Ashley shifted her weight on the mat as Arwan walk toward the center of the room, Renato and her mom bickering behind him.
Peter turned and watched them approach. “Oh, thank God,” Peter said, holding his ribs. “Where have you been?”
Hawa stood silent while Tara glanced nervously at Ashley. She had every right to be worried. If Arwan stepped one foot on the mat, she’d zap the shit out of him.
“Well?” Josephine said to Arwan. “What are you waiting for? Show her your moves.”
Arwan’s jaw visibly tightened, and he slid off his shoes.
He was seriously going to try to train her? She exhaled, annoyance stripping away any patience she still had, which wasn’t very much. She had been training all day. With few breaks and little sleep the night before, she wasn’t in the brightest of moods as it was. She watched Arwan as he moved to the center of the mat, avoiding eye contact.
“What are you training on?” he asked. When nobody answered, he looked at Ashley.
She shook her head and turned to Renato. “Is this really necessary? Peter and I were doing fine.”
“What?” Peter glanced between Ashley and Renato. “But I don’t—” He cleared his throat and composed himself. “It’s good to train with more than one person. That way you can test yourself with different levels of skill.” He locked his eyes on Renato. “Right? Tell her I’m right,” he whispered harshly.
“Of course he’s right,” her mother said. “Give the poor healer a break. He’s done enough work for one day.”
Peter nodded and limped off the mat.
“Fine.” Ashley threw her hair in a messy bun. “Non-lethal defense. Upper, middle, lower, and X-blocks. Got it?”
Arwan nodded. “Ready?”
Her mother laughed, and then pressed her fingers over her lips, her eyes bright with amusement.
“Whenever you are,” she said, focused on him as he readied his stance.
He came at her and threw a forward punch. She countered with a side block, and Arwan flew back, her arm sparking with electricity.
He shook out his hand. “I thought you weren’t using your powers.”
She grinned. “Oops.”
He nodded. “Again.” He charged at her, striking down with a hammer-fist.
She used an X-block to counter, and the force of her energy tossed him across the room. He tumbled to a stop and slowly picked himself up. Ashley stood, waiting. He shook his head as if his vision were impaired, and rubbed his eyes.
She threw her hands in the air. “You know what? This is a waste of time.”
“But it’s funny as hell,” Hawa mumbled, standing beside Josephine, both of them suppressing laughs.
Ashley scoffed. Training wasn’t worth being a sideshow attraction. She walked off the mat. “I’m done for today,” she said as she walked past Renato.
She pushed open the door and started down the hall. The sound of footsteps behind her flared her anger. She fisted her hands. “Leave me alone.”
“We need to talk,” Arwan said with a steady tone.
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
The footsteps quickened until he caught up to her. “Ashley, please. I should have told you, and you have every right to be angry.”
“Good, because I was going to be even if I didn’t have the right.” He took her hand and tried to slow her down. She channeled a shock through her arm, and he yanked back. She spun to face him. “Listen to me. I don’t know where along the road it was when you decided I didn’t need to know that side of you, but I gave you every opportunity to explain, and now it’s too late. You told me you were half-underworlder. That was it. Why didn’t you tell me the rest?”
He tightened his jaw. “Honestly, I didn’t…” He swallowed. “I didn’t want to face it myself. I’ve spent my entire life denying who I am—pushing it away because my darkness only hurts people. It was the reason my mother died, and it’s the reason…” He paused, searching her face.
She crossed her arms, tapping her fingers over her bicep. “The reason what? Because it better be good.”
“The reason we will never be able to bond.”
Her lips parted. “What?” She hadn’t expected it, but suddenly she was overwhelmed with grief.
“I won’t keep anything else from you.”
She swallowed. “And you knew? All this time?”
Tears built in her eyes. “It figures. You knew you’d never be able to be with me, but you led me along anyway.”
“I never led you anywhere I wasn’t willing to go, Ashley. I know we can’t bond, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be together.”
“Yes.” She nodded. “Yes, it does.” She stepped back. “And according to the book, it means we aren’t destined for each other, which means I’m destined for someone else.”
Any one of the 3 books in the series (book 1, book 2, or the novella book 1.5) - Winner’s choice. Open internationally.