"Think of something else, girl." He clutched another arrow. "Or tell me your name."
Another yank, another scream swallowed. Outside, lightning flashed once more, and thunder rocked the roof timbers.
He warily gazed upward before his attention settled on another arrow. As he worked the next shaft free - this one was lodged in her sternum - she clenched her fists into the sheets, fighting not to twist from him. The arrowhead grated against bone as it finally gave way.
"Your name," he demanded.
She gasped out, "Daniela."
"Daniela." He gave a tight nod. "Beautiful name for a beautiful girl."
She choked on a hysterical laugh, sending her into a wet coughing fit. Blood bubbled from her mouth when she uttered, "Beautiful... kidding?"
His expression darkened. "I only meant that you're lovely in form, or you would be - never mind."
He gazed away, looking like he was mentally cursing himself.
After such a long life, she was going to die of poison in the care of a crazed, skeevy vampire who couldn't count.
"My name is Murdoch Wroth."
"I know." He was brother to Nikolai, which meant he was one of the Wroths, four Estonian warlords famous in their time for their ruthless defense of their country. Five years ago, the Valkyrie had learned from Myst that two of the brothers had been turned to vampires. Nikolai and... Murdoch.
"How could you know my name?"
She tried to shrug, but only grimaced.
He let it drop. "Two more to go. Who were those men who did this to you?"
"You wouldn't know them - "
Yank. Her vision began to flicker again.
"Stay with me." Had he smoothed a gloved hand over her hair?
"Only one left," he said, then added in a murmur, "Brave girl."
For some reason, she felt a rush of pride that he saw her as brave. She'd been weakened for so long, exiled from the very ice that made her stronger. She struggled to remain conscious, wavering in and out.
"Will more of them be coming for you?" he asked.
"They always do. Sooner or later."
"Why would they want to kill you?"
She mumbled, "I was born."
"What does that mean?"
"Can't tell you... 'bout the Lore."
"Because I'm a Forbearer?" This plainly infuriated him. "You think Myst won't be telling Nikolai your secrets?"
"You think... they'll be talking tonight?"
He frowned as if she was confusing him, or more like she was throwing him. "Last arrow."
This one was wedged under her collarbone, refusing to come out. "Almost finished, sweet." He pinned her to the mattress, twisting and pulling as she bit back a shriek. "Just hold on."
Finally, it gave way in a rush of blood. "There." He threw it aside. "Now what do I do?"
She lay stunned, panting raggedly. Too late...
Even with the arrows removed, too much poison remained inside her. She started convulsing from the heat, couldn't stop.
"Daniela, tell me!"
In her two thousand years of living, she'd never been this hot. Ah, gods, thermal shock.
Death by shattering. Just as she'd been warned as a girl. Porcelain doll. The starkest fear she'd ever known welled inside her.
She weakly grabbed his shirt. "Shock. Put me in... ice bath."
"Shock - what do you mean?"
"'Bout to... die."
Murdoch swooped her up so fast his wounded leg almost gave way. In a flash, he traced her to the bathroom.
Inside, he began running a cold bath. Once he'd settled her in the large tub, he traced to a gas station, returning a few moments later with stolen bags of ice.
As he ripped open the bags to dump their contents into the water, he muttered, "This feels wrong to me. Goes against everything I know."
Because she was like nothing he'd ever known.
Am I truly covering a half-naked, critically injured female with ice?
But when she was up to her neck in it, she sighed in relief. The cold wasn't bracing or painful to her - it was clearly soothing, making her drowsy.
Her shuddering lessened, and her expression calmed.
When the fear in her eyes ebbed... He didn't even want to think about the relief he felt to see that. "Are you still in danger from the poison?"
"Nothing else can be done." She frowned, her gaze unfocused. "You're injured."
"It's nothing," he gruffly replied.
"Take care of yourself, vampire - " Her lids fluttered, and then she was out.
Sleeping. In ice.
He couldn't reconcile this coldness in her. She was like nothing he'd ever dreamed.
But it didn't matter if he understood her. Even if she appeared more comfortable, she wasn't out of danger. Her face was still flushed angrily. If cold was good for her, then she needed more of it.
He traced to the thermostat, turning on the air-conditioning full force. Though he didn't want to leave her - not to drink from the supply of blood he kept in the kitchen, nor to bandage his own wounds - he traced for more ice, stuffing the freezer full.
That task completed, he watched over her, beginning the most anxious vigil he'd held since the night his entire family had died, one by one.
As he paced the spacious bathroom, he couldn't take his gaze off her. Though Daniela had found him skeevy for remarking on her looks, he could see past her injuries. She was lovely, no doubt of it.
She had long flaxen hair, spreading past her shoulders and down to cover her br**sts. Her lips were softly plump, parted around her shallow breaths. Lush lips. He imagined pressing his own over them, then teasing her tongue with his.
With a start, he realized he was growing hard for her. He groaned. My first erection in three hundred years. The erection he'd been hoping to avoid. Christ, I am truly blooded?
By a... Valkyrie.
They were warlike, many rumored to be half crazed. To be tied forever to a woman like that - and one he could never touch? A living hell.
No, surely there had to be a way for him to touch her, to claim her. Or would this one leave him in agony as Myst had Nikolai?
He crossed to the tub, crouching beside her, his injured leg screaming in protest. Ignoring that wound, he took her hand in his gloved ones, examining it. So delicate. But he'd seen her fragile-looking claws slash through a male's bone this night.
He released her hand to cup icy water and pour it over her hair, smoothing blood from the strands. Then he clumsily unthreaded her braids and rinsed them.
Why this care? Because it kept his mind off his fear for her - and his apprehension about his future. So he continued to run ice over the bruises on her shoulders and arms. Gradually, the hectic red of her face diminished, leaving pale, alabaster skin. Her breaths started to smoke.