Then Murdoch and Nikolai had turned him into his starkest nightmare. No wonder he still struggled.

When Conrad began rocking on the bed in a snarling fury, Murdoch murmured, "I'm leaving," then traced downstairs. Christ, this was a piss day. Had he actually once lamented that life was too boring? Now it seemed a thousand demands were converging on him.

He couldn't reach Conrad.

Kristoff prepared for war. The three Wroth brothers were to be ready and on call, yet Murdoch couldn't shake the feeling that their king had become suspicious of what they'd been doing in their downtime.

And Daniela... Murdoch knew he'd been neglecting her. First he'd had to find Conrad, then capture him. Now Murdoch was investigating his brother's past for anything that might help him recover. Remarkably, Murdoch had yet to learn of a single instance when Conrad had slain an innocent.

But how many times had Murdoch told Daniela he'd be back at the lodge by a certain time, but then Conrad attempted an escape or went into a rage? Murdoch would call to explain, and oftentimes she wouldn't even answer. Would she tonight? He dialed her number. "Pick up, Danii," he muttered. No answer. He tried her again.

Murdoch was growing so weary of his double life. Can't talk about my Bride, can't bloody touch her. Even as part of him yearned to be near her, another part of him was growing to hate the temptation that was never satisfied. Having his lips a breath away from her flesh and being denied a taste... He didn't know how much longer he could hold on.

Where the hell is she?

He could simply trace to the lodge, but she might be out, anywhere within that vast forest. Besides, he'd planned to follow leads this eve.

Yet if he were honest, he'd admit he was reluctant to return to their freezing home. Earlier when he'd left, the first Siberian blizzard of the season had just begun raging, delighting her, and dismaying him. Tonight there would be no warm hearth, no warm wife to gather close to him. No warm body to lose himself in...

No answer. His fist shot out, slamming into the crumbling plaster wall.

Long hours passed before Murdoch returned to Daniela, and he arrived even later than he'd intended to. Surprisingly, she wasn't at work on her ice tablet - it sat idle against the wall. Nor was she outside.

He found her in bed, dressed in a wispy black gown with her hair loose. The ice crystals around her eyes glinted in the room's dimmed light. She's so beautiful.

"It's late," she quietly said.

"I tried to call you earlier, but you didn't answer. I had some things to look into."

"Murdoch, if I didn't know better, I'd swear you were looking for excuses to be away from me."

"You know how important this is to us," he hedged. "And we're running out of time. I'm asking for you to be understanding about this, and for your patience with me."

But she was still upset, lightning streaking outside. Luckily, he'd had the foresight a few nights ago to buy a get-out-of-jail-free card, an emerald comb he'd kept in his pocket for just such a time as this. "Just to show you that I've been thinking about you, I got you a surprise."

"A gift for me?" Her eyes instantly grew bright. "I love gifts!"

Grinning, he made a mental note always to have one of these on hand and dug into his coat pocket. Empty. "It's... not here?"

She cast him a sad, crestfallen look that seemed to rip into his chest. "That's fine. You didn't need to get me anything."

A piss day. "Damn it! It was an emerald comb. I just bought it the other night for your hair." He checked all his pockets, then tore through his things. Nothing.

He must have evinced his disappointment, because she sighed, and her tone softened. "We'll find it later, Murdoch. But for now, you look exhausted. Why don't you come to bed?" She patted the spot beside her, glancing up at him from under her icy lashes.

Undone. Just like that, he grew hard for her. "You don't have to ask me twice."

Ignoring the cold, he stripped off his clothes - everything but his gloves - as she pulled off her gown. Once he joined her in bed, he snagged a blanket. She nibbled her lip, her eyes excited, knowing what he wanted to do.

"Lie back."

As she reclined, he drew the blanket over her, covering up to her br**sts. Barrier in place, he eased above her, settling between her legs. He rested his upper body on his elbows, leaving his gloved palms free to fondle her luscious little br**sts.

With his face buried in the flaxen hair spread over her pillow, he rocked his shaft against her, shuddering with pleasure.

This was his favorite position with her. At least like this, he could imagine he was actually inside her. And it made him recall his recurring dream of drinking her. The more tense their situation became, the more he dreamed of it. Now as he moved over her, he dragged his tongue across one of his sharpening fangs for a shot of blood, pretending it was hers, pretending he was truly taking her.

When he rolled his h*ps again, she wriggled her own, putting his shaft in just the right spot. "There, kallim?" he grated with another thrust.

"Ah, yes," she moaned, letting him know he'd rubbed directly over her clitoris.

Squeezing her br**sts, he ground against her there, making her cry, "More!" He gave her more, harder and harder. As her moans grew louder, she writhed wildly, meeting him.

"Come for me," he rasped desperately, about to spill on her.

She arched her back, her body tensing beneath him as she neared her peak.

Suddenly he felt his ankle brush hers, skin to freezing skin. The blanket rode up? His eyes went wide, just as she cried out in agony.

"Murdoch, no!" She shoved him off her, scrambling away.

There she sat on one side of the bed, quivering with pain, while he moved to the other, sitting with his head in his hands. "Christ, I didn't mean to hurt you."

"W-we have to be more careful."

"Damn it! I need to touch you, or I'll go mad!"

She whispered, "Do you think this is any easier for me?"

He raised his head, staring at the wall as he said, "I want to make this better, I want to fix this for us. And I can't. There's nothing I can do."

He heard her pull on her gown before she walked on her knees toward him. "Murdoch, there might be a way. I didn't want to say anything because it's so uncertain, but there's a witch who is coming into her powers. The strongest one. In a mere fifty years, she could find the answer for us."

"A mere fifty years? Half a century of this?"

"We could get one of them to cast a spell and make us sleep, or - "

"Sleep? You mean hibernate?" He shot to his feet, yanking on his pants as he whirled around to face her. "Like goddamn animals? You expect me to lose five decades of my life?" he demanded, his frustration goading him. "Maybe this wasn't meant to be." As soon as the word left his lips, he regretted them.




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