“So, she won’t take anyone else,” Sabin blurted. “Harpies are territorial, possessive and stubborn as hell. Meaning, they’re just like you and can’t compromise worth shit.”

Gwen frowned. “Hey!”

“Sorry, baby, but it’s true.” Then, “Kaia will take you or no one,” he said to Strider. “That’s just the way it’s sliced.”

“Which is why…” Gwen inhaled deeply, exhaled slowly, her gaze locking on Strider with menace. “You know I love you, right?”

He gave a stiff nod. Shit, shit, shit. Him or no one. A blessing and a curse. He didn’t have time for this. He didn’t want this. He couldn’t spend any more time with her. Had already said goodbye to her.

A goodbye that had come close to rousing his demon. With every step he’d taken from Kaia’s home, Defeat had prowled through his head, wanting to act, to pin her and take her—victory would be so damn sweet—but not allowing himself to do so. Loss would be so damn painful.

Strider had never been happier that the demons of Pandora’s box were afraid of the Harpies. And with good reason. They were descendants of Lucifer, the master of all things demonic.

Plus, Defeat had seen Kaia fight. No matter what weapon she used—gun, blade, claws, fangs—she blazed through her opponents faster than the eye could track. Nice qualities in a date, sure, and definite aphrodisiacs. If your very existence didn’t depend on your victories, as his did.

Strider finished off the last of his candy, and chucked the empty box into the trash bin beside Sabin’s desk. Swish. Two points!

Defeat purred his approval, little sparks of satisfaction shooting through Strider’s veins.

“—listening to me?” Gwen asked.

“Yeah, sure,” he lied, gaze quickly finding her. She was no longer perched on Sabin’s lap. Now she stood a few inches from Strider, her legs braced apart, her hands fisted at her sides. He recognized that pose. “But, uh, give me a refresher. You were saying…”

She rolled her eyes. “I was telling you that you only have two days to take care of any pressing business you might have. Because even though I love you, I’m going to make sure you attend the games. Kaia needs you, and you will be there for her. Or else.”

His attention flicked to Sabin, all what-are-you-going-to-do-about-this. Sympathy filled every curve and hollow of the man’s face, but there was no hint of determination or ire. Okay, so. His fearless leader would be doing nothing. Perfect.

He glared at Gwen. “Don’t even think about challenging me,” he snapped. “I won’t hesitate to retaliate.” Of course, one little scratch on the girl and Sabin would attack him. He’d have to go berserker on his boss, but two victories for the price of one? Bring it.

“As if I would ever use your demon against you,” she replied, startling him. “God, I can’t believe you think so little of me.” She truly sounded offended. Just as he opened his mouth to apologize to her, she said, “I’m only planning to beat the crap out of you, tie you up and have Lucien flash you to where the first meeting is being held. Jeez! Cut me some slack.”

“Only” planning, she’d said. He pursed his lips. “You do realize that beating the crap out of me and tying me up would be, what? Using my demon against me. The loss would destroy me.”

“Oh.” Her features fell. “I hadn’t thought that far ahead.” Then she raised her chin, reminding him of Kaia all over again. “I’ll still do it, though. Just make this easier on yourself and agree to go with her. Please.”

“Begging doesn’t work on me. Neither does crying, just so you know.” Once upon a time when he’d done the dating thing, he’d learned that begging and crying were forms of feminine warfare. Women wanted something, and they did anything to get it.

Admirable, but it hadn’t taken him long to harden his heart against such wiles. Or to decide that long-term relationships simply weren’t for him. As easily as he’d learned about his partners’ ploys, they’d learned about his.

He had to win, and they always tried to use that to their advantage. How many times had he heard some variation of, “Bet you can’t spend the whole day with me and like it?” Countless.

“Well?” Gwen demanded. “Yes or no? Easy way or hard way?”

“How long?” he gritted out.

“Four weeks,” she replied, clearly hopeful.

She could have said “eternity,” so emphatic was his reaction. Four weeks. Four damn weeks with Kaia. Feeding her, protecting her, guarding her with his body if the opportunity presented itself.

His cock twitched with eagerness. This isn’t something to look forward to, you idiot. He’d guard her with his body if circumstances demanded. But even with the rephrase, this had trouble written all over it. Getting in and getting out as swiftly as possible was his M.O. now, and one that worked for him. No one had time to learn his quirks—or use them against him.

Kaia, though, she already knew, and she never hesitated to challenge him. Part of him liked the thrill of that, yeah. You couldn’t win if you never entered the game, and she was all about the game. On the flip side, you couldn’t lose, either.

“What about our war with the Hunters?” he asked Sabin. If there was anyone who liked winning as much as Strider, it was Sabin. Dude would have sold his mom on eBay just to fund a battle. If he’d had a mom, that is.

“I’ve already talked to Cronus,” Sabin replied. “Galen is currently out for the count, too injured to cause trouble, and Rhea is missing.”

Galen, the immortal warrior possessed by the demon of Hope—also, ironically, leader of the Hunters. Rhea, the biggest bitch of a god queen ever to control half the heavens. Both topped his long list of enemies.

“Missing? Still?” He’d known she had disappeared, but he’d kinda figured she’d gone into hiding, since her husband had discovered her most recent treachery against him—convincing her sister to act as his mistress and spy on him—and wanted to punish her. “Is foul play expected?” Not many beings could successfully abduct a goddess.

“Yeah, though Cronus won’t share any deets.”

Maybe because he didn’t have any. That might explain why Cronus had summoned Amun. No one was better at obtaining answers than the keeper of Secrets. “This is the perfect time to strike the Hunters, then,” he forced himself to say.

“No, actually, it’s not.” Sabin cocked a brow. “Remember that girl we saw, the one who accepted the demon of Distrust into her body?”

“No, Sab. I forgot,” he said dryly. They’d both been in the Temple of the Unspoken Ones, and watched as the beings manipulated the air to reveal what was happening an entire continent away.

Galen had somehow found the unfindable. The lost demon of Distrust, crazed and worked into a frenzy. He’d then trapped Distrust inside a room and convinced the beast to possess someone else. A female, a Hunter.

Though they’d made inquiries, they’d never learned anything more about the girl. Not her location, not her condition.

“Attitude.” Sabin tsked under his tongue. “Anyway, Cronus has decided he wants her. He’s got Amun looking into it.”

Ah. So that’s why Amun had been summoned. Rhea be damned, he supposed. But if Sabin knew this, that meant Haidee had known. Which meant she hadn’t wanted to share the information with Strider. A little punishment, he was sure, and he couldn’t blame her.

“What does the girl have to do with us kicking some Hunter ass now?” he asked.

“The Hunters will be scrambling to keep her hidden and too busy to attack us.”

“So you hope. But again, if that’s the case, there’s no better time to strike.”

“If we can find them. Without Amun, we have to rely on our lame-ass detective skills.”

Hardly. “We’ve got Ashlyn.” Maddox, the keeper of Violence, had married a woman with the ability to stand in one location and listen to all the conversations that had ever taken place there. No one could hide from her.

“Haven’t you heard? She’s currently bedbound. The twins she’s carrying had a sudden growth spurt. She’s so big, she needs help getting to the bathroom. Maddox thinks she’ll deliver soon.”

Poor bastard was probably going crazy with worry. Ashlyn was (mostly) human, and therefore as delicate and fragile as a glass vase. Nothing like Kaia, who could— Do not go there. “I don’t know about you, but I’m a damn good detective.”

Sabin shrugged. “Okay, think of it this way. I had a choice to make. Take advantage of our advantage, or take care of my wife. Guess which one I picked?”

When had Sabin become such a pussy?

“At least we don’t have to worry about our boys being hurt because we left them behind.”

As if they’d have to worry about that, anyway. The “boys” were as competent as Strider. Not to mention the fact that they were possessed by baddies like Pain, Disease and Misery. They were all but feral and had no need of babysitters, battle forthcoming or not.

“Well, I still can’t go. I have plans,” Strider said. And I can’t waver, that’s all there is to it. “I promised Paris I’d help him in the heavens.”

“Help him later,” Gwen said, butting back in to the conversation. “Kaia needs you now.”

His body reacted instantly, skin prickling with awareness— Kaia needs you—cells awakening—Kaia needs you—shaft thickening, hardening—Kaia needs you…needs you to touch her, strip her, fill her up.

“I’ll think about it,” he said raggedly, then strode into the hall and headed to his own bedroom before Gwen could threaten him a second time. Once there, he shut himself in and moved to the room’s center, gaze locked on his walls, mind buzzing.

He and Kaia had the same decorating tastes. Weapons had covered her walls the same way they covered his. He wondered if, like his, each piece in her collection belonged to the humans and immortals she had defeated over the centuries.