Of course, he knew why she'd played the prank on him. And he knew why it would be best if he never saw her again. So why did he feel this urgency to find her? He craved the sight of her, needed to have her scent fresh in his mind.

This eve, he'd seen pretty women, but he had no interest in them. Though he knew so little about Daniela, the blooding made him think of her constantly.

It forced him to recall her vulnerability when she'd said she wanted to see him again. It made him remember with a disturbing tenderness the way she'd lifted her arms to him so trustingly.

As a mortal, he'd had a happy-go-lucky personality. Women had trusted him with their pleasure but little else. Yet Daniela had believed in him to remove the arrows in time to save her life.

Tomorrow night, he could go to Blachmount and ask Myst how to contact her sister. But then, Myst might refuse to divulge that information. If all else failed, he supposed he could try to find the Valkyrie coven, despite Daniela's warning that they'd kill him on sight.

Another source of his unease? He couldn't stop mulling over how the Wroth brothers had gone down in Lore history for their deeds, or misdeeds. After the continuous battles and hardships they'd all suffered, Nikolai had been remembered as the self-sacrificing general, and Murdoch had been classed as the manwhore?

He also suspected that this bothered him solely because that was how Daniela saw him -

"What say you, Murdoch?" Rurik asked.

"What? I didn't hear you."

"We were speaking of Brides and Valkyries."

Murdoch almost coughed. "Were you, then?"

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Rurik's scarred face creased into a frown. He can tell something is going on with me - has known me for centuries. Rurik had been one of five dying war compatriots who'd accepted that fateful deal Nikolai had brokered with Kristoff.

But cunning Kristoff knew that these men were loyal to Nikolai and Murdoch, and always would be. Demonstrating his shrewdness yet again, Kristoff had dispatched the other four - Kalev, Demyan, Markov, and Aleksander - in separate directions on the continent to search for the Daci, a rumored hidden enclave of natural-born vampires.

Rurik alone remained, and only because of his weakness: an uncontrollable temper when in conflict. Not the best trait for a potential ambassador.

"I heard at Mount Oblak that Nikolai's Bride was fine beyond words," Lukyan said. He was a bold and skilled fighter - as a Don Cossack, Lukyan had been bred for war - but Murdoch didn't trust him. There was something off about him, even beyond the fact that he'd died on the other side of the same battlefield Murdoch had perished on. "You saw her. Is she that beautiful, then?"

"She is." But not more so than Daniela.

"I haven't really looked at a woman in so long." Rurik's gaze fell to the street below. In his human life, he'd been a simple farmer, a gentle giant, until he'd gone into battle; then he would go berserk. He didn't wield a sword - he carried a war hammer.

Rurik's father had often liked to say that the men in their family were descended from berserkers. After Rurik had been turned into a vampire and learned this new world existed, he'd had to wonder, literally descended from berserkers?

"Wouldn't matter if you'd looked at women, you'd only see half of them," Lukyan said with a smirk.

Rurik had the war wounds to show for his rages. He walked with a marked limp and was missing an eye under his rakish patch. Ignoring the Cossack's comment, he said, "Have females been showing this much skin the whole time?"

Murdoch understood his comrade's puzzlement. He himself had been disinterested in women to the point of oblivion. Until the Valkyrie.

"Christ, look at that one," Rurik said in an awed tone. Murdoch remembered that even before he'd lost his eye, Rurik had been unlucky with women. He wondered if Rurik remembered that.

With a leer, Lukyan said, "Maybe she's the one who'll tempt me back to life."

Pinpricks skittered along the back of Murdoch's neck as he turned to the object of their attention.

Daniela. Just there.

The gnawing ache he'd been experiencing redoubled at the sight of her.

She was strolling the street below them, her white-blond hair swaying about her shoulders with each of her graceful steps. She wore a wrap of black silk around her hips, with a thin swath of the material climbing up over one breast, around her neck, and down over the other.

Could she have revealed more of her perfect flesh? Her back and arms were bare, as was a good bit of her chest and flat belly. The only jewelry adorning her were those exotic armbands. A satchel was slung over her shoulder.

Damn her, she was noticeably braless. And now he stood spellbound by how her high br**sts bobbed as she nimbly wound through the crowd.

She seemed oblivious to the men she left ruined in her wake. They froze, gaping after her as if they loved her and would do anything for her.

When one male spoke to her and she smiled up at him, Murdoch's fangs sharpened. The blooding at work again?

He shook himself, disconcerted by the violent drives racking him. Get control.

"She's got to be an immortal." Rurik's voice was rough with appreciation, and Murdoch had to check an impulse to hurt his old friend. "Do you think her blood would be like that of Nikolai's female?"

It would be, God help me, it would be...

Lukyan said, "Bedding an immortal. Can you imagine how much experience that one has?"

Can't rip out his throat. Murdoch wanted to bare his fangs at them, to growl that she was his. But it would only make Lukyan more determined to meet her.

What if Daniela blooded one of these vampires? Was that even possible? He had to get them away from her.

"Back to work," he ordered them. "I'm starting at the head of the street. You two come from the other end. We'll cover more ground."

Once they'd reluctantly traced away, with lingering looks that almost got them killed, Murdoch descended to the street, then strode toward her.

What the hell was she doing out here alone? There could be more of the Icere out in this city. To risk her safety like this...

Without warning, a memory arose. "I don't understand why men get so jealous over possessions, or over their women," he'd once told his father.

His father had seemed deeply disappointed when he'd answered, "Son, that's because you've never cared about anything enough to fight for it - or to fear losing it."

CHAPTER 15

"Oh, no, no. this isn't happening," Danii muttered as she jogged backward three steps, then whirled around in the opposite direction from the vampire intently approaching her.

It's him! Earlier when she'd reached the Quarter, she'd asked around for Nix, but instead had found out that Forbearers, led by a very big and handsome vamp, were going door to door, canvassing the streets for someone.