"With Holly what?"

"Nothing." She gracefully stood. "I'll get started on our plan," she said, sauntering off, leaving his heart thundering at the idea that he might win Holly back. "By the way," she called over her shoulder. "Your brother's back in town."

48

"How are you liking it here at Val Hall?" Nïx asked.

"I like it fine," Holly answered, wondering if her aunt was lucid.

Nïx was a font of information. But to get to it, one had to first catch her. Then one had to catch her when she was lucid. Over the last two weeks, Holly hadn't had much luck with either.

"You're settling in?"

This put Holly on edge. What's Nïx getting at? "I am," she answered slowly. In fact, she was getting on with her new life quite well, all things considered.

Since she couldn't return to the loft, she'd accepted the room the Valkyrie offered her at Val Hall. Regin had taught her how to survive at the manor - how to steal others' clothes and defend her own, how to know who'd just gotten dry cleaning back for the really good takes, how to anticipate and avert pranks.

Holly was expected to train with weapons several times a week - especially with the Accession nearing. Regin had helped her try out swords to pick the one she liked best. "Anything but a greatsword," was all Holly had requested.

She was also expected to practice Wii because the witches were winning even when drunk, and were getting overly cocky about their abilities.

Advertisement..

In her free time, Holly could work on her code, which everyone mistakenly believed was a video game, so they left her alone.

"And what about your school?" Nïx asked.

"I found out last week that I can finish my PhD from here." When Holly had called her doctoral advisor and described her project, the woman had told Holly that her code would be more than enough to complete her degree. No more classes, to be taught or taken. Mei had taken over jock duty - and she'd gleefully related that Tim was facing an ethics panel and lost grants....

Holly had known her code would be enough to finish her doctorate. Universities owned their students' research. Her code could earn the school untold riches.

But she didn't care that she would lose out. The school had been good to her.

Nïx asked, "But you know you can go out every now and then?"

She nodded. "With a buddy." Holly was in much less danger now that Cade's crew had in fact taken out two factions, and Tera the Fey had spread the word that Holly was not to be touched.

Plus, Holly's reputation as a slaughter-happy Valkyrie would make enemies, as Regin put it, "a jot leery" about attacking her.

Still, she wasn't to go anywhere without another Valkyrie.

"I'm glad to see that Regin has taken you under her wing," Nïx said. "Though I wonder about that, since she isn't exactly the most giving of Valkyrie."

Holly said, "She's already admitted that she's using me for distraction and advised me not to look too deeply into it." Straight-shooting Regin, telling it like it is.

Regin was even going to help her find an exorcist for the Laughing Ladies - though she wouldn't accompany her to the bridge. Fierce Regin was terrified of ghosts. So Holly was still looking for a buddy to go with her to Michigan in the winter.

Yes, Holly was settling in. Life was almost dandy. Except for the fact that she was pregnant with an evil demon's spawn.

In a rare bout of lucidity, Nïx had explained that Cadeon could've "double bagged it," and Holly could've been on the pill, a sponge, and an IUD, and he still would've "slipped one past the goalie."

The Vessel was hyper-fertile at all times for the first pregnancy. A virile male could have blown her a kiss, and Holly would've been calling him in nine months.

Good to know. Now. Score another one for Nïx, who could've divvied that little nugget of wisdom, but hadn't.

Holly didn't actually believe Cade was evil. But her general attitude about having a demon baby was: Meh. She couldn't get worked up about it one way or the other, and waited each day for it to sink in, hoping to feel some kind of excitment.

She'd forgiven her aunt for the most part. Without Nïx's interference, Holly would still be stubbornly clinging to her old life, when this one suited her far better.

Holly had realized that being with Cadeon wasn't the sole reason she'd been happy. And though it didn't feel possible now - even after everything, she still missed him terribly - Holly believed she could be happy once more.

All she'd ever wanted was to feel normal. In the Lore, she did. Even with her lingering quirks and compulsions, Holly fit in.

Nïx had told her that she would finally get a sense of herself on her journey, and in fact, Holly had discovered who she was: Holly the Bright.

It was her new Valkyrie name. She kind of liked it. Especially when compared to her coven's first few ideas: Holly the Spawner, Holly the Plucky Single Mother, and Holly Crocker.

Nïx said they'd chosen her name because of her intelligence, but also due to the fact that she'd followed the northern lights to get away from danger.

"Any thoughts on Cadeon?" Nïx asked. "You can't put him off forever."

He actually hadn't lied about Holly being his by fate. And Nïx had told her that the demon would be wanting his female back.

For the first week, he'd continued coming to Val Hall every night. Initially he'd acted as if he owned the place, striding right up to the front door - or at least intending to. The wraiths had caught him and tossed his towering frame into an oak so hard the trunk had split from the impact.

The Valkyrie playing Wii on the porch had cackled with glee.

If he yelled for her, her aunts slapped headphones on her ears, then sicced the wraiths on him even harder.

Chapter 27

But then, five nights ago, he'd stopped coming....

Now that Holly had time to think things over, she'd recalled all of Cadeon's tireless training. She'd begun to suspect that he really did have feelings for her and had been counting on Holly to free herself when he turned her over.

His "pressing needs" had consumed him. He'd had to make a choice, and she'd lost out.

Holly could almost understand that. But what she couldn't understand was how he'd given her the kiss-off at Groot's. Holly had been terrified, numb with shock, and he'd been cruel, callously indifferent.

He'd sure fooled her. She'd never forget the look on his face when he said, "Never trust a demon...." The ease with which he deceived still stunned her. She couldn't even count how many times he'd lied to her over the course of their journey.