The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(12) by J.R.Ward
His hand shook as he brushed her hair from her face. Her eyes were open, but he wasn’t sure she was conscious. She didn’t seem to focus on anything, periodic slow blinks the only indication she might be awake.
Might be still alive.
Trez put his face in her line of sight. “You’re at the training center. They’re going to…”
As his voice faltered, he ordered himself to get the fuck away and let Doc Jane do her job.
Crossing his arms over his chest, he backed off until he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder. It was Rhage. And Trez was pretty sure that the gesture was part compassion, part insurance in case the bonded male in him decided to grab the reins again.
“Let them do their thing,” Hollywood said as Ehlena, who was Rehv’s shellan and the nurse, burst through the door. “Let’s just see where we are.”
Trez nodded. “Okay. Yeah.”
The good doctor leaned down and looked into Selena’s opaque eyes. Whatever she said was too soft to hear, but Selena’s pattern of blinking changed—although it was hard to know whether that was a good or a bad thing.
Blood pressure. Pulse. Pupils. The first three checks went quick, but Jane didn’t waste time announcing what the results were. She and her nurse just kept working fast, taking Selena’s temperature, putting an IV into the back of her hand because the crooks of her elbows were locked up.
“I want an EKG, but I can’t get to her chest,” Doc Jane said. Then she glanced over her shoulder at her mate. “Do you know any syndrome that causes this? It’s like a full-body seizure except her pupils are reactive.”
“I don’t. You want me to call Havers for a consult?”
“Yes. Please.” As V stalked out of the room, Jane shook her head. “I need to know what’s happening in her brain, but we don’t have an MRI here or a CT scan.”
“So we’re taking her to Havers,” Trez said.
“He doesn’t have that technology, either.”
“Fuck.” As Rhage’s hold tightened on him, Trez focused on Selena’s face. “Is she in pain? I don’t want her in pain.”
“Honestly?” the doctor said. “I don’t know. And until I get a handle on her neurological state, I don’t want to give her any drugs that would depress function. But I’ll move as fast as I can.”
It seemed to take an eternity, time grinding to a halt as all he could do was watch the complicated medical dance going on around that table. And Rhage stayed right next to him, playing babysitter sentry while Trez straddled the extremes of Shitting in His Pants and Wanting to Blow His Brains Out with no grace whatsoever.
And then the Chosen Cormia burst through the door.
The instant the female saw Selena, she gasped and brought both hands up to cover her mouth. “Dearest Virgin Scribe…”
Doc Jane looked over from taking a blood draw from a vein on the back of Selena’s other hand. “Cormia, do you know what could have—”
“She has the disease.”
Everyone went still. Except for Cormia. The Chosen rushed to her sister’s side and smoothed Selena’s dark hair, murmuring to her in the Old Language.
“What disease?” Doc Jane asked.
“The Old Language translation is roughly ‘the Arrest.’” The Chosen wiped at her eyes. “She has the Arrest.”
Trez heard his voice cut into the silence. “What is that?”
“And is it communicable,” Jane interjected.
As sunrise threatened in the East, Xcor, leader of the Band of Bastards, reassumed his form in front of a modest colonial. The house, which he and his soldiers had been using as a lair for nearly a year, was located on the far side of a boring cul-de-sac in a neighborhood full of middle-class humans halfway through their journey to the grave. Throe had secured the rental with an option to buy on the theory of hiding in plain sight, and the property had worked satisfactorily.
There were lights on in the interior, illumination bleeding out around the seams of the pulled drapes, and he imagined what his warriors were doing inside. Fresh from fighting lessers in the alleys of downtown Caldwell, they would be shedding their black blood-stained clothes and partaking of the victuals contained in the icebox and the cupboards of the kitchen. They would be drinking as well, although not blood to make them stronger, and not water to rehydrate them, but rather alcohol as an internal salve to treat fresh contusions, cuts, abrasions—
Abruptly, the nape of his neck began to tingle in warning, informing him, as if the burning of the exposed skin upon his hands did not, that he had little time to get safely indoors.
And yet he had no interest in going in there. Seeing his soldiers. Consuming food before he retired upstairs to that nauseating raspberry bedroom suite.
He had been denied that which he had counted down the hours for, and the disappointment was like his body’s response to the gathering dawn: His skin ached. His muscles twitched. His eyes strained.
His addiction had not been served.
Layla had not come this night.
With a curse, he took out his cellular device and dialed a number based on a pattern he had memorized on the numerical screen. Putting the phone up to his ear, he heard his heart pounding over the ringing.
There was no personalized voice-mail greeting activated on the account, so after six tones, an automated announcement detailing the number came over the connection. He did not leave a message.
Heading over to the door, he braced himself for an onslaught of noise and chaos. His bastards would inevitably be riding waves of adrenaline, the afterburn of their high-octane existence taking a while to dissipate.
Opening things up—
Xcor froze halfway across the threshold.
His five fighters were not, in fact, talking over one another as they passed around bottles of alcohol along with surgical tape and gauze for their wounds. Instead, they were seated on the available furniture that had been rented to them along with the home. There was no drink in any hand, and not even the metal-on-metal sound of guns being cleaned and daggers getting resharpened.
They were all there: Zypher, Syphon, Balthazar, Syn … and Throe, the one who hadn’t belonged, but had become indispensable.
None of them were meeting his eyes.
No, that was not true.
Throe, his second in command, was the only male staring at him. Also the only of the group who was standing.
Ah, so he had been the one to organize this … whatever it was.
Xcor shut the door behind himself. And kept his weapons on.
“Have you something to say?” he inquired, staying by the door, meeting Throe’s stare straight on.
His second in command cleared his throat, and when he spoke his accent was that not just of the upper class, but of the highest of vampire social orders: that of the glymera.
“We are concerned about your direction.” The male glanced around. “Of late.”
Throe appeared to wait for something further in response. When none came, he uttered a curse of frustration. “Xcor, where has your ambition gone? The King has a single, half-breed heir and you suddenly forget about our collective quest for the throne? You put our goals aside as if a bowl now empty of its contents.”
“Battling the Lessening Society is a full-time endeavor.”
“Mayhap if you were in fact fighting.”
“The slayers I killed tonight were of my imagination, then?”
“That is not all you do at night.”
Xcor bared his fangs. “Be of care where thee tread the now.”
Throe cocked his brow in challenge. “Shall I not say it in front of them?”
As he felt his males’ eyes swing over to him, he wanted to hit something. He had thought his meetings with Layla had been unwitnessed. Clearly, that was a miscalculation.
And if he told Throe to stay silent? He might as well condemn himself to something worse than what he had been doing.
“I have nothing to hide,” he growled.
“I beg to disagree. You spend too much of your time under that maple tree, like some lovesick—”
Xcor materialized in front of the male, such that a mere inch separated their faces. He did not touch Throe, but the soldier stepped back nonetheless.
His second in command did not back all the way down, however. “Do you wish to tell them who she is? Or shall I.”
“She is irrelevant. And my ambitions are restrained by no one.”
“To whom.” Xcor tilted his head and jutted out his jaw. “To them? Or is it you who has the problem.”
“Prove that you are not going soft.”
In the blink of an eye, Xcor withdrew his steel dagger and pressed it to the male’s jugular. “Here? Now?”
As Throe gasped, the sharp tip nicked his flesh, a line of bright red blood gracing that oh, so shiny pale blade.
“Shall I prove myself on you,” Xcor said darkly. “Would that suffice.”
“You are distracted,” Throe snapped. “By a female. You are weakened by her!”
“And you are deranged! I choose not to kill the rightfully elected King of the Race—and that is a crime over which you attempt to secure a mutiny among my fighters?”
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