“The kind that will stab you in the chest just to hear you scream.”

Nicola’s gaze snagged on the chair Koldo had abandoned. There were two glowing palm prints on the cushions, with flecks of golden glitter the exact shade of his eyes. Prints that hadn’t been there before. What...how...odd, she finished.

Standing by her side, he reached out, settled two fingers under her chin and forced her to face him. “Stay here. And remember what I told you about the tattoos.” With that, he stormed from the room, shutting the door behind him.

KOLDO WOULD NEVER FORGET the exquisite feel of Nicola’s lips against his or the softness of her body pressed against him, or the sweetness of her taste and a thousand other things that had set his blood on fire, causing him to ache, to reach the razor’s edge of desperation.

The entire time he’d had her in his arms, he’d forgotten the horror of his earlier actions. His inner brokenness had been eased, and he’d felt whole. Happy. At peace for the first time.

The future had seemed bright. Problems? What problems? There’d been no anger, no dread, no sense of hopelessness. He’d been...normal.

But he’d done something to upset her, no matter what she’d claimed. First, she had melted. Then, after she’d come out of her faint, she had stiffened, preparing to bolt.

Had she regretted what had happened?

Probably. He’d mauled her, and she’d been prepared to leave him. Had she succeeded, he would have chased her and...what? Demanded she still desire him?

He wouldn’t be so pathetic. Would he?

Maybe her desertion was for the best. He wouldn’t always have her, and so he couldn’t allow himself to come to rely on her. He had himself, and only himself, and that’s the way it had to be. That was safe. That’s what he knew.

Stalking into the kitchen, he summoned the sword of fire. The flames crackled, light spilling in front of him. What he expected to find, he wasn’t sure. Zacharel didn’t know this place existed, nor did any other Sent Ones. His father didn’t, either, but the male was out there, actively hunting him.

To his astonishment, he found Axel sitting at his kitchen table, eating the food Koldo had bought for Nicola and her sister.

With cheese dust on his chin, the warrior said, “I can find anyone, anywhere, anytime. A little talent of mine.” He lifted a bag of chips. The only source of junk food in the entire house. “Do you have these in Tabasco?”

The anger instantly subsided. If Axel could find anyone, he could find Koldo’s father before Nox found Koldo.

The battle could be over before it ever began.

“You shouldn’t have come, and you shouldn’t have brought alcohol.” A single drink and Koldo’s Nefas side would come rushing to the surface. His teeth would elongate. His nails would curl into claws. His temper would overtake him. Yeah. Alcohol is all that’s needed for that. “But since you’re here, I’ll put you to work. Whatever your price, I need you to hunt down a...Nefas.” He waited for a reaction. Most people shuddered at the mere mention of the race.

Axel ignored him, popping another chip in his mouth. “You should have a chat with the blonde about sharing her drinky drink with guests—especially when said drinky drink belongs to the guest! It was way impolite to threaten to bash me in the head with the vodka bottle when I tried to steal it back. And by the way, did you know your hands are glowing?”

“What are you—” Koldo’s gaze locked on his palms. His glowing palms. The essentia had at last begun to seep from his pores.

He’d wanted Nicola that much, his body instinctively seeking to mark her as his exclusive property, even though she wanted someone else.

He should be ashamed, considering he’d never bond with her.

“How did you bypass my cloud?” The warrior should have encountered a solid barrier.

He arched a brow. “You’d have to kill me?”

“Don’t be silly. I’d only cut out your tongue to keep you from talking, and cut off your hands to keep you from writing or signing.” Axel dusted his hands together and stood. “I’d love to help you with your little Nefas problem, but I’m actually here because Zacharel called a meeting in the heavens. And what do you want with the Nefas, anyway? Those suckers are hard-core.”

“So are we.” Was the meeting the one Zacharel had mentioned when Koldo had visited his cloud? When the warrior had been covered in blood and injuries? “Where does he want us?”

Deity. Germanus. Koldo looked forward to seeing his mentor again. They hadn’t spoken since Koldo had been told he belonged to Zacharel. And that was all Koldo’s doing. He’d been so irate to learn of his fate, he’d kept his distance rather than yell. However, Germanus would have welcomed him at any time.

“I’ll meet you there,” he said pointedly.

“Like I really want to stick around and carry you again. Did I mention you weigh more than a building?” Axel stood, flared his wings and leaped into the air, misting through the ceiling and disappearing.

Koldo stalked down the hall and into Nicola’s room. Laila was jumping on the bed, singing off tune, losing her breath.

“—something, something, something, you love me. Yeah. Yeah. Something, something, together.”

Nicola lounged on the couch, a blanket strewn across her legs. One of his books about heavenly battle strategies rested in her lap.

“There are nightclothes in the dresser,” he said, and she glanced up. Meeting those stormy gray eyes was always a pleasure and a pain. They were always direct—

She looked away. Her cheeks flushed.

He shifted uncomfortably and added the words Annabelle had told him would be necessary. “These garments were purchased for you and you alone. No other female has ever worn them.”

That hadn’t been the problem, then.

“Hey, Cool-e-oh,” Laila said, falling back on the mattress and bouncing. “Guess what? I’m going to have your house’s baby. I just love it so much!”

He...had no idea what to say to that.

“When will you return?” Nicola asked, toying with a loose thread on the blanket.

“I’m not sure, but I’ll make sure someone is here to escort you to work if I can’t return by morning.”

“No worries. I don’t work at Estellä over the weekend.”

“But we do have our double date,” Laila said. “And it’s gonna be fun!”

His hands fisted at his sides as he waited, hoping Nicola would speak up. But she remained silent, clearly still desiring to go, even after everything that had happened between them.

For the best, he reminded himself.

“I’ll make sure you get there, as promised,” he gritted out.

And now, he should go. He knew he should go. Yet still he hesitated. “I bought you a cell phone,” he told Nicola. Annabelle had insisted. “It’s in the top drawer of the nightstand. I bought one for myself, as well.” It currently rested in a pocket in his robe.

“It is already programmed into the device.” And it was the only one in there. The only one he would allow her to put in there. “Call me if you need me. For any reason.” Or even if you don’t have one.

She nodded, opened her mouth, closed it.

“And sow joy,” she said with a sigh. “I know the drill.”

He didn’t bother telling her to stay within the bounds of his property. The cloud would ensure that she did.

Without another word, Koldo flashed to the garden of Germanus’s temple. As many times as he’d been here throughout the centuries, he knew the area by heart. Two rivers flowed out of the alabaster columns in front and wound through the flowers, cascading over the sides of the cliff in the clouds to shower the stars. For the first time, however, the entire expanse was covered with Sent Ones. Hundreds of males and females surrounded him, the noise level utterly out of control.

Koldo flashed here, and he flashed there, searching for the soldiers belonging to Zacharel. He found them at the far left, in front of the alabaster steps and ivy-rich columns that led to the towering double doors of the temple.

Charlotte and Ronen winked and waved at him.

Elandra turned her back on him.

Malak was too busy staring at Bjorn to notice him.

Bjorn was too busy talking to Thane and Xerxes to notice Malak.

Jamila spotted him and frowned. She shoved her way over and said, “Things are going down at Estellä. Sirena has it out for your girl. Hates her, in fact. The things she does and says when Nicola’s back is turned...” She shuddered.

The news surprised him. How could anyone find fault with such a gentle human? “I’ll deal with her.” Whoever—whatever—she was. “Do you know what Sirena is?”

Monday, when he flashed Nicola to work, he would find a way to question this Sirena. She wasn’t Nefas, and she wasn’t demon. But she was something. And if she hated Nicola, she could be working for his father.

At this point, Koldo had to suspect everyone.

Axel sidled up to his side and patted him on the shoulder. “Glad you could leave Chesticles long enough to make an appearance.”

“Call her that again, and I’ll cut your heart from your chest and give it to her as a trophy.” As he spoke, he spotted Malcolm and Magnus.