Hearts of Warriors Ch. 02byJazCullen©
My thanks to mikothebaby for giving up her time to edit for me once more :-)
Mackenzie watched the woman step forward, his dark gaze analysing the way she appeared to flow across the ground. Toned muscles rippled with strength, her movements fluid and graceful. He felt need claw at his gut, hard and relentless as he imagined other situations a body that tantalising could move in. It was unwelcome and irritating because Ruminskey still had that almost-smile on her face, as if she were reading his mind.
He felt his irritation ratchet up and fought to contain it. He was a firm believer that fighting in anger led to a man's downfall, particularly when you were simply training. In a fight, you need to stay clear-headed at all times, to analyse your opponent's weaknesses and strike at them. Allowing emotions to get in the way led to mistakes that caused serious injuries, maybe even death.
So he pushed down his irritation and watched the brunette carefully, trying to work out if there were any little tell tale signs he could exploit while they sparred. He wasn't expecting to see much until they began sparring, but he'd be a fool not to begin his assessment immediately.
He turned away from her and let his gaze travel over the others. "Confidence in your abilities is commendable," he informed them, his voice low and cold. "Overconfidence is a death sentence. You've made it this far but you still have two hurdles to get through. The first will be hand-to-hand combat with me. The second will come after I am satisfied you're worthy to be here."
His gaze turned back to Ruminskey who was standing at attention, her deep brown eyes riveted to his face. There was a question in her gaze as if she itched to ask what the second thing was. He had no intention of telling any of them what their last hurdle would be before they became Praetorians. Some of them may fail this stage and secrecy was paramount.
"Follow me," he said, turning on his heel and striding around the large house towards the back.
Lily had to bite down the urge to sigh with pleasure as she watched Mac walk away. Her expression appeared impassive but her body was humming with excitement. Her greedy gaze took in his strong back and narrow waist, but it was his thick thighs and taut ass which caused her the most pain. Lord, could a man look any hotter? The urge to sink her teeth into his delectable flesh was almost overpowering.
'Concentrate, Lily," she mentally shook herself. If she became distracted by thoughts of hot sweaty bodies writhing together she was seriously going to get her ass kicked by Mac and destroy any hope of joining the Praetorians. She had to contain her lustful thoughts until the time was more appropriate.
As if she had the first clue about what to do with him anyway. Oh, she knew the whole concept about sex and mating; hell, growing up in a Were compound was an eye-opening experience. Wolves were very sensual creatures and she'd gotten many an eyeful of some very interesting things once she was older.
She knew all about lust and how wild and untamed it was between mates. She just didn't have any first-hand experience because her father had kept all men at bay from the moment she was old enough to be interested in the opposite sex.
Not that she'd wanted any of her pack mates. Not after she'd seen Mac in the forest all those years ago. From that moment onwards he'd been all she'd thought about, her every fantasy. And she'd had lots of fantasies!
Despite her lack of experience, Lily was confident in her own abilities. She was half Were and half vampire. Both species were incredibly sensual creatures in their own right. Combined they had to be spectacular and she had no doubts she'd be a very fast learner in the bedroom.
"Whenever you're ready, Ruminskey!"
Mac's sharp words brought her out of her reverie and she realised she was still rooted to the spot ogling his backside like a teenager. She hid the flush which threatened to cross her cheeks and headed off after him, beginning one of her many mental exercises to focus her attention on what was to come.
Behind the large house, the trees had been felled to create a huge open area. The ground was rough and hard and it was clear this was where a lot of fighting occurred. Some tree trunks had been placed together to the side, creating a natural seating area. The others had followed the two of them and one of Mac's men signalled to the other candidates to sit.
The Praetorians placed themselves strategically close to the house and the candidates. They appeared relaxed but Lily wasn't fooled. These vampires were lethal. One wrong move by any of the new recruits and they would act without mercy.
Mackenzie stopped and turned to watch Ruminskey come to a halt a few feet in front of him. He was in control of his emotions once more, ignoring her womanly curves completely and sizing her up for her fighting abilities. The reports he'd had about her said she was fast. That point had been stressed, so he knew to be extra vigilant.
"We train in weapons as well as our natural abilities," he informed the entire group, although his gaze was locked with his opponent's. "You can use anything in that chest over there at any time."
Lily's gaze flicked to the chest that was being opened, having just been carried from the house by one of the Praetorians. She tried not to show her excitement. The Vârcolac had claws rather than the wicked talons vampires could produce. With that in mind, Gard had made sure they'd all been trained with knives and swords to protect themselves and keep vampires at arm's length. She excelled in both and she knew Mac would assume she would be a novice in that area like any typical vampire.
A blur of movement out of the corner of her eye was the only warning she received as she was distracted by the chest. She moved instinctively, dropping down rather than stepping to either side. She knew she didn't have time to avoid him completely and he would most likely expect her to back away.
She used Mac's forward momentum against him, punching up hard into his solar plexus and sending him flying over her head. She came up and spun around, her eyes never leaving him as he twisted agilely in the air and landed facing her, instantly at the ready.
A muscle twitched at the side of his mouth, the only indication he was impressed with the speed of her defensive move. "Never become distracted when facing an opponent," he said, giving her fellow recruits a running commentary as he began to circle to the left.
"Distraction means not only failing to protect your charges but also your impending death. You must always know where your enemy is as all times."
He nodded slightly at Lily and she felt a rush of pleasure wash through her. She'd impressed him, her mate, and it made her wolf howl with glee that their male respected their abilities. Another blur and a hand slammed painfully into her breast bone, sending her flying backwards.
"Fuck!" she hissed through clenched teeth, landing on her back but rolling instantly to the right and coming back up before Mac could launch himself at her again. She was furious with herself for being caught napping like that.
"Try helping me rather than rolling over on your back in submission," she derided her wolf, her eyes flashing with annoyance. Her wolf growled and crouched down low, eyeing their male with irritation. He was a sneaky one but they were sneakier. He didn't know just what was about to hit him.
Mac's lips curled in a slight smile, watching the irritation in Ruminskey's eyes as he landed a blow. She really didn't like that at all. He'd been surprised when she'd countered his first attack so easily, sure she was distracted enough that he'd land his first blow.
He wondered what she'd been thinking of that allowed his second blow to connect. He'd naturally pulled his punch. Breaking her sternum wasn't the goal today but he'd packed enough of his strength into it to ensure it hurt -- a lot.
He watched the irritation fade from her eyes to be replaced by calm thoughtfulness. He was impressed by how quickly she regrouped. Perhaps she was as good as his men reported her to be. He was instantly on alert.
When she moved, she was so fast, so graceful that for a fraction of a second he could only stare at her in amazement. He braced for her attack, watching alertly to gauge where she was going to try and catch him off guard. She was almost on him when she suddenly veered away, catching him by surprise.
That split second of inattention was all Lily needed. Her gaze locked with Mac's and she saw the almost imperceptible widening of his eyes. She blurred as if moving left, watched his head tilt in that direction to track her. Her fist slammed down hard as she immediately countered her movement, catching him on the side of his face. Her other fist hit him in the sternum in the exact place he'd caught her a moment before.
She was over his head, flying gracefully through the air and out of arm's reach a nanosecond after her blows had landed.
A startled gasp resounded from the spectators as Mac slowly shook his head and turned around to face the woman who had just done the impossible. No one had ever sucker punched the head of the Praetorians in that manner. Sure, he took the odd hit now and then when sparring, but Ruminskey had just made him look like a clumsy novice.
While he could acknowledge that she lived up to her impressive file, there was no way he'd let her get away with making him look foolish, even if that's how he'd behaved. His attraction to her had knocked him off balance and he'd tempered his initial blow because she was female. He was furious with himself for making such a rookie mistake.
"Never underestimate your opponent." His tone was factual, calm, and steady. It masked the lethal anger he was battling deep down. "And always learn from your mistakes."
Lily read the intent in his eyes but managed to keep her expression impassive. He was pissed and that meant this sparring match was about to get ugly. She would have to be at full strength to avoid being hurt, but she couldn't do that without Mac realising there was something different about her. An Elder at her supposed age simply could not beat someone as old as Mac.
"Crap, this is going to hurt, girl," she told her wolf with a sigh. "You need to follow my lead. Don't get pissed and try to shift." She took a deep breath and felt for her animal's agreement.
She could hold her other half by sheer force of personality but she liked sharing equally with her wolf. She believed that was what made her so good when it came to fighting, her respect for her wolf and acceptance of her duality.
Mac attacked before she got her animal's full agreement and she hissed as she was suddenly overcome by a thing of sheer beauty. Even as she dodged away from the vampire he was flowing through the air, all sleek muscles, deadly speed, and bone-crushing accuracy. Talons raked down her left cheek, slicing into her neck and hitting her collarbone.
"Sweet Jesus!" she groaned not even trying to counterattack, deciding to use her speed to get away from him before he could touch her again. Her face and neck ached and she could feel her blood flowing under her top and over the curve of her breast.
"You concentrate on keeping our scent masked while I work on healing," she told her wolf. She usually healed as quickly as vampires did but she wanted to make sure that nothing gave her away, so she split her concentration to ensure the wounds closed as quickly as they should.
Her eyes glittered as she kept her gaze locked on Mac's face. His expression was impassive but she could have sworn she saw his nostrils flare slightly, as if the scent of her blood was a weakness to him. Pity she couldn't let it flow longer and keep him off balance. Still, it would dry on her skin and hopefully tease him mercilessly.
So the gloves were off? Fire raced through her, adrenaline making her body coil with expectation. He'd drawn first blood but he would not get away with it. She would have the scent of his before their sparring session was over.
She smiled a slow, lazy smile full of respect and also a hint of amusement. She already knew Mac didn't like it when she smiled. He'd be pissed that she was amused by his little nail session on her skin.
"Have we finished pissing about?" she asked tauntingly. "Let's do it then, Mackenzie. I was starting to get bored with your little love taps." She crooked a finger at him insultingly. "Come and get me."
It had the desired effect. It shouldn't have. Mackenzie was too old and experienced to fall for a ploy as blatant as that but her quiet laughter, her deliberate taunting appeared to infuriate him. He came at her with talons out and fangs elongated. Lily suddenly had to use every single trick Gard had ever taught her to keep him at bay.
They spun, slashed, and danced around each other in a flurry of strength and speed. Mac managed to land blows but nothing as hard as his last hit, just as her own blows glanced harmlessly off him as she attacked and then spun away.
Her male was lethal, poetry in motion as he parried and struck, twirling at superhuman speed to try and get under her guard. She danced towards him and then away, waiting for the moment when she could be close enough to draw his blood and be so quick about it that no one would notice her wolf claws coming out.
It was exhilarating, sheer joy to spar with her mate, to see and feel his strength flowing around her. She was strong and fast and she needed a mate who could keep up with her, who could earn her respect enough that she'd be willing to submit to him. Mac was proving to be everything she could need and more.
Lily finally got her opportunity, finally managed to slip under his defences while his huge body blocked her from the others. Her subtle shift was instantaneous, her wolf alert for it, sharp claw breaking through her fingertips. They imbedded deep into Mac's right side, punching hard and ripping down. Blood flowed, the rich, heady scent of it filling her nostrils and making her head swim.
She saw shock in his gaze, his lips tightening against the pain, then his black eyes turned feral and her heart thumped painfully hard in her chest. Agony like nothing she'd ever experienced ripped through her. Mac's talons tore through her shoulder as they stood locked together.
"Does that hurt, sugar?" he whispered, gritting his teeth as her claws flexed inside him, curling instinctively against the pain she was experiencing. "You don't know what real pain is, little girl."
Lily screamed hoarsely, white light exploded in her head as he ruthlessly dislocated her shoulder from within her body. Her claws retracted, her hand coming up to grip his wrist and pull him away. But Mac was already moving, releasing her as soon as she released him, backing up to watch her with cold, expressionless eyes.
The pain was excruciating and not something which would easily heal without some intervention on her part. He would expect the wound to right itself in the manner of vampires and that wasn't going to happen. She turned and blurred out of the clearing, vanishing into the surrounding trees.
She shadowed herself the moment she was sure she was alone, using the Vârcolac's unique skill of appearing invisible, unseen by the eye, their scent completely masked. Picking a spot, she stood silently so as not to give away her position.
Her shoulder was throbbing; her blood had stopped flowing but she needed to knock her shoulder back into place to complete the healing process and that was going to hurt. She also knew Mac was going to come looking for her.
Mac stood in the clearing trying to fathom just what had happened. Sparring could be tough at times and pain was a necessary teaching tool, but what had just occurred crossed the line, even for his tough standards.
He'd become frustrated with Ruminskey as they'd sparred even as he'd been impressed by how good she was, how she managed to block his attacks with such skill and precision. She'd been exquisite and deadly in her movements, catching his interest as both a fighter and a man, which was how she'd managed to pierce his side. He'd become distracted by her and left himself open to attack.
That had infuriated him and he'd lashed out to counteract her blow. Something dark and dangerous has passed through him as she'd clawed inside him. Her actions had enraged him. Inside his head he could hear a word chanting over and over again. Wrong. It was wrong for her to hurt him. He couldn't explain it but he had reacted to it.
Her resulting scream had pierced his soul. Somewhere deep inside him pain had blossomed and it had nothing to do with her talons clawing at him. It had felt wrong for her to hurt him but that was nothing compared to what it felt like returning the favour. It wasn't just wrong for him to hurt her; it was unforgivable.
He'd released her at the same time she'd released him, trying to conceal his stunned shock. Her eyes were clouded with pain, her shoulder at the wrong angle. The scent of her blood was in the air, his hand red and slick.
Before he could say or do anything, she turned and vanished into the trees. Her retreat confused him and he could only stare at her as she disappeared. Then he took off after her, ignoring everyone else as he hunted down his prey. For the first time in a long time he had no idea what he was going to do with someone once he caught up with them, and he didn't like that one bit.
Andrea Ruminskey was messing with his head and he had no idea why he was letting her.
Lily held her breath as Mac streaked past her. She followed his scent, waiting until he was far enough away before pressing her lips tightly together and ramming her shoulder into the large tree trunk beside her. More agony raced through her but she managed to contain her scream this time. She leaned on the strength of her wolf as colours pulsed behind her closed eyes and tears slipped down her face.
After a few moments, the pain receded and she flexed her shoulder carefully to check the injury. There wasn't even a twinge now that her healing abilities could complete the process. As she wiped at her wet face, her wolf growled in fury, livid with their mate for causing so painful a wound.
"It hurt like a bitch but we scored against him too," Lily soothed her beast. "He is lethal though, isn't he? An excellent match for us. I think he's almost as good as Dad and that's saying something."
She wanted to be pissed at Mackenzie for hurting her but she had to concede that he'd won that battle. True, she had been hiding some of her more enhanced abilities and he probably wouldn't have caught her off guard so easily if she'd been at full strength, but his skills had been impressive. Even she could admit to that.
She slipped through the trees carefully and returned to the clearing. All eyes were watching the tree line, waiting for the combatants to come back. The Praetorians appeared surprised that she sauntered in on her own. She opened up her abilities and tested their emotions. Interesting! Shock, concern, surprise, and also respect. Something told her the recent sparring session had not turned out as most sessions usually did.
Walking casually over to the open chest, she inspected the many weapons contained within. Was her test over or would Mac expect to continue when he returned? She pulled out a short sword, balancing it on her palm. Would fighting him with weapons be a smart move? The man was lethal enough with his talons; things might get out of hand if they moved on to swords and knives.
She felt Mac approach and turned to watch him stride back into the clearing. His expression was neutral, his black eyes devoid of emotion as a slight breeze rippled through his inky locks. He looked like an avenging fallen angel, all dark menace and evil intent as he came to stand before her.