"Jadian, there have been too many years of suspicion and running. If our positions were reversed, you wouldn't just blindly accept my word," she said. Yet even as she spoke, she realized she did believe him.
Danii knew men. And this one was telling the truth. Her previously twitching ears were still.
"You should contact Nix if you have doubts," he said. "Until then..." He pulled something from his vest.
"Oh, gods," Danii breathed. My mother's crown. With shaking hands, she accepted the piece from him, staring down at it through watering eyes.
And as she held the crown, cold and right in her hands, fresh memories of the day her mother left finally surfaced.
"Never, never go to Icergard. Not until you're shown the way."
"Who will show me, mama?" Danii cried. "When?"
"When the time is right, you'll show yourself."
"How? How will I know?"
"You already know the way, my darling. You just haven't remembered it yet... "
Danii exhaled a stunned breath. She'd been making her own way to Icergard, because the time was right. All of this was... real. Danii felt it, down to her bones, as pure as a chill. All those years of fearing the Icere soldiers and spies were over.
She could have a normal life. No more assassination attempts! She could be with her own kind. This was the solution to all her problems.
So why was she suddenly so depressed?
Because her first thought was that she couldn't wait to tell Murdoch. And because this new life didn't have a surly vampire in it.
"Jadian, this is a lot to take in."
He drew nearer. "You only need accept what's yours." The corners of his lips curled, disconcerting her. "What's been yours for so long."
Is he flirting with me? Brain overload. I can't believe I'm in my nightgown...
Jadian was kind of sexy. He stood as tall as Murdoch and had intense blue eyes, the color of glacial ice. Berserker ravels tangled in his thick blond hair. His sleeveless shirt displayed muscular arms and the cobalt tracings of the Icere. But whereas her markings were delicate, his were wide and bold, designed to attract females like her.
And still, for Danii, the vampire won hands down. "Um, let me think about it," she said. "You can just make another portal here, right? Let's meet at the same time tomorrow night."
She turned to go - and felt fingers close around her bare arm. She stiffened. A split second later, comprehension hit her and she gasped.
No pain. She turned back.
Again that sensual curling of his lips. "Maybe I need to explain the other benefits of coming back with me."
Jadian was very sexy. "You're, uh, really devoted to your people. You'll resort to flirting to get me to return."
"There's no hardship."
"I'm not... yours or anything?" Could she be a vampire's Bride and a noble fey's lady?
"I'm not a big believer in fated mates." Had a shadow of some emotion flickered in his blue eyes? "But I could kiss you to better tell."
"K-kiss me?" She'd never been kissed. Her curiosity prodded her. Her head spun. What about Murdoch? Gods, she loved that vampire.
But he doesn't even want to fight for me.
Jadian took the matter out of her hands. "I think my queen would like a kiss," he murmured, leaning down to her.
Danii tensed when his lips touched hers. She couldn't help the defensive reaction. Yet again there was no pain. Instead she felt the firmness of his lips, the delicious brush of his tongue.
So this is kissing. If only she could do this with Murdoch, she'd never stop...
"Murdoch used to say that women are like bottles of liquor - sample them, savor them, then discard them," Rurik drunkenly declared, his eye patch crooked.
More vampires had joined in the gaming, and they all laughed. Yet Rurik's words sounded hollow to Murdoch, hollow like the ache in his chest. What a slavering jackass I used to be.
He remembered other men slapping him on the back over his conquests. They'd been so envious of his success with women. He no longer shared their definition of success.
Rurik quieted his tone, skewering Murdoch with a look. "I wonder if he still feels the same way."
He's aware that my heart's beating. At length, Murdoch answered, "Until you meet the one woman who's meant to be yours. Then you hold on and never let go."
How well was he holding on to Daniela? I'm driving her away.
She'd been so vulnerable when she suggested they sleep through five decades. And he'd been so busy raging over the unfairness of their situation that never once had it registered what she had just offered to do for them - sacrifice fifty years of her own life.
He hadn't thanked her for her offer. He'd ridiculed her for it.
I've been such a fool. What the f**k was fifty years if they were together? She's my life now.
Clarity. His brother Nikolai had told him that love would feel different from anything he'd ever known. Murdoch concluded he was right.
I'm in love with her.
He pushed away the bottle. Go to her...apologize. He'd left her crying. He'd been such an ass, like the old selfish Murdoch who'd boasted about women being as expendable as liquor.
With that thought, the truth sank in. I'm not worth her tears.
But he could be.
He stood unsteadily, donning his coat and the obligatory gloves, then traced to the lodge. When he didn't find her inside, he started out into the still-raging blizzard, following her fading tracks.
Finally, he caught sight of movement among the thick drifts. Just as he was about to trace to her, he spotted something that defied belief. He stared in drunken shock, squinting through the flurries.
There was another male, one who looked to be of her kind, with Nordic coloring and pointed ears. He was easily as tall as Murdoch.
And Daniela was up on her toes... kissing him.
Can't be real. I'm drunk. Can't see through the blizzard. Somehow she was withstanding the male's touch, receiving his kiss. The bastard grasped her bare upper arms - with his ungloved hands. Murdoch gnashed his teeth. Skin to skin.
A jealous rage ripped through him. All the frustration he'd grappled with for months roared to life. His fangs went sharp with aggression, his heart pumping with wrath. Just when he realized he loved her, she would betray him?
The words from his dreams echoed in his mind: How badly do you want her? What would you sacrifice?
Anything, he'd do anything...
Didn't she know that she belonged to him? After tonight, she will.
* * *
This is nice, Danii thought. But it's not as I imagined it.
There was no loss of control or breathless wonder. No weakening of her knees. No lust.