"I guess that answers that question," Daniela said with a sigh. "I'm also looking for Ivo the Cruel."

A flicker arose in Deshazior's eyes as he said, "Aside from the one loomin' over ye just now, I haven't seen any vamps."

He's lying.

"That's a shame." Daniela pouted, traipsing closer to him. "I thought I could count on you for information." She reached up and ran the back of one claw along his right horn. At once, Deshazior's muscles tensed. The other demons gasped and groaned.

Murdoch didn't see why her behavior would elicit a response like that, but their eyes were spellbound by her stroking claw.

Deshazior had begun quaking. "Givin' me fits, Valkyrie!"

"A word alone," Daniela purred. "Outside."

With a defeated exhalation, the demon followed them out, mumbling about teasing Valkyries and "horn jobs."

Once the three were out on the street, Deshazior glowered at Murdoch. Then, after an uneasy glance back at his crew inside, he muttered to Danii, "Ivo's here in the city. I don't know where, but watch yerself. He's got some on his side that even I wouldn't tangle with."

"How do you mean?" Murdoch said.

Deshazior ignored him. "And if ye've need of a partnership to save Lorekind, I'm yer demon." He thumped his colossal chest. "No need to sully yerself with the likes of him."

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Murdoch eased his lips back from his fangs.

"I appreciate the offer," Daniela said. "But I can make it a night. Will you leave word at the coven if you spot them?"

"Aye - " Suddenly the demon began disappearing, as if he were involuntarily tracing. "Damn it! A swimbo calls."

"What the hell is a swimbo?" Murdoch asked; they both ignored him.

The demon gazed down at Daniela as he began to fade. "Remember, ice maiden," he murmured intently, "my other offer still stands as well."

The vampire was in front of Desh in an instant. "Whatever you offered, she's not interested." But the demon was already gone.

Murdoch turned to her. "What was that?"

"I told you I might have to flirt to get some information. Now will you admit you're jealous, vampire?"

He surprised her by answering, "Yes." Just when she felt a flare of pleasure, he doused it by adding, "Though I'll be damned if I know why."

"You truly just said that?" She glared at the sky, imploring it for patience before facing him again. "Maybe because I'm cute and intelligent and I was in your bed last night, and because - oh, I don't know - I'm your Bride."

"What was the demon's offer?"

"That's between me and him."

"Is he your type, then? Really? You like behorned demons who growl yar! after every bloody sentence? I thought you'd be more discerning."

"And I thought you were supposed to be seductive and charming. You're just insulting, gruff, and brooding."

"With you." He took a step closer, frustration in his expression.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I don't know. I've never been jealous before. And I've never been clumsy with words around women." At that moment, a pair of name-tagged conventioneers ogled her, earning a killing look from Murdoch. When they hurried on, he said, "This is not my typical behavior." He exhaled. "And I can't control it."

He looked defeated, like he couldn't reason out this situation and might just stop trying to. "Valkyrie, I've never been more at odds with myself in my entire existence."

She almost felt sorry for him, and gentled her tone. "Maybe I'm getting under your skin."

He muttered, "Like a thorn."

Danii was just contrary enough to be pleased by this. "Every thorn has its rose, vampire."

CHAPTER 18

With that, the valkyrie sauntered back up Bourbon, drawing slack-jawed stares from more men than he could bare his fangs at.

Murdoch followed, dimly aware that this might be the longest conversation he'd ever had with a woman.

The steady stream of them in his mortal life meant that he'd never had to spend a lot of time talking to any single female. In fact, he'd long felt as if he spoke two languages: one he used with men and the other with women.

The former was direct, used to convey information. The latter was laden with innuendo and flirtation, and consisted of little more than compliments.

With Daniela, he seemed to have forgotten the woman language. Maybe he was just out of practice. Didn't matter anyway, since she was having none of it, probably didn't even speak it.

When he caught up with her, he said, "Now we go to the store?"

She nodded. "It's back up Bourbon for a few wild and woolly blocks, then west a couple more."

Up ahead, the crowd had burgeoned as the night wore on. Each bar they passed had begun blaring its own style of music. "Then we have some time to kill. You might as well tell me what a swimbo is. And who's Nix?"

"Might I?" she said, and that was all she said.

He took another tack. "Deshazior called you 'ice maiden.'"

"That's one of my names. Along with 'ice queen.' Which you like calling me when you're being unpleasant."

"You aren't... are you a virgin?"

She gazed away. "Why do you sound so dismayed by this?"

Because you were a virgin in my dream. "Because you've lived a long time. Surely in all those years, you've found one of your own species to be with."

"Species, Murdoch Suave? Really?"

He could have phrased that better. But he was a shade shocked that he could be walking next to a two-thousand-year-old virgin. "Answer me. Has no man ever claimed you?"

"Only another within my own kind can touch me without hurting me. And yet they've been trying to kill me since I first left Valhalla," she said. "You put it together."

God, she's never known a man.

Whatever she saw in his expression made her glare. "Don't you dare pity me, Murdoch."

"Have you sought help for this... coldness?" he asked, squiring her well away from a performing fire breather.

"You make it sound like a condition! But, yes, for your information, I've gone to the House of Witches, to wizards, and even to the patron goddess of impossible things. So far, the best I've been offered were incomplete spells - like a hex that would prevent me from feeling pain, even though my skin would still burn, or vice versa."

"And the goddess?"

"She gave me a pair of bowling shoes."

"Bowling shoes?"