A shuffle of clothing, the squeak of a chair. The pound of bone against bone.

Nicola turned and watched as the two men slammed together and propelled to the ground.

A laugh from Axel. “And I can’t tease you about her?”

“Children! Enough,” Nicola said, clapping to claim their attention.

They broke apart, Koldo huffing and puffing, Axel grinning.

“Your jealousy is so cute,” Axel said.

“Just try to leave me,” Koldo threw at Nicola.

Instantly the men obeyed, reclaiming their chairs at the table.

She tossed all of the ingredients in a large bowl, then set smaller bowls in front of the guys. When she attempted to ease into the seat between them, Koldo took her by the arm and tugged her onto his lap. The warmth of his body and the sunshine scent of his skin instantly enveloped her, holding her captive.

“So...you can’t flash,” she said to Koldo.

He stiffened. “No. I tried again this morning. I failed.”

“Something was done to me during that last fight.” Koldo finished his meal in a hurry, stood, moved aside and urged her back into the chair. “Stay here. Eat.” He gave her a swift, hard kiss and tugged Axel from the room.

“But I’m not done with my food,” she heard the black-haired warrior whine.

The back door slammed behind them, cutting off any reply.

What am I going to do with that man?

She padded to the window and watched as he led Axel inside the small building they’d erected last week. Was Koldo’s dirty little secret in there? If so...what could it be? Another woman?

No, he wasn’t the type to cheat. He had far too much honor.

Refusing to dwell, she fixed Laila a bowl, rinsed the rest of the dishes and placed them in the washer, then strode to her sister’s bedroom. Her twin was pacing in front of the bed, her hands wringing together.

“I’m not hungry.” Laila’s skin was pale, her motions stiff.

“Well, you need to eat.”

There was a tinge of desperation to her sister’s tone as she said, “We were almost killed, Co Co.”

“What if we’re not? You shouldn’t worry about what’s going to happen, La La, but you should expect to be protected when something does.” So far, her sister had wanted nothing to do with Koldo, the tattoos or anything he’d said—despite knowing he was right!

“And I want to be like you. I do. I just... I have trouble trusting it all. I mean, staring at a bunch of number tattoos is going to help me? Please!”

“Trust is a decision, not a feeling.” Just like forgiveness. “Give it a shot.”

“I just... I’m sorry. No. I can’t.”

Nicola could have curled into a ball and cried. But instead, she rallied, determined. “You’ll continue to worry and that worry will kill you. Is that what you want?”

Nicola reached out, squeezed her hand. “Let’s do something to distract you.” Something to improve her frame of mind. Books wouldn’t cut it, and TV might exacerbate the problem. All that left was... Ugh. Something that sounded like torture. “We can, I don’t know, work out or something. Get our bodies in shape.”

Laila massaged the back of her neck. “I’m not in the mood.”

“Neither am I, but we could both use the exercise.” Before her sister could issue another refusal, she added, “I’ll be in the workout room. Join me, okay?”

“Definitely.” Nicola clomped into her bedroom and changed into a sports bra, tiny skintight shorts and running shoes. Her first pair. Well, the first pair she would actually put to use.

She entered the workout room and looked around. Machine after machine greeted her. All large. All intimidating. The only piece of equipment she recognized was the treadmill.

That would have to do.

Nicola set a slow pace—at first. But the sweat began to roll, and her heart began to pound, her muscles to burn, and she liked it, so she raised the incline and kicked up the speed. Soon she was jogging. And jogging and jogging! Shock filled her, but the exercise felt so good, too good to stop, invigorating her, and she thought she could go on forever, and that if she were outside, she could run across the entire world. There was so much oxygen in her brain, her thoughts were actually fizzing, her blood popping and crackling and her ponytail swinging back and forth, slapping her in the face, and oh, even that felt good, because she was free and she was healthy and nothing could stop her, and—

Her attention jerked to the left. Koldo stood in the doorway, his expression satisfied, his hands fisted on his hips. The action jolted her, and she missed her next step. The treadmill was unforgiving, and she stumbled, flying backward and slamming—

His body was big and hard, and she lost her breath—breath that had already gone thin and raspy. Suddenly light-headed, she hunched over. Or would have. Koldo’s arms banded around her, holding her upright.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she wheezed. And okay, wow, the workout had affected her more than she’d realized. “You should probably let me go. I’m sweaty.”

His pupils expanded, gobbling up the golden color of his irises. “I like you that way.”

The huskiness of his tone... “Are you flirting with me?”

He blinked with surprise. “I think that I am.”

The world spun—but not because she was feeling faint. Koldo had taken her by the waist and maneuvered her around to face him. She teetered forward, and had to balance her palms on his chest. His heart beat as hard and fast as hers.

He hoisted her up. Her legs wrapped around him as he lowered his head. Their mouths met in an explosive kiss that offered no preliminary exploration, only passion.

Just like that, she was a study of movement, her hands on his face, no, on his neck, no, kneading his shoulders, her nails digging into his skin. It was such a beautiful moment, so charged, two pieces of a puzzle being fit together.

Desire burned through her, and need, so much need. Want, so much want. As if she hadn’t found satisfaction last night. The two drives were intertwined, indistinguishable, as tangible as Koldo’s body.

“I have to have you,” he said. “All of you. If you’re well enough to run the treadmill, you’re well enough to be with me.”

“Yessss.” This was happening. Finally. They would be together, and they would belong to each other, and they would stop worrying about what could go wrong—even though they weren’t supposed to be worrying about anything.

“Uh, that’s going to be a bit of a problem,” another male said.

Growling, Koldo swung his head toward the door. Nicola followed his lead. A grinning Axel stood next to another male of equal strength. This one had black hair and blazing green eyes that utterly contrasted with his lips, which were set in an ice-cold line.

“Zacharel,” Koldo said, nodding his head in stiff deference. To Nicola, he added quietly, “He always looks that way. Fear not.”

Nicola’s legs dropped to the floor. Her heart was hammering, but the beat was now steady, strong. Her clothes were in place, nothing disheveled, and yet she felt as though she were a teenager caught with her pants down.

The new guy looked her over. “You’re thriving. That’s good.”

“You know me?” she asked, surprised and confused. She’d never met this man. He wasn’t the type of guy a girl would ever forget. No, he was the type of guy a girl dreamed about for the rest of her life—either sighing dreamily or sobbing with fear.

“I noticed a certain warrior’s interest in you, and made it my business to learn everything possible.” That glorious jade gaze slid to Koldo before she could comment. Not that she knew what to say. “Your presence has been requested in the heavens.”

A tense pause slid into a long, uncomfortable silence before Koldo gave another nod.

Axel and Zacharel walked away, leaving her alone with her warrior.

“I must go,” he said.

She reached up and cupped his cheeks, the soft hair on his jaw tickling her skin. “I understand. Just make sure you hurry home. I’ll still be here, and we can pick up where we left off.”

He leaned down, placed a soft kiss against her lips. “You’ve just guaranteed I’ll return at the soonest possible moment. And don’t worry about evil invaders. Axel ensured other Sent Ones can come and go, but no one else can get through my cloud.”

A second later, he vanished, startling Nicola. Then he reappeared, a look of wonder on his face.

“I know. I just watched you.” He hadn’t lost the ability, after all.

“But I did it twice. Not just now, but before, to catch you when you fell off the treadmill. I was too consumed with what we were doing to realize I had done it until I appeared in the heavens.”

His lips lifted in a slow, sensual smile, revealing perfect white teeth, lighting his entire face. She could only stare in amazement, her head practically spinning, her limbs definitely shaking.