I shook my head. “I don’t know what comes after that.” Wariness was where I was currently at, the feeling fairly new to my system.

Ezra blinked, staring. “Ah.” He turned his attention to Jack and Pearl. “Hope and fear come next, hard enough to cripple you.” We stared at him, waiting for more. He had been longer without his mate than any of us. Farther along in the grieving process. He shrugged lightly, stating, “I don’t know what comes afterward. I haven’t gotten there yet.”

Pearl’s eyebrows puckered. “If you don’t know, then how do you know for a fact you can cross over to this mysterious colorful life?”

I gauged Pearl and Jack, remembering how I had felt in their shoes, and answered for Ezra. “Because it’s not just a possibility, it’s reality.” When they only stared, I continued explaining the best way I knew how. “The Coms don’t have mates, and although their marriages end in divorce too many times to count, plenty don’t. Instead, their marriages are long and full of love and children, and yes, full of normal everyday problems. It’s not perfect, but life isn’t.” I shrugged. “Really, the two imperfections — their normal marriages and life — only make them stronger.”

Still, Pearl and Jack stared.

Ezra sighed, tilting his head to murmur against my wet hair, “The Com reference only confused them, since they have never lived among the Commoners, even if it was fairly apt.” He pressed a kiss to my head, and then turned his attention to Jack and Pearl. “Do you think all of those families we passed by to get back here — including those with children – are mated pairs?”

The eyebrows of each came together.

“They’re not,” Ezra clarified gently. “And they are still happily married and were living wonderful, full lives before the attacks.”

“Huh.” Jack’s head tilted, his eyes staring off at nothing. “But, there’s a wall.”

It wasn’t a question, but Ezra and I nodded.

“I can’t see it yet.” Pearl’s head dropped back, staring at the ceiling.

“Me, either.” Jack cleared his throat. “They said time and friendship first.”

Again, Ezra and I nodded.

“And beer,” Jack stated, his head dropping back. “Lots of beer.”

“That too,” Ezra rumbled. “And once you’re ready…sex.” Smiling slowly, his hand cupped one of my br**sts under the water, holding firmly even when I grabbed his wrist. “Lots of hot sex.”

“Ezra,” I whispered in reprimand, my body jolting when he pinched my nipple.

His grin only increased. “Hold your breath, sweetheart.”

“No, Ezra.” My eyes narrowed, placing stopping hands on his shoulders. Still didn’t help. I barely got in enough breath before he took me under the water, his mouth and hands in places they most definitely shouldn’t be with Pearl and Jack in the tub with us.

My God, did it feel wonderful.

Chapter Nine

While Ezra’s and my sexual experience only ramped up during the next two weeks — both of us thoroughly enjoying each other so much we didn’t even spare a glance for another partner — still going strong for a total of three weeks straight, today Jack and Pearl finally seemed caged in, noticing their surroundings more, so Ezra and I decided they could both use some time sparring to exert their pent-up energy.

Strolling down to the lower levels, we merely had to follow the sounds of fighting to know the fighting/training arena was going to be packed. Moving quietly through the large, wooden gold doors, we studied the massive expanse for free space. How we hadn’t originally known it was here was a bit ridiculous, as if we’d had blinders on. The multi-leveled black floor was covered in enormous blue mats where different Mys factions practiced. To the left and right there were metal bleachers extending up to the point where the black ceiling began to curve. Golden sparks lit the entire place, floating far above in midair.

“Whoa,” Jack murmured, taking another step into the room. “This is amazing.”

Yeah, it was, especially the Elemental section where they commonly used their element during their sparring.

Pearl appeared nervous. “I’m not sure about this.” She was staring with wide eyes.

Jack glanced her way, nodding at an area where Mysticals of different factions were boxing. “Want to practice with me first? Work the kinks out?”

She nodded instantly, beginning to stretch her arms. “Yeah, I’m afraid I’m bloody rusty after a month of doing nothing.”

Jack jerked his head to the mats, actually gracing us with one of his, as of late, rare smiles. “Let’s do it then.”

Ezra and I watched them wander over to the intermingled Mystical mat, Pearl looking very timid and Jack acting almost as a protector the way he angled his body between her and the others. Ezra chuckled quietly, murmuring, “This could be good for both of them.” When I nodded in agreement, he asked, “Still not feeling well?”

I rubbed at the small of my back, groaning. “Yeah, I have…” I cleared my throat. “Well, it’s a girl issue.”

A slow grin began etching his features, his stance almost as if he were going to pounce.

I knew what he was thinking. Vampires didn’t have to wait while their women were on their period. In fact, they enjoyed it when they were. Rolling my eyes, I waved my hand toward the Vampire area. “Go beat someone up.”

His chuckle rumbled, sounding intimate and full of possibilities. “If I have to.”

“You do,” I whispered, seeing King Kincaid talking with Elder Merrick and waving me down. “The King’s beckoning me.”

“I’ll take kicking someone’s ass over that any day.” Ezra smiled, walking behind me, his fingers trailing softly against my skin between my sports bra and my shorts. “Plus, I’m sure Elder Merrick wants another crack at you.” He raised an eyebrow before strolling away in his black mesh pants, his bare upper half showing all his beautiful muscles under the golden lighting.

Quickly, I jerked my head away, not wanting to be caught ogling, and began making my way to King Kincaid and Elder Merrick. Ezra was probably right. Elder Merrick had been instructing me every other day while hitting on me. Figuratively and nonfiguratively. He had figured out I had the knack for swords and guns, so he had sidestepped those and focused mainly on hand-to-hand combat — my weakness — and the crossbow, which I was only decent with. All the while making subtle innuendos at the end of our sessions, mainly every day that Ezra would come to meet me, our sparring and babysitting ending right around the same time.

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