She'd wanted to be able to question him, but hadn't. So he said, "I went back to the alley where we fought last night. What happened to the bodies?"

She frowned. "They were probably eaten. By low creatures."

"By dogs? By rats?"

She gave him a cryptic smile. "Nothing so generic."

"And you won't specify what kinds of creatures? Come on, this is ridiculous," he said. "Do you think Myst won't tell Nikolai everything? So many beings in the Lore can't all keep such secrets."

"Humans think we're myths. Enough said."

A dead end. He let that drop. Yes, he'd succeeded in getting her to help him tonight, but he'd begun to suspect that this situation might not be precisely under his control.

Finally, she glanced up at him. "You said you were ordered to protect Myst. By whom?"

"By King Kristoff himself." But I'd do it anyway. Murdoch recalled the expression on Nikolai's face when he'd been grilled by Kristoff about Myst. Loyal, steadfast Nikolai had disobeyed his king, and looked as if he'd do it again for that woman. If she were killed, Nikolai would be as doomed as their father had been.

"Forced to protect her. That must grate."

"Grate? I was angry with her..." At Daniela's raised brows, he admitted, "I was furious for what she did to Nikolai. It's hard to see someone you care about and respect in misery, and Nikolai suffered as you can't understand. If anyone deserves happiness, it's him."

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"Why?"

"He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, guilt as you wouldn't believe."

"For what?" she asked, but he hesitated to answer. "Already breaking the terms of our deal?"

Murdoch scowled. "Nikolai believes he failed his country."

"There's got to be more than that."

"There... is." He exhaled. "Does the Lore know what happened to other members of my family?" When she shook her head, he said, "Nikolai tried to save their lives with his 'tainted' blood. He feels guilt for both succeeding and failing at that."

"How did he succeed and fail?"

"Daniela, this is a difficult subject."

"You have no idea what a good listener I am."

He looked down at her eyes. So vividly blue. As they'd been in his dream. He found himself recounting how he and Nikolai had returned home to watch over their family but had found them all dying, and in unimaginable pain. He told her how they'd fed blood to his brothers and sisters, his father.

Though Murdoch had never revealed to another living soul the details, the words fell from his lips as if she'd drawn them from him. "Most were out of their heads, but my brother Sebastian was awake, aware. He even figured out what we'd become and demanded that they be allowed to die in peace." At the memory, Murdoch ran his hand over his forehead. "Sebastian was particularly close to the girls, a kind of substitute father, and he hated Nikolai and me for trying to turn them. Even more so when only he and Conrad rose from the dead."

"What happened once they woke?" Daniela asked, her tone softer.

"Sebastian tried to kill Nikolai. And Conrad... when he comprehended what had been done to him, he went mad, bellowing as if in unbearable pain, and ran into the night. We haven't seen either of them in three centuries."

"Do you believe your brothers are still alive?"

"I have to," he answered, then waited for her to ask another question. Again, she remained silent, contemplative, so he said, "I was thinking about your enemies. If a king wants to kill you simply because you were born, then your very life is a threat. Which means that you're an heir. A royal one."

She shrugged. "You got me."

"What title do you possess?"

"I thought you knew. You called me an ice queen earlier today."

"A... queen." And if her delirious ramblings were to be believed, then she was also the daughter of gods.

"Yes, of the Icere," she said. "From a long line of Winter Queens."

"But Sigmund usurped your throne?"

She stiffened beneath his palm again. "You did get me to talk last night."

"Why don't you rebel and get your kingdom back? Gather the Icere to follow you?"

"It's not that simple. Sigmund is very powerful."

"There are none here to help you against him?" When she shook her head, he said, "I have a hard time believing that every last one of the Icere is united against you."

"New Orleans isn't exactly a coldbed of Icere."

"You're here."

He thought he heard her mutter, "Not for long."

"Is Sigmund any relation to you?"

"Not by blood," she said. "He was my mother's prince consort. I wasn't born until after his men had mortally wounded her."

"Do you know how crazy that sounds?"

"Welcome to the Lore. Little makes sense. Rules are fluid. Just when you think you've got it all figured out, you hear about a vampire unaffected by the sun, a mute Siren, or a chaste nymph."

"So there's no one here like you?" he asked.

"Are you trying to plan a coup for me, or attempting to find out if I have a boyfriend?"

He grated, "Do you?"

"Why would you care?"

"I'm curious. You don't strike me as the disloyal type, and you were just in my bed. Eagerly."

"Hey, now." She peered around and made a dampening motion with her hands. "Not so loud, vampire. Let's not expedite the death of Danii's respect in the Lore."

"Earlier, you weren't too concerned about this, not when you were telling me that you wanted to see me again," he said, then added for good measure, "And that I have kissable lips."

"I said that before I concluded the risk-benefit ratio was one hundred percent risk and none-point-none percent benefit." She cast him a glare. "And I really wouldn't keep reminding me of all you learned last night and this morning."

"None-point-none?"

"Exactly. Unless threatening to drain me was your way of asking for more."

He wanted to tell her that the threat had been groundless, that he'd never hurt her like that. But the way he'd been feeling at that critical moment...? It'd be a lie.

"Look at your vexed expression! Don't worry, Casanova, I didn't exactly take your behavior as an invitation. You made it very clear how you felt."

"I just didn't want to be blooded."

"Most vampires long for it to happen to them," she pointed out.