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Luke's pulse hummed in time with his movements, carrying him through the game without drawing attention to the fact he was using powers beyond the realm of human perception. He knew Z was employing the same tactics, but it was difficult not to.

Dion knew the truth, as did his family and their royal friends, but they would have to drag out the charade until Lexi turned eighteen and their true nature could be revealed. Luke was not looking forward to that.

Risking his edge, Luke glanced at Lexi standing outside the boundary line as she waited for the verdict. Would he send her ball out of play, or would he target Z? His choice held consequences either way. If he took Lexi out, he would certainly claim victory over Z. But, would Lexi rebuff him for his insensitivity? She had already introduced him to her bold, competitive spirit, and her lips.

Of course, logic told him he should discontinue his bid for Lexi's affections. She had unhinged him, stripped apart his wall and enchanted her way into his heart. He knew the sensible move was to send her ball and her infatuation flying. At that moment, Lexi caught him up in her gaze, and she swept her arm toward the playing field, urging him to make his move. A sign?

Luke chose to follow his instincts, which had successfully carried him through many seasons, especially when the situation was dire. He drew back and sent his ball careening across the lawn into the ball of his nemesis. Z's ball bounced just enough to put the overconfident hothead out of the bid for a win.

The audience drew in a collective breath as Z threw up his arms, and a strong gust of wind followed the gesture, causing everyone to glance at the sky like they thought a lightning bolt might strike them down. They were damned close to the truth.

Luke allowed himself another glance in Lexi's direction as he approached his ball. Her teeth were tugging at her lip, no doubt considering his chances for a victory. It would be a tricky shot, but he could pull it off with a little finesse. Once again, he considered the outcome of a win over Lexi. She had met every challenge so far with ferocity and grace. A true and worthy opponent, and he expected her to recover with no long-term resentment, unlike Z, who Luke ignored as he lined up.

Luke simply needed to tap Lexi's ball to secure a win, just caress it, and he refused to glance at her as he set up his shot with care, took aim, and brought his mallet down. The time his damned ball spent getting across the lawn felt like an eternity, and it drifted past Lexi's ball to miss by the width of a dragonfly's wing. Lexi muttered a short exclamation under her breath and clenched her fist at her side, although it looked like she wanted to raise it in triumph.

Stepping off the playing field, Luke bowed humbly to Lexi as she took her place behind her ball. The onlookers drew close as she aimed her mallet, and with a determined blow, sent her ball through the last two wickets and into the dowel, sealing her win with a resounding clank.

Voices rose as the field crowded with well-wishers, patting Lexi on the back and offering words of praise. Luke listened to Lexi engage with each one, thanking them for their support and offering pointers to those who wanted to try their luck. She was a credit to her species. Luke had become so engrossed in his admiration for Lexi, he barely noticed when Z joined him.

"Lexi has a strong spirit," Z said as he looked down his nose at the activity on the field.

"On this, I will agree with you. I suppose you want to take credit for that."

"I take only the credit that is due me. Lexi is fearless on her own. She does not care whether she wins or loses. She is inspired by the challenge. You do not find many mortals with such exemplary traits."

Luke nodded his acknowledgment.

"I expect you will be present when we tell Lexi the truth?" Z added.

"Yes. She knows something is afoot and asked me to stay."

Z turned to Luke, his face pinched in a grimace. "You will not take advantage of her vulnerability or so help me, I will crush you."

Luke met Z's grimace with an equally intense stare. "There is no need for threats, or have you forgotten, my brother, that we are born of the same flesh? I swear by the powers of Gaia that I am at Lexi's mercy."

"I am not concerned with your mercy. Just remember what happened the last time you didn't heed my threats." A hard smile forced the lines of Z's mouth upward before he turned and marched across the field to congratulate Lexi. It was then that Luke knew he had made his task immeasurably more difficult.

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