The kobold swallowed. "I-I might have seen Ivo and Lothaire about earlier."
"Where are they staying?"
When it hesitated, Murdoch gave it another violent shake.
"Outside the parish! In the bayou. Near Val Hall."
"Near Val Hall?" Daniela repeated in amazement. "Have they no fear?"
"They're different," the kobold said. "You can't fight them." The same thing Deshazior had told them.
"How do you know this?" she asked.
"Heard it from a rat demon who heard it from one of the crocodilae shifters. That's all I know - vow it to the Lore!"
"Toss him," Daniela said. "Hard."
Murdoch flung the kobold back into the garbage heap, and it skulked away with a gurgling hiss.
"Okay, vampire, you have plenty to go on now," she said, still catching her breath from her earlier sprint. "Dawn's only a couple of hours away, so I think this is where we..." She trailed off when she saw him frowning at her. "What?"
"Are you hot?"
"No, I'll manage," she said, but her skin was reddened, her face pinched.
He swallowed. "Daniela, your breaths aren't smoking."
The vampire stared down at her with alarmed eyes.
"I'll be fine," she assured him, but she was still hot from the night before and had exerted herself too much keeping up with Murdoch's chase. "It's... nothing." If she could get back to the meat locker quickly enough. How many blocks is it to my car -
He grabbed her hand. "What are you doing?" she demanded.
Suddenly she was in a cold, dark room. He traced me? She'd never been traced when she was fully cognizant, and it made her dizzy, as if she'd just stepped off a pitching ship. She warily darted her eyes around them.
The heat and sounds of New Orleans were gone. She and the vampire now stood in what looked like an old-fashioned drawing room with sheet-draped furniture. Extensive marble floors conducted the chill until it seeped right into her bones. Delicious. "Where have you taken me?"
"A hunting lodge in Siberia."
"Siberia?" The very word connoted cold and made her toes curl with pleasure. "Why?"
"You were getting hot."
"It happens, you know. You didn't have to trace me out of Louisiana." She started toward one of the soaring windows, taking in details as she crossed the spacious interior.
She could tell that Murdoch wasn't actively living here, but the lodge was clean and in good repair. It was also opulent, with gilt walls and moldings inlaid with gems. Elaborate wood carvings adorned the doorways and the great hearth.
This place was a time capsule, like a tsar's hideaway preserved from hundreds of years ago. At the window, she gazed out, then inhaled sharply at the night scene.
"If you'd rather go..." he said from behind her.
Snow. Everywhere. Danii adored monochromatic landscapes, and here white fluff blanketed the grounds - as it should. "Is this property yours?"
"Yes, it's one of my war spoils."
Then this was a kindness, bringing her here. Maybe he'd been right before - maybe when it really counted, he came through. "There are so many trees," she said. Copses around the lodge led to the dense forest beyond. They were all coated with ice, their branches ponderous with it.
"Larch trees," he said. "One of the few kinds that will grow here."
In front of the manor, a lake lay frozen and glazed, reflecting the blue aurora borealis above. Stunning. Without tearing her gaze away, she asked, "You've kept this since the war?"
"Surprisingly, there's not a large market for Siberian hunting lodges. I know, I scarcely understand it myself."
Her lips curled.
"My brothers and I divided anything we won. Nikolai needed no residence, because he would have Blachmount, the family manor. This property lay in the middle of nowhere, with lands all the way to the Arctic Ocean, yet the lodge was incongruously lavish. I wanted it," he ended with a shrug.
"Why is it so lavish?"
"It belonged to a baron. He owned a nearby diamond mine."
"Do you ever stay here?"
"Sometimes I come here to hunt in the winter," he said. "Lots of game, since we're at the edge of continuous permafrost. It stays frozen almost year-round, only thaws for a month or two in the summer."
She could tell he was already feeling the cold, though as an immortal, he could withstand some seriously harsh elements. The temperature here was getting to her as well, invigorating her, even as she felt herself relaxing from the stresses of the night.
Here there was no threat from the Icere. Or the vampire. For hours, she'd been both attracted to him yet fearful at the same time, but no longer.
He wouldn't be able to bite her here. She'd be too powerful.
"I haven't seen snow in decades." Were those sideways icicles? Her heart sang - that meant some formidable storms blew here. "I can have ice, but never snow."
"You could visit cold climes."
"I'd almost rather not," she said. "Since it would be too hard to return."
"But now you can't return. You were leaving New Orleans tonight for good, weren't you?"
"My suitcases are in my car," she admitted, her mind working. Murdoch had taken her to the vastness of Siberia, which spanned a third of the northern hemisphere. She couldn't find a better place to disappear. Tracing vampires couldn't be followed. There'd be no travel arrangements for Icere assassins to unearth. No airports where she might run into Sigmund's spies.
And more, something about this place called to her. Breathing deeply of the crisp air, she said, "It's so lovely here." With the natural cold permeating every cell in her body, she felt better than she had in memory. She grew more confident, brazen even. At that moment, she decided that he didn't appreciate his Siberian paradise as much as he should. She would do a far better job of treasuring it.
Danii would be staying.
Now she just had to convince him. Should she prove unmoving and intractable as a glacier? Or should she dazzle him like a rare frost flower?
When she faced him, the look in his eyes made her decision easy. His gray irises were flickering with black, his mien showing hints of that possessiveness she'd detected earlier this eve.
I'll show him frigid... "You know, vampire, nothing feels quite so decadent as snow against my bare skin," she murmured, slipping off her satchel. "And ice can be a wicked pleasure. If I'm... naked."