Yes, possession, she realized. His demon was a part of him, but Strider was a part of her, essential to her survival.

“Strider,” she gasped. “My Strider.”

Perhaps his name on her kiss-swollen lips pushed him over the edge, because he released another roar, the crazed sound echoing off the walls. His entire body tensed over hers. Absolute pleasure consumed his face and he pumped inside her a final time, coming…coming…shooting her straight into another climax.


SHE’D BURNED HIM. LITERALLY burned him. Strider had blisters all over his body. Or at least, he’d had them. The moment he’d climaxed, jetting inside her, his demon had climaxed, as well. Kaia, a strong, capable Harpy, had surrendered to them, utterly and completely, giving them every thing, all that she was, and the unending pleasure that knowledge had wrought in him had given way to shocking strength. The blisters had begun healing mere seconds after forming.

He’d never experienced anything like it. And now he felt…invincible. Yeah, that was the word. He could do anything. Could topple an army, find Pandora’s box, whatever. His demon felt the same, was even then moaning with abandon, still lost to the sensations.

Somewhere during the time Strider had spent on his knees, feasting between Kaia’s legs, and the time she’d spent on her knees, feasting between his legs, being her best had ceased to matter. He’d wanted only to be with her. Her, Kaia. No one else.

She’d become his sickness and his cure, shooting him to heights he hadn’t known existed.

Now he rolled to his side, keeping her tucked against him. He didn’t want to let her go. Not now, not ever.

She buried her head in the hollow of his neck, her silky hair tickling his skin. They were both sweat-soaked, and her body temperature had cooled only slightly. His favorite, though: she glowed. Damn, did she glow, all the colors of the rainbow shining from her skin. She made his mouth water for another taste, when arousal should have been impossible. For a year, at least.

Her fingers traced along the edges of his azure butterfly tattoo, the ink seeming to rise up to meet her, as if craving more of that heat. A deeper burn. He’d never before allowed a female to fondle the mark. That’s where Defeat had entered his body, a constant reminder of Strider’s stupidity. Sometimes he looked at the jagged ink and felt ashamed. Just then, he liked that it was there. He liked Kaia’s attention to the details.

“You’re not…hurt, are you?” she asked in a voice full of gravel.

When he wanted to bang his chest and whoop with pride? “Opposite of hurt.”


“Really.” She asked that a lot, as if she didn’t dare believe his words. “Didn’t even need my safe phrase.”

She chuckled, but her amusement quickly washed away. She stiffened, getting serious. “So you had a good time, then?”

He flattened his chin against his sternum, looking down at her. She had her own face angled down, so he saw only that crest of red hair. “Are you serious?”

Clearly offended, she huffed out, “Would I have asked otherwise?”

“Did you not hear me roar? Twice?”

“Yes,” she admitted softly. “I did.”

“And you still want to know if I had a good time?”

“Well, you’re not in pain, as you said, so you know you were my best. But there’s no way for me to know about you unless you tell me.”

Ah. He opened his mouth to respond, but she’d only just warmed up to her subject. “And really,” she continued, “you resisted me for so long. You never wanted to be with me. You made sure I knew we were only temporary.”

Temporary. The word settled inside his head like a bomb seconds away from detonation. The thought of this woman with another man, naked like this, sated like this, sharing like this… Every cell in his body screamed in protest. Mine.

If he committed, she would expect forever.

Usually the word forever made him cringe. Just then, forever didn’t seem like enough time with her. There were too many things to talk about, to do, too many ways to have her, and still practice the old stuff.

Did that mean he…loved her?

That thought didn’t make him cringe, either. But loving her would mean putting her needs above his own, above his mission, above everything. If he did that, and then later lost her…losing her would mean losing everything. More than that, she would challenge him constantly, whether she meant to do so or not. She would demand his attention and she wouldn’t let him get away with shit.

But—and that was a BIG but—he’d thought he would hate living that way. In fact, he’d thought he needed a break from the challenge of simply being who and what he was, which was why he’d gone on that vacation with Paris and William. A vacation that hadn’t lasted long. He’d been bored out of his freaking mind within a day. Bored and more restless than ever, searching for…something.

Which might explain why he’d gone rushing to Kaia’s side the day she’d called him from jail. Which might explain his decision to act as her consort, without wanting to sign on for double occupancy. But that didn’t explain what he felt now. Possessive on a bone-deep level, protective and exhilarated.

Bottom line, he needed to be challenged to survive. Not only because the victories from those challenges fed his demon, keeping the little shit happy rather than frothing inside his mind, but also because he felt so alive. And when he was with Kaia, he wasn’t just alive, he was sizzling. Inside and out.

He recalled how desperately he’d craved her one night when he’d found her in the hallway of the fortress, dressed only in a purple robe, her hair in disarray around her shoulders, her nipples hard and peeking through the thin material, her feet bare. She’d looked well-pleasured and aroused at the same time and he’d wanted to sate that arousal in a way previous lovers had failed to do.

Thank the gods Paris had stuck his head out his bedroom door and tossed Kaia her slippers before Defeat locked on the challenge of having her. Or so Strider had thought at the time. He’d walked away from Kaia and blocked all images of her from his head. Since that moment, however, he’d been grumpy, no one able to satisfy him. Even his reluctant crush on Haidee hadn’t helped distract him from the Harpy. Now…

His satisfaction was unparalleled. So was his desire to keep this woman with him. To never again let her go. To never again walk away from her.

Yeah. He loved her.

He wasn’t shocked by the revelation. He’d probably known on some deep, primal level all along, he just hadn’t wanted to admit it. Had fought it. No more fighting.

Kaia was it for him. The one he wanted, needed, had to have. She was the beginning and the end. His. His in every way. His other half, his needed half. He’d resisted her appeal far too long, convinced himself she would be like all the others. But how could she be like all the others when she was so much more, in every possible way?

To tell her or not to tell her? Would a declaration from him distract her from the games?

“Strider?” Her tone was hesitant, as if she feared she’d scared him.

When you looked on the surface, she was cocky, confident and unmanageable. When you looked deeper, you saw how vulnerable she truly was. He hated himself for not seeing those vulnerabilities sooner. How many times and in how many ways had he hurt her over the past few weeks?

He squeezed her tight. “You know I won’t lie to you, right?”

And he’d thought her stiff before. “Right.” So much dread layered that single word, all hope disintegrated.

Even as he ached for her, he tried not to grin. “Then here it is, flat out. You were… Shit, there aren’t even words to describe how good you were. I’ve never experienced anything like it, like you, and I loved every damn moment of it.”

“Really?” she asked again.

“Oh, yeah. Really.”

“Well.” She kissed his chest, and she sounded self-assured when she added, “That’s because I’m made of awesome.”

“And dipped in awesome.”

“And sprinkled with awesome.”

“Gods, I love the taste of awesome.”

Another chuckle escaped her, warm and rich as wine. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure. And I mean that. You’re a goddess, Kaia.”

Another kiss, soft and sweet. “Nah. That’s just a rumor one of my old boyfriends started.”

A grin quirked the corners of his lips. “So.” He traced his fingertips up and down the ridges of her spine. “When will you be fertile?”

“Why? Do you want a baby?”

“Hell, no. Are you kidding? I’m scared enough about the day when Maddox and Ashlyn’s little Strider and Stridette are running around.” Although, he almost…liked the idea of a little redheaded brat wrecking havoc on the fortress, driving him insane, challenging him every minute of every day. That “like” sort of panicked him. “I asked about fertile-time because I’m trying to figure out when I need to buy stock in Trojans.”

She scraped his nipple with her teeth. “Smart-ass. Harpies are only fertile about once a year and I don’t hit that part of my cycle for another eight months. Plus, you only have, like, a one in a million chance of making an immortal with me anyway.”

“Actually, I have a one in ten chance of making a felon.”

A laugh bubbled from her, and he relished the carefree sound.

Pride filled him. I did that. “Why such low odds?” he asked, curious. If she thought him lacking in that department, well, he’d haul her ass to a specialist, do the cup thing and prove just how exceptional his little swimmers were.

Ego check.

Well, they were.

“Because of my paternal heritage,” she said, a bit hesitant. “The Phoenix have never made children easily. That’s why they’re nearing extinction.”

“If it’s so hard for them to procreate, how’d your mother have twins with one?”