"The gunmen were leeches. Vampires."
"Vampires," she said softly, but her mind was screaming, This is insanity!
"They must know you haven't turned fully immortal yet. Our kinds never use guns, as evidenced by their shite aim."
She winced at the vulgarity, but managed not to gasp this time. "Again, why?"
"Because you just became the most popular girl in town."
"What does that mean?" In the stern tone she usually reserved for her students, she added, "This isn't the time for cryptic answers, Cadeon."
"This isn't the time for questions whatsoever, Holly."
Headlights met them on the drive. An SUV blocked the gated exit.
"Fuckall," he snapped, wheeling around, spraying up shells. "More vampires."
She clamped hold of the dashboard to brace herself. "Where are we going now?"
"Only one other way off this property. Into the swamp."
"How would you know?"
"Been here before." At her look, he said, "I've met with the demons here on occasion. As a representative of my breed."
"You...you fraternized with those animals? Does your 'breed' kidnap women as well?"
"Kidnap women? I can hardly keep the chits off the jock as it is, pet."
Eyes wide, she said, "Chits? Pet? Are you from the nineteenth century or just trying to be misogynistic?"
"I'm from medieval times, and I never have to try to be misogynistic." He slammed on the brakes, and cranked the four-wheel-drive gear, peering at her hard. "It just comes to me natural, like a gift." Stomping on the gas once more, he sent her flying back into the seat as they lurched forward, racing over pristine greens.
"Why did they want to hurt me? I've never done anything to deserve this!"
"It's not what you've done - it's what you are."
"A math instructor?" she said in a strangled tone.
"You're a Valkyrie now. And a special one at that. Your mum must've been one."
"Valkyrie! My mom was a pie contest winner! And she was human. She died two years ago."
"Then your biological mother must have been one."
She was shocked into silence for a moment. How had this demon known she was adopted? "I didn't even know her." Holly had always imagined her as a scared teenager who'd had the incredible good sense to leave her baby on the most wonderful doorstep imaginable. Now this demon was saying that her mother was a Valkyrie? "What exactly is a Valkyrie? And how did you know I was adopted?"
"Questions later. Right now we've got to get through the swamp."
The dark line of brush loomed. "I don't see a road!"
"There's a service trail," he said, then added in a casual tone, "It might be a shade grown over."
"A shade! Are you certain there's no other way to get out?"
He nodded. "The property's surrounded by bayou and swamp."
"What are the odds that we'll make it through?"
"I give us one in fifteen."
Her eyes went wide. "I wouldn't take those odds!"
"You would if there's zero chance otherwise."
"Oh, God," she muttered, feeling around the seat. "Where's the seat belt?"
"Broke a few years back."
"And you didn't get it fixed?" she snapped.
"Don't usually ferry around mortals, then!" he thundered back.
Struggling for calm, she said, "Cadeon, I do not see even a hint of a trail."
"Demon senses. I can find it." But he pressed his straightened arm over her chest as they closed in.
"Y-you're not really going in there?"
This being had saved her life, had even taken bullets for her, and yet there was something so markedly untrustworthy about him....
He flashed her a rakish grin with barely noticeable fangs. "Though if you're the praying type, now might be a choice time."
Holly catapulted forward against his arm as the truck burst into the brush.
Leaves and branches slapped the windshield as the cab bounced. They smacked something that left feathers and squawked an angry retreat.
She turned, clutching the seat-back to scan behind them. "They're just going to follow us, trap us back here!"
"Their nice, fancy SUVs are lower to the ground than older trucks like mine. With a little luck, they'll bottom out. At least before we do."
Over the sound of their wholesale destruction of native flora and fauna, she asked, "Why are you helping me?"
"I'm a mercenary - my current gig is to keep you alive."
"A mercenary? Who's paying you? Who would know to hire a demon to protect me from a demon threat?"
"There were also the leeches."
"How could I forget?" She pinched her forehead. "Who paid you?"
"We'll talk about it later."
"At least tell me why those demons chose me. I am the most boring person you have ever met!"
He met her gaze. "Not anymore, halfling."
She glanced behind them again and saw headlights. "They're coming."
Biting out words in a language she'd never heard, he sped up even more.
"Cadeon, is it safe to go this fa - "
Shots rang out, plugging the back of the truck and her side-view mirror. His big hand palmed the top of her head and shoved her down, making her slump in the seat.
When shards from the mirror speared at her window, she shrieked.
All around them, the glass shattered; he gave a roar of pain. Cracks forked out over the windshield before it exploded as well, raining glass chips against them.
"Mind the shrieks, pet!"
"How did I do that?" she cried, frenziedly brushing glass off herself.
"Nature of the beast," he grated. "Valkyrie shrieks crack glass. Lesson learned, yeah?"
When she spied blood trickling from his ear, she bit her lip and brushed glass off him as well.
He seemed shocked by her care. "Now, there's a sweet halfling. But a little lower and to the right would be sweeter - "
The trail was gone. Murky black water covered at least a three-meter-long span of it.
"Hold on!" He yanked her upright, his arm crossing over her again.
"Why are we going faster toward it?"
"So we don't bog down!" he said just before they hit.
She flew against his arm once more. With the windshield gone, water sprayed over the hood, shooting against their faces.
The front of the truck dove down. Water poured into the cab. Mud, lily pads, and several crayfish were scooped up as though with a net. The engine roared with effort as they chugged through to the other side.