“Glad you’re finally up to speed. It’s sad, really, that you need so much explanation.” The sparkle in her sister’s eyes dimmed. “Anyway, you told him how you felt about him and he rejected you. He’ll be annoyed by any further contact you initiate, and an annoyed demon-possessed warrior is a global disaster waiting to happen.”

“I know.” If she had realized his importance to her sooner, she wouldn’t have slept with his friend Paris, the keeper of Promiscuity. Otherwise known as Paris the Sexorcist, a male so sensual he could make your head spin. And if she hadn’t slept with the Sexorcist, Strider the Stupid wouldn’t have rejected her.


Or maybe he would have. Because to her consternation—yes, consternation, and not an all-consuming, organ-flaming rage—he kinda sorta desired another woman. Haidee, a pretty female who belonged to his friend, Amun, keeper of Secrets.

At least Haidee was off-limits, and Kaia didn’t have to worry about Strider getting handsie. Honor among evil demons, and all that.

But damn it, just the thought of his gaze on another woman caused Kaia’s nails to elongate and sharpen, her fangs to sprout and her blood to boil. Mine, every cell in her body cried. She would kill anyone who made a play for him, as well as anyone he made a play for; she wouldn’t be able to help herself. Her dark side would take over, driving her to protect what was hers.

“Seriously, he’s lucky to be alive, and not just because I want to chop off his man parts and feed them to zoo animals while he watches,” Bianka continued. “Any man who can’t recognize your worth deserves a good torturing.”

“I know.” Not because Kaia was anything special—though she was, kind of, maybe…damn it, she used to be—but because no one could reject a Harpy without suffering severe consequences.

Actually, most Harpies would have taken Strider despite his wishes. So maybe she was the stupid one for allowing him to push her away. She just wanted him willing. She needed him willing. To abscond with him was to defeat him, and to defeat him was to hurt him.

She couldn’t bring herself to hurt him. Even at the expense of her sanity.

“You’re too good for him, anyway,” Bianka said, loyal as always.

“I know,” she repeated once more, lying this time. She would only ever be a disgrace to her clan. He deserved better.

Her sister sighed. “But you still want him.” A statement of fact, not a question.


“So what are you going to do to win him?”

“Nothing,” she said, fighting a wave of depression. “I chased after him once.” And he’d found her lacking. “I’m not going to do it again.”


“No. A few weeks ago, I challenged him to kick more Hunter ass than me.” Hunters, the enemy out to destroy all things demon. The fanatics who loved to go after innocents who dared get in their way. The pre-dead humans who would meet the tips of her claws if they approached Strider again.

Well, if they dared approach him with a weapon in hand. She might let them crawl toward him to apologize for the trouble they’d caused throughout the centuries. Torturing the Lords—only she was allowed to do so. Blowing up buildings—yawn. Could they be any more B-movie? Sooo irritating. Decapitating the keeper of Distrust—okay, that one was a little more than irritating, considering Strider was still messed up about it and everything.

Speaking of Distrust’s murder, Haidee had helped carry it out. Yep, that Haidee. The one Strider desired.

Kaia didn’t understand it. If he could want Haidee despite her crimes, why couldn’t he want Kaia?

“I wanted to help him kill the men who were after him. I wanted him to see how capable I was,” she added. “I wanted him to admire my skill. But did he? Noooo. He was pissed. He raged about all the pain I was going to cause him. So I let him win. Freaking let him. You know I never throw a fight.” That smacked of weakness, and too many people viewed her as weak already. “And how did he thank me? By telling me to get lost.” Hu-mil-i-ating. “Now, let’s change the subject.” Before she threw a temper tantrum and razed the mall to the ground. “What look are you going for?” she asked, flipping through the racks herself.

“Slutty yet sophisticated,” her sister said, allowing the change without comment.

“Good choice.” She rubbed her tongue against the roof of her mouth as she studied the colorful array of garments. “Think dressing up will help your sitch?”

“Gods, I hope so. I plan to let Lysander rip the garment off me, make love to me in the dirtiest way possible, and then, while he’s trying to catch his breath, drop the big, bad bombshell on him and run like hell.”

Something Kaia would have loved to do with Strider—the dirty loving part, anyway—but he wouldn’t give a shit about anything she told him. As he’d already proven. “What are you going to say to Lysandy, anyway? Exactly.”

Bianka shrugged her seemingly delicate shoulders. “Exactly…I don’t know.”

“Try me. Pretend I’m your disgustingly in love angel consort, and confess.”

“Okay.” A sigh, a straightening of her spine, then lovely amber eyes were staring over at Kaia with trepidation. “All right. Here goes.” A pause. A gulp. “Darling, I, uh, have something to tell you.”

“What is it?” Kaia said in her deepest voice. She propped her elbows on the bar, the hanger hooks digging into her skin. “Tell me quickly because I need to spread my happy fairy dust and wave my magic wand when—”

“He doesn’t spread happy fairy dust! He’s a killer, damn it.” The indignation drained as quickly as it had formed. “But as for that magic wand…” Bianka shivered, smirked. “It’s really big. Probably bigger than Strider’s.”

Kaia just blinked at her, waiting.

Her sister inhaled deeply, exhaled slowly. “Fine. Continuing. Darling, for the first time in forever, my family has been invited to participate in the Harpy Games. Why for the first time in forever, you ask. Well, funny story. You see, my twin sister did the dumbest thing and—”

“I’m sure you’re exaggerating about that part,” she interjected, still using that deep voice to mimic Lysander. “Your twin is the strongest, most intelligent female I’ve ever met. Now tell me something important.”

“Anyway,” Bianka went on smoothly. “I’m not sure why we’ve been invited, but a gold embossed card demanding our attendance came via Harpy Express a few days ago. We can’t refuse without bringing intense shame to our entire clan. We would be labeled cowards, and as you know, I’m no coward. So…I’m leaving in one week, and I’ll be gone for four. Oh, and each of the four agreed upon events involves bloodshed, possible limb removal and definite torture. See ya.” She gave a pinkie wave, stilled, then waited for Kaia’s response.

Kaia nodded. “I like it. Firm, informative and unwavering. He’ll have no choice but to let you go without a fuss.”

Some of Bianka’s worry melted away. “You really think so?”

“Gods, no. I don’t, not at all. He’s gonna flip his lid. For real. You’ve met him, right? Protective to the extreme.” Lucky girl. “So what about this one?” She held up a barely there confection with thin silver chains connecting the sides.

“I think it’s great. Perfect, actually. I also think you’re a brat.”

She flashed an unrepentant grin. “You love me anyway.”

“Like you said, my IQ has dropped.” Bianka chewed on her bottom lip. “Okay, so. Here’s how I think it will go after I confess. First, he’ll try to stop me.”

“You got that right.”

“Then, when he realizes he can’t, he’ll insist on going with me.”

“Right again. Are you good with that?” Everyone would make fun of her for hitching herself to a do-gooder. Even their mother. Especially their mother. Tabitha hated angels more than most, since she’d always thought their youngest half sister’s father was an angel and had blamed the man for Gwen’s supposed weaknesses.

“Yeah.” Bianka smiled dreamily. “I’m good with that. I don’t like to be without him, and really, I will slaughter anyone who speaks ill of him, so that’ll add spice to my days.”

“Not to mention weed out the competition because I will help you with those slaughterings.” How she wished she could take Strider with her.

Actually, no, she thought next. Thank the gods he wasn’t going with her. She was reviled among the Harpy clans. She would die of mortification if he saw her own kind turn their backs on her, and she would fall into that shame spiral if he ever heard her despised nickname.

A soldier like Strider prized strength. She knew because she was a soldier like Strider.

Of course, her next thought struck hard and cut deep— Haidee was strong. The bitch. Though (mostly) human, the girl had managed to defeat death time and time again, coming back to life to fight the Lords. Until she’d fallen in love with Amun.

If I didn’t adore Amun so much, I’d send that female back to the grave—for the last damn time! No one caught Strider’s notice without suffering unbearably.

Maybe before Kaia left for the games she’d ensure the girl acquired a raging case of head lice or something. No one would be hurt, Strider would be repulsed and Kaia would feel like she’d accomplished some sort of revenge. Win-win.

“Are you listening to me or have I lost you to the thought train again?” Bianka asked, exasperated.

She pulled herself out of her head. “Yes, I’m listening. You were talking about something…of great consequence.”

“You were listening,” her sister said, hand fluttering over her heart. “Anyway, thank you for offering to help punish everyone who insults Lysander. You’re my favorite enabler in the world, Kye.”