"I don't believe that. Then have you ever seen a fated pairing that didn't work out?"

"Oh, it happens." To my mother for one. Svana and Sigmund had been fated mates, and a much-celebrated love match. She'd taken him as her husband and prince consort. Then he'd stolen her crown and murdered her. Danii shook herself. "Now, if you don't mind, I have things to do."

"You wouldn't help me to help your sister?"

Danii stilled. I owe Myst. Unbidden, a memory washed over her.

Centuries ago, Danii had been captured by a sadistic Roman senator. He'd kept her among his slaves, bringing her out of her sweltering prison cell just to play with her, burning her na**d skin with his touch.

She'd remained a virgin only because he'd intended to offer her to the Emperor, due to visit that season. Before he'd arrived, Myst had seduced her way past the senator's legions of guards, then killed him.

"I want to help her," Danii finally said. "But I won't work with you."

"Why not? You can't go about alone on these streets. The Icere could return."

"I've got a couple of days before they can get this far south. Besides, who's more dangerous to me? Them? Or the vampire who was about to attack me just hours ago?"

"Damn it, I told you why - "

"Have you ever bitten anyone before?"

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"You know I haven't. My eyes are clear."

She shrugged. Actually, the Forbearers had it wrong. Vampires only turned red-eyed when they killed as they drank.

"We've pledged to our order that we would never take blood from the flesh."

"What would happen if you did?"

His brows drew together. "We... well, after tonight, it's complicated. But I vow to you I won't bite you. Just help me."

Danii hesitated. She was a skilled fighter, as were most Valkyrie, but because she risked overheating, she could seldom go into a protracted conflict here in southern Louisiana. And her special talents - conjuring blizzards as battle offense and frostbiting enemy armies - had been relegated to the past.

Since the coven had moved here seven decades ago, she'd felt... underutilized. Finally she would have a chance to assist her sisters in a meaningful way.

And she could do damage control. If he hadn't told anyone about what she'd divulged last night, then she could extract a vow from him never to do so!

Yet she feared there was nothing so noble ultimately steering her decision.

Sad, sad Daniela... so lonely and lame that she still yearned to be around the vampire.

No! Remember Farmer Ted, Danii!

In the end, it wasn't what Murdoch said that convinced her, but what he did. When three trashed frat boys leered at her as they passed, Murdoch's fists clenched.

He did feel something for her. Perhaps he did truly like her, but was afraid to settle down after so many centuries alone. Maybe he had bachelor's panic.

Maybe it's him, not me. "I'll help you, on three conditions."

"Let's hear them."

"You protect me if we encounter any more Icere - "

"Of course. I will protect you from any threat."

"Hold on there, I don't need your help with anyone but them. Second condition: you'll answer any questions I ask you. And third, you'll vow never to tell another about anything you learn tonight - or learned this morning. Or anything about me."

Seeing he was about to balk, she said, "I'm risking a lot by being seen with you. I could search on my own. And I would, if I thought you wouldn't follow me."

"Daniela, that's not - "

She turned to walk on.

He grated, "Agreed."

She faced him once more. "And if you even peek at my neck, I will go cryo on you."

CHAPTER 16

Yet another female cajoled to do my bidding, Murdoch thought as they started out. He hadn't lost his skills.

"Where do we go first?" he asked, trying to tone down the smugness in his voice. I control situations with women. Just as it had always been. Which sometimes made for boring fare since he was never surprised, but that was unavoidable.

"We're off to a bar, a few blocks east on Bourbon. I know a demon. If we don't have any luck, then we can stop by a store that caters to Loreans."

"Very well." Now that he'd received the promise of her help, Daniela had become a means to an end. He would be staunchly focused on what he needed to do.

But, God, her hair smelled so damned good, giving him a shot of her scent each time her braids played about her bare shoulders...

As they meandered through the crowd, humans kept looking at her, some more intently than others. He felt his fangs sharpening.

Did that f**k just ogle her br -

"You're going to have to cut that out, vampire."

His head whipped forward. "Cut what out?"

"Baring your fangs anytime a mortal checks me out." Now she sounded smug.

"I was not baring my fangs." He might have been baring his fangs. "Daniela, you'll find that I'm far from a jealous person."

"Uh-huh."

"Maybe I'm just concerned that you'll get burned. Since you're displaying so much skin." That I can't touch. He had to stifle the impulse to drape his jacket over her to protect her from injury - and lecherous gazes. "You're not nervous about making contact?" He thought he was more anxious about it than she was.

"I've threaded through the ninety-eight-point-six degree gauntlet many a time. Have you forgotten how fast I am?"

He hadn't. Still, for the next several minutes, if he spotted any passersby more intoxicated than others, he ran interference for her. When he almost grabbed her elbow once to steer her out of the way, she warned, "Ah-ah."

He ground his teeth in frustration, then said, "I'll return directly." He traced back to Mount Oblak, snagged a pair of thick gloves, then traced back so fast that she'd hardly had time to react to his disappearance.

When he held up his gloves, she said, "That's just weird."

"It's convenient." He drew them on.

"You would still have to be extremely careful with me, and I'd need to know how thick those were - "

He placed his palm flat on the small of her back, his hand nearly spanning it. "They're as thick as the ones from last night. I didn't burn you then."

She stiffened, but after a few moments, she allowed it, continuing along the street.

Even with such an innocuous touch, he found himself hardening for her, his second erection in centuries. Though his glove and her dress separated their skin, he could still feel her moving beneath his hand, her shapely h*ps swishing.

For many minutes as they walked, she was silent, seeming deep in thought. Had he made a mistake by tracing, reminding her what he was?