She was a tiny fluff of nothing, just as he recalled, her frame heart-wrenchingly delicate. He towered over her, and could easily break her in half with a single twist of his wrist.

Can’t ever touch her, he told himself.

For some reason, the tension inside him only increased.

The same demons stood sentry behind her, following close at her heels. They spotted Koldo and spewed a mouthful of dark curses.

“What do you hope to gain?”

He ignored them, and they decided to do the same to him, perhaps hoping he would go away this second time, too.

“Hey, La La,” she said softly. “It’s Co Co. I’m told you’ve taken a turn for the worse.”

The words were encased by a thick, grim shell, yet still her voice stroked over him. A feather tickling. A brush of velvet caressing. He savored the odd sensations, even...liked them?

Nicola pushed the smallest chair next to the bed, struggling under its weight. The demons snickered at her. Angered, Koldo stepped toward her, intending to help her, but immediately forced himself to still. Now wasn’t the time to reveal himself. He would frighten her.

The demons caught his aborted action and scowled at him. So much for ignoring him.

“You’re not welcome here, Koldo,” Lefty said.

Responding to a demon invited conversation. Conversation invited lies. Koldo wasn’t so foolish as that. But he wasn’t surprised the creature knew his name. With as many demonic kills as Koldo had made throughout the centuries, the entire underworld knew of him.

Fine. He was foolish. He said, “You can try.” No matter what, they would fail.

Nicola reached out and gently patted her sister’s hand. “Oh, did I tell you? Blaine won the race.”

The monitors beeped steadily, the comatose girl never moving, never twitching.

Sighing, Nicola sat back in the chair and began to relay the trials of her workday.

This time, he would help her, Koldo decided. To start, he would have to do something to ensure she listened to him, and actually acted on what he said.

That was the only way she would come out of this.

And perhaps it was his only way out, too. In saving her, he might finally find some sort of atonement.

Atonement. The word echoed in his mind. It was something he sometimes craved, but not something he deserved. Sometimes, when he closed his eyes, he could still hear the agonized screams he’d caused...could still feel the barb of his victims’ fear.

Clenching his fists, he resolved himself. He could do this. And so could she.

“You’re going to get better, La La,” she suddenly announced, as though drawing hope from his thoughts. “You have to recover. I won’t allow anything else. I’m the big sister, and you have to do whatever I tell you to do. Nothing else is acceptable.”

Gaze locked on Koldo, Righty bent down and whispered into her ear. Spreading poison.

The color drained from her cheeks.

Lefty squeezed her shoulder, and she slumped forward, as though some of her energy had evaporated in a puff of smoke.

She stopped talking victory, and went back to discussing her day.

Koldo rubbed the back of his neck. What had just happened was a prime example of the life she had probably always led, pulling herself up only to be knocked down again.

Well, no more.

His body tensed all over again, preparing for war. But this was different than what he’d felt when Nicola had first entered the room. There was no sense of anticipation, no hint of excitement. He just wanted to flat-out raze his enemy into the ground.

He held out his hand and summoned a sword of fire—another gift every Sent One received from the Most High. One he always had a right to use.

Righty and Lefty jolted to attention, gnarled wings popping from their backs.

“You sure you want to do this?” Righty asked with a gleeful smile. The horns on the creature’s head grew...grew...becoming monstrous ivory towers. Fangs stretched between his lips, extending past his jaw. “You’ll walk away, but you’ll be in pieces.”

The same grotesque transformation overtook Lefty, little sparks of fire flashing underneath his scales.

Koldo didn’t bother with a response. He simply launched forward, blade arcing through the air. The two demons flew apart, moving out of harm’s way. He expected the action and went low as he landed, twisting to the right. Flames slicked over Righty’s thigh.

The demon grunted from the pain, the scent of burned hair filling the room.

Koldo jumped up, kicking a leg forward and a leg backward, nailing both of his opponents at the same time. He landed, and they recovered enough to leap at him, punching. He blocked one, but purposely took the other’s abuse, grabbing on to Lefty’s arm and holding tight as he used the appendage as leverage to swing up both of his legs into Righty’s throat with a brutal slam slam of his booted feet. Then he flipped Lefty over and tossed him to his back to stomp on the creature’s face. Bone crunched, suddenly a jigsaw puzzle that needed to be put back together.

Before the second stomp, Lefty rolled to his feet and bounded on the bed—the females utterly unaware—and, without pausing to consider a wiser way, slammed into Koldo’s back. A long, thick tail wound around his middle, squeezing. The hook on the end sliced all the way to Koldo’s intestines.

Lefty raised sharpened claws, intending to slash through his windpipe, but Koldo flashed to the other side of the bed. The moment he landed, he leaned forward and grabbed the end of the creature’s tail, jerking and spinning Lefty’s entire body.

As the fiend careened forward, Koldo flashed behind him and swung his sword. The demon tried to dodge, but wasn’t fast enough. Fire met scales and bone, and scales and bone immediately lost. The demon’s arm detached, spraying black blood over the floor.

Blood the humans would never see.

A howl of agony erupted as Lefty grabbed the appendage and flew out the window, into the afternoon sunlight. Unlike Sent Ones, demons couldn’t regenerate limbs. The creature would have to have the arm reattached.

Deep down, Koldo knew this would not be their last battle.

Cursing, Righty turned in a half circle, his gnarled wings sweeping in Koldo’s direction. He could have dodged, but he chose to allow the end of one wing to clip his ankles, knocking them together, sending him flying to the floor. The beads in his beard rattled as he hit, air bursting from his lungs. He pretended to lose his hold on the sword, and the weapon vanished.

Righty dived on top of him, just as he’d wanted, fangs bared. Koldo punched with all of his might, and broke the demon’s nose, sending fragments of cartilage into his rotting brain. Then, Koldo flashed behind him, summoning the sword of fire, swinging. The demon shot forward, staying low. But not low enough. The scent of smoke and sulfur filled the air. A loud thump sounded. One of the creature’s horns was now missing.

Features contorted with rage, the demon hopped to hoofed feet, black blood leaking down his face, from his busted nose. Roaring, he lunged. Twisting left, twisting right, Koldo stepped into the battle dance. Righty knew when and where to move, sometimes managing to avoid injury. They tangoed from one side of the room to the other, up the walls, down the walls, on the floor, across the ceiling, rolling over the bed, falling through Nicola as she continued to chat with her sister, not so much as a hitch in her breath.

Koldo released the sword and grabbed a fistful of fur on the demon’s chest. He launched the creature through the far wall. A second later, the fiend raced back into the room.

“The girl is mine,” Righty snarled, stalking a circle around him. “Mine! I’ll never let her go.”

“You were foolish when you decided to follow Lucifer rather than the Most High, and you’re foolish now, to think you can best me. You fight from a place of defeat, and you always will.” Long ago, the Most High had crushed all the forces of hell. But still the creatures struck at humans, determined to hurt those the Most High loved.

And the Most High loved all humans. He wanted to adopt them, as He’d done the Sent Ones.

A hiss of rage sounded. “I’ll show you defeat!” Rather than initiating a full-scale attack, the demon backed one step away, two...three. A slow grin lifted the corners of his lips. “Yes, I’ll show you defeat. Very, very soon.” With that, he disappeared through the wall.

Koldo waited, at the ready, but the demon never returned. No doubt, he’d gone to recruit a few of his friends.

Only problem was, “very, very soon” told Koldo nothing. In their realm, one day could be as long as a thousand years and a thousand years as short as one day.

“What the heck is going on?” Nicola exclaimed. “It’s like two boulders have been lifted from my shoulders.” As she spoke, a smile lit her entire face, transforming her from plain to exquisite. Her pale skin took on a radiant sheen, her eyes becoming the color of summer rather than winter.

The moisture in his mouth dried.

Wonderful, yes, but still the toxin flowed through her veins. That would have to be dealt with.

He would have to find a way to gently reveal himself to her, something he’d never done with a human. He would have to garner her trust, something he’d never before cared to try. But when? How? And how would she react?

Be as shrewd as a serpent yet as harmless as a dove, Germanus used to tell him.

Funny, but Koldo was far less assured of his success with the girl than he’d been with the demons.

THE ELEVATOR DINGED, and the double doors slid open. Nicola Lane stepped inside the small enclosure, relieved to find she was alone. She was—

Not alone, she realized with a jolt of surprise. Oh, wow. Okay. In the far corner, a very tall, very muscled man shifted from the shadows. How could she have missed him, even for a second?

The doors closed, sealing her inside with him. I don’t judge by outward appearance. I really do not judge by outward appearance. But oh, wow, wow, wow, he had to be a time-traveling Viking sent here to abduct modern women to give to his men back home—because they’d killed all the women in their village.