Nikolai took Myst's hand in his. "She wanted to keep it as close as possible to what I remembered," he said, looking like he was about to explode, he was so proud and satisfied.

All of the brothers gave that impression. Even Conrad, with his flame-red eyes. He was doing so well, seeming more of an eccentric than the madman Danii had expected, but he did appear to occasionally get lost in memory. Whenever he did, his new wife, Neomi, was there, gently tugging him back to the present.

Danii had liked Neomi immediately, though she was a bit puzzled about how the ballet dancer had gone from ghost to human to the more powerful phantom. Now Neomi was telekinetic, with the ability to become incorporeal and vanish at will.

Neomi wasn't spilling the details - even though she was visibly tipsy, speaking in a mix of her native French and English. "Merry Noelle!"

The atmosphere was cozy and domestic, and Danii relaxed, enjoying herself, savoring the time spent with her sisters and siblings-in-law. Murdoch drew Danii even closer into the chill of his arms until she all but sat on his lap. He rubbed his big, cold palm up and down her arm. With his other hand, he held hers.

Constant contact. Over the last few weeks, he'd barely kept his hands off her. She soaked up his affection as she would frost.

After Jadian's reluctant coronation, Danii and Murdoch had been married in a simple Lore ceremony. He'd been Catholic, and she was a pagan. Simple was best.

Since then, Danii hadn't had time for fantasies anymore. Her husband had proved deliciously insatiable. Each sunset, he would ease into her, waking her that way, drawing just enough blood to keep him cold. Though she always wanted him to drink more.

He'd taken the icy changes in himself in stride. And if she'd expected his brothers to be disappointed with this development, she would've been wrong. They'd easily accepted Murdoch's decision.

With much fanfare, the family began exchanging gifts. Murdoch had bought her an extravagant case to hold Svana's crown - and an emerald comb to replace the one that Neomi had admitted to stealing right out of his pocket at Elancourt.

Danii gifted him with her own creation: an intricately carved ring of ice for his forefinger, to wear as a type of cold monitor, until he got accustomed to his transformation. They didn't know if he could overheat, and she never wanted to find out.

Advertisement..

Yet every present was upstaged by Sebastian and Kaderin's gift to the family. Thrane's Key.

At the sight of it, Danii stifled a shiver. She'd heard that the key didn't always do as one hoped, and it didn't always go back to the exact time one wished.

But Murdoch had such hopes of being reunited with his family. He'd told her his father would be so proud to see that Murdoch had given his heart completely.

She shook away her apprehension. This family was so formidable, fate should yield to it.

"We go back at the beginning of the new year?" Sebastian asked, wrapping his arm around Kaderin's shoulders. Danii curbed a smile when fierce Kaderin melted against him, half-lidded with happiness, all but purring. Danii made a mental note to razz her about that later.

"Yes, it's time," Nikolai said. "We've all gotten settled."

Conrad's red eyes grew blank, his fists balling as he went awash in a memory. But Neomi tenderly cupped the side of his face, tugging him back into the conversation.

"Neomi?" he rasped in confusion.

She smiled lovingly, with infinite patience. "ecoute-le, mon coeur."

He gave her a nod, his red gaze filled with what could only be described as adoration.

"Are you ready to go back for your sisters?" Neomi asked him.

Conrad faced the others with a decisive nod. "I'm ready."

"Are we all agreed about this?" Nikolai asked. "I am most concerned about how the girls will do. They were so young, and they'll be thrust into not only a completely different world of beings, but a completely different time."

Kaderin said, "My sisters are managing well - aside from the occasional slain toaster - and they were premedieval."

Myst said, "And look at how fabulous the girls' aunts will be with them. I can instruct them in high fashion, and Neomi can teach them to dance."

"Bien sur." Neomi nodded. "And I can go invisible and follow them to school, watching over them."

Kaderin said, "I can teach them how to fight."

"What can I teach them?" Daniela asked quietly.

Myst answered, "How to get exactly what they want when the odds are stacked against them. Oh, and how to reform rakes."

"Rake. Singular," Murdoch grated with a possessive squeeze of her knee, making them laugh.

The talk turned to reminiscing, and though Danii wanted to learn more about Murdoch's family, the fire was blazing.

The instant she even perceived being uncomfortable, Murdoch seized her hand, leading her to the balcony. He told the others, "We're going out for some cold air."

Outside, she said, "Thank you. It was getting warm."

He took her into his arms to give her some of his coolness, pressing her face into his chest. "For me, too, love."

"Doesn't it bother you?" she asked him. "Not to be able to sit with them around the fire?"

She gazed back at the scene, the family laughing around a hearth, holiday decorations glittering in the firelight. A Hallmark card. Except that a phantom, Valkyries, and vampires populated the portrait.

"Sitting around the fire, versus making love to my wife as soon as we can possibly ditch?" Cradling her face in his palms, he kissed her forehead, her lashes, the tip of her nose, and a corner of her lips. "Danii, I've never been more satisfied with my life, didn't know I could be."

Between his light kisses, she felt snow beginning to fall. She raised her face in delight, laughing softly.

When her gaze met his once more, his eyes had darkened to black. "I can't get enough of you, Valkyrie."

Her hands slipped up his chest to meet at his nape. "Then kiss me, vampire." And don't ever stop...



Next :