Her memories were becoming clearer to him. When he dreamed, he felt how lonely she'd been, how she'd tried not to nurse hope over Murdoch. Once a rogue, always a rogue.
He'd done so little to set her mind at ease, had done nothing to make sure she understood her loneliness was over. I never told her I'm in love with her. Instead, he'd voiced his doubts.
During one miserable day, he'd seen her memory of that night with Jadian and had learned her thoughts as she'd kissed the Iceren.
She'd been thinking about Murdoch. Danii had chosen him over a male who could touch her, a nobleman of her own kind who could kiss her. She hadn't been thinking about bailing on Murdoch at all. At least not before he'd hurt her, attacked her.
This situation was intolerable. To be kept from Daniela now? Murdoch wanted her so much, he'd once actually considered betraying his brother -
"Nikolai!" The word boomed down the castle corridor, echoing.
Nikolai and Sebastian shot awake.
Dear God. "Was that...?"
"Conrad," Nikolai said. "He's here."
Maybe I'm not home.
Danii sat upon her throne, among her own kind in a paradise of ice, and she was... bored.
Days ago, she'd been crowned with much fanfare. The Icere had prepared banquets, carved sculptures in her honor, and played music. Plus, they'd declared a snow day at the castle - literally, it had fallen from the ceilings.
And since the festivities?
Jadian was a constant bodyguard, always nearby, always solemn. Most of the fey she'd met could be described as "serious." She'd figured this was an aftereffect of having an evil dictator ruling them for so long - but had learned this was just their nature.
Here, there were no practical jokes, no sisters bent on thieving her clothing. No gorgeous vampires to tackle into the snow.
Time seemed to be moving as slowly as the glaciers surrounding them. She wondered if it was possible to expire from boredom. The study begins... now.
To make matters worse, she missed Murdoch like an ache. Every day, she dwelled on what she could have done differently. Perhaps I shouldn't have kissed another man? Just a thought.
But that indiscretion hadn't mattered. She and Murdoch had already been finished. Danii had thought they would be together forever, but he hadn't agreed, hadn't believed that they were worth the fight -
With a sudden flush of guilt, she recognized that maybe she hadn't truly committed either. Hadn't she herself given them a one-in-fifty shot? She'd been betting against them from the beginning, might as well have gone and signed Loa's book...
Across the throne room, Jadian turned to her with his brows raised. Since she'd arrived, she hadn't seen him smile once. There'd been no more flirting from him. She'd concluded that he was devoted to his people, had probably only kissed her to sway her to come to Icergard.
His name of Jadian the Cold was well earned. Thinking back over his fight with Murdoch, she recalled that Jadian's pulse had never gotten elevated. He'd been indignant, ready to die for his queen. But he hadn't been ready to lose his temper for her.
Aside from being unemotional, he had a reputation for cold-blooded ruthlessness. Her ladies-in-waiting had told her how he'd blamed the death of his wife on Sigmund, conspiring relentlessly for years, only waiting for Daniela to be located before striking.
They'd also spoken of sordid rumors that Jadian had once kept a seductive fire demoness as his prisoner hidden in the dungeon...
He crossed to Danii then. "You are unhappy here." It wasn't a question, but he did sound disbelieving.
"I... it's been a big change."
"You'll grow accustomed." He was no-nonsense and logical to the point that most Valkyrie would deem him a buzz kill. But he was beloved by the orderly people here.
"Jadian, I was recalling our kiss."
He stiffened, as if he thought she'd want to resume some dalliance with him. "What of it?"
"You weren't thinking about me."
"And you were imagining that I was a vampire," he said with the tiniest hint of irritation, adding, "my queen."
Busted. It was too true. Though Jadian was as sigh-worthy a male as she had ever seen, she still longed to run her fingers through dark hair. She yearned to gaze up at gray eyes that turned black with lust. "Was it just a play to get me to return with you?"
He shrugged. "You needed to be here."
So their kiss hadn't even been real. Now her curiosity redoubled. What would a real one be like -
"And you need to accept that this is where you belong," he said.
Yes, no longer was she living in the sweltering heat of Louisiana, surrounded by people she couldn't touch. No longer was she in a relationship that was doomed by her very nature.
Here, the broken doll was all fixed. And I'm miserable.
Stoic Nikolai looked flabbergasted. Then he shot to his feet, tracing to the cell door. "Conrad?" he called back.
"He's come here?" Sebastian bit out. "How did he get free from those manacles?"
Murdoch cursed under his breath. "Kristoff will take his head."
"If his guards don't," Nikolai said.
Conrad appeared outside their cell. Through the bars, they stared in bewilderment. Conrad had blood and mud splattered across his beaten face and matted in his hair. His red eyes glowed with menace. Gaping wounds covered him.
"What in the hell are you doing here?" Nikolai demanded. "And whose blood is that?"
Conrad studied the cell bars. "I don't have time for questions."
"You have to leave!" Murdoch said. "They'll execute you if they capture you."
He gave a rough laugh, clamping hold of the bars. "Defy them to do either." Gritting his teeth, he strained against them.
"Those are as protected as your chains were," Sebastian said. "The wood, the metal, and the stone surrounding them are all reinforced. You can't possibly - "
Conrad wrenched them wide, breaking the metal.
"My God," Nikolai murmured.
Conrad had gotten stronger?
"Need your help to find my Bride!" In a frenzy, Conrad yanked the wreckage free. "I'm not mad... but I need you to trace me to every cemetery in New Orleans. Do you know where they are?"
Nikolai gaped. "Your... Bride?"
"His heart beats," Murdoch said.
"Do you know where they are or not?" Conrad bellowed.
Nikolai nodded slowly. "I know all the cemeteries. Myst and I hunt ghouls there."
"Will you do this?"
"Conrad, just calm - "