They’d even stitched him up and tended his feverish, sweat-drenched body for three solid days.

He would have healed sooner if he’d won the fight with Amun and Ex like a big boy. But he hadn’t.

He’d lost. And so his pain had been magnified a thousandfold, and he’d been too weak to do a damn thing about it. Talk about humiliating!

Now he was stil bed-bound and propped against pil ows, but at least he was awake and aware. His demon was silent, too afraid to poke his head from the shadows of Strider’s mind and lose another chal enge until they’d recuperated sufficiently.

Torin sat in a chair in the far corner, and Zacharel, the black-haired angel Lysander had left in charge, leaned against one of the metal posters of Strider’s bed. Both were watching him, waiting. Clearly impatient.

Could a guy not suffer in peace?

This room was supposed to be his sanctuary, his private escape, but he’d opened his eyes a little while ago to find Torin pacing beside him—and not out of concern, the curious bastard. Zacharel had been exactly as he was now.

Unmoving, gaze penetrating.

“What happened?” Zacharel asked. His voice mesmerized even as it repel ed. The undertones were lilting, almost melting—and yeah, it was stil embarrassing as shit the way Strider reacted to these angelic beings—but everything else about that voice was cold, uncaring, detached.

Like his eyes. A vivid jade-green, they should have been welcoming, should have reminded Strider of summer. Or hel , even of Torin’s wicked sense of humor. Instead, those eyes were green ice. There was nothing inside them. No emotion of any kind. Not good, not bad, just a spiraling abyss of emptiness.

Strider had met some freaky immortals over the centuries, had thought he’d seen everything, but this one…no. There were none like him. Nothing fazed him. Strider had a feeling he could stab the angel in the heart and Zacharel would merely glance down before continuing on with whatever he’d been doing.

“Demon. Concentrate. What happened?” Zacharel again, and he didn’t raise his voice in the slightest.



“For gods’ sake, Strider,” Torin snapped. “Open your damn mouth and form some words. While you’re at it, stop staring at the angel like he’s a tasty treat.” Not so emotionless.

Strider’s cheeks warmed with a flush. He’d leave the tasty treat comment alone since he was too foggy to come up with a decent response. And no, Zacharel didn’t react to it.

“I went to the girl’s room. She wasn’t there, but I saw where she’d peeled back the wal paper and found an old doorway that led into Amun’s bedroom. She barred it. So I went to his door, but she’d barred it, too. That one I kicked in.” And he’d expected to find Amun headless. Or, at the very least, Haidee under the dark influence of Amun’s new demons.

The rage he’d felt at the prospect…the despair. And yet, neither had compared to the jealousy he’d experienced when he’d discovered the truth. A jealousy that had shamed him. One, he couldn’t be attracted to Ex. Two, Amun was his friend. He should have sheltered him from the temptress’s wiles.

“And?” Torin prompted, exasperated.

“And he was awake, lucid.” At least for a little while. Until Strider had approached the girl. Then Amun the Demonical y Insane had returned. “Surprisingly, the black phantoms were gone and stayed gone.” He didn’t mention that Amun had been on top of Ex, with his hand down her pants, his face aflame with pleasure.

Hers had been, too. So much pleasure.

She hadn’t fought the warrior. She had encouraged him, begged for more. A trick, Strider had thought.

Surely she had planned to lure Amun into a false sense of security and then strike.

But when Strider had approached her, determined to stop her from hurting his friend, Amun had attacked him. And when Strider had tried to defend himself, Ex had attacked him. To aid Amun.

What the fuck, man? He hadn’t understood at the time; he’d been too busy trying not to die. Now he thought he got it. Ex had wanted to leave with Amun. Which meant she’d planned to take him to her Hunters so they could kil him.

Stil . That didn’t explain why Amun had defended her. Why the warrior had touched her so intimately.

Strider had known the dude a long, long time. They’d fought together, hung out and partied together.

And by “partied together” Strider meant that Amun had watched him party and guarded his back. Amun didn’t sleep around, was usual y the most reserved of the warriors, and was sometimes as boring as shit.

The good kind of boring, though. You knew you could rely on him for anything. He was solid, a rock, and you always knew where you stood with him.

He wasn’t prone to angry fits, was the most levelheaded guy Strider knew. He would rather take a bul et himself than watch his friends take one. Yet, to protect a murderous bitch, he’d attempted to splatter Strider’s brains al over his bedroom floor.

Amun must not have recognized her. Hel , would anyone?

Centuries had passed, she no longer looked like an innocent maiden in need of a strong warrior’s aid, and as many freaky places as they’d been, they’d met other women named Haidee. The fact that she’d somehow regrown her head maybe mighta kinda sorta have also prevented his friends from realizing who she was.

Part of Strider was glad she hadn’t been recognized. The stupid part of him that didn’t like the thought of anyone hurting the woman.

You planned to sic Sabin on her. Remember?

Yes. And maybe he would have done it. Maybe not.

Strider hadn’t even told Torin her true identity yet. He didn’t know why. He’d only said she was a Hunter and had left it at that.

And, okay, yeah. Maybe that had been a halfway decent decision. Maybe Ex’s efforts on Amun’s behalf were real rather than faked. The day Strider had captured her, he’d gotten a glimpse of her boyfriend and had been floored to note the similarities between the Hunter and Amun. Was stil floored.

As swol en and disfigured as Amun’s face currently was, she probably thought the men were one and the same. If that was the case, she wouldn’t have been taking Amun to Hunters to torture him but to save him.

Had she realized the truth yet, since he’d cal ed Amun by name? Or had she been too preoccupied?

“For gods’ sake!” Torin tossed up his arms, dragging him from the thorny pit of his thoughts. “What’s wrong with you, Strider?”

He leveled a brutal scowl on his friend. “I’m healing. Can’t you see the gaping hole in my stomach?”

“You are fine. Now, as you were saying. Amun looked into your eyes during your conflict, yet you felt no evil urges?”

Zacharel asked, returning them to the only subject that mattered.

Conflict. Such a mild word for the handing-of-the-ass Strider had received. “Right. No urges.” Then or now.

Torin scrubbed both of his gloved hands down his tired face. “Wel , the shadows are back. Came back that very day, in fact, the moment the angels got him back in bed.

And now he’s worse. He worsens every hour. Silently moaning, always thrashing.”

“But he was fine when you walked into his bedroom?”

Zacharel insisted.

Did he seriously need to repeat himself? “Yes.”

“With the girl?”

Shit! “Yes, damn it. With the girl.”

Zacharel gave no reaction to Strider’s outburst, of course.

“While you were absent from the fortress, we tried exorcism, burning him as close to death as possible, hoping the spirits would unbind themselves and leave. They didn’t. We even tried a cloud cleansing, a—”

“A what?”

“Don’t ask,” Torin said dryly.

“But,” Zacharel continued, “none of those things made a difference. Yet if you looked at him and felt no evil, the girl did the impossible. She forced the demons into submission. That means she is the key.”

Confusion caused Strider’s brows to knit together. “The key? The key to what?”

“Amun’s sanity. He needs her. He must be with her.”

Both Strider and Torin gaped at the angel.

Torin was the first to recover. “She’s a Hunter.” Disbelief and fury coated his tone.

“Yet that mattered not to Amun or the demons,” Zacharel pointed out. “Where is your joy? Your friend now has a chance of surviving.”

A chance. Grim words when they should have been hopeful.

The day Strider had busted into Amun’s room, the angels had been talking of final y kil ing the insane warrior. They’d given the Lords enough time to fix him, they’d said, and the Lords hadn’t fixed him. The phantoms had begun to seep into the hal way, trying to escape the angels, the fortress, and enter the world.

Strider wouldn’t al ow that. He wouldn’t al ow Amun to be harmed, either. But he real y wouldn’t al ow Ex near him.

“The day I arrived, you said the female was infected. What did you mean by that?” He would have asked before, but after visiting Amun that first time, he’d been kind of busy sandpapering his skin off in an effort to expunge the evil.

“I have not been given permission to share those details,”

the angel said, his frostiness not thawing a single degree.

Zacharel cared about permission? Shocker. “Who do you need permission from?”


Of course. The head honcho. “Wel , where is he?”

“With his Bianka. They were arguing, and he gave her possession of their cloud. No one is to disturb them for any reason. There are neon signs al around the palace saying so.”

Okay. Strider didn’t real y understand a word of that. A cloud palace? Why would Bianka’s possession of it matter? There was no one bigger or stronger than Lysander—except Strider. And unless Bianka went total Harpy on Lysander, which she wouldn’t do because Harpies were supposedly physical y incapable of harming their consorts, there was no way the petite stunner could overpower the angel.