With effort, the female whispered, "You... help me."
"How? When I'll burn you?" Can't comprehend this. She's blooded me, this odd little creature whose skin can't be touched.
No, she couldn't be his Bride. He couldn't be blooded. But his breaths mocked him, his thundering heart a constant reminder.
When his heart had first beat in the midst of the fight, it had sounded like an explosion, stunning him and nearly costing him his life. He'd inhaled, shuddering as air flooded his untried lungs, filling him with renewed strength.
Even now he was dizzy from his injuries, but his body still felt strong.
"I'll try to find Nikolai - Myst will be with him. She'll better know what to do."
His brother had described what happened when he'd been blooded, so Murdoch knew what to expect physically. But Nikolai had neglected to tell him that instinct, raw and bare, would take over.
"You, please. Arrows poison to me. No time."
Poison? No, she couldn't die like this. If she was a Valkyrie, then she was immortal.
But what did he know? He also hadn't thought a Valkyrie could be burned by his touch.
He ripped away the bottom of his shirt and wrapped his hands, then gently scooped her into his arms. Though their skin never touched, the movement jostled the arrows, making her whimper in pain.
He clenched his jaw, wanting to slaughter those fucks all over again, to punish them slowly. "Why trust me with this?" he snapped. Why did she want him to care for her? Why would she think him capable of it?
She tried to focus on his face, her silvery eyes going blank. "I... don't know why."
"You'll probably regret trusting me with your life."
In answer, she went limp, helpless in his arms.
Lord Jadian the Cold, general of the Icere, had watched the conflict impassively from his vantage in a warehouse above the street.
In his long life, he'd fought against vampires countless times, and he had the scars to prove it. But the one below had been stronger, faster. Now it crouched over Daniela the Ice Maiden. Crouched protectively. An unlikely ally for the female?
After tonight, there was no doubt that Daniela was Icere; it was bred into every line of her.
But she was also fierce like the Valkyrie - she'd wrenched a fire arrow from her own chest to cast at her enemy. He knew exactly how powerful that poison was, had harvested it himself from a fire demoness's horns.
Yes, Daniela was strong. As her mother Queen Svana had been.
When the vampire below disappeared with her, Jadian leapt down to collect the fire blade. It wouldn't do to lose it - the same knife had been used to take Svana the Great's head.
Jadian planned to wield it again.
He turned from the carnage, ignoring the low creatures that had already begun feeding on his fallen comrades. He walked on with the knowledge that Daniela was a threat that could no longer be ignored.
Just as Danii dimly perceived a bed beneath her, pain exploded in her chest. She woke to her own screaming, writhing in agony, bucking away from the source.
"Easy, girl," the vampire's deep voice intoned. "Have to get this dress off you."
She cracked open her lids, found herself on a mattress on the floor in some dark-paneled room. The vampire was surveying her with eyes the color of obsidian, a knife in one of his gloved hands.
He'd put gloves on? Good vampire. "In Kristoff's castle?"
"How did you - ? No, we're not there." He finished slashing away the rest of her dress, leaving her in panties. He'd already removed her boots. "We're in a mill outside New Orleans."
He set aside the knife, seeming more uncomfortable with her nudity than she was. With a swallow, he wrapped his fist around an arrow just above her breast. He used his other hand to press her shoulder into the mattress. "We'll count to three."
She met his eyes and nodded. His gaze was frenzied, yet it comforted her. Never looking away, she gritted her teeth.
"One... two - "
She choked on a scream, and lightning exploded just outside the house. His eyes darted around uneasily as he tossed the arrow to the floor.
Between panting breaths, she cried, "Remind me... to teach you... to count."
"Are you ready for another?"
Was she? How much more pain could she take?
"Think of something else, girl." He clutched another arrow. "Or tell me your name."
Another yank, another scream swallowed. Outside, lightning flashed once more, and thunder rocked the roof timbers.
He warily gazed upward before his attention settled on another arrow. As he worked the next shaft free - this one was lodged in her sternum - she clenched her fists into the sheets, fighting not to twist from him. The arrowhead grated against bone as it finally gave way.
"Your name," he demanded.
She gasped out, "Daniela."
"Daniela." He gave a tight nod. "Beautiful name for a beautiful girl."
She choked on a hysterical laugh, sending her into a wet coughing fit. Blood bubbled from her mouth when she uttered, "Beautiful... kidding?"
His expression darkened. "I only meant that you're lovely in form, or you would be - never mind."
He gazed away, looking like he was mentally cursing himself.
After such a long life, she was going to die of poison in the care of a crazed, skeevy vampire who couldn't count.
"My name is Murdoch Wroth."
"I know." He was brother to Nikolai, which meant he was one of the Wroths, four Estonian warlords famous in their time for their ruthless defense of their country. Five years ago, the Valkyrie had learned from Myst that two of the brothers had been turned to vampires. Nikolai and... Murdoch.
"How could you know my name?"
She tried to shrug, but only grimaced.
He let it drop. "Two more to go. Who were those men who did this to you?"
"You wouldn't know them - "
Yank. Her vision began to flicker again.
"Stay with me." Had he smoothed a gloved hand over her hair?
"Only one left," he said, then added in a murmur, "Brave girl."
For some reason, she felt a rush of pride that he saw her as brave. She'd been weakened for so long, exiled from the very ice that made her stronger. She struggled to remain conscious, wavering in and out.
"Will more of them be coming for you?" he asked.
"They always do. Sooner or later."
"Why would they want to kill you?"
She mumbled, "I was born."
"What does that mean?"
"Can't tell you... 'bout the Lore."
"Because I'm a Forbearer?" This plainly infuriated him. "You think Myst won't be telling Nikolai your secrets?"
"You think... they'll be talking tonight?"
He frowned as if she was confusing him, or more like she was throwing him. "Last arrow."
This one was wedged under her collarbone, refusing to come out. "Almost finished, sweet." He pinned her to the mattress, twisting and pulling as she bit back a shriek. "Just hold on."
Finally, it gave way in a rush of blood. "There." He threw it aside. "Now what do I do?"
She lay stunned, panting raggedly. Too late...
Even with the arrows removed, too much poison remained inside her. She started convulsing from the heat, couldn't stop.
"Daniela, tell me!"
In her two thousand years of living, she'd never been this hot. Ah, gods, thermal shock.
Death by shattering. Just as she'd been warned as a girl. Porcelain doll. The starkest fear she'd ever known welled inside her.
She weakly grabbed his shirt. "Shock. Put me in... ice bath."
"Shock - what do you mean?"
"'Bout to... die."