The Vampire’s Fake Fiancée

Page 53

She shook her head. “I was…full of myself. And I guess with reason. I’d won every tourney in my age group the last two years and that summer seemed to be shaping up to be more of the same. I lived to spar. I took on every comer. I even bested one of the visiting instructors. Fighting was my life.”

That was the last thing he’d expected to hear. “Really?”

She laughed bitterly. “Yes. There was talk of my becoming an instructor. And more talk of moving me into the Ragnarok Guard, the contingent of valkyries and berserkers who go into battle all over the world wherever assistance is needed, with intentions of grooming me for a commander position.”

He looked at her with this very impressive new information and saw her very clearly as the warrior she was. “So what happened?”

“One of the berserker commanders sent their best to meet me in a match. He was good. My equal, it was whispered to me. But Varren was a year older and immense. A mountain of a man even at seventeen.”

“I knew who he was, had seen him fight. I was thrilled to get a shot at him.” She flattened her hand on the mat and stared at the scar. “For several minutes, we tested each other. Then I went at him, ready to do some damage and make him know my name. We fought hard. I knocked him down. He was on his feet instantly and retaliated. That’s when he drew first blood, slicing me across the knuckles.”

She balled her hand into a fist. “It was like something broke inside me. My rage took over. The idea that someone had dared to draw my blood…”

She took a slow inhale. “They had to pull me off him. I almost killed him. Would have, I guess. The berserkers, they say they experience something like what I felt when they’re in battle. Blind fury. They welcome it. It’s what makes them invincible. But it made me feel like I’d lost myself.”

She sniffed and bent her head. “Like I was a monster.”

A small, dark spot appeared on the knee of her jeans and he realized she was crying. He took her hand. “Oh, Tessa. I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine—”

“You shouldn’t have to. No one should. It was awful. I lost control and it almost cost Varren his life.” She looked up at him, eyes wet. “I never want to feel that way again.”

“Which is why you work so hard to control yourself.”

She nodded. “I might have been born a valkyrie and that’s not something I can change, but I don’t want that to define who I am.” She pulled her hand out of his. “Not with this…thing inside me.”

“But you didn’t lose control today.”

She got to her feet. “Because I work at it. I’m always working at it.”

He stood beside her. “I’m sorry I made you fence. That must have been uncomfortable for you.”

She shrugged. “You didn’t make me. I chose to participate.”

“Did you also choose to test Evangeline?”

She made a face. “You figured that out, did you?”

He nodded. “It was clear how much more skilled you are than she. Like watching a…kitten and a tiger. You scored twice against her so easily. Why didn’t you just take the third point and end it?”

She tipped her head back. “Because Evangeline wouldn’t have been satisfied with that. Would she?”

“No. Losing to you would have pushed her to do worse.”

“And I wanted to see what she’d do. And how you’d react.”

“You were testing me.” His brows lifted. “Did I pass?”

“I was hoping you’d stand up to her, and you did. And it was a better alternative to her losing to me, because then we’d be wondering what she’d try next.”

“She’ll still try something.” He grunted, “Which is why I’m calling this charade over.”

“Before it’s finished?”

“She hurt you.”

Tessa’s fingers coasted over the welt on her cheek. “In an hour or two, this will be gone. Don’t let this be the reason you don’t get closure. Evangeline needs to sign those papers so you can be free.”

“You really want me to let her stay? To keep up this game?”

“Until it’s truly done, yes.”

He let out a long sigh. “All right. But you tell me differently and I will personally escort her to the town limits.”

Tessa smiled. “I appreciate that.”

He leaned in and kissed her forehead. “Why don’t you rest for a bit? I would still very much like to take you out for the dinner I’ve promised you.”

She nodded. “Don’t worry. That’s still happening. It’ll be good for Evangeline to see us together. And a rest sounds nice. I’ll be upstairs if you need me.”

He watched her go, thinking about all she’d told him and just how formidable an opponent Tessa could be. He’d never been so glad to have someone on his side. Nor had he ever underestimated anyone quite so much.

Tessa had only entered Sebastian’s bedroom when she realized she was no longer alone. She turned to find Evangeline in the doorway. A tiny ripple of fear passed through her. Was the woman going to try something now that Sebastian and Greaves were downstairs? Tessa decided if that’s what Evangeline had come for, she wasn’t going to find the same Tessa she’d just faced. “Can I help you? I came up here to rest, not continue sparring with you.”

Evangeline’s brows arched in surprise. “I’m not here to spar. I wanted to congratulate you.”

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