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At first there’s silence, then suddenly there’s boisterous laughter, and I grin to myself while swishing my ass that is clad with red lace panties.

“May be just a little too distracting,” Gage groans.

“You wanted pretty. My ass in lace is as pretty as it can get.”

“I think it’s her vanity that always catches me off guard the most,” Ezekiel says on a rumble of laughter.

“I prefer to hear it called confidence,” I once again point out.

“I think it’s her greed that surprises me. Wanting all the jewelry and fancy dinners we bought the other women,” Kai muses.

“Not greed. I’m not really all that greedy, to be honest. I spent five years coveting the gifts you gave these women as tokens of your brief but passionate affection. They didn’t even know you, yet you showered them with such things. I still want all that,” I go on. “Even if you do deny me the rest of the fantasy, I still want all the sweet stuff. You might have saved my life, but you did it without effort. I’ve certainly had to exert effort to return the favor. I feel like the tokens of affection could be accepted as tokens of gratitude, and then there could be balance in the debts.”

It grows immediately silent, and I turn to look behind me to see they’ve also stilled.

“It’s not like you don’t have the money,” I say on an exasperated sigh.

“It’s just the choice of words you used,” Jude says, not giving anything away with his tone or expression.

A screech from below sounds before the earth starts shaking hard, and Kai is pitched to the side. The others shout for him as he falls toward a lava stream below us.

I zap down, landing on the last ledge before the cliff, and I turn whole just in time to grab his hand as he falls by me. His hand immediately clasps mine as my hair falls around my face.

Light beams around me, almost blinding the both of us, and I jerk him onto the ledge before the light disappears and I tumble to the ground in my phantom form, my heart racing so fiercely that I almost can’t stand, even without gravity hindering me.

Kai is panting heavily as he drops beside me, and he says, “You’re a lot stronger than you look.”

I laugh humorlessly, staring up but not able to see anything.

“What the fuck happened?! All we saw was a blast of light!” Gage shouts.

“I’m alive,” Kai calls out. “The rest can wait,” he adds, though it sounds as though he’s just talking to me as he pushes up to his feet.

He groans as he stares at all the lost progress.

“I’ll meet you at the top. Don’t linger. I don’t want to know what just shook the earth that hard,” he calls out.

He studies me for a minute, but I turn away and start hiking again, electing to stay with him so that he’s not left down here alone.

“Will you be able to make it three days without giving in to the urge to solidify?” Kai asks me.

“No. My level-up has its own form of balance, it seems,” I answer on a sigh. “How much can Lucifer see?”

“Not really sure, but I doubt he can see in caves. You can turn whole in those to rest and gain strength,” he says to me. “We’ll have to break for rest anyway. This place will drain our energy.”

“But you’re at your most vulnerable when you sleep. I’ll just rest an hour at a time. It’ll be enough.”

“It’s obvious Lucifer has an interest in you, possibly even knows what you are. If you go whole, you’re at your most vulnerable, and you’re not a participant in the trials. He can haul you out and execute you. You know he’s stronger, and he might know of a way to stop you from escaping.”

“Careful. You’re starting to sound like you care, and that conflicts with your selfish image,” I say, lightening the mood.

The more they act like they care, the more attached my stupid little heart tries to get to them. Like it’s starving for all the scraps of attention.

“It gets old,” he finally says with a shrug.

“What?” I ask as we move up higher on the mountain, our pace brisk to make up for lost ground.

“It gets old,” he says again. “The game. It’s always the same. The only time we shook things up was when we tried to tackle relationships. Once we even tried to have a relationship with four women, and they were game for it. Sex was together, one woman at a time. They didn’t find out about each other, but when they did, things got bad. It’s the only time favorites didn’t matter, because we were all someone’s favorite. Yet…”

“They didn’t like sharing their favorite,” I decide to say.

“Yeah. They didn’t mind sharing the rest of us, but the favorite was off limits. Even that proved to weaken us. Our bond is the only thing that steadies us. We’re a volatile explosion waiting to happen, and the bond is the glue that holds us together both individually and as a unit. Anything that threatens the bond is the worst threat to us.”

“What about being all together in the same room with different women?” I muse.

“Tried that too. It’s not…I don’t expect you to understand, but we bonded when sharing, and sharing only strengthens the bond. We don’t feel whole when we’re not sharing.”

I bet the bleeding hell rocks have synced up their mensies

“I think I know why you’re all so moody,” I say as though it’s just dawned on me. “You all have your man-periods at the same time.”

“I’m not even sure how to respond to you when you abruptly shift directions and say shit like that, and half the time you take silence as a sign of being moody,” he murmurs distractedly.

“Episodes of homicidal rage. Uncontrollable lust. Middle-of-the-night pizza cravings…Yep. You’re all totally synced up like these menstruating rocks,” I go on.

I get the usual groan.

“I mean, it’s right there in the word. Menstruating. It’d make more sense to define moody men.”

“Feel free to talk about anything else,” he grumbles. “Unless you want to keep hearing silence.”

“You’re just grunting and groaning, not really staying all that silent,” I inform him.

He gives me an impatient look.

Oh, yeah. I need back on the original topic. “For the record, I totally didn’t want any of you touching anyone else, and that made me feel selfish. If it wasn’t for the evil vagina that got you all individual hard-ons, what would the answer have been to my proposal?” I ask mildly, glancing at another bleeding rock.

Kai weirdly walks into a cave, and I follow, warily looking around. He spins once we’re deep inside. “Turn whole,” he demands.

I do, and the light is absent this time. I guess the adrenaline must have been playing a part on the cliff.

“What’s going—”

My words are cut off when he’s suddenly on me, kissing me hard as he lifts the flimsy little skirt that doesn’t even cover all of my ass and presses me against the cave wall.

He reaches between us and rips away the scrap of lace, and my breath catches, forcing me to break the kiss, when his fingers find my clit. My eyes almost cross, and I clutch his shoulder, amazed by how much better it feels when someone else touches me than when I touch myself.

Ignoring the terribly inappropriate timing, my lips hungrily find his, and I moan into his mouth as he starts working a finger inside me, his thumb still working those incredible circles at the exact right speed and perfect pressure.

I can’t even think.

He kisses his way down my throat, and my nails dig into his tux jacket as he drives me insane with very little effort. The orgasm hits me so much faster than it has under my own manipulations.

My entire body shudders and comes alive with sensation, and I kiss him even harder, needing more of him as I clench around his fingers, not feeling that hollow sensation quite as much.

He manages to break the kiss, pulling back as he pants heavily and stares into my eyes. He brings his finger up and sucks it like he’s tasting the most intimate part of my body from the one piece of his body that has touched it.

My eyes grow hooded, and that uncontrollable desire spikes even more like I’m caught in a haze.

He closes his eyes like he’s savoring the taste, and my hands mindlessly go to his belt, undoing it like now he’s mine to have. His hands clasp around my wrists, halting me, and I look up to see his taunting smirk.

“If we could have you, I wouldn’t be so selfish. I’d make sure you were well sated before taking mine, and I’d make you crave me as often as possible. The fact that I’m not your favorite kills me. But because of that aching need to be your favorite, I know you’d be the end of us.”

He pushes away and starts walking, while I try to gather my senses. I shift back to my phantom form, still feeling the aftershocks of my first orgasm that wasn’t self-induced.

Who knew there were varying degrees of pleasure like that? Just a taste and I’m addicted.

“Truthfully, you’re totally my favorite right now,” I tell him honestly as we exit the cave.

He half groans, half laughs, a tortured sound that fills me with a weird sense of accomplishment.

He stares up at the cliff that bypasses the hiking trail.

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