Smacking bubble gum, a blonde Harpy approached the table. She wore a sequined bra and spandex shorts, her hair braided at the sides in two perfect ropes. “What’s up, guys?”
“We want you to give our friend a lap dance,” the scarred warrior said. Then, to Koldo, “I bet you can’t resist that.”
Her gaze slid to Koldo. She was a pretty little thing, with wide green eyes and freckles scattered across her nose. He wasn’t into freckles. “You want me to cozy up to this guy?” she asked, hitching her thumb in his direction.
In Koldo’s case, looks were not deceiving. “You don’t have to—”
“So of course I’ll give him a lap dance!”
Wait. What? “No, thank you. I don’t want—”
“Whoohoo, this is gonna be fun.” She fist-pumped the air. “Are you prepared to soar?”
“We’re already in the skies, sweet,” Thane said, clearly fighting a wave of amusement.
She rolled her eyes. “Whatevs. He knew what I meant. Didn’t you, Killer?”
“I would rather you not—” Koldo began, only to be cut off again.
“Move the table,” the girl said, rubbing her hands together. “I want to get this party train out of the station the right way. And that’s my way, in case anyone missed my meaning.”
Koldo pinched the bridge of his nose as Bjorn and Xerxes stood to obey the Harpy. Before the warriors could get started, he stiffened.
Not because of their intentions, and not because of the Harpy. Deep inside, where instinct sizzled and crackled, he experienced a sudden knowing.
“I have to go.” He jumped to his feet, accidentally sending the table toppling the floor.
“Well, that’s one way to do it,” the girl muttered.
Zacharel’s orders stated that Koldo was to remain with Thane twenty-three hours a day. If he disobeyed, he risked punishment. He’d already used up his hour away today. “And you get to come with me,” he told the warrior, pointing at him to show there would be consequences if he was ignored.
“Wait. You’re leaving right now?” The Harpy’s pink, glittery lips fell into a seductive pout. “But I haven’t even started yet, and I’ve got some wicked-cool moves. Did I mention I’m very bendy?”
Thane’s gaze narrowed on Koldo. “We’re not leaving. We do, and I’ll never get you back here.”
The warrior had just as much to lose as he did, Koldo realized—and that gave Koldo all the bargaining power he needed. “We’ll return. You have my word. Until then, you had better follow.” He informed Thane of where to go and flashed to the hospital, but...Nicola wasn’t there. He flashed to her office. She wasn’t there, either. He did, however, spot a Sent One, as well as a girl he didn’t recognize but thought he should.
There was no time to question either female. He flashed to Nicola’s house, but his redhead wasn’t there, either. Her second job...nope. Back to the hospital, where he materialized at an empty nurse’s station and used the computer. A good decision. Laila had been moved to a new room.
Thane landed just in front of him. He tucked his wings at his sides as he looked around. “What are we doing here?”
“You’re waiting for me to conclude my business, and I’m in the process of concluding my business.”
Without another word, he flashed to Laila’s new room. And that’s when he found Nicola, sobbing over her sister’s body.
KOLDO ASSESSED THE SITUATION quickly. Laila’s heart monitor was racing. There was a sharp odor in the air—the scent of impending death. There was a wheeze to her breathing, even with the machines doing all of the work—the sound of impending death. Though she wasn’t dead, her spirit was already halfway out of her body, about to ascend or descend whatever path she’d chosen for herself.
She wouldn’t last much longer. Once the spirit was all the way out, the body couldn’t survive.
Nicola’s forehead rested on the bed, her delicate shoulders shaking as she cried with the intense force of her despair. Despair...a mix of both fear and tension, strengthening both of the toxins. Soon, every demon in the hospital would be hungry to feed off her.
“Nicola,” he said, stepping into the natural realm and becoming visible. His first word to her in all these many days. He shouldn’t have waited until tragedy struck, he realized.
Her attention whipped up to him, and red, swollen eyes landed on his face. She gasped, “Koldo,” with a big dose of surprise. Her nose was stuffed, her voice no longer smoke and dreams but scratchy. Strands of hair clung to splotchy cheeks. “What are you doing here? How did you find me?”
How could he explain that he’d felt her pain, when he wasn’t sure how or why he’d done so? Ignoring the question, he forced his gaze to move to Laila. “She’s dying.”
A pause. A trembling, “Yes. I shouldn’t be crying. I knew this was coming.” Nicola covered her face with her hands, wiping away the tears, perhaps even trying to rub away the tension. “She needs me to be calm. I need me to be calm.”
“Yes.” Sighing, she fell against the back of the chair. She released a breath, drew in another, and her nose wrinkled adorably. “Last time you smelled wonderful. This time you smell like a brothel.”
He wasn’t embarrassed by the insult. Nothing had ever or would ever embarrass him. He was...overheated. Yes. That’s why his cheeks suddenly felt as though they were on fire. “And how do you know what a brothel smells like?”
“Fine. You smell like what I assume a brothel smells like. Cigarettes and alcohol and conflicting perfumes.”
“My apologies.” The first part of what she’d said at last penetrated. Before, she’d thought he’d smelled wonderful.
His body tensed, just as before. But there was no urge to inflict pain...he wanted only to touch her, to offer comfort and—he wasn’t sure.
The beeping from the monitor sped up.
Nicola traced her fingers over her sister’s hand, then stopped, just stopped, as if the action were too much for her.
How much strength had she lost since his last visit?
No matter the amount, the answer was the same. Too much.
“What are you, anyway?” she asked almost absently.
“You haven’t figured it out on your own?”
She expelled a weary breath. “All I know is you aren’t human.”
“So why don’t you just tell me?”
“Would you believe me?” If he admitted he was a Sent One, she would, perhaps, have no idea what that was. If he used the word angel, she might have certain expectations he would be unable to meet. “We can discuss it later. Right now, why don’t I help your sister?”
Immediately he wished he could snatch the words back, but did he? No. He’d said them. He would deal with the fallout.
Eyes as wild and turbulent as a winter storm widened. “How?”
“I...can buy her a little time. She’ll strengthen and she’ll awaken, but I don’t think she’ll live more than a few weeks,” he rushed to add. She had to be swimming with toxins. Not only that, she would still have no internal or external barriers against the demons. Barriers she would have to learn how to erect. Barriers she might not have time to learn how to erect.
“I’ll take it!” she shouted, as though she feared he would change his mind.
So eager for so little. “But you haven’t yet heard my terms.”
Her beautiful mouth edged into a frown. “You want something from me?”
Many things. “I’ll buy your sister a few weeks, and in exchange you’ll do what I tell you, when I tell you, until the day I release you from my charge.” He had no idea how long it would take him to rid her of the toxins and teach her enough to survive on her own.
“That sounds like something I’ve heard on the late-night news. Are you expecting me to become your sex slave?” Her tone wasn’t scandalized, but curious.
“No,” he replied with a frown of his own. “I don’t want you in that way.” He didn’t, did he? He hadn’t lied to Thane and the others. He was a virgin. Desire wasn’t something he was familiar with, and he wasn’t sure he would recognize it.
He knew he admired Nicola’s loyalty to her sister. He knew he wished he had someone who loved him half as much. But seeing her naked was...intriguing, he realized, the blood heating in his veins, becoming molten, scorching him. A heat that had nothing to do with rage. It bubbled up, washing away the cold man he knew himself to be.
Perhaps he did want her in that way.
The very idea nearly sent him stumbling backward. His mind reeled. But...but...but she was so dainty, so fragile. He dwarfed her. Could crush her. Why her? Why now? Desire for her was implausible. Impractical.
“Oh,” she said, her shoulders slumping. “So, you want me to obey you when you tell me to...what?”
“There is an irrefutable spiritual law that states a person reaps what they sow. Therefore, if you sow joy into others, you will reap joy for yourself. Right now, you need joy.”
“Calm, peace, joy,” she echoed hollowly. As if he were insane.
Maybe he was. “Yes.”
“Why do you want me to feel those things?”