Deep Kiss of Winter


"Oh, no, no. this isn't happening," Danii muttered as she jogged backward three steps, then whirled around in the opposite direction from the vampire intently approaching her.

It's him! Earlier when she'd reached the Quarter, she'd asked around for Nix, but instead had found out that Forbearers, led by a very big and handsome vamp, were going door to door, canvassing the streets for someone.

She'd joked to herself that maybe it was Murdoch out seeking her - laugh, laugh - to abjectly apologize. Had she been not far off the mark?

Or maybe he still wanted to throw her down and drink her.

"Wait, Daniela!"

When he traced in front of her, she halted with her palm raised to her lips. "Come any closer, and I'll fill your lungs with ice."

"I don't want to hurt you."

"No? You were going to bite me earlier."

He didn't deny it, just gave a curt nod.

"So what's different now?"

"I've replenished the blood I've lost. And I'm not surrounded by the scent of yours."

"Sounds like you're trying to make your loss of control my fault."

"No, it was solely mine."

"If not to bite me, then what do you want?"

He didn't seem to know how to answer that. At length, he said, "Just to talk to you."

"Is that why you and your henchmen were looking for me?" Predictably, he'd need to see his Bride.

He ran his palm over the back of his neck. "We... weren't..."

"You're not looking for me." How embarrassing. " Then who?"

"We seek Ivo the Cruel."

A Horde baddie. "Good luck with that," she said between gritted teeth, turning to leave.

He followed her. "You know of him?"

"Of course I do. I'm not the one batting for Team Oblivious like you are." She snapped her fingers and made a face of realization. "Oh, but wait, you're no longer quite so clueless since you grilled me last night." Again he didn't deny it. "Did you tell all the Forbearers about what I said when I was delirious?"

"I've told no one," he said, his handsome face darkening into a scowl. "What in the hell are you doing out here alone?"

"I'm looking for someone myself."

"Who?" When she didn't answer, he said, "You should be where it's safe. There could be more Icere."

Like he cared. She picked up her pace, refusing to spare him a glance - and failing. He seemed to be puzzling over what to say to her.

Finally he decided on: "You gave me the wrong number."

He called? Her immediate high promptly nosedived. Of course, he'd only called for help with Ivo. "You have a lot of nerve bringing that up."

"Why would you do that?"

"For - fun." To get your hopes up and then have them dashed. Like mine continue to be.

She reminded herself that any "hopes" she might have had about him were firmly in the tense that was past. "And for the record, I wasn't seeking to wed you, vampire" -??I might have been right after we came together??- "and I wasn't even looking for an exclusive relationship." Unless he'd been interested in one. With that, she stormed off.

He was right behind her. "Where are you going? Why won't you give me two seconds of your time?"

I don't think my battered ego can take it. Like her body, it hadn't quite recovered.

"You've easily forgotten that I saved your life last night!"

She rounded on him. "Which wouldn't have needed saving if you would've just shut up and moved on!"

He didn't even seem to be listening - instead his gaze raked over her, from her chest to her uncovered navel. "What are you wearing?" he grated. "For someone whose skin is in danger of being burnt, you show enough of it."

Too late, he was acting like a domineering vampire with a Bride he considered worth having. "Because otherwise I'd burn up!" She wished she could criticize his clothing, but he looked irritatingly GQ in his tailored slacks and expensive shirt. His black cashmere jacket fit his broad shoulders to perfection.

Normally, she'd have been ecstatic to be seen with such a man.

"Then why do you live in this warm city?" he asked.

"Because this is where my coven is. For now."

"For now? Is it moving?"

She narrowed her eyes up at him. "Don't you have someone to be searching for? I'm sure you need to catch up with all the other little Forbearers."

He cocked a brow at that. "We've split up. You could help me."

"Oh, that's rich. The last time I 'helped' you, I got nothing but a burned hand and a death threat."

He closed in on her, forcing her to back up until she met a shop window. Looming over her, his voice a husky rasp, he said, "Is that all you got out of it, kallim?"

Kallim meant "darling." Woo-hoo, a step up from "chit." "Does this usually work on women?" Somehow she managed to be cold and unaffected. Or to look it. She hoped. "The threatening and then the full-court press?"

He exhaled. "I regret how today ended."

"Just as you predicted, it all went downhill from that one good hour." Where she'd made contact with the window, ice crystals fanned out on the glass, outlining her bare shoulder and upper arm with frost.

He noticed and said, "I'm glad you're, uh, cooling." Then he bit his lip, looking like he was inwardly kicking himself.

"I see why you were so popular with the ladies, Murdoch Suave. With lines like that, how could you not be?"

"Murdoch Suave?" With a shake of his head, he said, "We're looking for Ivo because he might be a danger to Myst."

Ivo could be. If the creep was in town, he'd probably be looking for his former captive.

"I've been ordered to protect her," Murdoch added.

"Protect Myst? This is a considerable change from" - she imitated his low, accented voice - "Myst is Nikolai's enemy! We hate Myst! She's mean."

His lips quirked, which seemed to surprise him, then he resumed his scowl. "They have come to an... understanding."

"Told you. So what do you need my help for?"

"My men and I can't get any leads. I've tried to question beings from the Lore - "

"But no one will speak to any of you. The rookies keep striking out?"

His glower deepened at her comment. "Finding Ivo is critical to me, Daniela. My brother would be destroyed if anything happened to Myst. The blooding is making him fall for her."

"That's not what the blooding does, you oaf!"

His expression indicated that he'd never in his life been called an oaf.

"The blooding doesn't make you fall for your Bride. All it does is indicate who you'd be most likely to have a successful relationship with - biologically and emotionally. That doesn't mean you're capable of a relationship," she said with a pointed glance at him. "Look, if Nikolai's falling, then it's just love. Real simple."

"I don't believe that. Then have you ever seen a fated pairing that didn't work out?"

"Oh, it happens." To my mother for one. Svana and Sigmund had been fated mates, and a much-celebrated love match. She'd taken him as her husband and prince consort. Then he'd stolen her crown and murdered her. Danii shook herself. "Now, if you don't mind, I have things to do."

"You wouldn't help me to help your sister?"

Danii stilled. I owe Myst. Unbidden, a memory washed over her.

Centuries ago, Danii had been captured by a sadistic Roman senator. He'd kept her among his slaves, bringing her out of her sweltering prison cell just to play with her, burning her naked skin with his touch.

She'd remained a virgin only because he'd intended to offer her to the Emperor, due to visit that season. Before he'd arrived, Myst had seduced her way past the senator's legions of guards, then killed him.

"I want to help her," Danii finally said. "But I won't work with you."

"Why not? You can't go about alone on these streets. The Icere could return."

"I've got a couple of days before they can get this far south. Besides, who's more dangerous to me? Them? Or the vampire who was about to attack me just hours ago?"

"Damn it, I told you why - "

"Have you ever bitten anyone before?"

"You know I haven't. My eyes are clear."

She shrugged. Actually, the Forbearers had it wrong. Vampires only turned red-eyed when they killed as they drank.

"We've pledged to our order that we would never take blood from the flesh."

"What would happen if you did?"

His brows drew together. "We... well, after tonight, it's complicated. But I vow to you I won't bite you. Just help me."

Danii hesitated. She was a skilled fighter, as were most Valkyrie, but because she risked overheating, she could seldom go into a protracted conflict here in southern Louisiana. And her special talents - conjuring blizzards as battle offense and frostbiting enemy armies - had been relegated to the past.

Since the coven had moved here seven decades ago, she'd felt... underutilized. Finally she would have a chance to assist her sisters in a meaningful way.

And she could do damage control. If he hadn't told anyone about what she'd divulged last night, then she could extract a vow from him never to do so!

Yet she feared there was nothing so noble ultimately steering her decision.

Sad, sad Daniela... so lonely and lame that she still yearned to be around the vampire.

No! Remember Farmer Ted, Danii!

In the end, it wasn't what Murdoch said that convinced her, but what he did. When three trashed frat boys leered at her as they passed, Murdoch's fists clenched.

He did feel something for her. Perhaps he did truly like her, but was afraid to settle down after so many centuries alone. Maybe he had bachelor's panic.

Maybe it's him, not me. "I'll help you, on three conditions."

"Let's hear them."

"You protect me if we encounter any more Icere - "

"Of course. I will protect you from any threat."

"Hold on there, I don't need your help with anyone but them. Second condition: you'll answer any questions I ask you. And third, you'll vow never to tell another about anything you learn tonight - or learned this morning. Or anything about me."

Seeing he was about to balk, she said, "I'm risking a lot by being seen with you. I could search on my own. And I would, if I thought you wouldn't follow me."

"Daniela, that's not - "

She turned to walk on.

He grated, "Agreed."

She faced him once more. "And if you even peek at my neck, I will go cryo on you."

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