When he opened his mouth to speak again, I could tell another rant was coming. I raised my hand. “I don’t have time to listen to your grievances, Mr Collins. I have a squad to train.”
“Yes, well, a particular member of your squad?”
“Got mightily pissed off when you approached him during his own time,” I finished. “If you had expected him to react any differently, you only have yourself to blame. The squad has been quite clear since the very beginning that they do not want your company. Had Max targeted you during training hours, I would have reprimanded him. But he didn’t. It’s not his fault that you can’t take a hint now, is it?” Collins said nothing. What could he say? I was right, and he was very much aware of that. “Now, is there anything else?”
His usual snooty look reappeared and he straightened to his full height. “Yes, as it happens,” he snapped. “I wish to know if there is a particular reason why you have not yet made use of the tactical field since Eloise and I came here.”
The tactical field was located within the rainforest and was more like a small abandoned village, only the buildings were made of plywood and obviously it wasn’t normal to have drums and piles of tires lying around. We usually trained there once or twice a week, and we sometimes played paintball there as well. It had been a Binding present from Evan, and I bloody loved it. That was the reason why I hadn’t used it since Collins and Eloise had arrived. It was a special place to me that I had no intention of sharing with them. “I use it when I need to, Mr Collins.”
My vague answer clearly irritated him. “It is important that I observe all your training methods, Commander Parker. I noticed that the squad have not ceased calling you ‘Coach’, despite that I have repeatedly suggested that you should order them to refer to you with the appropriate title. Allowing them to give you a ‘pet’ name undermines your level of authority.”
Pet name? What-bloody-ever. “I happen to disagree with you. Now if you don’t mind, I have a squad to train, and you’re delaying the session.”
“I would appreciate it if you would move the session to the tactical field.”
And I would have appreciated it if he’d sod off home, but we didn’t always get what we wanted. “Sorry to disappoint you, but that will not be happening.”
He lifted his chin. “Then I will be forced to note your failure to cooperate with my request. I will also note that you persist in wearing vests, revealing more skin than necessary.”
“Yes, I’m sure the squad are drooling at the sight of my arms and shoulders. Maybe you should be a little more concerned with how very little your colleague is wearing, Mr Collins.”
Turning away from him in a sure sign of dismissal, I switched my attention to the squad. Max and Stuart turned amusingly giddy, clearly having missed working with everyone.
Having been fully debriefed on our ‘plan’, Max and Stuart were sure to fake weaknesses that they didn’t have during the session, and they didn’t question the longer breaks that they were now getting. They also took advantage of their recent encounter with death by faking tiredness and claiming to need a rest here and there. Although I knew it was for the best, it was still pissing me off because not only did it interfere with their training, but it meant that I couldn’t push them harder. And I needed to push them harder. Paige’s presence could cause a battle of some kind, and I needed the squad fully prepared. Of course they were more than capable of protecting themselves and each other during battle without additional training, but I wanted to be sure that they were at their best.
Expectedly, Collins spent the entire time asking questions and criticising my every move to the point of nit-picking. In addition, he complained for the millionth time that I swore too much (so?) and made a sound of disapproval each time that I did. He also complained that bringing Dexter from his tattoo form was distracting the squad – that was the whole point: to teach them to perform while distracted, because that was what they would need to do in a battle. Furthermore, he complained that when I divided the squad for sparring, I pitted them against members who they were quite vulnerable to gift-wise – well, duh, how else were they going to learn to rely on more than just their gifts to survive in a battle? The bloke was utterly clueless.
Eloise also gave her penny’s worth: I was condescending, I was too impatient, and I lacked room for error – all of which was simply to piss me off. But I didn’t rise to her bait because I knew it greatly annoyed her. Maybe that was why at the end of the session, when the squad had left and I’d just returned Dexter to his tattoo form while Collins babbled at me about something or other, she reached out to touch Jared. In a split second, a dark combination of rage, jealousy, possessiveness, and a need to hurt whipped through me so fast and hard that I almost swayed. I wanted nothing more than to grab the bitch and throw her across the arena. But I didn’t.
However, something else happened.
Just as her fingers went to touch Jared, a cold draft sliced through the air, raising the hairs on my arms. We all stiffened as the icy breeze built and built until, suddenly, a silvery-blue wind of pure energy formed around Eloise. What happened next was even more shocking. Like it was a vacuum, the whirlwind literally spat her across the wide space, causing her to collide into the far wall. What the f**k? The silvery-blue energy wind then instantly disintegrated like mist.
Jared’s head whipped around to face me. How did you do that?
I blinked. I didn’t. Or, at least, I hadn’t meant to do it. That counted, right? I kept my face carefully blank, not letting Collins or Eloise see my confusion.
Coughing and dusting herself off, Eloise rose to her feet. “You bitch!” She marched toward me, and I half-expected the wind of energy to appear again. It didn’t. Not even as she closed in on me. So I did the smart thing. Rather than attack her, and thus give her what she wanted, I called, “Novo.” Like that, a jet black Dexter was draped over my shoulders again. He hissed at Eloise, his scales turning red, and she stopped dead in her tracks. She was perfectly aware that he would attack her without hesitation if she attempted to harm me in any way.
Eyes wide, she pointed at me, shaking. “You just?”
“What had you expected would happen?” Jared’s voice was calm, bored even. “Sam and I are Bound. You tried to touch me – and we all know that it was a flirtatious move on your part. Bound couples have gone to war over each other. You’re lucky that all Sam did was send you on a little trip across the arena.”