“You mean we’re...one?” Even saying the words filled her with a wild, bone-deep satisfaction.

“In that way, yes. Now, for the other way.” He kissed her again—a kiss that affected every inch of her, making her forget the pain of before and remember the pleasure to come. “I’m glad we waited for this moment. Now you’ll be mine in every way that matters.”

“Nicola,” he said and finally—finally—claimed her.

She screamed. He stopped, staring down at her. Concern and horror radiated from him.

“I’m okay,” she panted. “I am. I’m sorry. I just didn’t know what to expect, and then it was happening, and now I’m babbling, and you’re not moving, and I’m really sorry. Please continue.”

“How badly did I hurt you?” he asked, the strain of holding back evident.

He wasn’t convinced. “You’ll tell me if I do?”

Hesitantly, he leaned down and kissed her again. Softly, gently. It didn’t take long to renew their passions, and then, oh, then, they wed in body, as well. She yielded to him without reservation, accepting him, burning for him, loving him, enfolding him in her arms, crying his name, begging for more, nipping at his lips.

“Glad.” It was the only word she could manage.

He kept a slow pace. Her gaze found his, and locked on. He could have looked away, but he didn’t. He peered down at her as if there was no one else he’d rather see, as if he were utterly mesmerized by her.

No one had ever looked at her that way before.

And I get to keep him. Forever.

In that moment, something profound happened. The connection between them deepened, and her soul sang the most beautiful song.

Thank you. Oh, thank you.

This love will never die.

Her heart actually felt like it expanded, welcoming even more love for him. Love and joy and peace—everything he’d ever wanted her to feel, in the sweetest degree.

She gave him all that she was, all that she would ever be, her breath emerging choppily. He gave her all that he was, all that he would ever be, his muscles knotting underneath her hands.

He felt the intensity, too, she thought. He must. “Love. Yes.” Oh, sweet heat... More, more, please more... Her heart was pounding...her body seeming to expand, just like her heart, unable to contain her innermost being. “Faster,” she begged.

He obeyed, his motions sharp and sure.

“Yes. Yes! Koldo, I’m going to...” Burst apart at the seams and fly away.

And that’s exactly what happened.

She burst. She flew. And wherever she ended up, utter satisfaction slammed through her, at last assuaging the ache that had plagued her since their first kiss. She was suddenly complete, a woman who had survived the worst and found the best.

In the distance, she heard Koldo’s loud roar echo, masculine contentment at its finest, drawing her back.

He collapsed on top of her, his heavy weight nearly smashing her lungs. But it was far more glorious than before. She was shaking and clutching at him, this man, her husband.

“How are you... You feel...” he said.

“Yes. That was... That was... I don’t have words.”

“I do.” She kissed his neck, his hammering pulse. “That was worth doing again.”

AS THE MORNING SUN crested in the sky, casting rays into the room, Koldo’s mind whirled. Nicola was draped over him, her chin resting on his sternum, her fingers petting through his beard, then along the planes of his chest. He had his hand flattened on her lower back, a possessive hold to be sure.

He opened his mouth to say thank-you—again—but he sang instead. He hadn’t sung since his childhood, days before his mother removed his wings. He’d never thought to sing again. He’d never had reason. And yet, his low baritone emerged, filling the room, giving Nicola this final piece of himself.

When he finished, she sat up to peer down at him. He’d once again covered her with his essentia, causing her skin to glow the most luscious shade of gold—and his heart to constrict.

“That was so beautiful.” Her eyes were heavy with slumber, wet with tears, her lips swollen and red from his kisses. Beautiful strawberry curls fell in tangles, shielding her breasts. She was the picture of a well-loved woman—one he wanted to love again. “Such a serious expression, my famous warrior. What are you thinking about?”

He twirled one of her curls around his finger. Sex wasn’t what he had imagined. Oh, he’d known naked bodies would strain together. And because of the kisses and caresses he and Nicola had already shared, he’d expected the pleasure. But he hadn’t expected to have every bit of his sense of self shredded by her. Had he, he would have thought he’d hate it. Instead, he’d loved every second.

“I would tell you, but I’ve satisfied you too intently for you to have a working brain. You wouldn’t understand.”

A pause. A gasp. “Did Koldo the Serious just crack a joke?”

“He hopes not,” he said, trying not to grin.

She tsked. “I’m thinking someone needs assurance that he did a good job.”

“He does.” And he wasn’t ashamed to admit it. Her feelings mattered to him.

“How very human of him,” she said with a grin of her own.

“It’s fitting. After all, he has a human in his heart now.” He’d expected to go slowly with her, to savor every moment, help her gradually reach a climax so that her body wouldn’t shut down. Instead, his own had urged him to go faster, to do more, to do everything she would allow him to do. He’d been lost in a world of carnality—committed carnality, that is. He wouldn’t have liked doing this with anyone else. He’d suspected before, but he knew beyond a doubt now. He’d been too vulnerable during the act, all of his defenses down.

“If I had to describe our night together with a single word, I would say...hmm.” She nibbled on her bottom lip. “Pleasant, I guess.”

A little giggle bubbled from her—the kind he’d wanted her to have. “Yeah. You need practice. Selah.”

A mock growl rumbled in him. “I’m not pausing and thinking. I’m starting now.” He rolled her over, poised above her with a dark scowl. “But before I teach you the meaning of ecstasy—again—you will tell me how you feel.”

“No. I’m healed.” Her eyes widened. “I am. Koldo, I’m really healed! My heart didn’t act up once.”

She was...right. Not once had she displayed any symptoms of a defective heart. Her stamina had even surpassed his own. “The toxin is gone.”

“Yes! But it’s more than that, I think. I feel so clean. So...strong.”

Yes, that did sound like more had happened. As if a spring from the Water of Life had formed inside of her, creating a well of health and vitality. But that would mean she was a Sent One.

He’d heard of that happening. But...was she?

“I’m so glad,” he said.

“I—” Suddenly she frowned, rubbed at her chest. “Something’s wrong. I need to check on Laila.”

As many times as he’d sensed the danger Nicola was in, he knew not to discount her instinctual feelings. “Of course.” He stood and dressed in the robe he’d torn. While the garment was once again in pristine condition, it was different than what he was used to. It opened in back and when he shoved his arms through the holes, the material had to fit itself around his wings and weave the seams together around them.

He tugged Nicola to her feet and pushed her own robe over her head, covering her beautiful curves—a certain travesty. He kissed her temple, and said, “Whatever happens, we’ll get through it together.”

“I know.” She was steady, her color high—welcome signs of her newfound well-being.

Koldo flashed her to Zacharel’s cloud, the romance of his home giving way to the functionality of his leader’s. “Zacharel,” he called out.

“Back here. Hurry. I was just about to summon you.”

Nicola burst into motion, dragging Koldo with her. In the living room, Zacharel and Annabelle crouched in front of the couch, where Laila still sprawled. Her skin had taken on a yellowish hue, and she was thrashing, moaning, her teeth coated with blood. She must have bitten her tongue.

Nicola rushed forward, pushed the couple out of the way and knelt beside her sister. “Oh, my love. No.”

Zacharel met Koldo’s gaze, stood and closed the distance. “Her heart stopped, but I was able to revive her,” the warrior said quietly. “She won’t last long.”

“Don’t you dare say that,” Nicola threw at Zacharel, clearly fighting sobs.

Something in Koldo’s chest constricted. He studied his wife’s twin. To his surprise, the Most High once again allowed him to see past skin and bone and into her spirit.

There were now two demons inside her.

They’d managed to slip past her defenses, Koldo realized, his heart sinking. Or rather, her lack of defenses. How would Nicola react when her sister died? And Laila would die. She hadn’t fought the toxin, but had welcomed more.

“No,” Koldo said, torn up inside. “They’re inside her, love.”