She might be weak—but she was stronger than that, she thought, anchoring her hair in a ponytail while the strands were still wet. It was her mother’s hair, and she’d almost cut it a thousand times. But every time she’d grabbed the scissors, she’d remembered the way her mother used to brush and braid it, the way her father used to call her Mini Kerry, after her mom, and the way her brother used to tug on the ends.
We’re sorry, Miss Lane, but your brother was thrown—
Nope, not going there. Thinking about him opened wounds that had never really healed. So, she always removed him from her thoughts before they had time to form.
Raising her chin, she marched out of her room and decided to check on her sister first. But Laila’s bedroom was empty, the bed unmade and clothes strewn across the floor.
She moved through the living room—still no sign of her sister—and into the kitchen. Nicola breathed a sigh of relief when she spotted Laila at the table, her head resting in her upraised palm. A cup of tea steamed in front of her.
“Sorry,” she whispered. Nicola fixed a cup of tea for herself, and sipped at the hot, sweetened liquid.
“You should eat the fruit,” a male voice said, and Laila issued another groan.
Nicola’s heart sped into a faster beat as she twisted to face Koldo. He wore the same flowing white shirt and pants he’d worn at the hospital. There were lines of tension branching from his eyes. A tension that matched what she’d heard in his voice last night.
He paused to look her up and down, and his jaw dropped. He began a more leisurely perusal of her, his pupils expanding. “You...you...”
“Yes?” she asked hopefully. Are beautiful? Stunning? Worth trying to kiss again?
“Yes.” She waited. He said nothing more.
Seriously? That’s all she got? The obvious? “I’ll eat if you eat,” she grumbled.
He thought for a moment, nodded stiffly and sat at the table. Nicola eased into the chair beside him. There was a plate piled high with oranges, strawberries, bananas and melon. She selected a strawberry and bit into the center, the juice running down her throat and making her moan.
“Oh, that’s good.” Almost enough to make her forget Koldo’s lack of appreciation for her makeover. Almost.
He reached out and swiped a droplet that had dribbled onto her chin. Her eyes widened as he brought the finger to his mouth, and tasted. “It is,” he agreed, a husky note to his voice.
Her skin tingled where he’d touched her, burning in the most delectable way. And when his gaze lowered to where his finger had been, a gleam of satisfaction glowed in his eyes.
Okay, so she finally forgot.
“You’re in better spirits today,” he said.
She liked that he was so attuned to her. “I am.”
Her unease with yesterday’s kiss was private, something between them, not something to be shared even with her beloved twin. “So,” she said, changing the subject. “Who decorated your house?”
There was a pause before he shrugged, and said, “I did,” surprising her. What, no pushing for an answer? No deep concern for what had bothered her?
You’re a mess. “Just so I’m clear, you decorated every room?”
“But...there’s so much pink in mine.”
“No. But when I was younger and foolish, I hoped my moth—” He pressed his lips together. “Never mind.”
Hoped his...mother would stay with him? What had made him think such a hope was foolish?
“Sorry, guys, but I’m in desperate need of a thousand profees.” Laila stood, pushing back her chair. “And maybe a total body massage, a nap, an hour-long shower and a TV marathon of How I Met Your Mother.”
“Once they kick in, I plan to get ready for my date. By the way, I’m sorry I busted into your room last night. It won’t happen again. Probably.” Laila shambled out of the kitchen.
Koldo held Nicola’s gaze. “Why the change?” he asked, pouncing the moment they were alone.
He’d known why she’d avoided the question. He’d cared. Melting... “I was embarrassed that I’d passed out.”
A breath gushed from him, and she thought she caught threads of relief. “I never want you to be embarrassed with me, Nicola.”
“Good, because I’m over it,” she said. Mostly.
“So, you didn’t regret what we had done? Didn’t think I was too rough?”
“Not at all. You were amazing.”
“Then why did you dress this way for your date?” he asked softly. “As if you crave another man’s desire.”
She gulped, then answered honestly, “I—I didn’t.” I did it for you.
A pause. Then, in a strained voice, “I don’t want you to go. I...need you here. With me.”
Nicola’s stomach performed a series of flip-flops. The way he’d said the word need—he did care. And he’d issued a request this time, rather than a demand. Her own relief was palpable, her elation hard to tamp down. But... “I wish I could cancel. I really do.” Just then, more than anything. “But you heard Laila. She’s excited, and she won’t go without me. And she’s been so upset, and I’ve been so worried about the toxin inside her. I need her calm, peaceful and joyous.”
“You can control your emotions, not hers.”
“I know, but I have to try something.” Please understand.
His hands were on the edge of the table, and his knuckles began to bleach of color. Finally, the side of the table snapped off, wood chips raining on the floor. Koldo jumped to his feet and stomped from the room.
THANE LANDED IN THE CENTER of Teaze, a salon and dance club on earth that catered to immortals. Eleven women of varying species bustled around the small building, each prettier and more scantily clad than the last. The only male on the premises was William of the Dark, aka the Ever Randy, aka the warrior who refused to reveal his origins, and he was currently sitting in a swivel chair with sheets of foil in his hair.
“I know you’re here,” William said, sipping at a glass of what looked to be ambrosia-laced red wine.
Tensing, Thane stepped into the natural realm to fully reveal himself to the warrior. Immediately he smelled the sweet scent of the wine, the sharp odor of hair products, the pungent aroma of nail polish and the familiar fragrance of sex. Lots and lots of sex.
William must have bedded every single one of the stylists.
“How did you know?” No one could sense him when he had no wish to be sensed.
“He’s been saying that every two minutes for the last hour,” said the girl stepping up to William to remove the foil.
Electric-blue eyes glittered as William handed his glass to a female strolling past him—electric-blue eyes that reminded Thane of Axel. But then, there was a reason for that. “Did you have to ruin it, Lakeysha?”
The gorgeous black girl grinned widely. “Well, yeah. You ruined me for other men, so I thought I’d return the favor somehow.”
Thane studied the building, halfway expecting their easy banter to be a trick, for an enemy to be waiting in the shadows, ready to attack him. He saw bricks and mortar, open indoor spaces with fifteen beauty chairs, or whatever they were called, and a row of round hair dryers and sinks. No menacing shadows. No swish of a weapon.
In the back was a big red door. If he were to walk through it, he knew he would enter the club, where there were small cages hanging from the ceiling, and poles stretching from individual tiers. A thump, thump of rock music shook the very foundation of the building.
“I should be offended,” William said, having noticed Thane’s darting gaze. “I’ve done nothing to earn your distrust.”
William had shacked up with the Lords of the Underworld—immortal warriors fighting to free themselves from the dark urges of the demons that oppressed them. He had spent centuries locked inside the prison Tartarus, both for his philandering ways and his savage temper. He would kill anyone at any time for any reason.
Without a doubt, he wasn’t the most trustworthy of males. But intel was intel, and Thane wanted to know what he knew.
Thane had asked some of his shadier connections at the Downfall what they knew about the six demons responsible for the travesty in the skies, and while he had learned several interesting things, he hadn’t learned anything of value.
“Clearly I got your message,” William said. “You wanted to meet, so here we are. What do you want?”
Many things. They would start with information. “You are Lucifer’s brother.”
For a moment, the affable mask William sometimes wore fell away, revealing the vicious warrior at his core. “He’s my adopted brother. Adopted. We’re not blood.”
“You were both fostered by Hades, the keeper of Sheol.”
So they both thought the same way. Surely. “Where are his minions? The six demons responsible for my king’s death?”
An evasion. One that wouldn’t be tolerated. “The demons are now living among the humans. You are now living among humans. They are evil. You are evil. They came from hell. You spent many centuries in hell. You should know where they went.”
Far from offended by the description, William puffed up. “They could be anywhere. Everywhere. You’ll have to draw them out.”