Like a shot, Jadian lunged for him, forcing a hand over Sigmund's mouth as he sank the blade into his heart - Jadian needed him quiet to savor the hiss of burning skin and the futile flailing of the king.

Blood sprayed, wetting Jadian's hair and face. When he yanked the knife free, Sigmund lived still, even as Jadian began slicing through the skin and bone of his neck.

By the time he had Sigmund's head, Jadian was covered in gore, but his heart was calm.

He turned to the south. Now, now was the Valkyrie's time.

If Daniela keeps up this carving, her hands will bleed.

Did she not think about what the sight and scent of her blood did to him each time?

As Murdoch watched her, he wondered yet again what could force her to work like this. Her elven face was tense with focus, her blue-tinged lips pressed together.

Over the previous winter, she'd seemed to be rediscovering herself, exploring those elemental instincts she could scarcely explain to him - or to herself. Yet then had come the summer. What had started as a dark and cold paradise for them turned sunny and mild. Their contentment had melted away as surely as her ice.

For those months, there'd been continual sniping between them. Any accidental contact could set either of them off. But she'd refused to leave the lodge for a colder clime, as if those genetic memories of hers had ended in a cliffhanger and she wouldn't leave the book behind.

Now, fall was upon them at last. But we still aren't like we used to be...

Despite the strain between Murdoch and his Bride, things had begun to look up for the Wroth family.

Nikolai had wedded Myst, once she'd forgiven him for using that enchanted chain against her. Nikolai had ultimately realized that he'd misunderstood Myst's memories, discovering that she'd been more Fury than femme fatale, using her wiles to seduce evildoers to their downfall. Then he'd had some apologizing to do.

Sebastian had somehow won both the Talisman's Hie and Kaderin, the deadly little assassin who'd actually been dispatched to execute him.

Though his brothers' Brides were half sisters, they were as different as day and night. One was a bold redhead, legendary for her beauty. The other was a golden-skinned killer with a predilection for stringing up vampire fangs as trophies.

Mine is an ethereal ice queen. Exquisite and always just out of reach...

Murdoch and Nikolai had at last reconciled with Sebastian. Naturally, now that the three brothers were speaking again, their conversations turned to Conrad - how to locate him, where he'd last been seen. They'd all begun searching and had unearthed some leads, though they chose not to believe the rumors that Conrad was a Fallen, red-eyed assassin who drank all his victims.

They were close to finding him. Murdoch could feel it. Yes, things were finally looking up for the brothers.

But between him and Daniela... Even though they found ways to pleasure each other, Murdoch was continually tormented by how soft her skin looked. He'd never been one for open displays of affection, had never felt any sort of romantic attachment before. Now he found himself checking impulse after impulse to simply stroke her cheek or run his palm down her arm.

And to kiss her - Christ, he wanted that so much.

She felt the yearning, too. He often found her dreamily gazing at his lips while running her fingertips over her own.

Sometimes he unreasonably felt as if fate was punishing him with her for all his previous sins. Never to hold her; always to suffer this need - and to bear the knowledge that it would forever go unslaked.

If "faint heart never won fair lady," then the opposite should hold true. Murdoch had meant it when he'd said he would do anything to have her - anything but risk her safety. He needed gates to storm, an enemy to fight and defeat. Instead, he could do nothing but covet what was already his...

At that moment she nicked her forefinger. Rich blood beaded, and he clenched his jaw at the scent. Never to drink her, though I dream of it more and more.

On occasion, she'd caught him staring at the alabaster skin of her neck, but she still stayed with him. Which meant she trusted him not to hurt her.

His gaze fixed on the small welling of crimson. With each day, he wondered how much he trusted himself.

"Nix, is that really you?" Danii cried. When her phone had rung, she'd expected Murdoch or even Myst again.

"In the telephonic flesh," the soothsayer replied.

"I've called you repeatedly!"

"Then I must've not wanted to talk to you."

Danii pursed her lips. "What are you doing?"

"Just chillin' since you gave us the cold shoulder - huzzah! Somebody stop me! How's the vamp? Too hot to handle? Because I could do this all day!"

"Ha-ha." Today Nix was playful. Which unfortunately meant she'd probably be forgetful as well. "And I'm not giving you the cold shoulder. You knew why I had to go."

"Did I? Guess I forgot. Mental note: stop telling people that Danii's gone missing. Cease hinting feral koi to blame."

Danii sighed. Nix could be incredibly useful. And incredibly frustrating. "What's that noise in the background?"

"Your room. No one can figure out how to turn off the freezer."

Danii swallowed. "Why would you want to turn it off?" All my ice!

"Because Soloflex and litter-box storage wait for no one?"

"You're acting like I'm never coming back."

"Are you?" Nix asked.

"You tell me, soothsayer," Danii said, but her words were breaking up. Nix's call waiting kept clicking.

"Who keeps calling you?"

"Not the same person. All different. Everyone wants a piece of Nixie," she said, a hint of weariness in her tone. "Lemme block them. There. Speaking of calls, Myst said she's tried to contact you several times."

Danii hadn't picked up. "Look, I know what she'll say to me -  that I can't possibly keep Murdoch from straying and we'll never work out in the long run." Pressure building... time passing.

Instead of arguing that point and reassuring her, Nix only made a noncommittal sound.

"How is Myst, anyway?" Danii asked.

"Even more insufferably ravishing, with the glow of a female who's well loved," Nix answered. "Married life suits her."

I want to be well loved. Would kill to be. Instead, Danii lived in an increasingly untenable situation, blinders firmly on as she strove to build a life with him. Like building a house of tinder atop a powder keg.

And Murdoch had never mentioned marriage.

"Don't forget fierce Kaderin!" Nix added. "Sebastian's turned her into an amorous Kiddy Kad. So, Kaderin and Myst are both freaky, naughty minxes who get it on with vampires. Just like you, Danii! They both wear their bites proudly, bragging to everyone how orgasmic it feels."




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