Though she'd have thought his horns would be off-putting - not to mention his boorish behavior - she was actually feeling an inexplicable attraction to the demon. And she'd already had trouble controlling her urges.
Holly had experienced a variety of fears and idiosyncrasies and had been medicated for them. Now without her medicine...what would she do?
Somehow, she had to get her refills, not only to stifle these compulsions - but also to slow this progression.
Progression? Could she possibly get worse?
She recalled her parents taking her to Pompous Shrink, the "best in the state." He'd droned on and on about her fragile mental health to her poor parents....
"This is a classic case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. An OCD patient experiences a constant fear of transformation," he'd said. "She'll dread losing her sense of self, often experiencing impulses to act out of character. As these impulses can cause a great deal of anxiety, the patient will begin performing compulsive acts in order to suppress them. The stronger the urge, the more compulsive the behavior."
Oh, and there were chemical imbalances, too. "Most likely inherited from her mystery parents," he'd said with a resigned sigh, as if he'd seen this all before. "And exacerbated by Holly's insecurities over being adopted."
She'd never had insecurities about that. Her parents had been incredible - patient, encouraging, and loving. But they'd begun blaming themselves for her unusual behavior, looking for some fault in her upbringing, something they'd needed to provide for her but hadn't.
Her mom had apologized to Holly before she'd died....
At that memory, she dropped her head into her hands.
"Whoa, halfling!" Cade quickly sat beside her. "What's the matter?" When she didn't answer, he said, "I'm not the type of male who's good at this sort of thing, this...comforting. But maybe...do you, uh, want to talk to me about what's going on in that head of yours?"
At length, she said, "It's all so bewildering. I mean, just last night, I was drugged and kidnapped, and then..." She trailed off.
"And then what? Tell me what happened to you."
Her voice had turned to a whisper. "It was horrifying. I woke up, and I was...naked, stripped for some kind of ritual. There were all these men watching me. I tried to reason with them, to beg them to let me go, but they just laughed and ignored me. Then, when it was about to begin, I shrieked."
She nodded. "Louder than anything I've ever heard. And the glass dome above broke. Then lightning struck me directly in the chest, and it went on and on. I don't remember much after that. I just recall feeling this rage, this uncontrollable need to do violence."
When had his hand rested on her back? It was big and warm, and he used it to gently rub up and down. "You've been through a lot. It's normal to react like this."
"Normal for a Valkyrie or for a human?" she asked, sniffling. "I don't quite have a grasp on either, since I've never been fully one or the other."
The truth of that sunk in at that moment. This meant Holly had to reevaluate everything. What was her personality truly like? She didn't recognize herself.
Just as Nïx had said.
And Holly knew that in the absence of a constant against which to measure, the introduction of new variables was a recipe for chaos. "I don't like my routine interrupted. I don't like surprises. On the best of days, I-I don't handle them well."
"Maybe you don't handle them well because you haven't had any practice with them."
"No, I have a condition - "
"So you like to arrange stuff. Where's the harm?"
She frowned. Holly had heard her dad say the same thing when he'd spoken to her mom about the drugs Pompous Shrink had wanted to put her on.
Holly shook her head. "You make it sound so negligible. But there were times when I couldn't leave my house for fear I would run out into a storm or get mesmerized by a shiny jewel. And now I have no idea how I'll react. Cadeon, what's normal for a Valkyrie cannot be normal for me." She knew she was being superficial, but she couldn't help adding, "And I don't want fangs and pointed ears!"
"Not that this will change how you feel, but I happen to love pointed ears."
She gave him a dubious expression.
"No, honestly. To a male from the Lore, they signal either fey or Valkyrie, and either species is renowned for its stunning females."
"Even if they didn't look freakish to me, they could prevent me from going about among humans."
"None doing. You'll just cover them with all this pretty hair of yours. I've seen Valkyrie plait braids over their ears or wear head bands over them. I've even seen them go with them uncovered and proclaim themselves extras on a movie set still 'in makeup.'"
Nïx hadn't seemed concerned about hers at all. "And the fangs?"
"They're so small, Holly." He grinned and laugh lines fanned out from the edges of his eyes. "Humans wouldn't notice anything was off."
"But I would be self-conscious, behaving differently."
"No, you'd learn to brazen it out. Evading detection is all about attitude." Had his voice grown rougher?
"If I get to this sorcerer quickly enough, then..." She trailed off, frowning. "Cadeon, are you smelling my hair?"
Uncaring now that he was caught, he took a handful and shoved his face in it, inhaling deeply.
"What is wrong with you?" she demanded, shooting to her feet.
"What? I just nee - wanted to smell your hair."
"You offer to talk to me, but you don't give a damn about what I'm feeling."
"That's not true, pet."
She huffed to her cell phone, unplugging it from the charger.
"Who are you calling?"
"The one I should be confiding in, instead of the mercenary demon who cares more about how my hair smells than my feelings!"
Visiting family?" Tim said, incredulous. "In Memphis?
But you don't like to travel."
She moved the cell phone to her other ear. "A bit of an emergency cropped up. Everything's fine, but I thought I should be there." In a bid to change the subject, she said, "So tell me, how's the conference going? Is California nice?"
Cadeon prowled the room. Okay, there's no way around it now. The demon had been making advances toward her and now seemed jealous. But why?
Holly was exponentially younger than he was, and she wasn't a traffic-stopping beauty like Nïx. Holly was the cute geek. Not the immortal femme fatale.