She traced her fingers along the ridges of his stomach, wishing the shirt would disappear, then chiding herself for wishing.

“Ask me a question,” he said. “Any question. I like sharing with you.”

She thought for a moment. “Why were you so upset when we spoke on the phone after yesterday’s meeting?”

“I had just found out a man I loved was killed.”

“Oh, Koldo,” she repeated. He had endured one blow after another, and the knowledge saddened her.

He took her hand, brought her knuckles to his lips and kissed. He next rubbed her hand over his cheeks, his jaw, his beard tickling her skin, before once again kissing her knuckles. “It’s a punishment I deserved.” The same guilt and shame she sometimes saw in his eyes now dripped from his tone.

“I’m going to say something, and I don’t want you to be offended, all right?”

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard! You did not deserve to lose a friend.”

He relaxed the tiniest bit. “I haven’t always been the man you know.”

“And I haven’t always been the girl you know.”

He shook his head. “You’ve always been sweet, kind and caring, and that’s that.”

No. He didn’t know the full truth—that she and Laila had once planned to murder the man responsible for the deaths of their parents and brother. And she would be forever grateful the plan had failed. A moment of rage would have changed the entire course of their lives, and not for the better.

But all she said to Koldo was, “You’re making a mistake,” and kissed his chest. There was no reason to spoil the moment. “And notice how wonderful I am, pointing it out just like you asked.”

There’d been no sarcasm in his voice. Darling man. “Say-la,” she interjected, recalling the way he’d once used the word with her.

She traced an X over the heavy beat of his heart. “What does the word mean?”

“To pause and think about what was said.”

Well, well. From now on, she might be using the word after everything she said. “So now that we’ve bared our souls, and I’ve blown your mind with my intelligence, what do you want to do for the rest of our date?”

“Rest. For what I have planned tomorrow, you’re going to need it.”

FOR THE FIRST TIME in his entire life, Koldo spent the night in bed with a woman. His woman. Something he’d wanted. Only, what he’d truly wanted was to strip Nicola, strip himself, kiss her, have her, have her again—and maybe again—and fall into a deep sleep. Then wake up and have her again. Physically, however, she wasn’t ready for that.

Maybe he wasn’t, either.

Next time, he needed to slow down, get them both ready. He’d loved the sensations coursing through him so much he’d verged on losing control. If that had happened, he could have taken her too forcefully. Hurt her the way he’d always feared.

What a man feared came upon him. He knew that. So it was time to stop giving in and start fighting these worries the moment they came. To practice what he taught.

As they’d talked, and she’d snuggled into his side, he expected the rest of his arousal to fade. But it hadn’t.

It had only gotten worse.

As she slept, her warm breath fanned over his neck in a decadent caress. Her heart beat in sync with his, connecting them in the subtlest of ways. Their scents blended, male musk with feminine sweetness, and all he’d wanted to do was pick up where they’d left off.

Everything had to be perfect for her. He never wanted her to look back and wish or regret. He would rather die. He wouldn’t be another tragedy in her life. He would be something else.

I have to be something special.

All of his strength was needed to remain still, ignoring the achiness of his body.

By the time the sun rose, he was trembling—and sweating and panting and far more desperate. He untangled from Nicola, and even though she was the source of his torment, he hated leaving her. She muttered a soft sigh and rolled to her stomach, strawberry hair still in a ponytail and spilling all over the pillows.

Can’t dive on her. Really can’t. He didn’t bother with a shower before he flashed to a nearby lumberyard and gathered what he would need to build a second, smaller home in the backyard of the ranch. His clothing cleaning him inside and out.

Next, he got to work. He’d decided to move his mother to Panama.

She was a part of his life. A part he no longer wanted to hide from Nicola. Last night, telling her about his past, he’d discovered a peace unlike any other. He’d liked it. Now, he wanted her to know everything. He wanted to be completely honest with her. He wouldn’t just tell her, though. He would show her.

One hour sped into another as he worked that morning, sawing and hammering. Eventually he removed his shirt. Sweat rolled down his chest and back, and the sun beat against his skin. His muscles welcomed the strain.

“Would you like something to drink?” Nicola called from the kitchen doorway. “I made lemonade.”

He glanced up—and wished he hadn’t. The arousal returned full force, as if he’d never moved away from her. She’d taken a shower and pulled her damp hair into another ponytail. Those storm eyes were bright, her cheeks rosy. Her lips were still plumped from his kisses. She wore a tight white T-shirt and jeans with rhinestones around the waist. So young. So fresh.

“No, thank you,” he replied. If she came out here, he would grab her and never let go.

“Are you sure?” She held up a glass filled to the rim. “You look really, really hot. And I mean that in every way.”

“What are you doing out there, anyway?” she asked.

He expected her to throw another question at him.

She didn’t. She said, “I bet you’re working up quite a thirst.”

I am. For you. “You don’t want to know.”

Oh, no, you don’t. “Are you flirting with me?”

A dreamy sigh left her. “So commanding. I never thought I’d have a snarly handyman fantasy, especially after I got mad at you for snarling just the other day.”

He almost ditched the tools and stomped after her. Almost.

She walked away. A few seconds later, Axel strolled out the door, his dark hair disheveled, his blue eyes glittering as he drank the lemonade that had been meant for Koldo. His wings were tucked into his back, and he wore the customary angel robe, the white gleaming in the sunlight.

“Hey, you know anything about an immortal named William of the Dark? He also goes by the alias Ever Randy. Because all of a sudden, for no reason, he’s decided to track me down,” Axel said between sips. “It’s really getting to be annoying.”

“No.” The moment the warrior reached Koldo’s side, Koldo snatched the glass and drained the contents. “Mine,” he said.

“So not cool. Someone needs to learn the meaning of hospitality. And sharing. And kindness. And brotherhood. And friendship. And selflessness.”

“I’ll be sure to look the words up later.” Koldo handed him the empty glass. “Thank you for taking care of Laila last night.”

Axel tossed the glass into the bushes behind him. “Dude, that girl’s got problems.”

“I probably shouldn’t have slept with her.”

Koldo was in the process of hammering another nail and on his next downward swing, hit so hard the end of the board snapped. Surely he hadn’t just heard what he thought he’d heard. “You slept with her?”

Blink, blink. “What? I’m not a he-slut or anything. She was only my third lay of the day. And you told me to make her happy, right?”

Three. Three women. In one day? Koldo wanted Nicola and only Nicola, and couldn’t imagine sharing his bed with anyone else. Yes, he’d entertained the idea of returning to Thane’s club and taking the Harpy, and others, but he never would have been able to go through with it. He knew that now.

No other woman would be able to assuage the ache. No other woman would taste the same—sweetness and light. No other woman would be as soft. No other woman’s moans would be as intoxicating. Oh, yes, only Nicola would do.

“Why is that vein throbbing in your temple?” Axel asked. “Laila’s not your woman, right? Or is she? I’ve asked before but you’ve never said. Are you thinking about doing a sister-wife thing? Because it’s totally not the party in the box you think it will be.”

“No,” he gritted. “Laila isn’t mine.” But he wasn’t sure how Nicola would feel about her sister being with a Sent One that wouldn’t keep her. “If you hurt her...”

“Hey,” the warrior said, palms up. “I deprived her of Blainey Boo Bear, or whatever lame nickname humans like to give each other, and I owed her big fun—and no, that’s not the name of my penis, even though it fits. They’d swapped so many stories about their exes they were both depressed. I did her a favor, and she kicked me out afterward, not the other way around. She just used me and ditched me, and made me feel all dirty inside. So of course I’m hoping we can do it again.”

Koldo wiped his brow with the back of his hand. “And she didn’t pass out?” he found himself asking.

“Well, yeah. Yours did, too, eh?”

He shouted, “And you took her anyway?”

Koldo shook his head. The male had no shame.

“So we’re building a cage?” Axel asked, as he claimed a hammer of his own. “That’s what you told Nicola, right?”