If you were a real attacker, I could have quebbed the shit out of your vampy ass.
— Via

Echo’s fist barreled through the air in blinding speed, and Via just stood there in a haze, as wrath and fury burned through her blood. She thought to duck, move to the side, or even deflect the hit, but instead she’d been so infuriated and stunned by the words he’d flung at her, her mind misfired, then froze.

Humans taste better when they struggle.

The words echoed through her mind, getting louder and louder the closer Echo’s fist made it to her face. There was no proof he’d been speaking about her brother when he made the comment; he hadn’t been there that night and she’d never told a soul. So how in the fuck had he known what the vampire in the woods had whispered as he killed her brother? Via’s concentration was split between what Echo had said and how she could kill him for saying it.

            The blow to her mouth felt as if she’d been hit with a wrecking ball, burning with hellfire. Spit, blood, and maybe a few teeth went flying through the air as Via’s head snapped to the side. Her vision flickered and her stomach roiled, nearly sending all the blood Echo had fed her hurling through the air.

Dimly, she heard Echo growl, before his knee plowed into her gut in a crushing blow. The words ‘pay attention’ and ‘get back into stance’ were thrown at her, but her brain was in haze mode.

Throughout the days of training, Echo had held nothing back. He’d kicked her ass up and down his backyard. Busted lip? Not a problem his vampire blood couldn’t handle. A bruised coccyx bone and some broken bones? Yeah, ten gulps of Echo’s blood and she was good as a new punching bag.

Another fist that felt like an anvil slammed into her face and this time Via did fall . . . and hard. Her battered body hit the ground so hard her bones rattled, and she lost the battle with holding down Echo’s blood. Turning her head just in time, blood exploded up from her gut, out of her mouth, and onto the grass. Darkness seeped into her vision and just before Via lost consciousness, she heard what she thought was a flurry of curse words.

            The scent of ammonium carbonate burned the back of Via’s throat and nose, firing up her gag reflex. She lifted her hand and blindly swatted it away, coughing up her lungs. “O–okay, I’m up,” she rasped. A strong hand lifted her up into a sitting position and shoved what felt like a cup into her hands. The scent of Echo’s blood had her lips on the rim and her throat working down massive gulps.

            “Hurry up and drink.” Echo’s hard voice flittered through her muffled hearing. “We are about to lose daylight, and I’d like to show you where you fucked up this time.”

Via gulped faster, taking more, and ignored the pain in her lips and cheeks as she sucked down Echo’s blood like hot chocolate in front of a fire on a cold winter’s night. Her lips began to heal and the throbbing in her jaw lessened, turning into a dull roar. If Via didn’t have his blood, she was sure as shit she wouldn’t survive Echo’s brutal assaults.

She took some of his blood before, during, and after each lesson and the blood loss didn’t seem to affect Echo in the least. Via, on the other hand, had probably been saved from certain death because Echo’s attacks were swift, precise, and deadly.

            “Seems you aren’t holding anything back.” Via spoke over the rim of the cup as soon as her lips were completely healed.

Echo crouched down beside her, with an indiscernible expression on his face. He scanned her body for any wounds. Lifting her lip with his thumb, he tried to wiggle her front tooth. His finger tasted of salt and her blood and she swatted it away. The shift from killer to caretaker was quite jarring. During each bout, he’d treat her as if she were the enemy, rarely speaking to her, unless it was to instruct or enrage her. She wasn’t even sure if she’d improved over the course of the two days he’d been trying to train/kill her.

            He stood, the concerned look on his face morphing into a determined mask, then he took two measured steps away from her and dropped into a crouching stance. “I have done nothing to make your training easy. If anything, I have been harder on you than most of my enemies, and for good reason.”

She dropped the cup in the grass as she stood and moved into a similar position. She agreed and nodded. “Yes—”

In what seemed to be a blur of movement, Echo charged Via. Blocking each hit she made, he thrust out a foot and had her on the ground, crushed under his hard frame. Every bit of air had been squeezed from her lungs, and she was sure she’d cracked a rib. Each movement sent a searing pain throughout her body, but she managed to rebound by using some of the strength from his blood and switch their positions. Finally, Via was on top and—

Echo’s eyes narrowed, yet he didn’t give her but three seconds to gloat before he’d used his knee to bring her to her hands and knees. Abruptly, he moved away from her, releasing her from his crushing hold. Via stayed on the ground, struggling to breathe with a cracked rib.

            “Good job,” he said as he stood over her. With a knife, he opened a vein in his wrist and placed it over her mouth. A moment later, he pulled away.

Healing freaking hurt. She gritted her teeth and endured the pain as the bone mended. Breathing as if she’d just fought a rhino and lost, Via stood and followed Echo into the house. “You know,” she said around panting breaths, “I can’t see where I did a good job out there.”

She leaned, or rather fell into the wall for balance, as Echo made himself a cup of coffee. She wanted some, but moving hurt. Yeah, the aches and pains were turning into nothing but twinges, but Echo had beaten her ass for the last five hours. Via was a sprinter, not a marathoner, and her body needed time to adjust after each fight.

            Echo took his damned precious time responding as he savored a sip of his coffee and then prepared his dinner of AB neg, popping it into the microwave. “You subdued me.” He alternated sips of the coffee and blood, and Via grimaced.

            “Yeah, but only for a second or two.” What was he getting at? He eyed her like she was a damned fool, and she was starting to feel like one . . . until it hit her. “Oh shit!” She stood up straight, thankful that Echo’s healing blood had worked so damned fast. “If you were a real attacker, I could have quebbed the shit out of your vampy ass!”