Yet the only males on earth who could touch her were the Icere. Regrettably, they also happened to want her dead.

Which meant the closest she'd ever get to ha**ng s*x would be reading about it in the many tomes of erotica she kept hidden in her room or by indulging in her rich fantasy life. Which also meant she was probably the world's oldest virgin. Merely awaiting confirmation from Guinness.

And people wonder why I prefer fantasy to reality.

Her ears twitched with awareness. No, she wasn't simply spooked; something was happening. Her senses were alert.

Hastening her pace, she carefully wound around the people on the street, negotiating the ninety-eight-point-six degree gauntlet. Even the briefest contact with another's skin would burn her. A conundrum, because she kept cool by baring lots of hers.

When her frosty breath fogged in the warm night air, she just stifled the urge to scream, and peeked over her shoulder once more.

This time she spotted a towering male, far behind her. He was striking, looked to be mid-thirties. But there was something unusual about him.

Was he even human? New Orleans was chock-full of Lore beings. He could be an immortal, maybe even the one trailing her.

At that moment, he wasn't looking in her direction, so she took the opportunity to duck into an alley beside a hotel. Leaping up four stories to the hotel's flat roof, she crossed to a low ledge wall overlooking the street, then crouched between two flags - one had a fleur-de-lis covered in beads, and the other said Pardi Gras!

Tilting her head, she studied the male below. He had longish dark brown hair, cut negligently, with a lock falling over his forehead. His face was fantasy-worthy, with a strong, masculine jaw and chin.

He wore tasteful clothes, a black button-down and jeans with a jacket that made her feel warm just looking at it. She herself was wearing the thinnest backless dress she could find.

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He strode with an air of confidence. The male was gorgeous -  and he knew it. How could he not, with the women gaping at him? Then she frowned. He seemed oblivious to the prancing coeds in low-cut tops angling for his attention.

His body was big, muscular in a way that hinted at immortal, but what he was exactly eluded her. Considering his size, he was probably a demon, or even a Lykae - those animals had begun prowling the Valkyries' turf as bold as they pleased.

Or could he be... a vampire?

She trained her gaze on his chest, watching for the rise and fall of breaths. Seconds passed. Historically, the vampires had shunned Louisiana. Yet on this night her Valkyrie coven had heard that members of both warring vampire armies, the Horde and the Forbearers, could be out in the Quarter.

What they didn't know was why.

His chest is still. Bingo. Vamp.

Since his eyes were a normal gray and clear - not crazed and red with bloodlust - that meant he was a Forbearer, one of an army who didn't drink blood straight from the flesh.

Vampires who didn't kill. At least, that was their mission statement.

The Lore was still waiting to see how that worked out for them.

Though Danii knew she needed to report back on this sighting, she couldn't take her gaze off him. What was it about this vampire? She was aware of only two Valkyrie who'd ever been with his kind. One still lived. Danii knew the danger; so why this attraction?

Yes, he was breathtakingly cocky, with his leading-man face and broad shoulders, but she'd never been so absorbed by a male. Not a real one, anyway.

Broken-doll Daniela... wanted. Him. A vampire.

When he was almost directly below her, she noticed that he seemed burdened, preoccupied even. Hardly the expression of someone who'd been stalking her.

But if he hadn't been, then who -

The unmistakable twang of bowstrings sounded behind her.

She dove for cover, and a swarm of arrows sliced the air where she'd been standing. A second volley skittered against the brick where her head had just been, ricocheting off the low ledge wall.

She recognized the creosote-like scent of the arrowheads. Poison on the tips, fire poison. Which could only kill ice creatures like her. Oh, gods.

Without looking back, she vaulted over the side of the roof. When she landed in the alley below, she tore off at a sprint.

The bows, the poisoned arrow-heads - this wasn't a Lykae threat. Not a vampire attacking.

Icere assassins were hunting her. My mother's people. How had they found her?

No choice but to flee, knew she couldn't remain to fight. These assassins traveled in bands, and the number of arrows indicated at least half a dozen men.

Even as she raced directly toward the mortal gauntlet, her mind rebelled. She hadn't seen another of her kind in centuries. I thought I'd be safe from them here.

Her only hope was to outrun them, yet she knew how fast they would be. Like her, they were born of the fey -

She dashed right in front of the vampire, nearly knocking him over.

CHAPTER 2

Murdoch had just rubbed the back of his neck, then peered upward, convinced he was being watched.

He'd spied nothing, started on his way again... and almost ran over a small blonde in a skimpy backless dress.

With lightning speed, she darted in front of him, sparing him the briefest glance. He caught a glimpse of high cheekbones and alarmed silvery eyes before she sped across the main thoroughfare toward another alley. A pointed ear had peeked out through the wild spill of her long fair hair.

Pointed ears, silver irises, running too fast to be a human.

An immortal - possibly one of them.

That glimpse of her was all it took, and the chase was on. He hurriedly followed her into the alley, then traced, vanishing and materializing ever closer to her.

Though small, she was swift as she navigated through a maze of shadowy blocks, heading toward the river. He was barely gaining on her.

What kind of being could run as fast as a vampire could trace?

As he neared, he made out finer details of her appearance. Her legs were taut and shapely under her short dress. Her bared back and arms were slim. She wore silver bands above her elbows, and elaborate braids threaded her long hair.

She seemed foreign, unusual. Like women from faraway lands in olden times. I can't wait to get a better look from the front.

That thought threw him. Since the night he'd been turned into a vampire three hundred years ago, he'd had no interest in women, no need for them, just as he never reacted to the scent or sight of food.

Why would I give a damn about what her front looks like? He would wrest information from her. He could do little else.

His body was deadened. And he preferred it that way.

Just then, she glanced over her shoulder as she ran, and he caught sight of her elven face once again.

Those pointed ears... several factions in the Lore had them, at least that he knew of. Valkyrie were among them. He was becoming more and more convinced he'd found his quarry.