Kaia the Wing-Shredder. The name echoed through her mind, a dream come true and so much better than the one she’d once given herself. “I—” Didn’t know what to say. Never in a million years—or fifteen hundred—had she expected to hear those words leave this woman’s mouth.

“Just so you know, I do not hate you. Yes, I was genuinely angry that you disobeyed me all those centuries ago. Yes, your actions were disappointing. You were supposed to redeem yourself, but you never did and I tired of waiting. When I realized you’d found your consort, I knew you would either lose yourself completely or at last discover the warrior you were always meant to be. And yes, that means I’ve been keeping tabs on you all this time. That means I also helped ambush you—for your own good. I was quite proud that you fought off the Hunters and figured out our plan.”

That wasn’t a confession of love, either, Kaia noted. But then again, abrupt, harsh and unchangeable, that was Tabitha. Was she a liar, though? No. Never. Tabitha stated her thoughts and that was that. Always. Knowing it, Kaia felt her chest swell with emotion she could no longer hide. Her mother did not hate her!

Did this mean they were getting together for Christmas? She doubted it, but hell, this was more than she’d had in years. She’d take it. ’Cause really. Her mom didn’t hate her. She would never get tired of thinking that. Rock on!

“I can’t say I’m grateful for the tough love,” Kaia replied, “but I’m happy with my life.”

Strider’s satisfaction slipped around her like a cloak.

“Now you’re strong enough to keep what’s yours. Of course you’re happy.” Tabitha limped forward to close the distance between them and extended her arm. “Here.”

Frowning, Kaia accepted…a Skyhawk medallion for warriors. A new one. A nicer one than Juliette’s. Her eyes were wide as she slid the leather band around her neck. The wooden disk was light, cool to the touch, and yet managed to burn her deep.

“Visit me soon, and we’ll…talk.” With that, Tabitha faced Juliette. “I have long enjoyed your company, as you have enjoyed mine. I knew you and Kaia would one day come to blows, and that was justified. She took your consort. My only hope was that she would be somewhat prepared for your attack. Now she is.

“But you should have struck at her consort rather than Bianka. After all the years I spent training you, I would have hoped you’d have learned that the punishment should always fit the crime. And so, for your actions this day, I leave you to the fate you have brought upon yourself. An ass-kicking from my daughter.” Having said her piece, she turned and stumbled away.

She truly doesn’t hate me. Kaia sniffled, trying not to cry from joy. Her mother hadn’t exactly defended her, and had called her only “somewhat” prepared, but still. No hatred!

And now to keep what’s mine… “Looks like it’s just you and me now,” she said to Juliette. “We’re gonna battle this out.”

Satisfaction spread over her enemy’s face. “Oh, really? You won’t let your slaves jump in and save you?”

“The angels and Lords are my friends, not my slaves, though I realize that concept is foreign to you. And why would I allow them to take over? I’m going to soak the ground with your blood. Fair and square.”

Juliette’s gaze shifted to Strider, narrowed, and Kaia halfway expected her to challenge the warrior instead. “Winner leaves with your consort.”

Bitch. “No way in—”

“Do it, baby doll,” Strider broke in, speaking out loud this time. He kissed her cheek. “There’s no doubt in my mind who’ll win this thing.”

She had failed him last time, but he still trusted her. She could feel it. Determination rose inside her, an unstoppable tidal wave. Juliette would suffer for issuing that particular demand.

“With no interference from anyone,” Juliette growled, not liking the complete disregard for her skills.

“Done,” Kaia replied. “Weapons? I’ll let you pick. I’m sweet like that.”

“Hand-to-hand. And no fires, bitch.”

“Can’t handle a little heat?” She was too coldly resolute to resort to the flames, anyway. “Very well. But the way I hear it, you’re out of practice with the hand-to-hand thing. Isn’t that the real reason you didn’t enter the games yourself?”

Juliette’s nostrils flared. “You’ll find out.”

Strider looked as if he wanted to argue the fire thing; instead, he gave her another kiss. Still trusting her. The tidal wave became a tsunami.

“When I’m done with you, there’ll be nothing left,” Juliette added as she discarded multiple daggers and a gun.

“You’re so deluded I feel sorry for you.” Kaia discarded her own arsenal. She watched as the angels forced the Eagleshields to crawl away, preventing them from helping Juliette in any way. The Lords went with them. Strider brushed his fingers along her spine one last time before limping away from her.

Just like that, she and Juliette squared off, circling each other, hatred pulsing off the woman and vibrating in the air. You made a critical mistake, Julie girl, she projected. Throwing Strider into the mix had guaranteed that Kaia wouldn’t mess around. This was serious and she would act without any hint of mercy.

Wait for it…wait…

“You think you’re invincible, now that you’ve defeated your mother,” Juliette snapped. “Well, clearly she didn’t give the fight her all.”

“Whatever you need to tell yourself.” Wait…


“I’ve watched during each of the competitions.” The smugness had returned to Juliette’s tone. “Know what I noticed?”

Wait… “That you’re inferior in every way?” Wait…

Eyes narrowing… “That you lack control.”

How ironic. Right now Juliette’s emotions were driving her every move. She thought Kaia was distracted. Kaia wasn’t; she was simply prepared.

A shriek echoed. Juliette’s body tensing…flinging toward her…


Just before the other Harpy reached her, Kaia leapt into the air, wings working overtime, backflipped behind Juliette. Having witnessed what Kaia had done to Tabitha, Juliette had suspected the move and quickly spun. But Kaia had suspected that move and quickly performed another flip. Once again, she was behind Juliette.

Before the Harpy realized Kaia had changed locations, Kaia grabbed her wings, claws sinking past skin and into tendon, and ripped with every bit of her strength. Exactly as she’d done to her mother.

A patented Kaia the Wing-Shredder move, and as easy as licking the bowl of her favorite ice cream during Fertile Week—aka Hell Week—but then, what did you expect from a woman with a name like hers?

Strider whooped. “That’s my girl.”

Juliette grunted as she fell face-first against the sand. She tried to pull herself to her knees, but she no longer had the strength, and simply collapsed. Blood pooled around her, as promised, the stark crimson nearly obscene against the purity of the white granules.

The Eagleshields were silent for several heartbeats, their shock palpable. Then, gasps sounded.

Grinning, Kaia crouched beside her nemesis. Juliette’s pain-filled eyes looked past her. “We’ve both hurt the other. Let that be enough. I’ll even say I’m sorry it came to this. But, and hear me well, if you come after anyone I love, I will ruin you. And you know I can do it now. I have the Paring Rod and I will take your soul without remorse. Plus, I’ve got those goody-goody angels on my side. You shouldn’t have pissed them off. Enough said.”

She didn’t wait for a reply. Juliette might taunt her about not truly knowing how to utilize the Rod or might even push her to do something she didn’t want to do. Namely, take the woman’s head. So she stood and walked toward Strider.

Grinning, he met her halfway.

KAIA SPENT THE REST OF THE DAY making love to her man, in her bedroom, of all places. Being in her Alaskan house, the very house where he’d once broken her heart, was surreal. Anyway, he’d gotten an infusion of strength after her victory against Juliette. An infusion he’d put to very good use.

Now, she lay in his arms, sated beyond compare. She owed this man so much. Her current state of happiness, yes, but also her confidence in herself. She was strong, but he’d made her stronger. Because he trusted her, saw deeper than the surface, never caring what other people thought of her, never caring about her mistakes. And he wasn’t afraid to love her for who and what she was, changing her the furthest thing from his mind.

“I love you,” she told him.

“That’s because you’re smart. Further proof—look who you ended up with. Me, rather than that shithead Paris.”

She chuckled. Did her good to hear him discuss his friend with amusement rather than resentment or jealousy. “Didn’t you have something else to tell me?”

“Yes.” He sighed. “Here goes. Speaking of Paris, I have to head up to the heavens to help him find his not-so-dead girlfriend. I promised him. I told you that before, right?”

“You did.”

“Good. I want you to go with me.”

As if she had to think about it. And her willingness didn’t just spring from a desire to remain by Strider’s side. She wanted Paris happy. “Of course.”

“Thank you. And I love you, too. Not only do you make me happy, you make my demon happy. You feed him in a way I hadn’t known he needed, making me stronger than ever. That’s why I’m challenging myself to make sure you’re blissed out for the rest of your days.”

She groaned. “You have to stop doing that.” If he was hurt—again—because of her…

“Don’t worry. I’ll let you convince me of the merits of not challenging myself, baby doll.”

“And just how will you let me convince you, hmm?”