Eyes of crystal blue flicked up and stayed on him for only a second before returning to the weapon. “Only the best place ever—my place. I carried you here. And by the way, you’ll be getting the bill for my new back brace. Anyone ever tell you that you weigh, like, ten thousand pounds?”

“The bill’s only one, maybe eight, pages long, you have my word. The good doctor said—”

“No. How long have I been here?”

Three days? Nicola had been on her own for three days. After he’d promised to spend at least an hour a day with her. But now he could spend far more than an hour, couldn’t he? Zacharel had placed her in Koldo’s constant care.

He might have failed her on day one.

He threw his legs over the side of the dais, and despite the return of the dizziness, stood. He waited until his vision cleared, then looked down at himself. He wore a long white robe, the material as clean as he was. In fact, he was as clean as if he’d just taken a couple hundred showers.

“Don’t worry,” Axel said, holding out the stick, closing one eye and zeroing in on one of the ends of the weapon. “I checked on your girl. She’s fine. And I mean that in every sense of the word.”

He left that last part alone. “The serps stayed away from her?”

“Of course. They were too dead to move. But she does have two minions hanging around.”

Two minions were hanging around Nicola? Had Lefty and Righty returned? If so, they would have to be dealt with—permanently. “And the other girl? The blonde?”

“Wait.” Frowning, Axel set the weapon aside and peered over at him. “You mean the redhead is yours?”

“Yes. Why? Did something happen? Did she see you?” Want him?

“Uh, no. Nope. Not at all. She’s fine, too.”

...receded. “You’re sure?” he asked, watching for any sign of a lie. The smacking of his lips. The wrinkling of his nose. A deeper frown. Axel displayed none of those.

Very well. The demons were hanging around Laila, then, and he’d already known that. “Thank you,” he said, only slightly grudging.

Koldo would have said the same, and couldn’t blame him. “Collect from me. Not her.” He’d promised to pay her bills, not to add to her tab.

Axel rolled his eyes. “As if there was ever any doubt. She’s got nothing I want.” He wiped his hands on the towel draped over his thigh before digging a piece of melon out of the bowl beside him. “Here. Eat.”

Koldo caught the fruit and bit into the juicy center. Sweet flavors exploded on his tongue, and his body purred gratefully. Sent Ones could die in a number of ways, and starvation was a big one.

Thank the Most High, Koldo had had the foresight to stock Nicola’s cabinets before leaving her. She had been well fed during his absence. And thank the Most High forevermore, Axel had been willing to see to her defense.

But Koldo wanted to do more than rely on another Sent One for such a thing. If anything like this ever happened again—not that it would, Koldo never made the same mistake twice—Axel might be too busy to check on Nicola. He might lose interest, or decide Koldo had nothing of value to offer in trade.

I’ll have to mark her, Koldo thought. Not just with the essentia, but with ink. He would code her.

The Most High had made a blood-covenant promise to the Sent Ones. In exchange for obeying His laws, they were given protection. Koldo hadn’t been kicked from the heavens, therefore the promise still applied to him, and the code was still etched into his heart. And because Nicola was his charge, his responsibility, the promise now extended to her. But he would have to give her an outward sign of it.

He would etch the code into her flesh, and that code would be able to create a barrier between her and any demons that dared approach her. All she would have to do was concentrate on the numbered sequences during an attack. The more she stared at her tattoos, the stronger the power of the code would become, until finally expanding, covering her entire body and shielding her.

But if a demon managed to distract her...

Not going to happen, Koldo assured himself. He would train her for that, too.

“So why were the serps after you?” Axel asked.

“I’d like to know the answer to that, as well.” Was his father still out there or not?

Koldo hadn’t seen Nox’s body, had only watched as grenade after grenade soared toward him, the unsuspecting male not knowing to flash away. There’d been multiple booms and an intense wave of heat, flames drenching the ground and bouncing into the sky.

Should have killed him up close and personal. But Koldo had had a choice. Destroy Nox face-to-face—or destroy the man and everything he’d worked for in one swoop. Koldo had chosen the latter.

When the fires eventually died, he’d dug through the rubble and found too many bones to count.

If Nox had survived, why was he making himself known now? How had he tracked Koldo to Nicola’s home?

“So, what do you plan to do with the redhead?” Axel asked.

“Why do you live in a place like this?” Koldo retorted. “You clearly thrive on what you probably consider adoration from your peers, and yet you seclude yourself.”

“So we agree not to question each other,” the warrior finally replied.

“We do.” They both had their secrets. Koldo finished off the fruit. “And now I must go.”

“Okay, but uh, hey,” Axel said, standing. “You might want to hunt down your girl and give her a stern talking-to. Normally I wouldn’t tattle, even on a human, but if I keep quiet this could really come back to haunt me. Meaning, you’ll want to punch my pretty face.”

“She’s planning to go on a date with another guy.”

FUMING, KOLDO FLASHED to Nicola’s home. He wasn’t sure what he’d do when the two of them were face-to-face. He only knew he had to see her. But she wasn’t there, and another flash proved she wasn’t in her office. Jamila and another girl, the blonde with the mysterious origins, were in her office, and the two were hurtling curses at each other—while the girl had a male pinned to Nicola’s desk, her fingers curled around his neck, his pants and underwear pooled at his ankles.

“Sleeping with every guy here?” Jamila spat. “Really? That’s your master plan?”

“Part of it,” the blonde smirked. At least her clothing was in place. “So why don’t you do me a solid and get lost? And next time knock before you enter an office.”

“Sure, I’ll go. By the way, your plan is stupid.”

“Yeah, well, your hair is stupid.”

Jamila bared her teeth in a scowl. “What does this accomplish?” she asked, waving a hand in the male’s direction. “I mean, really.”

“When the girlfriend finds out what he’s done, she’ll be hurt, want to cry.”

“And you want to hurt her, why?”

The male’s cheeks were bright red as he struggled to sit up, but the girl was obviously stronger and managed to hold him down without any effort.

Koldo stepped into the natural world. “Where’s Nicola?” he demanded.

All three gazes swung to him.

The blonde paused for a moment, momentarily rendered speechless. Then she shook her head, blinked and smiled slowly, wickedly, an invitation and a declaration. “Well, hello, handsome. What can I do to help you?”

The male increased the fervency of his struggles. He would have spoken, but his tie was stuffed into his mouth.

Jamila scowled at Koldo, as if her predicament was his fault. “You! Even though Little Miss Human is your responsibly, Zacharel told me to stay here.”

A detail he didn’t care about. “I’ll ask again. Where is she?”

“Her sister showed up and they went to lunch. They mentioned a park.”

“Forget about her,” the blonde said. “You’ll be better off with me. I’ll take care of you in a way she never will. Just give me a chance.”

A park. Very well, he would search every one nearby.

Without a word, he stomped from the office. The human had been too distracted during his arrival to notice his sudden appearance, but he certainly wouldn’t miss Koldo’s departure.

The blonde called out a protest, and she actually sounded angry. Not that he cared about that, either.

Once he cleared the reception area, and knew no prying eyes were locked on him, he flashed to the park closest to the office. Searched. Found no sign of her. Next, he tried the one closest to her house. Searched. And—

Laila was beside her, the two walking along a cobbled path, talking and laughing and eating chocolates. The pair of demons perched on Laila’s shoulders spotted him, hopped to the ground and darted away.

Some of the tension faded from Koldo’s shoulders. This kind of interaction was good for both of the females. They were relaxing, enjoying themselves, purging the poison. He would leave them to it, he decided. Without yelling at Nicola for making a date with another man.

He flashed to her house and began to box up her things. He wanted her installed in one of his homes by the end of the day. There would be no discussion, no debate. And this had nothing to do with her decision to turn to another man for her joy.

Nothing at all.

Nicola would probably cry because of Koldo’s actions. He would have to calm her down, do something to make her happy—but he would also have to harden his heart. The move was for the best. He would be able to protect her better.

But he would have to bring her back for the date, wouldn’t he? Because...what if the male did indeed bring her joy? What then? She would need him. He would help her purge even more of the demon toxin.