Tense, heavy silence as Lucien absorbed the news.

Then a beep echoed around them.

“A text.” Kaia whipped out her phone, stared down at the screen and sighed in relief. “Gwen and Sabin are safe. I told them where we are and they’re on their way.”

Strider experienced a wave of his own relief and hurried on, wanting to get the rest of the deets out before he slipped into unconsciousness. “I don’t know how to use the damn thing. I only know that whoever is holding it can’t ever take what’s inside. They can only give the powers to others.”


A pause. “Lysander can’t find Bianka,” Kaia said now, traces of panic in her voice. “He’s worried, and asks if anyone has seen her.”

“I’m sure she’s—” Lucien began.

Another beep.

Another pause. “Oh, my gods.” Kaia choked on a cry of rage. “No, no, no. No!”

At last Strider found the strength to sit up, concern rocking him. Her upset fueled his own. “What is it, baby doll?”

The rage glassed her eyes as she showed him the screen. Her hand shook as he read, Want sis 2 live? Let’s trade.

His throat constricted when he saw the symbol for an attachment. “What’s the attachment?”

“Attachment? I didn’t notice one.” Her trembling increased as she studied the phone. She pressed a few buttons and choked on another cry. “A video. I see Bianka. She’s tied up. Bleeding.”

After a few seconds’ static, he heard Bianka shout, “Tell her to go fuck herself, Kye!” Then Juliette was speaking over her. “You bring me the Paring Rod in one hour, or I swear to the gods I will remove your twin’s head the same way your bastard of a consort removed Lazarus’s. And if you dare—dare!—think to do your fire thing…”

A screech of rage. “You know what? Bring your consort, too. Either your sister dies or he does. You pick. For every minute you’re late, your precious sister will suffer.” A pause. “Oh, and Kaia. I hope you’re late. Good luck finding us.”



Kaia had used her entire allotted hour to gather her trusted loved ones and friends. They hadn’t hesitated to rush to help and for that she would be forever grateful. All the while, Strider, who was still in obvious pain, kept her calm, assuring her all would be well.

Sweet, darling man. He was directly behind her, his cinnamon scent enveloping her, and she chose to believe him. Plus, she’d realized they were more deeply connected than ever, and he kept feeding her support, uplifting her.

She had defeated her own mother. She could do this, too.

Finding Juliette hadn’t been difficult. Not with Lucien doing his flashy thing. He’d followed her spiritual trail until he’d located her, checked on Bianka (she was injured but holding her own), informed Kaia where to go and then returned to guard Bee, invisible, and no one the wiser.

Lucien’s stealthy presence was the only reason Kaia had yet to rain a world of hurt on Juliette. Same was true for Lysander. Well, that, and Zacharel’s firm hand holding him back.

Anything changed, Lucien would tell them and they’d alter their current plan. A plan to ensure the Eagleshields never tried something like this again.

Taliyah and Gwen at her sides, Kaia marched with her head held high. Strider and his brothers by circumstance were behind them. Lysander and his army of warrior angels were in the air, circling the area, their white-and-gold wings gracefully outstretched. Kaia had been told they were needed in the heavens, some kind of angelic war brewing, but Lysander had brought them all here, instead.

His woman was the most important thing to him.

So, actually, Juliette had messed with the wrong family. For that’s what the people surrounding her were, Kaia thought. Her family. Not a single one of them would rest until Bianka was safe. In fact, they would die for her. Would die for Kaia.

Just as she would die for them.

Won’t come to that. She squared her shoulders, deliberated her surroundings. Juliette had chosen a lovely location. The beach, on this moonlit night, was a deceptively tranquil sight. Across the way, ancient Roman ruins stretched toward the darkened sky and boulders glinted silver. Water washed into sand, creating a soothing lullaby.

Too bad blood was about to spatter and screams were about to erupt.

“Juliette,” Kaia shouted. No more waiting. She wanted this over and done.

A seething, soot-covered Juliette stepped into a golden moonbeam, her hatred so strong it actually vibrated in the air. Her clan formed a menacing line behind her.

Kaia stopped a few feet away, barely out of striking distance, and her posse followed suit.

Juliette seethed, “I’m surprised your half-wit self managed to find me, but I’m very glad you did. We finish this now. Where’s the Rod?”

Rather than answer, Kaia said, “I’m sorry about your consort, I really am, and I wish things could have ended differently, but I can’t change the past. I can only embrace the future. So I’m giving you one chance—only one—to walk away from this. Release my sister and I’m gone. The end.”

Juliette’s reply was instantaneous. “Oh, no. You will not leave this land unscathed.” She snapped her fingers and two Eagleshields dragged a fuming and bloody Bianka to the front of the line. “I believe you had a choice to make, Kaia the Disappointment. Your sister or your man.”

Lysander’s roar of outrage echoed from the sky. Juliette was lucky Zacharel was here to stop him from rampaging.

After Bianka gave a thumbs-up to her man, she met Kaia’s gaze and grinned wickedly. Kaia almost collapsed from relief. Hearing on the video that her sister was well was not the same as seeing for herself, live and in person.

“Told you,” a raspy male voice whispered. Trembling fingers traced the length of her spine. Strider. Despite his pain, he was still showing his support.

And suddenly Kaia could see the humor in the situation. Bianka would forever use this experience to bend Kaia to her will.

You remember the time your enemy kidnapped me? her twin would say. Me, too. That’s why you have to do this one little thing for me.

“Actually,” she said, tossing Juliette a wicked grin of her own, “you have a choice. Surrender or die. Lysander,” she shouted. “You’re up.”

The angels arrowed from the sky. In less than a second, the Eagleshields were on their knees, heads bowed, winged warriors holding swords of fire at their necks.

“Wow, that was easy,” she said. Hopefully, the Harpies would not realize the angels—who lived by a code of conduct Kaia didn’t pretend to understand—were not actually allowed to hurt them without “just cause.” Whatever that was.

Lysander swooped Bianka into his arms, cooing at her, demanding to know what had been done to her.

Bianka kissed her man, then glowered back at a stunned Juliette. Though kneeling, the leader of the Eagleshields didn’t look properly cowed. “Told you that you were dumb to mess with an angel’s consort.”


“Yeah,” Kaia said as she watched the realization finally sink in. “You were defeated that fast.” She snapped her fingers in a parody of the gesture Juliette had used to summon Bianka. “And now that that’s taken care of, let’s discuss a little business. Lysander, will you tell your flunky to nix the fire sword on the brunette and only the brunette, please?”

A moment passed in heavy silence. Then Lysander gave a stiff nod and the dark-haired angel who had Juliette corralled backed away, the flickering sword soon disappearing altogether.

Juliette popped to a stand but didn’t try to run. Wise of her. Kaia would naturally have followed her and the end result would not have been pretty.

“There are only three clans left who can take first prize,” Kaia said. “Mine, yours and the Skyhawks.”

“Not true,” a female said weakly.

Kaia’s mother limped from the shadows to stand beside the angels.

She met Tabitha’s emotionless gaze, trying not to panic. Tabitha had yet to heal. There were smudges of fatigue under her eyes, her shoulders were hunched and her legs shook, as if nearing collapse.

“What are you doing here? Planning to protest my place in the finals?” Kaia lifted her chin, proud of herself. There’d been no hint of her own emotions in her voice. No tremor to give her away. “Well, you can—”

“No,” Tabitha said, shocking her further. “Taliyah told me what was happening. That is why I’m here. I choose to withdraw my team from the competition.”

“What?” Kaia and Juliette gasped at the same time.

Tabitha nodded, the movement almost toppling her. “I simply wanted you to have a chance to prove yourself to the clans, without any aid from me. And so you have. I am no longer needed. And as you can see, I am no threat at the moment.”

Kaia was utterly speechless.

“If that’s true, why did you taunt me?” Strider demanded, speaking up for the first time. His fury lent strength to the words.

“She taunted you?” Kaia gritted out, anger helping her find her own voice. “When?”

It started at orientation, she heard him say inside her mind. Before Tag. He could speak into her mind? She’d known some couples could do so, but she’d never expected to be one of the lucky. Bonus!

Tabitha’s chin rose, a mirror of Kaia’s own stance. So that’s where I got it. Huh.

“I didn’t taunt you, you stupid man.” Amber eyes shimmered with rage. “I warned you of her enemy’s intentions. You’re welcome, by the way. You gave me nothing but grief for my generosity.”

“Don’t call him stupid,” Kaia snapped. Only she had the right. But, uh, her mother had tried to aid her? “And why should he believe you? You hate me.”

I’m fine, baby doll. Don’t worry about me.

There was the slightest softening of Tabitha’s expression as she returned her attention to Kaia. “You’re my daughter…Kaia the Wing-Shredder. That is why he should believe me.”