Throw her down and take her? Kill the man she actually wanted?
“Will you move to Panama with me?” he asked.
She licked her lips. “You’ll be there with me?”
“Yes.” He dared anyone to try and pry him away.
“And you’ll be happy to have me, even though I have nothing to offer you?”
Nothing to offer him? She was the gentle touch he’d always craved. The acceptance he’d never before had. And when she looked at him, he never felt as if he was a nuisance, as if he was beneath her. He felt...empowered.
But all he said was “I’ll be happy.”
“Then I would love to,” she replied without a single beat of hesitation.
“On two conditions,” she added, blinking open her eyes.
He stepped back, increasing the distance between them. “And those conditions are?”
She gulped and shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “You have to bring us back on Saturday. We, uh, well, we have a double date.”
He’d known, but hearing the words from her lips caused every ounce of his earlier fury to return—times ten. “You’ll not be going on any date, Nicola.”
Her mouth fell open, snapped closed. “I already said yes.”
“Is that so?” she said with a quiet fury of her own.
“That’s so. You must do what I say, when I say. Remember?”
She drummed her fingers over the counter. “You once told me to do whatever was necessary to remain calm. You once told me to do whatever was necessary to find peace and sow joy. Well, the date seemed like my best bet at the time. So which would you have me do? Please you, or save my sister and myself?”
He clenched his jaw painfully. It was just as he’d suspected—and no matter his feelings, he couldn’t take this away from her. “Very well. Go on your date.” The concession scraped his throat, left it raw and burning.
Perhaps, while she was out with the male, Koldo would return to the Downfall. Perhaps he would allow the Harpy to dance for him. Perhaps he would kiss and touch the Harpy, and forget everything Nicola had ever made him feel. He wouldn’t ruin the Harpy, and the Harpy wouldn’t blame him for her troubles.
Yes, that’s what he would do, even though every cell in his body rebelled at the thought.
“What’s the second condition?” he demanded.
She exhaled with force. “You have to take me to my job at Estellä every weekday morning, and pick me up every evening.”
Yet another blow he was unprepared to deal with right now. “You won’t quit?”
Was that all? “I’ll pay you to live with me.”
Again her mouth fell open. “No. You won’t.”
“I’m paying your bills. One is the same as the other.”
“Actually, no, it isn’t. I won’t be dependent on you for my future.”
Understanding took root, and it didn’t sprout a pretty flower patch. It had gnarled limbs and dripped with blood. She would allow Koldo to clean up her past, but she was afraid he would muddy up her future—the one she planned to share with another male.
“Very well,” he said stiffly. “I agree to your terms.” And he would do more than take the Harpy. He would take others. So many others! As many as it took to find someone who made him feel the way Nicola did. Or had. Right now, the only thing he wanted from her was distance. And, all right, an apology.
“Now I know you’re related to the guy in the park,” she said snippily. “You look just like him when you glare like that.”
Guy at the park? He didn’t allow himself to leave. “What guy?”
“Well, the demons were with some very scary people. People as tall as you, with bald heads, even the girl, and fangs and a terrible black mist that rose from their bodies. And the first one I saw looked like an older version of you.”
At first, he was too stunned to react. But as he breathed, his thoughts aligned and the shock gave way to dread.
His father had survived the bombing.
His father was here in Kansas.
His father, he thought, dazed—the vilest male he had ever encountered.
“Did any of them touch you?” he demanded.
“No. They just looked at me and smiled the meanest of smiles.”
He should be relieved, but his emotions were simply too volatile. His father had approached Nicola. His father could have harmed her in the worst of ways. He could have absconded with her, and Koldo wouldn’t have known what had happened to her until too late. But Nox hadn’t done any of that. He’d wanted Koldo to know of his return.
How like the man, to deliver fear before the battle. And there was no question there would be a battle. Nox was here for revenge. After all, Koldo had destroyed the male’s entire camp. His harem of lovers, both slave and free. The best of his warriors. The bulk of his allies. Now, he hoped to hit Koldo where it would hurt most. Destroying the first female Koldo had ever taken under his care.
Well, I won’t let him. Koldo would have to find a way to strike first. To end this. Now. Forever.
He tugged Nicola to her feet. “Get your sister. I want you installed in my home within the hour.”
KOLDO FLASHED NICOLA and Laila to the living room of his ranch. “Look around,” he said, doing his best to mask his growing tension. Probably failing. “Change whatever you want. Eat whatever you want. I’ll be back.”
He hated to leave them so abruptly, without any more of a welcome, but his next task couldn’t wait.
As Nicola sputtered out a protest, he flashed to the cavern where his mother was stashed. This time, he didn’t hang around outside but stalked inside. With a single glance, he had the details memorized. Cornelia was dirtier than before, her robe stained with mud and blood, the hem frayed. Her short hair was matted at the sides. She sat in the corner of the cage, and there was a rat perched on her hand—a rat she was feeding a piece of grain.
She spotted Koldo and cursed. “Can’t you just leave me alone?”
“I have no lover,” she spat.
“Oh, but you do. My father, the man you’ve pined for all these years, thinks to strike at me.”
Cornelia stiffened as she absorbed his words. The moment she accepted them as truth, she actually tossed the rat at him, the creature screaming along the way. Koldo caught him, set him down and watched as he scampered away.
Your first mistake was assuming she had a heart, little guy.
“Cruel even to your pets,” Koldo said.
She trembled, visibly fighting to keep her temper under control. If he wasn’t mistaken—and he had to be mistaken—there was a gleam of regret in her eyes.
“I thought he was dead,” she whispered.
“As did I. We were both wrong.”
Watching him intently, Cornelia stood on unsteady legs. “If he’s after you, you’re doomed. He’s crafty, and there’s nothing you can do to stop him.”
“And that worked so well for you before?” she mocked with a hard laugh. “Especially now that you have a woman, did you say? I’m surprised one can actually stand to look at you.”
His woman. That’s what he’d called Nicola, wasn’t it? He would have to better guard his words, for the human was not his, not in that way, and now, she would never be. She had chosen another male. And Koldo couldn’t really fault her—even though he was still so angry he could tear this cavern apart rock by rock. She would be better off with one of her own kind.
“You should probably say goodbye to her.” Cornelia traced her fingertip along the bars beside her and grinned happily. “He’ll do the most horrendous things to her, and he’ll force you to watch. But you share his blood—maybe you’ll like that, huh?”
Koldo punched the cage so forcefully the reinforced steel bent backward.
He had been forced to watch such behavior while chained inside Nox’s tent, and he had vomited every time. Had even tried to behead the man the first hundred times he was allowed to walk freely through the camp—and he had always been disciplined for his efforts. He would never—never!—enjoy watching such treatment.
“I protect what’s mine,” he gritted out. “But you protect no one. Did you witness such events when you were with him, huh, Mother? Did the two of you discuss it while you were snuggled in his arms?”
“Shut up!” She changed course, stomping forward. When she reached him, she gripped the very bars he’d harmed and attempted to shake them.
“I bet you did. I bet you were eaten up with jealousy when he turned his attentions to another.”
“You know nothing about me!”
“I know you’re exactly like him, a pretty face hiding rotten bones. And just so you know, I will kill him before he hurts the girl.” He should shut up. He should leave. His temper was overtaking him. If he wasn’t careful, he would erupt. But his feet felt anchored in place. “You’ll help me. Not because you love me, but because you want him to suffer for abandoning you. Isn’t that right?”
She popped her jaw, some of the anger leaving her. “I do want him to suffer.”
“Then tell me. What are his weaknesses?”
“You spent the most time with him. You should know.”
He should, shouldn’t he? But then, to him, Nox had been the pinnacle of strength, an unstoppable force. Koldo had been surprised to deliver the deathblow, especially from a distance.
Should have chosen up close and personal, as I craved.
Then, he should have taken the time to identify all of the remains. But he’d assumed Nox had been burned to ash—had wanted to believe it so badly.
Mistakes, he realized now. He wouldn’t make another.