How sweet. “Thank you.” Nicola accepted the offering with a smile. A jasmine body wash and a lotion scented with honeysuckle.
“Look at this place.” Sirena gazed around. “It’s not big, but it’s homey and wonderful, isn’t it?”
Homey? Wonderful? Not even close. The room boasted plain white walls and a concrete floor painted gray. The only furniture was the desk, Nicola’s chair and the two chairs in front. Not one of the three had a cushion.
Her first few months in the office, Nicola had hung pictures of her family on the walls, but every time she’d looked at them, memories had flooded her.
She’d heard her mother shout, “What are you doing, laughing like that? Excitement of any kind isn’t good for you. Do you want to die and send me spiraling into another depression?”
She’d remembered her father patting her on the head and saying, “Every night I go to sleep afraid I’ll never again see my beloved girls.”
Well, his fear had come true, but not for the reason he’d thought. His life had been cut short by a drunk driver, and he hadn’t seen them again.
Pictures of Laila only served to remind her of all she would soon lose. Her best friend, her confidante, her cheerleader. Her very heart.
“You’ll be able to decorate your cubby however you like,” she said, fighting a quiver in her chin.
A knock boomed from the door. The entrance swung open before she could bid the person on the other side to enter. Dexter Turner peeked his head inside. He had a full head of dark hair and brown eyes that were puppy-dog sweet.
“Hey, Nicola, I was wondering—” His gaze landed on Jamila, widened, slid to Sirena, widened still more, before finally settling on Nicola. He gulped. “I, uh, didn’t know you had company.”
“I can leave if you want,” Sirena said, eager to please.
“You’re fine,” Nicola told her, not wanting the women to vacate just yet. Dex had asked Nicola out several times, and she’d always told him no. In high school, she and Laila had been forbidden to date for their own good. Then, after their parents had died and they’d been on their own, they’d both gone a little crazy, going out with anyone who asked.
Granted, only five guys had asked Nicola. But then, she was glad there hadn’t been more. She had hated every minute of every date. The nervousness had been too much for her, especially since each of the boys had expected her to be more experienced than she was, considering her age. She had stuttered, and she had squirmed in the uncomfortable silences that followed.
After vomiting before the last one, and nearly passing out during dinner, she had decided not to date until her doctors discovered a way to regulate her heartbeat once and for all.
Not Laila, though. Laila had flourished under the attention. A few months ago, she’d even made a go of a serious relationship. But the two had fought and fought and fought, and all that strife had put a strain on her body. She’d ended up in the hospital. Of course, when the doctors told her that she would never leave, the guy had walked away and never come back.
“I’ll just catch you later,” Dex said, and shut the door.
“Well, I think you two would make an adorable couple,” Sirena said, her hand fluttering over her cheek as if she were flushing. “Just adorable.”
The phone rang, and Nicola picked up the receiver, grateful for the distraction. “Nicola Lane’s office.”
“Yes,” she said, her heart suddenly pounding erratically.
Dread spiked, and she experienced a rush of dizziness. “What’s happened?”
“Nothing good, I’m afraid. Your sister has taken another turn for the worse. How soon can you get here?”
WHAT DID I DO to deserve this? Koldo had spent the past six days with Thane. An eternity, surely. A punishment, definitely. They had traveled to the Downfall, Thane’s place of business. A palace of iniquity, to be sure. One that would have been visible to the human eye if not for the cloud surrounding it. But it had to be this way. Only the Most High, Sent Ones, angels and demons operated in the spiritual realm. Other supernatural creatures, like the ones Thane entertained, would have been unable to visit otherwise.
The entire place was in the process of a very slooow descent toward the earth, moving a mere inch a day.
As the members of the Army of Disgrace might at any sign of misconduct. Symbolism at its best, he thought. But then, wickedness of any kind caused a separation with the Most High.
The club would eventually end up in hell.
Won’t think about that.
Other than successfully completing the three demon-killing missions Zacharel had assigned the entire army, Koldo and his companions hadn’t left the club.
Thane and fellow angels Xerxes and Bjorn lived there, and Koldo wasn’t certain how they were allowed to maintain their status as Sent Ones. But he now knew why they had been given to Zacharel. More than using a new woman every night, they fought whoever angered them with brutal intensity—and nearly everyone they encountered angered them.
Now the four of them were in the bar, sitting in a shadowed corner. Different immortal races wandered about, drinking and dancing, their hands wandering. From the trouble-happy Harpies to the scream-happy Phoenix, and everything in between. Vampires, shape-shifters, the Fae and countless others.
The snake-shifters were considered the most dangerous, with the Phoenix a close second. But the race that topped them all? The race no one ever considered, because everyone liked to pretend they were nothing more than a nightmare? The Nefas.
Koldo was very glad no one knew about his father. Gladder still no one ever would. Even the Sent Ones who had rescued him from the camp all those centuries ago had no clue about his origins.
The warrior tossed back a shot of vodka. “Haven’t we gone over this? Because Zacharel commanded us to stick together, and I refuse to live in one of your hovels.”
Koldo’s frustration level spiked. He was to have a permanent babysitter now? No. Absolutely not. He refused. Something would have to be done. “What about our mission? The one you couldn’t tell me about? The one you had to show me?”
“I never said there was a mission.”
Must not kill a Sent One.
“But if I had told you I wanted you to come to my place and enjoy yourself,” Thane continued, “you would have said...”
“And there’s the reason I implied there was a mission.”
Koldo banged his fist into the table, earning several what’s-up-with-the-angry-beast glances from nearby patrons.
His gaze swung to Bjorn, who sat on Thane’s right. “Is he always this tricky?”
“Are you always this curious?” was the irritating reply.
Bjorn had dark hair and tanned skin veined with the same gold that wove through his wings. His eyes were a rainbow of colors, from the lightest of blues to the darkest of greens, with shades of pink and purple thrown into the mix.
His name was Scandinavian for bear. Again, another perfect fit.
Xerxes, Persian for monarch. The male had long white hair pulled back in a jeweled torque. His skin was the color of milk and lined with scar after crisscrossing scar, each in jagged patterns of three. Arresting, yes, but it was his eyes that truly held a person’s attention. They were a bright ruby-red, and glowed with an endless rage matched by few.
I’m one of the few.
“Are they always this cryptic?” Koldo asked him.
“Are you always this annoying?”
All three males chuckled at their own ridiculous wit.
Koldo refused to envy their friendship, or their complete ease with each other. He’d heard they’d met inside a demon fortress, each a prisoner—each tortured. He’d had no one during his own years of anguish, and perhaps that was why he preferred his solitary life. The fewer people privy to his secrets, the less likely he was to face betrayal.
“I’ve introduced you to many beautiful females, hoping one of them would entertain you—and free me of the burden of you,” Thane said, tossing back another vodka. “You’ve refused them all. Why?”
“Have you ever been with a woman?” Bjorn asked.
“No.” He’d had no desire. He still didn’t. Except...every day since he’d come here, Zacharel had granted Koldo an hour-long break from Thane. He’d spent the first half of that hour with his mother, resisting the urge to hurt her, and the second half with Nicola, watching, hidden from view.
He would ensure no demons were following her. He would wonder what she’d look like if she laughed with all of her heart, carefree, and his blood would heat in the strangest way. A tingling heat. Almost...electrifying. He would begin to step into the natural realm, catch himself and back off. What if his presence caused her heart undue stimulation? What if he hurt her? He had the hands of a killer, after all.
So, he would remain in the spirit realm. But the tension within him had gotten worse. The hum of anticipation had gotten stronger.
He had no idea what to do, what to think.
Even still, he was eager to speak with her, to at last discover what conclusion she’d drawn about him. How was he to kick things off, though?
Your sister is going to die, but I can help you save yourself.
I’m a Sent One. Heed my words.
I’m a cold, hard man. I’ve done terrible things. But have no fear, I won’t harm you.
“A virgin,” Xerxes said with a tinge of...envy? Surely not. He motioned to a female. “We must change that.”