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Sweat slicked his skin. He lifted his arm in an automatic block and felt the zing of impact up to his shoulder. A grin stretched his lips as he backed up, circling her on the sparring mat. “You’re getting better, Ember.”
“I still haven’t taken you down,” she panted, her sunburst eyes glowing with battle light and with the power she managed to keep just banked.
“Keep dreaming, baby,” he laughed.
“I’m going to beat you, Gage Dempsey,” she declared, punctuating each word with an attempted strike.
When she snuck in a blow to his kidney, Gage stopped laughing and corrected his stance.
He lived for these sparring matches with Embry. He lived for any of the stolen time they managed to spend together, even if she just came to the dojo because she wanted to learn the ways of the Shadow Walkers and her father wouldn’t teach her. He didn’t know how Adan would react to the fact that he was teaching Embry to fight. Or the fact that his protégé was in love with his daughter. And Gage couldn’t afford to anger his mentor. Not when he owed Adan everything. So other than this, Embry was off limits.
A blast of dry heat knocked him back two steps.
“Hey now, you’re losing your cool. Keep the fireworks under wraps, padewan.”
“I will burn your ass, Obi-wan.”
Gage ducked as a roundhouse whispered by his head, countering with a low spin kick that caught and buckled her knee. From the mat, Embry scissored her legs around his and brought him down to her level. She swarmed over him like a monkey, struggling for any kind of hold, but he just rolled and twisted in her ever frustrated grasp. Which was amusing until the friction of her lithe little body rubbing against his caused another problem.
He pinned her with his body, pressing both her arms to the mat. Her long legs were wrapped around his hips like a vice, and Gage could feel his erection straining against his gi pants toward her heat. His breath shuddered out as he struggled for some kind of control. This was Adan’s daughter. She was practically his sister.
Gage tried to back up, but Embry’s legs only tightened. He felt himself twitch against her, and he his face flamed in mortification. “Uncle,” he muttered, voice rough. “You win. Let me up.”
Embry tipped her hips experimentally against his, and he strangled on his own breath. His head dipped as he struggled not to react. She moved again.
“Don’t,” he barked. “We’re not going to play this game, Embry.”
“Gage.” At her soft voice, he looked up and met her eyes. The gold ring that circled her pupil was pulsing. “Let go of my hands.”
He released her, planting his own hands on the mat and pushing up to keep them from touching her anywhere else. He tried to find somewhere else to look. Straight down put him on eye level with her breasts, and his mouth watered at the thought of suckling one puckered peak. Straight ahead gave him a full on view of them in the mirror, and his all too active imagination decided to treat him to what those tangled limbs would look like if they were both naked. Christ.
Her hands, soft and insistent, framed his face and forced him to look at her. And it wasn’t a girl beneath him. Wasn’t anyone he could convince himself to think of as a sibling. She was a woman, fully aroused, fully aware. Her extraordinary sunburst eyes stayed focused on him as she rose up and captured his mouth.
His arms and shoulders trembled. He was not so weak a fighter that he couldn’t extricate himself. He should throw her off, end this madness.
But the taste of her seeped into his veins and fired his blood. She would burn him up from the inside out, leaving nothing but cinders. Yet he couldn’t pull away.
She shoved at him until he rolled, reversing their positions. Rising over him like some kind of fire goddess, she pulled the tight t-shirt over her head, growling a little in frustration as it caught in the long tangle of auburn. The sports bra she wore zipped in the front. The zipper was already partially down, and her breasts strained against the cotton. He ached to fill his hands with them. Because he didn’t trust himself, he clutched her thighs and held still.
She bent over him again, her hands sprinting over his chest. Everywhere she touched, he burned, a delicious edge one step away from pain that left him wanting more. If this was lunacy, he reveled in it.
“Gage,” she murmured, her lips barely brushing his.
Embry sat up, her eyes fixed on his in challenge, and slowly unzipped her sports bra. Her breasts spilled out as she shrugged the thing off. “Touch me,” she ordered again, lifting both his hands and placing them over her breasts. A hum of pleasure escaped her, and he was lost.
He reared up to take her mouth as he shifted his hands to cradle her breasts. They were full and heavy in his palms, the nipples budding taut and hard beneath the stroke of his thumbs. In his lap she began to move to the rhythm of his stroking. On a gasp he broke the kiss and stilled her. “You’ll need to stop that unless you want this over before it’s started.”
“I need you,” she whispered, and the plea brought him one step closer to madness.
Gage dropped his forehead to hers. “I have to know, Ember. Have you ever . . . ”
“No. I wanted it to be you. I always wanted it to be you.”
Her first. God, he’d never imagined she would want him.
Gage stroked the hair back from her temple. “Embry, I . . . ”
“Let her go.” The voice echoed through the dojo and froze his blood, drying up the words he’d been about to speak
Instead of obeying, Gage pulled Embry closer to shield her from the intruders as he watched them step out of the shadows. There were three of them, each clad in the dark gray or black that was the standard issue for Shadow Walkers. He didn’t know them, but he knew their kind. After all, he’d been trained to be one of them. As Adan wasn’t among them, Gage could only assume the powers that be had finally found out about him and the vigilante missions Adan had trained him for.
“What do you want?” he asked, carefully easing up, keeping Embry’s body pressed close to his as he shifted to put himself between the intruders and her, both as a means of protection and to preserve some measure of her modesty.
“I said, let her go.”
“Matthias, don’t. He didn’t—” Embry started.
“Shut your mouth, child. You weren’t supposed to be here.”
Gage’s mind whirled. So they were coming after me. They don’t want her. I can keep her safe if I can just get her out of here. “Will you be taking me to the Council?” he asked. He moved over a couple of steps, retrieving Embry’s t-shirt and passing it back to her.
“And expose Adan’s little side project? I don’t think so. We’re simply here to take care of the problem before it gets any further out of hand.” This came from the Walker to Matthias’ left. He was lean with the ropy muscles and long-fingered hands of a wraith.
“Take care of the problem,” said Gage. “Meaning me.” Behind him, he felt Embry stiffen. Before she could speak, he clamped his hand down tight on hers in warning. He knew every inch of this dojo, could visualize it under any condition. Right now he opened his mind, searching for the shadows. There was a sliver, behind him. Not much, but it might be just enough for him to dematerialize them both out of here. Without knowing him, they wouldn’t be able to follow. Not fast enough. He could get Embry away, keep her safe.
“Do you have any idea how many rules Adan violated with you? Bringing a human into our world?” The demand came from the Walker on the left. His dark face was barely differentiated from the shadows in which he stood. The outlines of his broad body were still blurred.
“I know he gave me my life.” Gage edged backward, trying to push Embry into a corner.
“A mistake we intend to rectify before it destroys him,” said the wraith.
“No!” The heat behind him was instant, scorching.
Gage turned toward her, shouting, “Embry, no!” But the fireballs were already flying from her hands toward the two flanking Walkers. They phased out even as Matthias dove forward and caught Gage around the waist.
Matthias was the bigger man, but Gage was younger, faster. He twisted and threw the Walker into a wall, already scrambling toward Embry.
She was a living flame, more than ever the child of her fire elemental mother. Heat and light pulsed off her in waves, expanding, beating in a terrifying rhythm as the nimbus grew and grew.
If she went nova, she’d kill them all.
Gage dove into the light, feeling no burn, no pain, just desperation to save her. If he could drag her out of the light and into the shadows, he could get her away to safety. Drawing on the darkness, he reached out for her. “You have to shut it off!”
“No, you don’t underst—”
His hands closed around her arms. For a heartbeat everything stilled. Then, agony ripped through him, an insatiable inferno of pain as everything she was projecting shot into his body and ripped him apart.
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