Until I Die - By Amy Plum
I LEAPT, DRAWING MY FEET UP BENEATH ME, AS the seven-foot quarterstaff smashed into the flagstones where I had been standing a half second before. Landing in a crouch, I sprang back up, groaning with the effort, and swung my own weapon over my head. Sweat dripped into my eye, blinding me for one stinging second before my reflexes took over and forced me into motion.
A shaft of light from a window far overhead illuminated the oaken staff as I arced it down toward my enemy’s legs. He swept sideways, sending my weapon flying through the air. It crashed with a wooden clang against the stone wall behind me.
Defenseless, I scrambled for a sword that lay a few feet away. But before I could grab it, I was snatched off my feet in a powerful grasp and crushed against my assailant’s chest. He held me a few inches off the ground as I kicked and flailed, adrenaline pumping like quicksilver through my body.
“Don’t be such a sore loser, Kate,” chided Vincent. Leaning forward, he gave me a firm kiss on the lips.
The fact that he was shirtless was quickly eroding my hard-won concentration. And the warmth from his bare chest and arms was turning my fight-tensed muscles to buttery goo. Struggling to maintain my resolve, I growled, “That is totally cheating,” and managed to work my hand free enough to punch him in the arm. “Now let me go.”
“If you promise not to kick or bite.” He laughed and set me on the ground. Sea blue eyes flashed with humor from under the waves of black hair that fell around his face.
He grinned and touched my cheek, with an expression like he was seeing me for the first time. Like he couldn’t believe that I was standing there with him in all my 3-D humanness. An expression that said he thought he was the lucky one.
I rearranged my smile into the best glare I could muster. “I’m making no promises,” I said, wiping the hair that had escaped my ponytail out of my eyes. “You would deserve a bite for beating me again.”
“That was much better, Kate,” came a voice from behind me. Gaspard handed me my fallen staff. “But you need to be a bit more flexible with your hold. When Vincent’s staff hits yours, roll with the movement.” He demonstrated, using Vincent’s weapon. “If you’re stiff, the staff will go flying.” We walked through the steps in slow motion.
When he saw that I had mastered the sequence, my teacher straightened. “Well, that’s good enough for sword and quarterstaff today. Do you want to move on to something less strenuous? Throwing stars, perhaps?”
I held my hands up in surrender, still panting from the exercise. “That’s enough fight training for today. Thanks, Gaspard.”
“As you wish, my dear.” He pulled a rubber band from behind his head, releasing his porcupine hair, which sprang back into its normal state of disarray. “You definitely have natural talent,” he continued, as he returned the weapons to their hooks on the walls of the underground gym-slash-armory, “since you’re doing this well after just a few lessons. But you do need to work on your stamina.”
“Um, yeah. I guess lying around reading books all day doesn’t do much for physical endurance,” I said, leaning forward to catch my breath, my hands on my knees.
“Natural talent,” crowed Vincent, sweeping my sweaty self up into his arms and pacing across the room, holding me like a trophy. “Of course my girlfriend’s got it. In truckloads! How else could she have slain a giant evil zombie, single-handedly saving my undead body?”
I laughed as he set me down in front of the freestanding shower and adjoining sauna. “I don’t mind taking all the glory, but I think the fact that your volant spirit was possessing me had just a tiny bit to do with it.”
“Here you go.” Vincent handed me a towel and kissed the top of my head. “Not that I don’t think you’re totally hot when you’re dripping with sweat,” he whispered, giving me a flirty wink. Those butterflies that suddenly sprang into action in my chest? I was beginning to consider them permanent residents.
“In the meantime, I’ll finish your job and take out that pesky nineteenth-century weapons master. En garde!” he yelled, as he flicked a sword from off the wall and turned.
Gaspard was already waiting for him with a giant spiked mace. “You’ll have to do better than that measly steel blade to make a dent in