The liquid burned like nothing she'd ever ingested, and she coughed, eyes watering. She placed the glass on the bar with its opening down, so they didn't try to refill it.
"How'd that treat ye?" Deshazior asked.
She couldn't yet speak, so she gave the only polite gesture that was applicable: a thumbs-up sign.
Everyone cheered, while someone slapped her on the back, much too hard.
"She'll have another!"
They lined up a second glass.
Oh, no. One down, one up. She would have to drink this and then one more to get to three....
At number six, she felt surprisingly sober and wasn't as miserable as she'd thought she'd be, taking turns doing shots with demons in a sandbar bar. Indeed, she was quite relaxed.
And Deshazior was turning out to be a hoot. The storm demon had been a bona fide pirate, yet he text-messaged on his Sidekick faster than even she could. He was handsome in a grizzled way, and he also had an interest in mathematics since he'd been a navigator.
He'd told her the shots would hit her harder with each hour of the night. Holly was strangely looking forward to it.
She squinted at the Budweiser wall clock. Forty minutes had passed. Get in and get out, Cade had said.
"What is taking him so long?" she absently murmured.
A few demons smirked, and one said, "Imatra's a demanding one."
Demanding? We're here for directions. What did being demanding have to do with how long Cade was taking with the gorgeous demoness?
She scratched her head, got aggravated with her falling bun, yanked it down.
Her eyes widened. Holly, you're an idiot. Two demons in a back room, with their three-times-a-day needs...
"And it ain't like Cadeon the Kingmaker's not up for the challenge," another said.
Cadeon was back there having sex with Imatra.
All of the sudden, Holly understood why people cursed. Sometimes the emotion inside couldn't be vented with any known combination of tame words.
At least he was right about one thing. She was a preachy tight-ass and a hypocrite - because as she sat here getting increasingly drunk, all she wanted to do was utter the vilest oaths she could come up with.
He was an untrustworthy demon. She knew that. What had she been thinking even to imagine more with him?
Earlier, just before Imatra and Cadeon had gone back to her room, Imatra had flashed Holly that superior look, as if she'd taken something from her. In fact, Imatra had given her something.
Perspective where Cadeon was concerned.
Holly liked things ordered. Cadeon's bedding a sexy demoness the same night he'd made a play for Holly forever removed him from her consideration. By this act, he'd been nullified.
Yes. She'd wanted not to be tempted. To be unafraid that she might forsake her old life.
No demon, no temptation, no dark side.
Pasting a smile on her face, she asked the group, "Whose turn is it?"
I'm only here for business, dove," Cade said when Imatra poured drinks for them.
"You know it's bad luck to turn down demon brew. And it's rude to keep your sword on, like we're enemies."
He took the glass, none too subtly glancing at his watch. Ten minutes had already dragged past as she'd asked questions about the other factions out for Holly.
"Just need my directions, and I'll be off."
Cade couldn't imagine how Holly was faring out there. But he also had confidence in her, assured that she'd use that head of hers to stay out of trouble. He'd been impressed at the good job she'd done masking her amazement in the face of so many new Lorekind.
There'd been fey, demons, and Lykae, but fortunately, there were no Valkyrie. He knew all his plans could come tumbling down the minute she found out there was no turning back to human.
"Why the rush, Cade? Would it be so terrible to have a drink or two with me?" Imatra let her robe slink down her shoulder.
Cade believed most would think Imatra was beautiful, but he found her overblown and lacking compared to his halfling. "My asset's out there in a roomful of demons. She was human two days ago. There's a time element here."
"No one would dare hurt her."
No, but they might frighten her. "Then I'm keen to get to the next checkpoint, which should please your master."
"He wishes to inquire about the health of the Vessel."
Cade hated to hear Holly talked about that way, so impersonally. Groot would never see past what she could provide to discover what she was like.
"We didn't expect you to be traveling alone with her."
"Wouldn't be. 'Cept for the fact that Groot and Omort's sister Sabine, that little bitch, captured my brother."
"We hadn't known if you were aware of that."
The idea of Rydstrom's imprisonment seethed inside Cade, but he strove to block it out, realizing that negotiating this checkpoint might not be as simple as he'd anticipated. Imatra seemed capricious. She could make trouble. He didn't want to blow this deal because he got impatient with her.
Imatra said, "I suppose everyone will know soon enough with the way Sabine's been bragging about her new plaything."
Cade ground his teeth. "Where is Rydstrom?"
"You expect me to tell you when you won't even take off your sword or share a drink in politeness?"
He dutifully shrugged from his sword sheath, laying it on a chair, then lifted his glass.
With a pleased smile, she sat on the edge of her desk, making sure the slit in her skirt rode up to her hip. This female was trying to be sexy - it was her whole persona, but it wasn't natural. She had to work at it.
And she still couldn't hold a candle to Holly, who couldn't care less if males found her attractive.
"Where's my brother, Imatra?"
"Likely in Tornin, but we can't say for certain. I'm sure more information will come to us - information we might share if this transaction goes smoothly."
"Why wouldn't it?"
"How can we know you won't sleep with the Vessel?" Imatra asked.
Good question. "The same way my clients have known I'd never f**k with whatever asset they've entrusted to me. Bad for future business. Besides, the chit is absolutely not my standard fare." My standard fare was shite compared to Holly.
The demoness studied him, as if determining whether he were lying. Were they suspicious? If so, how? No one but Rydstrom, Nïx, and Rök knew what Holly was to him.
"If you decide to get clever and try to have the sword and the girl, you will fail," Imatra said. "First of all, Groot is an incredibly strong mind-reader. You might be able to block his probes, but she'd have no chance. Secondly, the exchange will be made within Groot's fortress, which is mystickally protected, rigged with traps, and guarded by revenants. A forest of Wendigo surround it. You'll get her killed if she runs with you."