Black struck again, taking the other hand.

Haidee released another agonized scream. Dizziness swam through him, as did more of that pain, but he didn’t al ow himself to even grunt. He compressed his lips and held everything inside, watching as White lifted the unattached hands and studied them.

“Nice and strong,” she said with satisfaction.

“I think I’l like his feet better,” Red said. “We can actual y walk a mile in his shoes.”

Every member of the Rainbow Brigade laughed.

Tel them…tel them to start…the next round, he managed to gasp to Haidee. He didn’t dare look up at her. She was sobbing, he could feel the icy splash of her tears on his cheeks. Those tears would unman him, enrage him, and now wasn’t actual y an optimal time to fight the Horsemen.

Silent, ignoring his demand, she placed her own hands over his gushing wrists and an icy sheen spread, stopping the crimson flow and causing Secrets to scramble to the back of Amun’s mind…fade. The other demons screamed as Haidee had done, rushing to hide deeper inside him.

“The old cards are covered in blood,” she said. “Here’s a new set.” Then she released him, picked up the new deck and shuffled. She was trembling. Amun couldn’t find the strength to send her away, no matter how desperately he needed his demon’s aid.

The second game started a moment later, but his brain was foggy, his reactions slow. He wasn’t sure how he remained in his chair, but he did. He wasn’t sure what cards the Horsemen possessed, or even what kind of cards he possessed. His vision swam, blurring the numbers and pictures.

“What do you want me to do?” Haidee asked him, fear wafting from the words.

“Yes,” White said. “Tel us al .”

Do you know how to play? he asked, ignoring the Horsewoman.

Haidee gave the slightest nod.

He peered at his cards, wil ing away the haze. His determination paid off, and he final y saw what he had.

Better than what he’d expected. He concentrated on the flop, again staring until his eyesight cleared. He needed an ace of hearts and he’d have a royal flush. Anything else, and he’d have nothing.

What did his opponents have?

Nothing with the potential of his hand; he would just have to work that to his advantage.

In the first hand, no one had folded. Because they hadn’t been playing for stakes, just the end results.

Time to change that. Tel them we want to up the pot.

After only a moment’s hesitation, she did, and each of the four leaned forward, utterly interested. Amun outlined his demands to Haidee, and she peered down at him for a long while, eyes wide and face pale.

Do it! he snapped.

“I have a proposition for you al ,” she said. “If you lose, each of you wil owe my friend here a year of service when you final y leave this place.” Something they would find reprehensible, Amun knew. “And if he loses, wel , he’l give you more than just his feet. He’l give you me.”

That isn’t what I said, damn it! He’d told her to offer him, al of him. Tel them what I real y said. Now.

She shook her head, enraging him.

The Horsemen studied the flop, gauging what cards Amun might have. They had to know how close he was to that royal flush—or think he had one already, since he was risking everything.

“If you fold now, however,” she went on, “you wil be exempt from the new agreement.”

Haidee, damn it. Tel them they can’t have you! If you don’t, I’l do it. I’l start speaking, and you know what happens then. He wouldn’t risk her, not for any reason.

She didn’t.

He opened his mouth.

“The new terms are acceptable,” Red said before he could utter a single word.

And just like that, there was no backing down. The stakes had been set. Amun wanted to vomit.

White and Black folded, eliminating fifty percent of the competition and leaving only Red and Green. As he’d hoped. The rest of the flop was dealt, and Red practical y hummed with satisfaction.

Green threw his cards onto the floor and spit on them. He hadn’t gotten what he’d wanted.

“What do you have?” Haidee demanded of Red.

He flipped one card, then the other. Ful house, Amun realized, queen over nines.

Haidee sucked in a breath. “Amun wins.” Grinning now, she tossed his cards at Red. “You lose. Both you and your friend owe him a year of service.”

Merciful gods. He’d gotten his royal flush.

Al four Horsemen pushed to their feet, scowling over at him, their auras pulsing brightly. Red and Green even leapt at him. But everything—the males, the female, the smoke, the tent—disappeared in flash, before a single point of contact could be made.

The cave once again surrounded him and Haidee.

They were alone, he realized just before the haze returned.

He was bombarded with relief, and that relief wiped out the adrenaline rush he’d fought so hard to maintain. He col apsed, unable to hold his own weight a second longer.

He was panting harder, sweating more profusely, the pain no longer hidden by duty.

How? he asked. He was certain he’d won that final round How? he asked. He was certain he’d won that final round through dishonorable means. Not that he cared. He simply needed to know in case the Horsemen returned and chal enged him.

Haidee crouched at his side and placed the backpack on his stomach. “The angel said the pack would give us everything we needed to survive, so I asked for a deck of cards that would stay ordered in a way that would give you an undefeatable hand, even after I shuffled them. And now I’m asking for literal hands.” As she spoke, she stuffed his arms inside.

The movement blasted the pain to another level, and he passed out before he discovered the results.


STRIDER POSITIONED HIMSELF on the thick branch of an oak tree, surrounded by lush foliage and darkness. The clouds were thick and gray tonight, shielding the moon and stars and scenting the air with promised rain. The perfect atmosphere for fighting. Of course, he would have said the same thing if the sun had been shining brightly.

Planning an ambush was a lot more fun than vacationing with a horny immortal of questionable morals, a depressed, drugged-out warrior looking for his lost love and a forked-tongued little Harpy who rubbed his nerves raw.

Wil iam had decided he wanted no part in the coming battle. Said he couldn’t risk injury when he had more important things to do, or some shit like that. So he’d taken off for Gil y’s family home. Paris had just screwed a random stranger, his strength returned, his body healed, and was in the process of gathering weapons for The Stupid-Ass Chase, as Strider was now cal ing it. But Kaia, wel , she was perched in the tree across from Strider’s, waiting for the Hunters to find them.

They’d left a subtle but clear trail, acting as if they only wanted to camp and screw.

Below them was a tent, a crackling fire that cast only the barest hint of gold, hot dog weenies roasting on a portable gril —turned to its lowest setting, of course—and a lawn chair with a CPR dummy lounging on the plastic. How Kaia had produced the thing, he didn’t know and wasn’t going to ask. The stupid thing looked like him and had clearly been stabbed. Repeatedly. In the groin.

He thought she might have used the dummy for target practice, and tried not to be offended. Key word: tried.

What had he ever done to piss her off? Wel , besides annoy the hel out of her. But that had only happened recently, and she must have had that dummy for weeks.

There were just so many slashes.

Suddenly his branch bounced, the leaves rattling together.

He bit the inside of his cheek. He didn’t have to look to know what had just happened. Kaia had decided to join him. She stil smel ed like cinnamon rol s, and his mouth stil watered every time she neared him.

“You have your own tree, woman,” he pointed out. “You said you’d stay on yours, and I’d stay on mine.”

“Yeah, wel , I lied.” Kaia settled next to him, completely at ease. “That happens. Get used to it. Besides, yours is prettier.”

He didn’t al ow himself the luxury of looking at her. One, he’d already memorized her features. In his mind, he saw the glossy red of her hair, so much like flames. Saw those gray-gold hawk eyes framed by lashes the same shade of red as her hair. Saw that pixie nose, those siren lips. Two, she would distract him—more than she already was. And with her litany of chal enges stil ringing in his head, she’d made certain he couldn’t afford a distraction.

He wished his demon would get the message.

Ever since she’d opened that fire-and-brimstone mouth of hers in the car, Defeat had been supercharged. Eager, humming with nervousness, but also with great waves of anticipation. She was a worthy opponent, strong, brave and fearless. Besting her would be a thril unlike any other, and a sexual high the likes of which he’d never experienced. As many battles as he’d fought over the centuries, he knew it, felt it. Wanted it.

And yeah, some of Strider’s anger with Kaia had drained as they’d staged the campsite. She was just so unabashedly female, so unrepentantly aggressive, and he admired those qualities. But that didn’t mean he liked her liked her.

The burn of her gaze brought him back to the present. She was studying him, taking his measure.

“Why are you here?” he asked, checking the site on the rifle mounted beside him. “Why did you ask Lucien to find me?

The truth this time.”

She sighed, her breath warm as it drifted over his shoulder.

“Maybe I wanted to be with Paris.”

“Nope. Try again. You’ve slept with Paris, and you know he can’t have you again.” Irritation had crept into his voice, and he didn’t know why. What did he care if this gorgeous Harpy had welcomed his friend into her bed? She wasn’t his, and he felt no sense of possession toward her.

“Maybe I wanted to make Wil iam jealous.”

“Please,” Strider said, his irritation rising for whatever reason. “Lucien said you’d specifical y asked for me, and you don’t need me to make Wil iam jealous. He’d offer himself up for your pleasure, even if you just wanted to carve the Chinese symbol for dumbass in his chest.”