Jadian strode into the room. "So, it is you. Why have you come to our realm?" His expression betrayed no surprise, no emotion whatsoever.
This is the bastard who knows what it's like to kiss Daniela.
And I can't kill him. Yet.
Murdoch managed a sitting position. "I seek Daniela." His words were hoarse, his body still exhausted.
Jadian crossed his arms over his chest. "Why would I ever let one such as you near her?"
"I just need to speak to her. And then, if she still doesn't want to see me, I'll never bother her again." What a lie -
Daniela entered. And Murdoch sucked in a breath.
She was more stunning than he'd ever seen her, her body bedecked in diamonds. Her hair was wild beneath a band of ice and jewels - the crown from Daniela's memories, her mother's.
To see her again. These mere days had felt like eternity.
She looked dazed to find him here. Surely she had to know he'd come for her.
He couldn't read her expression. Was she not pleased at all to see him? Then his heart sank as comprehension took hold. I'm too late.
Oh, gods, Murdoch was here. He was wild-eyed, with his lips and hands frostbitten and his face abraded.
He'd crossed the White Death? To come for me.
Jadian was eerily calm. "I say we throw him back out and let the cold take him."
Pointedly ignoring that, she said, "Murdoch, how did you get here?"
"I followed your memories. But the portal was... off."
"My memories," she repeated softly. He had taken them from her blood. "Why have you come?"
"Can I talk to you? Alone. Please, Daniela, just a few minutes of your time."
"My queen, this is ridiculous," Jadian said. "Remember what he did to you last time?"
Murdoch cast him a killing look, then turned back to her. "I have an idea - there's a way we might be together."
"When I drank from you before - "
"Why bring that up to me?" Her hand flittered to her neck at the reminder.
"Because now I know why it was so irresistible to me."
Jadian said, "Because you're a parasite."
"He plans to bite you again."
"Of course he doesn't. Murdoch, tell him."
"Daniela, speak with me alone." Somehow he managed to make it to his feet. "I swear I won't do anything to you that you don't agree to."
His words piqued her curiosity. He hadn't promised not to hurt her, not to bite her, yet she felt no threat from him. "Very well," she said, turning to Jadian with raised brows. After a hesitation, he turned for the door, stonily silent.
As soon as they were alone, Murdoch demanded, "Are you marrying him?"
"Nix told me you were."
"She must be confused then, or you misheard her. Now, tell me. What were you talking about?"
"Daniela, before I took your neck, I'd dreamed of doing it. More and more as we grew apart. Every night. Now I believe it's the way for us to be together."
"I don't understand."
"With your blood in my veins, everything felt warm to me. My brothers were chilled, but I couldn't stand to be near the fire. Your blood made me cold."
"That can't be right. I can't turn you into an Iceren."
"No, but I can pick up characteristics of your kind," Murdoch said.
"Do you have the skin markings, then? Are you unaffected by the sun?"
He shook his head. "There was a blue tinge under my eyes, but not the body markings. When I tested my skin in the sun, I still burned, even when I was immune to the cold."
"Immune? Then why are you freezing right now? How did you get frostbitten?"
He ran his bandaged hand over the back of his neck. "The effect only lasted a couple of days."
"So for this to work, I'd have to repeat that pain?"
"One last time. After that, as long as I drank every day or two, I'd never hurt you again. We could be together." His voice went lower, and his eyes flickered black. "In all ways."
Her mind was whirring. Yet then she recalled what had happened after the last bite. "But I-I went unconscious."
Looking shamefaced, he said, "I took too much. I wouldn't this time. I know I don't deserve your trust, but I'm asking for it anyway."
"Why should I do this?"
"Because I'm in love with you," he said - without a hint of hesitation.
Her lips parted and the world seemed to shift under her feet. After what he'd done to reach her, she had to believe he did. But to hear him say the words, with his eyes so intense and dark...
Maybe the vampire did always come through in the end.
"And I think you love me, too." Hope tinged his words.
She turned away, breaking his searching gaze. "Maybe that doesn't matter," she said over her shoulder. "Maybe we're only fated to make each other miserable. You forget we'd fought before all this happened. You'd given up on us."
"No, just before I returned that night, I realized that fifty years was nothing if we could be together. I'd come back to tell you that. But then I saw you kissing Jadian..."
She faced him once more. "I'm sorry for that."
"It doesn't matter now," he said, but she could tell that she'd hurt him. "When I was in jail - "
"That's why I wasn't here sooner - Kristoff imprisoned us at Mount Oblak for harboring Conrad. It's all worked out now, but we spent weeks inside. And while I was there, I determined that I would do anything to be with you. Desert my order. Live here in the cold in twenty-four hours of daylight."
"Murdoch, that's not the point. You're talking about biting me again, about more pain. And not just mine. I'm colder than I've ever been. It would hurt you too," she said, then added, "If this did work, you might be vulnerable to thermal shock, like me."
"I don't give a damn about that!" He crossed to her until they were toe to toe. "Please, Danii, I know I'm asking for a lot more than I deserve, but if you can endure this one last time... Just give me your trust."
Hadn't she said she'd give anything to know his taste? To touch her lips to his?
Before, even amidst the agony of his bite, she'd felt a connection to him.
I will trust him. Fantasy finally made reality. And reality sometimes took sacrifice.
Daniela bowed her head, then gazed up at him from under her lashes. And again, he was undone.
"I do trust you." She pulled her hair to the side, baring the pale column of her neck to him, inviting him.