"So you understand why I have to get them."

"Will you die without those pills? Because you sure as shite will die to get them. Your building is going to be crawling with assassins."

Her brows drew together. "You said building. How did you know I don't live in a house? And how did you know where to find me tonight?"

"We've been doing background on you. I was trailing you tonight and saw them take you."

"Tell me - who hired you to protect me?"

This was going to get sticky if she pressed. "Don't know exactly. I just got the job details instructing me to keep you safe and the payment scale. Anything else is of no matter to me."

She was quiet for a moment. "Background on me?" she finally asked. "You mean spying."

"I'm not apologizing for it - not when the outcome was that I saved your life."

"And what did you find out about me?"

How to answer her? Every time he thought he had Holly figured out, she surprised him. Over the last several months, he'd deemed her a math geek, a campus feminist, a tease, a tree hugger, and a closet sexpot.

He'd eventually figured out why he could never get a handle on what she was like - because she didn't have any kind of handle on herself. Even she didn't know who she was.

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"You're twenty-six, an only child, adopted," he finally said. "Your adoptive parents both died of natural causes in the last two years. They left you a fortune...." He slanted a glance at her.

Her face held no reaction. "Go on."

"You've got two master's degrees under your belt, and you're about to complete your PhD in mathematics." You've got the confidence of a woman who knows she's smart, and that's arousing as hell.

"You like to swim." Your body in even your modest swimsuit puts this demon to his knees.

"You've got a steady boyfriend, also in the PhD program." Tim's a ponce loser and a hypochondriac.

"You teach football players fun with numbers or something." With every sexual comment those jocks make about you, they routinely tempt death by demon bite....

"You like things to be...clean." You like blues rock and prepackaged foods.

"All true," she said. "And yet I know nothing about you except that you're a demon mercenary who has at least one brother."

He stifled a harsh laugh. That's all there is to know about me, he thought bitterly, but he said, "That's probably good. The less you know, the better."

6

Long moments after he hung up the phone with Cade, Rydstrom was still uneasy.

This is bad.

Groot's emissary had insisted on meeting three hundred miles from the city, and Rydstrom was still more than half an hour from the gas station where he would join up with Cade.

He accelerated even more, his Mercedes McLaren flying along an old ribbon of road, built up levee-style through the bayou. He was cruising at an easy hundred and forty miles per hour - so smoothly that the car seemed bored and sullenly quiet.

Rydstrom had to get to his brother before he did something impulsive. He didn't think even Cade comprehended how much he wanted that female.

This is bloody bad. Because he wasn't certain that Cade wouldn't just run off with Holly now that he could have her.

Did Rydstrom suspect the female was Cade's mate? Yes. But clearly, it wasn't meant to be.

Before, she wasn't attainable because of her mortality.

Now she would be the difference between Rydstrom reclaiming his kingdom or not.

Reclaiming Rothkalina... His heart beat faster at the idea of liberating his country, working to see his people prosper for the first time in a millennium.

Omort had been brutal to them, any rebellions crushed, the offenders sadistically punished.

But right now, their freedom was resting in...Cade's hands. Which was a tenuous position to be in.

Cade frustrated the hell out of him. Rydstrom was a male who worshipped reason, the rare rage demon who never lost his temper. Except with Cade - who knew how to push his buttons like no one else. And in return, Rydstrom was hard on him. Some said too hard.

Yet after every one of their infamous fistfights, just when Rydstrom was ready to part ways permanently, he'd remember his brother as a towheaded pup of seven, still with his baby horns, following him around, hero-worshipping him. Rydstrom would feel some flicker of hope that Cade could still pull back from the brink and make something meaningful of his life.

But if he didn't do the right thing now, that hope would be forever finished.

Recalling the day Cade had first seen Holly, Rydstrom increased his speed....

A little less than a year ago, Cade had taken on a job to retrieve a highborn demon's son from the Tulane campus. The son wasn't merely experimenting at passing as a human. The young male had actually been living the lifestyle, cutting off his horns, filing his fangs down, refusing to teleport.

The horrified parents wanted him brought home, without the "shameful secret" getting out to their friends and business associates.

Cade hadn't agreed with the parents' view - one of his mottos was To each his own. However, his overriding outlook was more along the lines of Another day, another dollar. The job had won out.

Rydstrom had accompanied him to the campus to make sure the extraction went smoothly. On the way to the son's dorm, they'd passed an auditorium with a sign announcing Mathematics Awards Today!

Cade had been amused, ready to ridicule. "Geeks on patrol, yeah?"

Though he'd been schooled in the basics of writing, mathematics, and languages, Cade still had a chip on his shoulder that he'd never been educated like other royals because he'd been fostered out. For him, there'd been no higher learning in subjects like philosophy, astronomy, or literature. And even after all these centuries, he felt lacking.

Over the years, Rydstrom had often found books on subjects like those among Cade's possessions. His brother, the cutthroat mercenary, was secretly educating himself....

Then Cade had seen Holly Ashwin up onstage receiving a first-place math award. "Now, that's a fine bit of grumble and grunt, yeah?" Rydstrom could swear that Cade made his lower-class accent even lower just to screw with him.

At the time, he hadn't understood Cade's attraction. The girl was pretty, no doubt of it, but she'd been buttoned-up, with glasses, no makeup, and her hair pulled back in a tight bun. She'd been brimming with a quiet confidence and was obviously smart - definitely not like Cade's typical fare of brazen and empty-headed.

"Come on, Cade, it's not as if we blend in," Rydstrom had said. Both of them stood over six and a half feet tall and wore hats.

But Cade had waited until the crowd adjourned. When she'd exited the auditorium, he'd called to her, "Come here, little bit. Got a question about the beauty pageant you just dominated."