Suddenly plastic beads rained down on them, tossed by topless - male and female - tourists on a balcony to their left. Without missing a beat, Daniela cast the strands to another group on a balcony directly to their right. "Yes, bowling couture. Don't ask me why."

"There's got to be a way, some other power in the Lore - "

"I've been to all the reliable, vetted mystical sources I know of. Unreliable sources would extract too high a penalty."

"What does that mean?"

"I could go to a Lore bazaar where magics are peddled, but would probably end up worse than I am."

"Worse off?"

"Magic dispensed by the wrong hands begs for cosmic justice, and it's usually in the form of a paradox. So if I hired some random practitioner for this, I might become touchable - by, for instance, growing scales. And then no one would want to touch me."

"I see." Fables held the same. Like the dying man who journeyed to a mystic for a cure, but perished in a freak accident on the way home.

"This is just something I have to live with," she finished with a shrug, as if she'd long since accepted this reality, but he sensed that nothing could be further from the truth. "I'm the one virgin you won't be adding to your collection."

"I've never had one before." But he longed to now. To claim Daniela... to show her what sex can be like.

To see that vulnerability in her eyes just as he entered her.

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This plainly surprised her. "Am I supposed to believe that?"

"In my time, taking a virgin meant one risked a sword-point wedding." Beget no bastards, deflower no maids. As long as he'd followed those two simple rules, he'd always gotten to do as he pleased.

"I thought guys like you were forever on the hunt for the next rascally cherry to subdue."

"Women always think men bed virgins because of the conquest."

"You're saying that has nothing to do with it?"

"No. The conquest is definitely a part. But I believe the truth runs deeper: Men like virgins because women always remember their first lover. Men want to be remembered sexually."

"So if you didn't enjoy any virgins, did you not want to be remembered?"

He closed in on her, backing her up against the wall of a closed bistro. Resting his hand beside her head, he murmured, "I had no such fears or desires. I always knew I'd be remembered - not as the first, but as the best."

In a clear attempt to disguise how curious she was, Daniela said, "And how does one get to be the best? I mean, aside from the obvious answer of practice."

In his mortal life, he'd been considerate in bed. He'd made sure he brought great pleasure to every woman he'd been with. This wasn't out of selflessness. Quite the opposite. At an early age, he'd learned that the more word got around that he was a skilled lover, the more women dallied with him.

He'd had an agenda going into each encounter. He'd been painstaking, his actions measured - and he'd never, never lost control.

Now he inched closer to the Valkyrie. "I was generous with my attentions. And I was always in complete control of myself, able to go as long as I needed to go..."

"In order to be generous," she finished for him in a breathy voice. "You must have been devoted to women."

"I was." To women, yes, though never to one. "But that's not all. I - " He stopped.

"What? What were you going to say?"

"I don't want you to think..." He trailed off, running his fingers through his dark hair. "Damn it, I fought just as hard as my brothers in the war."

"Murdoch, sometimes history isn't kind - "

"I don't want you to believe that I shirked my duties. I dug in just as doggedly to protect our people. And I always came through when it counted. The only difference between me and my brothers is what we did in the downtime between conflicts. Sebastian spent his time reading, Conrad disappeared for reasons unknown, Nikolai paced his tent with the weight of the world on his shoulders. I was carefree... "

"And you enjoyed women," she said. "Why do you care what I think about you?"

Why? He had no good answer for that. Because the blooding tells me to. Everything he'd been thinking and feeling tonight was dictated by it.

That had to be what was happening to him. Or else he was a masochist about to get attached to a woman he could never touch.

CHAPTER 19

"I'll tell you why if you reveal the demon's offer to you," Murdoch said.

"No, thanks, vampire, I gave you a surplus of information last night," Danii said tersely, still annoyed that he'd interrogated her.

"You did tell me much," he said. "But I believe little of it."

"Is that right?"

"You said you didn't eat."

She raised her brows.

"Can you?"

She shrugged. Valkyries could, but since they took nourishment from the electrical energy of the earth, they didn't need to. Besides, refraining from eating was a sort of inherent birth control. Her kind had no courses and were infertile unless they "ate of the earth."

"You told me you were two thousand years old," he said, keeping his gloved hand on her lower back - and keeping pedestrians away. Since he'd learned about the threat of thermal shock, he seemed to be continually checking on how warm she'd become, monitoring her to see if her breaths were smoking.

His attention was flattering, softening some of her anger. "Two thousand is roughly my age."

"And two of your three parents are gods?"

She gave him a pointedly blank expression, which she could tell irritated him.

"Then why would they let you get hurt?"

"Because they're asleep."

"Gods... sleep?"

"To conserve power. They derive strength from worshippers. And when was the last time you passed a temple dedicated to Freya?"

He deftly drew her out of the way when a full go-cup dropped from a balcony above, then said, "The one thing I believed without question? You told me that if you started kissing me" - his shoulders went back, cocky grin in place - "you didn't think you'd be able to stop."

Could he be any more handsome? Though her attraction to the vampire was wrong on so many levels, it remained as fierce as ever.

All night, Danii had been drawn to him. Not surprisingly. Every time she regarded those broad shoulders and steely gray eyes, she recalled their time in his bed. Whenever that lock of hair fell over his forehead, she'd just stopped herself from sighing.

Though she was an ice queen, acting coldly uninterested with him was becoming more difficult. And coldly uninterested was her shtick!