Danii marched straight out into the blizzard. All around her, snowdrifts crested and furrowed, illustrating the path of the gusts.
With her gown whipping about her thighs, she sniffled, running her forearm over her teary eyes. She hadn't expected things to be easy between her and Murdoch, but she'd thought the prize was worth the fight.
Maybe he was right. Maybe I should bail. She'd never considered it before. Not until he'd all but dared her to. Another swipe over her eyes.
Murdoch equals misery. They would just keep hurting each other. Where was the limit? When do you give up on someone you love?
Ah, gods, she did love him. With all her heart.
Though the Valkyrie didn't have "fated mates" per se, they believed that one would know her partner when she realized she would always run to get into his arms.
If he came back now, I'd run right to him.
Which meant there'd be no bailing for Danii, not yet -
Her ears twitched. Even over the wind, she heard something moving behind her. Danii sensed she was being followed, but for some reason she didn't believe it was Murdoch.
Then who the devil would be out here?
When a footstep crunched in the snow, she whirled around, spied a male in the icy shadows. His breaths didn't smoke. He had pointed ears.
An Iceren. No, not again! Her eyes darted, scanning for the rest of the assassins in the blustery night. She'd been unwary; now she would pay for it.
And all she could think of was how she'd left things with Murdoch.
Yet the male raised his palms. "My name is Jadian the Cold." His voice was deep-toned, raspy.
"How did you find me?"
"Actually, you found us. The cryomancy symbols you've been carving were about to unlock a portal. We learned you were nearing and merely awaited."
Cryomancy? Portal symbols? "Now you've come to kill me?"
"Not in the least. I mean you no harm."
She gave a bitter laugh. "Where's the rest of your battalion to back you up?"
"I've come alone."
"Your mistake. Since the last batch you bastards sent didn't fare so well."
"They were sent by Sigmund - before I assassinated him."
"He was... killed? By you?"
This Jadian nodded. "I was a general in his army and led a coup against him."
"Because our people want their true queen back."
Had he just said our people? True queen? Stay standing. "Why now?"
"First I had to find you. Then I had to determine whether you were strong enough to rule. To make sure you were worthy to be Svana's heir. You are."
"This could be a trick, a way to take me prisoner."
He frowned. "Nix didn't tell you about me?"
Was this Icere male the "pressy" coming her way? The one Nix had mentioned directly after Danii had tried to explain the symbols and carving? "Uh, not in so many words."
"She told me she would."
He and Nix had been talking?
"But then, your sister also said you'd be more accurate with your cryomancy."
"What does that mean?" Danii demanded.
"You're one symbol off from creating a portal into our realm. But yours would have opened two hundred miles south of Icergard, amid the White Death - a frozen wasteland that even you would have difficulty crossing."
"Then how did you find me?"
"One of your symbols was shattered tonight. It sounded like a cannon blast through the castle, and was a beacon for me."
When Murdoch kicked my tablet...
"I opened my own portal directly to you here." He pointed in the distance, to an oval of diffused air that rebuffed the driving snow.
She shook her head irritably. "My shoddy cryomancy notwithstanding, this doesn't make sense. Why would they want me? My mother was reviled for attempting to kill Sigmund."
"Not reviled, revered. But the Icere were too fearful of Sigmund to rebel. Especially once Queen Svana was gone and they knew of no one to replace her. They have a holiday in Svana's name now."
"Oh." Such a queenly answer. But to be fair, this was staggering. "Wait. They knew of no one to replace her?"
"It was forbidden to speak your name. After a few centuries, new generations didn't even know it." He stepped closer to her, now mere feet away. "But they do now. And they await you."
"Jadian, there have been too many years of suspicion and running. If our positions were reversed, you wouldn't just blindly accept my word," she said. Yet even as she spoke, she realized she did believe him.
Danii knew men. And this one was telling the truth. Her previously twitching ears were still.
"You should contact Nix if you have doubts," he said. "Until then..." He pulled something from his vest.
"Oh, gods," Danii breathed. My mother's crown. With shaking hands, she accepted the piece from him, staring down at it through watering eyes.
And as she held the crown, cold and right in her hands, fresh memories of the day her mother left finally surfaced.
"Never, never go to Icergard. Not until you're shown the way."
"Who will show me, mama?" Danii cried. "When?"
"When the time is right, you'll show yourself."
"How? How will I know?"
"You already know the way, my darling. You just haven't remembered it yet... "
Danii exhaled a stunned breath. She'd been making her own way to Icergard, because the time was right. All of this was... real. Danii felt it, down to her bones, as pure as a chill. All those years of fearing the Icere soldiers and spies were over.
She could have a normal life. No more assassination attempts! She could be with her own kind. This was the solution to all her problems.
So why was she suddenly so depressed?
Because her first thought was that she couldn't wait to tell Murdoch. And because this new life didn't have a surly vampire in it.
"Jadian, this is a lot to take in."
He drew nearer. "You only need accept what's yours." The corners of his lips curled, disconcerting her. "What's been yours for so long."
Is he flirting with me? Brain overload. I can't believe I'm in my nightgown...
Jadian was kind of sexy. He stood as tall as Murdoch and had intense blue eyes, the color of glacial ice. Berserker ravels tangled in his thick blond hair. His sleeveless shirt displayed muscular arms and the cobalt tracings of the Icere. But whereas her markings were delicate, his were wide and bold, designed to attract females like her.
And still, for Danii, the vampire won hands down. "Um, let me think about it," she said. "You can just make another portal here, right? Let's meet at the same time tomorrow night."
She turned to go - and felt fingers close around her bare arm. She stiffened. A split second later, comprehension hit her and she gasped.
No pain. She turned back.
Again that sensual curling of his lips. "Maybe I need to explain the other benefits of coming back with me."
Jadian was very sexy. "You're, uh, really devoted to your people. You'll resort to flirting to get me to return."
"There's no hardship."
"I'm not... yours or anything?" Could she be a vampire's Bride and a noble fey's lady?
"I'm not a big believer in fated mates." Had a shadow of some emotion flickered in his blue eyes? "But I could kiss you to better tell."
"K-kiss me?" She'd never been kissed. Her curiosity prodded her. Her head spun. What about Murdoch? Gods, she loved that vampire.
But he doesn't even want to fight for me.
Jadian took the matter out of her hands. "I think my queen would like a kiss," he murmured, leaning down to her.
Danii tensed when his lips touched hers. She couldn't help the defensive reaction. Yet again there was no pain. Instead she felt the firmness of his lips, the delicious brush of his tongue.
So this is kissing. If only she could do this with Murdoch, she'd never stop...