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“Are you the ex-prostitute? They sent me to find him,” a deep voice inquired from behind me.

I flinched, not having even realized someone had walked into the room I taught exercise classes in when the weather wasn’t nice enough outside. All I had wanted was some time alone to stretch out, maybe center myself, and catch my breath from all the crap going on around us.

Instead I got this.

I slowly raised my head and met his eyes in the mirrors, trying to ignore how piercing they were and that the light refracted off them, making them look like diamonds instead of really light ice blue. When I noticed the almost white hair hanging in his face and huge frame, it hit me—he had to be one of Dag’s brothers. I shook my head, too upset by his words and that someone had referred to me that way in the first place to answer.

He gave a huff and stepped closer. “So you’re not Everett? They said an Everett Townsend was the teacher of this classroom and that’s who I need.”

“I wasn’t a prostitute,” I snapped as I pushed to my feet. I didn’t want to be in a compromising position with my ass in air for this conversation—even if it was simply stretching out. “You asked for the ex-prostitute and I never was one, but I’m Everett.” I spun around to face him and did a double take in the change in his expression. He looked pale, jaw hanging open, maybe as if he’d been punched in the gut. “I was a stripper. I never had sex for money.”

He did a great impression of a clown fish but then shook his head. “Right, it’s two separate professions nowadays. My apologies, they did say you were a stripper.”

“Nice that’s what people mention about me first,” I drawled, leaning over to grab my workout towel and wiping my chest. “Who are you and what do you want?”

“Right, first, I am sorry. I don’t hold any judgments against people who engage in those professions.” I flinched, hating how strippers were always lumped in with hookers. It wasn’t the same. He must have seen it because he cursed under his breath. “What I mean is it’s nothing different than what you’re doing now.”

“Excuse me?” My eyes went wide as I fought a battle inside me to storm over to him and punch him for the insult… And self-preservation that knew the guy could flatten me like a pancake. “How the fuck is teaching kids the same as selling my ass for money?”

“No, I didn’t mean it like that. I simply meant both professions are based off your talents, a service you can provide. One is no different than the other to me.”

I took several deep breaths, registering the way his hands were held out in surrender, the sweat forming on his brow, and the wild look in his eyes. “You’re a horrible conversationalist.”

“I am,” he sighed, scrubbing his hands over his head. “It’s also been a rough day. A really rough day.”

“Well sorry for you, but I have to go,” I mumbled, not even remotely wanting to add to my pile of dramas. I grabbed my bag and ignored his shocked expression as I walked towards the door. I was almost there when my arm was grabbed and he spun me so I was pinned against the wall, making me drop my bag.

And he kissed me. At first I was shocked, his huge body molded against mine, hard and probably perfect, and god, I wanted to experience that. I missed sex.

Then reality came back. He was an asshole. I broke the kiss as I kneed him in the groin, at the same time thrusting the heel of my left hand up into his nose before hitting him as hard as I could with my right hand in the solar plexus. Normally I wouldn’t have been so aggressive but he was a Hellhound.

There was no second chance for attack if they weren’t one of the good guys.

“I’m not a whore you can just jump. Fuck you,” I snarled when he stumbled away. I hurried to grab my bag but he was faster.

“That wasn’t what I was doing,” he coughed, wiping his nose with the back of his free hand. He met my eyes then and winced, panic filling his. “I know you’re not a harlot, Everett.”

“Right, you totally just showed me that, douche.” What the fuck did he have to be panicked about? That I would go run and tell someone? I wasn’t going to scream foul all over the place for a stolen kiss.

I’d had way worse when I was a stripper.

Then his expression changed as if the proverbial light bulb went off over his head. “In hindsight I should have asked for the answer I was looking for instead of testing you given our previous conversation, but as I said, I don’t see you as a whore or any different than anyone else who uses their expertise for profit.” I opened my mouth but he held up his hand. “I’ve been a mercenary for hire several times over the years. I was hired for a service I could provide.”

That got me, the analogy instead of him simply rambling. “You’re saying that’s the same as being a hooker to you. Seriously?”

He shrugged. “Why not? I was hired for a skill I could provide. How fast I could shoot or big I am doesn’t make it any less about my skill or selling a use of my body than a prostitute. Even people using only their brains are still using a part of their body for profit. I see no difference.”

“An odd way to look at things,” I hedged, studying him to try and assess if I actually believed him.

“Normal’s boring.”

I tended to agree, but drama wasn’t much fun if always surrounded by it either. “So now I want to know who you are, what you’re doing here, and what test you’re talking about?”

“Time to start explaining,” he agreed, letting go of my bag. “Geirfinn Lundberg, one of Dagfinn’s older brothers. I’m here looking for you because they said at the main house that you were wanting to learn self-defense. And I was testing what you knew already.”

“Yeah, you should have just asked on that one,” I drawled, tossing him my towel so he could clean up the blood already drying from his healed nose. “What are you doing here at the school? Not just here for me.”

He wiped his face but didn’t look at me. “I’d rather not answer that yet. To be honest, I’m not really sure and it’s a bit jumbled. They’re discussing my arrival and as much as I enjoyed being talked about like I wasn’t there as I talked to Dag and apparently some are half excited like they just acquired a prize stallion and others a rabid dog, I asked to leave and check out the place.” His shoulders tensed at that last part and I had a feeling that might not have been the full truth. “They said you wanted to learn self-defense and I was cranky enough to need the workout.”

“Do you always kiss your potential students to see what they’re made of?” I drawled, not ready to buy into any of his shit.

“No,” he sighed, hanging his head as he set down the towel. “As I said, it’s been a rough day. I’m sorry. I was going for cheeky and playful, but that was stupid considering I insulted you. I should have just asked.”

He seemed genuinely remorseful and seriously down so I cut him some slack. “If you’re asking now, I don’t know much. Only what a few bouncers showed me in case I ever got jumped and needed to get away to call for help. Plus Dag has just started teaching some of us tae kwon do and that’s been a few classes. That’s all. You pretty much got the full extent of what I know. A nose hit, solar plexus, or if from behind, bite the arm, stomp on the foot or kick knees, or go for the eyes.”

“Okay, so nothing formal, more panic, oh fuck last resort moves,” he muttered, glancing up at me. “What do you want to learn, Everett Townsend?”

I ignored the flutter in my stomach when he said my name. Hey, he might have been a douche but he was a smoking hot douche. But something in his eyes, a genuine curiosity almost, made me answer honestly as I didn’t think I would have with my friends.

Or maybe because he was a stranger and I didn’t care what he thought? I couldn’t be sure.

“Everything.”

His eyebrows shot up and he slowly got to his feet. “What do you mean?”

“Everything,” I repeated, crossing my arms over my chest. “I don’t like being cannon fodder in a war over me and my soul that could start the apocalypse if the demons get me. I want to learn how to do bad-ass ninja moves. I want to know how to draw the right Enochian symbols for wards and whatever else they can be used for, find new purposes for them that maybe the angels haven’t thought of. I want to know how to shoot a gun in case another human comes here to take one of us for demons or if bullets will slow demons down at least.

“I want to know all of it. It’s my life on the line and I’m tired of being coddled like a kid. I’m twenty-four and not just the ex-stripper who teaches yoga and gym to the kids. Why can’t I teach them something that will help them live, like archery or fencing if someone would just teach me? I’ve tried to watch videos online and get books, but no one will take me seriously until Sandro got abducted and everyone’s been so preoccupied with that and your brother showing up, what it all means, that I’m sure this will be pushed to the back burner again. I can’t live like this anymore.”

He watched me rant, his icy eyes laser focused on me. Then when I was done, chest heaving and heart racing, he gave one swift nod. “Okay. I’ll teach you everything I know on how to fight demons and this war.”

My jaw fell open. Just like that. He agreed just like that when I couldn’t get any of the other hounds or security guys to show me how to throw real punches or learn to box and he was going to show me everything. It left me with one question.

“Why?”

Geirfinn slowly moved one hand up and to the back of his neck, rubbing it deeply. “Because I agree with you. No one should be hunted and not have the tools to protect themselves. Hounds, angels, and more security is a great line of defense. The wards here are stellar and I felt them when I arrived, but if all that fails, you have every right to know what you need to so you have a chance against the worst evil in the world you can come up against.”

“Thank you,” I whispered, a tension in my body relaxing that had been there for years—basically since I’d found out about all of this.

“Don’t thank me yet,” he chuckled nervously, still rubbing his neck. “I’m not the best teacher.” I raised an eyebrow at him. “You called it earlier. I’m horrible with people. I’m not known for my patience, I’ll ride your ass hard, and expect your complete dedication if I’m going to put in the time to teach you.”

I thought about that a moment and nodded. “I don’t have to like you. I just need to know what you do so I have the tools and then I can teach it because I am good with people.” He frowned at that, slowly lowering his hand and I wasn’t sure which part he didn’t like but I didn’t really care. If we were laying down rules and putting things out there, then oh well, he started it. I held out my hand to him. “Deal. As long as you respect my class schedule, I’m in, totally in.”

“Good.” He took my hand and I wasn’t shocked that it swallowed mine. I might have been five-nine, but he was six-five and built like a hound-sized tank. “When do you want to start?”

I glanced over my shoulder and checked the clock. “I have an hour before my next gym glass. What can you teach me that I can start teaching them first? The seniors should be able to pick some of this stuff up.” I furrowed my brows as I looked back at him and saw he was staring at my naked chest and abs.

He cleared his throat and met my eyes. “Well, do you have fencing foils?”

“No.”

“Crossbows?”

I winced. “No.”

“Boxing gloves?”

“Nope.”

“Fighting staffs?”

“The long wood poles people spar with?” I checked, waiting until he nodded. “No.”

“What do you have?” he drawled, rolling his eyes.

“A desire to learn and no idea what I should get not that I can leave the grounds because of the demons who want to eat me,” I replied with just as much sarcasm in my tone.

His lips twitched. “Fair enough.” Then he slowly rolled his neck and took a deep breath as if centering himself while he thought. “What about a basic self-defense class as you said you’ve taken? Make that the curriculum for the day while we work on getting supplies.”

“All I know is a few moves,” I hedged, studying him to see if he was poking fun at me. “I don’t exactly have an arsenal of knowledge.”

“That I can help you with.” He moved over to the mats and positioned us in a way I didn’t get. “Now say I’m the attacker. I’m running at you. What are you going to do?”

“Book it,” I answered honestly.

“Fine, but I’m faster even if I wasn’t a hound, I’ve got longer legs and it’s best to assume that means faster to be on the safe side when you’re the prey.” I nodded my understanding. “So you know how to go for the nose, nuts, and solar plexus, but that’s when you’re already grabbed. If you’re being rushed, let them rush you and work with their momentum. I want you to fall back, roll, and kick me clear of you with your legs, trying to kick my intestines and groin out through my spine.”

“Ouch.”

“Yeah, it’s not fun, so I’d prefer you knew to go for the groin with one foot but maybe don’t,” he admitted. I nodded again and centered myself. Geirfinn ran at me from the starting point ten feet away and the second his hands touched my shoulders I dropped to the floor.

And onto my ass with a thud. Even better, he came down with me. Right on top of me.

“Oh god, ow. Get off me, you horse,” I moaned, smacking some part of him.

“Horse, huh?” he snickered as he pushed up. “Okay, don’t go straight down. Think of it not sitting down but as starting to land at the top of your butt and roll back so you’ll do a summersault.”

I nodded, noticing his body was still pressed into mine. And he was happy to be there.

Geirfinn seemed to realize that too and jumped to his feet, pulling me up with him. Then we got back into position and tried it again. It went better but all I really did was kick him off to the side and up a bit so his knee got me in the chin.

I lied and said I was fine when he asked, even though my mouth was bleeding. We went again and that time I actually did something useful and kicked him a few feet away.

But it wasn’t like I rolled right back to my feet and was able to take off running as I would have needed to if he had been a real attacker. “I want a hot bath. Now I get why people bitch about my classes and using muscles they never use.”

“Plus the shot to the face won’t help but we’re not done yet,” Geirfinn called out, already back in his starting position. Wow, he really was a slave driver. I hopped up and we ran it a few more times until I got it somewhat fluidly and could have then run away after he was across the room.

Granted as a hound he was so fast I might only have made it to the door, but the point was to learn something new for the arsenal and I had. Which made me smile as I rinsed the blood out of my mouth.

He also showed me how to strike out with the V of my hand between my thumb and index finger to take down a charging assailant. “You hit here,” he instructed, showing me the spot on his neck with my hand, “as they rush you. It increases your hit because colliding forces have more pressure behind them than stationary ones.”

“Right, good,” I muttered, taking note of the spot on the body as I pulled back my hand. “What does it do?”

“Depends on how hard the hit and who’s doing it.” He shrugged but I waved him to go on. “You can bruise a throat and cut off air for a bit so they’re out while you flee if the hit isn’t too hard. But I could snap your neck if I did it to you with enough force.” My eyes went wide as I stumbled away from him. He caught on how bad that sounded and cleared his throat. “I wouldn’t obviously, but I’m also not human so my hits are much harder.”

“Have you ever snapped someone’s neck like that?” I whispered, scared suddenly that I was alone with the potential nut job.

“I don’t want to lie to you but I can smell your fear,” he muttered, looking away. “It wasn’t an innocent, Everett. Think of it like the guys who tried to take your friend. They weren’t demons but they certainly weren’t good. They knew what side they were working for.”

“Yeah, no, I get that.” I bobbed my head and let that one sink in. “Sorry, you just don’t expect to hear someone can snap a neck that way and oh hey I’m alone in a room with them.”

Geirfinn closed the distance between us and raised his hand before dropping it again. “I would never hurt you. You might get injured while we’re training but you never have to fear me, Everett. I can be a dick, but I’m far from abusive.”

“Fair enough,” I conceded, thrown by his almost tender display suddenly. “But it is still time for me to get to my class.”

“I’ll tag along and be your demo attacker.”

“Umm, right, thanks, but—no,” I muttered, bending over and grabbing my shirt from my bag. I heard a noise behind me and popped up. “Did you say something?”

“Just asked why.” He cleared his throat and looked away as if guilty of something.

Strange. I let it go and yanked on my shirt. “We don’t have any dummies for the kids to try on and I’m not having them try this out on each other. Look how easily you could have gotten hurt if you weren’t a hound and massive.”

“Don’t assume I didn’t get hurt,” he countered, rotating his upper body as if fixing something out of place in his back. “I did. We also heal faster and the older we get that time speeds up.”

“Must be nice. I want to rub myself down with BENGAY and take a hot soak.”

“I’ll show you something just as good after your class and then we’ll plan out what’s next.” I raised an eyebrow, thinking that was really forward of him but all he did was stare me down. “I’m sorry, I thought you said you were all in, and if you weren’t teaching, you were mine to train or did that change after one little—”

“No, yeah, I mean, I’m in,” I stuttered, feeling stupid because I assumed it was some kind of pickup or attempt to spend time with me instead of training. Duh. “Whatever you want. I’m in, no questions.”

His eyes filled with something funny and he let out a huff that sounded very much not human. Odd.

I led the way to the gym, pointing out stuff to him as we went as if I were his cruise director. He paid attention, looking mostly like a fish out of water at a private school… But I did see him clock every camera and security measure like a total pro. It was kind of cool.

I wondered if he could teach me that too. I mean, how did he know? Just look up until you checked everywhere for cameras? Was that all it took?

That would be a funny way to walk around. There had to be more to it than that.

“So what is on the agenda for today if we can’t show them sparring without dummies?” he asked as I set down my bag once we were in the gym.

“Well I did have indoor hockey scheduled,” I answered, chuckling when I saw his frown. “Yeah, won’t exactly get them in a better position to prepare for what they need besides hand-eye coordination.”

“Honestly, I would do some yoga with them,” he muttered as he nodded to the kids slipping in once they were changed into workout clothes from the locker room. “Balance, coordination, and learning to center themselves and their cores are good tools and building blocks for martial arts which you said you wanted me to teach you so you can teach them, right?”

“Yeah, that sounds like a—”

“Oh shut the fuck up already!” Geirfinn bellowed, focusing on the fifteen students grouped together.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” I seethed as I shoved at him. “Why are you shouting at my students?”

His eyes went wide as he took in my pissed reaction but then he shook his head. “Right, you can’t hear what they’re saying,” he sighed. “The gossips are running their mouths and ready to start childish shit when this is a time for serious people if any of you are to survive.”

“Fine, but cool it,” I snapped, gesturing to the kids who looked ready to shit their pants. “They are kids, Geirfinn. We don’t swear or yell at them like that here.”

“Maybe they wouldn’t be gossiping if someone did.” He shrugged when I shot him another dirty look. “Fine, sorry. Told you I wasn’t patient and shouldn’t be in charge of kids.”

“Clearly.” I walked over to the students. “He shouldn’t have yelled, but he’s right that you’re not here to gossip, guys. If you have an appropriate question, ask.”

“No, thanks, we got the answer that he’s a hound when he could hear us over here,” one girl responded, bobbing her head. “That was it.”

I shot Geirfinn a nasty look. That wasn’t gossiping, that was curiosity over the stranger suddenly around. Given they were hunted too and we’d had a teacher abducted, they had every right to be concerned. I was and I already knew who he was. Well, according to him.

Which made me realize I might want to check on who he was. Yeah, nice brain fart moment. I told my students to grab mats because of what we were doing and shot Kellan a quick text.

“What are you doing?” Geirfinn asked quietly from behind me.

“Checking you out,” I muttered, not wanting to lie when he could have seen it all anyways. “It was stupid of me not to have already and given how you just were with the students, I think it’s best I don’t let a potential nut job loose to run around on the grounds.”

“Never said I was sane, but they know I’m here,” he huffed before walking away. I watched him take a seat on the bleachers.

“Yeah, he’s Dag’s bro. They don’t seem 2 get along, but he’s 4 real. Keep him busy, ’k? We need to discuss shit we don’t want him 2 hear. Fill u in later.”

Great. How did I become the babysitter? I rolled my eyes at myself. Right, because a bit ago I had been chomping at the idea of this guy teaching me everything, but now that the “adults” seemed to be talking about issues of the school, I wanted in on that instead.

Whatever. I just didn’t like being left out of crap because I was the late-educated gym teacher. But we all had our roles to play.

As I taught my class, I couldn’t help but wonder what Geirfinn’s would be. Or ours together.