“Why would Zacharel want you to spy on Nicola?”

“He didn’t offer an explanation, and I didn’t care enough to ask.”

Well, Koldo cared. He would ask. He had to know. This couldn’t be a coincidence.

“Now,” Jamila said, “you’re not getting another answer from me until I get one from you.”

What was he doing here? “An alarm was raised, and we were told there was an increase of demon activity.”

She frowned, saying, “The alarm wasn’t issued by me. The place has been crawling with evil since day one, but it hasn’t increased.”

“Then why were we called?” he demanded, a burst of frustration making him what the humans would call cranky. Already he could feel his knuckles preparing for contact with a wall. The more jagged the better. “And who would have issued such a report?”

“Like anyone ever tells me anything,” she spat bitterly. “Ever since my—” The angry sparkle dulled in her eyes, and her shoulders hunched with defeat. “Never mind.”

Ever since her...what? Her capture and rescue? People had treated her differently? Gently? As if afraid she would break? Probably. That’s how they’d been with him, and he’d hated it. “You don’t have to dread such treatment from me. You annoyed me before, and you annoy me now. Treating you sweetly is the last thing I want to do.”

Her expression softened, but only slightly. “Thanks. That’s kind of you to say.”

Footsteps echoed behind them, clomping and hard, the culprit clearly not even trying to be stealthy. “We’ve never had a false alarm before,” Axel said as he snaked a corner and sauntered into the room. His hair was disheveled, three bleeding claw marks in his cheek. “But word is, this one came from a giggling female.”

All females giggled—all but Nicola. They would work on that, too. “You killed the demons without harming the humans, correct?”

“Actually, no killing was done on my part.” A shimmer of humor danced in those electric blues. “I found a date for Saturday night.” His gaze slid to Jamila, and his lips quirked up at the corners. “I was planning an evening for two, but say the word, princess, and I’ll make it an evening for three. You, the other girl and my camera phone.”

“You’re disgusting.” Jamila pushed him out of the way and stomped from the room.

“Argh!” was her only response.

Axel chuckled. “Feisty little thing, isn’t she? I think I’ll tame her just for grins and bragging rights.”

He hoped to have sex with her, walk away and never look back? “You won’t go near her,” Koldo found himself barking.

“Why?” Axel asked, blinking at his vehemence. “You want her?”

“But you don’t want me to have her?”

A pause. A shrug. “Fair enough. But what about the girls from the hospital? Are they available?”

The name Axel was Hebrew for peaceful. In the warrior’s case, the name was a flat-out lie. Koldo grabbed him by the collar and tossed him through the wall.

“Was it something I said?” Axel grumbled, his voice drifting through the untouched wood and plaster.

Wiping his hands after a job well-done, Koldo followed in Jamila’s footsteps. He knew Axel had the necessary skills to fight him, savagely and without mercy—and he wasn’t exactly sure who would win. So the male’s easygoing attitude toward him mystified him.

He rounded the corner, only to see Thane pacing. The blond appeared harried, his usual I-want-a-little-wicked-with-my-breakfast-lunch-and-dinner facade gone. Had something happened?

As Koldo closed in, the entire building shook, and a rumble ripped through the air. Human voices rose in sudden panic. Koldo stopped, frowned. The shaking continued, intensifying. A chorus of pained shouts sounded from above, in the sky.

He kicked back into motion. An earthquake? Here? Now? And one that affected the skies? But...that couldn’t be right.

Thane spotted him and paused. “What was that?”

“Well, it doesn’t matter anyway. Zacharel’s trying to find out why we were sent here, when clearly there wasn’t a real threat. In the meantime, we’re to go home. My home.”

“I’ll meet you there.” He would first check on Nicola, just to be sure all was well.

Because...a demon could have followed her home, he realized. There was a time Koldo would have done something like that. He would have followed his intended victim. He would have struck at the perfect time, away from the person’s protection.

A demon could have harmed her. And here Koldo was, standing in a hallway, doing nothing. Punching the walls hardly seemed violent enough. He wanted to strangle himself!

The screams of the innocent...all the people he’d hurt...all the people he’d killed...suddenly rose in his mind.

Koldo vanished without another word, appearing in the small, run-down house with threadbare carpet and well-used furnishings so dreadful he wouldn’t have put them inside the cage with his mother.

He heard a sound—other than the screams.

He stomped forward and found Nicola in the bedroom closest to the living room. She was humming under her breath, tucking her sister into bed. And she was lovely in a way that should have been impossible.

“Do we have any chocolate?” Laila asked, the words slightly slurred, either from exhaustion or medication.

“Not yet, but we will. I’m headed to the store.”

“You’re the best, Co Co.”

“That’s because I got all of Mom’s and Dad’s good DNA,” Nicola teased. “You got stuck with the leftovers.”

Laila laughed, even as her eyes closed. Koldo’s lips twitched at the corners.

He should leave. He had no right to stand here, watching, amused, while the blood of the past dripped from him and onto the floor. Splattered here, splattered there, staining every place he looked.

His fists found their way to his eyes, and he stumbled backward. He flashed to his bedroom in Thane’s club, and collapsed on the floor, laboring for every inhalation. He was dirty; Nicola was pure. He was ice; Nicola was fire.

And he was in big trouble. Once again, he wanted to kiss her.

Argh! He shouldn’t want anything from her. He couldn’t want more from her. He wasn’t good for her. Wasn’t good enough.

He would help her, but he would have to be sure to keep her at a distance. He would help her—and then he would cut her loose.

How he would react to that, he wasn’t sure. But it wouldn’t be pretty.

BEFORE LEAVING THE DOWNFALL, Thane had asked his lover to remain in his bed, so that she was where he wanted her when he returned. She had acquiesced. Now, upon his return, he looked her over. Hair of gold and scarlet spilled over his pillows, the strands reminding him of living flames. Thin chains forged by an immortal blacksmith encased her wrists and ankles.

They were slave bands, the metal compelling her to obey whatever commands her owner issued. He despised slavery, and had tried to remove them. He’d failed.

And he was still angry over that fact.

He’d had to listen, helpless, as demons had violated Xerxes. He’d had to watch, helpless, as demons had hung Bjorn over him, peeled the skin from the warrior’s entire body and danced around the room in the “flesh coat.” He’d had to lie on the floor, chained, unable to fight, as those same demons had licked the warrior’s blood off his chest and legs.

To scream was to make the demons laugh.

To beg for mercy was to make the demons laugh.

He hadn’t gotten to hurt the creatures as he’d so desperately craved. But what was worse? They hadn’t harmed him as they’d harmed the others. His only pain had been mental, emotional.

He would have preferred the physical.

“Hurry,” she beseeched, writhing atop the mattress. “I’ve been thinking about all the things you’re going to do to me, and I need you.”

“You need my money,” he said, disrobing. Kendra had been found in the sex district and purchased by Bjorn. The warrior had intended to set her free, but she’d desired a keeper—and the coin that came with him. A job Thane had welcomed.

“Maybe at first.” She slid her fingertip along an indecent trail. “But I’ve grown addicted to your touch. I need you. Only you.”

That was good. Wasn’t it? He might take a thousand different lovers in a week, it sometimes seemed, but he always came back to this one. She wasn’t ashamed of what they did, and never looked at him with horror in her eyes afterward. So why did he feel sick to his stomach?

He settled his weight on the bed and crawled up...up. Every inch closer to her, the desire to wound intensified. The desire to be wounded intensified.

The things he’d been denied inside that prison cell.

He wasn’t foolish. He knew that was why he felt this way. Knew that was why he lashed out. And he would have hated himself for the desires, but the results pleased him far too well. For a moment, only a moment, he would bask in a satisfaction he couldn’t find anywhere else.

It was fleeting, but it was enough. At least, that’s what he told himself.

“You need me, too,” she added. “I’m the only one who can please you.”

He didn’t want it to be true. Females were too mercurial. They loved one minute, and hated another. They smiled, and then they cried. He couldn’t allow himself to depend on what he couldn’t control.