- "Is she any good at video games?"

"Good at video games?" Holly asked the crowd. They were sizing her up, just as her jocks once had, and just as the Sandbar denizens had. So she said, "I can make video games."

Apparently, those were big words for this crowd.

"You heard her," Regin said. "She's already a creature with which one doesn't f**k."

- "How?"

"She's getting a page in The Book of Warriors. She tagged a pack of Wendigo and culled the membership roster of the Order of Demonaeus by a quarter. And that was just this month."

This is what you are, Holly. A killer. A creature even violent Valkyrie admire.

Holly was overwhelmed, perspiration beginning to bead above her lip.

"So let's have a little boo-yah respect for Holly the..." Regin trailed off with a frown. "What should your Valkyrie name be?"

They were all too close, making her dizzy, unsteady on her feet. She put her hand to her forehead and muttered, "I feel nauseated. Maybe I should lie down."

- "Dude, told you she wasn't a Valkyrie. We don't throw up."


Now Regin studied her with her brows drawn. "What's doing?"

What's doing? The first day Holly had ever seen Cadeon, he'd said that to her. Reminded of the bastard, Holly retched, throwing up the contents of her stomach.

The crowd backed away with a collective gasp.

"Well, the good news is that I got your trailing name," Regin said. "Welcome, Holly the Preggers."

Five days had passed since Holly had been smuggled into Val Hall. Cade had been seconds too late at the chopper pad, and now she was in the hands of the Valkyrie. "I can't believe the men you sent didn't keep her from getting inside," he said to Rök as the two of them lay in wait among the burned trees on the property.

"This coven has a three-thousand-year-old soothsayer and witches batting on their team," Rök said. "They've got sneaky covered. They probably have a portal we can't see."

"Now Holly's with her family," Cade said, taking a slug of demon brew. "They won't exactly be arguing my case."

"Not to put too fine a point on it, but your chances were pretty much blown with or without the Valkyrie's interference. In my experience, nothing says we're taking a T.O. like getting the finger as a helicopter dusts off."

When Cade scowled, Rök continued, "I put too fine a point on it, didn't I?" He snapped his fingers for the flask. "So tell me what it's like."

"What's what like?"

"You know - this." He waved at Cade's face then in Holly's direction.

"A two-demon siege of Val Hall?" He knew what Rök was talking about, but wouldn't make this any easier.

"You're going to make me spell it out, aren't you?"

"If I have to cop to it, then yeah."

After another swig, Rök said, "What's it like to care for someone more than for yourself? I only ask because this is the first thing you've done that I haven't."

"The way I'm feeling now, I would recommend staying the hell away from it."

At Rök's raised brows, he said, "Imagine you got lanced straight through the center of your chest."

Rök nodded gravely. "Happened more than once."

"Then imagine how you'd feel if that huge hole never mended."

"Not good."

"Not good at all. If I could just talk to her once before we leave for Rothkalina." The grim reality of his situation was that even if he could somehow win Holly over, he'd immediately have to leave her.

"You have to talk to her before you can leave. Face it, you wouldn't be any good to us right now. You don't eat or sleep. You're obsessed with something, and it's not victory against Omort. That's how leaders get their men killed."

"Holly could stay inside for months working on her code." Cade ran a hand over his face. "Still no luck with Nïx?"

"I've got the entire crew beating the streets for her - "

"Who are we looking for?" a voice whispered from behind them.

Cade and Rök both scrambled back. Nïx had been crouched directly behind them, peering at the manor along with them.

Neither had heard her approach.

Cade recovered first and said, "I've been searching for you."

"I've never heard that before." Nïx looked as mad as ever but she also appeared...tired.

"How is Holly?"

"Splendid. She's settling in nicely. She even has a date next week with someone name Desh. He's a demon. Maybe you know him?"

The news felt like a kick in the teeth

"So what did you want with me?"

"I want to see her before I have to leave for Rothkalina. I don't care if it's just for five minutes. Can you arrange a meeting?"



"You'll have to do better than that," Nïx said. "Holly told me just the other day that she wished she had a great, big house."

"She truly did?" he exclaimed. He'd get her the biggest, best -

"No, she didn't truly," Nïx added with a sigh. "Maybe? Sure! I can't remember. Anyway, the fact remains that Holly might actually somehow forgive you, and then what will happen? Do you expect my niece to live in your pool house man-cave with you and the smoke demon?" She waved a negligent hand toward Rök, and he saluted her with the flask. "The days of your unplanned, rolling-stone existence have ended, Cade. Having a female all of your own is a big responsibility."

"I'm on it. Just get me the meeting."

"I'll help on one more condition: You and your crew stop searching for Néomi and the vampire."

Néomi was indeed alive. "How did she survive?"

"After you so rudely gutted her? She's a phantom now. Long story. But witchcraft was involved."

Rök exclaimed, "A phantom! No wonder I couldn't bloody find her. I never had a chance, did I?"

Nïx shook her head sadly. "Especially not when I was tipping her off to your every move..."

Both males were stunned silent by that. Finally Cade said, "You knew she lived? Yet you told us that she'd died. You lied - "

"Yes, and people who lie are bad. Oh, but I didn't mean you." Her eyes going vacant, she said, "I did tell a fib, but only so the fates would align to get you here, skulking around Val Hall at midnight tonight - with Groot dead, with you in possession of a mystickal sword, and with Holly..."