He looked at her in stunned amazement; he regained his breath. Punish? What the hell does she mean by that? he thought quickly, a second before she showed him.
She spun away to her right, took two strides, then spun back and ran at him. Drace could tell by the snarl on her face she meant business. He had to be defensive for a moment and then pressed back. She countered every blow.
Suddenly, he found himself flat on his back and looking into the face of a really pissed off female lion. The lioness roared in his face and held him down, unsheathed claws digging into his shoulders. It roared again, the sound deafening so close up. His gut clenched in fear and he broke out in a cold sweat.
Drace closed his eyes, and waited for the killing bite to his throat, wondering where this lioness had come from. He felt a sudden weight change, feeling the press of very womanly breasts against his bare chest. Drace opened his eyes and looked into the tawny gaze of Ki. He was so surprised that there was a split second he thought his heart had stopped, but it was tripping hard in his chest now.
“Use everything you can to your advantage,” she hissed, and then she really growled, lion like, her lips pulled back to show her canines. A woman glared down at him, her breath moving over his face, causing him to blink, but the roar vibrated through his body and he flinched at the deafening sound.
Drace was so startled he let go of his sword, balled up his fist and without thinking, punched her in the face. He didn’t have much room to use his full strength, but it was still effective, her head snapped back and she released her grip on his shoulders.
Ki rolled off him and was quickly on her feet. She touched the back of one hand to her mouth, looked at it, then at him. She spit blood, and glared at him, a big cat’s hiss escaping her.
Drace clambered to his feet, grabbing his sword as he stood. Ki could tell by his stance he was ready for an attack. He was also rather pale—the lion shape shift had done the trick. She dabbed at her lip again.
She walked up to him. He took a step back. From now on I won’t be bested.
“Relax human,” she said in a more soothing tone and placed a hand on his sword arm. “You drew blood. You have learned to follow your instincts regardless of who you face. I will tell you when the time comes to pull your blows.”
Drace shook his head as if trying to clear it. His dark hair was sweat soaked and a lock of it fell over one eye. Ki brushed it away for him and he flinched at her touch. She touched his cheek where she had hit him and, although it was tender, this time he did not move at all.
“Have Estelle order you a bath and something for this. You did well today,” she said in a low voice. “I see you wondering. Cearan and I are Lion-kin. We can shape shift at will. It can be advantageous at times. Now go. We will talk more of this and Nimbus’ plans later.”
“So brother, what did you think?” Ki asked Cearan after Drace left.
Cearan looked thoughtful for a moment, rubbing his chin, then he answered, “I think once the scare wore off he was a bit angry.” He turned to look at her. “He looked like he fought well enough. What is your opinion?”
She wiped her lip, which still bled a bit. “I surely was not expecting him to hit me, especially after the shift. The man can actually fight. Right at the end his ire was up and he forgot to pull his blows. I had to really watch myself. I think he will be a great fighter one day.”
She turned to walk to the castle, Cearan at her side. “He is a natural fighter. We have only a seven-day more to work with him then we must ride to Ferndale.”
Stopping, Cearan nodded acknowledgement and then watched her walk away.