"Of course. I'm going to ask my aunt to help me find one. Why were the ghosts used as messengers for the coordinates anyway?"

"They were perfect for it. They can't be bribed or tortured for the information. After that checkpoint, anyone thinking to find us will be stymied." He added, "As long as you keep those pearls on."

"How would the spirits know the coordinates?"

"One of Groot's followers would have given them the information well in advance."

"Why would they agree to become involved?"

"Maybe Groot promised them the exorcism they wanted."

She frowned. "If he promised, then why would they ask me for it?"

"Uh, probably just being sure. So, what all did I tell you last night?"

"You mean other than the fact that I'm your female chosen by fate?"

"I think fate made an excellent choice for me. The best."

He could be so charming when he wanted to be. "I also learned that you have issues with your brother Rydstrom."

Advertisement..

"You have no idea," he said dryly.

"Why?"

"We're polar opposites. He's rational, always looking at things logically, whereas I follow my gut more times than not. He's educated, well-spoken, and...kingly. I'm irresponsible, the notorious ne'er-do-well," he answered with a shrug, as if this was just a carved-in-stone fact of life. "What else did I say?"

"You told me you would bite me, to stun me during the claiming. How? Is it some kind of venom, like from your horns?"

"No, I'd sink my fangs into a muscle between your neck and shoulder."

"And go fully demonic?" When he nodded, she said, "What's that like?"

"My skin would darken, reddening. It's supposed to be an attractant to females. My body will get bigger, my horns and claws growing to their full length. And my face will change. The planes will get sharper."

She bit her lip. "You also said that the only place you'll claim me is in your mind. What does that mean? Have you fantasized about me?"

His lids grew heavy when he said, "Oh, yeah."

"Like, you've imagined me...naked?"

"Ah, halfling, I've stripped your body a thousand times. I've taken you when you were wearing only your pearls, so hard they bounced on your neck."

She stifled a shiver.

"You're quite lusty in my fantasies. And you have a predilection for going down on me at every chance."

Her cheeks heated. "Going down on you...that's exactly what it sounds like, isn't it?" Was her voice breathy? She couldn't help but try to picture what that'd be like.

"It is, but I don't want you to imagine doing that to me. At all. Just get it out of your mind, before you start seizing on the idea, and then that's all you can think about...."

Central Saskatchewan

Canada

"You ready to review self-defense techniques?" Cadeon asked, as he drove along a desolate stretch of highway.

She nodded. "Just let me upload and power down." She was having to use sat-phone internet access in this isolated area, and it was glacially slow.

Not that she had much progress to upload. Though she'd plugged away at her code, she still had yet to make a significant break.

As she waited, she thought over the last three days. Canada had flown by in a blur.

That first night when they'd been about to cross the border from Michigan, she'd been a wreck, certain that they'd be found out as Lorekind, but Cadeon had been cool, so relaxed. The entire process had taken all of half a minute.

Because darkness lasted so long at this latitude, they were driving most hours out of the twenty-four. Cadeon only needed about four hours of sleep, and she'd found that she didn't need much more.

As they'd traversed the country, they settled into a comfortable familiarity. After so long together in the truck, the rest of the world seemed cut off from them. They'd begun finishing each other's sentences. He regularly pointed out things he thought she'd like to see, getting her to glance up from her work.

Early on, they'd reached an XM radio compromise. Blues rock played when she was working, and any other time, they listened to the fast-paced ska music he liked. She hadn't admitted it to him, but it was growing on her as well.

They collected supplies as they needed them, and as they could find them. He'd bought her a new coat to replace the one lost the night of the bridge and also a sat-phone for her, in case they somehow got separated.

Though they hadn't been intimate again - she had somehow resisted his advances - he'd been putting on the full-court press with her.

And it might be...working.

She thought of Tim less frequently, and she sometimes found herself resenting the guilt her relationship with him brought her. But then she'd feel guilt for the resentment. A vicious cycle.

It wasn't fair to him. Over the last several days, she'd reached a decision. She might not end up with Cadeon, but she didn't necessarily think she belonged with Tim either.

She recalled the injury to her arm. It had healed without a mark by that next morning. Holly had begun to believe that it was too late for the reversal anyway. And she wasn't as broken up about that as she'd thought she'd be.

In truth, she'd begun seeing herself with Cadeon more and more. She'd grown accustomed to his abrasive, lowbrow humor. He made her laugh and made sure she didn't take herself too seriously. She could stare at those green eyes of his for hours.

And he'd proved considerate, always seeing to her needs, working with her quirks. She never opened a bottle when he was near.

He was also tirelessly teaching her, making her spar whenever they stopped at a hotel for a few hours. Then back on the road, he quizzed her on what she'd learned....

When she finished her upload, she took off her glasses and closed the computer. "Okay, ready to drill."

"All right. What's the first thing you do with multiple assailants? And why?"

"Count them, because if I decide to run, they'll likely split up. It'll help me determine whether I'm being surrounded."

One nod. "You've encountered a foe - where's the first place you look?"

"The eyes. They'll change color if he's enraged. After that, I'd look at the hands to check for weapons."

"Say he's enraged and carrying. What's your facing-off position?"

"I narrow the target, with one foot in front of the other, one shoulder outward." Before he could ask, she said, "My left shoulder. Because I'm right handed."

"Utilizing your environment - two examples."

"Put obstacles between me and my attacker," she said. "And use the lighting to my advantage - shadows distort perception."