Geez, it sounded like being treated like a second-class citizen would be an upgrade for the poor creatures. The Fae and their stupid class system! “I’m surprised Henry doesn’t have an army of them traveling with us to take care of his every need,” I grumbled as I started forward again. The adrenaline rush had been as effective as any cup of coffee, and I was finally feeling awake and alert.
“I’m sure he does,” Kimber said as she fell into step beside me. “They’re just better at their jobs than this one.”
I came to a stop. “Wait. You mean there are a whole bunch of those creatures traveling with us? And we’ve never caught sight of them?”
She nodded. “Yes, of course. Now hurry up or we’re going to be late.”
We hurried up, but we were still late. Keane had his arms crossed over his chest and was tapping his foot impatiently when we arrived. He frowned when he caught sight of Kimber, though that didn’t stop him from giving her a quick, head-to-toe examination. She looked fabulous as always, with her stylish khaki pants and her blue silk tank top. Not exactly rugged, horseback-riding wear, but Kimber was a big believer in form over function. I felt like an ugly stepsister standing beside her in my loose, faded T-shirt and my black yoga pants. (Pants I had to carry in my backpack, because they were made with Lycra and would disintegrate if they got outside my Faeriewalker aura.)
“Dana would probably be in Outer Mongolia right now if she didn’t have someone to guide her here,” Kimber said to explain her presence, and she and Keane shared a good laugh at my expense. I decided to take a page out of Keane’s book and go on the offensive before our lesson had officially started.
While he and Kimber were yucking it up, I aimed a sweeping kick at his calves. If he’d have been as unprepared as he looked, I might have had the satisfaction of seeing him land on his butt in a patch of what I suspected was horse poop. But, of course, I never get that lucky.
Keane jumped nimbly over my kick and was on me almost before he came down. His fist connected with my right shoulder, and my entire arm went temporarily numb. I tried to backpedal to avoid the next blow, but he was too fast for me. I partially blocked his next punch with my left arm, but it’s my weak side, and I found myself sprawled on the ground anyway. I hoped I hadn’t landed in the patch of manure, but I didn’t have time to worry about it as I rolled to avoid Keane’s pounce. He kindly allowed me to get to my feet before launching himself at me again. He locked his arms around me, pinning my own arms against my sides. I head-butted his chin—I’d have liked to aim for his nose, but I was too short to reach from this position. My forehead slammed into his shield spell, and I know for a fact it hurt me more than it hurt him.
“Good,” he said, still holding me there, arms pinned, “but you need to follow up in case the first blow wasn’t enough.”
No matter how much training Keane had given me, I was still squeamish about going for his groin. I knew I wouldn’t hit anything except his shield spell, but still, aiming a kick or a knee there just felt wrong.
“Let’s just pretend I followed up with a knee and leave it at that,” I panted.
“Sure,” Keane agreed, too easily. “Then we’ll also just pretend I let go.”
He dropped to the ground, and with my arms pinned, there was nothing I could do to soften the fall. My breath whooshed out of me, and then Keane’s weight came crashing down on top of me, and I thought I was about to die as my lungs fought for oxygen.
Dammit, would I never learn?
Keane lay still on top of me as I struggled to get air into my lungs. His eyes widened as they locked on something behind me I couldn’t see, and then his lips split into a grin. I figured Kimber was probably giving him an adoring “oh, my hero” look, appreciating his manly prowess. I tried to lurch into action before I was truly ready, which was never smart. I tried a sharp roll to my right, but it was hard to put much oomph in it while I was still struggling for breath, and we moved all of about two centimeters. Keane punished me for it with a tap on the chin—not a real punch, just a reminder that I hadn’t improved my situation by being impatient.
I sucked in a couple more breaths, regaining my strength as Keane continued to grin down at me. We were on the ground now instead of standing up, but we were essentially in the same position as we’d been before: my best shot at escape was brisk head butt, followed by a well-placed knee. I got Keane’s message loud and clear: he was not letting me go until I did what he wanted.
“Fine,” I gritted out from between clenched teeth, then jerked my head upward until I slammed into his shield again. He pretended to be in horrible pain, dropping his guard so he wasn’t primed to protect himself. I jerked my knee up between his legs, wincing in anticipation despite knowing I wouldn’t hurt him.
From behind me, I heard someone yell, “Down!”
Magic tingled across my skin, and my knee made solid contact with something that most definitely was not Keane’s shield spell.
Keane made a strangled noise and rolled off me, curling up practically in half as he clutched himself.
I hastily pushed myself into a sitting position and looked over my shoulder. And discovered that Kimber was no longer our only audience. Standing beside her, grinning smugly, was Ethan, and I belatedly realized it was his voice I’d heard yelling. I glanced over at Keane, who was still writhing.
“You took his shield spell down!”
Ethan looked completely unrepentant. “Serves him right for hitting a girl.”