Excerpt: Love Like War

Sometimes, Aiden hated Tristan.

It was usually a fleeting emotion, gone just as quickly as it had come, but there were other times when he wanted to do nothing other than wring his neck and watch him choke. He’d resisted so far, a testament to his almost dangerous self-control, because finding another partner that trusted him as infallibly as Tristan did would be an impossible feat. That wasn’t to say they didn’t have their fair share of arguments because they did, and mostly about silly things: the last Pop-Tart in the box, the radio station that played in the car or whose fault it was that the gun wasn’t loaded with silver bullets.

And it was always Tristan’s because he was the type of jackass who liked to keep them on their toes.

He wasn’t, though, the type of guy who’d abandon ship without telling him first. After all they’d been through, and all they’d sacrificed, they were bonded on a metaphysical plane and that wasn’t something anyone could just turn their back on. Which left only one simple explanation: he was dead, six feet under and pushing up daisies.

And what kind of sick bastard did that to someone?

When they’d set up the terms of their partnership, it’d been under the assumption that they were both as likely to die as the other. It was fair and no one would get left behind but Tristan had gone ahead and broken that trust without a second thought. The betrayal cut sharp, even though he knew he was being wholly unreasonable about it all but, more than anything else, it distracted him from the worry gnawing in his gut and the hopelessness of not being able to do anything—as if he was seventeen all over again.

“He might not be dead,” Callie said, as Aiden had gotten up to pace for the short length of the room for the umpteenth time. “His phone could be broken again.”

“What’s stopping him from getting to a payphone?”

“Small towns in the middle of nowhere don’t have great reception.”

“Which is why he called us twice on the first day and gives us radio silence for the next three?”

“Maybe he’s busy trailing someone, you know he can’t call you then.”

It was plausible—Tristan had said it was a research trip, after all, to while away the time as they waited for Aiden’s wrist to heal—and Callie seemed to believe it but he’d always known their brother better than she did. He’d call if he was going to have to stay for longer than two days, regardless of whatever crappy coverage he was dealing with, and he’d tell him not to come despite knowing that they would. They were a team like that, so intertwined and wholly dependent on each other that it hurt to breathe without him.

“Why?” Callie asked suddenly, looking up from cleaning her favourite knife, the one that had decapitated a werewolf from twenty metres away. “Why do you keep insisting he’s dead?”

“Assume the worst, right?”

She narrowed her eyes, catching onto something in his voice. “You’re lying.”

“It’s a little unnerving how you can do that.”

“Some people think it’s unnerving how I can kill someone with a pen.”

He laughed. “Want to try it?”

She didn’t wait, the knife quivering in the headboard of the bed before he’d finished speaking, and he grinned because this, this, was familiar. They’d sparred enough times to know each other’s weaknesses and strengths: Callie was fast but didn’t have much strength while Aiden used charms and guns because he’d never been a fighter, not in that way. Unlike his siblings, he didn’t have a killing instinct but he’d saved their asses more than enough times to make up for it. Point was, he knew the score here, and he knew he couldn’t beat her.

He also refused to go down easily.

They fought hard, fast and dirty, so different to the choreographed dances that appeared regularly in the movies. Real life didn’t give a person time to plan out every hit and it was all instinct, using whatever was close to hand which, in their bare motel room, wasn’t much. He managed to tug the knife out, whispering the runes to life, while Callie bullheadedly aimed at his wrist.

“That’s cheating!” Aiden cried.

She paused briefly to shoot him a look. “Because you were so gentle when I had two broken ribs.”

“They were practically healed.”

“Insomuch as they can heal after a day.”

In his defence, Aiden didn’t make a habit of beating up injured women but she’d played her injuries down, like all members of the Lahey family did, and he hadn’t known about her ribs until she’d passed out on the practice mat. Tristan had been mad, demanding how she could hide that kind of pain from them, and ordered her to rest in bed with a healing stone for the next week. Which was also what Aiden was supposed to be doing.

But sitting in bed with so much restless energy only led to bad things.

“You’re telegraphing,” he warned, moving smoothly out of the way of her foot. “Your lead knee’s moving before you strike.”

“You’re distracted,” she told him in return, “you’re not paying attention.”

“What?”

He shouldn’t have been surprised because he knew that Callie was fast, capable of short but impressive bursts of speed, and she used that to her full advantage. Ducking down, she swept her leg under him and, as he fell, yanked him off balance by grabbing his shirt. Two seconds later and he was finding out what the carpet smelt like as she ground his head into the pile.

“I told you,” she said, and he could hear the smugness in her voice, “that you were distracted.”

He took a little comfort from blaming his injured wrist even though he knew, had it been a real fight, he would’ve been dead by now and one of the first things they were taught was, no matter what, never go to the ground. It wasn’t easy getting out of that vulnerable position but Callie was feeling kind and let him go, gracefully getting up and out of range. He let her move away, if only so he wouldn’t experience more of the pleasures of carpet burn.

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