"Emphatically, yes. Now tell me, why did you predict I'd get fixed last night?"

"I said you might. Look at the upside: you got to enjoy a male who wasn't an Icere bounty hunter and who didn't have designs to murder you. At least, not until he got peckish."

"Would Murdoch have hurt me? Will he?"

Nix tilted her head in the direction of Loa's shop. "I used to be able to read him as easily as his brothers, like open books. But now I get little on him. I just see that you've got him confounded, not knowing up from down anymore. At three hundred years old, he'd thought he was quit of uncertainty like this."

"Wait, you said brothers? Does more than one live?"

"You'd better get back to the vampire, he's about to spot - "

"Daniela!" Murdoch's voice boomed down the alley.

Danii glanced over her shoulder at him, then back, but Nix had already vanished. Damn it. She swiftly hit redial on her phone, yet all was silence.

When Murdoch reached her, Danii saw genuine concern on his face. "Why did you leave?"

She hiked her shoulders. "I thought you'd be longer in there."

"Now who's jealous?"

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"Hardly."

"I just wanted to prove that I'm not gruff and brooding," he said. "Or that I only am with you. And besides, I was just flirting to get information." When she still glared, he said, "Admit it, you were jealous."

"No, I'm embarrassed. Because everyone would expect you to be possessive and intent only on me. They're going to see this as a failing in me."

"You said the blooding didn't make one want his Bride."

"No, not if the Bride or mate or whatever was objectionable. But am I really that objectionable?"

His brows drew together. "You truly can't understand any hesitation on my part?"

He was making her feel like more of a freak than anyone had in two thousand years.

But that was a lie. There'd been the Roman...

"Vampire, I think you're afraid to settle down - with anyone. You were single for years and celibate for three hundred more. And now you have bachelor's panic."

"I don't even know what you're talking about."

"BP? It's when a man irrationally fears a woman he especially likes. He gets ascared of said woman's toothbrush breaching the perimeter of his man cave, et cetera."

"Panic? I don't panic," he sneered the word. "Daniela, you can't be touched."

The frigid one. Enough of this. "No, you can't! Your heart's colder than mine. You are the untouchable one."

She turned from him, wanting away from this vampire with his unflinching honesty. Because it... hurt. The life I have inside my head...

Murdoch followed her. "Just because I'm not ready to blindly accept a Bride I hardly know - for eternity  -  makes me coldhearted? I'd say it makes me rational."

"Oh, so maybe it's not me, it's you? Make up your mind!"

"Even if you were all things perfect for me, I would resent this situation. The Forbearers have learned to fear bloodlust because it makes vampires crazed and out of control. But so does the blooding! Yet we're supposed to welcome it?" He hastened in front of her, blocking her way. "It's making me behave in ways I normally wouldn't. Would you wish this for yourself? To have your personality completely rewritten?"

"If I had your personality? Ab-so-lutely. Because here's the thing - you're not special anymore. You're not unique in the Lore. You're a leech who used to have it easy getting laid. And now, you're just predictable."

He advanced on her until she backed up against the wall of a building. "Just a manwhore, huh?" They were in each other's faces, her breaths smoking between them.

"That really bothers you?" They were fighting - she needed to stop glancing at his lips.

"Shouldn't it?"

When his gaze dropped to her br**sts, transfixed as she panted, she demanded, "What? What do you want from me?"

He faced her with his eyes narrowed, turning that fierce obsidian color. "The same thing I wanted this morning." His voice grew husky. "To stop fighting with you and start kissing you."

She swayed on her feet. He'd wanted that? "But you can't."

He shook his head. "I can't smooth my fingers over the inside of your wrist." With his gloved hand, he lifted her hair. "I can't run my lips over your neck... or suckle your br**sts. And it's driving me mad."

He eased his body even closer to hers, resting his forearms against the wall on either side of her head. His mouth was right at her ear as he asked, "Am I too close? Does this hurt you?"

She felt his erection press against her belly and choked back a moan. "No, no... But how do I know you won't bite me?"

"I won't. I swear it."

Just when she perceived his h*ps drawing back, and she knew he was about to thrust against her body, her ears twitched.

She shoved him away. "We've got company."

Daniela had spotted something. " Grab that one!" she cried, pointing in the direction of a garbage heap down the alley.

Murdoch spied a gray-haired gnomelike being with a miniature cane and traced forward like a shot. But the creature was fast, scurrying from him. It took several minutes of cat-and-mouse before Murdoch caught it by the collar, lifting it up.

The little thing had red cheeks and a kindly appearance, but looked terrified.

"That's it!" Daniela called from a distance, hastening to catch up. "Now smack it around!"

He glanced back at her. "Smack it?"

Once she reached them, she jerked her chin at the gnome. When Murdoch turned back, it was twisting around to take a bite of his arm. Murdoch gave it a shake, and for the briefest instant, he thought he saw a reptilian-like visage flicker over its face. "Christ! What is this?"

"Can't tell him, Lady Daniela?" it said. "He's a Forbearer leech. But you might tell all if you became a vampire's whore, like the Coveted One? How far you Valkyrie fall!"

Daniela strode forward and slapped it, stifling a wince at the contact.

The creature growled, then locked its eyes on Murdoch. "What are you doing with a cold bitch like this one?" it asked, becoming the first being to question why Murdoch was with her.

Now Murdoch cuffed it.

"Where is Ivo the Cruel, kobold?" Daniela asked.

Kobold? As Loa had spoken of.

"Why should I tell you?"

She lowered her voice, looking sinister when she said, "Because if you don't, I'm going to freeze you solid, then chip away your flesh with your own little cane."