By: Jennifer L. Armentrout


I STARED AT THE CEILING OF THE GYMNASIUM, LITTLE BLACK splotches dancing in front of me. Man, my butt hurt. No surprise, as I’d landed on it about fifty times already. The only thing not burning with pain was my face; it was on fire for an entirely different reason.

My Gutter Fighting class wasn’t going well.

This style of hand-to-hand combat wasn’t exactly second nature. My muscles screamed as I pulled myself off the mats and faced our Instructor.

Running a hand through his thinning hair, Instructor Romvi looked disgusted with the entire class. “If he’d been a daimon, you’d be dead now. Do you understand? Dead, not alive, Miss Andros.”

Like there was some other definition of “dead” I wasn’t familiar with. I gritted my teeth and managed a nod.

Romvi shot me another scathing glare. “It’s difficult to believe you have any amount of aether in you, Miss Andros. The essence of the gods is wasted on you. The way you fight, you might as well be mortal.”

Hadn’t I killed three aether-craving daimons? Wasn’t that worth something?

“Square off. Keep your eyes trained on muscle movement. You know the drill,” he instructed.

I turned back to Jackson Manos, resident Covenant heartthrob and my current opponent. With his swarthy looks and those dark, sexy eyes, he could be quite the distraction.

Jackson winked at me.

I narrowed my eyes at him. We weren’t allowed to talk during sparring. Instructor Romvi felt it took away from the authenticity of fighting. Really, even in all of Jackson’s glory, he wasn’t the reason I kept missing his heel strikes and spin kicks.

The source of my absolute failure leaned against the training room wall. Dark waves tumbled over his forehead, falling into gunmetal gray eyes. Some would say Aiden St. Delphi needed a haircut, but I loved the wilder look he’d been favoring recently.

An instant later, our gazes locked. Aiden returned to the stance I was all too familiar with—well-defined arms crossed over his chest, legs widespread. Watching, always watching. Now he communicated a look that said I should be paying attention to Jackson and not him.

Tight coils sprung within me—another thing I’d grown accustomed to. It happened whenever I laid eyes on him. It wasn’t so much the near perfect curve of his cheekbones or the way his smile hinted at a set of dimples. Or that impossibly ripped body of his—

I snapped out my reverie with a moment to spare. I blocked Jackson’s knee with a brutal swipe of my arm, and then I went for a throat strike. Jackson countered it easily. We circled one another, delivering blows and dodging them. He stepped back, dropping his arms to his sides. I saw my opening and went for it. Spinning around, I aimed my knee for his midsection. Jackson darted to the side, but not quickly enough. I caught him hard in the stomach.

Surprisingly, Instructor Romvi clapped. “Good—”

“Oh, crap,” Caleb Nicolo, my best friend and partner in mayhem, moaned from the group of students standing against the wall.

The thing about defensive kicks—once we made contact with our opponents we either needed to go for the kill shot or back up. I’d done neither. Jackson doubled over my knee and went down, taking me along for the ride. We hit the mat, and somehow—and I seriously doubted by accident—Jackson ended sprawled atop me. His weight knocked my head back and the air out of my lungs.

Instructor Romvi yelled, slipping into a different language—maybe Romanian or something. Anyway, whatever he said sounded suspiciously like cursing.

Jackson lifted his head, his shoulder-length hair shielding his grin from the class. “Always on your back, huh?”

“Yeah, that’s more like your girlfriend. Get off.” I pushed at his shoulders. Chuckling, Jackson rolled and stood. Ever since the whole “my mom murdered his girlfriend’s parents” incident, Jackson and I hadn’t gotten along. Actually, courtesy of my dead daimon mother, I wasn’t getting along with most of the other students, either. Go figure.

Flushing with embarrassment, I scrambled to my feet and stole a quick glance at Aiden. His expression may have appeared blank, but I knew he’d already compiled a mental list of all the things I’d done wrong and filed it away. But he wasn’t my immediate concern.