Chapter 40

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I raise an eyebrow then shrug

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I raise an eyebrow then shrug.

"Fine," I say.

I slip off my shoes and place my coffee cup onto the stone floor. Taking a tentative step onto the dark pink mat I stare at Cupid defiantly.

"I don't know what you're expecting," I add. "I've never been in a fight before."

Cupid grins.

"Don't worry, I won't hurt you," he says. "I'm just going to show you a few techniques. It'll help you when Cal gets back with the Sim – and if you do happen to come into contact with the Arrows before we get hold of the Finis...well it can't hurt to know how to defend yourself."

I take a deep breath and look him up and down. I notice again the broadness of his shoulders and the tightness of his shirt around his upper arms. He seems amused – his eyes twinkling.

Then I nod.

"OK," I say. "Show me something."

Cupid smiles then steps towards me. He stands so close that I can feel the heat radiating from him. He grasps my arms with a surprising gentleness and looks me in the eyes for a moment longer than is comfortable. I stare back, not sure what he is doing.

Then he slips his bare foot behind one of my legs and slowly he tips me off balance – I grab onto his upper arm as he gently lowers me to the ground.

For a moment he is leaning just inches from my face, and I can feel his warm breath on my skin. Nervousness suddenly consumes me. Then he smiles and pulls me quickly back up to my feet.

"You want to try?" he asks.

I nod and, feeling slightly breathless, grab his arms like he did mine. I hook my foot around his leg and pull whilst pushing his top half.

Cupid doesn't resist and falls lightly onto the mat, bringing me tumbling down on top of him.

For a moment we stay there on the ground, my body on top of his. I can feel the hardness of his stomach muscles through his shirt, and smell the light scent of his fabric softener mixed with perspiration.

I look into his eyes and I'm surprised to see that he looks a little scared and vulnerable; as though I've thrown him off guard.

Then before either of us can speak a sharp cough comes from the entrance of the underground room.

I turn my head sharply to see Cal standing by the doorway with a disdainful look on his face. There is a large black satchel slung over his shoulder.

I jump to my feet and Cupid looks up at his brother and raises an eyebrow– no longer vulnerable but back to his usual arrogant self.

"You always seem to walk in at the worst possible moments brother," he says, before slowly getting to his feet.

Cal gives Cupid a look and walks towards us, throwing the bag onto the floor beside the mats. Then he thrusts what looks like a small USB stick into my match's hand.

"Glad to see you two are taking this whole thing seriously," says Cal.

For some reason I feel a bit guilty.

"Cupid was just showing me how to defend myself," I say quietly.

He looks at Cupid distrustfully, his silver eyes blazing.

"Sure he was," he says.

He stalks off to the monitors in the corner of the vast room and Cupid and I share a look. He shrugs as we turn to follow him.

"Don't ask," he whispers. "The inner workings of my brother's mind are just as much a mystery to me..."

When we reach the array of screens Cupid slips the USB stick into the computer – then slides into the leather office chair in front of the monitors.

"What are you doing?" I ask, watching as some pink letters begin to emerge on the black screens. "Is that some kind of code?"

Cupid doesn't look at me only nods and starts typing on the keyboard.

I move closer – I take a computing class at school but the programming language is unfamiliar to me.

"I'm tweaking this to set up a similar situation to what we'll encounter later," he says. "This is an outdated version." he adds, looking at his brother.

Cal furrows an eyebrow.

"It was the best I could get hold of in the circumstances..." he replies.

"Will it run on the screens?" I ask, interrupting the Matchmaking Agent.

Cupid spins his chair round to face me and grins.

"Nope," he says, pulling the stick back out.

He fiddles with it a moment and then shakes. Three small, metallic objects tumble out onto the palm of his hand.

"Microchips?" I ask.

He nods.

"Put this in your ear – it sends a signal to your brain that causes a controlled hallucination," he says – passing one to me and Cal. "We'll all see the same thing, and myself and Cal will be with you the whole time."

Cal looks at me – his eyes kinder than usual.

"It's a bit weird the first time," He says. "But if you want to stop it – you just need to take the chip back out."

I look down at it in the palm of my hand. It's cold to the touch, and I notice some small engravings around the sides.

"Ready?" asks Cupid.

I take a deep breath and nod.

Then I raise my hand and slip the small, alien object into my ear.

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