In all of my dorky awkwardness, I recorded myself reading a chapter from my new book, Blood Phoenix: Imprinted. Watch until the end and get an extra 45 seconds of bloopers.
If you want to read along, I’ve posted the chapter below.
Gene’s blade slammed against my own, the movement jarring vibrations down my arms and chattering my teeth. The sword in my hand felt like I wielded a skyscraper as a weapon. I took two steps back, wiping sweat from my lip, my other arm lowering in the process.
He advanced, and I twisted out of the way, throwing my sword down so that it stuck straight up in the dirt, swaying slightly. “I need a break.”
“You don’t get a break in battle.” Yet he stopped, gaze narrowing at how I discarded my weapon.
“Well, I’m done. Since this is practice, I’m taking five. My arms are about to fall off.” How likely would I use a sword in a fight anyways? Was I traveling back in time?
“A great number of us still use old-fashioned weapons to fight each other. Guns are useful against fae and bosex on a small scale, but most of them move faster than a bullet, as I’m sure you already know.”
I did; both Boden and I caught a bullet each before I arrived at Boot Camp.
“And you also know how conventional we can be. Stakes, swords, silver.” He gestured to my side where I’d been staked by a lion in a dark alleyway.
“Never seen anyone wielding a sword or a mace or even nunchucks, except for maybe Bruce Lee.”
The way Gene smiled made me suspect he’d watched his share of martial-arts films. I dated a boy once who loved Bruce Lee, part of the reason I took kickboxing as a self-defense class. That man could fight.
“You haven’t encountered many of us yet. Give it time.”
“Time’s what people keep telling me I’ve got.” I shook out the tired in my limbs and reached for the sword again. “So long as I survive being claimed.”
He gave me a pointed look, but let the amusement softened the small wrinkles around his eyes. His sword swung up to the ready again, and I yanked mine from the dirt.
Giant imaginary spiders clambered along my spine, freezing the sweat to my skin. Felix walked out into empty meadow with Adelina, Julia in tow behind them both. His hair styled in his signature faux hawk, pointed and threatening. They stopped where we could observe them from our little opening in the trees.
Cheeks sunken further than the other morning when I saw her last, Julia stood compliant between them. Felix gestured for her to put her hands up.
“Advance,” he said, the same way Adelina trained me.
Julia jerked forward, swinging at the female warrior. Adelina blocked the advance with ease and hooked Julia in the cheek, sending her staggering back.
“Again.” Felix circled around her, like a predator.
She started her swing with the twist of her hips, but faked and jumped out of the way before Adelina struck. Felix pushed her into the fight and his partner’s kick, making contact in her stomach and sending her breath wheezing out of her.
“Don’t be a coward.”
My heart ramped up, repulsed by their training. She’d made the right move, anticipating her opponent’s blows. They weren’t helping her.
Adelina smiled, sharp white against her tan, almost as demented as Felix’s. They were made for each other.
That wasn’t good for Julia.
She straightened, hands up in defense.
Gene’s grip found my shoulder, and I didn’t realize I’d stepped forward.
“Get me,” Adelina said. Laughing. Taunting her.
Fear showed in her posture, shoulders angled in, elbows protecting her ribs. Hesitation shifted her, tipping them off to her attack before she made it. As soon as her arm cleared her side, Adelina kidney punched her, crossed, and sprawled Julia on the grass.
I shot forward, ready to kick some common courtesy into Adelina or Felix or both.
Gene pulled me back, swinging me around so that I couldn’t see them fight anymore.
“No,” I said, my voice squabbled out. “No. I need to help her.”
“You have to choose your battles.”
Another three whacks sounded against flesh, and a soft noise emitted from Julia before she thudded to the ground again.
I twisted in Gene’s arms harder. I wanted to kill Felix, knock out his fangs and make him eat them; slice him from his sternum to his pelvis and gut him like the pig he was.
I caught a glimpse of Julia as she struggled to stand on shaky limbs.
Gene grabbed either side of my face, shoving images at me as quickly as I could swat them away. Bent close to me, he blocked my view of everything else. “If you don’t calm down, you will start something that I will have to finish.”
“How can you let this happen?”
“Because they’re not breaking any of the rules.”
Cobalt blue overtook my sight.
“Pick up your sword. Move to the gym. Now.”
Sucking in a breath, I grit my teeth.
Whack. Slap. Whack. Thud.
His thumbs pinched my chin as I sought out Julia again.
God damn it.
Spun on my heel, I grabbed my things and stormed off toward the squat building at the end of the semi-circle and the storage closet next to the room we trained in. I replaced my weapons in their allotted spots, hand convulsing around the handle a few times.
I turned on Gene. “Why won’t you let me help her?”
Reaching in beyond me, he replaced his sword and spread his fingers between my shoulder blades. “Do you remember how hard fighting Harris was? A renegade vampire not even two weeks younger than you.”
Instead of revving me up, my rage pacified me. I nearly died. How could I forget that? “Yes.”
“So what makes you think you can take down two vampires that are much older and much stronger than you? In front of the rest of the facility at that. Do you believe the others would merely stand there and watch? Especially when you take on one of Phea’s favorites for actions that do not break any rules. What do you think would happen to you? Do you think you would win? That you’d merely be beating down? That they wouldn’t kill you right in front of me? Because they would have the right if you interfere.”
“I could beat them if I used all of my abilities. My flames. Wind. Earth. Visions. I have more than enough to do that.”
“To what end?” Gene grew larger, protective. “To save one woman. A woman you don’t even know.”
“To save an innocent being from what will only amount to torture and rape before long.” Emotion, such a mix of hatred, despair, and helplessness, strained my voice. “It doesn’t matter if I know her or not. And you should know that.”
I wanted to tell him how he didn’t understand because he wasn’t a woman, but I couldn’t. He did know. Adelina had done this to him and worse—made him fight her before she raped him. And no one helped him.
Swallowing past the pain in my chest, I gently touched his tie. “So, I’ll ask again. Why don’t you want me to help her?”
His pause cracked my righteous foundation.
And he whispered, “Because I don’t want to lose you.”