Bryce bit back a groan as she stretched her aching muscles. Even though she’d kept up long hours in the gym and running around the city over the past two years, it wasn’t quite the same, she thought wryly, as actually dancing. Her hips and calves, especially, had started to cramp about halfway through the 90-minute class, now unused to the movements that used to be second nature. She had expected there to be a readjustment period after not dancing for so long, but had forgotten exactly how painful her body could be after holding and repeating the small, precise motions of ballet.
At least, she thought to herself, no one recognized the Autumn King’s daughter among the tights-and-leotard-clad group in Madame Kyrah’s class. The media had finally stopped lurking outside her apartment once Hunt had threatened them within an inch of their lives if they didn’t leave her alone. It was the first and only time she had let him go full-alphahole, and she would be lying if she said it wasn’t a turn on to watch him land in front of them, lightning crackling, and send them running. Her face had disappeared from the news entirely after that, and thankfully for her there was plenty to keep the gossip columnists and sleazy reporters busy in this city.
With a final roll of her ankles, Bryce pulled off her ballet shoes and padded over to her belongings. Since she was planning to go out to dinner with Ruhn, she put the dress she had worn to work on over her leotard and slipped her feet back into her high heels, tossing her dance shoes into her bag. With a small smile despite the soreness already setting in, she slung her bag over her shoulder and headed out to the lobby of the studio.
Ruhn was indeed waiting for her, but didn’t notice her until she was practically on top of him. He was deep in conversation with a large, handsome male, also Fae judging by the pointed ears peeking out through short silver locks. They seemed to both be examining something on Ruhn’s forearm, and Bryce caught the end of their conversation as she approached.
“...needs to be filled in a little bit here,” the stranger was saying, gesturing with his pinky finger at a small area of Ruhn’s skin. Bryce cleared her throat as she stood before them, and both males looked up at her.
“Bryce!” Ruhn exclaimed, pulling her into a tight hug, which she returned quickly before stepping back. She flicked a questioning look at the male next to him, meeting his piercing green eyes for half a heartbeat before looking back at her brother. “This is Rowan,” he explained. “He did some of my tattoos. Rowan, this is my sister, Bryce.”
“Nice to meet you,” Bryce said, shaking Rowan’s hand. “I didn’t realize anyone but witches did tattoos here in the city.”
Rowan gave her a small smile as he released her hand. “I had a witch teach me while I was still in the Aux, so I could do my own.” He gestured to the left side of his face, where the swirls of an intricate tattoo slipped below his shirt collar and spilled down his arm. Bryce was able to make out a few words written in the Old Language of the Fae wrapped around his massive bicep. “When I decided I wanted to do something different with my life, I opened up my own shop.”
Bryce opened her mouth to compliment his work, but was interrupted before she could speak. “Buzzard, are you harassing these nice people?” drawled a female voice from behind her, and she whirled to see a stunning blonde, also Fae, standing with her arms crossed and her own dance bag over her shoulder.
Bryce looked back to Rowan, who gave her a long-suffering look before tucking the female into his side. “This is my wife, Aelin. Fireheart, this is Ruhn and his sister Bryce.” Aelin smiled as she shook their hands, recognition lighting her eyes as she took them in. To Bryce’s eternal gratitude, however, all she said was, “I noticed you during class. You have excellent technique.”
“Likewise,” Bryce replied with a smile. Indeed, among the group of mostly humans, Aelin had stood out, her grace unmatched even by the other Vanir in the room. Bryce had been silently cursing the female for making the rest of them look bad in comparison, but the mischievous slant to her smile and the way her intimidating husband clearly adored her had Bryce sensing a kindred spirit. So she took a chance, giving the blonde a wicked grin of her own, and said, “Your husband does excellent work. I was just about to ask him if he’d do a purple unicorn with wings on my ass.”
Ruhn choked and Rowan turned red, but Aelin threw her head back and howled with laughter. “He’s much better with abstract shapes,” she managed between giggles. “You wouldn’t want a wonky unicorn on your ass forever.”
“That’s a good point,” Bryce conceded, nodding gravely but still grinning like a fiend.
Ruhn, it seemed, had had enough, and gently grasped her by the elbow. “Come on B, I’m starving,” he pleaded, gesturing to the door.
Bryce rolled her eyes, but allowed Ruhn to lead her away. "See you next week?" she called over her shoulder to Aelin.
"I'll help you sketch out that tattoo!" came the reply, along with a yelp as Rowan pinched her hip.
Bryce chuckled as she and Ruhn stepped out onto the sidewalk and joined the throng headed toward the Old Square. "Gods, Bryce, couldn't you wait until after he touched up my tat to antagonize the guy?"
"Oh shut up, Ruhn," she replied good-naturedly, elbowing him in the side as they strode off toward the restaurant.
The next week Bryce had just left Griffin Antiquities to head to Madame Kyrah’s class when she heard someone calling her name. She whirled to see Aelin striding toward her, bag on her arm and a friendly smile on her face. Bryce returned the grin, waiting for the other woman to catch up with her. “Hey, Bryce!” Aelin said brightly as they fell into step together. “Doing some shopping?” she asked, gesturing over her shoulder with her thumb to the closed door behind them.
“No, I work there. I’m officially an ‘Assistant Antiquities Dealer’ but practically speaking I’m Jesiba’s bitch,” Bryce replied, and Aelin laughed. “Do you work around here too?”
“Yeah, at the University,” Aelin said as they rounded the corner toward the studio. “I’m in charge of acquisitions for the library.”
"I bet you come across some really interesting stuff," Bryce prodded, intrigued.
"Mostly I order whatever new textbooks the professors assign their classes," Aelin admitted, "but once I came across a sexual advice book written for angels. Some of the illustrations were very instructive." She gave Bryce a suggestive eyebrow wiggle. "Speaking of angels, is it true that you're dating Hunt Athalar? I could track down that book for you if you want." Bryce snorted at the shit-eating grin on Aelin's face, but the other woman continued. “What’s he like? He seems like the sort to toss you over his shoulder and have his way with you.”
Bryce gave her a disbelieving look. “Says the woman married to a literal wall of muscle!” Aelin gave her a wink, which sent both of them into a fit of laughter that lasted until they reached the door of the studio. “Tell you what,” Bryce said as they walked into the changing room, “he’s coming to pick me up tonight after class and you can meet him yourself.”
The two women took up spots next to each other during class, and while they didn’t have many opportunities to speak Bryce found that she enjoyed merely being in Aelin’s company. Not only was her technique exquisite, as she had noticed the first class, but Bryce saw the same joy in her face that she herself experienced while twisting and leaping across the floor. Before she knew it, they were both sitting on the ground stretching, the room emptying out around them.
“I’m starving,” Aelin announced as she stood. She walked over to her belongings and rifled through her bag. “Ugh, I really have to remember to pack snacks.”
Bryce’s stomach rumbled in agreement as she rose and went to her own bag. She pulled on a pair of sweatpants and swapped her ballet slippers for the flats she had worn to work. Checking her phone, she saw a chain of texts waiting for her.
Feathery Pain in the Ass: What time is your class over again?
Feathery Pain in the Ass: Oh never mind, I asked Ruhn
Feathery Pain in the Ass: He says hi
And then, from just a moment ago:
Feathery Pain in the Ass: I’m here.
Feathery Pain in the Ass: Waiting outside because this lobby is seriously claustrophobic
Bryce grinned, gathering up everything and tossing her bag over her shoulder. Turning to Aelin, she asked, “Ready to meet the Umbra Mortis?”
Aelin’s answering smile was positively feral. “Lead the way,” she gestured with a flourish. Bryce shouldered her way through the still-crowded lobby and onto the sidewalk outside. Looking around, she immediately spotted a large winged figure, and headed toward him.
Hunt had been staring down at his phone, but looked up as he heard them approach. He was dressed casually in jeans and his backward sunball cap, and Bryce’s heart gave a small lurch the way it always did when his dark eyes met hers. She gave him a small smile and a kiss in greeting, before turning back to introduce him to Aelin.
She found her friend standing a few paces behind her, gaping open-mouthed at them. “The Umbra Mortis wears a sunball cap?” she exclaimed disbelievingly, and Bryce burst out laughing as Hunt tensed beside her.
“That was my first reaction too,” she admitted between chuckles. She gave Hunt’s waist a small squeeze as she turned back to him. “Hunt, this is Aelin. Aelin, Hunt.”
Hunt relaxed as he reached out to shake Aelin’s hand. She gave him a long, appreciative look as she took in his muscled frame and silver-gray wings, before letting out a low whistle and looking over to Bryce. “You didn’t tell me he was gorgeous,” she said accusingly, lips curling up into a grin.
“And he cooks, too,” Bryce said, returning the smile as Hunt cleared his throat. Bryce looked over to find him raising his eyebrows, and he pinched her gently on the hip in retaliation.
“Ready to go?” he asked, pulling her closer into his side. She nodded, turning to say goodbye to Aelin.
“See you next week?”
Aelin, who was gazing at Hunt's wings with what looked like envy, nodded. “Do you want to walk together again? I go by your job on the way.”
“Sure,” Bryce replied with a grin. “Same time as today?”
“Here,” Aelin said, thrusting her phone into Bryce’s hands. “Give me your number, and I’ll text you when I’m outside the gallery.” Bryce quickly tapped in her number, saving it as Bryce with the Gorgeous Boyfriend before handing the phone back. Aelin laughed as she saw Bryce’s contact name and tapped a few buttons. Bryce heard her phone vibrate inside her purse. “There, now you have my number too. You can save it as Fire-Breathing Bitch Queen, ” she added with another wink.
“Sure thing, your majesty,” Bryce called as Hunt scooped her into his arms and shot them into the air, pulling her into his chest tightly.
“So I guess you made a new friend?” he asked as he angled them toward their apartment.
Bryce shrugged as best she could while squished against him. “I met her and her husband last week, and she didn’t get mad when I asked him to tattoo my ass, so I think we’re practically best friends now.”
“And what, exactly, did you ask him to tattoo on your ass?” Hunt asked, his eyes narrowed.
“Jelly Jubilee, of course,” Bryce replied with a smirk, which sent a low chuckle echoing through his chest.
“Well I’m glad you have someone to walk with, even if she did objectify me,” he teased, his voice still tinged with laughter.
“Oh please, you like that she called you gorgeous,” Bryce said with an eye roll as they landed on their rooftop. “You Vanir males and your damn vanity. You’ll be preening like a peacock for a week.”
Bryce made to extract herself from his embrace, but he merely strode toward the door that led to the staircase. “I like that you didn’t disagree with her, sweetheart,” he said into her neck, making her shiver in delight and anticipation as he finally set her down, shooting her a cocky grin before disappearing down the stairs.
Several weeks after meeting at Madame Kyrah's class, Aelin asks Bryce and Hunt if they would help teach a self-defense class run by Aedion and Lysandra.
Is there any plot yet? No, there is not. Is this chapter any good? Honestly couldn't tell you. Hope you enjoy it anyway.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Over the next few weeks, Bryce’s Thursday evenings fell into a familiar routine. Around five o’clock, Aelin would text that she was on her way, and Bryce would lock up and meet her outside the gallery to walk together to Madame Kyrah’s class. Along the way, Bryce learned more about her new friend, including that she was actually half human and not full Fae as Bryce had initially thought. “My mom was Fae,” Aelin had said, and Bryce’s face must have shown her surprise because she continued, “Yeah, not your typical half-Fae, half-human situation. My mom fell in love with my dad, and she actually decided not to make the Drop so she wouldn’t outlive him. They both passed a few years ago.”
She also learned that Aelin had an older brother, Aedion, who “inherited all of the overprotective Fae male bullshit” and smothered her until she made the Drop at 24 and “handed him his ass” in power rankings. “You’ll love his wife, though,” Aelin had added with a grin. “Lysandra is a leopard shifter, so whenever Aedion tries to pull his territorial nonsense with her she reminds him how sharp her teeth and claws are.”
Bryce had laughed at that, saying, “She sounds like my kind of girl,” and Aelin had grinned and promised to introduce them. In return, Bryce found herself telling Aelin about her own upbringing, about moving to Crescent City and meeting Danika and the pack. Aelin had nodded understandingly when Bryce explained how Danika was like a sister to her, tears pooling in her eyes when Bryce talked about her death. On this particular evening, she had finally gotten to the part of the story where Micah had asked for her help investigating the more recent murders and how she had met Hunt.
“Whatever happened to Micah?” Aelin interrupted, looking at Bryce thoughtfully. “The Asteri just said he went missing during the demon attack.”
At the mention of the Asteri, Bryce’s blood ran cold, remembering their barely-veiled threat to never reveal what had happened. “With any luck he was dragged straight to Hel and torn apart slowly,” she said with a shrug, although her fingers clenched involuntarily, remembering the weight of Danika’s sword as she used it to slice his body to pieces.
Aelin’s eyes narrowed. “Sure,” she said slowly, her gaze piercing as she shot Bryce a sharp look. “Well, I certainly don’t miss him,” she added, seeming to accept Bryce’s silent plea to not push the issue. As they rounded the corner to Madame Kyrah’s studio, she asked, "Will tall, dark and feathery be picking you up today?"
Bryce laughed at that description of Hunt, and Aelin's teeth flashed in a grin as well. "That's the plan," she answered, and Aelin nodded as they walked into the lobby.
"Good, I have something I'd like to ask you both before you leave."
Bryce opened her mouth to ask her friend for more details, but glancing at the clock above the reception desk she realized she only had a few minutes to change and warm up before class would begin. Cursing under her breath, she hurried off to get ready.
Once class began, Bryce had little opportunity to think about whatever it was that Aelin wanted to ask her and Hunt, but by the time they were sitting together and stretching her curiosity had returned in full force. She barely changed out of her dance clothes, merely pulling a pair of shorts over her leotard, before following Aelin out of the studio to where Hunt was waiting.
“Ladies,” he greeted them with a smile. This, too, was their usual Thursday routine. A few weeks ago, Hunt had admitted he liked the fiery woman, even if she had developed a habit of making bird puns whenever the opportunity presented itself. “I’m glad you have another female friend,” he had told Bryce, who had teared up and flung her arms around him. Tonight, however, there was no mischief in her face as she and Bryce approached him, and if Bryce didn’t know better she might have thought her friend was nervous.
“What is it you wanted to ask us?” Bryce asked as she turned to face her.
“Well,” Aelin began tentatively, “you know how I told you my brother Aedion owns a gym?” Both Bryce and Hunt nodded, this particular piece of information having come up a few weeks prior. “The first and third Friday of every month he offers a free women’s self-defense class, and it’s gotten so popular that he needs some more instructors. Would you two be interested in teaching, even just for a class? I’m really sorry about the short notice,” she continued, “but if you’d be available tomorrow it would be a huge help.”
Bryce exchanged a look with Hunt, a glance telling her they were undoubtedly on the same page. “Of course, we’d be happy to,” she exclaimed with a smile.
Aelin blew out a breath of relief. “Thank you so much. And,” she added with a grin, “since the class is over at 8 and The White Raven is open again, drinks afterward are on me.”
“Deal,” said Bryce with a laugh, even as a little shiver ran down her spine at the thought of her last visit to the club. She brushed it off, though, as Aelin caught sight of a silver head of hair at the end of the street, and started off in that direction.
“I’ll text you the address!” she called over her shoulder, and Bryce waved in acknowledgement before Hunt scooped her into his arms to take her home.
“Are you sure about this?” he asked once they were airborne.
“Are you ?” she countered, looking up into his face. “I didn’t think you’d really be up for teaching a self-defense class.”
He was silent for a moment, and when he spoke he couldn’t quite keep the emotion out of his voice. “I can’t help but wonder, if someone had taught my mother how to defend herself, or at least get away, if she might have survived the robbery that ended her life. And I’m so, so grateful to Randall for teaching you.”
Bryce was speechless, tears forming in her eyes that had nothing to do with the wind whipping around them, and she buried her face in his chest as he squeezed her a little more tightly. Neither of them spoke as Hunt landed on their rooftop, setting her down but not letting go, and Bryce wrapped her arms around his waist as she tilted her face up to his. He kissed her softly, sweetly, bringing a lump to her throat once again.
“So yes,” Hunt said finally, pulling back to rest his forehead against hers, “I am definitely up for teaching a self-defense class. “And if you don’t want to go out afterward,” he continued, “I am also up for being a grumpy asshole.”
Bryce laughed at that, before reaching up to wrap her hands in his hair and pull him down for another kiss. “I love you,” she murmured against his lips, and he grinned.
“Tell me something I don’t know, Sweetheart,” he teased, before turning her toward the door. “Now let’s go have dinner, or you’ll end up being the grumpy asshole.”
The next evening, at exactly 15 minutes to 6, Bryce and Hunt found themselves on the border of FiRo and the Meadows, standing in front of a building which, from the outside, looked like a large warehouse. Bryce checked the address again on her phone’s GPS, then shrugged and stepped forward and through the door.
The space inside was indeed outfitted as a gym, with a large reception desk in front of an open weights area. Off to the left, she spotted a hallway lined with lockers, no doubt leading to changing rooms, and to the right was a large open area with mats laid across the floor and a familiar blonde figure. “Bryce, Hunt!” Aelin called, striding over to them. “Thanks again for coming.”
Bryce grinned at her. “Of course, glad we could make it. Is there somewhere we could leave this for later?” she asked, gesturing to the bag slung over Hunt’s shoulder.
“Just drop it there behind the desk, no one will touch it,” she said, waving her hand nonchalantly. “Come on, I want to introduce you to everyone.” She turned and led the way around the corner into the large open room, where three other figures stood. “You’ve met Rowan, of course,” she said to Bryce, who smiled at the silver-haired male as she shook his hand in greeting. “Rowan, this is Hunt,” Aelin continued, and Bryce felt the angel stiffen beside her as he locked eyes with the large Fae.
“Urd spare me,” Bryce muttered, although with all of the Vanir ears in the room she might as well have shouted it. Aelin, who as yet hadn’t noticed the dominance battle raging between the two males as they grasped hands, turned and gave them a curious look, before rolling her eyes dramatically.
“Rowan, they are doing us a favor,” she complained. “Can you not do the territorial Fae bullshit for once in your gods-damned life?” Rowan gave her a smile that was hardly more than baring his teeth, but relaxed his grip and nodded at Hunt when his wife gave him a solid poke in the ribs. Bryce gave Hunt what he liked to call her “I will cut your balls off and feed them to you” look, and the corner of his mouth twitched as he released the other male’s hand.
“This is my brother Aedion,” Aelin continued, and Bryce turned to find another tall, handsome Fae male before her. Even without the introduction she would have known who he was, his blonde hair and turquoise eyes an exact match for Aelin’s.
“Thanks so much for coming,” Aedion said as he shook her hand. “It’s so hard to find female instructors, especially on short notice.” He turned to shake Hunt’s hand as well, thinly-veiled admiration written on his face. “We’ve never had an angel instructor either,” he said, eyeing Hunt’s wings. “Would you mind giving a demo on how to get away from an attacker who can fly?”
Before Hunt could answer, a stunning brunette poked her head up beside Aedion. “Can we at least finish saying hello before you start talking shop?” she groused good-naturedly, not waiting for Aelin to introduce her. “I’m Lysandra,” she said with a grin, and Bryce noted a faint pattern of white spots along her arm as she reached forward to shake hands. “I’m a big fan of the way you decapitated demons with a giant sword.”
Bryce laughed as Lysandra’s smile widened to show too-sharp teeth before she turned to Hunt. “I’m a big fan of that too,” he assured her, and the leopard shifter chuckled before linking her arm through Bryce’s and pulling her away.
“Come on, we’ll check people in as they arrive and leave the boys to their pissing contest,” she said, steering Bryce back toward the front desk as Aelin fell into step beside them. Bryce looked over her shoulder to see that Hunt and Rowan were indeed still eyeing each other up, while Aedion was asking Hunt rapid-fire questions about fighting with wings.
“They’ll either be best friends or dead in a pool of blood by the time class starts,” observed Aelin, drawing a snort from Bryce. Before she could respond, however, the door opened and in walked a nervous-looking woman, her eyes darting around the space before she walked up to the desk. “Are you here for the self-defense class?” asked Aelin, and she smiled encouragingly as the woman nodded. “Did you sign up online?” Another nod. “Name?”
“Yrene,” she squeaked out, and Aelin looked down a list on the desk and made a small check mark.
“Welcome, Yrene,” said Lysandra. “We still have a few minutes until class starts. Let’s get you situated.” She led the woman off toward the large, open area where the three males were apparently arguing about whether to talk about defending against an attacker with a weapon.
Bryce watched Yrene flinch as Aedion said, perhaps more loudly than necessary, “Look, guns are way too easy to get access to in this city, it’s important to talk about,” and Lysandra flashed him an annoyed look.
“Don’t worry,” she said reassuringly, “you don’t have to work with any of the boys if you’re uncomfortable.” Bryce lost track of the rest of their conversation as the door opened again and a few more women trickled in, evidently having been here before as Aelin greeted them with a smile and waved them through.
“So what exactly is the format of this class?” Bryce asked when they were alone again.
“Typically, we start with about 30 minutes of demos, then pair the students up to practice for about 45 minutes, and the last 15 minutes is a recap and whoever wants to can try out what they’ve learned on one of the boys,” she explained. “It’s a good thing these Vanir males are pretty much indestructible,” she added with a smirk. “Although the Medwitch around the corner gets plenty of business from us as well.”
Bryce laughed at the dangerous glint in Aelin’s eye, and she suspected that perhaps more than one injury had been inflicted at the hands of the woman beside her. Aelin’s wild grin only served as confirmation of her suspicion, but the arrival of more students cut their conversation short.
Women, mostly human but a few Vanir as well, continued to arrive in a steady stream over the next quarter hour, and Bryce was shocked when she looked at the clock to see that it was already time to get started. “That’s everyone,” Aelin confirmed, and the two of them went back to the other room to begin the class.
The students were scattered around the room, many with apprehensive looks on their faces as Aedion clapped his hands for attention. Bryce sidled up to Hunt, who was standing off to the side of the room, and he wrapped an arm around her and pulled her into his side. “Glad to see you’re still on one piece,” she snarked, and Hunt just smirked at her as Aedion began speaking.
“Thank you all for coming,” he began. “It’s great to see both new and familiar faces this week. If you’ve been here before, you’ll notice two new instructors today, Bryce and Hunt.” He gestured to them, and Bryce gave a small wave and bit back a smile as Hunt tried to arrange his features into a friendly expression. “To start off, Hunt has agreed to teach us how to defend against a winged attacker, then we’ll practice some of the maneuvers we learned last week. Hunt?”
Ignoring some of the whispers that had cropped up at the mention of his name, Hunt squeezed Bryce’s waist before leaning down to her. “Would you help me with my demo, Sweetheart?”
Bryce gave him a wicked smirk that promised he would regret asking her, but he merely returned her grin before grabbing her hand and leading her to the front of the room. He looked out over the room, taking a quick survey of the students, before dropping Bryce’s hand and beginning to speak. “For you all, the most important thing when dealing with a winged attacker is to not let him get you airborne,” he said. “Once you’re in the air, almost no one will be able to come to your aid, and you also run the danger of being dropped, so it’s imperative to get away while you’re still on the ground. Fortunately,” he continued, “an angel will need to land to be able to grab you properly and shifters are generally too small to carry off people in their animal forms, so you don’t have to worry about being grabbed by someone already in the air.”
Bryce looked around as he spoke, taking in the various reactions of the audience, from wide-eyed terror to thoughtful nods. “Also,” said Hunt, “there are only a couple of ways to carry someone while flying.” He swept Bryce into his arms, one behind her knees and the other at the small of her back, and her arms wrapped around his neck automatically. “This way is very difficult if the person you are trying to carry is not cooperative,” he explained, before setting her on her feet and standing behind her. “Most likely, someone trying to abduct you would carry you like this.” He placed Bryce’s arms at her sides, wrapping his around her entire torso and trapping her legs between his own. He then spread his wings, taking both of them into the air a few feet with a powerful sweep. “This way, even if you struggle,” - Bryce did so, trying to twist out of his grip - “it’s easier to keep his hold.” He set them down lightly, pressing a quick kiss to Bryce’s head before releasing his grip.
“So, the important thing is to not let anyone grab you,” he concluded. “Angels have the same weak points as any male, and our wings are especially sensitive. So if you can hit or scratch an angel’s wings, or pull out a handful of feathers, that’s every bit as painful as a heel strike to the top of the foot or elbow to the nose.” Many women around the room were nodding, so Bryce took that as her cue to take up the instruction.
“Like most predators, any male that tries to grab you is looking for weak prey,” she began, parroting back Randall’s lessons to her from all those years ago. “You don’t have the strength to fight off a Vanir male, and you probably can’t outrun him, so you want to make yourself enough trouble that he decides you aren’t worth the effort.” She walked a few steps away from Hunt, then gestured for him to try and attack her.
He cocked his head, assessing, before stalking toward her, his dark eyes bright with challenge. Bryce let her lips curl into a smile as she sunk into a slight crouch, letting him make the first move toward grabbing her before she whirled, grabbing and twisting his arm, using his momentum to flip him over her shoulder and flat on the mat. He retaliated by sweeping his leg toward her, trying to kick her feet from under her, but she jumped out of the way. Faster than she could follow, he was on his feet again and had her wrists in his hands, pulling her into his chest. She allowed him to pull her in, bringing her knee up between his legs and tapping his inner thigh, since she was reluctant to actually damage her favorite part of his. He reacted as though she had, doubling over in pretended pain, and she brought her knee up again to tap his nose. He threw his head back, his grip on her wrists loosening, and she took the opportunity to twist out of his grasp.
“And now,” she said, addressing the classroom again, “you run screaming for help.” She looked around, finding Aedion off to the side, and nodded to him to indicate that their demonstration was finished.
“Thank you both!” he called, applauding as he walked back over, and a smattering of applause followed from the rest of the room. “Many of the techniques Bryce just used are ones we have practiced in the past, so everybody pair off and take turns being the attacker.”
A flurry of activity followed Aedion’s instructions, and Bryce felt Hunt at her back again as she watched the students tentatively try to grab each other. “Why haven’t we sparred before?” Hunt murmured, and Bryce suppressed a shudder at the feeling of his breath on her neck.
“Probably because you don’t want me to shatter your fragile male ego by kicking your ass,” she replied, leaning back into him as his hand snaked around to settle on his hip.
“You sound awfully sure of yourself, Sweetheart,” he taunted, and Bryce felt a quickening of her pulse that had nothing to do with the physical exertion as his thumb began drawing small circles against her skin where her shirt had ridden up.
Thankfully, she was saved from doing anything that would embarrass herself in front of a room full of people by Lysandra, who asked them to wander around and offer pointers to the various groups of students. She winked at Hunt, whose eyes were several shades darker than usual, before striding off to the opposite corner of the room. The rest of the class passed quickly, as she got caught up in demonstrating various maneuvers and correcting the students’ forms, and she was surprised when Aedion called a halt to the activities.
“Okay,” he said, looking around the room, “who is going to try and beat up Rowan tonight?” The silver-haired male rolled his eyes, but stepped forward gamely. A tiny woman with long, dark hair walked to the front of the room, a wild grin on her face.
“What makes you think this time will be any different than the last eight, Elide?” Rowan taunted, flashing his teeth as he settled into a crouch. Over his shoulder, Bryce saw Aelin give the woman a thumbs-up as she settled into a defensive position. They circled each other for a moment before Rowan lunged, moving faster than even Bryce with her Fae eyesight could follow. Somehow, Elide managed to dodge him twice before one of his large arms wrapped around her, dragging her to the floor and pinning her limbs to the ground.
“Not bad,” he admitted, rising to his feet and helping her up, “you’re getting much better at reading your opponent’s movements.” The tiny woman flushed, pleased at his praise.
“Anyone else?” called Aedion as Elide retook her place.
“How about you, Yrene?” Lysandra asked, gesturing to the woman in question. “It’s your first class, right?”
Yrene nodded, looking terrified, and Rowan gave her a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry,” he said, “just try a few of the moves you learned tonight.” He gestured her up to the front, and when she stood before him he moved with slow, exaggerated motions. “So if I grab your arm like this, what do you do?”
Yrene twisted her arm, forcing his around uncomfortably so he had to let go. “Good,” Rowan encouraged. “And if I grabbed you from behind?” He placed his hands on her arms, and she stiffened for a moment before tossing her head back toward his face and stepping gently on the top of his foot with her heel. He released her, and she spun, bringing up her knee in the same move Bryce had used on Hunt. Bryce felt a flare of pride in her chest as Lysandra stepped in to congratulate Yrene on learning so much in one class.
“My turn,” Lysandra said as Yrene returned to the back of the room, and Rowan grimaced as he sized her up. “You aren’t afraid, are you, brother dearest?” she teased, and Aelin’s eyes were also bright with mirth as she watched her husband and her sister-in-law face off.
“This always ends the same way,” he grumbled, but lunged for Lysandra with the same Fae speed he had used on Elide. Lysandra didn’t even try to avoid him, letting him grab her tightly, before she grinned and shifted, and suddenly Rowan was holding a huge white leopard, which snarled as it swiped at him with a paw.
Bryce laughed as Rowan swore and dropped the leopard, which turned back into the beautiful woman as soon as she was out of his grasp. He growled at her half-heartedly, but then Aelin was at his side and Bryce was surprised to find Hunt had taken the spot next to her. “I could probably take him,” he whispered in her ear, and she turned to frown at him.
“Don’t you fucking dare,” she said immediately, praying that Rowan hadn’t heard. There was no way a Fae male would let a challenge like that go unanswered, but thankfully his attention was on Aedion as the blonde male announced the end of the class. The students filed out, a few of them chatting amongst themselves or calling goodbyes to Aelin and Lysandra, and within a few minutes the large room was empty once again.
“Thank you both again for coming,” said Aelin, walking over to where they stood. “I thought Aedion was going to pass out when I said you’d be here. He’s a big fan,” she added with a conspiratorial wink to Hunt, who grinned as he shoved his hands in his pockets.
“We were happy to do it,” he said, and Bryce nodded her agreement.
“Well I hope you’re ready for some fun,” she continued. “The White Raven is only a few blocks away, so we’ll get changed and head over there?”
Bryce smiled. “Sounds good, let me just grab my stuff.” She led the way back to the reception desk, where Hunt had left their bag, and rummaged through to find his clothes for him before taking the rest of the contents and following Aelin to the women’s changing rooms.
Lysandra was already there, dressed to kill and touching up her mascara as Aelin and Bryce walked in. “So when are you going to teach me how to fight with a sword, Bryce?” she called as Bryce walked into a stall.
Aelin gasped in outrage. “I have been offering to teach you for the last two decades!” she shrieked, and Bryce laughed along with Lysandra as she peeled off her athletic wear and pulled on a short, tight dress.
“We’ll have to train sometime, Aelin,” she replied, stepping out of the stall and setting her own makeup bag on the counter. She carefully applied a layer of lipstick the same shade of red as her hair, before powdering her face and drawing an exaggerated wing with her eyeliner. She fussed with her cosmetics for a few more minutes, adding a shimmering layer of highlighter on her cheekbones as a finishing touch, before packing everything back up and looking around.
Aelin and Lysandra were also finished primping, and the blonde woman let out a low whistle as she looked at their reflections in the mirror. “We look incredible, ladies,” she drawled, before flipping her hair over her shoulder and leading the way out to the lobby.
Their partners were already waiting for them, and Aelin snorted as she looked at their attire. All three wore head-to-toe black, a sharp contrast to the red, blue, and pink of Aelin, Lysandra, and Bryce’s outfits, respectively. “Why do we even let you come out with us?” griped Lysandra. “You have no style whatsoever.”
“Clearly, just to carry our stuff,” agreed Bryce, shoving her bag at Hunt, who raised his eyebrows at her but obediently took it from her hands. She’d be paying for that little comment later, she was sure.
“Well, let’s go then,” Aelin said, and led the way out the door. She wasn’t wrong when she had said The White Raven was nearby, as barely five minutes later their small group rounded the corner to the club. Bryce smiled at the bouncers as they bypassed the line, and one nodded in the direction of her usual booth, which was sitting empty. She led the way to the table, which earned her questioning looks from everyone but Hunt, but she waved them off.
“A friend once did Riso a huge favor,” she explained as all six of them scooted into the booth, which seemed to be explanation enough as a waiter came to take their drink orders. Bryce agreed to a glass of wine from the bottle that Aelin and Lysandra ordered, and before long the waiter was back to ask if they wanted to order any food.
“I’m afraid there will be a bit of a wait, though,” he said apologetically, “since we’re down a couple of people this evening.”
They assured him it wouldn’t be a problem, before placing their orders. The three males ordered meat-heavy entrees, seemingly another strange Vanir show of dominance, while Lysandra ordered pasta and Aelin asked for a bowl of stew and slice of chocolate cake. Bryce decided that she was in the mood for dumplings, and the waiter disappeared with what was undoubtedly the strangest order he’d be putting in that evening.
Bryce was content to sit and chat while they waited for their food, but Lysandra seemed to have another idea. “Come on, ladies,” she yelled over the music of the club. “Let’s dance while we wait for the food to get here.” She grabbed Bryce’s hand, pulling her out of her seat, and Bryce only hesitated a moment before following her to the dance floor.
Aelin looked delighted, eagerly strutting along next to them, and she grabbed Bryce’s other hand as they created a space for themselves among the other bodies already writhing to the beat. “I’m so glad you came,” she shouted, bringing her mouth close to Bryce’s ear, and despite her earlier misgivings, Bryce was glad too.
She said as much, and Aelin’s answering smile was brilliant. “And your boyfriend is pretty enough to hang out with us,” she continued. They looked over to where all three males were still sitting, looking like they were uncomfortably making small talk, and Bryce matched the other woman’s grin with her own.
Aelin and Lysandra dropped her hands as they started dancing, both of them singing along to the catchy pop song playing over the club’s speakers, and Bryce felt something in her chest unlock as she felt the rhythm of the music in her bones. And, for the first time since Danika died, Bryce allowed herself to enjoy the moment as her hips began to sway.
Aedion is a huge fanboy and you can't change my mind :)