The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(4) by J.R.Ward
The “dead” slayer was moving on the floor, writhing its arms and legs slowly. Things were broken in various places, one foot pointing in the wrong direction, an elbow cocked at a wonked-up angle, and there was a good deal of leaking going on, the floor puddling with the Omega’s oil-black blood.
“Nice work,” Rhage said, taking a grape Tootsie Pop out of his jacket and popping the wrapper. “Bouncer did this?”
“Big Rob.” Trez put his hand out. “And here is the complication.”
In the center of his palm were a bunch of nothing-special packets of drugs—
Wait a minute.
V picked up the things with his gloved hand. “Just like the ones you gave to Butch, true?”
“Yeah, this is dealing.”
“Did anything come of this shit earlier?”
“Butch talked to Assail, and Assail denied, denied, denied he was doing business with them. And that was it. With nothing else to go on, we had other priorities, feel me?”
Rhage bit down to the chocolate center as he leaned in and did some WTF-ing of his own. The drugs were marked with a red stamp … of the Old Language symbol for death.
Assail was going to be in some serious ass-shit if he was using the enemy to get his product onto the streets.
V dragged his free hand through his black hair. “Now I know why you didn’t just stab this thing back to the Omega.”
“My bouncer said the slayer came in with the crowd and worked his way around, doing bit deals. He was asked to leave, argued, attacked, and then it was time for some lights-out when Big Rob took care of business. First time this particular lesser’s been around, but that’s not saying much, because it’s opening night. Bottom line, though, is I don’t let people deal in my joints, human or otherwise. Don’t want to be on the CPD’s list of things to do any more than we already are…”
As the pair of them kept talking, Rhage sucked the white stick clean and found himself sizing up the Shadow.
Cutting into the convo, he demanded, “Why don’t you come to Last Meal anymore.”
V’s diamond-hard glare swung around. “My brother, focus.”
“No, I’m serious.” He propped his hip on the black wall. “What’s up, Trez. I mean, our food not good enough for you?”
Cue the throat clearing on the Shadow’s side. “Oh, no, yeah, I’m just … busy, you know. Opening this…”
“And when was the last time you fed? You look like shit.”
Vishous threw up his hands. “Hollywood, will you get in the game—”
“You know, I used Selena tonight and her blood is amazing—”
It all happened so fast. One minute V was jawing at him while he was bringing up the very salient point that the Shadow needed to take a vein.
The next, Trez’s racket-size palm was locked on his neck, cutting off all his air supply.
While the guy bared his teeth and snarled like Rhage was the enemy.
In the blink of an eye, and in spite of that nasty shoulder wound, Vishous counter-attacked the Shadow, tackling him in a total body slam as Rhage grabbed at that thick wrist to pull the grip free. Incredibly, it got them nowhere. Even with V’s close to three hundred pounds trying to pry Trez off and all of Rhage’s tensile strength getting thrown into the mix, the Shadow was brick-wall-going-nowhere, barely moving.
And then the three of them had something to really worry about.
Rhage blinked, and when he opened his eyes, brilliant light flooded the cramped, black space.
“Fuck,” V gritted. “Let him fucking go, Trez! We got problems!”
Beneath Rhage’s skin, his beast surged to life, awoken by the mortal threat.
“Trez! Let go!”
Something got through to the Shadow—whether it was all that light, or the fact that Rhage’s features were already starting to morph—and he loosened his hold just a little.
V took it from there, throwing the Shadow to the slick floor and jumping on him, a black dagger flashing out and being put directly to the jugular.
On a sagging curse, Rhage coughed and breathed deep a couple of times. Shit. His beast had a hair trigger on a good night, when he was well-fed, well-fucked, and properly exercised. But when someone tried to kill him?
Even if there might have been a good goddamn reason for it?
Clearly, the Shadow had bonded with the Chosen. ’Cuz that reaction had male hormones all over it.
“I’m sorry,” Trez mumbled. “I don’t know what came over me. Swear on my brother’s life.”
“Why didn’t you”—Rhage tripped over his own words—“tell us you bonded with her?”
There was a pause. Then Trez said, “I … shit.”
V added a string of curse words. “You gonna stay put, Shadow, or am I slicing the front of your throat open?”
“I’m good. Swear.”
A moment later, V came over. “Rhage…? My brother?”
Rhage put his palms to his face and let himself slide off the vertical until he was ass-on-the-floor. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.
They already had a lesser in the club.
His beast was the last kind of patron they needed.
“What’s going on with him?” Trez asked.
“Don’t ever aggress on that motherfucker,” was the last thing Rhage heard before the world receded like smoke in a draft.
In the most sacred hall of the s’Hisbe’s Grand Palace, s’Ex stood on the far side of a door that had no knob, no handle, hardly any seam to distinguish the panel from the wall it was set into.
On the far side, he could hear the infant crying, and the sound, that plaintive entreaty for help, aid, succor, went into his ears and through to his soul. His hand shook as he put it to the cool expanse. His daughter. His offspring. The only one he would probably ever have.
The infant was not alone in the ceremonial room. There was the high priest, AnsLai; the Chief Astrologer; and the Tretary, a position charged with witnessing and recording events such as this.
The baby had been wrapped in a pure white blanket of woven wool by the nursemaid before being taken in there and left behind with those three males.
To cry for a father who would not come to save her.
s’Ex’s heart pounded so violently the whites of his eyes registered the rhythmic pressure. He had not expected this reaction, but mayhap this precise fervor was why he had not been allowed to touch the child—or be alone with her. Ever since the Queen had given birth to her approximately six hours ago, he had been permitted to view her twice: once after she had been cleaned, and just now, as she had been rendered into that white marble room that had no windows and only one door … that locked from the inside.
The second of her birth had determined this, demanded this. That was what custom dictated. The stars had aligned in such a way that his daughter was not to be the heir to the throne, and thus she had to be …
Get in there! his heart screamed. Stop this, stop this before—
Suddenly there was silence.
A sound like that of a wounded animal vibrated up his throat and out of his mouth, and s’Ex curled a fist, banging it into that door so hard, fissures formed in a star pattern, radiating outward from the point of impact.
Distraught and deadly, he knew he must needs retreat before he did something as unthinkable as what had just been done. Tripping over his black robing, he wheeled around and stumbled down the corridor. He was dimly aware of banging into the walls, his momentum bouncing him left and right, his shoulders slamming into the more slick white marble.
For some reason, he thought of a night many years before, at least two decades ago, when he had waited by the exit for TrezLath, the Anointed One, to come down and attempt to escape. Now he was doing what that male had done then.
Whilst in fact not freeing himself at all.
Unlike Trez, who had not been allowed to leave the palace, s’Ex, as the Queen’s executioner, was permitted to. He was also the one who was responsible for monitoring all comings and goings.
There would be no delays for him.
And that would save lives this night.
That silence, that horrible, resonant silence, cannibalized his mind as he wound through the maze of halls, nearing the very exit Trez had sought. That male, too, had been condemned, the position of the stars the moment he was born more dispositive than nature or nurture.
Those constellations, so distant, so unknown at the time of birth and unknowable in maturity, determined everything. Your status. Your work. Your worth.
And his daughter, like Trez, had been born to a portent that had been a death sentence.
Nine months they had awaited her birth, society coming to a kind of standstill with the Queen pregnant. Such fanfare, as there had been only one other pregnancy in the two centuries of the current monarch’s reign—and that had yielded the Princess. Of course, the fact that the current conception had been by the Queen’s executioner had been far less momentous and never publicly acknowledged. Better that it had been an aristocrat. A second cousin of royal blood. A male marked as significant by his birthing charts.
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