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Hugh hammered a punch into my solar plexus.

Aaahhh. Aaahh, that hurt. Pain drowned me, hot, intense, and blinding. My stomach melted into agony, the air turned to fire in my lungs, and every nerve in my body screamed.

Hugh rolled to his feet fast like a dervish and flung blood from his face.

I squeezed the sword grip in my hand, fighting through the pain. I had to get up. He could've killed me. He hadn't, but I could not let him win. No. Not happening.

He would expect me to roll to my feet and catch me on the way up.

I could swear I heard people screaming somewhere far away. "Get up, Kate."

Hugh's right foot swung back, aiming for my side. "No time to rest."

I rolled into the kick, my knees bent. His foot connected with my shins. I grabbed his boot and kicked straight out at his other leg.

Hugh crashed down. I rolled backward and to my feet, sword up.

Hugh flexed and hopped off the ground. He bared his teeth at me, his eyes alight with madness. He looked insane.

You know what, f**k it. Accident or not, I no longer cared. I would end him here.

I grinned back, my own deranged psychotic smile.

Hugh bellowed like an animal. It was a happy roar.

I charged. His defense was too good for the inside strike, so I went for the arms. Big body, big heart. Let's see how much blood you've got in you, Preceptor.

We clashed and danced across the clearing. I sank into the flurry of strikes, melting into the rhythm, fluid, quick, the sword so natural in my hand that wielding it was like breathing. He was fast, but I was faster.

"You want to know how I killed Erra? Like this." I sliced his left bicep. "And like this." Another cut, across the chest. "Hang around. I'll tell you the whole story."

He scored a cut across my side. I opened two gashes across his arms. Two to one. I liked those odds.

Hugh shook his head, trying to fling blood out of his eyes. I kept coming. He took a step back. Another.

Twenty-six years. Twenty-six years of looking over my shoulder, of living in constant paranoia. Twenty-six years of worrying about being found, of pretending to be weaker, of denying myself basic human contact. I let them fuel me. My sword became a whip, lashing, cutting, slicing, turning, drawing hot red blood again and again. He tried to match it, but I was too fast. I thrust and laughed when the sword found resistance.

Pain hummed inside me, but it had receded into a far place. He cut me, but I didn't care. The real world faded. Only anger remained. I was so tired of losing everyone I loved. He was everything that caused me pain and I had to destroy it.

He fought like Voron: skilled, smart, and deadly. Fighting him was magic. It was like sparring with my father. But I had beaten Voron when I was fourteen. I would beat Hugh as well. I was too angry to stop.

I walked him backward across the courtyard. It was him and me and two swords. I could go on forever. I would go on forever. He would slow down first.

Die, Hugh. Die for me.




I pulled back, just enough to glance in the direction of his voice. He was in the window on the right. Lorelei stood next to him, her face slack with shock. Bloody hell.

Every window had someone in it. People had piled out onto the balconies. Above us on the parapet, Hibla's djigits leveled crossbows at me. At the far tower, two more of Hibla's werejackals primed the scorpio.

Reality crashed into me like a runaway train. If I killed Hugh, they would fill the courtyard with arrows. I would die.

I didn't care. It would be worth it.

I turned and glimpsed George as she moved away from us.

George would die with me. They'd hit her with enough arrows that even her shapeshifter regeneration wouldn't be able to cope, and even if she survived, the Pack would retaliate. There would be a bloodbath.

I had to disengage. I wanted to keep fighting so bad, it hurt.

I thrust to Hugh's chest, dropping the angle sharply. He parried, but we both knew it was a quarter of an inch too low. My blade slid along his and I felt it sink into his right oblique muscle. Anger faded from his features. The wall was right behind him. Hugh took a slow, deliberate step back. I followed, my sword an inch into his upper stomach. If I pressed, he'd suffer a lacerated liver.

He leaned against the wall. A slow smile stretched his bloodstained lips.

"I'd like to hear it."

Hugh leaned forward, forcing the sword to bite deeper into his muscle. A strange expression claimed his face, a kind of focused but slightly amused look, possessive, no, inviting . . .

Hugh opened his mouth. "Uncle."

It wasn't a surrender. It was a dare. A year ago I might've mistaken it for something else or convinced myself I was reading too much into it, but a year of being in love and being wanted gave me enough of a basis to identify that look. Hugh was turned on.

It wasn't an act. This was real.

Damn it all to hell.

Do not react.

I freed the sword, wiped it on my shirt, and offered it to him hilt first. "Excellent sword. Thank you for the workout."

"No, thank you." Hugh pushed from the wall. Blood soaked his T-shirt. His face swelled on the left side. He must've turned when I rammed his face into the wall. Probably tried to save the nose. A broken nose made your eyes tear. I would've finished him much faster.

All the aches and pains screamed at me at once. My stomach hurt. My left side was likely cut. My right side felt slightly off, with a familiar throbbing pain. Cracked rib. Hopefully not broken. My arms ached in ten different places. My T-shirt hadn't turned completely red, like his, but bright stains blossomed on it here and there.

I turned, stretching slightly. Ow. I felt like someone had beaten me with a bag of razor-studded potatoes.

A small noise made me pivot. Curran marched toward us, his face dark, his eyes almost completely gold. He must've jumped out the window. Imagine that. Whatever would Lorelei do all by her lonesome?

"You owe me a rematch," Hugh said.

"Maybe. One day." When you aren't surrounded by two dozen bodyguards.

"That's a promise."

Curran moved toward me. "Are you okay, baby?"

"He calls you baby." Hugh laughed. "I love it."

"Shut up," Curran said.

I raised my voice, so the audience could hear. "About my prize?"

Hugh smiled. "Of course," he said, his voice carrying. "You are welcome to anything in the courtyard."

I turned and pointed at Christopher in the cage. "I want him."

Hugh blinked and locked his jaw.

Yes, yes, you've been had. Put your big-boy pants on and pay up.

Hugh's face looked grim. He really didn't want to give up his torture toy.