A thought struck Deidra out of the blue, like one of those sneak attacks Tristen sometimes sprung on her in the middle of training. Supposedly he did it to keep her on her toes, although she suspected he was only trying to have some fun when he grew bored. This surprised her quite as much, for she truly had not seen it coming.
Tristen wasn’t just complimenting her.
He was flirting with her.
He might not be as direct as those who had stared at her appreciatively or asked to enter her bed, but she couldn’t mistake the gleam in his eyes for anything else anymore, not when he had said it so plainly.
She knew why she hadn’t seen it until now; whenever they were together, she was always attentive and focused on what he was teaching her at the moment. She wanted to be good: a good fighter, a good Childe, a good team member when she was finally allowed to go out with a patrol group and fight demons. She wanted to make her village proud. She also wanted to be a good student. Tristen had told her she was the first person their Sire had entrusted to him, and she wanted to reflect well on him.
There was more to it, though. Even if she had noticed that she had caught his attention before, she wouldn’t have believed it, not when one of the first pieces of gossip she had heard after arriving at the lair had concerned Tristen—and their Sire.
She took a fighting position once more, silently signaling that she was ready to start again, and Tristen gave a curt nod before showing her a new move with the sword, a sinuous attack that started with a feint to the side and concluded with a slash at the back of the knees.
Deidra tried the attack three times with little success. Tristen made it look easy, but it was anything but. Either that or she was too frazzled to focus the way she needed to.
She had to know, she admitted to herself. And she wouldn’t know unless she asked. She lowered her sword again and tried not to squirm under Tristen’s frustrated gaze.
“What’s with you today?” he asked with a sigh. “You’re supposed to start patrolling at the end of the week, but I’m not sending you out if you can’t stay on task for five minutes. Again, and stay sharp this time.”
Deidra flinched. The last thing she wanted was to be useless.
No, not the last thing. Something would have been worse: interfering in someone else’s life, particularly her Sire’s.
There was nothing to do but ask Tristen point blank.
“I heard that you are Mistress Cayleen’s favorite Childe.”
If the topic surprised him, he didn’t show it in the least.
“I am,” he replied in a calm tone. “At least at the moment. Mind your right elbow.”
She tucked in her elbow closer to her body and repeated her last series of movements until Tristen nodded in approval. Only then did she ask, “What do you mean, at the moment?”
“I mean that ‘favorite’ is a temporary thing. She enjoys my company for now. She could very well enjoy someone else’s tomorrow. Or maybe I will.”
Deidra’s eyebrows knitted together, and she lowered her sword again.
“But why would you want that? If you and she like each other that way…”
“What does liking each other have to do with any of it? As long as we don’t let demons kill us, we’re going to live forever. Having only one lover would be terribly boring.”
Confusion swept through Deidra like a gust of wind coursing through stalks of wheat, shaking her. She watched Tristen thoughtfully. She had never put it to words before. She had known, when she had volunteered to be a candidate, what becoming a vampire meant, but she hadn’t wanted to do it because she wanted to live longer, and she had never given it much thought. Now that Tristen had said it so plainly, however, it dawned on her that, as long as she learned to fight well enough and didn’t do anything stupid, she had a long, long life ahead of her.
A long and lonely life if she didn’t find the right person to spend it with. But if she did…
“Or,” she said after a moment with a little shrug, “it could be a wonderful opportunity to be with the person you love forever.”
She froze when she realized what she had said. She had already been taught that vampires couldn’t love, not the way humans did. It had been one of Mistress Cayleen’s first lessons, right after the most important one of all: how to feed without endangering the lives of the villagers who offered her their wrists to feed from. Mistress Cayleen had made it clear that both lessons were equally important.
Deidra waited for the scolding words from Tristen. He was a strict teacher, especially when his lessons reinforced Mistress Cayleen’s. He didn’t say anything, however, merely looked at Deidra for a little while, then pointed to her feet.
“Get back into position. That is no fighting stance.”
They started training again. Deidra tried her best to remain focused, but the same thought kept intruding: why hadn’t Tristen called her to order on her slip of the tongue? Could he possibly believe that their Sire was wrong and that vampires could love?
She had to ask. She had to know. But how? She couldn’t just flat out ask him if their Sire was wrong, could she? How would Tristen react to that? No, she couldn’t say it so bluntly, or at least not now. In a few weeks, maybe, a few months, even a few years, when she knew Tristen better, she would ask.
Maybe. Or maybe he’d manage to tell her without words.