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Huntress (Chapter 8)

I can't lose this fight.

Suddenly that was the only thought in Jez's mind. She couldn't afford to be hurt or scared-or stupid.

There was too much riding on it.

And since Morgead had the advantages of telepathy and strength on her at the moment, she was going

to have to come up with some clever way to beat him.

It only took a moment to come up with a plan. And then Jez was carrying it out, every ounce of her

concentration focused on tricking him.

She stopped backing up and took a step sideways, deliberately putting herself in a position where she

could make only a clumsy block. Then she gave him an opening, holding her stick awkwardly, its tip

toward him but drooping too far down.

You see-it's my elbow, she thought to him, knowing he couldn't hear her, but willing him to take the bait.

My elbow hurts too much; I'm distracted; the stick is no longer an extension of me. My right side is

unprotected.

She was as good at it as any mother bird who pretends to have a broken wing to lure a predator away

from her nest. And she could see the flash of triumph in Morgead's eyes.

That's it; don't waste time injuring me anymore … come in for the kill.

He was doing it. He'd stopped trying to get her into a corner. With his handsome face intent, his eyes

narrowed in concentration, he was maneuvering for a single decisive strike; a takedown to end the

combat.

But as he raised his fighting stick to make it, Jez pulled her own stick back as if she were afraid to block,

afraid of the jarring contact. This was the moment. If he caught on now, if he realized why she was

positioning her stick this way, he'd never make the move she wanted him to. He'd go back to disarming

her.

I'm too hurt to block properly; my arm's too weak to raise, she thought, letting her shoulders droop and

her body sway tiredly. It wasn't hard to pretend. The pain in various parts of her body was real enough,

and if she let herself feel it, it was very nearly disabling.

Morgead fell for it.

He made the strike she wanted; straight down. At that instant Jez slid her leading foot back, shifting just

out of range. His stick whistled by her nose-missing. And then, before he could raise it again, while he

was unguarded, Jez lunged. She put all the power of her body behind it, all her strength, slipping in

between Morgead's arms and driving the stick to his midsection.

The air in his lungs exploded out in a harsh gasp and he doubled over.

Jez didn't hesitate. She had to finish him instantly, because in a second he would be fully recovered. By

the time he was completely bent over she was already whipping her stick out and around to strike him

behind the knee. Again, she put her whole weight behind the blow, following through to scoop him onto

his back.

Morgead landed with a thud. Before he could move, Jez snap-kicked hard, catching his wrist and

knocking his stick away. It clattered across the floor, oak on oak.

Then she held the pointed end of her own stick to his throat

"Yield or die," she said breathlessly, and smiled.

Morgead glared up at her.

He was even more breathless than she was, but there was nothing like surrender in those green eyes. He

was mad.

"You tricked me!"

"All's fair."

He just looked at her balefully from under the disordered hair that fell across his forehead. He was

sprawled flat, long legs stretched out, arms flung to either side, with the tip of the snakewood

fighting stick resting snugly in the pale hollow of his throat. He was completely at her mercy-or at least

that was how it seemed.

Jez knew him better.

She knew that he never gave up, and that when he wasn't too mad to think, he was as smart as she was.

And as sneaky. Right now the helpless act was about as sincere as her wounded bird routine.

So she was ready when he threw another blast of Power at her. She saw his pupils dilate like a cat's

about to pounce, and she braced herself, shifting the stick minutely to push into his collarbone as she

leaned forward.

The energy smashed into her. She could almost see it now, with the sixth sense that was part of her

vampire heritage. It was like the downrush of a nuclear cloud, the part that went flowing along the

ground, destroying everything in its path, spreading in a circle from the point of impact. It seemed to be

faintly green, the color of Morgead's eyes. And it packed quite a punch.

Jez gritted her teeth and hung on to the fighting stick, keeping it in place, letting the Power wash through

her. It blew her hair back to stream in a hot wind and it seemed to last forever.

But finally it was over, and she was tingling with pain, with a metallic feeling in her teeth. And Morgead

was still trapped.

He hissed at her, an amazingly reptilian sound.

"Got anything else?" Jez said, grinning down at him with narrowed eyes. Every bruise on her body hurt

afresh in the aftermath of the blast-but she

wasn't going to let him see that. "No? I didn't think so."

Morgead's upper lip lifted. "Drop dead, Jezebel."

Nobody was allowed to use her full name. "You first, Morgy," she suggested, and leaned harder on the

stick.

The green eyes were beautifully luminous now, with sheer anger and hatred. "So kill me," he said nastily.

"Morgead-"

"It's the only way you're going to win. Otherwise I'm just going to lie here and wait to recharge. And

when I've got enough Power I'll hit you again."

"You never know when it's over, do you?"

'It's never over."

Jez bit down on a rush of fury and exasperation. 'I didn't want to have to do this," she snarled, "but I

will."

She didn't kill him. Instead, she hurt him.

She grabbed his wrist and locked it, with her hand holding his and her stick on top of his wrist. She

could use leverage here to cause severe pain- or to break the bone.

"Give up, Morgead."

"Bite me."

"I'm going to break your wrist."

'Tine. I hope you enjoy it." He kept glaring.

Like a little kid threatening to play on the freeway, Jez thought, and suddenly, inexplicably she was

almost overcome by laughter. She choked it back.

She didn't want to break his wrist. But she knew

she had to. And she had to do it soon, before he regenerated enough Power to hit her again. She

couldn't take another of those blasts.

"Morgead, give!" She put enough pressure on his wrist that it really hurt.

He gave her the evil eye through dark lashes.

"You're so stubborn!" Jez put on more pressure.

She could tell it was hurting him. It was hurting her to keep the steady pressure up. Shooting stars of

pain were zinging in her elbow.

Jez's heart was beating hard and her muscles were beginning to tremble with fatigue. This was much

more difficult for both of them than a clean break would have been. And he was a vampire- his wrist

would heal in a few days. She wouldn't be injuring him permanently.

I have to do it, she told herself. She tensed her muscles-

And Morgead took a little quick breath, an indrawn hiss of pain. For just an instant his green eyes lost

their gemlike clarity, unfocusing a bit as he winced.

Jez let go of his wrist and collapsed to sit beside him, breathing hard.

You are so stupid, her mind told her. She shook her hair out and shut her eyes, trying to deal with the

fury.

Beside her, Morgead sat up. "What are you doing?"

"I don't know!" Jez snarled without opening her eyes. Being weak and idiotic, she answered herself. She

didn't even know why she couldn't go through with it. She killed vampires-and less obnoxious ones than

Morgead-all the time.

"I didn't yield," Morgead said. His voice was flat and dangerous. "So it's not over."

'Tine, blast me."

Tm going to."

"So do it."

"What, you like it so much?"

Jez snapped. She grabbed her stick off the ground and turned to look at him for the first time since she'd

sat down. "Yeah, I love it, Morgead! I'm crazy about pain! So do it, and then I'm going to hit you over

your thick head so hard you won't wake up until next week!" She might have said more, but the look in

his eyes stopped her.

He was staring at her intently, not simply belligerently as she'd imagined. His green eyes were narrow

and searching.

"You're just crazy period," he said, sitting back, his gaze still probing. In a different tone he said softly,

"So why didn't you do it?"

Jez lifted her shoulders and dropped them. There was a pit of anger and misery in her stomach. 'I

suppose because then I'd have to break every bone in your body, you jerk. You'd never give up, not

with that new power you've got."

"I could teach it to you. The others aren't strong enough to learn it, but you are."

That forced a short laugh out of Jez. "Yeah, right." She shut her eyes briefly, wondering what Morgead

would say if she were to tell him why she could never learn it.

He'd squash me like a bug, she thought, and laughed again.

"You laugh weird, Jez."

"I have a twisted sense of humor." She looked at him, blinking wetness out of her lashes. Where had that

come from? There must be something in her eye. "So. Want to start this fight again?"

He was staring at her hand gripping the snakewood stick. Jez tried to keep that hand steady, but she

could feel the fine tremors in the muscles. She took a deep breath and clenched her teeth, making her

gaze challenging.

I can fight again. I can do it because I have to, and this time I won't let any stupid sympathy get in the

way of beating him. I have to win. Everything depends on it.

Morgead looked back at her face. "No," he said abruptly. "We don't have to do it again. I yield."

Jez bunked in shock. It was the last thing she'd expected. Morgead's expression was cold and

unreadable.

Jez got mad.

"Why?" she blazed at him. "Because I'm tired? Because you don't think I can take you?" She whipped

the stick up, ready to split his stupid skull.

"Because you're crazy!" Morgead yelled. "And because-" He stopped dead, looked furious. Then he

said curtly, "Because you won fair the first time."

Jez stared at him.

Slowly she lowered the stick.

Morgead's expression was still distinctly unfriendly. But he'd just made an almost unbelievable

admission.

"You just don't want me to whop you anymore," she said.

He gave her a sideways look that would kill pigeons in midair.

Jez let out her breath. Her heart was just beginning to settle down and relief was spreading through her.

I did it I really did it. I'm not going to die today.

"So it's over," she said. "I'm back in."

"You're leader," Morgead said sourly. "Enjoy it, because I'm going to be right behind you every step,

just waiting for my chance."

"I wouldn't expect anything else," Jez said. Then she blinked. "What are you doing?"

"What do you think?" His face set, his eyes on the far wall, Morgead was tugging his shirt away from his

neck, and leaning his head back.

"I have no idea-" Then Jez realized. She went cold to the tips of her fingers.

I didn't think. I should have remembered, but I didn't, and I didn't plan for this….

"Blood in, blood out," Morgead said shortly.

Why didn't I remember? Panic was stirring inside Jez. She couldn't see any way to get out of it.

For human gangs "blood in, blood out" meant you got beat up when you were jumped in, and you didn't

leave until you were dead. But for vampire gangs…

I can't bite him.

The most frightening thing was that something

inside her wanted to do it. Her entire skin was tingling, and it suddenly seemed as if it was only yesterday

that she'd had her last blood meal. She could remember exactly how it felt, sinking her teeth into smooth

skin, piercing it easily, feeling the warm flow start.

And Morgead's blood would be dark and sweet and powerful. Vampire blood wasn't life-sustaining like

human blood, but it was rich with the hidden promise of the Night World. And Morgead was one of the

strongest vampires she'd ever met. His blood would be full of the mastery of that new attack, full of raw,

vital young energy.

But I don't drink blood. I'm not a vampire! Not anymore.

Jez was trembling in shock. In the entire year since she'd stopped drinking blood, she'd never been so

tempted. She had no idea why it had come on like this now, but it was almost out of her control. She

pressed her tongue against one sharpening canine, trying to restrain it, trying to get some relief from the

stress. Her upper and lower jaws were aching fiercely.

I can't. It's unthinkable. If I do it once, I'll never be able to stop. I'll become-what I was back then.

I'll be lost

I can't-but I have to. I need to get back in the gang.

Morgead was staring at her. "Now what's wrong with you?"

"I. . ." Jez was dizzy with fear and longing and

the sense of danger. She couldn't see any way out….

And then she saw it.

"Here," she said, unbuttoning the collar of her shirt. "You bite me."

"What?"

'It satisfies the requirement. Blood has to be spilled. And it's the leader who does it"

'You're the leader, idiot."

"Not until I'm back in the gang. And I'm not back in the gang until blood is spilled."

He was staring at her, his eyes hard and demanding and not amused at all. "Jez… that's ridiculous.

Why?"

He was too smart. She didn't dare let him keep thinking about it. "Because I think it's the proper

procedure. And because-I overfed last night. I don't want anymore." She stared straight into his eyes, not

allowing a muscle to quiver. Trying to force her version of the truth into his brain.

Morgead blinked and looked away.

Jez allowed herself to relax minutely. She had one advantage over Morgead; there was no way he could

even imagine her real motives. She just hoped he wouldn't discern the human flavor to her blood.

'If you won't tell me, I give up." He shrugged. "So, fine. If that's the way you want it…"

"It is."

"Whatever." He turned back to her and reached for her shoulders.

A new shock rocked Jez. Morgead never hesitated

once he made up his mind, but this was a little unnerving. His grip was a bit too firm and authoritative;

Jez felt out of control.

And how am I going to shield myself? she thought wildly, clamping down on a new wave of fear. He's

already a powerful telepath and sharing blood increases rapport How am I supposed to block that-?

Everything was happening too fast; she didn't have time to plan or think. All she could do was try not to

panic as Morgead drew her close.

Jerk… he's had too much experience at this, part of her thought furiously. At subduing any kind of

prey. At gentling scared girls-human girls.

He was holding her lightly and precisely; he was tilting her chin back. Jez shut her eyes and tried to blank

her mind.

And now she could feel the warmth of his face near her skin; she could feel his breath on her throat. She

knew his canine teeth were extending, lengthening, thinning to needle points. She tried to control her

breathing.

She felt a swathe of warmth as he licked her throat once, and then a pain that made her own teeth ache.

His teeth had pierced her skin, sharp as obsidian.

Then the release of blood flowing. Her life, spilling out The instinctive twinge of fear Jez felt had nothing

to do with him invading her mind.

No vampire liked to make this kind of submission. Letting someone drink your blood meant you were

weaker, it meant you were willingly making

yourself prey. Everything inside Jez protested at just relaxing and letting Morgead do this.

And maybe that was the answer, she thought suddenly. A wall of turmoil to cover her thoughts. Pretend

to be too agitated to let him make contact. …

But his lips were surprisingly soft on her throat, and the pain was gone, and he was holding her more like

a lover than like a predator. She could feel his mind all around her, strong, demanding.

He wasn't trying to hurt her. He was trying to make it not-terrible for her.

But I want it to be terrible. I don't want to feel like this….

It didn't matter. She felt as if she were being pulled by a swift current, dragged and tumbled into some

place she had never been before. Sparkling lights danced behind her closed eyelids. Electricity crackled

through her body.

And then she felt his mouth moving gently on her throat, and the world fell away….

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