Is she studying my face? Could she tell he'd kissed other women? "What do you mean?"

In answer, she wiggled her fingers, motioning for the flowers. The moment he handed them to her, they began to wither. As he stared, they blackened and died.

He ran his gloved hand over the back of his neck. "Glad I didn't get you a kitten."

She tossed them into the unused fireplace. "You have to understand that I'm not like the women you knew. This world is not like you thought. Everything has changed for you. And you can't apply your human expectations to it."

"Then tell me about this world. Teach me."

"Would you like me to give you a lesson right now?"

"Yes. Absolutely."

"Valkyrie have a superhuman sense of smell. Not as strong as Lykae or demons. Maybe not even as strong as vampires. But enough so I can smell the women you've been with."

Ah, Christ.

CHAPTER 26

Danii smelled women's perfumes. Plural. She could tell he'd been close enough to them to pick up their scents, but she couldn't detect exactly what he'd been doing with them.

At her words, he'd gone still, his eyes narrowing. Now he shrugged, and any hint of guilt she might have imagined was gone, replaced by nonchalance. "I kissed... a couple of women."

Her claws straightened with jealousy.

"Just wanted to see what it'd be like. After so long."

Lightning flashed outside. His cavalier manner infuriated her. "Did you do more?"

"Daniela, you're making an issue out of something trivial. The women were humans, and I only kissed them."

"Trivial? Did you just happen to know these mortals? Or were they tramps you picked up while you were supposed to be searching for Ivo?"

At his expression, she grew queasy. Bingo. She could just see him lustily making out with skanks in some alley in the Quarter.

I've always ridiculed tourists who did that.

There were so few secrets within the Lore. Gossipers abounded. Everyone would know Murdoch had spurned Danii to be with other women. And it was bad enough for a Bride to be forsaken by a leech, but it was entirely humiliating to be passed over for mortals.

"We never made a commitment to each other," he finally said. When lightning flashed again, he scrubbed his palm over his mouth. "You simply informed me that you'd be staying here. And I haven't kissed a woman in three hundred goddamned years."

"Then why didn't you do more with them?"

He exhaled wearily. "They left me cold - "

"Cold?" she cried, a hysterical note to her voice. "I'm so glad I made you swear not to tell anyone anything about me, not that they won't all know now. I hope you put money against us in Loa's betting book."

"We aren't wed." His own ire spiked. "I made you no promises. You have no call to be angry with me."

"I'm angry because you've finally seen what's been just before you all along. But you've seen it too late."

"Too late? Again, I only kissed them. I came here tonight, to be with you, even though I had those women begging me for more."

Begging him? Was he that good a kisser? She shook herself -  she'd never know. "And yet you chose to come here and be with me, a female who can't give you more. I find that difficult to believe!"

"Believe it, ice queen. You've broken me - I want no other!"

"And that makes you broken?" She gave a cry. "Gods, I am so sick of you!"

"Sick of me? When I admit that I chose you above others? Your timing is ridiculous."

"Because I don't buy this! If you think you're broken, then you're going to want to get fixed. Not to wallow in your brokenness. Trust me, I know this!" Sad, sad Daniela...

"So now you've got me all figured out, when you've known me for a couple of weeks? Ah, that's right, I'm merely a manwhore and nothing more."

"I've only known you a short while, but I know men. I've witnessed the entire spans of their lives. You're not a man who won't deign to commit. You're a coward who's afraid to."

"Coward?" Though he sneered the word, Danii saw a flicker of some emotion in his eyes. She'd hit a nerve.

"A selfish coward! You expect me to just be waiting here, standing by for whenever you decide you want more from me?"

"You are just waiting here, Valkyrie."

At that, she began building ice in her palm, and he eyed it with contempt. "Leave here, vampire. And don't come back!"

"This is my house!"

"Does this look like your house any longer?" A gust of flurries blew in the window to punctuate her words.

"Fine. Have it! Consider it a gift for a couple of pleasurable nights."

With a bitter curse, Murdoch traced from the lodge. He returned to his meeting place in case Rurik showed -

And found himself surrounded by beings.

They looked like demons, but they had red eyes like fallen vampires. They were immense and carried medieval weapons, cudgels and maces.

Behind them stood Ivo, his bald head gleaming. Just five years ago, they'd met on a battlefield. Finally, I've found this prick.

"We seek the halfling," Ivo said. "If you have information about her, we might spare your life."

Halfling? "I wouldn't tell you anything, even if I knew what you were talking about."

In a bored tone, Ivo commanded, "Then kill him."

Murdoch drew his sword in a flash, swung it at the closest demon. The male laughed as he easily dodged the blow.

The speed was inconceivable. You can't fight these beings. Just as he'd been told.

Before Murdoch could retreat, they were upon him, preventing him from tracing. A cudgel caught him across the face, tearing and crushing at the same time. Blood sprayed.

A blow to his leg bludgeoned his femur, sending him to his knees. Another shattered his arm.

The strength... monstrous. A studded mace hit him directly in the chest, embedding in his sternum. Can't breathe, can't...

Against his will, his blood-drenched eyes closed. Realization dawned. I'm about to die. And all he could think about was how he wanted to see Daniela just one last time.

Ivo ordered, "Take his head - "

A roar sounded. Murdoch struggled just to crack open his lids. Rurik and Lukyan, here? They must've been trailing Ivo earlier.

As the two charged into the fight, Murdoch tried to warn them, but couldn't speak. Jaw not working?

Rurik went fully berserk, wildly swinging his battle hammer. Lukyan wielded his two swords, looking as if he hungered for death -  and planned to take with him as many as possible.

But when Rurik received a hit that felled even his giant frame, Lukyan muttered, "Fuck this." Then he traced away.




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