“A lot of people fear change. And traveling. And disarray.
Sidewalk crack avoidance is more common than one would suspect.”
–Holly Ashwin, Tulane math instructor,
PhD candidate with an emphasis on formal and computational cryptography
“The first rule of being a mercenary? Find out what the client wants, then convince him that, a) you can get it for him, and, b) you’re the only one who can get it for him. Second rule? Lie. Often. The truth rarely serves you well in this business.”
–Cadeon Woede, mercenary, second in line to the throne of the rage demons,
a.k.a. Cade the Kingmaker
“Stupid . . . safety lock,” Holly Ashwin muttered as she fiddled with the nozzle of the pepper spray in her bag.
With her free hand, she pushed up her glasses, casting another nervous glance over her shoulder. She’d thought she heard footsteps behind her in the night. Was she being followed–or paranoid?
For months, she’d had the sense that someone was watching her. Yet strangely it hadn’t bothered her before. She couldn’t explain it, but there had been an almost soothing quality to the presence she’d felt.
Tonight, all that had changed.
She sensed raw menace, and wished she hadn’t made the walk from the parking lot to Gibson Hall by herself. Usually her boyfriend escorted her to class, but Tim was at a symposium presenting their latest paper–alone, because her condition made it nearly impossible for her to travel.
The manicured lawns on the way to her classroom were unusually empty. No doubt there were widespread parties tonight celebrating the full moon, which hung heavy and yellow in the black sky.
There was enough light that she could see the bushes behind her trembling. In a growing panic, she broke off the nozzle of the spray.
“Crap.” She hastily abandoned her one weapon, tempted to snag one of the pill bottles in the pocket beside it for a dose of relief. Instead, she increased her pace toward her destination, the math building, brightly lit like a beacon.
Almost there. Her heels clicked along on the sidewalk–though they never landed on a crack, even in her rush. Apparently, obsessive-compulsive disorder was panic-proof. . . .
She checked her watch. She was on time, of course, but she was late enough that her Remedial Math 101 students would be in the classroom already.
A few yards left. Almost to safety. . . .
Once she’d made it up the six stone steps to the doors, she exhaled in relief. Inside, the hall was ablaze with fluorescent light. Made it.
Her class was in the second room on the right and would be filled with thirty-three very large and very loyal Tulane football players. Anyone thinking to frighten her would soon learn how a tackle dummy felt at season’s end.
Holly’s colleagues believed she’d drawn the short straw to have to teach Digits for Idjits, as some of the instructors called it. But Holly had actually volunteered for jock duty.
If she was to teach math, then why not instruct the ones who had exponentially more to learn?
And in truth, they were on their best behavior ninety-nine percent of the time. Though each Tuesday and Thursday night, some of the players always got there early to scribble sprawling messages for her on the blackboard. A fellow instructor had related to Holly that “the boys”–who were all of five or six years younger than she was–enjoyed watching her erase things in “those skirts.”
Holly wore old-fashioned pencil skirts with hemlines past her knees. Would she never catch a break?
She wondered what she’d be erasing tonight. Some of the past offerings included “Got it bad, sooo bad, I’m hot for teacher,” “I’ve been a naughty boy, Ms. Ashwin,” and “Professor + Ginger = Holly Ashwin.” They’d crossed the l‘s to make them t‘s.
So far she didn’t think any of them had noticed her need to erase every millimeter of writing on the board, or to arrange the chalk in the tray into perfect trios, even breaking a stick to achieve a multiple of three. . . .
Outside the door to her room, she took a calming breath and smoothed her tight chignon. After ascertaining that the clasp of her strand of pearls was directly over the center of her nape, she tugged each sleeve of her twinset sweater until the ends perfectly hit her wristbones. She checked the backs of her earrings, then opened the door.
Empty. Every chair sat empty.
CLASS IS CANCELED was scrawled across the board. They’d gone too far this time.
Or maybe it wasn’t them? She swallowed, whirling around.
Rough cloth covered her face, reeking of fumes, drowning out her scream.
Just as her eyelids slid shut and her body went limp, she heard the unholy roar of a man in the distance.
* * *
Rogue demons have my female.
As Cadeon Woede’s old Ford truck tore through traffic to yet another demon lair, he grappled to control the rage his breed of demon was known for.
They’ve taken Holly. . . .
Almost one year ago, Cade had crossed paths with Holly Ashwin and had recognized the human as his own fated female. Unable to claim a mortal, he’d had to content himself by following her, guarding her.
Which was the only reason why he’d been there when a group of demons had traced her, teleporting her to gods knew where. But they’d hunted on the campus; surely their lair would be near.
Why would they want her? Because she was an innocent? Then they’d picked the wrong virgin–Cade would hang them by their own entrails and watch them dance if they touched so much as a hair on her head.
His phone rang just as he surged past a visibly drunk driver. When drunks drove slowly, it was exactly like they whispered–noticeably.
“What?” he barked in answer. Tonight he was supposed to receive the details of his latest job. It’d be the most important one he’d had since becoming a mercenary centuries ago.
“I’ve just left the meeting,” his brother Rydstrom said. “I have the information we need.”
Riding the bumper in front of him, tempted to give it a tap, Cade asked absently, “So who’s the pay?”
“The client is Groot the Metallurgist.”
Normally that would have had Cade raising his brows. Groot was the half brother of Omort the Deathless–the dark sorcerer who had stolen Rydstrom’s crown and kingdom ages ago. “Groot intends to help us against Omort?” Cade’s truck overtook another car, nearly trading paint with it.
“He’s crafted a sword that can kill Omort.”
Then it would be the only one in existence that could. Omort the Deathless didn’t come by his name without reason. “What’s the job?”
“He wants us to find the Vessel and deliver her to him before the next full moon.”
The Vessel. Every Accession, a female from the Lore would come into sexual maturity. Her first child would be a warrior of either ultimate evil or of ultimate good, depending on which way the father leaned.
A car weaved in front of Cade. “Son of a–“
“What are you doing?” Rydstrom demanded.
“Traffic.” He didn’t want his brother to know anything was off. Cade had told him that he would stop watching Holly. Though they both suspected she was his female, a future with her was impossible.
Humans were forbidden to demons. Because they never survived the initial claiming.
But Cade hadn’t been able to stop himself from watching her from afar, studying her, growing more and more fascinated with the odd, young mortal. Becoming more convinced that she was his.
He knew it was ridiculous. He was an ancient immortal, a brutal mercenary, head of a crew of soldiers of fortune. And yet Cade looked forward to nothing–except seeing her.
Holly went through her life having no idea that she was the highlight of a millennium-old demon’s disappointing existence. . . .
This new job was supposed to be the last chance for him and his brother to reclaim Rydstrom’s crown–the crown that Cade lost for him. If Rydstrom found out Cade wasn’t “on,” the two of them would be heading for another of their infamous house-killing brawls. Cade used to enjoy working off his anger. Now the idea wearied him.
“How are we supposed to find the Vessel?” Cade asked.
“I was told it’s a Valkyrie this time around.”
“Handing over a Valkyrie for the use of an evil sorcerer. You’re not worried about our alliance with them?”
“I’m going to take a page from your book and say that what they don’t know won’t hurt them.”
“They will know. Nix will be able to see this.” Nix, the half-mad Valkyrie soothsayer, had helped Rydstrom and Cade in the past. In fact, she’d put together this deal, though she’d given them no indication who they’d be working for.
Cade had talked to her less than a week ago about Holly. Nix had revealed nothing about tonight.
“If Nix didn’t see that the Vessel would be one of her own before, she might not now. Besides, it can’t be helped,” Rydstrom said. “Nothing is more important than this job. It was Nix herself who vowed this was our last chance to defeat Omort.”
“Do you have a location on the target?”
“Groot’s oracles have been searching for her. As expected, she’s here in this city.”
The coming Accession was already pushing and pulling all the factions together in mystickal hotspots like New Orleans.
“And we’re not the only ones who want her,” Rydstrom added. “Oracles, witches, and sorcerers are all scrying for her.”
Cade could imagine. “You got a name?”
“No name on her. But we have her last known whereabouts, a place called the Hall of the Son of Gib. I know it sounds like typical soothsayerese, but it’s a lead.”
A chill slithered up Cade’s spine. No. No way. The Hall of the Son of Gib. Or Gibson Hall–the mathematics building on the Tulane campus.
Holly wasn’t a Valkyrie; yet those demons might have seen her in the predicted location and mistaken her for one. She had the right delicate features and slight build. They could have assumed she was the Vessel.
Only one local demon faction would have had the resources to determine the Vessel’s location before Cade and Rydstrom–the Order of Demonaeus.
“We go for the Valkyrie tonight,” Rydstrom said. “I’ll be back at the house in two hours. Meet me then.”
Two hours. Even if Cade was tempted to ask his brother for help with the Demonaeus, there wouldn’t be time to wait for him. “Yeah, will do.” Click.
The wide wheels of his truck screeched as Cade cut across three lanes of traffic, careening over the median to speed back in the other direction.
He knew where the Order of Demonaeus was located, had been forced to convene with their kind on more than one occasion.
Cade had even seen their ritual altar. Was the sweet, impossibly innocent Holly stripped atop it even now?
The steering wheel bent under his grip.
Her eyelids were too heavy to open, and she didn’t know if she wanted to see anyway. A quick mental survey of her body revealed terrifying things.
She was lying on what felt like a stone slab, naked except for her jewelry, and with her long hair hanging down over the end, snagging on the rough edges. The stone seeped a deep chill into her body, so cold her teeth were chattering.
They’d taken her glasses from her face, ensuring that everything within ten feet would be a blur.
Deep-voiced chanting sounded all around her, in a bizarre language she’d never heard.
Holly finally cracked open her eyes. No man had ever seen her completely naked before–now a dozen indistinct figures leered down at her.
One pinned her arms, another her legs. With a cry, she struggled against their grip.”Let me go!” This is a dream. A nightmare. “Release me! Oh, God, what are you doing?”
The meds were messing with her brain. Surely she was hallucinating.
When they didn’t answer, only continued their chanting, she pleaded, “Don’t do this,” but she didn’t know exactly what “this” could be.
Though no electric lights were on in this dank chamber, black candles sat all around and moonlight shone through a skylight of some kind. She squinted around her and could see that the men were wearing robes and . . . costume horns?
In their chanting, one word seemed to be repeated: Demonaeus. This must be some kind of sicko, demon-worshipping cult.
Yet they weren’t wearing masks to conceal their identities. She was certain that meant one thing–they didn’t plan to let her out of this place alive.
“My family will be looking for me,” she lied. Her parents were dead. She had no siblings. “I’m not the one you want for this . . . this sacrifice.” Tears pooled, then spilled down her temples. “I’m not special in any way.”
A couple of them gave harsh laughs at that.
“This isn’t happening,” she whispered to herself, trying to stem her panic. “This isn’t happening.”
She gazed up at the glass dome above her. The moon had risen almost directly over an unusual etching in the center of the glass, depicting what looked like the face of a horned demon.
The shadow from the etching would slide directly over the altar, over her, when the moon hit it. It was a gnomon, a shadow maker, like that of a sundial.
The men seemed to await the shadow’s advent, glancing up every so often. Await it for what?
As the moon continued to ascend, their chanting grew louder. She struggled harder, kicking her legs and thrashing her arms.
Lightning flashed across the sky. She vaguely noted that the more she strained to get free, the more frequently the bolts flickered overhead.
The largest of the men slid between her spread legs. When he removed his robe, comprehension hit her. She couldn’t see below his waist but knew he was naked. “No, no, no . . . don’t do this!“
The whites of his eyes were . . . flooded with black? He clamped her thighs, dragging her over rough stone to the edge of the altar.
She shrieked. All hell broke loose.
The men slapped their hands over their ears; the glass above them splintered into ominous forks–then the whole of it shattered, raining heavy shards all around the untouched altar.
A lightning bolt jagged down through the opening to spear her squarely in the chest, tossing the men away.
She screamed from the impact, arching with her fists clenched. The bolt was a physical force continuing on and on.
Unimaginable heat sizzled through her veins. Her two rings melted off her fingers, her earrings from her ears. Her necklace and watch were seared to liquid, dripping from her body.
She was unharmed–because her skin was somehow hotter than the boiling metal.
The pressing weight of the electricity filled her with power, with . . . comfort. When it ended, Holly was changed. She didn’t feel alone in this place.
Punish them, a voice seemed to whisper in her mind. They dared to hurt you. . . .
Her earlier terror was strangled by a fresh rage. Her fingers were suddenly tipped with razor-sharp claws. Her eyesight was keener than it had ever been even in the darkness. Fangs grew in her mouth.
Though she felt no ill effects from the lightning, the demons looked dazed, blinded. They were bleeding from the falling glass.
But they quickly regrouped. She rose, crouching on the altar, waiting as they stalked closer. One had a club–her eyes fixed on it.
A club. To beat her unconscious so they could continue their sick ritual.
Red covered her vision. When one lunged for her, she snatched him by the horns. They were . . . attached to his skull. Not a costume. Which meant real demons?
Which meant hallucination. This couldn’t truly be happening. She laughed as she twisted the demon’s head, assured this was some kind of nightmare.
And in her nightmare, the instinctive drive to kill with her new strength and fury overwhelmed her.
When the others attacked, Holly was unafraid.
She knew how to kill them as if she’d been hunting and slaughtering them for thousands of years. She knew to wrench their heads from their necks, to slash out with claws that would rend through skin and arteries as they would tissue paper.
Punish . . .
When the blood began to spray, lightning scored the sky above her as if in encouragement.
“I understand,” she murmured as she aimed for one’s jugular and severed it. “I see.” Yes, their last sight on earth should be my laughing face.
* * *
“Easy, female,” Cade soothed as he crept closer to where Holly huddled naked in a corner.
She was covered in blood. But had it come from her, or the twelve demons she’d apparently slain?
Her eyes were . . . silver, glowing in the shadows. Which meant Valkyrie. Somehow she was no longer a mere human.
A Valkyrie at Gibson Hall. Holly was indeed the Vessel.
She had her knees drawn up to her chest and was trying to cover her breasts while baring her little claws at him to ward him off. She was trembling with fear and shock, and tears coursed down her blood-splattered face.
It was killing him.
“Easy,” he murmured. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
Her eyes darted from his horns to those on one of the heads lolling on the stone floor.
“Yeah, I’m a demon, too,” he said. “But not at all like them. My name’s Cadeon Woede.”
How far had they gotten with her before she’d turned and attacked? Though the carnage looked to have been done some time ago, Holly still had gashes on her arm from the claws of one of these demons.
She might have been turned to a Valkyrie, but she hadn’t yet been granted the accelerated healing and immortality of one. Which meant that she was still incredibly vulnerable to harm. Like a human.
Humans die so easily.
“Did they injure more than your arm?”
She finally shook her head.
“Hurt you anywhere? Do I need to get you to a hospital?” he asked, even as he knew that wouldn’t work.
Other factions were searching for her. He would be surprised if they hadn’t already scried the lightning he’d seen from a distance. Power still sizzled from her and throughout the chamber. New power was easily traceable.
She whispered, “They d-didn’t hurt me.”
“Good. I want to help you, Holly.”
She frowned at his use of her name, studying his face.
“We’ve met before,” Cade said, but she was in no way calmed–lightning continued to strike in constant streams. Lightning gave Valkyrie strength, but it also mirrored their emotions.
When he began unbuttoning his shirt to cover her, she gave a cry, and bloody claws swiped out at him. Then she stared in horror at her fingertips.
Just hours ago, she’d been living as a normal human–or near normal with some eccentricities. Now she had become something he never could have predicted. A Valkyrie. Or half one. He hadn’t known she’d possessed this latent potential. The shock of the ritual must have triggered the transformation.
If not for this power, she would have been brutalized, her womb offered to the dark god this order of demons worshipped.
When he removed his shirt, she bared her small fangs and hissed, then looked aghast at her reaction.
“There, now, a good hiss never hurt anyone.” He crouched beside her, fighting the urge to clasp her to his chest. “I’m going to put this on you. Easy . . .“
She gazed up at him with eyes wavering between silver and the intense violet he recognized. “Wh-what’s happening to me?”
“You know all those creatures you thought were myths?” When she shakily nodded, he said, “Well, they’re not. And you’re changing from a human to an immortal.”
Which meant it had become possible for Cade to claim her for his own.
And you’ve just become my target–the Vessel. The means to pay for a sword to kill our enemy.
She equaled the crown he’d worked for nine hundred years to reclaim–the unyielding pursuit that had given him a reason to go on living.
Never had it been so close. . . .
All he had to do was use and betray the woman he’d waited just as long to possess.
Holly turned and hunched to button the shirt, peering over her shoulder to keep this Cadeon in sight.
She remembered meeting him before. As if she could ever forget those stunning green eyes. She recalled his accent as well–it sounded like some type of British colonial, and he spoke with an unusual intonation.
Months ago, he’d approached her on campus. Initially he’d been cocky, then grew tongue-tied, stammering, even as he’d boldly studied her figure.
She’d found him weird. And that was before she’d known what had been hidden beneath the hat he’d worn.
Now she could see what had been covered by his shirt as well. His bared chest was rippling with muscles, and he wore a wide gold band just above his bulging bicep.
He was as massive as the others, admittedly one of them. She shuddered, trying to block out the sight of the corpses all around her.
But he looked different as well, his facial features appearing more human. His horns ran back along his head through his tawny hair, instead of jutting forward.
How can I see this well without my glasses? “Why should I t-trust you?”
“Because it’s my job to protect you. More will be coming–I’ll explain everything later.”
When she still hesitated, he said, “These twelve were just the first round intended for you.”
“First round?” she cried.
A creaking door sounded from somewhere on a floor above them. He shot to his feet. “Come with me if you want to get out of here alive.”
“Wh-where are we going?”
“We’re going to run for it. I’ll keep you safe, but you’ll have to trust me.” He held out his big hand to her.
Seeing no other choice, she took it, and he pulled her up. She was surprisingly steady on her feet, all things considered. Never relinquishing her hand, he led her out of the chamber, then down a murky stone corridor.
When the passageway intersected with an alcove, they spied a group of three males, robed like the ones before, speaking that same odd language. Cadeon pulled her back against the wall, then whispered directly at her ear, “Don’t make the smallest sound. You stay here until I return for you. Clear?”
She nodded, and he turned back. As he prepared to attack, the broad muscles in his back grew before her eyes. His horns straightened and blackened.
Her lips parted when he lunged for the others. His speed was mind-boggling, and his roar shook the room, paining her sensitive ears. He snatched the horns of one demon and twisted its head until an audible pop sounded.
As he faced off against the other two, his upper and lower fangs shot longer. He used them like an animal as he bit and clawed.
Had she looked that overcome with rage when she’d killed? Her earlier fearlessness disappeared. When his eyes flooded with black like the other one’s had, she shuddered, backing away.
Had she thought him different? I just want to go home. Forget this ever happened. Why should she trust him? I can find my own way out.
Clear of the fray, she hastened in the direction they’d been traveling, eventually stumbling into an open gallery.
More bizarre symbols were stamped into the wooden chairs and stone floor. Ancient-looking tapestries hung from the ceiling. On a display shelf were skulls that looked human, but they had horns and upper and lower fangs.
Then she saw what appeared to be double doors to the outside. If she could get outside, she could find a car or hide–
Rapid gunshots exploded the plaster just feet to the right of her. She sucked in a breath and dared a glance as she ran to her left. Men aimed machine guns at her with deadly intent.
A second man began shooting from the other direction. Bullets riddled the wall on either side of her, closing in. She darted right, then left once more, blocked each way. The sweep grew closer . . . closer.
A foot away on each side. She froze with terror.
A bellow sounded over the gunfire. Cadeon hurdled the line of bullets to get to her. Scooping her up in his arms, he tucked her against his chest. Just as the shots reached them, he pressed her against the wall until his body covered every inch of hers.
He gritted his teeth when the first bullet hit him, unable to turn to run without risking her. She burst into tears. Two bullets, three, four . . .
He stared down at her, those jet eyes seeming to consume her, and grated, “No more . . . running from me. Yeah?”
“Y-yeah,” she whispered brokenly, crying harder every time his big body jerked from the impact.
Over his shoulder, he roared at them, a furious warning growl, and she whimpered. His voice a harsh rasp, he said to her, “No, no, female. Shh.” He petted at her tears with huge fingers tipped with short black claws.
The shots abruptly stopped. Holly peered over Cadeon’s shoulder. The robed demons were attacking the gunmen.
As the others clashed, Cadeon sprinted toward those double doors with her in his arms. He turned in midstride, hitting the doors with his bullet-riddled back, bursting them from their hinges.
Charging out into the night, he made for an older truck parked off to the side of the manor. After opening the groaning cab door, he tossed her inside on the cracked vinyl seat and followed her in. He pinched the key and turned. Nothing.
“Is the battery dead?” she asked, shaking off some of the shock and fog. “Does this thing still run?” Wrappers and crushed cans littered the floorboards.
“Hey, hey, no disrespecting The Truck. She’s gotten me out of a lot of scrapes.” He finessed the gearshift up and back. “I just need to make sure . . . she knows we’re in neutral.” Holly thought she heard a click. “There.”
The engine roared to life. He cast her a patronizing glance as soon as they were tearing up the shell drive.
She peered back at the manor. From the outside, the residence was stately, the grounds immaculate. She would never have guessed what beings lurked in the bowels of that place.
And now she was with another of their kind. She turned to him, studying this being–this . . . demon.
He had blond stubble on his tanned face, and his hair was thick and straight, reaching past his masculine jaw. Uneven strands looked lightened by a life in the sun.
The gold band he wore on his right arm appeared to be permanent, as if he’d have to cut it to get it past that bulging bicep. And those horns . . .
When they’d straightened earlier, they’d become much larger and darker. Now they were smooth, the color of a shell, lying close to his head. With his hair tousled over them, they probably wouldn’t be easy to discern.
“How am I measuring up?” he asked, his voice deep and rumbling.
She flushed. “I’ve just never seen . . . horns before tonight.”
“Figured you’d be in for a shock.”
“Where are we going now?”
“I’ve got to get you out of town,” he said. “This place is too hot for us to stay.”
She noticed blood on the back of his seat. “How are you still moving with all those bullets?”
“With a lot of fucking pain, Holly.”
She gasped, his foul language grating on her like nails on a chalkboard.
“Oh, come on, halfling! My language’s only going to deteriorate from here.”
“I . . . it’s just habit. Are you going to be okay?”
“I should be able to shed them.” When she frowned, he explained, “My skin should push them out when I heal.”
Holly couldn’t scarcely wrap her mind around that. “What did those men want with me? Who were the ones shooting?”
“The gunmen were leeches. Vampires.”
“Vampires,” she said softly, but her mind was screaming, This is insanity!
“They must know you haven’t turned fully immortal yet. Our kinds never use guns, as evidenced by their shite aim.”
She winced at the vulgarity, but managed not to gasp this time. “Again, why?”
“Because you just became the most popular girl in town.”
“What does that mean?” In the stern tone she usually reserved for her students, she added, “This isn’t the time for cryptic answers, Cadeon.”
“This isn’t the time for questions whatsoever, Holly.”
Headlights met them on the drive. An SUV blocked the gated exit.
“Fuckall,” he snapped, wheeling around, spraying up shells. “More vampires.”
She clamped hold of the dashboard to brace herself. “Where are we going now?”
“Only one other way off this property. Into the swamp.”
“How would you know?”
“Been here before.” At her look, he said, “I’ve met with the demons here on occasion. As a representative of my breed.”
“You . . . you fraternized with those animals? Does your ‘breed’ kidnap women as well?”
“Kidnap women? I can hardly keep the chits off the jock as it is, pet.”
Eyes wide, she said, “Chits? Pet? Are you from the nineteenth century or just trying to be misogynistic?”
“I’m from medieval times, and I never have to try to be misogynistic.” He slammed on the brakes, and cranked the four-wheel-drive gear, peering at her hard. “It just comes to me natural, like a gift.” Stomping on the gas once more, he sent her flying back into the seat as they lurched forward, racing over pristine greens.
“Why did they want to hurt me? I’ve never done anything to deserve this!”
“It’s not what you’ve done–it’s what you are.”
“A math instructor?” she said in a strangled tone.
“You’re a Valkyrie now. And a special one at that. Your mum must’ve been one.”
“Valkyrie! My mom was a pie contest winner! And she was human. She died two years ago.”
“Then your biological mother must have been one.”
She was shocked into silence for a moment. How had this demon known she was adopted? “I didn’t even know her.” Holly had always imagined her as a scared teenager who’d had the incredible good sense to leave her baby on the most wonderful doorstep imaginable. Now this demon was saying that her mother was a Valkyrie? “What exactly is a Valkyrie? And how did you know I was adopted?”
“Questions later. Right now we’ve got to get through the swamp.”
The dark line of brush loomed. “I don’t see a road!”
“There’s a service trail,” he said, then added in a casual tone, “It might be a shade grown over.”
“A shade! Are you certain there’s no other way to get out?”
He nodded. “The property’s surrounded by bayou and swamp.”
“What are the odds that we’ll make it through?”
“I give us one in fifteen.”
Her eyes went wide. “I wouldn’t take those odds!”
“You would if there’s zero chance otherwise.”
“Oh, God,” she muttered, feeling around the seat. “Where’s the seatbelt?”
“Broke a few years back.”
“And you didn’t get it fixed?” she snapped.
“Don’t usually ferry around mortals, then!” he thundered back.
Struggling for calm, she said, “Cadeon, I do not see even a hint of a trail.”
“Demon senses. I can find it.” But he pressed his straightened arm over her chest as they closed in.
“Y-you’re not really going in there?”
This being had saved her life, had even taken bullets for her, and yet there was something so markedly untrustworthy about him.
He flashed her a rakish grin with barely noticeable fangs. “Though if you’re the praying type, now might be a choice time. . . .”