The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(17) by J.R.Ward
“Master?” the butler said. “Are you expecting anyone?”
Abalone pulled his suit jacket back into place. “A distant relative. I should have told you, my apologies.”
“I gotta go,” Paradise said. “Have a good sleep.”
There was a pause. “Yeah, you, too, Parry. And you know, you can call me if you get the bad dreams, okay.”
“Sure. Same for you. ’Day.”
“’Day back at you.”
As she hung up, she was glad her friend was still around. Ever since the raids had gone down and so many of their class had been slaughtered, the two of them had used the phone lines to pass the sometimes forever hours of daylight. The connection had been indispensable in the immediate aftermath of the raids, when she and her father had gone out to the Catskills, and she had rattled around that big barn of a Victorian for months.
Peyton was a good friend. As for the mating thing?
She didn’t know how to feel about that.
Going around the desk, she jogged across to the foyer until her father caught sight of her and shook his head. “Out of sight, Paradise. Please.”
Her brows popped. That was the code for her to take cover in the hidden tunnels of the house. “What’s going on?”
“You said it was a relative?”
Paradise ducked back into the library, but she stayed by the archway, listening.
The soft creak of the massive front door opening seemed very loud.
“It’s you,” her father said in a strange tone. “Fedricah, please excuse us, will you.”
“But of course, master.”
The butler walked off, crossing briefly over that part of the foyer Paradise could see. After a moment, the door into the back half of the house closed.
“Well?” a male said. “Are you going to invite me in?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m going to die out here. In a matter of minutes.”
Paradise fought the urge to put her head around the molding and see who it was. She didn’t recognize the voice, but the precise pronunciation and haughty accent suggested it was someone from the aristocracy. Which made sense, considering he was a “relative.”
“You are wearing the vestments of war,” her father countered. “I do not abide them across my threshold.”
“Is it my associations or my weapons that frighten you more?”
“I am not afeared of either. You were beaten, if you recall.”
“But not defeated, I’m sorry to say.” Clicking sounds suggested someone was handling things made of metal parts. And then there was a clattering, as if something hit the front stone stoop. “Here, then, I am naked before you. I am utterly unarmed, and my weapons are on your doorstep, not within your walls.”
“I am not your cousin.”
“You are my blood. We have many common ancestors—”
“Spare me. And whatever message your leader wishes to send to the King, have him do it through—”
“I am no longer affiliated with Xcor. In any way.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Ties have been cut.” There was an exhausted sigh. “I have spent these months since the election that returned Wrath to the throne trying to convince Xcor and the Band of Bastards to disengage from their treason. Even after such entreaty and reasoning, such extended pleading for a smarter course, I am saddened that I cannot dissuade them from their folly. Finally, I just had to leave. I sneaked away from where they stay, and I now fear for my life. I have nowhere else to go, and when I spoke with Salliah back in the Old Country, she suggested that I pay you a visit.”
Their distant cousin, Paradise thought. She recognized that name.
“Please,” the male said. “Lock me in a room if you have to—”
“I am a loyal servant of the King’s.”
“Then do not turn away a tactical advantage.”
“What are you suggesting?”
“In return for safety under your roof, I am prepared to tell you everything I know about the Band of Bastards. Where they spend the daylight hours. What their patterns are. Where they meet during the night. How they think and fight. Surely that is worth the use of a bed.”
Paradise couldn’t stand it. She had to see who it was.
Inching out, she curled her body around the archway and looked past her father’s stiff shoulders. Her first thought was that the male’s leathers and ragged button-down shirt did not match his intonation. Her second was that his eyes were bruised, they were so tired.
He did indeed appear to have come from the war’s front lines, something sickly sweet staining the air that brushed by his body as it entered the house.
The male noticed her immediately, and his face registered something that he quickly hid.
Her father glanced over his shoulder and shot her a glare. “Paradise,” he hissed.
“I can understand why you hesitate,” the male said, his eyes never leaving hers. “Indeed, she is precious.”
Her father turned back around. “You must go.”
The male dropped down to one knee and bowed his head, putting one hand over his heart and lifting the other, open palmed, up to the heavens.
In the Old Language, he said softly, “I hereby swear upon our common ancestry that I shall bring no harm to you, your blooded daughter, or any living thing within these walls—or may the Scribe Virgin cut my life off afore your very eyes.”
Her father looked back at her and slashed his arm through the air, an order for her to get out and stay gone.
She put her hands up and nodded, all, Okay, okay, okaaaaay.
Moving quickly, she went back into the library and across to the panels by the fireplace. Reaching under the third shelf from the floor to the hidden trigger point, she pressed the lever and was able to push the entire load of books out and over on the well-oiled track. With a quick slip, she emerged into the fully finished hallway that ran in a square around the first floor of the house, providing access, both visual and actual, to every room through hidden doors and viewpoints.
It was like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
Closing herself in, Paradise went to the shallow stairs that were all the way in the back, and as she ascended them, she wished she could hear what they were saying. As usual, though, she was in the dark; her father never told her anything about anything.
It was part of his old-school mind-set: Well-bred females didn’t need to be bothered with things like mysterious, long-lost relatives who showed up unannounced and armed to the teeth. Or, say, where the head of the household was working, how much he was earning or what his net worth was. For example, when her father was appointed First Adviser to the King, that was all she was told. She had no idea what his job was like, what he did for the King and the Brotherhood—heck, she didn’t even know where he went each night.
She believed he truly thought he was sparing her. But she hated being in the dark about so much.
At the top of the hidden staircase, she went forward about fifteen feet and stopped in front of an inset panel. The latch was to the left and she flicked it free.
Her bedroom was everything girlie and soft, from her frilly bed to the lace at the windows to the needlepoint rugs that were like slippers you didn’t have to wear.
Going over, she turned the lock on her door, knowing it would be the first thing her father would check whenever he came upstairs—and if he didn’t make it to the second floor because he was staying with their “guest”? He was going to make Fedricah come and do a test-turn of the knob.
At her bed, she sat down, kicked off her loafers, and flopped back on the duvet. Staring up at the canopy, she shook her head.
Locked in her room. Cut out from any action.
Immediately after the raids, it was the only place she had wanted to be, the only way to feel safe. But those nights of terror had turned into months of worry … which had transitioned into an uneasy normalcy … that had devolved into just plain life in general.
So that now she felt trapped. In this room. In this house. In this life.
Paradise glanced at her closed, locked door.
Who was that male? she wondered.
Selena became slowly aware that she was no longer in the Sanctuary. She did not recognize where she was, however: Her brain was slow to process both the signals from her body and the cues from her environment, as if the attack had frozen not only her flesh, but her mind.
Gradually, however, it occurred to her that there was no more grass in her face. No trees or temples off in the distance. No soft sound of running water from the baths.
She tried to shift her head and groaned.
The face that entered her vision brought tears to her eyes. It was Trez … it was Trez …
Sure as if she had conjured him out of a dream, he was right before her, and she drank him in: his smooth dark skin, his almond-shaped black eyes, his tight-cut black hair, the looming presence of his heft and height.
Her first instinct was to reach out to him, but a blaze of pain stopped her, making her gasp.
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