The sound of hissing and giggling filled her ears. Dark shadows crept along the walls. Definitely demons. Her heart skipped a beat, the first sign of oncoming fear, but she resisted.
That’s right. She was. She leaped up. In the corner, a shadow thickened, solidified into a hazy blob and scurried across the desk, reaching out to brush her hair. A light breeze dusted her skin, the scent of rotten eggs clinging to her nose.
On went the lights.
On—and as brightness flooded the room once again, five demons came into view, and they resembled the snakes from the park. Their scales were the same shade as blood, and their temples were flared. They had glowing green eyes, and jaws open wide, revealing fangs sharper than any knife, with a yellowed substance drip, drip, dripping onto the floor and burning, causing the carpet to sizzle and steam to rise.
Forked tongues slithered out, waving in her direction.
I’m not helpless. I’m really not. I’m protected. I really am.
“I’ll enjoy having you for breakfassst,” one taunted.
“Your sssister will be desssert,” another added.
She opened her mouth to shout for the Most High, but the door burst open, silencing her. Sirena raced inside, pale hair flying behind her. She brandished a long, thin sword, and the snakes jolted backward, cursing at her.
“Get out of here, fiends! Now,” she shouted. Metal whistled through air, and the creatures darted left and right, desperate to get out of her way.
One of the creatures disappeared in a puff of black smoke. Another soon followed.
There was a wild light in Sirena’s blue eyes, one that said she was just crazy enough to fight the demons with her bare hands if necessary. Those remaining must have sensed her determination, because they tossed one last hiss in Nicola’s direction and vanished.
Panting, Sirena dropped the sword on the floor. “You’re safe.”
Laila peeked out from underneath the desk as Nicola raced over to her. “Are you all right, Sirena?”
“I’m fine.” The girl brushed her fall of pale hair over one shoulder. “Promise.”
“How did you do that?” Inside, Nicola’s instincts were churning. Something wasn’t right. “How did you know we needed help?”
She flashed a quick smile. “I’m like Koldo. He asked me to look after you.”
Koldo! He hadn’t abandoned her, after all.
“I’m just glad I got here in time,” Sirena added a little tightly. “Those things are dangerous. They’re the foul offspring of serp demons and Nefas.”
Nicola placed her hand on her stomach to ward off the oncoming ache. “Thank you. Thank you for helping us.”
Laila stood, swaying. Her skin had taken on a sickly cast, and her eyes had glassed over. “Are you okay, Co Co?”
“If you both want to stay that way, we have to get out of here,” Sirena announced. “Koldo wants you with him. Come on. I’ll take you to him.”
“I DON’T LIKE THIS,” Koldo said. It was too easy. The Nefas had never been this obvious with their tracks.
He and Axel had gone from point A to B to C and now D, without ever having to search for a clue. The breadcrumbs had just been here and there, obvious to any Sent One. A trail from the flashes. A glaze of venom on a door. A spiked footprint. A hint of sulfur-scented smoke. A scattering of serp demon scales.
“Want to get a mani-pedi and discuss our options?” Axel asked.
“No.” They were aware of the fact that this could be a trap, and so they could turn the plan against the Nefas.
Koldo darted through the back alley, Axel a few paces behind him, each hidden in the spirit realm, their swords of fire at the ready. But the further he followed the newest trail, the clearer Koldo remembered the times he’d helped his father provide false tracks for others, even though they’d known the searcher would suspect it was a trap. Nox had never cared about that—had only wanted the males distracted.
Distracted, so that Nox could steal something of value without any opposition.
Koldo stopped, and Axel slammed into his back. “This isn’t a trap, it’s a distraction. He just wants us away from Estellä.”
Teeth grinding, Koldo released the sword of fire and flashed to the building, into Nicola’s office. He found the phone shattered on the floor. He found a discarded weapon—one he recognized. Long, thin, the metal stretching from a hilt that appeared to be the wide jaw of a snake.
The first spark of rage hit him. Nicola’s perfume created a soft sweetness in the air, but that sweetness couldn’t cover the taint of sulfur. Serp demons had been here. And Nicola was...was...
No! He punched the wall. She was alive, he told himself. He wouldn’t believe anything else. His father wouldn’t kill his only ace.
But still the rage magnified, such dark, dark rage. His teeth elongated; his nails sharpened.
Control. He needed answers. What had happened here? Where was Jamila? How had the demons gotten Nicola out of the building?
They would have had to trick her or take her by force. With the destruction in this office, he had to go with force. So...why hadn’t she asked the Most High for help? Why hadn’t she peered at her tattoos?
Or had she?
Had she acted too late?
Had both force and trickery been used?
This time, the rage grew like a tree, sprouting branches, budding leaves, until he couldn’t see past the thickness of the foliage. Koldo swiped the papers and files from the desk and onto the floor. The computer was next, the screen cracking. He picked up the desk and slammed it down, the wood splitting. He ripped the chair into pieces. Punched another hole in the wall. Then another and another.
Stop. You have to stop. This isn’t you. Not anymore.
He breathed in and out, forcing himself to become the calm, rational man his woman needed. Nicola couldn’t have been gone long—Koldo had seen her an hour ago. But then, he knew how much damage could be done in that amount of time.
Axel landed beside him, took one look around the room and understood what had happened without having to be told. “Our new plan?”
The human authorities might decide to delve into Nicola’s disappearance, and he didn’t need their interference—they would only slow him down. “Clean this.”
“Uh, that would be a no. I have people for that.”
“Already done. They’ll be here in five.”
Koldo nodded stiffly, the only kind of thanks he could manage.
“So what do you want to do?” Axel asked.
He scrubbed a hand down his face. Where would Nox have taken her? His father was a braggart, a showman and big on vengeance. Every misdeed was punished. Koldo’s most recent crime was the killing of the messenger in the park—
Yes. The park. The scene of the crime.
“The park,” he said, and flashed to the very spot where he’d decapitated his father’s man. Too late, Koldo realized he should have demanded Axel stay behind. The warrior could find out about Koldo’s past, his lineage, and tell the others in their army.
No. It didn’t matter. Koldo wanted Nicola safe, whatever the cost.
He cataloged the area—and when his gaze landed on a male who should have been dead, his breath caught in his chest.
Nox. His father. Alive, all this time. There was no question about that now.
Koldo stumbled backward with the force of his shock. Yes, he’d suspected. But seeing the evidence was a blow he’d been unprepared to take. This should have been impossible.
Nox stood in the center of a dirt pile, where a tree had once been, buffing his nails, allowing Koldo to study him. The male responsible for so many years of torment. Nox was everything Koldo remembered. Tall and strong, with dark, evil eyes.
He was tattooed from the neck down, with gruesome images that told stories of pain and suffering. They were marks of victory. Some for those against enemies. Some for his female conquests. Some for acts of revenge. Blood appeared to drip. Heads seemed to roll. He also had several piercings in his eyebrows, two in his lip, one in his chin.
Koldo stepped from the spirit realm to face his worst nightmare and save the sweetest woman he’d known. “Where is she?”
His father looked him over, triumph twisting his features and revealing the ugliness of his core. “Aren’t you a pretty thing?” His voice was deep. Husky.
The only reason Nox had never forcibly shaved Koldo’s head, pierced Koldo’s face or tattooed Koldo’s body was because the traits were considered admirable among the Nefas and Koldo hadn’t yet earned the right.
“You should be dead,” Koldo said.
A smug smirk, one of thousands Koldo had received over the years. “Oh, you mean that pathetic attempt you made to kill me all those years ago? I saw you coming and flashed away. Your rain of fire failed to singe a single part of me.”
He raised his chin. “Your people can’t say the same. You abandoned them, choosing to save yourself rather than to stay and issue a warning.”
In a snap, the smugness gave way to fury. “You are responsible for their deaths, not me. You’re the reason I’ve had to spend all this time rebuilding. Planning. Waiting. I knew I couldn’t hurt a man who had nothing to lose.”
Having Nox’s intentions stated so plainly—to hurt Nicola in an effort to hurt Koldo—doused his rage with fear. Nox never made an empty threat. He only made promises.
A whoosh of air, and then Axel was beside him, wings tucked into his back.
Nox grinned slowly. “You made a friend. How nice. But all that means is that more blood will spill today.”
Humans walked past, spotted them and picked up the pace.