Avenger (A Halflings Novel) - By Heather Burch

Chapter 1

The blur lasted only a second before Nikki Youngblood’s face exploded in blinding pain. And I thought karate tournaments were ruthless. Even the gentlest blow of this Halfling put her past competitors to shame; half human, half angels were lethal. Her lips throbbed with the beating of her heart, and for a few horrible seconds she wanted to call time out and collapse onto the ground.

But she wasn’t a quitter, and the pain rumbling through her was only more incentive to pummel the Frenchman into the ground.

Even if it wasn’t the smartest choice she’d ever made.

Nikki advanced, ignoring the cheers and gasps around her. A smattering of Halflings now dotted the courtyard surrounding the Cinderella-style castle, similar to the one where Nikki had been living like royalty since she and the others arrived. Though to her knowledge, Cinderella never kicked any butt, so any fairy-tale similarities between her and the blonde princess ended there.

Her lips were numb, a thankful reprieve from the pain of them smashing against her teeth as the Frenchman, Deux, made contact with a powerful fist. She didn’t taste blood yet, but she could feel her mouth swelling. For all she knew, there was blood seeping from her lips — she was simply too adrenaline-driven to care.

If she was in a competition, officials would call the fight at the first sign of a cut. But this was no tournament. There were no senseis, judges, or black belts hoping to showcase their abilities as masters and students. And no called fouls when things got rough.

Nikki stood in a cat stance, trying to form some type of strategy, and used her newfound powers to take in her surroundings. It struck her that the French countryside was quite picturesque, and would be like a storybook — Beauty and the Beast, maybe, since Cinderella didn’t fit — if not for the guy beating her to a pulp.

Pulp. That’s what her mouth felt like.

She saw the fist coming and caught it in midair. When Deux tried to pull away, she held firm, stopping him and letting this new power — this new strength she’d begun to tap into — course though her, but carefully. Nikki knew what she was capable of. A night of stalking her demented godfather, Damon Vessler, had taught her that.

Her fingers squeezed until she heard Deux’s bones begin to pop. His clear blue eyes clouded with a mix of surprise and dread.

“Oooooh” and “ewwwww” echoed from the crowd of spectators. No disapproving groans. Mace must still be in the house; otherwise he’d be breaking things up. One thing her boyfriend couldn’t abide was Nikki fighting for no reason. Boyfriend — that sounded strange to her ears, but accurate. She and Mace were a couple. Mostly.

She released her grip marginally. After all, she didn’t want to break Deux’s hand, just disprove his theory that female Halflings were the weaker part of the species.

Nikki shoved his fist back, knocking him off balance.

Off to the right, someone said in a thick French accent, “I think you have misjudged her power, my friend. Or perhaps you have misjudged your own.”

Snickers from the onlookers on both sides of the earlier argument. She tossed a glance behind her to the tall glass doors.

No Mace. She could continue the fight.

Deux was shaking his hand, massaging it, trying to encourage fresh blood flow. “You are waiting for Mace to return and rescue you, no?”

Nikki set her jaw and punched Deux in the face. His head jolted back, causing his carefully layered hair to whip.

“That hurt.” A red welt materialized on his cheek and jaw, but a smile sliced through the darkened flesh. He wiggled his brows. “I think I am in love.”

Maybe it was the fact that love had gotten her into more trouble than any person — human or Halfling — deserved, or maybe it was the cocky, condescending way he looked at her, but his words unleashed her fury. And her fury always meant real pain. Nikki sailed into a combination of kicks and punches that a fifth-degree black belt would envy. Each made contact, but not with the intended target. Over and over Deux cupped his hands and caught every punch. Kicks were absorbed by arm blocks. Even the low kick to his knee was halted by a shin block.

“You are good, Cherie. In a few years, you might even be a real opponent.” He yawned.

A few chuckles from the crowd, along with some calls cheering her on and some telling Deux his

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