Kaia hmphed at him.

“Just try not to destroy the entire neighborhood,” he snapped. Nobody listened to him anymore.

Slitted eyes returned to him. There was no hint of black in the whites, so he knew her Harpy was under control. “Why are you so grouchy?”

“I’m not grouchy. Only women are grouchy.”

“You’re grouchy,” Wil iam said.

“You’re grouchy,” Strider said. Realizing he sounded like a child, he leaned forward and propped his elbows on his knees, his face in his upraised hands. What the hel was wrong with him?

Wil iam snickered at him. Kaia simply continued to watch him, her expression unreadable.

“Wel , grouchy or not, Stridey,” she said, “I have news that wil cheer you up.”

Leaning forward had been a dumb move. The scent of cinnamon and sugar was stronger now, enveloping him, making his mouth water. Would Kaia taste as delicious as she smel ed?

Suddenly she stiffened. “You smel like a woman’s peach-flavored body oil.”

Did he? He thought back to the stripper he’d had on his lap at Paris’s ranch, and yep, he remembered smel ing peaches. Kaia must have hated peaches, though, because she was obviously planning to murder the maker of that oil.

“I. Wil . Destroy. You.” And yep, black now bled into the white of her eyes. Her nails had already lengthened and sharpened into claws, and those claws were embedded in the plastic console between the driver and passenger seat.

Hel o, raging beast.

Mental note: never eat peaches in front of Kaia.

Win? Defeat said on a trembling breath, the question having nothing to do with uncertainty this time, and everything to do with being cowed.

Yeah. Good luck with that, buddy. She’l eat you for lunch and spit out your scales. “I’l wash, okay.”

Strider jerked upright, as far away from her heavenly aroma as he could get. “And just so you know, I don’t care about your news.”

“I cannot kil him,” she muttered to herself. “I cannot kil him. I promised Bianka I’d stop at ten bodies a day, and I’ve already surpassed my quota for the fifth day in a row. I cannot kil him.”

As far as pep talks went, that one kind of blew. But it calmed her, the black in her eyes fading and those claws receding.

Strider peered out the window, wil ing to count the trees that whizzed by rather than peer at that too-pretty face. “Now listen up, buttercup. Stri-Stri is going to take a little nappie-poo. Everyone hush their big, fat mouths.” Better to be bored pretending to snooze than accidental y piss Kaia off again.

“Fine. Sleep.” Al kinds of irritation layered her husky voice.

She wasn’t squawking, though, which was another excel ent sign that the danger had passed. “Just know that while you’re catching up on your much needed beauty rest, you’l miss my story about how many Hunters I bagged and tagged this week.”

“Good.” She’d bagged and tagged a few? He tried not to look intrigued, even as he rethought his strategy. “Go ahead and start your story. I’m sure I’l be so bored I’l nod right off.”

“No. You’ve been a bad boy and don’t deserve a reward.

Therefore, I won’t tel you that there’s a certain Hunter on your trail and he’s closing in.”

“Someone always is.”

She blew out a frustrated breath. “I also won’t tel you—”

He snored as loud as he could, just to be contrary, and almost laughed when she uttered a quiet shriek.

Part of him liked this verbal sparring. Liked annoying her and feeling the sparks that nearly sizzled from that petite body.

“That’s it! Do you hear me, Strider? That’s it! I chal enge you to listen to me. Now.”

That he didn’t like.

As his demon jumped up and down in his head, now desperate to win, Strider glared at Kaia, pretty face be damned. And he didn’t give a shit if he pissed her off, either. “I knew you’d do this. I knew you’d chal enge me.

You’re just like every other female I’ve ever known. No, wait.

You’re worse. You know what happens to me when I lose, but you chal enge me anyway.”

Hurt flashed over her features, there one moment, gone the next. Surely he was mistaken.

Harpies—especial y this infuriating Harpy—didn’t do hurt. Ever. “You know you can win this.”

“So go on, then,” he snapped. “Talk. I’m literal y dying to hear what you have to say.”

Kaia ran the pink tip of her tongue over her teeth, and his stomach clenched in reaction. She could have refused him and sent him to his knees in gut-wrenching pain. Instead, she finished her little speech. “You captured Haidee. Her boyfriend and his fol owers have been chasing you. There.

Done. You listened and won.”

He didn’t feel like he’d won. And neither did his demon.

There was no rush of pleasure, only a need for a real chal enge. Something he’d have to work for. I don’t wanna work for anything, remember? Stil . Everything inside him froze. His heartbeat, his lungs.

The rush of blood in his veins. “There’s more. Tel me the rest.”

“Fine. Here it is. While you’ve been playing around, I’ve been chasing the boyfriend and those fol owers of his.

There’s something odd about each of them, by the way, but the boyfriend most of al . They’re…I don’t know, darker than other humans I’ve been around. They made me feel…icky, which is why I made them hurt real bad before I disposed of them. You should have seen them. After I took my blade and—”

“You’re digressing, Kaia.”

“Am not! Now where was I? Oh, yeah. The boyfriend. I couldn’t get close enough to him to figure out what bothered me. He’s dark and wily and like I said, he managed to evade me, which means he’s good, very, very good at evading because I’m very, very good at tracking. Did I ever tel you about the time I—”


“Anyway, you haven’t been able to evade him. He’s close, he’s fil ed with piss and vinegar and he wants to make you his bitch.”

“How close is he?”

Her chin lifted stubbornly. “Close enough that you’re lucky you weren’t shot down inside that little gas station.”

Yet she hadn’t said anything while they were there. Hadn’t given him a chance to set a trap. She’d laughed and stolen food and let him take his time. Then she’d carried on a conversation with Wil iam, mile after mile, as if there were no pressing issues. To punish him for not welcoming her to their group, he knew. Harpies were as vindictive as they were destructive.

Most. Frustrating. Female. Ever.

His fingers dug into his thighs to keep from strangling her, and he knew he’d have long-lasting bruises.

“Why were you fol owing him?”

One delicate shoulder, bared because of the lacy pink top she wore, lifted in a shrug. “When everyone left the fortress, going their separate ways to hide artifacts and stash their women safely away blah, blah, blah, I fol owed you. I figured you’d see the most action, and I was right.”

Fuck. He must be losing his touch. He’d never even sensed her.

“You’re welcome, by the way,” she continued. “You grabbed Haidee and carted her off, but you left a blood trail straight to your motel room door. They were set to raid the entire building when I took al but the leader down. That little bastard escaped, and you should have taken him out when you had the chance, because he gathered more men. I’ve been hot on his heels ever since.”

“You’re hot, al right. But seriously, how’d you meet up with Lucien?” Wil iam asked, inserting himself into the conversation.

“Anya and I keep in touch. I told her I needed to borrow her gentleman friend and she agreed. For a price,” Kaia added with a tinge of anger. “And someone in this car is going to reimburse me.”

“Gentleman friend. Nice.” Wil iam opened his mouth to add something else, probably to tel her he would gladly pay.

Strider beat him to it. “Whatever it was, I’l take care of it.”

He owed her. He guessed. But he didn’t like it, and didn’t want to be indebted to anyone.

“Good. Then you owe me a ten-minute Frencher.”

He blinked, certain he’d misheard. He’d expected Hunter hearts or severed limbs. “Anya made you kiss her?”

“Yeah. And at our next stop, I’l expect you to deliver.”

“I’l pay,” Wil iam piped up. “After you describe everything about that kiss you two shared. Did you cop a feel? You did, didn’t you, you little hussy. I bet you moaned a lot, too.”

“Too late for you to pay,” she said in a sing-song voice.

“Strider already offered, and I already accepted. And no, I won’t do any describing. You can just imagine how sexy it was. Oh, and Wil ie. Just so you know, your imagination won’t do it justice.”

She was lying. She had to be lying. But why would she lie about a kiss? What could she possibly hope to gain by forcing him to kiss her? Strider leaned back in his seat and stared up at the roof. No answers were forthcoming, and he doubted they ever would be.

Besides, he had more pressing matters to deal with. Like Haidee’s psycho boyfriend. How close was the son of a bitch?

Win, Defeat said inside his head. Win, win. It wasn’t a question this time. On any level.

Great. The boyfriend wasn’t even here, but the chal enge had been heard, accepted and must now be met.

“Pul over,” he told Wil iam for the second time that night.

“Why? There’s no store.”

Kaia flicked Strider another glance and grinned. “Now there’s the demon warrior I’ve come to know and love. He wants to set a trap, Wil ie, and we’re going to help him.”

“Nope. I’m getting out and doing this solo,” Strider announced. Wil iam had people of his own to kil , and Strider didn’t want to spend any more time with Kaia than necessary.