The Darkest Surrender (Page 102)

The Darkest Surrender (Lords of the Underworld #8)(102)
Author: Gena Showalter

Juliette popped to a stand but didn’t try to run. Wise of her. Kaia would naturally have followed her and the end result would not have been pretty.

“There are only three clans left who can take first prize,” Kaia said. “Mine, yours and the Skyhawks.”

“Not true,” a female said weakly.

Kaia’s mother limped from the shadows to stand beside the angels.

She met Tabitha’s emotionless gaze, trying not to panic. Tabitha had yet to heal. There were smudges of fatigue under her eyes, her shoulders were hunched and her legs shook, as if nearing collapse.

“What are you doing here? Planning to protest my place in the finals?” Kaia lifted her chin, proud of herself. There’d been no hint of her own emotions in her voice. No tremor to give her away. “Well, you can—”

“No,” Tabitha said, shocking her further. “Taliyah told me what was happening. That is why I’m here. I choose to withdraw my team from the competition.”

“What?” Kaia and Juliette gasped at the same time.

Tabitha nodded, the movement almost toppling her. “I simply wanted you to have a chance to prove yourself to the clans, without any aid from me. And so you have. I am no longer needed. And as you can see, I am no threat at the moment.”

Kaia was utterly speechless.

“If that’s true, why did you taunt me?” Strider demanded, speaking up for the first time. His fury lent strength to the words.

“She taunted you?” Kaia gritted out, anger helping her find her own voice. “When?”

It started at orientation, she heard him say inside her mind. Before Tag. He could speak into her mind? She’d known some couples could do so, but she’d never expected to be one of the lucky. Bonus!

Tabitha’s chin rose, a mirror of Kaia’s own stance. So that’s where I got it. Huh.

“I didn’t taunt you, you stupid man.” Amber eyes shimmered with rage. “I warned you of her enemy’s intentions. You’re welcome, by the way. You gave me nothing but grief for my generosity.”

“Don’t call him stupid,” Kaia snapped. Only she had the right. But, uh, her mother had tried to aid her? “And why should he believe you? You hate me.”

I’m fine, baby doll. Don’t worry about me.

There was the slightest softening of Tabitha’s expression as she returned her attention to Kaia. “You’re my daughter…Kaia the Wing-Shredder. That is why he should believe me.”

Kaia the Wing-Shredder. The name echoed through her mind, a dream come true and so much better than the one she’d once given herself. “I—” Didn’t know what to say. Never in a million years—or fifteen hundred—had she expected to hear those words leave this woman’s mouth.

“Just so you know, I do not hate you. Yes, I was genuinely angry that you disobeyed me all those centuries ago. Yes, your actions were disappointing. You were supposed to redeem yourself, but you never did and I tired of waiting. When I realized you’d found your consort, I knew you would either lose yourself completely or at last discover the warrior you were always meant to be. And yes, that means I’ve been keeping tabs on you all this time. That means I also helped ambush you—for your own good. I was quite proud that you fought off the Hunters and figured out our plan.”

That wasn’t a confession of love, either, Kaia noted. But then again, abrupt, harsh and unchangeable, that was Tabitha. Was she a liar, though? No. Never. Tabitha stated her thoughts and that was that. Always. Knowing it, Kaia felt her chest swell with emotion she could no longer hide. Her mother did not hate her!

Did this mean they were getting together for Christmas? She doubted it, but hell, this was more than she’d had in years. She’d take it. ’Cause really. Her mom didn’t hate her. She would never get tired of thinking that. Rock on!

“I can’t say I’m grateful for the tough love,” Kaia replied, “but I’m happy with my life.”

Strider’s satisfaction slipped around her like a cloak.

“Now you’re strong enough to keep what’s yours. Of course you’re happy.” Tabitha limped forward to close the distance between them and extended her arm. “Here.”

Frowning, Kaia accepted…a Skyhawk medallion for warriors. A new one. A nicer one than Juliette’s. Her eyes were wide as she slid the leather band around her neck. The wooden disk was light, cool to the touch, and yet managed to burn her deep.

“Visit me soon, and we’ll…talk.” With that, Tabitha faced Juliette. “I have long enjoyed your company, as you have enjoyed mine. I knew you and Kaia would one day come to blows, and that was justified. She took your consort. My only hope was that she would be somewhat prepared for your attack. Now she is.

“But you should have struck at her consort rather than Bianka. After all the years I spent training you, I would have hoped you’d have learned that the punishment should always fit the crime. And so, for your actions this day, I leave you to the fate you have brought upon yourself. An ass-kicking from my daughter.” Having said her piece, she turned and stumbled away.

She truly doesn’t hate me. Kaia sniffled, trying not to cry from joy. Her mother hadn’t exactly defended her, and had called her only “somewhat” prepared, but still. No hatred!

And now to keep what’s mine… “Looks like it’s just you and me now,” she said to Juliette. “We’re gonna battle this out.”

Satisfaction spread over her enemy’s face. “Oh, really? You won’t let your slaves jump in and save you?”

“The angels and Lords are my friends, not my slaves, though I realize that concept is foreign to you. And why would I allow them to take over? I’m going to soak the ground with your blood. Fair and square.”

Juliette’s gaze shifted to Strider, narrowed, and Kaia halfway expected her to challenge the warrior instead. “Winner leaves with your consort.”

Bitch. “No way in—”

“Do it, baby doll,” Strider broke in, speaking out loud this time. He kissed her cheek. “There’s no doubt in my mind who’ll win this thing.”

She had failed him last time, but he still trusted her. She could feel it. Determination rose inside her, an unstoppable tidal wave. Juliette would suffer for issuing that particular demand.

“With no interference from anyone,” Juliette growled, not liking the complete disregard for her skills.