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He makes it look so easy to punch someone. I had no idea it was this difficult.

“Do you want to switch?” he asks.


“If I try to punch you,” he says. “Can you defend yourself?”


“Try,” he says to me. “Just try to block me.”

“Okay,” I say, not actually wanting to. I feel stupid and petulant.

He swings again, slowly, for my sake.

I slap his arm out of the way.

He drops his hands. Tries not to laugh. “You are so much worse at this than I thought you’d be.”

I scowl.

“Use your forearms,” he says. “Block my swing. Knock it out of the way and shift your body with it. Remember to move your head when you block. You want to move yourself away from danger. Don’t just stand there and slap.”

I nod.

He starts to swing.

I block too quickly, my forearm hitting his fist. Hard.

I wince.

“It’s good to anticipate,” he says to me, his eyes sharp. “But don’t get eager.”

Another swing.

I catch his forearm. Stare at it. I try to pull it down like he did with mine, but he literally does not budge. At all. Not even an inch. It’s like tugging on a metal pole buried in concrete.

“That was . . . okay,” he says, smiling. “Try again. Focus.” He’s studying my eyes. “Focus, love.”

“I am focused,” I insist, irritated.

“Look at your feet,” he says. “You’re putting your weight on the front of your feet and you look like you’re about to tip over. Plant yourself in place,” he says. “But be ready to move. Your weight should rest on the heels of your feet,” he says, tapping the back of his own foot.

“Fine,” I snap, angry now. “I’m standing on the heels of my feet. I’m not tipping over anymore.”

Warner looks at me. Captures my eyes. “Never fight when you’re angry,” he says quietly. “Anger will make you weak and clumsy. It will divert your focus. Your instincts will fail you.”

I bite the inside of my cheek. Frustrated and ashamed.

“Try again,” he says slowly. “Stay calm. Have faith in yourself. If you don’t believe you can do it,” he says, “you won’t.”

I nod, slightly mollified. Try to concentrate.

I tell him I’m ready.

He swings.

My left arm bends at the elbow in a perfect ninety-degree angle that slams into his forearm so hard it stops his swing. My head has shifted out of the way, my feet turned in the direction of his punch; I’m still standing steady.

Warner is amused.

He swings with his other fist.

I grab his forearm in midair, my fist closed around the space above his wrist, and I take advantage of his surprise to throw him off-balance, pulling his arm down and yanking him forward. He almost crashes into me. His face is right in front of mine.

And I’m so surprised that for a moment I don’t know what to do. I’m caught in his eyes.

“Push me,” he whispers.

I tighten my hold around his arm, and then shove him across the room.

He flies back, catching himself before hitting the floor.

I’m frozen in place. Shocked.

Someone whistles.

I turn around.

Kenji is clapping. “Well done, princess,” he says, trying not to laugh. “I didn’t know you had it in you.”

I grin, half embarrassed and half absurdly proud of myself.

I meet Warner’s eyes across the room. He nods, smiling so wide. “Good,” he says. “Very good. You’re a fast learner. But we still have a lot of work to do.”

I finally look away, catching a glimpse of Adam in the process.

He looks pissed.


The days have flown by, kites carrying them off into the distance.

Warner’s been working with me every morning now. After his workout, and after my training with Kenji, he’s carved out two hours a day to spend with me. Seven days a week.

He’s an extraordinary teacher.

So patient with me. So pleasant. He’s never frustrated, never bothered by how long it takes me to learn something new. He takes the time to explain the logic behind every detail, every motion, every position. He wants me to understand what I’m doing on an elemental level. He makes sure I’m internalizing the information and replicating it on my own, not just mimicking his movements.

I’m finally learning how to be strong in more ways than one.

It’s strange. I never thought knowing how to throw a punch could make a difference, but the simple knowledge of understanding how to defend myself has made me so much more confident.

I’m so much more aware of myself now.

I walk around feeling the strength in my limbs. I’m able to name the individual muscles in my body, knowing exactly how to use them—and how to abuse them, if I do things wrong. My reflexes are getting better, my senses are heightened. I’m beginning to understand my surroundings, to anticipate danger, and to recognize the subtle shifts in body language that indicate anger and aggression.

And my projection is almost too easy now.

Warner collected all sorts of things for me to destroy, just for target practice. Scraps of wood and metal, old chairs and tables. Blocks of concrete. Anything that would test my strength. Castle uses his energy to toss the objects into the air and it’s my job to destroy them from across the room. At first it was nearly impossible; it’s an extremely intense exercise that requires me to be wholly in control of myself.

But now, it’s one of my favorite games.

I can stop and crush anything in the air. From any distance across the room. All I need are my hands to control the energy. I can move my own power in any direction, focusing it on small objects and then widening the scope for a larger mass.

I can move everything in the training room now. Nothing is difficult anymore.

Kenji thinks I need a new challenge.

“I want to take her outside,” Kenji says. He’s talking directly to Warner—so casually—something that’s still strange for me to see. “I think she needs to start experimenting with natural materials. We’re too limited in here.”

Warner looks at me. “What do you think?”

“Will it be safe?” I ask.

“Well,” he says, “it doesn’t really matter, does it? In one week we’ll be outing ourselves anyway.”