Fury wasn’t a strong enough word to describe the heat coursing through Simone Brightston as she strode out the front door of her Seattle penthouse building, a too-calm demon on her heels. Even through her anger, instinct whispered that a calm demon was a hundred times more dangerous than any raging warrior—which only pissed her off more.
And this demon . . . she didn’t know. The devoted suitor of a century ago had been replaced by the cold and deadly warrior behind her.
“This way.” Without waiting for her to acquiesce, Nicholai Veis wrapped one warm hand around her arm and turned her toward a black Ducati, sleek and sparkling, waiting by the curb in the morning hour.
She jerked free and arched one perfectly manicured eyebrow. “You’re riding bikes now?”
His lids lifted in a curiously deliberate way to reveal those black as midnight eyes. “When in Rome.” Low and cultured, his voice gave no hint as to his baser nature.
But she knew. Oh, she knew him and the animal he barely kept in check. He’d broken her heart once without a hitch in his stride, but that was nothing compared to the horrendous things he’d done since in the name of the demon nation since. “Seattle is hardly Rome, and this has gone on long enough.” In the building, she’d left family who needed her help. Family who’d pretty much betrayed her by asking Nick to secure her somewhere safe.
“Get on the bike, Simone, or I’ll put you on the bike.” His tone didn’t falter a bit, remaining rough and harsh.
She paused and turned to more fully face him, curiosity winding through her anger. Could she take him? As a witch, a powerful one, she could reshape matter by applying quantum physics, and she could burn his ass with plasma. For well over a century, she’d trained.
Yet so had he. Demons could attack minds, and this one could fight physically with the prowess of a shifter and the precision of a vampire.
He waited patiently, that gaze knowing. A killer more than comfortable in his own skin. “Is this really the place?”
“The battle coming. Witch against demon, your powers against mine. You against . . . me.” He leaned in, and the scent of an oncoming storm came with him. “Are you sure you’re ready?”
“Oh, I’m ready.” She let her voice go husky and threat fill her eyes.
He smiled then. A quick flash of teeth against his bronze face, turning harsh angles into masculine beauty. He had the blond hair, black eyes, and mangled vocal cords of a pure-bred demon, but even among his own people, Nick Veis was something . . . more. He’d done it all, he’d seen it all . . . hell, most folks thought he’d planned it all.
From the downfall of dictators to the protection of fate’s chosen ones . . . Nicholai Veis was the male to call. He fought with no remorse and killed more easily than he breathed.
Even though she was a tall woman, he looked down several inches at her, somehow not towering. Nick had the rare ability to seem peaceful, when he was anything but. He ran his hand down her arm to her wrist. “If we fight here, your cousins will come running, and they have enough going on.”
She drew in air, her mind spinning. “That is exactly my point. Demon Prince Logan Kyllwood has been kidnapped, and as advisor to the Kyllwoods, you should help save him and not worry about me.”
There it was. A flicker of the boiling feelings that must be ripping Nick apart showed in his eyes before being quickly veiled. “Zane Kyllwood can get his brother back, especially with your cousins assisting in the rescue.”
Aye. Witch Enforcers and demon soldiers working together? The kidnapper didn’t stand a chance. Yet Simone lifted her chin anyway. “I do not require your assistance.”
“That’s unfortunate.” Keeping his grip on her arm firm, he threw one leg over the bike. “Get on, Simone. We’ll go to the mat later.” His phone buzzed, and he used his free hand to retrieve it from his pocket to read the face. His eyebrows lifted. “The Guard will be here in two minutes.”
“Good.” She set her stance. The Guard, an elite Irish force tasked with policing the witch nation, was arriving to take her into custody, and as a member of the Coven Nine, she was prepared to state her case to the ruling body of witches; after all, she was one of them. Of course, she’d known at some time she’d have to face charges, just not the ones being issued at the moment. “I’m not running.”
“I’ll fight them, and I’ll win.” Arrogance, hard-won, stamped his face.
Aye, he probably would win, even though the Guard were some of the best Irish soldiers the Coven employed. “You’ll start a war between our peoples.”
“Yes.” His hold tightened. “Not only that, but if the Guard catches you here, right outside of your building, where the witch Enforcers are currently preparing for battle to help demons, the Guard will know the Enforcers disobeyed orders to contain you. Your cousins will face treason charges.”
Dread slammed into her abdomen. She swallowed. “I’m a self-centered bitch, and you know it. My cousins created their own demise.”
He chuckled then, easily zeroing in on her weakness. “Oh, I agree you’re a bitch, Simone, but you’re so far from self-centered it isn’t in the ballpark. You’d do anything for those cousins, and your façade doesn’t fool me now any more than it did last time we met.”
She tried to eye the area around them for some escape, but nothing was apparent. The male was right in that she’d give her own life for Kell, Daire, or Adam, who were her cousins and three of the Coven Enforcers. “Just let me go.”
“No.” Apparently finished with the conversation, he swung his torso and lifted her, landing her squarely behind him.
Her ass hit the leather seat. Damn it. How in the world had she forgotten his strength? Even for a demon, his was unreal. To lift her with one hand, and he wasn’t even breathing hard. Before she could protest and burn his ears off, he ignited the engine and roared into the street.
She yelped and grabbed his dress shirt with both hands, leaning in for balance.
Nick Veis handled a Ducati like he did everything else in life . . . using control edged with a hint of violence. The contrast between the elegant demon official that he showed the world and the primal being lurking inside him showed just how far he’d come since this latest war had ended. The elegance was merely a mask for the cold predator lurking beneath.
She wasn’t the same wide-eyed girl he’d played with before. It had taken years, but she was as tough as they came, and she could handle him. “Let me go.” She leaned up to hiss in his ear while allowing plasma to course along her hands. Creating flames out of oxygen calmed her.
The fire bit into the back of his dark shirt, and smoke rose.
“Dammit, Simone,” he bit back, swerving to avoid a school bus.
She allowed the fire to dissipate. Burning him held little appeal at the moment, with him driving and her life in his hands. But the sight of the perfect handprints burned into his shirt made her smile.
Leaning into him, she allowed herself just one moment to feel. The chill of a Seattle morning, still misty and damp, had no power over the warmth from the demon. Firm lines and smooth muscle filled her palms. It had been over a century since she’d touched him, and if anything, he felt harder than ever. Streamlined and tough.
As a soldier, he was unbeatable . . . but his true strength lay in strategy. Zane Kyllwood now ruled the demon nation because Nicholai Veis had protected, groomed, and then defended him until it was time to take over.
There was a moment, centuries ago, when she had believed that Nick would sacrifice his entire future for her. How wrong she’d been, and there was no going back. Even now, with peace ruling, Nick was one cold bastard.
“You’re out of my life,” Simone whispered, more to herself than to the warrior.
He stiffened and turned his head to the side, deftly driving around a series of potholes. “No, I’m not, and you’d better get used to that fact right now.”
Why the hell was he doing this? She opened her mouth to say something, anything, when a flash of silver caught her eye, and a black SUV careened out of the nearest alley.
The Guard had found her.
Nick hit the brakes, dodged around a honking compact car, and gunned the engine. The bike leaped forward with a growl of power.
His nape tickled, and he focused on the moment.
The SUV veered left behind him, fully visible and making a move.
Not good. Totally not good in a fucked way. Witches were masterminds at dropping nets on prey, and if they were showing themselves, they’d already created a nice little trap in downtown Seattle.
He’d rushed right into it the second he’d gotten the call that Simone was in danger.
He increased his speed, and a woman with an armful of shopping bags screamed and jumped out of his way. The tension from the woman holding him so tightly ratcheted up his heart rate, so he took a deep breath and allowed his body to relax, banishing all emotion.
Another SUV tore away from the curb, nearly clipping his back tire.
He sped up, and towering buildings blurred together on both sides of the street. Not one of his sources had reported Guard members entering the country, so they’d flown in under the radar. The witch Enforcers were unaware of their presence, and there was no way to interpret that as a good thing, considering the Enforcers and Guard usually worked in tandem.
Nick allowed adrenaline to flood his system, effectively sharpening his reflexes and senses. A whir above him stiffened his shoulders. A Black Hawk? The Guard had gone all out.
The helicopter maneuvered gracefully through the buildings, keeping above him, tracking easily.
Honking cars and screeching brakes pierced the day behind him as the SUVs kept pace.
“Pull over,” Simone hissed into his ear. “We can’t outrun them.”
No, but perhaps they could get to safety of a sort. Even the Guard wouldn’t risk a full immortal fight with human witnesses. So he kept driving, avoiding a wreck, knowing full well the risk he took.
The skyscrapers turned to three-story buildings. Then homes. Finally, trees began lining both sides of the road and filling the air with the scent of pine.
“Where are you going?” Simone whispered against his ear, her breath hot.
A shiver wound through his body to his groin. Jesus. He was about to take on a cadre of witches, and his cock wanted to play? Simone Brightston had always destroyed his system.
It was a relief to know that she still could. In his darkest moments, he’d wondered whether he’d ever find his way back to warmth. “I have a cabin prepared for you.” At least then, they’d have a chance.
The roar of pipes echoed through the trees, and within seconds, men on careening Harleys and dirt bikes surrounded them.
Nick hunched over the bike. “Hold on,” he yelled.
Her thighs tightened on his, and she slipped both arms around his waist to hug tight.
Two men moved in on either side of them, and he smelled shifter. What the hell? Turning, he eyed the closest threat. Lucas Bryant? A grizzly bear lieutenant? What the fuck?
Lucas narrowed his dark eyes and jerked his head toward the rider on the other side.
Nick glanced the other way to see another man draw a gun from his jeans. The shifter smiled.
Nick shook his head.
The shifter lowered the gun toward Nick’s front tire.
Damn it. Nick leaned to the left and kicked out with his right leg, hitting the guy in the ribs. The male’s eyes widened, and he flew off his bike with an animalistic bellow, his bike dropping and spinning around in his wake.
Nick yanked to the side, swerved to avoid the shifter’s head, and drove straight into the forest.
Simone screamed and tucked her face against his neck, her hold tightening until his ribs protested.
Branches whipped into them, and the bike skidded on wet pine needles. Instinct guided him as much as his enhanced senses, but he didn’t know these woods. The bear shifters careening through the trees in his wake certainly did.
His only hope was to outrun them and find shelter. The Guard’s helicopter was visible through the treetops, but at least he’d lost the SUVs.
The bike hit a patch of tree roots and shot up in the air. He held tight and corrected when they came down, jerking the handlebars before opening the throttle again. The trees thickened, providing cover but less visibility.
“Where are you going?” Simone yelled into his neck.
There were more weapons at his cabin, if he could just outrun the shifters. He turned right, barely missing a sapling, and then snapped around another tree. Branches scraped his cheek, and his left eye watered, so he used his right.
Lucas Bryant flew out of a bunch of cottonwoods, his bike in the air and his gun already firing.
Nick tried to jerk away, but a bullet sliced into his front tire. The explosion was deafening.
Panic swept him. They pitched into the air. He turned, enfolded Simone, and wrapped himself around her as much as possible, protecting her head with his arms. They flew through the forest, hitting trees and branches.
Pain exploded through his back.
His head impacted with a tree, and stars flashed behind his closed lids.
Something shattered in his shoulder a second before agony ripped through his neck. Simone’s screams echoed in his head, gravity took over, and his skull cracked.
Unconsciousness took him before he felt the ground.