The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(23) by J.R.Ward
The Tudor-style mansion was set back on manicured lawns as if it were too good to fraternize with anything less than the White House, and lights were on in the interior, glowing with soft yellow luxury like maybe there were solid-gold shades on all those lamps. With quick efficiency, a butler could be seen crossing in front of a bank of diamond panes, his formal uniform something that Fritz would wear.
They probably had the same tailor.
“We ready for His Royal Highness?” V asked wryly.
There was a grumble of agreement among the five of them, and then Vishous disappeared into thin air. The plan was for him to join Butch in the cop’s brand-new Range Rover, which was parked about four miles to the east with the King bitching about all the security measures from the shotgun seat. The two of them were going to drive Wrath over here—giving the group a number of ways to get the male out if shit went tits-up.
Rhage hated that they were bringing him here to meet with Throe, but Wrath refused to send a representative, and what were they going to do? Tie him to a fucking chair so he didn’t come on his own?
“FYI.” Rhage unsheathed one of his black daggers. “I give no guarantees I won’t fillet this motherfucker.”
“I’ll hold him down for you,” somebody tossed back.
A cold wind blew in from the north, scattering fallen leaves across his shitkickers, and Rhage looked over his shoulder. Nothing was moving over on the left. There was nobody in the bushes. No bad scents were on the air.
But he felt cagey as hell.
Well, duh. Anything that had to do with the Band of Bastards was hardly a night home on the sofa pretending he wasn’t in fact watching Scandal.
Or RHONJ, if Lassiter had the frickin’ remote.
Ten minutes later, the Range Rover rounded the corner of the drive and came over the rise, its headlights flashing across the face of the house as well as the bunch of them.
Butch piloted around the circle in front of the mansion so that the SUV was facing the escape route, and then Wrath cranked his own door and emerged from the passenger seat. In his shitkickers, the male towered over the roof of the vehicle, and unlike the rest of them, he didn’t have any coat or jacket on.
Just a black button-down. Under which was the mandatory Kevlar vest.
At least they had that.
Thank you, Beth.
Rhage fell into formation with the others and they shielded Wrath with their bodies as they moved forward. The instant they came to the front door, Abalone opened things up as if he had been staring out the windows to the lawn and waiting for their approach.
“My lord. The Brotherhood. Welcome to my home.”
As the First Adviser bowed deeply, Rhage had to approve of the guy. Applebottom, as they called him, was one of the few aristocrats Rhage had ever tripped over who not only had half a brain, but a full heart, under the dandy act.
“If you all will proceed this way?” the guy said, indicating with his hand.
Part of the prearrangement for this was that the meeting would be in the library and one of the windows would be cracked in case Wrath had to ghost out. Throe, who would be waiting in a separate parlor, would be brought in by a Brother, and escorted out by one.
And there were a couple of other provisos.
Once inside the book-lined room, Rhage pulled a quick, but thorough, inspection of the joint, and said, “Let me go get the asshole.”
“You sure?” V asked.
“I won’t eat him. Yet.”
He cut off any conversation by heading back out to where Abalone was hovering in the foyer, looking like he was stuck in an internal debate over whether to throw up on his shoes or try to make it to a bathroom before he ralphed.
“So where’s your cousin?” Rhage shot the guy a reassuring smile. As if he were just gonna bubble-wrap the bastard and nothing more. “Over there?”
Abalone nodded toward the closed door across the way. “Yes. He is in the male’s parlor.”
Rhage put a hand on the First Adviser’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Applebottom. This is gonna be a piece of cake.”
You had to feel for the poor SOB as he exhaled in relief. “Yes, my lord. Thank you.”
After another flash of the A-okays, Rhage slipped through the parlor door and closed things up behind himself.
Throe was standing across a paneled room, looking like the distinguished male he once was back in the Old Country—in spite of the fact that his clothes were common.
“Rhage?” the male said, coming forward.
Throe had the chance to stick out his hand for a shake—and that was it. Rhage grabbed that wrist, spun him around like a ballerina, and shoved him face-first into the nearest wall.
“What are you—”
“Patting you down, asshole.” Okay, so maybe “punching” him down was a little more accurate. “Spread ’em.”
“If I find a weapon, I’m going to use it on you. Clear?”
“Must you be so—”
“Front side.” Rhage jerked the guy back by his waistband, twirled him like a top, and nailed him to the wall facing out. “Nope, head up.”
He clapped a hand on the guy’s chin and pushed that handsome mug high. After giving a surprisingly thick chest a mammogram, Rhage slapped his way down and honked Throe’s junk so hard, the guy sang a high C.
“I beg your pardon!”
“Nothing in there. Not a surprise.”
Down the thighs. The calves. Back up to eye level.
“Here are the rules. If you make any move toward my King, in any fashion, that I don’t like? You’ll be dead before you hit the floor. Do we understand each other?”
“I’ve come here in peace. I’m through with fighting—”
“Do we have an understanding? If you so much as sneeze on him, try to shake his hand, or look twice at his fucking shitkickers? I’m going to put paid on your toe tag.”
“Are you always so extreme?”
“This is calm, cool, and collected, you little bitch. You don’t want to see me pissed off.”
Rhage shoved the guy toward the door, opened the way out, and locked a hand on the back of Throe’s neck.
“I can walk on my own,” the male drawled.
“Can you? You sure about that?”
Rhage switched his grip around so that he crushed the male’s face in his palm, leading Throe by that collection of eyes, nose, and mouth.
“This working for you better? No? Huh, guess you should have STFU’d.”
As he deliberately kept Throe’s balance off, he enjoyed the Fred Astaire routine as the guy tap-danced past Abalone and entered the library.
“Oh, this is going so well already,” V muttered as he lit up a hand-rolled.
“At least there wasn’t barbecue sauce involved,” the cop tossed back.
“Yet.” V exhaled. “The night is still young.”
Rhage cleared his throat. “My lord and ruler, Wrath, son of Wrath, blooded father of Wrath, I present you with Throe, Piece of Shit.”
On that note, he gave the male a good shove in the direction of the Oriental rug, and what do you know. Ass over teakettle and the motherfucker was where he belonged.
At the foot of the one true King.
“No, I’ve got her, thanks.”
As Trez spoke, he shot a smile at Ehlena because he didn’t want the nurse to be offended as he shooed her away. But the truth was, he was beyond ready to be the one who got Selena out of the exam room. Away from the training center. Off to … somewhere, anywhere else.
Although that wasn’t going to happen. Barely two hours ago she’d flatlined, been hit by two billion joules of electricity in the chesticular region, and then somehow managed to come back from the brink thanks to him pulling a living, breathing soul-blanket routine.
Oh, you know, just another day in the life.
Or was it night?
Who the fuck knew.
“You ready?” he asked Selena.
It seemed like something out of a dreamscape that she actually looked into his eyes and nodded. He would never have guessed the reconnection was possible—or the fact that her body actually bent as it was supposed to between the holds he put under her knees and at her shoulders.
“I’ll be … gentle.” As his voice cracked, he wanted to kick his own ass. “Nice and slow.”
She nodded again, and then gasped as he lifted her off the examining table and moved her out from under the multi-light chandelier that had been pulled down close to her body.
“Which way?” he asked again, even though he’d already been told twice.
Ehlena, who was in charge of holding the IV bag, led the way to a door. “Here.”
On the far side, the recovery room was nothing he wanted for his female. The bed was a hospital one with big handrails running down both sides, and blankets that were thin, and sheets that were plain and white. There was an IV pole set up to hang the bag and a lot of monitoring equipment. The pillows looked hard.
Then again, he could have been laying her on a handmade feather bed and even that would have been inadequate.
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