Yet earlier with Cadeon, she'd had a realization. There were things about a man that could be learned so much more easily when in a sexual situation, when the walls were down.

Cadeon's eyes had been lustful, hungry, but his touch had been tender, almost as if he'd been savoring or even...awed.

Holly hadn't expected that gentleness from the rough mercenary and never would have seen it if not in bed with him.

What would she discover about Tim in a like situation? She tried to imagine doing the same things with him. Yet she couldn't - because she kept seeing the demon.

No, no! This was a perfect example of her new, foreign thought processes taking over. The ones that reason why mutual petting with a demon makes sense: because I can learn - wink, wink - about him. As a person.

She was doubting Tim only because she wasn't herself. Not because of any faint suspicion that she clung to him as a personification of her old life - the one she feared leaving...

Her thoughts went blank when she spied Cadeon coming for her, his long-legged stride eating up the distance, his shoulders back, cocky half-grin in place.

Maybe Cadeon had a good point, she thought dazedly. Maybe she should have one last adventure before her normal, ordered existence resumed. A little sexual experimentation, a little excitement...

When he reached her, he swooped down and gave her a kiss before she could react. "You missed me, didn't you?"

She was sputtering, having been kissed for the first time in public. "Hardly."

"Huh. Then I wonder why your eyes went all silvery when you caught sight of me."

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"They did not!" Her gaze darted. "What if someone saw? Oh, God - "

"Relax, halfling. Humans will just think it's a trick of the light. If you brazen it out. Now let me see what you've got."

He raised his brows at her new boots. "Very nice. But you only got two pairs? I was expecting credit card abuse and retaliatory shopping from you."

"Sorry to disappoint." He had several bags. "What did you get?"

"I'll show you over dinner."

"Dinner? Do we have time?"

"I have to nourish my halfling, else she grows irritable. Besides, it'll take us five hours to drive, tops, and it's only six o'clock."

"What do you expect me to eat in a restaurant? You know I have to have things prepackaged."

"I've already put in an order. Just trust me."

27

For fifteen years, Holly had been overdressed for fairly much everything. Now the demon had put her in jeans, then taken her to a posh restaurant.

As they sat waiting for their food, she wondered what he'd ordered for her. A tin of green beans? Maybe fruit cocktail? Or since this was a seafood restaurant, she'd probably get a can of tuna.

"So check out my loot," Cadeon said as he dug into one of his bags. He'd removed his hat, shaking out his hair to cover his horns, and now looked insufferably gorgeous.

"Here." He handed her two packages. "I got you a watch. You used to have a nice one."

He'd noticed even that small detail?

"I got one, too," he said.

Oh, yes, because he'd pulverized his in his fist earlier. "They're not...matching or anything, are they?"

"Holls, I'm a demon; I'm not a tool."

"Oh, of course." She accepted the box, raising her brows. Cartier.

She'd always steered clear of that brand because many of the watch styles were diamond-intensive. Not so good for her since she'd get entranced with each glance at the time.

When she opened the package, she almost smiled. Not a diamond in sight. Platinum, simple but elegant. Why was he being so...thoughtful? "Cadeon, it's lovely, but really, this is too nice. I can't let you pay - "

"I'll expense it. Now, close your gab, and open the next one."

She glowered, but did. Inside were...her glasses. Smitten Kitten. She blinked at him. "You're giving me my own glasses?"

"I had the lenses changed to clear. You said you couldn't think without them on, and you were getting headaches."

Her lips parted as she donned them. Who was more supportive? Tim, who verbally encouraged her, or Cadeon, who made her work possible?

Stop comparing them! Tim also didn't go and doff bar owners of the sexually insatiable demoness variety.

"They feel perfect. But, Cadeon, I'm turning back. My eyesight will go bad again."

"Then get them changed again later. But for now, you've got work to do," he said, adding gravely, "Holly, it's not like codes write themselves." He handed her another bag. "Now, check out the coat I got for you."

Reaching into the bag, she pulled out a small, formfitting ski jacket. "It's red."

"It should be. You don't own anything red." Again, he'd noticed.

She was surprised by his good taste, but still said, "It doesn't look very heavy."

"New technology, halfling. This will keep you warm when it's twenty below. Just trust me. Besides, you're not feeling the cold as you used to, are you?"

"No, I guess not...."

The server came with their drinks then: a beer for Cadeon, and for her a chilled bottle of Perrier - unopened per Cadeon's request.

Once the man left to check on their order, she said, "Why are you always concerned about me eating?"

Cade exhaled, hating this part. Because I'm not a good man, and I'm about to betray you in the cruelest way imaginable....

It seemed to him like every moment of satisfaction with his female cost him another lie, digging himself deeper, ensuring there could be no forgiveness.

Block it out. "Maybe your transition can be slowed if you held onto some human traits?"

She sighed. "I'm hungry less and less. I could easily see myself forgetting to eat altogether."

"The change has already taken a foothold in you. I don't think you even realize how much stronger and quicker you're getting."

She grew quiet for long moments, folding and refolding her napkin with her thin, nimble fingers. The ones that had been wrapped around his shaft mere hours ago. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

"Cadeon..."

"What's on your mind?"

"I was just wondering...what's it like to live forever?"

Wearying. Without a mate and family, it was so damned wearying. But he answered, "Living forever has it perks. Such as the not dying part. Are you thinking about signing on for immortality?"

"I don't know how to answer. I definitely see advantages to being a Valkyrie. But I don't want to be the Vessel. I don't want to be dead or bred. And I don't know how I'd reconcile my current life with the change. What if I flashed an ear in class?"