Deep Kiss of Winter


Murdoch and Nikolai entered Erol's - a ramshackle bayou tavern that catered solely to Loreans - with Sebastian due to meet them any minute.

A contact had told Nikolai that Conrad was within this bar on this very night, and had been returning here repeatedly.

As if to draw his brothers out.

In the past, Conrad had wanted to kill Murdoch and Nikolai, had hated them for turning him, even more than Sebastian had. Did Conrad still want to? They'd soon see.

Murdoch scanned the interior of the dimly-lit tavern -

He's... here. "In the back," he muttered to Nikolai. Conrad sat at a table in the shadows, clasping his head as if it pounded. Our brother. Just here. After so long.

"He's wearing sunglasses?" Nikolai muttered back.

To hide his red eyes? Christ, don't let it be.

Conrad must've sensed them. He lowered his hand and raised his head to face them. At once, he drew his lips back, baring his fangs menacingly.

A standoff. Patrons noticed the sudden tension and fell silent. One look at Conrad and they exited in a hurry. The place emptied, right down to the bartender.

Quiet reigned. Murdoch said nothing, dumbstruck to see his brother after all this time, to find him alive. Nikolai was speechless as well.

Sebastian entered then, his countenance grave. He crossed to his brothers, standing with them in a united front.

Murdoch gave Sebastian a quick nod, gratified once again that he'd allied with them. The first time in centuries the four of us have been in the same room.

Conrad drew down his sunglasses, revealing eyes as red as blood. Murdoch's lips parted, and Sebastian muttered a curse. Nikolai winced, but he squared his shoulders, and the three strode forward -

With uncanny speed, Conrad lunged from his seat. In one astonishing move, he vaulted over the table at them and struck Sebastian with a skull-cracking blow, sending him hurtling into a wall.

Before Murdoch and Nikolai could react, Conrad snatched them by their throats, one in each hand as they fought to free themselves.

"Three hundred years of this," Conrad hissed, his red eyes blazing with hate.

Then all hell broke loose.

Pace forward... and back. Sit. Carve on tablet for huffish moments. Rise and repeat -

The phone rang. Danii dove for it, answering in a rush, "Murdoch, is that you?"

"We have Conrad," he said, his voice rough. "He's... Fallen."

"Oh, Murdoch, I'm so sorry." Danii's heart hurt for him. She knew how much Murdoch cared for his brother, how devastating this was to him.

"He was an assassin, but he drank all of his hundreds, or even thousands, of victims. He took all their memories - and their strength."

"Is he crazed?" she asked, though she knew the answer.

"He nearly totaled Nikolai's car. From the inside. We barely captured him, and only because the Lykae Bowen MacRieve showed up and helped take him down. By swinging a bar rail into Conrad's face."

"Are you safe? Were you hurt?"

"Let's just say we're all glad to be immortal," he muttered, then added, "We've got Conrad locked up on a property outside of town, a place called Elancourt."

"I know of it." Elancourt wasn't far from Val Hall and had always struck Danii as creepy. Surely the decrepit gothic manor there wasn't even livable. "Why would you put him there?"

"Nix advised Nikolai to."

What does she have up her sleeve with this?

"It's going to take a lot of work for the three of us to make it comfortable for Conrad."

More time away. Avoiding me.

"But it's hidden," he reminded her, which was important considering what they were doing. One of the primary rules of the Forbearer order was to kill Fallen vampires - without mercy.

To harbor one would be considered treason, punishable by death.

"What's the plan now?" she asked.

"We'll keep him here, try to rehabilitate him with a potion from the witches. Basically do everything in our power to save him. If we can keep him from killing, this might work."

The common wisdom was that the Fallen couldn't be brought back. They couldn't be rehabbed. "What if he's beyond saving?" she asked quietly, wishing she could spare him the inevitable failure.

"We might have other options," Murdoch said cryptically.

Reminded of what Nix had revealed, Danii asked, "Like using Thrane's Key? Why didn't you tell me Sebastian had it?"

"I take it Nix finally called you." He exhaled. "Danii, it wasn't my secret to tell. I keep Sebastian's, just as I keep yours."

"Will you use the Key?"

"We plan to in time," he said. "But it was meant to retrieve all our family. If we bring Conrad back from the past with them, his present self would fade. We'd wipe out three hundred years of his life. At the very least, we want to get him well enough to make the decision. We won't make this one for him. Not like last time."

"I see," she murmured, disappointed that he hadn't confided something so major - even as she knew that Murdoch couldn't exactly ask Sebastian to let Danii in on the secret. Because Sebastian didn't know about her.

In a distracted tone, he said, "Look, when we finish up with Conrad, you and I should visit Riora. Maybe we could get her to help us - we're in an impossible situation, right?"

He doesn't even realize how hurtful that is to me.

And he also didn't realize that Riora was the flighty goddess who'd given Danii the bowling shoes...

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