During this time, Murdoch went to bed exhausted every day, hoping that he wouldn't dream of Daniela. But he always did. And each time, that strange voice asked: What would you sacrifice? What would you do for her?

He glanced at the lightening sky once more, feeling nearly powerless not to return to her, to check on how she was settling in, to see if he'd imagined the blue of her eyes or her crisp, clean scent.

In his homeland, the fall came with a pounding rain, scouring the countryside. Then one morning the rain would be gone, and they would wake to a white landscape. The air would be briskly clean, carrying the slight tang of the nearby northern seas.

Daniela smelled like those rare mornings. The ones he had never forgotten.

Wait - maybe she hadn't been able to recall his number. What if she'd wanted to contact him but couldn't? He should go just to check on her. Yes, to make sure she had everything she needed. He traced back to the lodge.

Murdoch's jaw went slack at the scene that greeted him.

The windows were all open and ice was... everywhere. She'd spun it all over the manor like a spider spins a web.

He'd been raised on the Baltic in the seventeen hundreds. Keeping a home warm had been paramount. Yet now ice arched in the doorways, rounding out the square doorjambs. Icicles dangled from the ceiling and descended from the windows like curtains. The walls were covered in a white glaze, and she'd carved primitive-looking symbols into the ice.

She had no right. Bachelors panicked over a toothbrush? Try having an otherworldly female leave a permanent ice storm in one's hunting lodge.

Who wouldn't panic?

And she was nowhere to be found. As he stalked from one empty room to the next, the level of disappointment he felt both staggered and perplexed him.

When he reached his bedroom, he saw that she'd been sleeping there - she'd stripped the bed of all its blankets. Why would she stay here and not in the room where he'd initially put her bags?

She's been sleeping in my bed? That knowledge did something to him, touching some dark, primal drive within him. The thought of keeping his female protected within his property, in a stronghold won by his sword... aroused him.

Sleeping in my bed.

He gave himself a shake, then turned to one of her unpacked suitcases, finding a couple of erotic novels with titles that had him raising his brows and a collection of lingerie he'd be imagining on her for years to come. He picked up one of her silk nightgowns, inhaling her scent.

Not surprising, he grew hard as rock. But his fangs also sharpened. Why was she the only one who tempted him to drink from the flesh? He'd never been tempted before her and hadn't had the slightest urge all week until now.

Setting the gown away, he opened the second bag. It was filled with containers of salt. What could she need so much of it for?

He crossed to the dresser. Atop it sat her sat-phone, which he checked in case she'd been unable to contact him. Not a chance -  fully charged, the ringer muted, the screen displaying numerous missed calls. He scrolled through her contacts, finding his number saved as VAMP PHONE. She'd could've called, but hadn't.

Tethered to the phone was a rugged-looking laptop, apparently ice-proof. At times, the world of the Lore proved boggling for him; the idea of internet capability in this lodge ranked right up there with the notion of an otherworldly ice being inhabiting it.

Once he entered the bathroom, he discovered what she used the salt for. A container was opened beside the old fashioned bathing tub. Daniela needed salt so she wouldn't freeze her bathwater. He dimly thought, No wonder she smells like the sea.

This was too bizarre to be believed...

The north wind gusted through the window, blowing snow inside. Without thought, he rushed forward to close the window, but it was frozen open.

He stared out into the harsh, wintry night. She was out there, somewhere, the little Bride he could never touch. Everything about her, about this situation, was unfathomable to him.

And all the ice was a blatant reminder that he could never drink her. You have blood lust for her. Leave this place.

His chest felt like it had a band tightening around it. He traced away, out of breath and mystified by the female living in his manor.

I'll be damned if I ever return.

CHAPTER 25

Murdoch glanced at his watch yet again.

The night was waning, and still he waited on Rurik and Lukyan. They were to meet here in the Quarter to investigate a new lead, and it wasn't like Rurik to be late.

Lulls in action were still dangerous for Murdoch - even after his ill-fated trip to the lodge a week ago. Yet he was determined to fight the unnatural pull toward Daniela. Yes, he'd experienced mind-blowing pleasure with her. But that just brought into relief how much he missed sex. The driving need, sweaty bodies writhing, h*ps pumping. And kissing. God, he missed kissing.

No, there was no future with her. Monogamy was not his way. He'd seen it destroy better men than he was.

And she iced my goddamned lodge.

After leaving Rurik another message, Murdoch leaned against a light post. He caught the eye of an attractive brunette in a low-cut top. She cast him a lascivious smile, but all he could think was that she wasn't a fraction as comely as Daniela. He turned away.

In fact, over the last two weeks, he'd compared all women to Daniela, and without exception, they were all lacking.

But at least they could potentially be touched.

When his gaze wandered back over the female, she stared at him with undisguised interest. No, he hadn't wanted to be blooded, but now that he was, he might as well enjoy it.

He knew from experience that he could have that woman with little more than a crook of his finger. Old habits rose to the fore, even as he told himself he didn't have time for this. He needed to give his undivided focus to finding Ivo.

But without Rurik and Lukyan, Murdoch could do nothing but wait, and he needed to slip the leash Daniela had put on him.

If he could blunt this need, he'd be more focused, more effective. A tall brunette seemed just the thing...

"May I wear it, mama?" Danii asked. Svana had just taken her crown out of safekeeping for her upcoming trip. As ever, Danii was fascinated with it.

"Just for a bit, dearling," Svana told her as she placed the band of ice and diamonds atop her braided hair. Jewels dropped down over her forehead. "There. My little winter princess."

"I want to show the other Valkyrie."

"But they would be spellbound."

"I'm not."

"No, daughter." Svana smiled as she adjusted the crown, but it was too large. "Because our kind comes from a land of diamonds and ice."

"Is that where you're going now?"

Her beautiful face had grown grave. "Yes."




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