After witnessing his brother like this, he came to a conclusion. Murdoch was already ruined without Daniela regardless.

I'll be broken if I lose her in the future - or if I lose her now.

Now that this realization had struck him, Murdoch was oddly resigned to it. It's too late for me.

"I'm besotted with her." He gave a laugh, then grimaced as his wounds punished him for it. At least now he knew.

For the first time in weeks, he felt optimistic about his future. All he had to do was convince her to forgive him. Though he'd proved he was in no way silver-tongued with her, he would somehow figure out a way to persuade her. He always came through when it really counted.

He craved seeing Daniela again and was eager to get this sorted out between them, but he was still too weak, and he didn't want her to see him like this.

Kristoff had put him on two weeks' leave, so Murdoch could wait another day or two.

After all, he knew exactly where she'd be.

CHAPTER 28

Danii's ear twitched a split second before she heard the masculine demand: "Where the hell are you going?"

So the vampire's returned. "Away," she said as she zipped up her second suitcase.

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"You were just going to disappear without a word?"

"I'll bet you've never done that to a woman. Besides, I didn't figure you'd even notice I was gone. Thought you'd be busy trolling for humans."

"I haven't looked at another woman since - "

"Anyway, I wrote you a note on the dresser," Danii interrupted, uninterested in whatever he'd come to say.

He snatched up the paper where she'd written: Murdoch, it's been real. Daniela.

"How were you going to leave?"

"I have ways." Ways being the one Sno-Cat operator in Russia who would journey to this place, the one due to arrive in an hour.

Murdoch crumpled the note in his fist. "How would I have been able to find you?"

She paused in her packing, briefly glancing up at him. "I guess you wouldn't."

Then she frowned. Though he always dressed well, tonight he seemed to have taken great care with his clothes. He wore an expensive sweater and luxe overcoat. His boots had been polished.

She sported a miniskirt and a camisole. With no shoes. "Why are you all dressed up?" she asked irritably.

"This night is important to me." He was moving stiffly, and stood at an odd angle to her, keeping half of his face in shadow. "I need to tell you something."

And I need to see why you're not showing me the other side of your face. She moved to get a better look at him. Stitches? His face had been cut up, and yet he'd still tried to shave. What was so important? "Murdoch, what happened to you?"

"I almost got killed by a few half-demon, half-vampire beings."

"There's no such thing." She waved his words away. "It's one of the rare 'myths' in the Lore that's actually false."

"They had horns and fangs and were stronger than any vampires I've ever fought. They also had red eyes."

All Fallen vampires had red eyes, but very few species of demons did. There'd been rumors of Ivo plotting something major. Had he conceived of a way to turn demons into vampires?

"Remember when Deshazior and the kobold said they were different and unfightable?" Murdoch said. "Well, they are."

She had to contact Nix about this. Wait... Her sister had mentioned dempires the last time they'd spoken. Demon vampires. Nix already knew.

Murdoch began pacing, stabbing his fingers through his hair, his energy seeming to take up the entire room. But he was limping. And she thought she heard a barely perceptible squeak. A leg brace? Whatever he'd tangled with had inflicted some serious damage.

"Daniela, I think I know why I'm like this around you. Why I'm always at a loss for words and gruff. It's you."

"Blaming much? This behavior used to impress the ladies? Really?" She turned back to her packing.

"That's what I'm trying to explain. I wasn't like this. I was smooth, compliments falling easily from my lips."

"Murdoch Suave?" She knew he hated it when she called him that. "Then what's different now?"

"Now I fear that... I think that this... matters. You matter. To me." He ran his hand over his forehead. "I feel a lot of pressure not to f**k this up with you."

"What do you want from me?"

"I don't know. A chance? To see where this leads."

She felt a spark of excitement at the idea, but mentally snuffed it. Murdoch equals misery. When would she finally accept that?

"Stay here, Daniela. With me."

She narrowed her eyes. "With you? Like living together?" Had his nod been the tiniest bit hesitant? "What's changed?"

"You said that I was afraid, and I think you were not... wrong."

She didn't reply, just raised her brows.

"I didn't see it before, didn't understand my reluctance. But when I was ambushed and believed I was going to die" - he stopped, meeting her gaze - "all I could think of was you."

Oh. She felt herself softening. I've been thinking about you, too. No matter how hard I try not to. If she hadn't had her carving, she'd have gone mad.

"And then a few days ago, I saw my brother. He's a wreck over Myst. I thought that I'd never seen a man so twisted inside over a woman. But I have. Our father was that way for our mother."

Murdoch resumed pacing. "He was obsessed with her. When she died, he never again laughed, never moved on. He used to sit in their room and stare at her portrait for hours. I think I feared something like that happening to me, if I sought more with you. But then I realized I'm more afraid of missing this with you."

A breath escaped her as she edged closer to him. I want him. I want reality over fantasy. "Murdoch, did you practice that speech?"

"Continually for the last two days."

No, remember Farmer Ted! Remember Loa's betting book! "Since we've been seeing each other, you've threatened me, frightened me, and put me in a position where I was forced to walk out into the heat of noonday to hitchhike in a hell vehicle that reeked of tobacco. When you went out trolling in the Quarter, you... hurt me," she said. "So you think long and hard about this. I saw your frustration when you wanted to bite me. I saw your hunger as you stared at my neck. And I've seen you clench your fists when you want to touch me."

Closing in on her, he asked in a husky voice, "And did you see nothing else, kallim?"

She swallowed, unable to look away from his intense gray eyes, already flickering black with emotion. "You can never touch my skin, never drink from me. I'm colder than I've ever been. The pain would be much worse for me, and for you as well."