She couldn't say she loved it here, but she'd adapted to life with her coven. Others could tolerate hours in the snow, but would seek a hearth at the end of the day. Danii was the same way with heat, except she sought the comfort of her meat locker.

Her slushy waterbed was filled with saltwater, which lowered the freezing point to below thirty-two degrees. Above her bathtub was an ice maker, and beside it hung an Epsom salt dispenser. On occasion, she had to add salt to the water so that she didn't freeze it.

Her ice-proofed computer was a military-spec laptop with a magnesium chassis and a sealed keyboard.

Yes, she'd adapted. And she'd felt some security living in such a warm climate. I thought I was safe from Sigmund here. It should've been the last place the Icere would look.

The attack was another reason Danii was avoiding her sisters. If she told them about last night, they would insist on her staying - and them fighting. But the Icere were an enemy the Valkyrie didn't need.

And one they could never find to defeat.

When Danii had been a girl of seven, her mother Svana had journeyed to Icergard, the Icere castle, to reclaim her crown from the vicious Sigmund. Danii's memories of this time were indistinct after the passage of so many years, but she remembered her mother saying, "If I don't return to you here, you must promise me, love, never to follow me. Never, never go to Icergard." She'd made Danii vow it.

Svana had never returned. Before she'd even made it to the castle, Sigmund had assassinated her - the mother who'd refused to linger endlessly in peace with her young daughter in the godplane of Valhalla.

Once Danii had grown old enough to leave Valhalla herself, he'd dispatched killers after her to prevent her from ever challenging his reign. As if she ever would.

Over the centuries, she'd considered breaking her vow to her mother, but only to gather her sisters and strike back at Sigmund, freeing herself from his threat. Yet even if the Valkyrie could find Icergard - rumored to be hidden within the Arctic Circle beneath a dome of ice - they could never attack the castle without getting slaughtered.

Sigmund was perfectly protected from the Valkyrie, inadvertently utilizing their greatest weakness as his defense.

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Diamonds. Svana had told her they dotted the walls and perimeter fences. Though Danii was immune, most Valkyrie could be mesmerized by them.

With a sigh, she rose. She needed to pack, and then she needed to find Nix to ask the half mad soothsayer about three things:

Myst.

Exactly what was supposed to have been fixed the night before.

And where Danii should flee before the next wave of Icere arrived.

There were eleven other Valkyrie covens around the world that Danii could choose from.

The latitude of the Seattle coven had always intrigued her. And then there was the one in New Zealand. Fall approached down there.

Yet as ever, Danii hated to leave her own coven. Valkyrie visited others, but they always returned to their primary coven, like preferring an immediate family over an extended one.

Plus, the New Orleans Valkyrie had plagued the others with practical jokes, which might make it awkward for Danii to pop in.

She could just see herself telling the Seattle Valkyrie, "I had nothing to do with signing you up for the emu farming franchise. And I am sorry twenty of them were released in your pool house, startling your harem of cabana demons. See Nix."

Tonight, the wily soothsayer would likely be downtown in the Vieux Carre. So Danii would be trolling Bourbon Street yet again. Her only consolation was that she wouldn't run into Murdoch.

He and his brother had only been in New Orleans to find Myst. Good riddance.

Damn it, why did never seeing him again matter to her?

Because he saved your life and surprised you repeatedly. And she'd enjoyed him, had liked what they'd done together. It was the first time she'd had an orgasm with someone else in the room. She grew aroused just recalling how he'd worked the seed free from his shaft. He'd been na**d in bed with her, his mighty chest heaving, yelling out as he came.

And now he was free to use those sensual lips to kiss another woman, could use that magnificent body to pleasure others. She glanced at her claws. They'd straightened with aggression.

Stop thinking about him, she told herself firmly as she crossed to one of the windows, brushing away a layer of frost. As her gaze flickered over the lightning-scorched trees in the yard, a sense of melancholy fell over her. I don't want to leave.

In the window glass, Danii spied her reflection. She was exhausted, which meant there was a reddish tinge to her lips and under her eyes, instead of the blue that should be there. Her face was pinched.

She looked miserable. Tally yet another reason why the vampire hadn't wanted to have anything to do with her. Well, other than biting and possibly killing her.

She glared down at her pale, icy skin. Never to be touched. Never without pain. Danii was stuck in this body, stuck in this rut.

Most of her half sisters were fiercely independent - many were legendary warriors or love-'em-and-leave-'em jet-setters. Danii was just... Danii. And she could admit she'd longed for a male of her own, maybe to make a home with. A male who would always clasp her in his arms when she ran for him.

I'm the Valkyrie who most wants to be held - and I never can be. At the thought, she felt her bottom lip trembling. I'd rather not have had a glimpse of what I've been missing.

She dropped her head into her hands and wept, her freezing tears making her want to scream.

CHAPTER 13

Tonight Murdoch might be forced to kill his king.

He had sworn fealty to Kristoff and his Forbearer order, but he was loyal to Nikolai above all others.

After Lukyan left, Murdoch quickly stuffed Daniela's note in his pocket - and donned his sword. He would strike down Kristoff in a heartbeat if his brother was in danger.

When he traced to the great room in Blachmount, Kristoff intoned, "Sit, Murdoch."

Kristoff was at the head of the timeworn table, flanked by four Forbearer elders from Russia, some of the first ones he'd turned -  his own countrymen.

Within their order was a tense alliance between the Russians and Estonians. Kristoff thought the realm of the Lore superseded human concerns and wars. But history was difficult for Murdoch to forget.

Russians had killed him and most of his family.

"I imagine Nikolai will be down shortly." Kristoff was analyzing him. Would he hear Murdoch's beating heart? And if he did, would he say anything about it?

The king often acted in ways that were incomprehensible to Murdoch. He'd demonstrated blistering wrath toward some subjects, and unexpected leniency to others.

Kristoff was a natural-born vampire, not a turned human, and was as shrewd as he was ruthless. As a boy, he'd had his crown stolen by his uncle, Demestriu, the current leader of the Horde. Kristoff had been smuggled out of the capital before Demestriu could assassinate him, then raised in hiding by humans.