This short story takes place between the last chapter and the epilogue of the first book.
Viola tilted her hand back and forth admiring the way the sunlight made the gemstones on her engagement ring sparkle. Though Duke had only placed the ring on her finger five days earlier, and slid the matching wedding band on two days later, she’d already grown used to its weight on her hand. Not once in all the years she’d admired Granny Duke’s rings had she imagined they would be hers. Then again, she hadn’t believed Duke would ever marry, either. She’d never been so happy to be wrong before.
She shivered as the temperature in the car dropped another couple of degrees. She pulled the fleece blanket up to her chin and eyed the coffee in the cup holder speculatively. They’d stopped for drinks and snacks an hour earlier. What were the chances the coffee was still warm?
Opting to forgo the coffee, she adjusted the travel pillow cushioning her head and closed her eyes. She’d had a small, niggling headache all day and was tired of being cooped up in the car. She was going to try her best to persuade Duke to stay in Baton Rouge for more than a day. She needed a break from road glare and country music.
Just as she drifted off to sleep, the car shook violently. Her head bounced off the window. Grumbling obscenities and rubbing the sore spot on her forehead, she opened her door and stuck her head out the opening.
“Need any help?”
“No, I’ve got this. Stay inside.”
Viola resisted the urge to roll her eyes at her panting husband. Husband, she squealed internally. She could finally write Viola Duke, the name she’d doodled in spirals and on paper textbook covers in school, without having to hide it from her nosy siblings. There was the small problem of her initials being “VD,” but it was so worth it.
When the car shook a second time, she balled the blanket up and tossed onto the backseat. She retrieved a small plastic pouch from the center console, snagged Duke’s leather jacket by the collar, and slipped out of the car. She hissed as the icy wind slapped her in the face.
Huddled close to the car, she followed the sound of Duke’s voice and pained grunts. She found him on his back near the front of the SUV. A magenta, furry demon no larger than Finn stood at his feet sniffing his shoelaces. Teeth clamped down on her lower lip to hold back her laughter, Viola dropped Duke’s jacket onto his head.
“Here. It’s cold. You’re going to get frostbite, and that’d be really inconvenient for me.”
Duke yanked the jacked off his face and shoved his arms through the sleeves. The lining was cold, but he was grateful for the protection from the wind. He tilted his head back so he could glare up at Viola.
“You’re not going to be very good at this whole ‘obeying’ thing, are you?”
“Now whatever gave you that idea?”
“The first twenty-five years of your life.”
She chuckled and leaned back against the cold metal of the SUV. “Just wait until you see the next twenty-five.”
A broad grin split his face. He ran the back of his hand across her knee. “I’m looking forward to it.” He lightly swatted her other knee. It was far too soon after her four-day coma for her to be up and about with demons around. “Now get back in the car. I can handle this on my own.”
“Are you sure?” She frowned at the demon moving stealthily towards Duke’s head. “Shruulumps can be tricky.”
“I said I’ve got it, Vi. I have Tracked without you holding my hand you know.”
“Okay.” She shrugged; thrust her frigid hands in the pockets of her jeans. “You might want to duck, then.”
Ignoring her advice completely, Duke turned back around to face the demon only to end up with the Shruulump’s slick tongue on his cheek. He gagged as the foul-smelling saliva coated his skin. Before he could back away, the Shruulump’s long, red tongue made another pass over his face.
“Well, I suppose a shower’s going to be included in my plans for tonight,” Viola observed dryly. She wrinkled her nose in disgust when yellow-tinted saliva dripped onto Duke’s thermal shirt. “A trip to the hotel’s laundry room, too.”
“You’re not very nice.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, sounding anything but, “I must have skipped over that part of my vows.”
“Hardly surprising.” With a groan, Duke shoved the Shruulump away and surged to his feet. His back ached and his knees stung from where he’d scraped them on the asphalt. “Remind me again why we don’t kill these things?”
“Because they’re cute?”
Duke froze, slowly turned his head to stare incredulously at Viola. He gestured at the demon with brightly-colored fur, hairless rattail, massive three-toed paws, and sharp, black teeth. Shruulump’s had always reminded him of something a person tripping on acid would dream up.
“Cute? You think that is cute?”
He shook his head in disbelief. “You have a very, very whacked definition of ‘cute,’ sugar.”
“I know,” she responded mildly. “I married you, after all.”
His eyes narrowed; his lips thinned. “Get back in the car, Viola.”
“Oh, don’t pout. You know you’re handsome.” She winked at him flirtatiously. “Some people might even call you sexy.”
“Really?” Duke perked up. He ran a hand through his short hair and used a napkin from his pocket to wipe most of the saliva off his face.
“I said ‘some people.’ I never said that included me.”
"Get in the car.”
Grinning, she pushed off the car and looped an arm around his waist. She pressed a kiss to the side of his mouth. “Love you, Tobias.”
“You think I’m just going to forgive you because you pulled the love card, don’t you?”
“Pretty much, yeah.” She kissed him again. By the time she pulled away, the scowl had slipped off his face and his eyes were dark with lust. The thoughts he broadcasted through their link made her knees weak. “Let’s take care of the Shruulump so we can get to the hotel.”
“Best plan I’ve heard all day.” He glanced down at the demon at their feet. “Got any suggestions?”
Viola dangled the plastic pouch under his nose. “I had these left over from the last time I had to take Finn to the vet. Toss a handful into the bushes. Once the Shruulump eats them, he’ll fall asleep and we can call a team to pick him up.”
“That’s not going to work.”
"Sure it will. They knock Finn out, so they should work for the Shruulump. They’re about the same size.”
“That’s not how it works, Vi, but we’ll try it.”
Duke read the back of the package of dog treats, shrugged, and tossed a handful of the round treats into a clump of bushes a few feet from the road. The Shruulump immediately scampered after the sausage-flavored treats. Three minutes later, the loud, wheezing sound of the Shruulump’s snores reached them. With a smirk, Viola handed Duke his cell phone and pranced back to the car.
“Nobody likes a know-it-all, Viola!” he called after her.
“Oh, just get in the car, Tobias.”