But it didn't matter how he'd driven her away. Only that he had. This way was best. He'd just end up hurting her, had almost bitten her.

Even after his brother's five years of torture, Nikolai hadn't succumbed to bloodlust and bitten Myst. Her neck was unmarked.

At that moment, Nikolai drew his brows together and tightened his arms around his Bride. Though he slept, Nikolai still sensed another's presence.

So Murdoch traced back to the mill. He held his breath as he materialized, not sure if he hoped Daniela would still be there or not.

Empty. He ignored his baffling disappointment. What'd you expect? He'd threatened her, insulted her -

He spotted a piece of paper on his desk. Tripping in his haste to reach it, he snapped the note up and read:

Vampire,

At some time in the future, you're really going to want my number. So I thought I would give you this:

867-5309.

XOXO,

Daniela, the Ice Queen

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The words were embellished with whimsical hearts. I haven't blown it. Relief sailed through him, so strong he sagged onto his mattress.

She'll see me again. He ignored the part of him that was filled with foreboding, the part still warning that she'd be safer if she didn't.

When he felt the afternoon sun's heavy reach over the earth, his lids grew heavy. Exhaustion caught up with him and, with her note clutched in his fist, he slept.

CHAPTER 11

The cracked vinyl of the truck bench stuck to Danii's heated thighs, disgusting her even further.

Her hands were clenched and a steady stream of lightning trailed her as she and Farmer Ted bounced along a pitted road, closing in on Val Hall, the manor that housed the New Orleans coven of Valkyrie.

Earlier, once she'd trudged a mile from the mill, in the heat of a Louisiana noonday sun, she'd eventually stumbled onto a desolate county highway - and an old farmer driving by in an even older truck.

After dashing in front of him in the road, begging for a ride, she'd promptly deduced that Farmer Ted was a man of no words, communicating solely by strategic spitting of his tobacco chew.

With one healthy splat out of his truck window, he'd agreed to drop her near home. At least, she'd translated that as an agreement. Before he could argue - that would just get untidy - she'd clambered into the cab. The one without air-conditioning that reeked of taxidermy and Levi Garrett tobacco.

If Valkyrie ate, Danii would be vomiting right now.

All because of that vampire. The only thing getting her through this ordeal was the belief that Murdoch would regret what he'd done.

And the fact that she'd left him a special number for when he returned.

The second he'd vanished, she'd rushed to the mill's garage, agreeing that she needed to leave, stat. Rule to live by: If a vampire warns you he's coming back to attack and possibly kill you, then you listen.

Inside, she'd found a classic Porsche, refurbished and lovely, with a new Maserati Spyder beside it. She'd been eager to steal and trash either one, already planning to return the vehicle with a UV bulb in the overhead light. But she couldn't find the keys.

She'd tried to call for help on his sat-phone, but the service was code-locked.

Rather than stay and wait like an unwitting bag of O positive, she'd scribbled her note and set out in her bloody boots, wearing damp underwear, the vamp's T-shirt, and a cloak of rage that only a two-thousand-year-old Valkyrie could pull off.

For so long, those in the Lore had noted the differences between Danii and her sisters - including Danii. But in truth, she had just as many Valkyrie traits as she had Icere.

Most notably, Danii possessed the Valkyrie's notorious pride and need for retribution. Like her sisters, if she was wronged, then gods help the subject of her wrath.

I've so been wronged. By the first vampire in history not to want his Bride. She didn't know if that said something about him - or about her. If anyone found out she'd been cast away by a Forbearer, she would never live it down. Her only hope was that no one ever discovered her disgraceful morning.

To add insult to injury, she'd also remembered him interrogating her. While she'd been filled with poison, he'd been filled with questions.

Her supposed white knight had taken advantage of her, and she couldn't recall how much she'd told him. Surely she hadn't revealed any critical secrets or weaknesses...

Stop thinking about him. You have things to do. Like fleeing the city.

Since none of the assassins from last night would be reporting back, King Sigmund would soon send another Icere contingent. He wouldn't stop until he'd killed her.

Just as he'd murdered the true queen of the Iceren, Svana the Great, Danii's mother.

Danii had to get home and pack, but she grew weary merely thinking about returning to Val Hall, weak and shamed, a vampire informer. Via Farmer Ted. How could she face her sisters now?

Myst was still getting razzed for hooking up with Nikolai five years ago, even by other Lore factions. Having the aggressively omnisexual nymphs ridicule one's choice of lover was about as low as one could get. Mysty the Vampire Layer was the butt of many a joke.

Who was worse? Myst, who'd dabbled with a vampire, or Danii, who'd dabbled and had desperately wanted more?

Murdoch dreamed.

Sometimes he dreamed of the sun, sometimes of old battles. Now he dreamed of his father, of walking in on him wet-eyed, clutching a portrait of Murdoch's mother on the fifth anniversary of her death.

Murdoch had loved his mother, though she'd been zealously religious, and he'd grieved her loss, but his father had been left a broken shell of a man.

At first, Murdoch had pitied him. Then he'd scorned the father who had scant time for his family, who'd all but orphaned his four young daughters with his neglect.

By this time, Murdoch had been enjoying women for years, knew that they were always about when he needed one. His father could have enjoyed the same - as a wealthy aristocrat, he could easily have found a woman to replace his departed wife.

"Get another one," Murdoch had finally demanded, unable to comprehend what kind of hold the woman had over him. His father had refused to move on, obsessed with her.

A woman's death had broken a strong man...

The dream began to change. Murdoch found himself with Daniela in a strange room made of ice walls. But he felt no chill from it, no discomfort.

He placed his palms on either side of her ethereal face - without giving her pain. When his thumbs brushed her delicate cheekbones, she smiled up at him, but her countenance was different. Everything about her had changed.

Wisping ice crystals had formed in half-moon shapes at her temples. More crystals spiked her lashes and tangled in her wild, shimmery hair. Her skin was even paler, her lips tinged with blue. Delicate cobalt-colored designs laced around her wrists and descended over her hands. In his dream, he knew they ran across her lower back as well.