The two looked to be of Asian descent. Malcolm had dark hair dyed green at the ends, the strands sticking out in a single spike along the center of his head. He had eyes so pale they were almost white, and bones tattooed on his neck.

Magnus was as serious and clean-cut as any human businessman. Well, if “any” were six foot eight and three hundred pounds of muscle.

Axel waved the threat away. “May I recommend you peel my skin from my body, too?”

What could you say to a male like this?

His gaze landed on Thane. The warrior nodded a greeting.

Bjorn and Xerxes frowned as they looked up, up the steps at...Zacharel, who was walking onto the dais alongside the six other members of the Elite.

There were four males and three females, each representing one of Germanus’s armies. Though they possessed the same wings of solid gold, that was their only similarity.

The blond and dark-eyed Lysander stepped forward, held up his hands, and the crowd instantly quieted. Expression serious, he said without any hint of emotion, “It pains me to be the bearer of bad news, but the time has come. You need to know the truth. You need to know that our king...our king is dead.”

KOLDO REELED. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed since Lysander had made his pronouncement, he only knew that time had indeed passed. Shouts of denial and despair had resounded, and, emotions high, chaos had ensued. Fights had broken out, Sent One against maniacal Sent One. Tears had been shed and the future of their kind had been bemoaned. Eventually, things had calmed enough for the meeting to continue. To end. Then, one by one, the armies had flown away. All but Zacharel’s.

Zacharel had commanded them to stay, and so they had stayed.

Koldo paced back and forth, his body moving of its own accord. His leader was...their king was...Germanus was...dead. Dead.

He never should have allowed his anger to override his affection for the male and keep him away from the temple. And not just his anger, but regret. He’d known Germanus would disapprove of his plans for his mother, and he hadn’t wanted to give the male a chance to express his displeasure, to warn Koldo against his actions.

Now he would never again have the opportunity to sit with the Sent One who had fostered and nurtured him and soak in his many words of wisdom.

After everything Koldo had endured in his childhood, Germanus had been the only one to give him hope for the future. And now his body was dust, his spirit in the heavens with the Most High.

When could this have possibly...happened? The answer slid into place before the question finished forming. The shaking of Nicola’s office, he thought. At the time, he’d guessed the shaking sprang from some kind of isolated earthquake. But no. A great and powerful being had died, and even the entire world had felt it.

But Koldo hadn’t known, hadn’t suspected. Had continued on, as if nothing was wrong.

Zacharel waved the soldiers closer. They stomped forward, and Koldo fought for calm.

“We had planned to tell the armies this news at the same time, but after such a strong reaction to our first order of business...well.” Zacharel cleared his throat. “I want you to know that the Most High didn’t want us lost, even for a moment, and so He has placed a new king in charge of this realm. His name is Clerici, and in the coming months he will be summoning each of you individually to meet you and reassure you.”

Clerici. Meaning, the clergy. Koldo had never met the male, but he had heard of him—heard he was fair, just and driven to succeed.

“Z just gets right down to business, doesn’t he?” Axel muttered in his ear. “He’s a man with balls of brass.”

“We’re warriors, not babies,” Koldo snapped. “We don’t need any coddling.” But oh, all he wanted was to return to Nicola, tug her into his lap and bury his face in her hair. He would sob like the baby he’d just said he wasn’t, mourn for the father figure he’d turned his back on.

She would wrap her arms around him and tell him the pain of this loss would pass. And he would believe her.

“Someone’s on their period, isn’t he?” Axel said.

A growl rose from deep in his chest. “Do you not regret the loss of Germanus?” Was he not torn apart inside?

“I didn’t know him. Not really.”

Zacharel continued to talk, but not about what Koldo most wanted to know. “How was he killed?” he finally interjected, able to stand it no longer.

“Explain again!” A call from the depths of his bleeding soul.

At any other time, Zacharel would have struck him down, he was sure. Instead his jade-green eyes radiated sympathy. “Lucifer decided to make another power play for mankind and sent six of his best soldiers to kill our king. They didn’t kill him right away, but absconded with him and tempted him to evil before delivering the deathblow. These demons are the worst of the worst, and they aren’t through with their plan for destruction.”

Fury burned his chest. Fury and sorrow. Guilt and remorse.

“Why didn’t you summon us sooner?” Thane growled, his own restraint bursting. “We could have hunted the attackers. Killed them before they delivered the final blow.”

“And we would have liked it,” Bjorn snarled.

Zacharel’s expression was grim. “You know as well as I that the only way the demons were able to reach Germanus was because he allowed it. For whatever reason, he allowed it. There was nothing you could do that we weren’t already doing. But we shall employ your skills now, for the demons are on earth and in hiding. We have reason to believe they’re planning to build armies of possessed humans, making it impossible for us to fight effectively.”

Because the humans weren’t to be harmed. Because the humans couldn’t be possessed unwillingly. They had to fall to the toxin or welcome the demons with open arms.

“They must be found,” Zacharel continued, “and they must be stopped before their evil spreads like the disease it is. And you, my soldiers, are the ones charged with this task.”

ZACHAREL DISMISSED EVERYONE except Koldo and Axel.

Thane, Bjorn and Xerxes flew up and darted west. The females stepped from the cloud and arrowed down, toward the earth. Each person wore a similar expression: a blend of shock and horror, fury and determination.

Koldo wanted to curse. There was only one reason to keep him here—an assignment that would prevent him from hunting the demons responsible for Germanus’s death.

“A horde of Nefas and serp demons did some damage to a park in Wichita, Kansas.” Zacharel rattled off the coordinates. “Clerici has asked that I send the two of you to clean the mess and find the culprits, since you each have a personal stake in this.”

“Because we fought the serp scum a few days ago,” Axel said, a statement rather than a question.

Zacharel’s piercing green gaze locked on Koldo. “That’s one of the reasons, yes.”

He didn’t know. He couldn’t know. Not even Germanus had known about Koldo’s origins. Zacharel had to be referring to the fact that Nicola was involved. “I’ll take care of this. Alone.” His father’s people had done the damage, and so Koldo would be the one to fight the battle—and finally wipe out the entire clan. “And then I’ll hunt the demons responsible for this travesty.”

Zacharel arched a brow, amused rather than irritated. “Actually, you’ll do it together. I’ve decided to make your partnership permanent. And no, you won’t be hunting the demons responsible for the king’s demise. You’re too busy guarding the human.”

“But you won’t. You singled her out, and I allowed you to bring her into our world because I wanted to see you happy. I know how drastically love can change your—”

“I don’t love her,” he said in a rush. He couldn’t.

Zacharel patted him on the shoulder. “You agreed to look after her, and you cannot do that if you’re never with her.”

Bottom line: he had to choose between helping Nicola and avenging his dearest friend. “If your men haven’t found the demons by the time Nicola is healed and able to defend herself, I’ll take over the hunt.”

“Take over? No. One day, however, I might allow you to join the hunt. One thing you need to learn, Koldo,” Zacharel said tightly. “You can’t do everything on your own. Sometimes you have to accept help. It’s a lesson I had to learn, as well.” With that, the Sent One flared his golden wings and shot straight into the night.

“Should we get rings to seal this deal, life partner?” Axel asked, stroking his chin.

“One day I’ll probably remove your head,” Koldo replied, and flashed to the park in Wichita.

The change in time zones brought him to a sun-drenched paradise. Humans strolled through the grass and along the cobbled walkway. Mothers pushed strollers, men walked their dogs. Trees stretched high, casting shadows. He knew this was where Nicola and Laila had spotted his father, but where was the mess Zacharel had mentioned?

He dug the phone out of his pocket and dialed Nicola’s number. After three rings, she picked up.

The sound of her voice soothed the roughest edges of his emotions—and the knowledge irritated him. “Where did you see the bald man?”

“Oh.” She described the area.

He cleared his throat. “Are you wearing the pajamas I got you?”

“I am. But, Koldo—is everything okay? You sound upset.”

Do you care? he wanted to ask.

Axel landed beside him, wings snapping into place at his back.

“I must go,” Koldo said, shifting from one booted foot to another. “I’ll speak to you soon.” He closed the phone and stuffed it back in his pocket.