade of sapphire, fix on mine. “My pleasure, lady,” he says, then brushes his lips over the top of my hand.
It happens too fast.
I really need to learn how to control this gift.
The room spins, tilts, and I feel myself losing gravity as a suffocating blackness swallows me. I know what’s happening the second it begins.
I’m him. Tristan. I concentrate hard, and this time, I’m able to watch, as if peering through a window. It’s a long-ago century, that much is for sure. A musky, dank dungeon. It’s cold, and Tristan is shackled to the wall.
Then, everything happens in fast-forward. A man, trusted by Tristan. Murder. A curse that lasts centuries. Tristan and his knights are spirits . . .
“Lady? Is there aught amiss?”
My body is shaken by strong hands. None too gently. I feel it, but I’m still watching . . .
I blink and focus on Tristan’s face no more than a few inches from my own. He is holding me in his arms. He blinks.
“Why are you unwell?” he asks. Sapphire eyes narrow. “Is Andorra tasking you overmuch?”
Tristan speaks in the weirdest of ways, yet I seem to get most of what he’s saying. I slip a fast glance at Jake Andorra, who is standing close by, then look back at Tristan. “Yes. He is.”
A slow, sexy smile spreads over Tristan’s face. “You remind me of my lovely wife, Ms. Poe. Quite feisty, you Colonists.” He fingered the wings inked into my cheek. “Although you’ve a few more unnatural attributes.” He sets me straight on my feet and looks down at me. “She’s got speckles,” he drags his finger over the bridge of his nose. “Just here. Now, then. What did you see when I touched you?”
The others are standing close behind me now, all awaiting my answer. “You’re called Dragonhawk,” I answer, meeting full-on his inquisitive gaze. I tell him everything I’d just witnessed. “Your foster father murdered you and your knights. Not sure which century but I know it was a helluva long time ago.” I cock my head. “So . . . how are you here now?” I poke his chest. “You seem solid enough, but you were all ghosts for centuries. Are you immortal, too? I don’t know what year it was, but”—I glance down at his thick thighs clothed in black martial arts gear—“you looked like you were wearing pantyhose under all those steel chains.”
Tristan’s compelling blue gaze fixes on mine. He studies me for a moment before throwing his head back and laughing.
I stare at Jake.
“Damn me, but you’re a witty wench,” Tristan says. “Aye. My men and I were murdered by my foster father. ’Twas in the fourteenth century. We walked the earth as spirits after that. Ghosts cursed, for nearly seven hundred years. ’Twas not that long ago that my bride swept into my life and saved me.” His blue eyes shine. “Saved us all.”
“I guess we all have a lot of catching up to do,” I say. “Where does that accent come from? Besides the fourteenth century?” I smile.
“Ah,” Tristan says, nodding. “’Tis my English-French Norman accent you fancy. As does my bride, Andrea.”
I nod my approval.
“When we sup I shall tell you all about it,” Tristan promises. He glances around. “There are beings in this chamber who still consume food, aye? Mortal food?”
“Riley definitely does,” Noah says. He walks up and sticks his hand out to Tristan, and the two shake. “Noah Miles. I’ve heard quite a lot about you from Andorra.”
“And I, you,” Tristan answers. “I hear you have a fine ’sixty-nine Camaro you’ve restored single-handedly.”
Noah’s eyes take on a shine that I’ve seen in otherbeings and human males alike. It’s that . . . car-shine. A deep, weird love of iron and steel and whatever else with four tires. “I did,” Noah says. “Smooth and fine.”
As Jake introduces Tristan around the room, I lean my back against the wall, cross my feet at the ankles, and watch. It’s sort of a surreal scene. I’m in an old manor, once a school for weird, freaky little kids with unexplained powers, and I’m training under a medieval knight who was murdered centuries ago but gained another chance at mortality. I’m part of an extermination team comprised of vampires, immortal druids, and werewolves. We’re in old Edinburgh, where three nasty fallen angels can create human-looking monstrosities to apprehend innocent souls for their own selfish needs.
And then there’s me. Probably the most . . . normal of the bunch.
With the exception of Peter. The old, crazy driver.
Seriously, even growing up with my surrogate Gullah grandparents and their hoodoo and root-doctor beliefs, I never suspected such otherbeings existed on the same plane as mortals. To look at them all now—Tristan, Jake, Darius, Gabriel, Eli, Noah, Victorian, Lucian, Ginger, and Sydney—they seem to be ordinary, although beautiful, regular-Joe human beings. Skin. Flesh. Muscle. Bone. Blood.
Well, some without blood.
It’s all seriously mind-blowing.
Despite the long windows lining the dojo wall, the already-bleak grayness from outside now grows darker, shadows begin to extend, and the chamber takes on a distinctly creepy, eerie feel. It’s almost as if I’m looking at an old black-and-white roll of film or one of the silent pictures from the 1920s. Surreal. That’s about the only word that fits it. I almost feel displaced, as if I’m not really here, but rather looking down through a hole and seeing all of this going on. Weird.
“Grimm. How nice of you to find your way up here and join us,” Tristan says, causing me to glance at the doorway.
And things only get weirder.
Now there’s the guy standing in the entranceway. I immediately sense something different about him, other than being from a long-ago century. Something unearthly. Not so much . . . otherbeing, but, no . . . yeah. Otherbeing. Holy? Definitely ethereal. With dark, wavy auburn hair worn loose around his shoulders, he isn’t as big and bulky as Tristan. Lean. Strong. Broad. He also wears black martial arts gear and a black jacket. His name is Grimm? Seriously?
“Aye, well, I was detained by Peter,” he replies. He moves his gaze to Gabriel. “Gabriel, quite a . . . unique place, this.”
Gabriel gives a slight nod. He even almost smiles. “It is.”
I study Grimm. A unique sort of accent he has, too. Old. Medieval, like Tristan’s, but different somehow. I’m already anxious to hear his story.
Or see it.
Jake introduces him to the team. “Gawan of Conwyk, of Castle Grimm, and a longtime best mate of de Barre here,” he says. “Conwyk, the team.”
Gawan Conwyk, also, apparently, called Grimm, glances over us all, and his eyes rest on me. It’s not difficult to follow his eyes as he takes in my inked wings. He gives a slight nod of acknowledgment.
Why do I feel as though I’ve been the topic of convo between these guys?
Because you have, love, says Jake in my head. You are somewhat of an anomaly, Ms. Poe. Get used to it.
A snort escapes me. I can’t hold it in. Swear to God, I can’t help it. I’m the anomaly here? Seriously?
All eyes turn to me.
Jake smothers a grin.
“All right,” he finally says. “Why don’t we break into groups?” He points. “Eli, you’re with Conwyk. Miles, you’re with Gabriel. Lucian, you’re with me. Ginger, you and Sydney are with Darius.” Jake’s gaze latches on to mine. “Riley, you’re with de Barre. We’ll eventually all rotate partners, to get the feel of each different technique used in sparring. For now”—he throws a probing look over us all—“let’s see what you have. Miles, MacLeod, help me with this mat. Aye?”
We all step off the mat and hug the wall, and Jake and the guys roll up the mat and push it to the end of the dojo. Beneath it lays the old wooden floor. I notice every couple of feet are four grooves embedded into the wood. When I glance up, Jake’s grinning at me. “Desks. For the children.”
God, that freaks me out.
I turn and look up—way up. Tristan is standing there, waiting. “Ready?” he asks.
“Always,” I respond.
Together we cross the dojo. I catch Eli’s gaze, he gives me a smile, and he turns to talk to Gawan. I have to say, I extremely need some Eli Time. Soon.
Good to hear, Poe. Now pay attention so you don’t get hacked with a blade, oui?
I smile to myself and notice then that Tristan is staring at me as we walk. “That’s an interesting bit of artwork on your face, Ms. Poe,” he says. “Does it mean something?”
I laugh. “Yeah,” I say. “It means I was wasted when I got it,” I answer. “I honestly don’t even remember getting inked. I was . . . young. Stupid.”
Tristan’s stare is profound and lasts for several seconds. “Aye, well, we’ve all been that at one time.” His eyes are sincere. “It means something now, aye?”
I consider his words. “Yeah, I guess it does.” The big guy seems to be a bit more perceptive than I gave him credit for.
The sound of steel sliding against metal catches my attention, and I glance over to the rack of blades just as Eli is withdrawing a sword. Damn, it’s big. Only then do I notice Gawan, who has pulled off his jacket. The black, billowy sleeves of his martial arts tunic come only to just below his elbows. Extending down each arm is a series of pitch-black markings all the way to his fingers. I’m too far away to see them in detail, but they intrigue me.
“Try this one out for size,” Tristan says, and I turn my attention to the sword he’s holding out to me. “Grasp the hilt like so,” he instructs, and I do as he says. “Feel the weight of it in your arms. Make sure it’s distributed from hilt to sword tip.”