Kira drew her Lightblade, but didn’t bother calling its power. She didn’t need it, not against this opponent. “If you think you can take me,” she taunted, “come and get me.”
Her adversary crouched low. “I will take you, Kira Solomon,” he assured her. “Soon enough.”
They circled each other, each looking for the other’s weak spot, an opening to rush into and seize advantage. The world fell away as Kira focused all her attention on defeating her antagonist. Adrenaline surged through her, pushing her senses to full alert. Muscles hummed with the anticipation of action, of fight, of victory.
He rushed forward, a dark blur, ducking beneath her instinctive swing. A shoulder to her sternum sent her crashing to the floor. With her free hand, she grabbed him and pulled him down, shoving her feet into his stomach to send him catapulting over her. Kira spun to cover him, but he rolled out of her reach. He scrambled to his feet, hands held up in a defensive position.
She grinned and straightened, sheathing her Lightblade. He cocked an eyebrow. “Sure you don’t want to keep your tiny knife in hand?”
“Since you have your little blade sheathed, I wouldn’t want you to accuse me of having you at a disadvantage,” Kira said, making a great show of unbuckling her dagger’s leather rig and sliding it off her thigh.
His lips thinned. “There is nothing ‘little’ about my dagger. Or me, as well you know.”
She knew, all right. If she forgot—she’d had a lot on her mind of late—Khefar was there to remind her. He had refreshed her memory almost every night since they had returned from London, and she had yet to become accustomed to being intimate with another human being after living so long apart.
“Why, Khefar,” she said in mock wide-eyed innocence, “I didn’t realize you were a size queen.”
“A size queen?” He frowned. “I don’t know what that means.”
“Right. Never mind.” It was easy to forget that Khefar wasn’t your regular modern extreme fighter, but rather a four-thousand year-old, near-immortal Nubian warrior. It wasn’t as if he ran around in breechcloth carrying a bow and quiver of arrows. Kira smiled as an image sprang to mind unbidden. Too bad they’d had other things occupying their time around Halloween. Khefar in period dress at a costume party would be a sight to—
“Hey!” She landed flat on her back on the mat. Khefar sat atop her, hands on her shoulders, knees pressing her arms down to the padded exercise floor to keep her immobilized. The black tank shirt and baggy gray sweatpants he wore only served to emphasize his wiry, lanky physique. His biceps were cut, tightened by the force he exerted to keep her still, his dark, dark mahogany satin skin so very touchable.
“You got careless, Kira,” he admonished her. “I saw the exact moment your thoughts wandered.”
She relaxed for a moment, smiled up at him. “Would you like to know why my thoughts wandered? What I was thinking about?”
His gaze flickered, only a moment, but it was enough. She swung her legs up, wrapping her thighs about his neck before dragging him down. With his knees still on her shoulders, it had to be a painful position—his back arched, knees over-flexed. He didn’t move.
“Hey,” Kira complained, “you’re not even trying to get away.”
“Why should I?” he said, his voice strained. “I’m enjoying myself immensely right now.”
“Ahem.” A discreet cough came from the vicinity of the entrance.
Kira looked up. Anansi stood in the doorway of their exercise room, a bemused smile on his face. At first glance, he looked as he always did: an older black man of indeterminate age with more salt than pepper to his thick, wavy hair. But now his usual dark suit looked more custom-made than lived-in and off the rack, and he wore a diamond-studded cravat instead of a tie. “If I may interrupt for a moment?”
Heat suffused Kira’s cheeks as she let Khefar go. He rolled away and stood with supple grace and then extended a hand to help her to her feet. “What do you want, old man?” he demanded, glaring at the demigod. “And why are you dressed like that? The gala’s not until later tonight.”
“Easy, Medjay,” the trickster said, holding up his hands. “I’ll let you return to your foreplay soon enough. I simply wanted to say thank you for the invitation to the gala, but I won’t be attending. I’ve come to say good-bye.”
“Good-bye?” Kira echoed, refusing to react to the demigod’s barb. Sure, most—okay, all—of her workouts with Khefar usually ended with them horizontal on the mats or the weight bench, but still… “What do you mean, good-bye?”
“Your domestic bliss has inspired me,” Anansi told them. “I’ve decided to pay a visit to my lovely wife, Aso.”
“You’re still married?” Kira blurted out, surprised. She knew the folktales sometimes made mention of the spider god’s wife, but considering how much time Anansi spent away from wherever he considered home, she’d assumed the more domestic tales to be myth instead of fact.
“Is Mrs. Anansi going to let you in?” Khefar wondered. “Didn’t it take a while for her to welcome you back last time?”
“Really, children, there’s no need to be unkind,” the spider god chided. He spread his arms. “Though it has been some time since I’ve seen her, it’s true what they say: absence makes the heart grow fonder. My Aso is a wonderful lady, a terrific cook, nimble of mind, and you should see the size of her—”
Anansi cleared his throat. “Anyway, I have many new tales to tell. She always gives me a most enthusiastic welcome thanks to those.”
“How long will you be gone?” Kira wondered, feeling strangely sad. She wondered which she’d miss most, the demigod’s stories or his cooking.
“Time is an immeasurable thing where I’m going,” he answered. “Which is a nice way of saying that my father is many things, but a timekeeper isn’t one of them.”
He lifted a fedora from his head that had been bare a moment ago, and then sketched a deep bow, the hat sweeping through the air. “If you need me, of course, you know how to call me. Otherwise, feel free to drop me an email.”
“Email?” Kira echoed.
Khefar cocked his head. “Inventor of the World Wide Web, remember?”
“Oh right. Of course, you have email. Did you invent computer viruses, spam, and those Nigerian prince money-laundering scams too?”
The old man grinned. “What is it that the Americans say? I plead the Fifth—I refuse to answer on the grounds that I may incriminate myself. I would remind you, Shadowchaser, that I am a trickster. Still, I’m hardly the only one. Many a cunning demigod lives on thanks to pranks and hoaxes on the internet. You should see what Loki comes up with, and don’t get me started on what Coyote has done.”
Kira could imagine well enough to give her a headache. She rubbed her forehead. “I so didn’t need to know that.”
“You should know better than to ask Anansi questions like that,” Khefar told her. “You’re never going to like the answers.”
Khefar crossed to the spider god, grasped his forearm. “Safe journeys, Anansi.”
Anansi clapped the Medjay on the back. “Of course. You two take care of yourselves. I’ll be back before you know it.”
“Or when Mrs. Anansi kicks you out.”
“Bite your tongue, Medjay,” the demigod said. A surprisingly solemn look—as if he wanted to tell them something particularly profound—drew down his features, but his expression softened as he spoke. “Look after each other and try not to destroy the city while I’m gone.”
Kira folded her arms. “Gee, Grandpa, you never let us have any fun.”
“Not you too.” Anansi sighed, lifted his eyes heavenward. “I think I’m actually going to enjoy my time away from you two ungrateful wretches. I’ll see you when I see you.”
He reached out a hand. A door appeared in the middle of the exercise room, made of a rich golden-brown wood. As Anansi turned the knob, Khefar stepped up behind her and dropped a hand over Kira’s eyes, his other arm encircling her waist. “Hey!”
“Believe me, you don’t want to look through that door.”
She made a half-hearted effort to free herself. “Why not? Isn’t that the way he got Wynne and Zoo from London to Cairo?”
“No, not through that door. It’s not the door we used either. That’s a god’s door. The one time I looked through a door like that, I was dead for two days.”
“Oh.” She froze. “I suddenly find myself a lot less curious about Anansi’s method of travel. Is he gone?”
“Then do you think you could let me see and move again?”
His hand dropped from her eyes to her shoulder, but tightened his grip on her waist. “I could, but I’m enjoying holding you like this.”
She reached up, cupping the back of his neck. “I’m enjoying it too. Otherwise, I’d have thrown you to the mat by now.”
His breath was warm against her cheek. “You can throw me down now, if you like.”
Without a word, she bent low at the waist, flipping him over her shoulder. “I like,” she said with a grin, leaning over him.
He dug his hands into her braids. Her eyes slid shut as she reveled in the tactile experience, no less potent than the first time that he’d touched her.
When he spoke, his voice acquired a rough rumble. “I’m thinking it’s time for the second part of our workout.”
“I like that even better.” She bent to kiss him.
Despite more than three weeks of intimacy, Kira still felt that initial shock of being skin to skin with another person, a surge of fear that she’d made a mistake in touching him. Then he would hold her, kiss her, move deep inside her, and her heart would race for an entirely different reason.
She kept her eyes open, focusing on Khefar’s face, drinking in his expression, running her hands over his body. With him, she could forget the world and its troubles, could forget that she was different, could even forget that she lived on borrowed time. With him, she could share an extraordinary pleasure that made her feel blissfully normal.
A while later, Khefar pulled her to her feet. “Not too much longer before we have to head out to the gala,” he said, a little unsteady on his feet. Fighting, training, and lovemaking—they both went at it with the same level of intensity. “We need to get showered and dressed.”
“Will you do the lotion thing for me?” she asked, stretching to loosen her muscles again. Having Khefar rub her specially made shea butter lotion into her skin was pure heaven.
He watched her move, pleasure lighting his dark eyes. “I’m not sure which part you like better, the sex or the after-shower lotion rub.”
“You’re good at both, and I’m greedy. Do I have to choose?”
“No. Especially since that rubdown usually leads to other things.”
“Yeah.” She headed for the door. “Like a good deep sleep.”
“Keep it up and you’ll be rubbing yourself.” He paused. “Wait. That didn’t come out right.”
He tried to explain further, but Kira was laughing too loud to hear him.