When I opened my eyes, I gasped just as Fletcher had done. Tactical field my arse. It was more like a small, abandoned village. The only thing stopping it from looking real was that the buildings were made of plywood. And of course no one has gas drums and piles of tyres just lying around here and there, do they. There was even a bus and several other vehicles lining the ‘streets’. “How did you do all this in a month?”
“I designed it, but every squad member and every one of the commanders – other than Jared, because I didn’t tell him about it – all came together to help me build it. Like it?” My smile must have been answer enough for him, because he chuckled and curled an arm around me. “Then you’re going to love what I’ve got planned for the next six hours.” He slipped his free hand into his pocket and fished out a single, spherical, gelatin capsule.
Anticipation shot through me. “Paintballing?”
He chuckled again, nodding. “Paintballing. I got one of Antonio’s guards to teleport all the necessary equipment here. The squad will arrive any minute. They’re eager to play; they’ve been looking forward to this for weeks.”
I hugged Evan tightly, laughing at Jared’s playful growl. “I haven’t been paintballing for years.”
Stroking a finger through his collar, Fletcher cleared his throat. “This isn’t really my scene, luv. I’m more of a pacifist.”
I gripped Fletcher’s hand. “Oh please stay. It’ll be a laugh. Honestly, it’s addictive, you’ll love it.”
Just then, Chico entered through the narrow opening, followed closely by the rest of the squad…and someone I really hadn’t wanted to see.
Fletcher curled his upper lip in distaste. “What’s Widow Twankey doing here?” She didn’t appear to appreciate that nickname, though she probably had no idea he had named her after a pantomime dame that was always played by a man.
Salem, who I then noticed was holding her lower arm, frowned down at her. “We found her wandering aimlessly. Apparently, she’s looking for you, Coach.”
Fletcher snorted. “Yeah? Well she can sod off.”
Magda lifted her chin, scowling at Fletcher. “As I told Sam, I think it would be good for her and I to spend time together if she intends on Binding to one of my vampires. Besides, if she’s going to one day be responsible for my protection and the protection of all vampirekind, it is only fair that I get to know her.”
Jared, Fletcher, and Evan all went to object, but I held up a hand. “No, she’s right.” I smiled brightly at Magda. “If you’d really like us to become better acquainted, there couldn’t be a more perfect time. You can join us for a few games of paintballing.”
Magda gaped. “Paintballing?” Going by the distaste coating that one word, she thought this kind of thing was beneath her. I sensed Jared’s amusement.
“Don’t worry. I’m not one of those really competitive people who take it too seriously.” The guys all snorted, knowing me too well.
Magda straightened to her full height and forced a smile. “I accept your invitation.”
“Invitation?” repeated Fletcher. “What planet are you on? This is gate-crashing.”
“Nah,” disagreed Evan, “it’s important that she and Sam bond.” He winked at me, humour lighting his eyes. “Come on, let’s go get kitted up.” He led us all to a small hut where, as I’d expected, he’d kept the supplies. “First, I want to talk you all through everything. I know some of you haven’t been paintballing before – particularly Fletcher, Reuben, Damien, and David—”
“And me,” Magda informed him.
Evan nodded. “And Magda. But don’t worry, you’ll all enjoy it. You’ll be split into two teams, and the aim of the game is to complete each mission without getting shot by a paintball. It’s as simple as that.” He shrugged to emphasise the simplicity of it, but then he held up one finger as he continued.
“There are rules for the game. I know that some of you will have big advantages because of your gifts…and that’s why rule number one is that none of you are to use your gifts at any time. Rule number two: if you are hit, you do not need to leave the game unless you’ve been hit in the torso or the head – they’re the only areas that would have any real effect on a vampire. At that point, you simply raise your gun, declare that you’re hit, and head to ‘the dead zone’ – no one is to shoot at or go near this zone. I’ll show you where it is in a minute.
“If you’re hit in the head, it’s considered a fatal shot and you will be eliminated from that particular game. If you’re hit in the torso, you need to only spend ten minutes in ‘the dead zone’ before you can return to the game. But unless the paintball breaks and leaves a mark the size of a quarter, it doesn’t count. And nor does paint splatter, which means that although the paint grenades will do well at distracting the other team, they won’t count as ‘deadly’. Rule number three: do not take off your safety mask unless you’re in ‘the dead zone’ or unless the game has ended. Rule number four: you must allow surrenders. And the final rule: no bodily contact. This is not about combat. That all understood?” Everybody nodded.
Ten minutes later, all of us were dressed in camouflaged overalls and padded gloves. It was when Evan pulled out a bag and handed it to me that I understood exactly why he’d been wearing that smile earlier. Inside was a pink tutu, a headband with pink horns attached, and a white ‘L’ sign. Bastard. In seconds, I was dressed like an army slut. Of course everyone thought it was hilarious, even Jared.
I snarled at my fiancé. “Thanks a lot, Judas.”
Evan huffed at him. “I don’t know what you’re laughing at.” He then pulled out another bag. Jared’s face fell when his twin fished out a Borat-style, lime-green, lycra mankini. Then it was my turn to laugh.
“You’re f**king kidding me.” Jared shook his head. “No way.”
I put my hands on my hips. “Oi, if I’m going to look stupid, you can as well.”
He stood, seething, as his brother and Fletcher helped him put the mankini on over his camo gear. The icing on the cake had been when Harvey took a photograph with his smartphone. Jared made a dive for it. Obviously having anticipated that, however, the others held him back as Harvey dashed off to hide the photographic evidence of us looking like plonkers.