She’d covered herself before he had attacked, and the urge had passed. Eventual y. Even then, remembering, he wanted to strip her, take her.

No way. No way in hel . She might be the loveliest female he’d ever beheld, but she would be more trouble than a Hunter. She was a consummate liar and an unrepentant thief. She kil ed indiscriminately, and wel , she was stronger than him. Talk about embarrassing!

Plus, the first time she had visited her sister Gwen at the fortress, Strider had noticed several of the warriors eyeing her as if she were a lol ipop. She hadn’t seemed to notice or care, and he hadn’t wanted to compete for her affections. He’d made the right decision, too.

He stil couldn’t believe she’d slept with Paris.

Paris. Ah, okay. Her need to find “Strider” was beginning to make a little sense. He was with Paris, so what better way to spend time with the warrior without admitting what she real y wanted?

That didn’t bother Strider, but damn it al to hel , he didn’t like being used. “If you’re here to win Paris’s everlasting love, you’ve already failed. He now knows beyond any doubt that Sienna is stil out there, and he’s desperate to reach her. You’re not going to make him jealous by cuddling up to me and you’re not—”

“Wil you just shut up?” Kaia snatched a box of Red Hots and popped open the lid.

He snatched it back before she could eat a single one, and Defeat purred with satisfaction.


“Mine,” he snapped. Enough was enough.

Rather than attack him, she merely anchored her free hand on her perfectly shaped hips. “Lookit. I didn’t want to kick things off this way, but you’re being an asshat. So here it is.

Paris was a one-time thing and not just because he can’t ever come back for seconds. Yeah, he gave me about a bazil ion orgasms, but afterward I didn’t like how I felt and I couldn’t stop thinking—never mind.” She was scowling as she shook her head. “What I’m trying to say is that I’m not here to see him.

I wanted to see—”

“Kaia, darling,” Wil iam said, nearly leaping over a stand of beef jerky in his haste to reach her.

Strider frowned, but he wasn’t sure why.

As Wil iam pul ed her close for a hug, the bastard grinned with utter delight, as if Kaia was just the thing he’d needed to relieve an eternity of boredom. “Are you here to fight the strippers who just enjoyed hours of my company?” He patted her ass in approval.

“Hardly,” she said, tossing her glorious mane of hair over her shoulder with a single flip of her wrist. “I’m here to thank them for keeping you occupied. Please tel me they’re stil with you.”

Wil iam pretended to wipe away a tear. “Knife through the heart, my sweet. Knife through the heart.”

Gods, they were annoying. Wil iam had been trying to get into Kaia’s pants for months. She, of course, liked to string him along.

Which was another reason Strider would never make a play for her.

Kaia would chal enge him more than most, and she wouldn’t care if he lost. Hel , she would want him to lose, even though the loss would bring him days of physical agony. Her sense of rivalry was just as highly developed as his own.

“We’re on vacation, Kaia,” Strider grumbled. “You weren’t invited.”

She waved away his words as if they were unimportant.

“Deep down I knew you meant to invite me, so ta-da. Here I am. You’re welcome.”

“It’s scary how wel you know us. Here, pay for this,” Wil iam said, dumping his candy into Strider’s arms. “We’l be in the car. Making out.”

At first, Kaia remained in place, watching Strider. Whatever she wanted from him, he must not have given to her, because she blew him a kiss and al owed the black-haired warrior to lead her off. Not even trying to hide her actions, she stuffed a Twinkie in the back pocket of her jeans and grabbed a couple magazines before stepping outside.

Strider’s jaw ached from the grind of his teeth as he strode to the register. For some reason, people moved out of his way as quickly as possible. Even the ones standing in line, waiting their turn.

“Uh, I wouldn’t bring this up, except I kinda have to and everything,” the overweight cashier began nervously, “since it’s on camera and my boss, like, watches the film sometimes, but, uh, the little lady took a—”

“I know. Just add it al up.” After he paid, he stomped outside, the bag fil ed with candy slapping his thigh with every step. The cool night air failed to dampen his sudden black mood. At least you’re not thinking about Ex now.

Hardly a silver lining. And one that didn’t last. He’d maybe, big maybe, exaggerated his attraction to Ex.

If he’d real y wanted her, he wouldn’t have slept with someone else earlier today. He would have fought for her affections now rather than eventual y, no matter how foolish fighting your friends over a woman was.

Look at Paris. Guy needed sex to freaking survive, but he hadn’t spent quality sheet time with any of those strippers.

That didn’t lessen the sting of being rebuffed, though, and maybe that’s why he’d thought he wanted Ex so damn badly. Because she hadn’t wanted him. Because she’d been a—what? A chal enge. A chal enge he claimed he hadn’t wanted. And he didn’t!

Damn it. No more chal enges. He was taking a break if it kil ed him.

He reached the car, saw that Kaia had stolen his seat in front and practical y ripped the back door from its hinges.

He climbed inside and settled beside the stil sleeping Paris. And what the fuck was that smel ? Cinnamon rol s?

He decided to take his irritation out on her. “You wearing perfume?” he growled, kicking her stolen seat so she’d know he was talking to her.

She twisted to peer back at him, a smile clinging to the edges of her I’m-not-wearing-any-panties mouth.

He’d known she wasn’t wearing any, the little teaser, but he hadn’t needed that kind of confirmation.

Dude. It’s a smile, not a glance up a skirt.

Oh, shut up.

He was talking to himself now. Wasn’t that just great?

“Wel ?”

“Nope, no perfume, but I did visit a bakery just before I hunted Lucien down. Why? Do I smel as sweet as sugar?”

No, damn it, she smel ed like she needed a good licking.

Kaia, in bed. Naked. Splayed. His mind liked the image, and hel , so did his demon. While Strider would rather die than accept another chal enge—figuratively speaking, of course—his demon would go insane without them. Beast fed off the high that came with their victories.

But he wasn’t going to let himself go there with Kaia. Not today, and not ever. Kaia wouldn’t just chal enge him more than most; she would chal enge him about everything, and he would never have a moment of peace.

Defeat practical y rubbed his hands together in glee.

Strider frowned. No, no, hel , no. We aren’t going there.

She’s a Harpy. We can’t win against her. We’l suffer.


A growl. A whimper. Anger and fear, wrapped tightly together and sprinkled with Oh, please, gods, no.

That was more like it. Even if some part of Strider liked the idea of constantly sparring with Kaia, ’cause yeah, matching wits and daggers could be fun and peace was sometimes overrated, he stil couldn’t al ow himself to be with her. Unlike the other warriors, he had never been able to sleep with a woman who had already tasted one of his friends. It was that possessive streak of his. There was simply no way around it.

Although…for Ex, Haidee, he’d been wil ing to make an exception. Which meant his competitive nature was stronger than his possessiveness. Kaia, though, wouldn’t be extended the same wil ingness.

Defeat gave another growl, this one laced with…

disappointment? No way. I’m just tired. Imagining things.

His demon only cared about battles, not a specific woman.

Kaia final y gave up on Strider and turned back around.

Wil iam maneuvered onto the highway, the caddy gobbling up the miles. Of course, he resumed his flirtation with the Harpy.

For a little over an hour, Strider ate his candy and fumed.

Yes, vacations sucked. At the next rest stop, he might just ditch his companions and head off on his own. Except, when Kaia giggled at something Wil iam said, Strider decided waiting to reach a rest stop was dumb. He’d get out now and hitchhike. That kind of feminine delight was grating to his nerves. Yes, grating. Not enchanting.

He definitely needed distance between him and Kaia. Then he’d stop thinking about her. Stop reacting to her. Stop caring about her past. After al , he’d just gotten out of a bad

“relationship” and didn’t need to endure another. Plus, that’s what had happened the last time he’d left her. He’d left, and al the torment had stopped. Granted, his reactions hadn’t been quite as strong back then, but there was no reason to think this time would be any different.

“So where are we going?” Kaia asked no one in particular.

“Nowhere,” Strider replied.

“To kil Gil y’s family,” Wil iam answered easily.

Strider needed to have a chat with the man. You didn’t undermine your friends. It was worse than cock-blocking.

Kaia tossed Strider a shut-your-mouth frown before bouncing in her seat. “Do I get to help? Please!

Can I? You may not know this, but I’m very handy with a blade of any kind, a hacksaw, a whip, a—”

“Hey! Someone went through my bag,” Wil iam said.

“So?” Kaia continued, as if Wil iam hadn’t spoken.

“Whatever the weapon, I’m good with it.”

He would not be impressed. “We won’t be using weapons.

We’l be smashing jugulars.”

“Oh, oh! We can play Who Can Smash More!”

“No, we can’t because you can’t help,” Strider said at the same time Wil iam blurted out, “I’d be disappointed if you didn’t help.”