Kaia. Defeat. Two words that had become synonymous to him.

Harpies were all about survival of the fittest, and that he could dig. Because of Gwen, he knew that sleeping in front of humans—or anyone but their consort, for that matter—was forbidden. He knew they were not allowed to reveal a single weakness to anyone—even their consorts. And they were never, ever to steal from their sisters. If they broke any of those rules, they were punished.

Damn it, what the hell was he going to do about her? She could take care of herself against anyone except another Harpy. Plus, Kaia would need every advantage she could get. Like, first and foremost, resting. She would need to rest between games, whatever those games might be. She thought Strider was her consort, so she would only rest with him at her side.

Second, she would need someone to ensure she ate properly. Look how she’d allowed herself to waste away in jail.

Third, she would need someone to guard her back if she stole anything, and knowing her, she would steal a lot of somethings. Preferably someone who didn’t have to guard her—or his—own back, as well.

Half the participants usually died, Gwen had said. Half. Harpies showed no mercy, took no prisoners. For whatever reason, Kaia would have a bull’s-eye on her back.

If he did this, if he went with her…he would have to find a way to steel himself against her appeal. Because, no matter what, he couldn’t sleep with her. Not just because of Paris, but because she would view any intimate contact as a commitment, as a Harpy/consort bond. A forever kind of bond. No way was he signing on for a lifetime sentence.

Could he resist her, though?

Better question: Could he protect her? If her enemies learned who he was, they could use his demon against her. They could challenge him to hurt her. They could challenge him to destroy her.

Win? Defeat said, raspy voice drifting through Strider’s head.

Shit. I stopped myself from going there, so you do the same. Please.

Win, the demon repeated, a demand this time. A demand that held a tinge of fear.

Too late, he thought. Defeat had gone there, and there’d be no backing off. Win, against any Harpies who try to hurt Kaia?


Yep. Against the Harpies who tried to hurt Kaia. Why? She isn’t your favorite person. Why have me protect her?

Win, win, win.

Why he’d expected an answer, he didn’t know. Unlike some of the other demons, his had a very limited vocabulary. Guaranteed, he’d gotten the short end of the stick. But…maybe Defeat recalled just how good a victory over Kaia felt, and wanted more. If she died, he couldn’t have more. Or maybe, possessive as even the demon was, Kaia was their personal battlefield, and others weren’t allowed to play there. Ever.

What he did know? He was going to the Harpy Games.


KAIA LOVED WATCHING MOVIES, but right now, she felt like she had the starring role in a horror flick called Slumber Party Massacre. Only instead of a sleeping bag and a teddy bear, she carried a hatchet—call her sentimental—and a serrated blade.

She strode with her sisters down a long, dark hallway, seemingly alone, weapons clutched in their hands, too. Weapons were also hanging from their waists and rising from their backs. If the Bad Guy truly had been watching from the shadows, waiting to strike, he probably would have seen them moving in slow motion, their hair blowing in the breeze. Also, scary music would have been playing in the background.

Too bad this wasn’t Hollywood.

Taliyah was in the middle. She was the oldest among them by far, as well as the strongest, the deadliest. Tall, slender, pale from head to toe, she looked like an elegant ice queen—and had a personality to match. Emotions were not something Taliyah allowed herself to experience. While Kaia had always striven to be like their mother, Taliyah had opted to be the opposite. Logical, level-headed, a planner.

Bianka and Kaia flanked her sides, with Gwen on Kaia’s left. At one end of the Estrogen Brigade was Sabin, at the other was Lysander. Typically at events such as these, consorts were supposed to trail a few feet behind, but these men were hardly archetypal. They were equals. Beloved. Determined to protect.

Each of the women radiated a white-hot tension that blended perfectly with Kaia’s own. All thanks to the very stupid Strider. He wasn’t going to support her. Earlier today Gwen had led her to believe…had made her think…hope…crave…oh, well. Strider hadn’t shown up, even though she and her sisters had waited outside for half an hour and were now late to the meeting.

Stupid, stupid Strider.

Doomed, doomed Kaia.

Well, she had finally written him off and admitted that she was better off without him. He was rejection, humiliation and heartbreak wrapped in a pretty package. She could find another pretty package without all the extras, thank you.

At least Bianka and Gwen would be well-guarded, and that eased her stress somewhat. But if anyone so much as threatened them because of what Kaia had once done, she would turn the Slumber Party Massacre into Blood, Bath and Beyond, a documentary by Kaia Skyhawk.

And if anyone teased Bianka about dating an angel, well, they, too, would have a starring role in that documentary. Sadly, she had a feeling there were going to be a lot of starring roles.

At first glance, Lysander looked every inch the do-gooder. His hair gleamed as if the strands were gold silk. His skin was just as pale with only the faintest hint of rose. He wore a long white robe, his golden wings tucked in, the tops arching over his shoulders. He had no visible weapons. But then, he didn’t need them. He could create a sword of fire from nothing but air. Only after a second glance would the Harpies realize he was a warrior through and through, muscled and brawny, with a ruthless determination to protect what was his.

By then, it’d be too late.

Sabin, well, everyone would know what he was the moment they spotted him: a badass lacking any type of moral compass. He had brown hair and ocher eyes, his features a study of harsh planes and sharp angles. More weapons spilled from his six-foot-seven frame than an entire human army could carry, and his every step reminded her of a dying heartbeat. Thump. Pause, pause. Thump. But, uh, what was with the bullhorn in his hand?

There’d be no teasing Gwen about him, but her little sis would probably have to beat the ladies off him. Sabin was everything Harpies admired. Wicked, ungoverned by society’s rules and way beyond dangerous.

A danger readily apparent, even though he wore a T-shirt that said I’m Not a Gynecologist, but I’ll Take a Look.

Kaia wanted to buy one of those for Strider.

Finally they reached the doors to the auditorium of the elementary school. Yes, an elementary school. In “Brew City,” Wisconsin.

Only this morning had the texts gone out, informing everyone where to go for Game Orientation, and the location had puzzled her. A million years ago, orientation had been held in a wide-open field several miles from civilization. Sure, times had changed. But an elementary school? Really?

After expressing his own puzzlement, Lucien, keeper of Death, had flashed her and Gwen, dropping them off at the school’s front doors. Lysander had flown Bianka in, and Taliyah had simply materialized from what looked to be a thick, dark mist. Girl had developed a new ability, apparently, but when questioned, had refused to give up the deets. Like what the ever-loving hell could she do? Kaia had never, in all her centuries, seen anyone step from a misty doorway of their own creation.

Wasn’t fair, either. Taliyah already had a kick-ass ability. She could shape-shift. Not that she ever used the ability. But now she could do this, too, yet Kaia couldn’t do anything cool.

Pouter! Kaia stopped when she reached the auditorium doors. They were closed, a murmur of voices drifting through the tiny crack between the metal slats. A tremor slid down her spine, vibrating into her limbs.

Taliyah stopped, too. She sheathed her weapons and placed a firm hand on Kaia’s shoulder, her crystalline gaze pointed. “You know I’m with you, no matter what. Right?”

Her heart swelled with love as she shoved the hatchet and blade into their holsters. “Yeah, I know.” Her mother might have written her off, but her sisters never had. They supported her. Through anything, everything.

“Good. Then let’s do this.”

Taliyah pushed open the double doors, the hinges squeaking in protest. Without the barrier, the murmurs became full-blown conversations. Conversations that died as all eyes swung to the newest entrants.

Kaia searched the sea of faces she hadn’t seen in centuries, but didn’t spot her mother. Or any other Skyhawk for that matter, despite the fact that there were close to a hundred females watching her through narrowed eyes. She raised her chin. Several of the ladies reached for sword or dagger hilts, but none so much as stepped toward her.

All that hate-filled attention should have intimidated her, she supposed. However, Kaia found herself delighting in it. She was strong, stronger than ever, and she would prove herself. Finally.

Finally they would know she was worthy.

Tabitha could take her “almost improved” and shove it up her—

“Well, well. Look who decided to join us, everyone. Kaia the Disappointment. And company, of course.” The familiar voice echoed from the walls. Juliette the Eradicator. “What a surprise. We thought you’d opted not to enter, which would have been a very smart move on your part. But then, you’ve only got half a brain, isn’t that right?”

Annnd here were the twins-only-got-half jokes again.

Juliette went on, “I feel obligated to warn you that you will lose, and you will not have fun when you do. Or survive. Not that I’d know anything about that. I’ve taken home the gold in the last eight games. But I guess you wouldn’t know that, seeing how you weren’t invited to them.”

Bianka growled, Taliyah tensed and Kaia gritted her teeth as she faced her nemesis.

Juliette stood in the center of the stage. Tall, toned and stunning, she had shoulder-length black hair and eyes of the purest lavender. She wore a tank top and a short skirt that revealed the tattoos inked into her legs. Ancient godly symbols that bespoke revenge. Loosely translated, each one meant “the redheaded bitch must suffer.” Nice.