Embrace Me at Dawn

Page 8

He sighed in frustration. “Anka, truly. You don’t have to—”

“Are you ready?” she demanded, her voice lower and more purposeful.


Impatience laced his voice, but she shoved it aside and kept on. “Attack me.”

Behind her, after a split second of hesitation, he tightened both arms and moved to wrap his legs in hers. Once he did that she’d lose a big advantage. She had to act now.

Curling her hand into a fist, she braced it with her other hand and used the force of both arms to drive her elbow into his stomach. His grunt accompanied his whoosh of air, and his hold on her eased. Using the opportunity, she raised her foot, glanced down at the placement of his black boots, then stomped down on his toes as hard as she could.

He howled and hopped away immediately, clutching his foot. “Bloody hell!”

Anka winced. She hadn’t meant to actually hurt him, just to see if she could perform the maneuver. Still hopping on one foot, he looked up and shot her a sharp glower that dared her to apologize and hinted it wouldn’t go well for her.

She stifled a smile. “I did that right, then?”

Lucan let go of his foot and limped her way again. “You did. We’ll go again. Stand with your back to me.”

She did, shoulders tense, breath shallow. Her senses felt heightened, her nerves dancing with electricity as anticipation slid through her. Long seconds passed without incident. She couldn’t hear Lucan, merely feel him in the room, watching, thinking.

Having his eyes on her was doing something to her composure. Had he noticed the changes in her? What would he think if he saw her scars? She frowned, shoving the thought away. He’d be every bit as horrified as she was, no doubt. Lucan liked beauty, perfection. He prized feminine loveliness, perfectly dressed and perfectly docile. All the things she couldn’t be anymore, so standing here anticipating the feel of his hands on her again, even as a training exercise was—

Lucan grabbed her from behind suddenly, his arms encircling her fast as lightning, clamping her against him like steel bands. She cursed herself for drifting away mentally.

Her first instinct, to struggle, kicked in. She tried to breathe, to remember this was Lucan, not Mathias, not a member of the Anarki. He wouldn’t actually hurt her. But panic bled into her thoughts and started crowding out all else. She thrashed and screamed. He only held her tighter and started crossing that leg over hers to trap her entirely.

“Think,” he growled in her ear.

The lessons of the morning whipped through her head and, almost without conscious thought, she rammed her elbow into his stomach. His grunt of pain filled her with grim satisfaction. She kicked away the leg about to wrap around hers, which put him off balance. Before he could compensate, she lifted her knee, then stomped down toward his foot. He dodged her, and she cursed. He tightened his arms again to make his hold unyielding.

“C’mon, Anka. Fight me.”

What the hell did he think she was doing? Anger surged, burning through her veins. If he wanted a bloody hellion, he was going to get one. She twisted her body from left to right, driving her other elbow into his ribs.

“Fuck,” he growled, backing away.

She took the opportunity to shadow him back, waiting until he planted his foot, then smashed it with her own. He growled at her, then shook his pained foot, his sides heaving. Was he trying to get his anger under control?

He turned and shot her a killing glare. She’d seen him truly angry so few times in their mated life. But her recollection was that he looked much like this. His nostrils flared, and he righted himself to his full height, towering over her.

“Good,” he barked. “Now let’s talk about a frontal attack. If someone is coming toward you, get your knees and hands ready.”

“To kick and punch them?”

“Not exactly. I’ll teach you to punch eventually, but until you get good at it, you’re going to be easily blocked, and you’re not likely to get enough power behind the blow to stop anyone. You’ll only hurt the hell out of your knuckles. And if you’re not careful, you’ll break one of your fingers or your thumb. Raiden did it with the first punch he threw.”

She couldn’t help but smile. “Did Ronan laugh at him?”

“His twin brother gave him one long ribbing. We had to call Conrad, the healer, and try to explain. He doesn’t quite understand, of course. Always wants to know why we’re simply not using our magic. You know the answer to that, don’t you?”

“I remember you saying that Mathias had some human Anarki, that he’d ripped out their souls and used them as soldiers. Magic doesn’t work on them?”

Lucan nodded. “They’re like zombies. Terrible creatures with rotting flesh and the body temperature of an ice cube. They’re impervious to magic. Don’t waste your energy hitting their rotting flesh with a spell. You’ll have to fight human and nasty with these creatures. First thing you can do is to take the heel of your palm,” he said, tapping the pad of flesh, “and drive it into the creature’s nose. Shove hard. You’ll only get that chance once. Then they’ll definitely fight to kill. They don’t seem to feel pain the way we do, so you have to disable the body or brain entirely to keep them from coming after you.”

Anka looked at the heel of her palm and simulated the movement in Lucan’s vague direction with a frown. “I can see how this would hurt, but if they don’t feel it, why do this?”

“Drives the bone in their nose into their brain, killing them instantly. But you have to shove as hard as you can. Hesitating or not putting your all into it can get you dead.”

She nodded, understanding. She’d seen the undead that made up a chunk of Mathias’s army, the Anarki. They made her shudder and want to shrink away. Now she’d have to stand and fight. Palm to the nose, hit hard. “Got it.”

“The next maneuver is one you likely know. The problem is, it’s your last line of defense physically. By the time your attacker is close enough to you to use this move, you’ve lost a lot of options in terms of self-defense. Running, unless you’re successful here, is unlikely. He’s probably either reaching for you or got his hands on you. You can’t panic. You’ll have to look him dead in the eye and get closer.” Lucan sidled up to her, his body nearly brushing hers. “As he’s reaching out to grab you, you’ll have to latch onto his arms.” He put his arms around her and dragged her body close, fitting her exactly against him, where she’d been thousands of times, cuddled in his protective embrace.

Her knees almost gave way, and she had to remind herself that the days in which she could throw herself against him and ask prettily for his affection were long gone. Instead, she sucked in a determined breath, grabbed his flexing biceps, marveling at how hard his body had become, then nodded. “Got it.”

“Use your arms to propel you forward as you lift your knee to his groin.” He raised a brow. “Gently for training purposes.”

Carefully, she gripped his arms, bringing her body even closer, then raised her knee between his legs, barely touching the cushion of his sensitive balls. When he gave a little grimace, she pulled away, stepping back.

“If these zombie-like Anarki can’t feel pain, why do this?”

“I didn’t say they couldn’t feel pain at all. You’ve got to give them a whole lot before they do. Usually they fall apart, literally. The older the formerly-human Anarki get, the more brittle their bodies. Go for the neck, chest, or knees. And watch out for the black blood. Awful stuff.” He grimaced. “Gets everywhere and smells terrible.”

“So I’ve heard. I’ll keep their vulnerabilities in mind. What else should I learn today, then? Knives? Guns?”

“Not yet, little girl. We master self-defense before we move on. No learning offense until I know you can protect yourself.”

She frowned. “What about new magic? You’ve all practiced something more advanced, right? Weaving complicated spells together and—”

“In good time. Master one skill first. Then we’ll move on.”

“At this rate, it will be weeks before I learn even the minimum necessary to fight Mathias.”

“Likely.” His stare dared her to object.

The old Anka never would have argued. Now she refused to stay silent. “All of you need me in this fight. You’re a force stretched thin and exhausted. I can help if you’ll take the damn nappies off me. You didn’t wait to fight. You jumped in and got dirty.”

He arched a brow at her and crossed his arms over his chest. “And we almost got our arses killed regularly. We jumped in because no one else could or would. That’s not the same situation now. Let’s give you time to learn properly.”

“While others die? While you risk yourself unnecessarily?”

“If you’re not ready, and we’re in battle, you’re nothing but a liability to us. Then we have to protect you before we can fight anyone. Do you think you’re even prepared to defend yourself against an attack? Really?”

Before Anka could object or reason with Lucan, he snapped his fingers. Every light in the room went dark. The doors shut. The loud click of the locks reverberated in the silence.

Anka gasped, startled. “Your magic worked.”

“And yours is locked down in this room while we train,” he said in the pitch black. “Now you’ll have to fight me off physically.”

That sent her heart into overdrive. She backed away a step. “Lucan, what the devil are you up to? What do you mean, fight you off?”

“Prove that you’ve mastered self-defense. I’ll give you a ten-second head start. Go!”

“I don’t want to play this game.”

“You’re wasting time. I’m going to come after you, Anka. And if I’m pretending to be Anarki, I’m not going to play nice. Five seconds.”

He meant it; she heard the serious tenor of his voice. Instinct kicked in. She turned and fled. Seconds later, she heard him charge after her. Her heart rattled and pounded madly in her chest. She couldn’t see anything in the pitch black, and tried to picture where she was running, but knew there was nowhere to hide. The impulse to flee a dangerous predator breathed hot down her neck. Her brain kicked in, and she knew the worst strategy she could employ was to hide in a corner where she’d be utterly trapped.

Mathias had taught her that.

Instead, she stopped running, crept closer to the center of the room, listening for any hint of Lucan, alert for the sound of a footstep or a breath. She forced herself to relax and beat back her panic as she mentally reviewed what he’d taught her.

Crouched, ready, Anka waited. Long moments passed in complete black silence. Nerve endings sizzled. The hair on the back of her arms stood up. Lucan was near.

The thought had barely cleared her brain when she felt a warm steel band around her waist. Another hand snaked into her hair and pulled hard. Lucan panted in her ear. Along with a dose of fear, a dangerous thrill rippled inside Anka. Her stomach cramped. She screamed, twisted in his embrace, clawed at him, but he wasn’t letting go.

“Fight me,” he demanded in her ear.

Pushing aside memories of another wizard and another time, she sucked in a breath and scrambled for her next move. Wriggling her arm free, she shoved it forward, then reared back with all her might. Her elbow split nothing but air. In her ear, he chuckled, and she realized that he had leaned far to the other side, clamping her pinned arm to her waist—where she could never touch him.

She stomped the ground, looking for his feet, finding only the hardwood floor. Frustration and anxiety played with her head, and she stomped faster, frantically seeking to defend herself.

“You’re panicking. Focus. Think,” he snarled in her ear.

Anka had no idea what to do next to fight him off, and she supposed that he had proved his point. She hadn’t yet mastered self-defense. But she couldn’t quit and show him that she didn’t have any business fighting. She had to work herself free.

Ceasing the pointless stomping of her foot, she shifted her weight and kicked back, right into Lucan’s shin.


Triumph swelled at his curse. But he didn’t let go. The short-lived victory died. She couldn’t ram the elbow he’d pinned down into his stomach, so she fought dirty, digging her fingernails into his thigh.

He hissed, then let go of her waist to grab her arm in a viselike grip. With her torso free, she reared back, using her whole body, hoping to catch him off guard and knock him onto his arse. He merely tightened his grip in her hair and pulled harder, sending a flash of pain across her scalp. Her eyes watered. With that one tug, he immobilized her body.

No. Bloody hell, no. She wasn’t going to roll over and play dead. She was taking the word “quit” out of her vocabulary starting now, right along with “defeat.” Mathias had hurt her more deeply than she’d known it possible to survive, but now that she had, she’d be damned if she let herself be defeated.

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