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book #5 of Blood & Shadows










Did you expect me to go weak in the knees and thank my lucky stars that you decided to come back? Fuck you, Finn. Fuck you and the nag you rode in on.”

“I deserved that.”

“Oh, you deserve a hell of a lot more,” she grated.

“Go ahead.” Finn opened his arms in invitation. “Lay it on me.”

Don’t mind if I do. Laura hauled off and punched him as hard as she could across the jaw.

Finn staggered. “Someone taught you how to fight.” Was he laughing at her? “I’m glad. Show me some more.”

Furious as she was, Laura didn’t think to hold back. She launched at him with a quick combination of punches and kicks, and he let her land them without putting up any kind of resistance. Someone had, indeed, taught Laura how to fight—several someones, who’d know trouble was brewing before any of the rest of them had caught on. Three had given their lives to protect her students when the Shadows had first fallen on Karsengale. Four more had risked everything evacuating the most vulnerable to safety off world. A great many had fought, bled, and died so that she and hers could live, and Laura wasn’t about to shame them by pulling a single punch.

But Finn wasn’t fighting back. All he did was move enough here and there to protect himself from serious damage. She put all of her rage and sorrow into every strike, and somehow, all it did was make everything that much worse because he didn’t fight back.

Laura was so focused on hitting him, to somehow make him hurt as much as he’d hurt her, as if it would do any good at all, that she didn’t notice when Finn stopped taking a beating. But at some point, she brought her knee up toward his groin, and he caught it. When she followed up with a punch to his throat, he twisted out of the way, then blocked her elbow with his forearm.

All of a sudden, they weren’t fighting anymore. They were dancing, with Laura setting the pace and Finn flowing with her movements like so much water streaming over rocks. He didn’t avoid her touch completely—he seemed to be going out of his way to maintain contact. His hold lingered. When he shifted to avoid of deflect, he did it so she would brush across him. It wasn’t even close-quarters fighting anymore. With Finn sticking so close she felt his body heat against her, launching any kind of effective assault was next to impossible.

And then he started giving her pointers.

“Twist your hips into the punch,” he said. “Make sure your foot is secure before you kick. No, don’t bend. It throws off your center of gravity. If you can’t twist, move.”

She twisted, and he moved with her, staying at her back, his left hand around the arm she’d poised to punch with her next turn. He corrected the angle of her elbow without slowing her pace one iota, and turned with her, matching her move, kicking her foot into a position that felt much more stable. “There you go. Beautiful.”

Laura pulled her next punch. The cornfield was a steam box with the tall stems and big leaves insulating them from any potential breeze. It mucked with her brain, making her thoughts go sluggish. She’d been so angry before—and she still was. But somehow it wasn’t just anger anymore. Beneath everything bad Finn’s return had brought up, the sweet ache of longing still lingered.

She couldn’t have hated Finn half as much as she had if she hadn’t loved him so much first. He had broken her heart, and he did not deserve a second chance, no matter what William said.

Finn caught her by the waist from behind, his big hands burning through the worn material of her top, and her belly quivered. “Your core’s gone soft,” he said at her ear, and suddenly her pajamas felt much too abrasive on her skin. “You’re not getting tired, are you?”

Just for that, Laura jabbed back as hard as she could with her elbow. He groaned, and she gritted her teeth against a whimper. Badly done. Now he arm was numb from the elbow down. She spun away and faced him, fists raised in readiness, but her heart wasn’t in it anymore. Finn was just playing with her and, from the sound of his chuckle, enjoying the hell out of it.

Saints help her, so was she.

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