Deidra finished tying the end of her braid with a leather lace before she turned to the door and offered Tristen a nod.
“I’m ready. Are you? Because today is the day I best you.”
He laughed and pushed away from the open door. He had been leaning against it for a little while, observing her as she brushed then braided her hair. A few of the other Childer had advised her to cut it short; that way, it wouldn’t get in her way while she fought. But Tristen hadn’t told her to cut it, and he was her guide into this new existence.
He had been as much for four months, ever since she had been chosen. Until he said something to her, she would keep her hair long. And her decision to do so had nothing to do with the fact that, almost every day, Tristen chose a long-haired woman, usually a brunette like Deidra was, from whom to take his blood offering.
Mistress Cayleen had given Deidra her first lessons, showing her around the lair, introducing her to the other Childer, teaching her the proper way to accept blood offering from humans. But after the first few days, she had put Tristen in charge of teaching Deidra how to fight. Along with those lessons, he had been giving her other tips, too, about life in the lair.
The one lesson that Deidra still had trouble taking in was the lack of restraint shown by the members of the clan. The lair was large enough that all of them could have their own bedroom, but as far as Deidra could tell, few people other than her spent the long daytime hours alone. Most Childer had a bedmate. Some even had two. And most seemed to flow freely between beds, as though whom they slept with was of little importance.
It didn’t stop there, though. Two of the Childer had invited Deidra to their beds. Neither had taken offense when she said no, but both were still flirting with her any chance they had, complimenting her looks or fighting skills. At least, she thought it was flirting. It was hard to be sure. After all, this was a very different place from the village. In Orington, she had been engaged to Cyril, and neither of them had looked at anyone else even before they had spoken the vow.
Chasing those thoughts away, Deidra followed Tristen to one of the training rooms. She picked up one of the training swords like he did and took position in front of him, both hands on the hilt as he had taught her, her footing secure yet light. As Tristen stood across from her, she could feel his eyes roaming over her. At first, she thought he would comment on her fighting stance, but instead his lips curled on a half smile when he said, “Did you tailor those trousers yourself? They look good on you.”
Taken aback by the compliment, Deidra failed to recognize the beginning of his attack, and she had to scramble to parry it. She wasn’t used to receiving such blunt praise from him, and neither was she used to wearing trousers that emphasized her body. When she had worn a dress to her first sword lesson, Tristen hadn’t scolded her, but he had made it very clear, very fast that her attire was less than practical.
“Pay attention,” he said with a cluck of his tongue. “Looking good is one thing. Surviving your first demon fight is a hell of a lot more important.”
Deidra blinked. Was that a second compliment? Tristen had praised her fighting skills as they improved, but he hadn’t said anything about her. Not so far, at least.
He attacked again, and this time she blocked and returned the attack.
They sparred for a few minutes, with nothing but the sound of their swords clanking together. As she whirled away from an attack, Deidra noticed they were being watched. One of the men who had expressed an interest in her, Elias, was standing in the doorway, looking in. She fumbled her next move and earned herself an impatient glance from Tristen. When she looked again, Elias was gone.
“What was that foolish move about?” Tristen asked, and there was no trace of praise left in his voice.
“I was… distracted,” Deidra admitted, her eyes flitting again to the empty doorway.
Tristen huffed. “You’ll have to get used to people watching you, in the lair or outside. You’re the first woman Cayleen has taken as her Childe in almost fifty years. It’ll be a while before the novelty fades.”
Had Deidra been human still, she would have blushed fiercely at the thought that anyone might enjoy looking at her; even now, she waited for heat to suffuse her cheeks, realizing only belatedly that no such thing could happen anymore.
“If you want it to stop,” Tristen continued, now resting the sword on his shoulder, “all you have to do is choose one of your admirers as a bedmate.”
Blushing, whether possible or not, now seemed entirely inadequate. Deidra stared at Tristen, her mouth dry, almost too much so for words.
“You… you know?” she all but squeaked.
“That you’ve attracted a few eyes?” Tristen smiled. “I knew you would from the moment I saw you. You attracted mine, after all.”
A thought struck Deidra out of the blue, like one of those sneak attacks Tristen sometimes sprung on her in the middle of training. Supposedly he did it to keep her on her toes, although she suspected he was only trying to have some fun when he grew bored. This surprised her quite as much, for she truly had not seen it coming.
Tristen wasn’t just complimenting her.
He was flirting with her.
… continued in A Kiss of Blood