But he never tried to make love to her, even when she'd hinted that she'd be amenable to losing her virginity. Though she could tell how badly he wanted to take it, he still made no move to.

Was it only that he didn't want to hurt her? Every day he noted how strong she was becoming. Did he doubt that she could handle the claiming?

Or was there another reason he resisted...?

When he'd returned and finished loading up the back, she asked him, "What all did you get?"

"Food, staple goods - apparently eggs and butter are like gold if we do happen upon anyone north of here. And as many tanks of gas as we can ferry. I also found out that we're going to have to cross a winter road."

Winter road - a euphemism for ice beneath tires and possibly not much more. "No way around that?"

"Only way to get from here to there, love."

"This is the checkpoint? It's adorable!" Holly hopped out of the truck, gazing at the snow-covered cabin. "It's straight out of a winter wonderland calendar!"

His female's mood had certainly improved since the ice road. The normal - but loud - shifting of ice had terrified her, and she'd held on to the dashboard the entire way.

When a fox bounded by in the foot-high snow banks, she clapped her gloved hands in delight. "Cue the fox. How perfect!"

Cade found it too perfect with its blanket of snow on the roof and quaint chimney on the side.

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She asked, "Are you sure this is the exact location?"

"GPS says we're here."

"I guess someone will meet us?" she asked, starting for the door.

But he swooped her back. "For all we know, this is an elevator to hell. I'm checking it out. Do not come in until I tell you to."

He found the door unlocked and cautiously entered it. The pinewood floored creaked beneath him. The cabin was so spotless, even Holly would approve.

"Do you see any directions?" she called from outside. "I wanna come in!"

"Not yet," he called back. "Still looking around."

The interior was simple, with sparse wooden furniture throughout. There was a bathroom, a back bedroom, and a kitchen with a wood-burning stove and a well pump above the basin.

A claw-footed bathtub was situated out in the main room in front of the sizable fireplace.

The idea of seeing Holly bathing there, in front of a fire...

With each of their encounters over the last few days, he'd found it increasingly difficult to resist claiming her. His mind was constantly filled with thoughts of being inside her, his reasoning clouded by want.

She'd been regularly tiptoeing around the subject of sex, a question here or there, and he thought he knew why.

Holly wanted him to take her. Completely. He was humbled by that, yet at the same time, he knew he couldn't. Even if he didn't trade her to Groot for the sword, the fact remained that Cade had deceived her over and over. He'd already done more than she'd likely forgive, done more than enough to earn her hatred. Taking her virginity under these circumstances struck even him as wrong.

And he wanted more than merely sex from her. He wanted everything. Claiming her should be the beginning of something more - not a guilty, fleeting act.

Cade shook himself, and began searching the cabin high and low, checking the two closets and few cabinets. He crossed to the fireplace. Up the chimney was about the only place he hadn't looked. He crouched beside the opening, reaching up blindly -

And felt folded, waxed paper attached to the chimney flue. He pulled it free.

A map to Groot's fortress.

They could start for the sorcerer's today. Holly would surely want to, fearing the approaching transition. But Cade needed to buy Rök time.

And even if Rök failed, every second Cade could stall would allow her to transition more fully to immortal, gaining strength, and losing vulnerability.

Deciding to hide the map, he tucked it into his coat pocket -

"What you got there?"

She was right behind him. After the slightest hesitation, he said, "A map to Groot's."

"So when do we leave?"

"We still have almost two weeks to get there. Maybe we should stay put for a day or two to rest up from the drive."

"Okay," she answered, surprising him. "I'd love to have a bath."

He ran a hand over his mouth.

Though Cadeon had been so gung-ho to get up here, now he was dragging his feet to begin the final leg. But Holly was fine with staying at the adorable cabin.

In a closet, she'd found thick quilts, clean bedding, and a fur hearthrug neatly stored in bags. Once she got everything arranged to her liking, it'd be perfect.

After he'd brought in their kerosene lantern and supplies, he'd set off to chop firewood. He'd collected just enough to start heating her bathwater and warming the cabin for her, then returned to cut more for the night.

As Holly unpacked their gear and food, she gazed out the window at him, losing track of time. As she watched the magnificent male laboring in the snow, she felt a pang. She loved the way he moved, with such surety and presence. Now that she knew every inch of his body, she appreciated it more than she ever had.

Holly wanted all of him, but he refused to give in. He'd called himself her demon. But he wasn't, not yet.

Want. She wished she had someone to talk to about all this, someone to ask -

She frowned when her sat-phone began to ring. The only one who knew the number was Cadeon, and she could still see him outside. "Hello?" she answered.

"You wanted to speak with me?" Nïx asked.

"How did you - Scratch that. Do you know where I am?"

"I know it's snowy and cold. Perfect for snuggling up with your demon. Have you decided if you'll keep him? Or is he too big to be an inside demon?"

Holly sighed. "I like being with him, and I think I do want to keep him. But that means I would have to keep my immortality."

Unfortunately, if she remained a Valkyrie, she remained the Vessel. And events like the Laughing Lady Bridge would continue to happen.

"And which way are you leaning?"

To be with Cadeon... "I think I'm sticking with the program."

"I knew you'd succumb to peer pressure! A good thing, too. Since you've already completed the transition."

Holly had suspected as much for days. "But how does this affect your deal with Groot? Cadeon will still get his sword, right?"

"Of course. So when should Auntie Nïx be expecting a little vamon from you two?"

"Vamon - oh, I get it. A Valkyrie and a demon. Ha-ha. Don't hold your breath. He won't...well, he refuses to have sex with me."