Deep Kiss of Winter


Murdoch glanced at his watch yet again.

The night was waning, and still he waited on Rurik and Lukyan. They were to meet here in the Quarter to investigate a new lead, and it wasn't like Rurik to be late.

Lulls in action were still dangerous for Murdoch - even after his ill-fated trip to the lodge a week ago. Yet he was determined to fight the unnatural pull toward Daniela. Yes, he'd experienced mind-blowing pleasure with her. But that just brought into relief how much he missed sex. The driving need, sweaty bodies writhing, hips pumping. And kissing. God, he missed kissing.

No, there was no future with her. Monogamy was not his way. He'd seen it destroy better men than he was.

And she iced my goddamned lodge.

After leaving Rurik another message, Murdoch leaned against a light post. He caught the eye of an attractive brunette in a low-cut top. She cast him a lascivious smile, but all he could think was that she wasn't a fraction as comely as Daniela. He turned away.

In fact, over the last two weeks, he'd compared all women to Daniela, and without exception, they were all lacking.

But at least they could potentially be touched.

When his gaze wandered back over the female, she stared at him with undisguised interest. No, he hadn't wanted to be blooded, but now that he was, he might as well enjoy it.

He knew from experience that he could have that woman with little more than a crook of his finger. Old habits rose to the fore, even as he told himself he didn't have time for this. He needed to give his undivided focus to finding Ivo.

But without Rurik and Lukyan, Murdoch could do nothing but wait, and he needed to slip the leash Daniela had put on him.

If he could blunt this need, he'd be more focused, more effective. A tall brunette seemed just the thing...

"May I wear it, mama?" Danii asked. Svana had just taken her crown out of safekeeping for her upcoming trip. As ever, Danii was fascinated with it.

"Just for a bit, dearling," Svana told her as she placed the band of ice and diamonds atop her braided hair. Jewels dropped down over her forehead. "There. My little winter princess."

"I want to show the other Valkyrie."

"But they would be spellbound."

"I'm not."

"No, daughter." Svana smiled as she adjusted the crown, but it was too large. "Because our kind comes from a land of diamonds and ice."

"Is that where you're going now?"

Her beautiful face had grown grave. "Yes."

"When will you come back?"

Svana knelt before her. "Daniela, I might not make it back."

"Then why do you have to go there?" Danii asked, beginning to cry. "Just stay with me."

"I must reclaim my throne. I'm a queen from a long line of queens. And one day you will be, too."

"How will I find you?"

"If I don't return to you here, you must promise me, my love, never to follow me. Never, never go to Icergard. Not until you're shown the way... "

Danii shot up in bed, awake in an instant. My gods. She'd just recollected more of that fateful day when her mother had left her. Not until I'm shown the way?

Who exactly would be directing Danii to Icergard? And why was she only just remembering this?

The dream had been so realistic, she could almost feel the weight of that crown on her head. Svana had worn it when she'd gone to meet her destiny, even knowing she'd likely die. How brave she'd been.

Danii rose, feeling a pleasant jolt as her bare feet met the freezing marble, then crossed to the open window. The north wind blew with a proud gust as if embracing her. She closed her eyes, swaying with it.

The vampire - who had yet to return - had talked of dreams. Now she'd been awash in reverie each night. Was it the cold or this particular place that drew forth her memories and dreams?

She loved it here. The frigid winds affected her like adrenaline, each flake of snow a balm on her soul. For two weeks, she'd indulged in ice hunts, followed whispers, explored the countryside. And she'd continued to carve arcane symbols into any ice face she'd come across.

The markings were simple in form, like the inscriptions on ancient rune stones from northern lands. She didn't think she'd ever seen these designs before, and had no idea how she knew them.

Eventually, she'd begun creating her own ice tablets to carve on, some as large as a table, later placing them in different parts of the forest and snowdrifts, settling them just so. She didn't know why she did this, just felt compelled to.

With each day here she was growing stronger, thinking more about this puzzling new pastime - and less about the vampire. Yes. Some minutes less than others. At first, she'd wondered if her carving was merely a desperate bid for distraction, like a Valkyrie/Icere equivalent of downing a gallon of Haagen-Dazs.

But she'd concluded it must be more, because the compulsion intensified - even as her desire for him should've begun dwindling...

Murdoch kissed three different women that night.

Mere minutes after spotting that first brunette, he'd found himself with her in an alley behind a bar, taking her lips with his own.

And still he'd thought of Daniela. Ultimately, he'd broken away with a muttered curse. "Sorry, sweet. Have to go."

She'd clung to him, begging him not to stop. What should have excited him had wilted any arousal he might have managed by imagining it was Daniela he kissed.

The second woman had been passable, but there'd been no distinct intelligence shining in her eyes. So different from his Bride. He admired Daniela's tricky mind, liked the way he could rarely read her expressions.

The third smelled of cloying perfume and whatever she'd dined on earlier. Such a contrast to Daniela's clean scent...

Now as he thought back, he realized that not one of the three had tempted him to take her neck. Another reason he needed to stay away from Daniela. Easier said than done. He felt as if he was waging a losing battle, and in his life, he'd bloody had enough of those.

He'd died in one.

Why fight this? It would have to be easier to resist drinking her than to go without seeing her face again - which was proving impossible...

He pictured his Bride sleeping in his bed, as if she were awaiting him. If he were going to settle down, why not with the most exquisite, intelligent female he'd ever known? Even if she was an ice being. He recalled the supernatural scene that had greeted him at the lodge and came to a determination.

It'd never be dull with her.

Could the reason he'd never committed to a woman be that he'd been waiting for her all his life? He glanced at the sky. Dawn was only a couple of hours away. Too late to do much here. But it would be dark in Siberia.

Why not try this out? If I'm ever tempted to drink from her, I'll trace away. At least then he'd know.

With that conclusion, he almost wished he hadn't pursued those other women. He thought he might be feeling... guilt. Him.

He spied a flower street vendor on the next corner over. Murdoch knew women - they loved flowers. He snatched up a bouquet of roses, tossed a twenty to the half-asleep vendor, then traced to Daniela.

Again, she wasn't inside. When he heard the front door creaking open, he traced downstairs with the bouquet behind his back. "Daniela?"

Her lips were even bluer than before, her skin pale as milk. She had twigs in her icy hair.

God, she's lovely beyond words. He cast about for a compliment and came up empty. What's new?

She gazed at him, not with the excitement he'd anticipated, but with measured curiosity.

"Where were you?" he asked.

"Just got back from a walk."

She was barefoot in a halter top and shorts. He wondered if he'd ever get used to seeing so much of her perfect body exposed to the elements. "I hadn't heard from you. Wanted to make sure you're settling in."

She shrugged, turning toward the stairs.

He followed her up. "I am just stopping by. To check on you."

"You kind of said that already. And as you can see, I'm doing great."

"You've been busy here," he said when they reached his room. Since he'd been here last, she'd added to those carved designs in the glazes that coated the walls. More snow had accumulated. "Busy decorating."

Again, he felt that sense of encroachment. But when he didn't feel the accompanying resentment, he figured he'd become inured to it. "Those symbols you carve - what do they mean?"

"I'm not sure." Her eyes darted around the room. "Just stuff I made up."

For some reason, at that moment, both of their gazes fell on the bed. His voice was rough when he said, "Why are you sleeping in here?"

"My room faced south. In here, the north wind blows right in."

Sleeping in my bed. He grew aroused at the idea once more. He might not be able to claim her, but there were other benefits. Reminded of that, he offered her the flowers.

Her gaze flicked over them. "A bouquet? Like in the days of old?"

"I thought that bringing flowers to a woman one desires was a timeless gesture."

"The timing was fine." She canted her head to the side. Had her ears twitched? "But your supposition about the woman was off."

Is she studying my face? Could she tell he'd kissed other women? "What do you mean?"

In answer, she wiggled her fingers, motioning for the flowers. The moment he handed them to her, they began to wither. As he stared, they blackened and died.

He ran his gloved hand over the back of his neck. "Glad I didn't get you a kitten."

She tossed them into the unused fireplace. "You have to understand that I'm not like the women you knew. This world is not like you thought. Everything has changed for you. And you can't apply your human expectations to it."

"Then tell me about this world. Teach me."

"Would you like me to give you a lesson right now?"

"Yes. Absolutely."

"Valkyrie have a superhuman sense of smell. Not as strong as Lykae or demons. Maybe not even as strong as vampires. But enough so I can smell the women you've been with."

Ah, Christ.

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