Then he went motionless, snarling against her. Just when she felt the first lash of his se**n, his h*ps began plunging like a piston, taking him to the very end.

As he drew her blood, he flooded her with seed. She felt every pumping jet, prolonging her own ecstasy.

With a final groan, he released his fangs, collapsing atop her, his breaths cooling against her new mark. With seeming great effort, he rolled off her, but only to enfold her in his arms.

She lay on his chest, skin to skin. He clutched her to him, pressing a kiss into her hair.

"That was worth my wait, vampire."

"I'm glad, Valkyrie. Because I'd have counted down eternity for that."

CHAPTER 43

"If I could kiss you, I don't think I'd ever stop," Daniela had told him all those months ago. Now they could and she didn't stop -  for hours, they lazily kissed and touched.

So this is utter contentment. Murdoch had never known it before.

For the first time, he experienced the luxury of her smooth legs entwined with his. At last, he could trace all the cobalt markings on her skin that had always tantalized him. They'd discovered that the tips of her ears were ticklish - she'd been unaware. He reveled in her taste, her responsiveness, wanting to go to his knees in thanks for the Bride he'd been given.

He'd been trailing kisses along her delicate collarbone when she sighed, "Now I understand why my sisters enjoyed being bitten so much."

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"You liked my bite, little Bride? You'll be able to endure it every other day?"

"I'll demand it every other hour. And I'll make sure you're properly exerted, so you'll be thirsty all the time."

Just getting better and better. "That won't be a problem."

"But Murdoch," she began, her tone uneasy, "about your living here... "

He pulled back to meet her gaze, dread drumming in his chest.

"They'll never accept you," she said. "Not after what happened to my mother. They'll reason that if Sigmund could turn against his own queen, then a vampire surely could... and they were punished by Sigmund, every day."

"Daniela, you told me you were mine. I warned you I'd never let you go. But I won't ask you to give up your crown."

She grew still. "You won't?"

"No, but just as before, we'll have to find a way to be together, because you can't ask me to give you up either."

She seemed pleased by his answer. Had she expected him to demand she relinquish her throne? The old, selfish Murdoch would have. He would have believed it was her honor to be with him. Now he knew it was the other way around.

"Explain to me exactly what Nix told you," Daniela said.

He scowled. "Still planning on marrying Jadian?"

"Murdoch!" She play-punched his arm, then seemed to get briefly distracted by the feel of his skin. "Now tell me."

So he did...

When he'd finished, she said, "You know, I didn't need a soothsayer to convince me that you'd be true."

He gave a decisive nod. "My thoughts exactly."

"And I have an idea," she said. "A way we could be together -  and do only as we please."

"No, no," Murdoch grated. " Not a chance. I can't let you do this for me. Daniela, I saw your memories. Your mother wanted this for you."

Danii shook her head firmly. "I think she'd want me to be happy. And this is the only way. Murdoch, if you saw my memories, did you not feel how long I've waited to be happy? A lonely life of service will not be forthcoming from me."

"I did feel it. But don't you even want to think about - "

"I have been thinking about this," she said, meeting his gaze. "And it's what I choose."

After long moments, he said, "I'm with you, Daniela. Whatever you want, I'll support you."

"Then let's get some clothes on, because what I want is to get this settled as soon as possible."

Once they'd dressed, she called for Jadian. When he arrived, she wasted no time. "I'm abdicating, and I want you to take over the throne. I'd like you to be king of the Icere."

Instead of jumping at the chance, Jadian almost seemed put out and kept glancing at the door.

Danii said, "You don't appear too happy about this."

"I had... other plans, once you got established here," Jadian replied. "But I'll do my duty, if this is your will."

Jadian the Buzz Kill, all duty, no fun. "Yes, it is. But I have a few conditions. I want to visit whenever I like, come around for holidays and such, once I get the cryomancy down. And the Icere must always ally with the Valkyrie."

"Agreed. But I have some conditions as well," Jadian said. "If I die with no heir, you'll resume the throne. And you'll take with you your mother's crown."

"But it belongs here - it belongs to your future queen."

"I'll never take a wife to wear it."

Still waters run deep with the Iceren? "Then I can agree to that."

Jadian nodded to them, then strode to the door. As he left, she thought she heard him mutter a curse, demonstrating the most emotion she'd ever observed.

When they were alone, Murdoch pulled her back into his lap. "I think Jadian was a shade shocked at your offer."

"Well, Nix did say that I would make him my king - so I did." Danii smiled brightly. "Now it seems I'm a woman of leisure."

Murdoch nipped the tip of her ticklish ear, making her laugh. "Good. Then you can take a day to marry me."

EPILOGUE

Christmas Eve Blachmount Manor

The Wroth family - four couples brought together by the Accession, and in some cases by Nix - had gathered to celebrate Murdoch and Daniela's marriage, the holidays, and the renovation of Blachmount.

Myst and Nikolai had completely restored the manor, and now it was lavishly decorated for the festivities.

While the brothers drank whiskey, the females gathered around an enormous table laden with food and drinks. But Myst and Neomi were the only ones with plates. Myst eating? There went the Valkyrie's inherent birth control.

Danii raised her brows, but Myst only shrugged. "What can I say? Nikolai's big on family. And I felt sorry for my poor biological clock, having to tick for millennia."

Kaderin received a questioning glance as well, but she held up her hands. "Don't look at me. I've got shite to do and no pity for clocks... "

When they convened by the fire to exchange gifts, naturally Danii and Murdoch took the chilly settee farthest away from the heat.

Murdoch gazed around again, still seeming stunned by the changes. "It looks just like home used to."