"How do you know my brother's name?"

"Nikolai or the king?"

He spied the points of her ears twitching, and her gaze darted past him. Just as she hissed at something behind him, he heard movement and twisted his upper body around.

There stood half a dozen men, large Viking-looking warriors, with swords at their sides and arrows already nocked to the strings of their raised bows.

Their breaths smoked in the warm night air and their ears were pointed.

She hasn't been fleeing from me -

Arrows darkened the air around him, whizzing past his head. They'd aimed for her.

But somehow she was twisting to dodge the onslaught. Whirling around in the air, she turned to dart into another alley, her speed incomprehensible.

Then she was gone.

His hands shot down to claw his legs free, his fingers swiftly going numb. Just as the males behind him ran after her, Murdoch heard more fighting.

There are two groups. They're organized, flushing her out. Can't get this f**king ice off me.

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Suddenly, her small body came flying out of the intersecting alley before him.

Thrown. She'd been thrown.

The force of her landing sent her skidding across the pavement. As she stabbed her claws against the bricks to right herself, a cloud of arrows followed her. The momentum took her out of his field of vision.

Then an unfamiliar scent swept him up. Though his instinct told him it was blood, his mind rebelled.

Never had it smelled so exquisite. So irresistible.

At last Murdoch broke free, tracing to intercept her. When he reappeared, his every muscle tensed in an instant.

The scent had been blood - hers. She was kneeling in a pool of it, her chest full of arrows. One of the males was holding her up by her hair, speaking in some foreign tongue. In his other hand, he held a glowing red blade.

She gazed up at Murdoch as crimson streams snaked from her wounds to the dirty street.

They'd done this to her?

What had you been about to do to her? His vampire nature warred with memories of the man he'd been...

-  I would never have hurt her.

-  She was my prey. They stole her from me. My prize.

Just... mine.

At the thought of those men loosing their arrows at her, the idea of her pain and fear, rage erupted in him. The need to protect her, to destroy those who sought to harm her, burned within him.

Mine.

Two realizations struck him.

This strange female belonged to him alone. And these killers would die before they relinquished her.

Her gaze held Murdoch's, and she weakly extended her small hand. With tears running from her silvery eyes, she spoke, a whisper directed to him, loud above all sounds.

"Mercy."

CHAPTER 4

Will he help me? Emotions warred on the vampire's face. Danii saw them with her vision flickering.

The poison was taking hold, leaching away her precious reserves of cold.

So hot... felt like she was cooking from the inside.

When she'd faced him earlier, he'd been filled with anger. Now his brows had drawn together at the sight of her injuries.

He grated, "Mercy?" Then something seemed to... snap. His fists clenched, and he bared his sharpened fangs. His body appeared to get even bigger. "I'm going to give you their heads, female."

Why would he? And how?

The vampire didn't understand how deadly these Icere were. They were expert bowmen, their fey speed unmatched in the Lore. And there were too many of them. At least eight stood between the vampire and her. They were already building ice grenades in their palms.

With an unholy roar, the vampire charged, half tracing, half sprinting. Five of the Icere rushed to intercept him, lobbing grenades with lethal speed. But he dodged each volley, and the ice the warriors had just surrendered exploded all around him in the alley.

Like some living thing, a freezing glaze crawled over the battered brick walls, skittering all the way up to the fire escapes, coating the street.

The vampire clashed with the wall of Icere, battling his way to her, slashing through the warriors with a startling brutality. When he snatched one's jugular and blood arced out like a fountain in the night, her Iceren captor began to drag her away by her hair.

The poison had weakened her, but she still fought him. Her claws sank into his arm and tore, rending skin and bone, all but severing it.

He yelled in pain and dropped her hair to take his knife in his good hand, shoving it against her neck. The blade's heat seared her skin, and a scream erupted from her chest.

In answer, a savage bellow sounded; she and her captor looked up just in time to see the vampire flying at him.

One second the knife was at her throat. In the next, the vampire had wrenched the Iceren's head free.

The others took up their bows and charged him as one, the sound of their bowstrings louder than their footfalls. The impact of the arrows slammed the vampire against a glazed wall, shattering the ice.

He roared with fury, his arms twisting back to pull the arrows free. Just as he tore all but one of them from his body, the Icere were upon him.

She could see him grappling again and again to get to her, yet they kept hold of him, preventing him from tracing.

Danii tried to crawl away from the skirmish, but the arrows jutting from her chest made movement impossible, and the poison was too strong. If she didn't get them out soon...

Thermal shock. A nightmare way to die. She was about to be executed, and for no reason. She didn't want her crown, only wanted to be left in peace -

Her would-be savior stumbled. From the ice coating the street? No, he seemed to be fighting some inner possession.

What's wrong with him? I can't think...

One Iceren punched the end of the remaining arrow until it pierced through the vampire's torso. He tore it from himself, but another's sword slashed his leg. Blood poured from his wounds.

There're too many of them.

As if he read her thoughts, the vampire caught her gaze. A last look for both of them?

"Touch their skin," she cried.

Though clearly confused by her words, he grasped one around the neck under the male's collar. The Iceren bellowed in pain.

The vampire's lips curled at the sound. Baring his wicked fangs, he laid his palm on another's face. A hand-shaped brand pressed into the Iceren's skin.

Seeming fresh to the fray, the vampire grew even stronger - and more vicious, appearing intent on making it hurt as he dispatched them.

Soon scattered limbs littered the alley at gruesome angles. He easily separated heads from savaged necks, yelling as if with pleasure as the blood flowed.

Yet he never bit them. She saw he truly did forbear, and still he was somehow defeating them, sustaining injuries he didn't seem to feel, wound after wound that barely slowed him.