When she squirmed against him, needing to put her hair to rights, the ferryman said, "Is she here to fight?"

He expected her to fight more than he expected it from the mercenary demon?

"The Valkyrie's just here with me," Cadeon said, and the man allowed them aboard.

On the ferry, Cadeon finally let her slide down his body so she could fix her hair. Minutes later, they docked at a pier of questionable structural integrity, which morphed into an unbalanced walkway wending through a swamp.

A cabin was lit up in the distance, and music sounded from within.

"Stay close to me," he said. "We get in, get the directions, and get out, yeah?"

"Yeah." She heard something in the woods beside them. "Hey, what's moving out there?" She strained to see.

He plucked off her glasses, and she instantly spotted a family of deer. Okay, there was no getting around it - her eyesight was changing.

"Give those back!"

"People are going to wonder why you wear glasses. Immortals don't need them."

She snatched the glasses back, shoving them on. "Then let them wonder." At the door, she checked her pearls, sleeves, and hair. She always did this before she entered a building, one of her more pressing rituals.

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"Suit yourself. Now, this is going to be a shade shocking for you. Just don't stare at any of the patrons. Clear?"

"I can handle myself."

"Now, that I'm aware of, halfling. And don't talk to anyone about our business either. Just assume everyone in here is out to do you wrong."

"Shouldn't be a problem. I do that with you all the time."

He gave her a tight smile. "And, Holly, remember what you're capable of. If things go south, don't forget that you can mete out some serious pain. Don't hesitate."

If he continued telling her how strong and powerful she was, Holly was going to have to reevaluate his status as chauvinist -

He opened the door; reality went on hiatus.

To a jukebox's tune of "Why Don't We Get Drunk and Screw," beings that she'd never imagined were socializing. The place was like a regular bar, except peopled with creatures from myth.

Two men arm-wrestled and an image of a beast flickered over each of them. Their eyes wavered from an amber color to the lightest blue.

Lykae: werewolves. She remembered reading about them.

Four tall males with pointed ears played darts - through the crowd - from what had to be a distance of forty feet. The noble fey. Small, cherubic gnomes danced merrily. But for some reason, she sensed danger from them. Must be kobolds.

Sprinkled throughout were demons of all shapes and sizes and types of horns. She sulkily noted that Cadeon's were by far the finest of all of them.

Suddenly everyone stopped and stared - at her. She put her chin up. Cadeon drew her closer.

"Covering your unease well, halfling," he murmured at her ear, "but don't forget that a lot of these beings can still tell your heart is thundering. Calm it down."

Just then, the crowd parted to reveal a tall, shapely female traipsing toward them. "So this is the infamous Cade the Kingmaker," she said in a whiskey voice, eyeing him with obvious interest. "The rumors don't lie. You are the gorgeous half of the Woede."

"And you must be Imatra," he said, his tone inscrutable.

Chapter 11

Just as Cadeon had heard, Imatra was a great beauty. And the woman obviously knew it. She wore a crimson silk robe over a leather miniskirt and a black bustier that pushed up her sizable br**sts precariously.

Holly had on a twinset and a Burberry skirt.

Imatra sauntered around him, lazily trailing a finger along his shoulders. "Such a stunning male you are." She barely spared Holly a glance, then her attention was back on him. "You need to come with me to the back."

When Holly followed them, Imatra turned and said, "Just Cade. We've business to attend to." She winked at Holly.

Cadeon looked like he'd protest - Holly wanted him to. But Imatra whispered something in his ear, and he said, "You stay at the bar, Holly. Don't interact with anyone. Just sit and stay quiet, or yell for me if you need me. I'll be back in fifteen minutes."

Then they were gone. And she didn't know how she felt about that stunning demoness flirting with Cadeon so aggressively.

Exhaling a breath, she sidled up to the bar and took a stool. This place reminded her of the Tatooine bar scene from Star Wars. What was the name of that place? Oh, yeah. The Mos Eisley Cantina. I am such a geek to know that.

"What'll you have?" the bartender asked her. One of his three eyes was missing. Three not complete or two not nullified. Either was bad. She tried not to stare, but the potential for three should be three!

She delicately cleared her throat. "W-water would be fine, thank you."

As she arranged the napkins stacked nearby in perfect squares, all around her males closed in. Oh, yes, Cadeon. Don't interact, and I'll be dandy.

"What business have ye here, Valkyrie?" the apparent leader asked.

She sensed a vague threat from these males. They were testing her. She recalled the last time she'd felt this way - her first day of class with thirty-three Tulane football players. She'd donned a façade of utter confidence, tolerating zero disrespect.

What were demons compared to freshmen jocks?

"I'm here enjoying the area," she said blithely. "Tell me, do you reside along the water?"

They all went wide-eyed. "Why do ye want to know where I live?" the leader asked. "To take my head whilst I sleep?"

"Aye, Deshazior," another interjected, "that's the way of the Valkyrie. Creep in when you don't expect it, then, bam" - he slammed the bottom of his fist on the bar - "you're headless."

Be calm. Slow the heart. "While that might be the case, gentlemen, I was actually thinking that flood insurance must be a nightmare for you guys."

"She talks like a human," this Deshazior said. The demon, who himself talked like a Central Casting pirate, motioned to the bartender, and a shot glass appeared in front of her. "Drink, Valkyrie."

"I don't imbibe."

"It's rude to be turnin' away demon brew when it's offered to ye."

"Nonetheless, I never drink - "

"And bad luck to boot."

"Bad luck?" Her hand swooped up the shot glass. A random occurrence that doesn't go your way. "What can one drink hurt, yeah?" Great, now she was even talking like the oaf.

With her free hand, she collected a napkin, giving them a pained smile as she polished an area on the rim of the glass. To the accompaniment of Jimmy Buffet crooning, "They say you are a snuff queen, honey, I don't think that's true...." she placed the drink to her lips, then turned it up.