Flickers of rage danced through Koldo, and he found himself breathing far more heavily, battling the urge to punch the walls.
If he gave in to his temper, Nicola’s home would topple.
He was a little rough with the boxes in the back of her closet, the things inside clinking together. He checked to make sure he hadn’t broken anything and found a box of photos. The more he flipped through the prints, the more his actions gentled. There were shots of Nicola and her sister, and the two of them with their parents, as well as a redheaded little boy. He looked just like them, had to be a relative, but...who was he? A brother? Nicola had never mentioned him, and he had never come around. In all the information Koldo had uncovered, nothing had been mentioned.
Intrigued, Koldo dug deeper into the box. He found articles about her parents’ death and learned a drunk driver had slammed into their car, killing the couple as well as their young son, Robby, and that the driver had been released from prison last year.
Nicola had lost more than Koldo had ever realized. She had lost a healthy six-year-old brother with a bright future, a boy who had most likely owned prime real estate in her heart.
She must despise the man who had ruined her life. She had to dream of his painful demise. She had to crave revenge. She just hadn’t been well enough and hadn’t had the time or resources to do anything about it.
Perhaps Koldo would hurt the male on her behalf. Punishment or not. Perhaps then she would like him more than this other—
He shook his head violently, stopping the thought before it could fully form. Koldo wasn’t interested in earning anyone’s affection. He’d tried that before, and he’d failed miserably. He’d vowed never to do it again, and it was a vow he would keep. And paying Nicola’s bills wasn’t an attempt to earn anything, he told himself. He needed Nicola relaxed, that was all.
Yes. He would keep her in...Panama’s Chiriqui Province, he decided, and flashed most of her things to one of his more opulent homes. There were lush green mountains in every direction, and a blue sky filled with puffy white clouds. The weather was springlike and constant all year round. The food was fresh, organic and homegrown, and would nourish both Nicola and her sister in the best of ways. They would thrive here—whether they liked it or not.
Unpacking her belongings took very little time. She owned so little. Well, he would buy her and her sister a new wardrobe. And the clothes wouldn’t be an attempt to win their affections, either, but a simple gesture of kindness. A welcome-to-your-new-home gift.
But what did he know of human fashion? Nothing.
He knew someone who did, however.
Koldo flashed into the foyer of Zacharel’s home and called out a greeting. A few seconds later, the mist thinned and Annabelle stepped into view, wearing a T-shirt and jeans. Her blue-black hair was swept into a ponytail, reminding him of Nicola, and her golden-brown eyes gleamed merrily.
She smiled when she spotted him. “Hey, Koldo. Zacharel’s not here.”
“I’m not here to see him.”
Her smile fell into a frown of confusion, and she glanced behind her. When she refocused on him, she tapped at her chest. “Me, then?”
Would she question everything he said?
“But we’re out of Water,” she added.
“I know that. I need...” Ugh. Was he really going to do this? he wondered, then pictured Nicola in a lacy pink top and a pair of tiny shorts he’d once seen a human female wear. A strange burning ran from his nose to navel. Yes, he was really going to do this. “I need to take you shopping.”
Annabelle rubbed at her ears. “Wait. Did you just say mopping? Is your home dirty and you want a maid? Because I know a warrior like you would never say my favorite S word.”
“Did someone say the S word?” a female called out. “Because I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation as I was eavesdropping.”
Excited twittering echoed. Footsteps followed. Then four of the women in Zacharel’s army stepped through the mist. Charlotte, Elandra, Malak and Ronen.
He would rather have battled a horde of demons than face these women. They were trained soldiers, monsters on the battlefield, cold, callous killers, and yet they liked to twitter incessantly about nothing.
“What are you shopping for?” asked Charlotte, a lovely brunette with bold features and dusky skin. “A new sword? Well, good news. I’ve got one I know you’ll love, and with my friends with benefits package, it’ll only cost you a portion of your soul.”
“I told you guys to stay back and stay quiet,” Annabelle scolded.
“You mean that wasn’t just a suggestion?” said Ronen, a black-haired vixen with an addiction to popcorn.
Elandra was the shy one of the group, and she looked down at the floor, where the hem of her robe swirled. She was, by far, the most beautiful female Koldo had ever seen. Or had been, until he’d met Nicola. From the top of her head to the soles of her feet, Elandra reminded him of a living diamond. Her long white hair sparkled. Her silver eyes sparkled. Her pale skin sparkled.
Malak was the only one in the group with a flaw, though she hid it well. There was a large round scar in the center of her forehead, probably from an injury she’d received when she had been too young to regenerate. Her hair, which had been dyed a bright green, sported thick bangs to hide it.
“Give the man a chance to explain,” Annabelle said.
The females stared at him, expectant.
Koldo had no idea what they’d done to land in Zacharel’s Army of Disgrace. Unless their irritating personalities had been the deciding factor.
He looked to Annabelle, saying, “My...woman—” Wait. Was that what Nicola was to him? He wasn’t sure, considering she would soon be going on a date with another man. And were his teeth elongating like his father’s when the man was enraged?
He would have to be more careful.
“I have a friend,” he added a little more harshly than he’d intended, and stopped himself from going on. She wasn’t that, either. “I have a human, a female, and she’s in need of new clothing.”
The Sent Ones exclaimed excitedly. Ronen even jumped up and down and clapped. “Juiciest gossip ever,” she said. “Koldo has a gurl-friend.”
“I bet she’s ten feet tall and six hundred pounds of muscle,” Charlotte exclaimed.
“Get. Give us some privacy,” Annabelle told them, shooing them away.
Though they frowned and pouted, they obeyed.
“Okay, so let me get this straight,” Annabelle said. “You want to take me, rather than your woman, friend, human, female, to pick and buy these clothes?”
Yes. He would hurt her feelings right now. He might ruin her newfound happiness. “I don’t wish to wait,” he said through gritted teeth. Truth. He wanted this done, out of the way. “And...I don’t know what females prefer.”
Her hand fluttered over her heart, and she grinned. “Zacharel once had the same problem with me. So why don’t you buy her what you would prefer to see her wear?”
“I will buy her what I like, yes—” because he wouldn’t be able to help himself “—but I would like her to have choices.” He had to get this right. That way, she would have no reason to refuse the gift.
“Do you even know her sizes?”
He held up his hands. “She’s tiny, like this. Delicate.”
Annabelle laughed, the sound carefree. “Oh, you are in so much trouble, buddy. But yeah, okay. I’ll help you.”
Relief was as potent as a drug. “For a price, of course.”
“Nope. Not at all. I know that’s how you guys like to operate, but this one’s free of charge. Just invite me to the wedding, and we’ll call it good.”
“YOU’VE GOT TO TRY THIS.” Laila shoveled a piece of chocolate into Nicola’s mouth before she had time to form a reply.
Chocolate contained caffeine, so very rarely did she allow herself to indulge. But when she did... The gooey goodness delighted her, and she closed her eyes to savor. A mistake. She and her sister were in the process of strolling along the cobbled path winding through the park, and she bumped into a trash can.
The thud brought Laila’s attention around, and her twin burst out laughing. “Kooky Co Co kicks a carton.”
Empty wrappers, half-eaten sandwiches and Starbucks cups spilled onto the concrete, yet Nicola smiled as she cleaned the mess. How wonderful to hear her sister’s amusement. When she finished, she dug the antibacterial gel from her purse and slathered her hands.
“You’ve got chocolate on your chin,” Laila said, trying to be calm but failing. The gray of her eyes glimmered gorgeously. The sun cast bright, golden rays over skin that hadn’t seen the outdoors in months, illuminating her, making her radiate health and vitality.
Nicola wiped her face with the tips of her fingers. “Better?”
“Much. Now you’re almost as pretty as me.” Pretending a vanity she’d never possessed, Laila studied her decimated cuticles. “Notice I said almost.”
“Someone needs glasses. Your hair is blond but your roots are red,” Nicola replied, giving her ponytail a flip. “It’s quite hideous.”
Laila gasped with mock outrage. “I’ll have you know this look is all the rage right now. Total style and sophistication.”
Grinning, her sister held out her hand. “You are so totally lame. Come on, walk with me.”
They linked fingers and resumed their stroll. The tranquillity of the moment helped diffuse the memories of the attack—something she hadn’t shared with her sister. Memories kept trying to rise to the surface of her mind. While she was in the shower. While she selected today’s underwear. While she cooked breakfast.
Once, she’d almost broken down and cried. But then she’d remembered Koldo’s kiss, his sweet, sweet kiss. His uncertainty. His vulnerability. His desire to make sure she was enjoying herself. And everything had changed.