As he faced off against the last one standing, she wondered how much of the blood covering him was his own.
But one of the Iceren the vampire had felled wasn't dead. He'd clamped his neck, stemming the rush of blood. Unseen behind the vampire, he struggled to his feet and silently collected his sword.
At her warning, he twisted around. The one he'd been fighting tackled him in a wrestler's grip from behind, holding him for the one with the sword.
Oh, no, no... She'd be damned if she'd let this warrior vampire die.
A weapon, she needed a weapon. Her gaze fell to her chest, to the six arrows riddling it.
Was she strong enough to do this?
She gritted her teeth and fisted one of the bloody arrow shafts. Choking back a scream, she wrested it from her body.
The pain made her vision waver, her muscles going limp. No! Fight!
Holding the feathered end, she threw it like a knife. It skewered the swordsman's neck.
The last thing she saw was the vampire snapping his head back to smash the face of the one holding him, breaking free to snatch up a sword.
When she forced her lids open once more, he was staggering toward her, his fangs still bared, his eyes black amid the blood covering his face. He'd savaged them and now was stalking closer to her.
Yet she was unafraid. He'd told her he was going to give her their heads.
And he had.
Dropping to his knees beside her, he reached for her wrist. She shrank from him, but not quickly enough to prevent contact. When she cried out, he jerked his hand away, gaping at the burn mark he'd left on her skin.
"No... can't be." His tone was rough, almost snarling. "You're like them? But you're a Valkyrie!"
She blinked up at him. "Part... ice fey."
In that growl of a voice, he repeated, "You're like them." The big male was so unsure, so confounded by her nature. "I'll burn you?"
She nodded weakly.
"Is there no way I can touch you?"
"Who can tend to you, then? Do you live in New Orleans? With other Valkyrie?"
"They'll kill you." If the vampire brought her to her coven, her sisters would behead him on sight and ask questions later.
Besides, she didn't have that kind of time.
If this vampire didn't save her...
I'm going to shatter like ice.
With effort, the female whispered, "You... help me."
"How? When I'll burn you?" Can't comprehend this. She's blooded me, this odd little creature whose skin can't be touched.
No, she couldn't be his Bride. He couldn't be blooded. But his breaths mocked him, his thundering heart a constant reminder.
When his heart had first beat in the midst of the fight, it had sounded like an explosion, stunning him and nearly costing him his life. He'd inhaled, shuddering as air flooded his untried lungs, filling him with renewed strength.
Even now he was dizzy from his injuries, but his body still felt strong.
"I'll try to find Nikolai - Myst will be with him. She'll better know what to do."
His brother had described what happened when he'd been blooded, so Murdoch knew what to expect physically. But Nikolai had neglected to tell him that instinct, raw and bare, would take over.
"You, please. Arrows poison to me. No time."
Poison? No, she couldn't die like this. If she was a Valkyrie, then she was immortal.
But what did he know? He also hadn't thought a Valkyrie could be burned by his touch.
He ripped away the bottom of his shirt and wrapped his hands, then gently scooped her into his arms. Though their skin never touched, the movement jostled the arrows, making her whimper in pain.
He clenched his jaw, wanting to slaughter those f**ks all over again, to punish them slowly. "Why trust me with this?" he snapped. Why did she want him to care for her? Why would she think him capable of it?
She tried to focus on his face, her silvery eyes going blank. "I... don't know why."
"You'll probably regret trusting me with your life."
In answer, she went limp, helpless in his arms.
Lord Jadian the Cold, general of the Icere, had watched the conflict impassively from his vantage in a warehouse above the street.
In his long life, he'd fought against vampires countless times, and he had the scars to prove it. But the one below had been stronger, faster. Now it crouched over Daniela the Ice Maiden. Crouched protectively. An unlikely ally for the female?
After tonight, there was no doubt that Daniela was Icere; it was bred into every line of her.
But she was also fierce like the Valkyrie - she'd wrenched a fire arrow from her own chest to cast at her enemy. He knew exactly how powerful that poison was, had harvested it himself from a fire demoness's horns.
Yes, Daniela was strong. As her mother Queen Svana had been.
When the vampire below disappeared with her, Jadian leapt down to collect the fire blade. It wouldn't do to lose it - the same knife had been used to take Svana the Great's head.
Jadian planned to wield it again.
He turned from the carnage, ignoring the low creatures that had already begun feeding on his fallen comrades. He walked on with the knowledge that Daniela was a threat that could no longer be ignored.
Just as Danii dimly perceived a bed beneath her, pain exploded in her chest. She woke to her own screaming, writhing in agony, bucking away from the source.
"Easy, girl," the vampire's deep voice intoned. "Have to get this dress off you."
She cracked open her lids, found herself on a mattress on the floor in some dark-paneled room. The vampire was surveying her with eyes the color of obsidian, a knife in one of his gloved hands.
He'd put gloves on? Good vampire. "In Kristoff's castle?"
"How did you - ? No, we're not there." He finished slashing away the rest of her dress, leaving her in panties. He'd already removed her boots. "We're in a mill outside New Orleans."
He set aside the knife, seeming more uncomfortable with her nudity than she was. With a swallow, he wrapped his fist around an arrow just above her breast. He used his other hand to press her shoulder into the mattress. "We'll count to three."
She met his eyes and nodded. His gaze was frenzied, yet it comforted her. Never looking away, she gritted her teeth.
"One... two - "
She choked on a scream, and lightning exploded just outside the house. His eyes darted around uneasily as he tossed the arrow to the floor.
Between panting breaths, she cried, "Remind me... to teach you... to count."
"Are you ready for another?"
Was she? How much more pain could she take?