I sucked in a sharp breath as I hit the ground, staring up at the blue sky above in a frustrated hopelessness. This was the third time in ten minutes that I had ended up like I was, not only was my body feeling bruised but so was my pride. I had thought I was getting better but the fact that I could taste dirt in my mouth said differently.
“Come on, are you even trying? Maybe this is useless. Perhaps it is impossible for a human to stand next to my son.” Astrid remarked from the sidelines as Dace hovered over me with an apologetic smirk, stretching his hand out. I accepted the help, groaning as my body screamed at me for what I was putting it through. My eyes burned with unshed tears of frustration, but I held them back not wanting to look weaker than I already did.
Astrid let out a small sigh, “I think that is enough for today. Perhaps a couple of days rest will have you in better shape...” She suggested, voice full of doubt. It was obvious that she didn’t think I had what it took to be with her son, or to take care of the pack her and her husband had controlled before him. I couldn’t blame her. I had been put on my ass more times than I could count. I felt useless and weak. It made me angry at myself, because I knew I wasn’t weak or useless but for some reason I couldn’t rise above this hurdle.
“No.” I snipped lifting my hand to brush back the hair that had fallen free from my ponytail. I was not going to give up, even if I could barely move. Even if I had more bruises than I could keep track of. This was no longer about proving myself to Rhys and his pack, this was about proving to myself that I could handle it. It was about proving to myself that I was strong enough. I got into a defensive stance, “I am not done yet.”
Dace gave me a look of pity that had me gritting my teeth, “You can barely stand, Dove. I agree with Astrid. I think some rest-”
"No!" I hissed between my teeth, sliding forward as I pulled my arms up, “Now, hit me.” I could feel Astrid watching us with curiosity, but she didn’t try to speak out against me. I had a feeling that she would have let Dace beat me unconscious if that was what I wanted. She hadn’t accepted me and I knew her hatred for humans ran deep but I had noticed her lingering looks of curiosity where I was involved. I knew she was waiting to see something in me that would help make up for my humanity.
Dace shook his head, “I’m not going to hit you anymore. We both know you can’t take anymore and Rhys will kill me if I bring you home in worse condition than you already are in. We don’t think worse of you for needing to stop, Dove. For a human, you have done well.” There it was that line, ′For a human’ . I wanted them to stop looking at me as the human. I just wanted them to see me as Dove, not simply the girl Rhys just happened to have as a mate.
I felt my anger swirl around in my stomach, rising up the back of my throat with an acidic burn. I narrowed my eyes, ”Fine.” I dropped my arms back to my side, hands closed up into tight fists. Dace kept his expression of pity that only drove up my need to wipe the look off his face.
He approached me, “Come on, let’s get you inside and cleaned up before Rhys gets back from the office. If he sees you like this it will only upset him needlessly.”
I didn’t give a damn if Rhys got upset about the way I looked, which was definitely sweaty and beaten to hell. I had already made up my mind about this training, and he had agreed to let me do it. I knew it upset him every night to see the new bruises on my body but he kept his mouth shut about it. Instead he would kiss them gently and massage my sore muscles, showing me new ways that a person could be healed. I may be his mate but he did not own me and it was my right to make these choices for myself, something he was slowly coming to understand.
I gave a slight incline of my head, taking in the the subtly of motion in Dace’s muscles as he moved closer to me. I narrowed my eyes when he came within striking distance. Tightening my fist as I prepared for my surprise attack. I had told him that I was not ready to stop fighting.
“If you won’t hit me, then I’ll hit you.” I hissed as I twisted at my hips, pulling my arm back. I anchored my feet to the ground as I let my arm fly forward. I connected perfectly with his nose, feeling the bone crunch beneath my knuckles. The shock of the punch traveled up my arm, leaving behind a welcome sting of pain in my own bones. Dace let out a hiss of pain as he took a step back to steady himself and the unbalanced weight of his body. I didn’t stop. I moved forward with my attack, heart beating steadily in my chest as I slid forward. I hooked my foot around his ankle as I twisted my body again, throwing my shoulder into his chest.
Dace hit the ground with a solid thud, and a shocked sound as the air rushed from his lungs. I stood over him, breathing heavily as the adrenaline continued to be fired through my body. It took a moment for the haze of the anger to leave me and for me to realize what I had accomplished. Dace was staring up at me with wide eyes, hands cupped over his nose.
“Very good.” Astrid began to clap, approaching us, “It was a sloppy attack but still you were able to take down our beta...”
Dace’s eyes narrowed, pulling his hands from his face to reveal his bloodied nose. He wiped at it with the back of his hand, “Lucky shot.” He grumbled as he ignored my offered help.
“Perhaps you’d like her to prove that it wasn’t by putting you on your ass again?” Astrid questioned with raised brows. I wasn’t sure that I could do what I had somehow managed to do, again. It may very well have been luck, but I wanted to believe that the hours I had spent training were sinking in. That my determination to be with Rhys was what had helped me to accomplish what I had.
Dace sneered and let out as snort in our direction before marching away. I tried not to smile at his obviously hurt pride, meeting Astrid’s amused gaze, “Good work. We might be able to make a Luna of you yet.” She said with a hopeful voice as she turned away to follow after Dace into the house.
I smiled softly to myself as I flexed my hand, feeling the soreness echo up my arm. It was a satisfying feeling regardless of the pain. I had finally been the one standing, even it had only been a “lucky shot” as Dace called it. If I did it once then it was possible that I could do it again. I turned and headed back into the house, catching the last bit of a tense conversation between Astrid and Dace as I walked into the kitchen.
I sucked in my lip, chewing on it slightly as they stopped talking abruptly, “Look, I am sorry that I attacked you like that. It probably wasn’t fair...I just was so angry...” I didn’t want there to be bad blood between Dace and I, especially now that we had begun to get along after his suspicions.
Astrid cast a dark look at him before glancing in my direction, “Don’t apologize. He’s just a man with a wounded ego. He’ll get over it.” She remarked as she moved to the fridge and opened the freezer door, pulling out ice tray. Dace grumbled under his breath as he moved the sink and turned on the water, quietly clearing himself up. Astrid gave me a friendly smile as she pointed to a stool on the other side of the island, “Why don’t you take a seat and we’ll clean you up. You’re hand is probably bothering you...Dace has a very hard head...”
A low growl rumbled from the agitated man and I did my best not to laugh at the amused expression on Astrid’s face. It was obvious that the woman liked to poke at people, perhaps that sturdiness and humour helped in their world. She bagged up some ice, wrapping it in a towel before handing it over to me. I gave a small nod of thank you as I took it, pressing it to my already swollen knuckles.
“Well I need to head out, there are some pack things I need to attend to.” She remarked, giving Dace a small kiss on his cheek as she passed by him on the way out. It was clear she thought of him like her own child even though he wasn’t, or maybe it was simply that the whole pack treated each other in such affection manners. This pack was much different than the way Silas’ had been. Everything there had been stiff and regimented. Rhys ran his pack with more freedom, he didn’t want his members to be mindless drones that obeyed. He wanted them to have their own voices and feelings.
Dace turned around to face me, dabbing at his nose with a dishrag. He stared me down with a tense expression, “How’s your hand?” His voice was gruff but I could tell he was attempting to move past his feelings about being put down.
I pulled away the ice, lifting it up for him to see, “Sore...” He looked it over, giving a small nod.
I put the ice back to it, wincing slightly at the pressure, “How’s your nose?”
His lips twitched as if he was trying to suppress a smile, “Broken thanks to you.” He dropped the rag into the sink as he pushed away from the counter.
“Sorry.” I commented, dropping my face a little to hide my tiny smirk. I couldn’t help that I was proud of myself. I hadn’t meant to hurt him like I had but I knew he would heal, and he had given me enough bruises that it felt good knowing I left a mark on him as well.
The sound of the front door opening had us both glancing up to see Rhys enter the house, a six pack in hand. He looked a little worn out in the way his wide shoulders were sagged and his hair was ruffled up. He slammed the door close with his foot, strolling towards us. I had been hoping that I would have gotten a chance to clean myself up more before he got back. His eyes met mine, slowly taking me in. A tiny frown formed on his lips as he stepped into the room, my body completely attuned to his every movement.
Rhys dropped the six pack on the counter, pulling out a bottle as he turned his attention to Dace, “What happened to your face?” he questioned as he handed over a beer to his beta. I held the ice to my swollen knuckles, turning my face slightly to look at the faint bluish, purple bruises that spread from his nose and hooked around his eyes. I had punched him square to the bridge of his nose. I could still remember the feeling of the bone giving way under the force of my strike. It had made me feel powerful to see the evidence of what I was capable of.
Dace reached up, brushing his nose with the tips of his fingers. He winced slightly, though I knew that in an hour or so he would be in perfect health again, no sign that I had gotten him like I had. He flipped a look in my direction before meeting Rhys gaze as he twisted the top from the beer, “Your female caught me by surprise.”
“Dove? I’m sorry but my Dove did that to you?” He questioned with a shocked tone that had me tensing.
I turned my face in Rhys direction, “You don’t need to sound so surprised...” I mumbled through pouted lips. I would have expected that he believed I was capable of handling myself, even if I didn’t have much to work with.
“She has been getting much better.” I was surprised my Dace’s remark to Rhys. I know my mouth was slightly open, which had him chuckling as he took a sip from his beer. “In no time she may even be able to take you on, Rhys. As long as she keeps training.”
I met Rhys gaze with a satisfied grin, leaning forward on the island, “Hear that? If you’re not careful I’ll have you on your back, Mr. Alpha.” His eyes trailed down from my face to my chest, which I was giving me a nice view of. My stomach fluttered and my skin prickled with awareness as his gaze darkened with his desire.
Slowly his eyes moved back up to my face, his lips lifting up into a teasing smirk. He looked as though whatever had been on his mind when he had enter the house was forgotten, “Sweetheart, if you want me on my back all you have to do is ask nicely.” My cheeks flooded with heat as his comment. He had no shame, clearly not caring that his Beta was around to listen to his insinuated remarks about our sex life.
“Rhys...” I hissed at him, glancing toward Dace, who was simply standing around enjoying his beer.
“Dove...” He mocked still smirking. He knew exactly what he was doing, clearly enjoying my reaction.
I heaved a heavy breath, tossing my toweled bag of ice at him, which he caught with a soft chuckle, “You’re such a dick.” My face still burned, from both embarrassment and excitement. My body wanted what he had offered even if it was simply to tease me.
“A dick that you love.” He winked, causing my cheeks to heat again. I let out a growl of annoyance before marching out of the kitchen, leaving Alpha and Beta laughing at my expense.