Back on semisolid ground, Cadeon shook his hair out like a beast. "I can't f**kin' believe we just made that!"

Holly dragged her soaked hair from her eyes, then swiped the end of the shirtsleeve over her wet face, clearing the spattering of blood from earlier.

He grinned at her. She gaped at him.

Headlights on their trail again. Those vampires were dogged. They must think that the demons had already had their way with her. They couldn't risk that all good or all evil would be in the form of a demon. "Bugger me."

She shrieked again.

"The language? Is that it? 'Cause - "

Like a shot, Holly launched herself into his lap, whimpering.

He swallowed, intensely aware that she had her knees spread over his groin and wore nothing under the shirt. At any other time, he'd be loving their position, might have manufactured a scenario to get her just like this. But he could barely see around her bobbing head.

"It's only crayfish!"

"N-no, not only - "

The truck dived sharply into a gulch before rearing up. Then down into another and another. Cade grabbed for her waist; she listed to the side. "Watch your knee with the goolies, pet - "

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He'd cupped her between her thighs.

As he felt her soft flesh, giving and hot again his palm, he growled low. The engine was clamoring, the truck bouncing, and they still met eyes. Hers grew wide as she shoved his hand away. But she still didn't get off him. "Not only crayfish!" she cried.

"Then what is it?" he snapped.

"Th-that!" She pointed down to the sloshing pool of water covering the floorboard.

Chapter 3

A small water moccasin was along for the ride, swimming dazedly among the crushed Red Bull cans, looking as freaked out as she was.

Cade dared a quick snatch for it, but it slithered under the seat. He'd never thought he'd say this, but..."Off me, Holly. Back to your seat. Just keep your legs up."

She shook her head. "Not until it's gone!"

"Then you're going to have to drive."

"Okay," she said shakily, taking the wheel as he edged under her.

His hand shot under the bench. "Come here, you little f**k."

"Cadeon!"

"Ah, come on, halfling!"

The truck began to slow. He jerked upright, facing backward, and was blinded by the nearing headlights. "What in the bloody hell are you doing?" he barked at her.

"Something moved in the water down there!"

"Holly, you slam that pedal down or you die! Clear?"

With a visible shudder, she stretched her leg far down, barely reaching the pedal, tamping it down with her toes. Each time she was jounced in the seat, the gas let off, but she doggedly kept at that pedal.

He snared the moccasin. Knowing that his female would have to see it to believe it, Cade held up the snake as it merrily envenomated him. "Here, look. Visual confirmation." He tossed it out the window hole. "Now, move your little ass over here, and let's lose these miserable pricks, yeah?"

"Yeah?"

When she shimmied over his lap, he resisted the urge to plant her there, then took the wheel. As they crested a small rise and started back down, he spied another washout. He sped up, yanking her into his side. "Hold on to me."

She wrapped her slim arms around his torso, burying her face against him. Tension shot through him, desire for her eating at him, even now.

He was holding her. Forty miles per hour. His female. Forty-five. He tightened his arm around her as the frame of the truck vibrated, sounding like rocks rattling in a tin can multiplied by a thousand.

The truck hit the washout at nearly fifty miles per hour, plowing through the water. Midway through, the engine strained, sputtering. Water in the exhaust. He floored the gas.

"Come on, baby," he muttered. He smelled incongruous smoke. Churning, churning, and then...

The old girl surged out the other side. When he glanced back and saw the trailing SUV bottom out, he couldn't resist a pat on the cracked dashboard.

"We lost them. Truck's not so bad, then, is it?" he said. "Holly?" He frowned down at her in confusion. She was still holding his torso like he was a tree in a storm. As if she needed him for comfort.

Cade couldn't remember the last time anything had felt a fraction so good.

5

"Little busy here, Rydstrom," Cade snapped when his brother rang again.

"What's wrong with your phone?"

"Got wet."

"Are you back at the house yet?"

"On my way," Cade answered. "I'm fifteen minutes out. Where're you?"

"An hour from the city." He paused. "You sound excited. You sound...not miserable."

Discerning Rydstrom knew him well. For so long, Cade had wanted Holly from afar, and now he was with her, talking with her, touching her.... "Naff off, Rydstrom."

"Something's up with you. Whatever it is, lose it. We've got work to do."

Cade glanced down at Holly still latched onto him, then back at the road. Switching to the demon tongue, he said, "Don't think you want me to lose this. I've got the Valkyrie."

"How the hell is that possible? We didn't know who she was - "

"She's my female. Did you know she was one and the same as the target?"

"That's impossible. Holly Ashwin's human."

"Not anymore."

"You're sure? And you're certain she's the Vessel?"

"The hall you described is where she teaches math. And she'd already been taken by the Order of Demonaeus. We just got free of them. There were vampires in play as well. They're trying to kill her."

Rydstrom exhaled. "I didn't know the Vessel would be yours. But the fact is - this changes nothing. We're out of options."

When Cade didn't answer immediately, Rydstrom said, "Just last week, Nïx asked if you would give up your female to get the kingdom back. You said you would. Did you lie?"

"I'll do what I have to do."

"If we can't kill Omort, we lose Rothkalina forever."

"Even I can remember that!" Cade snapped. "I've had nine centuries to get that into my thick skull."

"Good. Now, the airports are hot. We'll have to drive her out of the city."

"To where?"

"Groot's compound."

"Where the hell is that?"

"We don't have the end destination," Rydstrom said. "There will be three checkpoints in different parts of the country. Each will render information about the next until we have the final directions to the compound. I've only got the first checkpoint."