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“Come on, Lily,” I urged. “You can hit me harder than that.”
My best friend glowered at me, the light boxing gloves looking absurdly large on her slim wrists, but she tried again, poking her right fist into the palm I held up for her. When I worked with her brother Simon, I put on defensive gloves to protect my wrists, but it wasn’t really necessary with Lily. She may have been a fairly powerful witch, but her physical interests leaned toward yoga and Pilates, not violence.
Violence was more my thing.
We were in the basement of my little cabin just outside Boulder, Colorado, which I’d turned into a reasonably sophisticated home gym. It was after nine on a Tuesday in May, but Lily was a night owl and I was pretty much nocturnal these days. That’s what happens when your boyfriend and your boss are both vampires.
“That was an okay jab,” I said, trying to sound encouraging. “But if you really want to hurt someone, you’ve got to get your shoulder behind it.” I turned around so I was lined up next to her, demonstrating with my own right arm. “See how I’m putting the whole weight of my body behind the punch?”
I resumed my previous position, and she made another flailing attempt at my hands. “Better,” I lied. “Why don’t you go work on the heavy bag for a while?”
Lily trudged to the corner and began smacking the heavy bag I’d attached to the exposed rafter, looking tired and frustrated but determined. Behind her, my eye caught a flicker of smoky light, but I forced myself to look away. Ghosts fade over time, and this one was so ancient it was no more than a little flare of death magic. I was actually lucky that this was the only part of my house that seemed to be haunted.
Or at least that’s what I kept telling myself.
While Lily beat ineffectively on the heavy bag, I picked up a jump rope from a weight bench and began skipping rope, calling out occasional words of encouragement that had little effect on Lily’s form. Lily had an inherent grace thanks to childhood ballet and lots of yoga, but that grace didn’t seem to translate to coordination. I tried not to wince as I watched her throw weak punch after weak punch.
The previous fall, Lily’s life had been threatened—by her own older sister, of all people—and she’d had to use combat magic to escape. Lily had done everything right, but the whole experience of using powerful apex magic to hurt someone had really scared her. Moreover, Morgan had gotten into her little sister’s head. Her taunts about Lily’s flightiness and naiveté to the real world had created wormy little holes in my friend’s self-confidence.
I hadn’t understood how much it was bothering her until a few weeks after Morgan’s banishment, when Lily turned up on my doorstep and begged me for lessons in physical defense: shooting, fighting, the whole deal. Teaching Lily seemed only fair—she and her brother had been giving me magic lessons since I’d first found out I was a witch back in September.