“You’ll pick it up,” he said, assuming a stance of defense, his knees bent, blade aimed at her once again, his free arm behind him, held level with his chest, “or you won’t. Either way, we fight.”

“I don’t want to fight you,” Isobel said. And it was the truth, though mostly because she had seen him do battle with these swords before. He’d moved like a column of flame, flicking to and fro, a graceful and deadly figure.

Considering that Isobel had never so much as touched a real weapon in her life, she didn’t think the contest would be a fair one. She stood no chance against him, and they both knew it.

“Clearly,” he said, “you do wish to fight me. That, you’ve already shown. I am simply in a better position, I think, to accept your challenge. At least my back is no longer turned. Now take your weapon.”

His answer, infuriating, sent a fresh wave of heat through her veins while also reminding her that Reynolds wasn’t big on caring about what was fair. Or right. Only for whatever happened to fit with his own agenda. Whatever that happened to be.

“You’re calling me a backstabber?” she spat.

“I am finished talking.”

“Well, I’m not!” Isobel shouted.

“On your guard,” he warned. “I strike on the count of five.”

Though her palms itched to grab the sword—the only means she could see to protect herself—the last thing Isobel wanted to do was give in to his demand. She’d had more than her fill of doing what he told her. Following his orders without questioning him, believing him when he’d said they were friends—that had all brought her here, to this moment. This time, though, she would not be so gullible as to play into his hands.

“Tell me why you’re doing this,” she said.


“I am doing this,” he growled, “because I have been given the order to kill and am bound to obey. It was not specified, however, that I should not first provide you with the means to defend yourself. That is my own kindness. Now draw!”

“Kindness?” Isobel railed.


She glared at him, and her eyes darted again to the sword still stuck in the floorboards. Now she wanted to pick it up.

He was doing it again, she thought. He’s finding your buttons and he’s pushing them. Don’t do it, don’t be his puppet.


Her gaze returned to that of her opponent.

“Three,” he said, his face emotionless.

But what had she heard in his voice just now? Had there been a slight catch in that single syllable, or had she imagined it?

“I—I don’t know how to fight,” she said, stalling.

“You don’t have to know!” And now he was yelling. “If you paid attention to a single thing about this world, then you would know already what to do. You’d have acted. Four!”

Though Isobel understood nothing of Reynolds—of Gordon—or his motives or who or what he was or what he was after, she had learned enough about him to recognize when there was something more slithering beneath the surface of his words and actions than he was willing to let on.

“And you could have killed me by now if you’d wanted,” Isobel said. “So why haven’t you?”

“Don’t make me.” His voice had dropped to a whisper, low and full of warning. He was nervous too, she thought, but about what? Could it be he’d been allowing her to stall?

He nodded at the sword embedded in the floor, which had only just stopped swaying.

“I will,” he said, and Isobel knew that he meant it.

This was all part of the game, she thought, all part of his charade. If Lilith told him to do something, he had to do it. Or else risk . . . what?

Deciding that she’d had enough of unanswered questions, that it was time for the truth, Isobel hurried forward and grabbed the sword. She pulled it from between the floorboards with both hands and reluctantly raised the blade toward him as she struck her own fight stance.

Though it might have been the pattern of light sliding over him as he moved back, Isobel thought she saw him smile, his eyes gleaming with some dark triumph she couldn’t name.

“Begin!” he shouted.

Isobel lunged at him and knocked his sword aside with her own.

His arm followed the movement of his blade, letting her know he’d allowed her to make the connection. Isobel didn’t doubt it.

Backing away from her, crossing one leg behind the other, he let her swipe at him again, then easily deflected her advance. Isobel lunged again and again, and each time, he sent her blade aside with his own.

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