The French Quarter, New Orleans
At his brother's weak and broken words, Murdoch Wroth's eyes narrowed in anger toward the one who'd brought the proud Nikolai so low.
Myst the Coveted, a female immortal with a vicious heart.
And Nikolai's fated Bride.
"How can you tell?" Murdoch asked.
"Because I can feel her," Nikolai said.
Murdoch adjusted Nikolai's arm, which he'd slung across his shoulders to help his brother walk as they searched. The humans milling all around them merely assumed Nikolai was another drunk.
Proud Nikolai. He was exhausted from consuming too little blood, his body racked with never-ending need for a mad Valkyrie who delighted in his pain. Nikolai had lost weight, his face turning gaunt, his muscles flagging.
"Murdoch, when I find her...I want you to trace from here."
He shook his head. "I'll stay until you've secured her -- "
"No. Don't want you to...see me." Nikolai's weary gaze darted away from Murdoch's. "I will lose control."
Which would shame his stalwart older brother as little else could.
Murdoch couldn't imagine how Nikolai would react when he found Myst. Five years ago, she had blooded Nikolai, as only a Bride could, bringing to life his dead vampire's body. She'd made him breathe, made his heart beat, and stoked his newly reawakened lust with no intention of slaking it.
That same night, another Valkyrie had shot him through with arrows and still another had mocked his desires. Myst had fled with the two, dooming Nikolai.
A blooded vampire could only take release for the first time while touching his Bride in some way. If she wasn't available, then he would remain in a state of constant sexual readiness, aching indefinitely.
Which she well knew.
"Promise me you'll leave," Nikolai grated.
At length, Murdoch said, "I will." If Myst was indeed here tonight, it would make sense that there'd be more Valkyrie out on these very streets. More of their deceiving, manipulative, violent kind. "But only to find another one," he added.
He could capture one and interrogate her about the Lore, the world of not-so-mythical beings he and his brother were now a part of.
Murdoch's knowledge of the Lore was as limited as that of any of the vampires in their warrior order of Forbearers. Their army consisted mostly of turned humans, and the Lore creatures kept their secrets well guarded from them.
"Don't underestimate the Valkyrie as I did," Nikolai rasped. "Else suffer as I have."
He suffered because fate had forced this blooding on Nikolai. As if Nikolai needed another burden.
The blooding process was what Murdoch detested most about being a vampire, even more than never seeing the sun again.
Though he'd once been a rake, bedding a new woman each night, Murdoch hoped it never happened to him. To be mystically tied to a single woman sounded hellish, especially to a woman he didn't choose, and one who could spurn him, as Myst had Nikolai.
The pain had rendered his brother nearly mindless in his pursuit of her. Nikolai wanted retribution, but Murdoch suspected he also simply wanted her. Even after all that she'd done to him.
"Where will you take her this night?" Murdoch asked. "The mill?" They'd secured an old renovated sugar mill outside the city, staying there instead of the Forbearer castle while they'd scoured these streets.
Nikolai shook his head.
"Then back to the castle?"
When Nikolai didn't answer, Murdoch said, "You wouldn't take her to Blachmount?" The ancient Wroth estate -- where most of their family had died in a single night of sickness and murder. "Why?"
"Because that's where my Bride belongs."
Before Murdoch could question his meaning, Nikolai went still, his eyes briefly sliding shut. Then his head swung up toward a rooftop. "It's her."
Above them, a redhead stood frozen, her lips parting in shock.
Murdoch had only briefly seen her all those years before, and now he studied the details of her Valkyrie appearance. She had delicate fey features -- pointed ears and high cheekbones -- but he also spied the tell-tale claws and small fangs.
At the sight of her, Nikolai stood fully, no longer needing Murdoch's aid. "My Myst."
Her face paled, no doubt at the sight of Nikolai, who now looked like the monster she'd sought to make him. His irises had turned completely black, his fangs descending in his mouth, dripping from thirst.
Her horrified expression almost made Murdoch pity her, but she deserved no mercy. Which was good, because Nikolai would show her none this night.
Their pursuit of half a decade was...over. At last.
Just as Nikolai tensed to trace to her, Murdoch slapped him on the back, then teleported away as he'd promised, disappearing so quickly he went unnoticed in the morass of drunken tourists. Even if they had seen him vanish, the humans would think they'd imagined it.
Murdoch materialized in a back alley several blocks away, then walked to the Quarter's main thoroughfare, Bourbon Street. As he moved among the crowds, a warm breeze tripped down the street, dissipating the swampy haze and the fumes from food vendor stands.
Warm. In February. Good hunting weather.
Yes, Nikolai would be merciless tonight, as would Murdoch. Now all he needed was to find his prey.
The hunt is on.
I'm being followed.
Daniela the Ice Maiden furtively glanced over her shoulder once more. Again she spied nothing out of the ordinary -- tourists milling, witches catcalling to human males -- but Danii couldn't shake the feeling that she was being stalked.
Which begged the question: what creature would be stupid enough to court a Valkyrie's wrath?
Maybe she was just spooked by Nïx's cryptic remarks tonight. Nucking Futs Nïx, her half sister and the Valkyrie soothsayer, often made off-the-wall predictions. But this one continued to replay in Danii's mind.
"Sad, sad Daniela, the broken doll who wants to be fixed. Tonight she might."
Because of Danii's pale, freezing skin -- she was part Icere -- she was often likened to a porcelain doll. Well, because of her icy skin and because of what would happen to her if she grew overheated....
But a broken doll? What did that mean? And fixed -- for good, for bad? What precisely would be fixed?
She'd told Nïx, "I can't imagine what you're talking about. I'm not broken" -- my lonely existence makes me want to tear my hair out -- "and I don't know how I could be 'fixed.'"
Perhaps by being able to finally touch another? To feel a man's skin against her own without being burned, instead of constantly fantasizing about it?
I would give anything.
Yet the only males on earth who could touch her were the Icere. Regrettably, they also happened to want her dead.
Which meant the closest she'd ever get to having sex would be reading about it in the many tomes of erotica she kept hidden in her room or by indulging in her rich fantasy life. Which also meant she was probably the world's oldest virgin. Merely awaiting confirmation from Guinness.
And people wonder why I prefer fantasy to reality.
Her ears twitched with awareness. No, she wasn't simply spooked; something was happening. Her senses were alert.
Hastening her pace, she carefully wound around the people on the street, negotiating the ninety-eight-point-six degree gauntlet. Even the briefest contact with another's skin would burn her. A conundrum, because she kept cool by baring lots of hers.
When her frosty breath fogged in the warm night air, she just stifled the urge to scream, and peeked over her shoulder once more.
This time she spotted a towering male, far behind her. He was striking, looked to be mid-thirties. But there was something unusual about him.
Was he even human? New Orleans was chock-full of Lore beings. He could be an immortal, maybe even the one trailing her.
At that moment, he wasn't looking in her direction, so she took the opportunity to duck into an alley beside a hotel. Leaping up four stories to the hotel's flat roof, she crossed to a low ledge wall overlooking the street, then crouched between two flags -- one had a fleur-de-lis covered in beads, and the other said Pardi Gras!
Tilting her head, she studied the male below. He had longish dark brown hair, cut negligently, with a lock falling over his forehead. His face was fantasy-worthy, with a strong, masculine jaw and chin.
He wore tasteful clothes, a black button-down and jeans with a jacket that made her feel warm just looking at it. She herself was wearing the thinnest backless dress she could find.
He strode with an air of confidence. The male was gorgeous -- and he knew it. How could he not, with the women gaping at him? Then she frowned. He seemed oblivious to the prancing coeds in low-cut tops angling for his attention.
His body was big, muscular in a way that hinted at immortal, but what he was exactly eluded her. Considering his size, he was probably a demon, or even a Lykae -- those animals had begun prowling the Valkyries' turf as bold as they pleased.
Or could he be...a vampire?
She trained her gaze on his chest, watching for the rise and fall of breaths. Seconds passed. Historically, the vampires had shunned Louisiana. Yet on this night her Valkyrie coven had heard that members of both warring vampire armies, the Horde and the Forbearers, could be out in the Quarter.
What they didn't know was why.
His chest is still. Bingo. Vamp.
Since his eyes were a normal gray and clear -- not crazed and red with bloodlust -- that meant he was a Forbearer, one of an army who didn't drink blood straight from the flesh.
Vampires who didn't kill. At least, that was their mission statement.
The Lore was still waiting to see how that worked out for them.
Though Danii knew she needed to report back on this si...