Ignore it. He turned to her. She was cradling her burned hand, her eyes still wet.

When their skin had made contact, hers had felt like ice, definitely uncomfortable to him. His skin had made her cry. Yet earlier, when he'd been tearing poisoned arrows from her flesh, there'd been no tears.

"Let me see it," he grated.

She reluctantly showed him her blistered palm, and he winced, guilt assailing him. He rose to get ice for her, but was so unsteady he wondered if he could even trace to the kitchen. With effort, he made it to the refrigerator, saw the containers of blood there.

So thirsty.... He felt a mad urge to annihilate his supply. Just get her the ice. She's burned because of you.

Ice. Before now, he'd never much thought about it. Yet it had been his Bride's salvation. What would have happened if he hadn't gotten her cooled last night? Would an immortal like her truly have died?

Returning with a paper towel filled with ice cubes, he handed it to her, careful not to make contact - or to glance at her neck.

She closed her hand around a couple of cubes and sighed in relief. After a few moments, she peeked up under her lashes at him. "So what happens with us now?" The shy Valkyrie was back?

"You tell me."

"This is out of the realm of my experience." As her pain faded, her expression showed hints of excitement. She looked optimistic. No doubt, she thought they were embarking on something. Females always had in the past. No matter how much he warned them that he would never settle down.

Embarking with Daniela - a woman he could never bed? I'd be consigning myself to misery.

He just needed time to think about all this. He rose and yanked on his jeans, grimacing as the material scraped over his abused shaft.

She must have sensed his tension, because she dropped the ice and defensively bundled the sheet to cover herself. After a few moments, she said, "You've lost a lot of blood."

"I'll be fine. Been in worse shape."

"I expect so, since you died and all."

He turned to her. "And you know how I came to be like this?" When she nodded, he said, "Tell me, then."

"King Kristoff found you dying on a battlefield. He gave you a choice of fealty to him and eternal life - or death. That's what Kristoff does, what he's always done."

Fealty or death. Murdoch remembered that night as if it were yesterday. Kristoff had found Nikolai first, in a pool of his own congealing blood. But Nikolai hadn't feared death, so he'd negotiated with Kristoff before he would accept the king's offer.

He'd demanded to be a general in the Forbearer army, refusing to take orders from anyone but Kristoff himself. And he'd wanted Murdoch and any trusted comrades with mortal wounds turned as well.

Nikolai had also demanded the span of a human's lifetime to watch over their four younger sisters, their two younger brothers, and their father.

They'd all been dead in a matter of weeks.

Murdoch ran his hands through his hair. "Tell me how you knew who I was."

"The Valkyrie heard Forbearers were going to be out in the city. When you told me your brother had captured Myst, I put it together. He's the Forbearer most likely to search for her."

Now that Murdoch had experienced for mere hours the hell that Nikolai had endured for years, he was furious anew with Myst. Daniela's sister. "Shouldn't he have searched for Myst?"

When Daniela nodded blithely, he frowned. "And shouldn't you be demanding that Nikolai free her?"

She gave him a vulnerable grin. "If Nikolai is half as sensual as you are, I wouldn't be doing her any favors to get her freed. I'm sure they've come to an understanding by now."

The Valkyrie was throwing him. Again. Too much to take in. A new Bride. A hunger like he'd never known...

He gazed at her neck once more. Her skin was pale, smooth, begging for his fangs.

"Besides, the more I think about it," she continued, "the more I realize you should probably be rescuing your brother from her. She's going to twist him inside out."

Murdoch shook himself. "She's already done that. She tormented him for five years." His anger was growing, matching his thirst and exhaustion. "I barely got through a few hours of needing to come -  imagine half a decade!"

Her pleased mien faded. "He deserved nothing less."

Murdoch traced directly in front of her, staring down. In a menacing tone, he said, "Did he? To be shot up, then left crippled by his Bride?"

She rolled her eyes at him, possibly the first woman ever to do so. "Either you don't know all the facts or you're ignoring them. On the night that Myst left Nikolai, he was about to torture her for information in Mount Oblak's dungeon. Our sisters rescued her from that fate, and they wanted to kill Nikolai, but Myst left him alive. Your brother owes her his life."

"Watch what you say, plika."

"Chit? You called me a chit?"

Figured she'd know Estonian.

Her own ire clearly mounting, she said, "And what'll happen if the plika doesn't watch what she says? Will you hurt me, your one and only Bride?"

"You think I'm bound by this? Bound to you?" Even as he sneered the words, he had to resist that unbearable pull toward her. Resent it. "You think that I'll follow you around like a dog as you scorn me?" His eyes kept straying to her neck. Would she notice?

"Scorning you hadn't even been in the decision tree for me, but now that you bring it up, it makes total sense, especially considering the repercussions otherwise," she said. Yet then she frowned. "Wait a second. I see what you're doing. Trying to scare me off."

She rose, tucking the sheet around her like a towel. "Look, I'm as freaked out about this as you are. But the fact is that I... liked you, up until five minutes ago, and I wanted to see you again - even though I'd be risking ridicule at best and ostracism at worst." She took a step closer to him, that vulnerability in her expression. "I'm sure this is all overwhelming for you. One minute you're going about your business, and the next you're blooded with a Bride - "

"One I didn't choose." He was taking his frustration out on her, and he couldn't seem to stop. "I didn't manage monogamy as a human, though I could have wed my pick of the most ravishing women in my country. How do you think I'll fare with a female I can't touch?" Especially now that he could have others.

Her eyes narrowed, and lightning struck outside. "Monogamy? I'm not angling for a wedding!" All shades of that previous vulnerability were gone, replaced by haughtiness. "And if you don't think I can hold my own against all those eighteenth-century mortals you were out tagging, then you're a fool, Casanova." At his expression, she added, "Oh, yes, I know all about you."

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