"Come on in!" Danii called to the vampire pacing on shore. "The water's great."
Under the moonlight, Murdoch looked as if he were actually considering joining her as she swam amidst the ice floes. He was also probably regretting that he'd agreed to trace her to the northern limits of his property, which extended all the way to the Arctic Ocean.
Seconds after she'd seen the water, she'd been skinny-dipping in it.
Poor vampire, pacing at the very edge of the sea, wanting to follow her, his gorgeous face tense. Her heart tugged at the sight, just as it'd been doing daily for these last several weeks, ever since the night she and Murdoch had started living together.
After they'd paid off the irate Sno-Cat operator, of course.
"Maybe the water's a jot brisk," she teased. These closing months of winter had been particularly harsh, an idyll of blizzards and negative degrees for her - and of course virtually twenty-four hours of darkness for him.
Without complaint, he endured the cold to be with her. She slept during the brief murky daylight to spend more time with him. And when they hadn't been talking, learning more about each other, they'd been indulging in bouts of sensual - albeit inventive - bliss.
She'd never been happier.
"Out, Daniela," he called, still pacing. "You've been in long enough."
"If you don't come join me, a merman might get frisky with me!"
He stopped and canted his head, wondering if she was kidding, growing increasingly agitated.
"Oh, very well. I'll come in." She wanted to walk some of the way back to the lodge anyway, and needed to budget time for snowball fights - she might let him win one tonight. She loved playing in the snow with him. When he had all his cold-weather gear on, they could roll around without having their skin touch.
As she swam in, she called, "Trace and get me a towel?"
Obviously reluctant to leave her for even seconds, he disappeared, returning moments later with one. He met her at the shore, wrapping her in it. As he rubbed her dry, her eyes closed with pleasure, reminded anew of their earlier encounter. For hours, she'd teased him with ice cubes, running them all over his body, everywhere she wished she could lick him.
"You were kidding about the merman, right?" he said. "You'd never told me they existed."
"I haven't gotten to merfolk yet." Yes, Danii had relented, finally divulging the secrets of the Lore, once she'd sworn him to secrecy. She owed him her life and couldn't stand the thought of him out there engaging opponents that would try to kill him just for being a vampire - enemies with powers and weaknesses he wouldn't understand. "I've only covered the first two hundred or so beings, and there are more than can be catalogued. And that's just on this plane."
She'd outlined many of the larger factions, from the demon kingdoms called demonarchies to the history of the noble fey. "They were feudal lords called Feodals," she'd explained. "That's where they get the name. They hailed from the plane of Draiskulia, but once they came here, they became divided into different factions. Like the Icere." And she'd related humorous trivia: "Some demons, like Desh, can be involuntarily summoned by previous bed partners. They call those summoners swimbos - a play on She Who Must Be Obeyed... "
"Merfolk," he repeated now, handing Danii her clothes. At times he seemed overwhelmed by all the Lorean histories and details. Admittedly, it was a lot to take in.
He'd probably learned the most via laptop, by following the web results and commentary on the Talisman's Hie, a sort of immortal Amazing Race, sponsored by Riora, the flighty Goddess of Impossibility. Entrants from all factions crossed the globe, competing for mystical prizes.
Through the results, he'd discovered that his brother Sebastian was indeed alive and well - because he was competing in it. "My brother's alive?" he'd said that day, shooting to his feet. Just before he'd swung Danii up in his arms, he'd abruptly dropped his outstretched hands, drawing back self-consciously. "Can you believe it? I have to let Nikolai..." He'd trailed off. "Why did you just go pale? Daniela, is Sebastian in danger?"
Regrettably, Sebastian was competing against Danii's half sister, Kaderin the Coldhearted, a vicious vampire assassin. "The rules state that the competitors can't kill each other until the final round," she'd said, not wanting to extinguish his hopes, but Kaderin had never lost a Hie. And this time they played for Thrane's Key, which unlocked a door to the past. Since Kaderin felt responsible for the deaths of two of her full-blood sisters, she'd be a ruthless menace in order to win that key.
When Murdoch had asked Danii if she could find out anything about this - like exactly why Sebastian would enter - she'd left a message with Nix. Yet though Nix was the most powerful oracle in the Lore, she was also forgetful, capricious, and notoriously bad at returning calls...
Danii finished tugging her skirt up her thighs, then she glanced up - to find Murdoch's fierce gaze rapt on her body.
He took her shoulders in his gloved hands, staring down at her with his obsidian eyes reflecting moonlight. The breeze blew that unruly lock over his forehead. "You couldn't be lovelier," he rasped, the mere sound of his husky voice making her body go soft for him.
Her gaze dipped to his lips. The moment was ripe for a kiss. "Vampire, I would give anything to taste you right now." Anything. Though this time together had been almost perfect, frustration simmered just below the surface. With each day, she wondered how much longer they could go without real touching.
His hands tightened on her shoulders. "As would I."
She was fantasizing about wicked sex even more than she had before she'd met Murdoch. Danii envisioned suckling his thick length for hours. She imagined how it would feel plunging inside her. What would it be like to have his scent all over me?
Would his kiss make her breathless and weak-kneed, her toes and her claws curling?
As his gaze flicked from her eyes to her mouth, he grated, "Almost don't want to know what you're thinking right now." He broke away, turning from her with clenched fists - instead of claiming the kiss that should have been his due.
Yet another reminder that the broken doll was in no way fixed.
"We need to get back," he said. "I should check in at Mount Oblak."
"But you just went there two nights ago," she reminded him. "You said you weren't going to be needed there as much." Now that there was no impending threat from the Horde.
In the past months, the vampire world had been rocked to its core. The Horde king Demestriu had been slain by Emmaline, Danii's lovable niece. Emma had discovered that he was her father, and then she'd somehow managed to defeat him in a fight to the death. Ivo, too, had been assassinated for seeking to wed Emma, the 'halfling.' Apparently Lachlain MacRieve, her new Lykae protector, had taken exception to that, because he'd released his savage inner werewolf, slaughtering Ivo and the remaining dempire as well.
"Is there some new threat?" Danii asked. "Or has Lothaire returned?" Rumor held that the Enemy of Old hadn't even remained on this plane.
"No, nothing like that, just the usual aggressing bands," Murdoch said. Without Demestriu to lead the Horde, their numbers had been divided into smaller, weaker factions, but they could still prove deadly. "It can't hurt to check in. I'm sure you want to carve, anyway." Had his tone been a shade brusque?
Maybe she was carving too much, but getting each symbol perfect felt so crucial. Sometimes she worked till her fingers bled. If Murdoch was there, he'd take her hands in his big gloved ones and ice her wounds.
The first time he'd found her like this, he'd demanded, "Daniela, why do this to yourself?"
How to explain the compulsion? The Call of the Wild meets Holiday on Ice? "I feel antsy and full until I carve. It's like an instinct, or maybe some kind of genetic memory, passed down by blood. Kind of like how you might get my memories if you ever drank from me."
Always, Danii pondered the mystery of who would lead her back to Icergard, a puzzle as yet unsolved. Could her carvings be some kind of clue?
Reminded of that, she said, "Yes, maybe I could work a little." Though she felt selfish on occasion, investigating her memories, this was her time. There was no one to keep secrets for or from, no one to observe, except her own determined expression in a mirrored glaze of ice.
The world was passing her by. One month, then another...
"Very well." He took her shoulders once more to trace her back to the lodge. Before he left again, he said, "I might see Nikolai tonight. Have you thought about my request?" Murdoch had announced a couple of weeks ago, "Myst has consented to marry my brother. I want us to visit them." When Danii had hesitated, he'd said, "Just think about it."
He continued pressuring her to go public with their relationship. Though she was tempted, always something made her reluctant to take the leap. Now she told him simply, "It's not time yet."
"When will it be time?"
"You agreed to my condition. I'll tell you when I'm ready."
He gave her a tight nod. "I'll return when I can," he said, brushing a kiss over her hair, but the tension between them was thick.
Danii sighed when he left. Murdoch had once admitted to her that he'd never cared about anything very much. And that, other than defending his country, he'd committed to nothing. She couldn't shake the feeling that he hadn't committed to them.
Though she wanted to trust him, he had been a player. Once a rogue, always a rogue, right? Especially since she was unable to fulfill not just one, but two of his most basic needs.
Sometimes, even though he knew how badly his bite would hurt, he still stared at her neck. Each time she got an unpleasant feverish tremor, like she supposed others might have chills...
Yes, the world was passing her by - but the pressures were escalating. Each denial made them hunger for each other even more.
They knew pleasure, but were never completely sated, and the frustration built and built, like a volcano that vented steam but would inevitably erupt.