I want to end the old year with another snippet from WRONG SIDE OF DEAD (31 days!), and it's a challenge to find good snippets that aren't also chock full of spoilers. This book addresses a lot of questions that have been raised during the previous three books (including Walter Thackery, Clan politics, various personal relationships, and what's really up with the Fey), so finding something to post is a bit of a challenge.
I chose the following section because it amuses me. You get to meet a new-ish character, were-jaguar Marcus Dane. He was first introduced in my Suvudu.com short story PRIDE BEFORE FALL, along with his sister, Astrid. Both come back as major players in WRONG SIDE OF DEAD as the Triads and Therian Clans ally themselves.
In this scene, set a couple of days after the final events in ANOTHER KIND OF DEAD, Evy and Milo are being given a tour of their new headquarters by Marcus, and they end up in the gym.
Milo clears his throat. "The gym's great. With everything that's been going on, I haven't had a good workout in ages."
"You don't consider Sunday to be a good workout?" I ask, caught between amusement and surprise.
He gives me a baleful look. "I was thinking more along the lines of improving mobility and fighting skills, and less battling for my life."
"Good point. The barbells don't usually fight back."
"That removes some of the fun, don't you think?" Marcus asks. One corner of his mouth quirks up, and I swear there's an amused glint in his eyes. "You spar?"
He isn't asking me, and it takes Milo a moment to realize it. "Boxing? No, not really."
I manage to keep surprise off my face. He knows how to fight as well as I do, but I don't contradict him. Not in front of a cat and two bears.
"Wrestling?" Marcus asks.
Some? Learning basic holds, pins, and throws was part of Boot Camp training. We all took the course. I remember all the moves and can re-create them all in my mind, but even if I wasn't in such poor shape, I'd hesitate to try wrestling in this new body before it's properly trained. Especially not wrestling against a were-cat who outweighs me by a good fifty pounds.
"Great." Marcus strips out of his T-shirt without ceremony, showing off a ripped torso and tanned skin. I know my jaw dropped. "Let's go, then." He strides toward the far end of the room and the archway into the matted area. He pauses there and looks back, grinning right at Milo. "Do you have somewhere to be?"
"Uh, no?" Milo says.
I lift a shoulder in a half shrug, offering him no help. His own attempt at reverse psychology didn't get him out of it. He responds by sticking his tongue out at me, then following Marcus. I laugh. Sometimes I forget how young we both still are.
Okay, maybe Milo more than me. He's legitimately twenty years old. I was twenty-two when I died almost three months ago. The body I have now is twenty-seven—a five-year gap physically, but my emotional and mental ages are playing catch-up. Still, I manage to not flip Milo the bird as I trail behind the pair, curious about how this impromptu wrestling match will turn out.
Both men are in jeans, which aren't ideal for wrestling, but I bet that neither is going to strip down to his boxers. Or briefs. Or whatever. Milo follows Marcus's lead and takes off his own T-shirt. He's got a fairly average build, lean, with muscles hinted at beneath his tanned skin without being obvious or bulked up. An odd pattern of faint, pencil-thin scars checkerboard his back and shoulders—a peek into his past and a story I don't know.
Marcus notes them, I think, with a flare of his nostrils, then redirects his attention to the fight. Physically, Milo is no match for Marcus. Strategically…well, we're going to find out.
I lean against the wall to watch.
The first round goes as expected—the bigger, stronger Marcus has Milo on his back in less than ten seconds. They reengage. Marcus pins him again, but this time it takes longer. As Milo rolls up off the mat, he flashes me a confident grin.
We've also gained an audience. Shelby and Jackson stand by the wall opposite me, smirking. I bite my lower lip, confident the tables are about to turn.
Round three ratchets up my respect for Milo. Now that he's tested Marcus's strength and maneuvers, Milo adjusts his own movements to compensate. He skillfully rolls and ducks, easily avoiding the larger, slightly slower were-cat bearing down on him. Marcus lunges. Milo twists away. It's an amusing dance that's lasted over a minute already.
Marcus turns again, and I catch a glimpse of his face. His teeth are bared like any predator, but he's smiling. If I didn't know better, I'd swear he was on the verge of laughter. Milo seems equally amused—enjoying the challenge.
"Come on, Marcus, pin the child," Shelby says.
Milo flips him off without breaking concentration, and I snort laughter. Shelby growls. Milo pulls to his right, and Marcus compensates—perhaps anticipating it as a feint. Only Milo doesn't feint. He keeps going around, twists, and ducks lower. His shoulder hits Marcus's lower abdomen full-force.
In a move as graceful as a ballet dancer's, Milo lifts Marcus up with his shoulder while anchoring him hands to ribs, and executes a perfect flip while falling backward. Both men land on their backs, Milo angled higher up so Marcus's shoulders hit the mat at the same time. It's a beautiful pin.
Milo rolls away, then comes up standing, practically bouncing on the balls of his feet. I half expect him to crow a little over the victory, or at least smirk. He just watches Marcus with a comical wide-eyed innocence as the larger man stands up, making a show of dusting himself off.
Jackson and Shelby are silent.
Marcus crosses well-toned arms over his chest. "You must have made a fortune hustling pool," he says with a grin.