Holly had loved him, and he'd feigned the same only to get her here. Had he ever cared about her at all?

When the guards forced her into a bedroom, she fought them, but even with her new strength she could gain no ground. The entry doors audibly locked behind them.

The chamber was dominated by a large bed with black silk sheets, a vile reminder of what this madman intended to do to her.

How could Cadeon betray her like this...?

No, get it together, Holly! She swiped her sleeve over her eyes. She needed to take note of her surroundings. Yes, she'd been wrong to trust Cadeon, but that didn't mean his training didn't make sense to her - or that she wasn't about to need it.

Holly surveyed the area for escape. Besides the main entry doors, there were two other sets. She ran to the first, a narrower door, finding it locked. She tried the next. Also locked. But it felt colder to the touch. It had to lead outside. She thought.

The layout of the castle confused her, and she'd been so dazed as they'd brought her here that she hadn't paid enough attention.

No escape? Then she'd fight. She scanned for weapons. Her gaze landed on two battle-axes crossed high above a fireplace. Just as she'd tensed to leap for one, Groot entered.

The door automatically locked behind him. No keys to steal. "You look upset."

Trying to make her voice steady, she said, "I just didn't see that one coming." What an understatement.

He gave her a disbelieving look. "Not even a little?"


She gritted her teeth. She recalled how she'd never fully trusted the demon in the beginning, always having that niggling doubt. But she'd forced herself to ignore her apprehension.

"Well, I'm sure he made you very earnest promises to win your trust. Did he give you the fated female song and dance?" When Holly averted her eyes, he exclaimed, "Oh, he did!" With a sigh, he said, "I'm afraid you fell for the oldest trick in the Lore."

Wait... She faced him again with her chin up. "There are ways to tell if I was truly his female. I had proof."

"And who informed you of what that proof might be?"

Oh, my God. Her heart fell. Cadeon had obviously lied about certain aspects of rage demon physiology as well. I'm an idiot! How he must've laughed behind her back.

"Every single thing he told you was a lie. They come more easily to his tongue than the truth."

"But Nïx also told me - "

"Nïx? You trusted that mad creature? She plays with fates. It amuses her. When you live that long, I suppose you take entertainment where you can get it."

Betrayed by Nïx as well.

"Now, we both know why you're here," Groot said. "Are you going to make this more unpleasant than it needs to be?"

Think! Play along. Buy time. "No. I'm tired of running. I'm tired of being shot at. Anyone who can keep me hidden and alive looks very good right now."

"Precisely. I'll keep you protected here. You're much better off without Cadeon."

"And I'm sick of being betrayed. At least I know at the outset that you can't be trusted."

"Smart Valkyrie. Now, I just need to make sure the demon departs." He crossed to the thin door, and it opened automatically. He entered a small anteroom that contained what looked like a master control booth, with two rows of TV screens and monitors, multiple keyboards, and at least four whirring CPUs.

Keep him off his guard. "Nice system. You know the way to a geek's heart." She saw all the screens were security camera feeds. "But paranoid much?"

His tone amused, he said, "It's not an easy thing when the most powerful sorcerer in the world wants you dead."

"Why the technology? Why not use magick?"

"I use both." He pointed to one of the second row monitors. "That outer gate is mystickally protected. You could run a tank into it, and the gate wouldn't budge an inch. It can only be opened from this control."

She raised her brows at the screen. "Those are Wendigo." The ones that had followed their truck.

Their faces were long and haggard, as if their normal human ones had been stretched like putty. Stringy hair grew in patches all over their graying skin. They had hunched backs and emaciated bodies. Some still wore scraps of clothing.

Their red eyes glowed with an unearthly hunger.

"Yes, my barbarians at the gate. They are excellent guards, viciously protecting the valley," he said, sounding admiring. "A few follow the rare vehicle, craving fresh meat. Most stay in the town."

Fresh meat. Holly stifled a glare, her anger rising. She couldn't stop thinking about those villagers trapped in that church. Their last sight had been these horrific beasts....

Her thoughts were interrupted by a display on one of the many screens. "Is that...is that the cabin I just stayed in?"

"Oh, yes."

Don't throw up, don't gag. "You spied on us?" She had never hated anyone so instantly and so violently as much as she did this bastard.

"Did you think there was no reason for such an innocuous checkpoint? It looks so rustic, you never suspect the cameras. Initially, I'd had them installed to make sure you two weren't plotting against me. But then, there were other...benefits." He reached his gnarled hand toward her, and she forced herself not to recoil as he brushed her cheek. "The more I watched, the more I wanted you."

The humiliation and disgust she felt were overpowering.

"I could scarcely wait for you to be delivered to me, but the demon wanted to enjoy you for himself first."

Once her eyes stopped watering, they focused on his face. "Then you know there's a chance I could be pregnant with the demon's baby."

"I suspected as much. He's probably just as likely as I am to spawn evil."

"Is he?"

"He's known in the Lore as a brutal killer. But I do want the babe to be mine. If you're pregnant, I'll take care of it."

"Take care of...?" It dawned on her what he meant. "Why would you want a child at all?"

"To possess the warrior of ultimate evil. I want to mold it, shape it."

Looking away, she studied the screens, trying to determine the layout of the castle, to find an escape route. She felt as if she was in a video game. Level one, defeat pervert. Level two, engage army of revenants. Level three, steal vehicle and evade Wendigo.

Another screen drew her attention. She squinted. "Is that a...female revenant? I thought only men were raised from the dead."

Groot gave her that disturbing smile. "It gets lonely out here."

That's it. She retched in her mouth. "You know what? I can't do this. No subterfuge. You're just too revolting for me to pretend."