When Murdoch had asked Danii if she could find out anything about this - like exactly why Sebastian would enter - she'd left a message with Nix. Yet though Nix was the most powerful oracle in the Lore, she was also forgetful, capricious, and notoriously bad at returning calls...

Danii finished tugging her skirt up her thighs, then she glanced up - to find Murdoch's fierce gaze rapt on her body.

He took her shoulders in his gloved hands, staring down at her with his obsidian eyes reflecting moonlight. The breeze blew that unruly lock over his forehead. "You couldn't be lovelier," he rasped, the mere sound of his husky voice making her body go soft for him.

Her gaze dipped to his lips. The moment was ripe for a kiss. "Vampire, I would give anything to taste you right now." Anything. Though this time together had been almost perfect, frustration simmered just below the surface. With each day, she wondered how much longer they could go without real touching.

His hands tightened on her shoulders. "As would I."

She was fantasizing about wicked sex even more than she had before she'd met Murdoch. Danii envisioned suckling his thick length for hours. She imagined how it would feel plunging inside her. What would it be like to have his scent all over me?

Would his kiss make her breathless and weak-kneed, her toes and her claws curling?

As his gaze flicked from her eyes to her mouth, he grated, "Almost don't want to know what you're thinking right now." He broke away, turning from her with clenched fists - instead of claiming the kiss that should have been his due.

Yet another reminder that the broken doll was in no way fixed.

"We need to get back," he said. "I should check in at Mount Oblak."

"But you just went there two nights ago," she reminded him. "You said you weren't going to be needed there as much." Now that there was no impending threat from the Horde.

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In the past months, the vampire world had been rocked to its core. The Horde king Demestriu had been slain by Emmaline, Danii's lovable niece. Emma had discovered that he was her father, and then she'd somehow managed to defeat him in a fight to the death. Ivo, too, had been assassinated for seeking to wed Emma, the 'halfling.' Apparently Lachlain MacRieve, her new Lykae protector, had taken exception to that, because he'd released his savage inner werewolf, slaughtering Ivo and the remaining dempire as well.

"Is there some new threat?" Danii asked. "Or has Lothaire returned?" Rumor held that the Enemy of Old hadn't even remained on this plane.

"No, nothing like that, just the usual aggressing bands," Murdoch said. Without Demestriu to lead the Horde, their numbers had been divided into smaller, weaker factions, but they could still prove deadly. "It can't hurt to check in. I'm sure you want to carve, anyway." Had his tone been a shade brusque?

Maybe she was carving too much, but getting each symbol perfect felt so crucial. Sometimes she worked till her fingers bled. If Murdoch was there, he'd take her hands in his big gloved ones and ice her wounds.

The first time he'd found her like this, he'd demanded, "Daniela, why do this to yourself?"

How to explain the compulsion? The Call of the Wild meets Holiday on Ice? "I feel antsy and full until I carve. It's like an instinct, or maybe some kind of genetic memory, passed down by blood. Kind of like how you might get my memories if you ever drank from me."

Always, Danii pondered the mystery of who would lead her back to Icergard, a puzzle as yet unsolved. Could her carvings be some kind of clue?

Reminded of that, she said, "Yes, maybe I could work a little." Though she felt selfish on occasion, investigating her memories, this was her time. There was no one to keep secrets for or from, no one to observe, except her own determined expression in a mirrored glaze of ice.

The world was passing her by. One month, then another...

"Very well." He took her shoulders once more to trace her back to the lodge. Before he left again, he said, "I might see Nikolai tonight. Have you thought about my request?" Murdoch had announced a couple of weeks ago, "Myst has consented to marry my brother. I want us to visit them." When Danii had hesitated, he'd said, "Just think about it."

He continued pressuring her to go public with their relationship. Though she was tempted, always something made her reluctant to take the leap. Now she told him simply, "It's not time yet."

"When will it be time?"

"You agreed to my condition. I'll tell you when I'm ready."

He gave her a tight nod. "I'll return when I can," he said, brushing a kiss over her hair, but the tension between them was thick.

Danii sighed when he left. Murdoch had once admitted to her that he'd never cared about anything very much. And that, other than defending his country, he'd committed to nothing. She couldn't shake the feeling that he hadn't committed to them.

Though she wanted to trust him, he had been a player. Once a rogue, always a rogue, right? Especially since she was unable to fulfill not just one, but two of his most basic needs.

Sometimes, even though he knew how badly his bite would hurt, he still stared at her neck. Each time she got an unpleasant feverish tremor, like she supposed others might have chills...

Yes, the world was passing her by - but the pressures were escalating. Each denial made them hunger for each other even more.

They knew pleasure, but were never completely sated, and the frustration built and built, like a volcano that vented steam but would inevitably erupt.

CHAPTER 30

Jadian the cold climbed the stairs past the guards he'd killed, stealing toward King Sigmund's tower chamber.

Though he found it distasteful to dispatch his own kind, Jadian had done it without mercy. He had to act quickly. The Valkyrie's time was nigh.

"Any word on where that little bitch is?" the king demanded as Jadian entered, not even glancing away from his glazed window. "I thought you were closing in on the Valkyrie."

"Yes, I know precisely where she will be." Eventually she would come to him. Each month, she neared, without even knowing it.

Sigmund whirled around. "Then why does she yet live?" he bellowed, slamming his staff into the floor, sending up shards of ice.

Jadian slowly unsheathed the fire blade that had slain Sigmund's queen, relishing the fear dawning in the king's eyes. Jadian had been awaiting this sight since Sigmund had stolen a throne that didn't belong to him, and plunged the Icere into a needless war with the fire demonarchy.

The war in which Jadian's own pregnant wife, Karilina, had perished. "Daniela lives, because it's your death that comes next."