The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(24) by J.R.Ward
Selena shuddered as he put her down carefully. And then, when he went to try to get the covers out from under her, she closed her eyes and shook her head.
“A minute?” she groaned, like everything hurt.
“Yeah. Sure. Of course.”
Annnnnnnnnnnnd now he had nothing to do. Looking around, he spotted a chair and figured at least if his ass were in it, he wasn’t crowding her.
As he sat down, and Ehlena left them to whatever small peace they could find, he thought, Shit, Selena was so still. But at least her joints were at seminormal angles, and she was breathing on her own. And she was conscious.
She was still very pale, though. Nearly the color of the sheets. And even though her hair had been smoothed, it had knots in the dark lengths.
“I’m … sorry…”
“What?” He jacked forward. “What did you say?”
“About what? Jesus, like you volunteered for this?”
When she started to cry, he ditched the chair and went over to the bed, getting down on his knees next to her. Reaching up, he put the railing down and took the hand that was closest to him.
“Selena, don’t cry.” There was a Kleenex box on the bedside stand and he traded holds so he could snap one free and dry her cheeks. “Oh, no, not sorry. You can’t be sorry for something like this.”
Her inhale was ragged. “I didn’t want you to know. I didn’t want … worry.”
“I wish you’d told me.”
“Nothing to be done.”
Okay, wasn’t that a knife right between his fucking ribs. “We don’t know that. Manny is going to talk to some of his human colleagues. Maybe—”
“I love you.”
As her words hit him with all the slap of an open palm, Trez coughed, gasped, sputtered, and wheezed at the same time. Great response. Just really fucking masculine—reminding him, absurdly, of that synthesizer in Ferris Bueller when the little shit was on the phone with his classmates.
What the hell was his problem? The female he was in love with, the one he wanted above everything in the world, lays the Three Big Ones on him … and he turns into a giant bodily function.
Then again, at least he didn’t let loose in his Levi’s.
“I…” he stammered out.
Before he could go any farther, she squeezed his hand and shook her head back and forth on the pillow. “Don’t have to tell me back. Wanted you to know. Important … for you to know. No time left—”
“Don’t say that.” His voice grew strident. “I need you to not say that ever. There’s time. There’s always time—”
God, her pale blue eyes were ancient as she stared at him. Even in her perfectly unlined face, with her beauty shining through in spite of her condition, that exhausted stare of hers made her seem geriatric.
It was so unfair. Her in that bed, him kneeling fit and fine next to her—with no real way to share the health he had in abundance. Sure, when she’d been in cardiac arrest he’d been able to bring her back, but he didn’t want to just drag her away from the brink. He wanted to cure her.
He wanted … years with her.
And yet, just as the thought hit him, he realized that was never going to happen: Even if her destiny changed, his wasn’t going to.
“I love you…” she breathed.
For a moment, he felt himself hit his own brink, his heart and soul trembling on the edge of falling into her words, her eyes, her everything that made her female and mysterious and wondrous … but then he reminded himself that she had nearly died, was half-awake at best, and probably had no idea what she was saying.
Plus Doc Jane had announced that he’d saved her life. Which may or may not have been true—but given the drama, gratitude could make anyone feel something she wouldn’t have ordinarily.
Or maybe fan the flames of affection into a temporary emotion that was much stronger.
“Don’t have to say it back,” she murmured. “Needed you to know.”
She held up her other hand, palm forward. “No need to go further.”
There was a resonant silence, but only in the room. In his chrome dome? His brain was live-wire spastic, all kinds of thoughts and images pelting his consciousness like his gray matter had gone monkey and was throwing poo all over its cage.
Refocusing on her, he told himself to get a grip and try to help her.
“Would you like to feed?” He held up his free hand, flashing his wrist. “Please?”
When she nodded it was a total relief, and he scored his flesh with his fangs before stretching up, bringing his vein to her mouth. At first she barely latched on, doing little but swallow. In time, though, she began to take some control, sucking at him, drawing what he had to give deep into her.
He got hard.
He couldn’t help it. But it wasn’t like he had any sexual drive. He was too distracted by worrying about her, wondering if, at any second, her body was going to give out again.
Stable, Doc Jane had told them. She was as stable as anyone could be a hundred and twenty minutes after total molecular collapse. But at least the second sets of X-rays had been nothing short of miraculous. Whereas in the first ones there had been all kinds of bone in what should have been the movable parts of her joints. Now, according to both Doc Jane and Manny, things were more “anatomically appropriate.”
No one knew where the bad stuff had gone. Or why it had left. Or when it would be back. What they did know for sure was that where there had once been no movement, now there was.
After quite a while, Selena’s lips grew lax and her eyelids sank low. Retracting his arm, he licked the puncture wounds closed and then rested his forearm on the mattress and put his chin on it.
“How did you find me?” she asked in a sleepy voice. “I fell when I was up in the Sanctuary…”
“Someone came and got me.”
The Scribe Virgin, he thought to himself as she let out a soft snore.
“Yes?” She tried to rouse herself, lifting her head and forcing her eyes wide-open. “Yes…?”
“I want you to know something.”
“No matter what happens, I’m not going to leave you. If you want me around, no matter … where this goes, I’m going to be right by your side. If you want me to be, that is.”
Her stare roamed around his face. “You don’t know what you’re saying—”
“The hell I don’t.”
“I’m going to die.”
“So am I. But I don’t know when and neither do you.”
Her luminous eyes glowed with a complicated emotion. “Trez. I’ve watched my sisters go through this. I know what—”
“You don’t know shit. With all due respect.”
He got up and went to the base of the bed. Pulling the sheet and blankets out from between the mattresses, he looked under it at her feet.
“What are you doing?”
With a gentle hand, he tilted one of her ankles up so that he could look at the sole. “Nope.”
“I don’t see any expiration date stamped on here.” He did the same with her other foot. “Not here, either.”
He put the covers back down. Retucked them. Stared up her body at her—and tried to escape the fact that the very flesh he coveted could potentially be what separated them forever.
Except then he remembered the news iAm had given him out in the hall.
Shit, it wasn’t like he didn’t have his own set of roadblocks.
“I’m not leaving you,” he vowed.
“Didn’t want to tell you about all this.” Her eyes watered up, the tears turning those blue irises into gemstones. “Didn’t want you to know and feel sorry for me.”
“I don’t feel sorry for you.”
“Don’t do this to yourself, Trez. Just … just know that I love you and let me go.”
He came back up to her. “Can I have your hand?”
When she turned stiffly on the bed and extended her arm, he took her palm and put it between his legs, on the rock-hard ridge that was punching out at his fly. The contact made him hiss, his fangs descending in a rush, his hips rolling.
“This feel like pity to you?” he gritted out.
Fuck, he had to step back. He’d pulled this crude move only to prove a point, but instead, he found himself ready to come, his body all zero-to-sixty in a nano.
“I’m not saying we have to get sexual. Not at all. But I am not here because I feel sorry for you, okay?”
“I can’t ask you to stay.”
“You aren’t. I get to pick this. I get to pick … you.”
As he spoke the words, he realized, holy shit, that was true. For once in his life, he felt like he was choosing something—and in a weird way, that was good. Even though this was sad, sad stuff, it felt liberating to be all, This is mine.
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