Nikolai ran a hand over his face, his concern evident. "I need to go - "

"We'll take care of it," Murdoch interrupted sharply. "For God's sake, you stay here and... enjoy... everything." Everything I can't.

Kristoff returned his attention to Nikolai, eyeing him shrewdly. "Find out as much as you can from her. And you will tell us if the memories follow the blood."

After a short nod, Nikolai traced from the room.

His brother hadn't just been spared, he'd as much as had a slap on the back from Kristoff. The king was no doubt thinking of an alliance with the Valkyrie.

And I have a Valkyrie Bride. But Murdoch could never drink her anyway, was a danger to her.

If Nikolai had succumbed, knowing he was breaking the laws of their order, then Murdoch didn't stand a chance of controlling himself with Daniela. And she would find no pleasure in it, had told him she could die from it.

Kristoff stood. "Now, which of you will volunteer to accompany Murdoch to New Orleans where this coven full of Valkyrie is located?"

They all shot to their feet.

One asked, "Does this mean we can drink from our Brides? Without repercussions?"

"Only if they're immortal and can't be killed from blood loss. I believe that's why Nikolai's eyes are still clear," Kristoff said absently, his gaze focused on Murdoch. "A word," Kristoff told him, ushering him aside. "You are charged with protecting Myst the Coveted. This match between her and your brother is critical. Scour the city for Ivo until the sun drives you back."

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In the past, Murdoch had searched those city streets for his brother's sake. Now he would do the same for Myst, a female he'd hated for years. "And when I find him?"

"Take him out."

"Gladly."

"Is there anything you'd like to tell me, Murdoch?"

"My liege?"

"Your heart beats," Kristoff observed. "Don't worry, the others won't notice. Turned humans rarely think to listen for it. When did this happen?"

"Last night."

"A mere five years after your brother. While I've waited millennia." Did Kristoff envy them?

Doubtless. The natural-born vampires had the same pressing drive to find their mates. They were born fully alive, growing much like mortals, until they neared the age when they froze into their immortality. Then with each day, their hearts would beat less, their breaths - and sexual need - gradually diminishing to nothing until they could become blooded.

Just like the Forbearers, the natural-born vampires knew exactly what they were missing...

"Is your Bride by any chance a Valkyrie?"

When Murdoch hesitated, Kristoff's eyes flooded black with anger. "Need I remind you that I'm your king? And I've just shown mercy to your brother."

"She is a Valkyrie."

"Have you been able to learn anything about the Lore from her?"

"I'll be able to find out more in the future," he said, hedging for some reason.

"The future? She's a Valkyrie - the odds are against her wanting anything to do with you."

Murdoch's shoulders straightened. "She told me she wanted to see me again." Before he'd threatened to bite her. But she'd still left her number. "She even gave me her contact information." He pulled the note from his pocket, displaying it.

Kristoff raised a brow at the X s and O s, the puffy hearts. "Call her," he challenged.

Murdoch took his sat-phone from his jacket, then dialed the number. It rang several times.

"Hmm. Not waiting by the phone for your call?"

Murdoch heard a voice-answering service clicking on. Kristoff did as well and said, "Probably in the shower, then?"

"Of course."

But a woman's voice said, "If you've reached this message and you weren't trying to contact Regin the Radiant" -

Regin?

- "then I know three things about you. One of my half sisters just tooled your ass and never wants to see you again. B. You're pop-culturally illiterate not to know that this number is a song. And three, you'll never tell another male about this humiliating prank, so the number trick can be continued indefinitely. If, however, you called for moi, then say something to amuse me after the beep."

Murdoch's anger was boiling. Just as he was about to unleash his wrath in a message, a computerized voice said, "Mailbox is full."

That little witch...

"I understand you had a reputation for being popular with women," Kristoff said as he collected Nikolai's bloody shirt from the table. "You'd better recognize that a Valkyrie is not exactly your typical woman."

CHAPTER 14

"Forbearer Scum."

"Ignorance is bliss, leech."

"Go sun yourself."

Being met with insults was the only way Murdoch and his men could determine that they'd even approached Lore beings in their search of the Quarter.

Hours ago, Murdoch had mapped out the rest of the city for the other Forbearers, and then they'd split up, each elder with two men under him. Murdoch had taken his old friend Rurik, an Estonian who'd served under him in the war, and they'd been stuck with Lukyan, the hotheaded Russian. Kristoff could insist that the former political alliances of his soldiers had been nullified by those of the Lore, but the wily king always put a Russian with Estonians, and vice versa.

Over the course of the night, Murdoch had grown better able to recognize the Lore beings - they seemed more adroit, more suspicious, and often more drunken than the humans - but he still didn't know what they were.

And not one of them would offer information. The females hadn't given him enough time to charm them. The males had looked ready to fight on sight.

The closest he'd gotten was with a scantily clad female who'd painted her skin with leaf designs. She'd at least given him a few moments to state his introduction and questions, not that she'd listened. She'd merely been ogling him while nodding dimly and murmuring, "Uh-huh, baby boy, you keep talking, Trixie's lis'ning."

She'd kept this up until another female, dressed and painted like her, came charging between them to harangue the first one. "He's a vampire. You really are a ho-hum whoreslut of a nymph, aren't you?"

"No, you are!"

Then they'd lunged at each other, deep-kissing as they went tumbling to the ground.

All in all, the Forbearers had learned nothing about Ivo's whereabouts.

Now, as midnight neared, Rurik, Lukyan, and Murdoch stood on a balcony overlooking the crowd. The other two were arguing over various topics, while Murdoch was silent in thought, mired in unease over Daniela.