Cade hadn't realized until this very second that trying for the sword and for Holly had been an option in the back of his mind.
A favored one.
Now he felt his hopes plummeting.
"A lot of obstacles," Cade agreed. "How can I be sure that I'll even get out alive?"
"Groot has vowed to the Lore that you'll have safe passage. If you vow as well that you will never reveal his location."
Swearing to the Lore was the most abiding vow an immortal could make. Even an evil sorcerer would feel compelled to keep it. "I vow it."
"Also, my master wants the Vessel fertile for immediate breeding. You have to ensure she continues eating," Imatra said, testing him, analyzing his reaction.
Cade just stopped himself from gritting his teeth. "Not here to play nursemaid."
"If she's not in the condition he wants her, then maybe your sword won't be as you'd prefer it."
Bugger all. "The Vessel has a mind of her own, but I'll give it a go with the food."
"One more thing - if she's not there by midnight on the next full moon, the sword will be tossed back into the forge, lost forever."
Cade had heard that Groot possessed a forge of unearthly heat in his hidden fortress. "He wouldn't want to give it to someone else who might kill his brother for him?"
"The weapon was forged for one of the Woede," she answered. "It would be useless to another."
"Understood. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like the second set of directions."
"I'll tell you...but only after you kiss me."
He narrowed his eyes, anger simmering. "Groot wouldn't like you imposing conditions to stymie me."
"He also wouldn't like to think that you and the Vessel are becoming involved." She slipped off her robe completely to pool on the floor. "Would it be a chore to kiss me, Cadeon?"
As a matter of fact, yes. Before he'd met Holly, this type of blowsy female would have appealed to him. He'd have kissed her and done a good deal more.
Now he'd only kiss her if he had to.
Had to? There was no future with Holly, and the sooner he got that into his head, the better. "Fine, dove," he grated. "A kiss for my directions."
"Just join me over here," she said, slinking to the bed, tossing the cover down with a practiced, sensual smile.
"None doing, Imatra." He grabbed her hand, pulling her back.
"So aggressive," she purred. "We'll have to do it standing, then."
"Whatever." He bent down and kissed her.
And it left him cold.
I better get used to this, he thought as he went through the motions. Cold is all he'd ever feel again without his own female -
"Excuse me," Holly said from the doorway. He broke away from Imatra. But Holly had seen.
His heart thundered as her gaze flickered over the unmade bed, then over Imatra's robe on the floor and his sword laid on a chair.
Ah, f**k. Now I've done it. His fated female had seen him kissing another. He'd never heard of this happening to a male of his kind. Because no one was this stupid.
But I can't have her anyway!
"I'd really like to get back to the hotel, but I don't wish to interrupt you two," Holly said breezily. She wasn't taken aback - or upset - whatsoever. The easy confidence was in force. Even Imatra seemed surprised. "Cadeon, I'll just catch a ride." She turned toward the door.
"Catch a ride?" he said in disbelief, striding the distance between them to snare her wrist. "Who the hell is going to give you a ride?"
Just then a chorus of males called that it was the Valkyrie's turn to do another shooter.
Her hair was free and curling about her shoulders, her glasses in her pocket. Her cheeks were pink from alcohol. Under his breath, he said, "Why's your hair down?"
"Because I'm in a bar?"
"You're astute. Now, really, I didn't want to disturb you. Just letting you know that I'm leaving."
Imatra donned her robe, straightening her clothes in an exaggerated manner. The bitch was trying to make it look like they'd slept together, and he couldn't deny it without appearing to give a damn about Holly.
"You're going with me," he told Holly, frowning at how utterly she didn't care about what she'd seen.
He'd thought she'd been attracted to him. Maybe even a bit proprietary after they'd kissed.
"Fine. I'll be waiting outside." With her little heels clicking on the rough-hewn floor, she sauntered out, leaving him confounded.
"I wondered about you two," Imatra said. "Now I can clearly see that Groot has nothing to worry about. You couldn't be more beneath her notice." Somehow the demoness had known Cade felt something for Holly and had suspected the reverse as well.
Then she'd been proven wrong by Holly's indifference.
"The directions?" he prompted.
"You'll be heading to Michigan."
"The exact directions?"
"In time, demon...One more drink first."
Cade heard male cheers as Holly entered the bar again. It was everything he could do not to charge out there and start brawling.
When Holly returned, Deshazior pulled out the seat next to him for her. With his brows raised in question, he made an okay sign and ran his other forefinger through it.
"Oh, yeah," she said, still unsteady. Just as she'd expected, Cadeon had been back there bedding Imatra, who'd relished being caught, giving her that superior look again.
No, this world wasn't for Holly.
But drinking might be. Secure in the knowledge that she wouldn't be led astray again, she decided to enjoy this very temporary vacation. She would get her old life back - ergo, she could do shots with demons in this new one for a bit.
"Did you see anything good?" Deshazior asked in a hopeful tone.
"No, I believe they were just finishing up."
"You think they'd only be doffing for a couple of rounds? I heard that Cadeon's a ladies' man."
"Oh, really?" she asked, her tone bored.
"I'm surprised he hasn't been sniffing around you," he said. "Demons love Valkyrie."
"Ah, but do Valkyrie love demons?"
"Aye. 'Cause we're the only ones ye won't kill in bed-sport."
High-fives got thrown all around for that one. She forced a smile. Funny that they would touch on a fact that she'd just tonight put together for herself.
Afraid Deshazior would see something in her expression that surely wasn't there anyway, she asked, "Do you have a dollar for music?"
He handed her some currency she'd never seen, and she scuffed to the jukebox. Her mood improved exponentially when she found a Stevie Ray Vaughan album on tap.