He paused, waiting for her reaction.

She nodded to encourage him to continue.

“Lucifer decided there was no better time for a counterattack and, through trickery and deceit, stole the reins of control of the earth. The humans began to seek fellowship with him, cutting the Most High from their lives.” Hope had seemed lost.

Once again she reached out. This time, she was so distracted by his story that she failed to catch herself. Her fingertips glided over his jaw.

At the moment of contact, he sucked in a breath. It felt so right. So perfect. No wonder humans touched each other whenever they had the chance. A handshake. A pat on the shoulder. A hug. Each action offered comfort. He leaned into her, seeking something deeper, more intimate.

How many years had he yearned for something like this? Dreamed of it? Once, as a child, he’d even cried for it. And now, here it was. Offered freely.

“I’m so sorry,” she gasped out, and dropped her arm. “I didn’t mean to maul you.”

That gentle caress was considered mauling? What did she think he’d done to her? he wondered, a bit sick to his stomach.

“I liked it.” Koldo took her hand in his as tenderly as possible and brought it back to his face. Bit by bit, Nicola relaxed—and so did he. Soon, she was stroking his beard of her own accord, mesmerized by her actions. He had to swallow a purr of approval.

“Lucifer and his fallen angels introduced sickness, suffering, poverty and even physical death to the world. As for the beings living in the earth’s core, they were disembodied, desperately seeking a host. Some came to the surface, searching. They are the creatures you know as demons.”

A shudder of revulsion rocked her. “They all sound terrible.”

“They are.” More so than she realized. “For a while, the fallen angels lived among the humans, called themselves gods, stalked the land at their leisure and tormented whomever they desired. Some even mated with your females, and the offspring became known as the Nephilim. They were horrible creatures filled with hate and driven by greed. They were giants, savages, brutal and...” How to explain? “Different cultures have given them different names.”

“In mythology,” she said, her eyes widening.

“Exactly. Greek, Titan. Egyptian. Norse. Any, all. The fallen angels were punished for contaminating the human race, and chained beneath hell, where they couldn’t be freed by their comrades. The Nephilim were wiped out—at least for a little while.”

Her arms wrapped around her middle, severing contact, and her tremors intensified again. Not to the same degree as at the grocery store, but enough to hurry him along.

As he tucked the blanket more firmly around her shoulders, he said, “There are also demons in hell, there to torment the spirits cast there. They refer to themselves as high lords and minions, but they have many different names, many different ranks. Some prefer to stay here.”

He nodded. “And someone to torment, to feed from.”

“Is that what they want with me?”

“Yes. They want to pump you full of their poison, weakening your defenses against them, allowing them to slip past your skin and into your body. Once there, they fight to control your thoughts, your actions, all the while feeding off your negative emotions, infecting you with sickness.”

“Yes, but there is a cure. To obtain it, the Most High fought and defeated Lucifer all over again.” That’s when the first of Koldo’s kind was created, tasked with escorting humans out of Lucifer’s darkness and into the Most High’s light.

Over the centuries, Sent Ones like Koldo had lost sight of their goal. But not anymore, he decided. He would help Nicola.

“What’s the cure? And why am I still sick?” Nicola asked.

“Every cure comes with instructions. You have yet to follow the right ones.”

A long while passed as she absorbed his words. Finally she said, “Well, tell me the instructions. I’m ready to follow them. Honest.”

Koldo was pleased by Nicola’s words. He might not wield the ring of truth as other Sent Ones, but even still, she heard the certainty of his claims. She believed. She accepted.

She wanted to act, and action was power.

“I gave you some of the instructions already,” he said. “The demons breathed their poison into your ear, sparking fear. You embraced that fear, and it strengthened the poison, and all too soon your emotions were feeding the demons. Calm, peace and joy cause the poison to weaken.”

“Hence the reason you want me to feel them.” She nodded as she spoke. “So...the poison is like a parasite. Or a virus. Like influenza or E. coli. It can grow, but it can also die.”

“Yes. If the demons cannot feed, they’ll flee. That’s why guarding your thoughts and words is so important.” Koldo lifted slightly and twisted, making room for his big body on the couch.

Nicola snuggled against him, surprising him—thrilling him. Her cheek rested against the quickening beat of his heart. He breathed her in, all that cinnamon and vanilla and honey.

And oh, heavens above, he was hot and cold at the same time. He trembled. He...wanted more. He wasn’t what she needed; he’d already realized that. His past being what it was, he had no right to console a female. He’d hurt too many. He deserved a whipping, a beating, not a caress. But he just couldn’t bring himself to move away.

“You’re so warm,” she said.

She reached up, her fingers again toying with the ends of his beard. “So even my thoughts matter?”

“Of course. Your thoughts can create a fiery storm or a peaceful sea.”

“You can. If the wrong thought comes, force yourself to think of something else.” That’s good advice—why don’t you follow it, too?

She sighed. “What about the water you gave Laila?”

“It healed her body and cast the demon out of her, but what will happen if she’s attacked by other demons? Will she once again cave to the toxin and fear?”

“Yes.” Perhaps he should have broken that particular piece of news more gently.

Several moments passed in silence. “I had no idea. Was so ignorant.” A tremor raked her body, and warm tears soaked the fabric of his robe.

Tears? He had to see her face. Koldo palmed her waist, lifted her and parted her legs with his knee. She gasped as he settled her on his lap, and only then did he realize the sheer intimacy of the position.

He bit back a groan. Of pleasure. Of pain.

Of need. And regret.

“Frightened of me?” he rasped. Of this. He would rather die than cause the same reaction as her boss.

“No.” Her eyes were watery, glassed over, but the tears had stopped. “I’ve just... I’ve never been in this position before.”

A sense of possessiveness filled him, hotter than fire, more lethal than a flood. “Do you have any other questions for me?”

“I do.” She hooked her fingers over the collar of his robe and rubbed, as if she experienced the same compulsion to touch. Her skin brushed against his, cool where he was overheated, soft where he was calloused.

Must wrap my arms around her and urge her closer...closer still...then mesh my lips against hers...kiss her...savor her. Devour her.

He didn’t. One thought stopped him. He couldn’t put his filthy, ugly lips on so innocent a female.

But...what if he did it anyway? What if he gave in? What if she liked it?

Temptation had arrived, he realized, whispering so prettily.

He resisted. Her fragile heart would give out from too much stimulation in one day. And maybe, just maybe, so would his.

“I’ll answer one,” he croaked. “Just one. I don’t want to overload you.”

She thought for a moment, nodded. “Do the demons look like little monkeys?”

Two circuits seemed to connect in his mind, and he frowned. There was only one way she could have known what one of the lowest-ranking demons looked like. “You saw the one in the office?”

“Him and many others. Two have even been hanging around Laila,” she admitted shakily.

Yes, he’d seen those two. One had been inside her. The other was his “friend.” They ran away every time Koldo neared. “They’ll continue to return to her as long as she feeds them.”

Tension radiated from her. “And if we’re attacked by others?”

Koldo would sense it. But...what if he didn’t...or what if he couldn’t get to her? “Call upon the Most High. He’ll send whoever’s closest to help you.” Germanus would never be as powerful as the Most High, and wouldn’t hear a human’s cries. More than that, he was limited in the number of troops he could send.

“How do you know that for sure?”

“He promised to rescue every human who calls upon Him, and He always keeps His promises.”

His brows furrowed into his hairline—or what had once been his hairline. “Are you human?”

“Har, har. You know that I am. Wait. I am, right?”

Do not smile. “You are. And now, I’m ending this conversation.” For both their sakes. “There are chores to be done, and hopefully I’m man enough to do them.”

NICOLA WATCHED as Koldo stalked through her entire house, fixing everything that was broken, reinforcing the locks on the windows and doors, and even flashing in and out to stock her cabinets and refrigerator with food. All the while, she reeled.

The monsters she’d seen as a child were real.

Demons had poisoned her and her sister.

The guy she couldn’t stop thinking about wasn’t even human.

She focused on him—the least complicated. Was he naturally bald or had he shaved his head? There was no hint of stubble on his scalp, which led her to believe there were no follicles. But that hardly mattered. As beautiful as he was, he had no need of hair.