The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(25) by J.R.Ward
This … situation … was something he was going to take ownership over for however long it lasted, wherever it took them both.
Assuming Selena wanted him here.
In the silence that followed, he looked around at the bare walls and knew he had to get her out of the hospital room. Sure, the place was close to the medical staff if she got into trouble, but it was hell on the mood, a depressing stretch of You Are Sick.
Trez refocused on her again. “Anything you need, I’m here for you, okay? If you want me.”
After a moment, she croaked out, “I want you.”
“Okay, then.” He exhaled in a rush, and then held up his forefinger. “One thing. No expiration date, deal? We go into this like you’re going to live forever.”
Her expression shifted into disbelief, but he just shook his head. “Nope. That’s my one rule.”
He wasn’t stupid. He’d listened to what those other Chosen had said, looked at the X-rays, watched over her contoured body. He had an internal conviction that he was going to lose her, and most likely sooner rather than later. But the gift that he could give her? The most important thing—hell, maybe the only thing—he could bring to this?
And he didn’t have to believe she was going to be cured to have it, to share it, or to live it.
Be present. Love her until the end. Never her leave her side until the last breath.
That was how he was going to honor her with his heart and his soul, even though he wasn’t worthy.
“No expiration date,” he said. “We live each night as if we have a thousand of them ahead.”
Selena blinked away another round of tears. On so many levels, she couldn’t believe Trez was standing over her hospital bed, staring into her soul with a kind of purpose that suggested his will alone could keep her alive and healthy for as long as he wanted.
“I don’t think we have a thousand nights, Trez,” she said.
“Do you know that? For certain?”
“Then why waste a moment of the time we do have thinking like that? What’s it going to get us? Seriously, how is it going to help—”
“Will you get in bed with me?”
He cleared his throat. “You sure about that?”
She admired how smoothly he moved, getting up on the high mattress, shifting around, helping her make room for him. And as if he read her mind, he arranged her in his arms so that she was on her side and her head was on his chest.
From the both of them.
“I’m relieved,” she heard herself say. “I wanted you to know, but…”
“Shh. You need to sleep.”
Closing her eyes, she could sense him on a different dimension now, his blood working its way into and through her system, strengthening her after the episode. In her mind, she calculated exactly when the last freeze had occurred. Thirteen nights. The one before that? Sixteen.
But maybe, if she wasn’t offering her vein to anyone, she’d have even more of a reprieve. And maybe the strength he just gave her through his blood would help her fight off any episodes, too.
“I stayed away,” she said, “because of all this. Not because of you. I don’t care about your past. I just want you to know that.”
Trez began to rub her back, his large palm circling. “Shh. Just try to rest.”
Selena lifted her head. “You need to let me say this. You need to hear it and believe it. I know that you backed off because you thought that I … judged you or something. But I pulled away because of all this, not because you’ve been with a lot of … humans. And not because of your betrothal, either.”
He closed his eyes in a wince. Then shook his head. “I gotta be honest with you. The last thing I want to think about right now is—”
“I don’t think you’re unclean, Trez.”
She took his hand and squeezed, trying to get through to him, feeling a pressure to say everything all at once, get it all on the table. His theory about a thousand nights was a good one for mental health purposes—and he’d come to the same conclusion she had: she didn’t have a date and time stamped on her. But she had lived in this reality since the first episode those many decades ago, and her trajectory for survival was that of a car heading off the road and skidding into a ditch.
There was no living through this.
“I have to get this out, Trez. I’ve waited a long time to talk to you. I’m not losing my chance.”
Dimly, she recognized that she was speaking with more emphasis, feeling more like herself, recovering even further thanks to the gift of his vein.
“You’re a male of worth, and I think I fell in love with you the very first—”
Trez exploded out of the bed, and for a split second, she thought he was going to keep right on going, bursting out through the door and away from her and her dumb-ass illness. And for a moment, he paused in front of the exit.
But then he just started to stalk around the room.
“Why is it so hard for you to accept that?” she wondered out loud. “That you’re a good male. That you’re worth—”
“Selena, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’re prowling around this room like you’re being hunted. So I’m pretty sure I’m onto something.”
He stopped and shook his head. “Look, this is about you. This…” He waved his hand back and forth between them. “This is all about you. I’m here for you and your needs, whatever they are. We’re going to keep me out of it, okay?”
Selena pushed herself up higher on the pillow. The strain on her elbows and shoulders made her grit her teeth, and she needed to catch her breath as the pain took its sweet time in fading.
But it was better than being frozen stiff.
When his eyes narrowed with concern, she said, “No, I don’t need Doc Jane. Honest.”
As he rubbed his face, she looked at him properly for the first time. He’d lost some weight lately, his cheeks hollowing out so his jaw seemed even more pronounced, his eyes sunken deeper, his lips appearing fuller. And yet even so, he remained an enormous male of the species, his shoulders three times the size of hers, his chest and abdomen carved with power, ropes of muscle running down his arms and his legs.
He was beautiful. From his dark skin to his black eyes, from the top of his shorn head to the soles of his booted feet.
“You are so very worthy,” she murmured. “And you’re going to have to accept that.”
“Oh, really,” he countered wryly. “I’m not so sure about—”
Trez stared across at her and then frowned. “You know, I’m not sure why you’re going on about this. No offense, but you nearly died in that other room. Like, how long ago? Feels like ten minutes. My shit is not important here.”
Selena glanced down at her body. She was wearing a hospital johnny that was pale blue and had little darker blue spirals in a repeating pattern. The thing tied in the back, and she could feel the knots biting in where her bra strap would have been if she were wearing one, and down lower, at the small of her back.
It seemed strange to think that things in her body were functioning with relative normalcy now. And the reality that they wouldn’t keep at it for much longer brought a stunning clarity.
“You know,” she murmured, “I’ve never considered the fact that there might be a good part to having a mortal disease.”
“And what’s that,” he asked tightly.
She swung her stare back to his. “It makes you unafraid to say the things you really mean. Honesty can be scary, unless you have something even more terrifying to measure it against—like the prospect of dying. So I’ll tell you exactly why I think your ‘shit,’ as you put it, is important. Whatever is driving you, whatever is causing”—she motioned in a circular pattern, encompassing his entire body—“or caused that void that’s inside of you? I think you used all those women to try to run away from it. I think you fucked those humans for all those years as a distraction—and the fact that you don’t want to acknowledge this? It makes me worried that you’re just going to use me as an even bigger, better way of avoiding yourself. What could be even more seductive or effective if you don’t want to deal with your own issues than one specific female with a deadly disease?”
“Jesus Christ, Selena, I don’t think like that. At all—”
“Well, maybe you should.” She tilted her head, another conclusion hitting her like a ton of bricks. “And I’ll tell you one more truth. Whether I have a thousand nights or two nights? I want them to be with you—but only in an honest way. I don’t want to be your new excuse, Trez. I want you here, I want you with me, but I need it to be real between us. I don’t have the energy or the time for anything less than that.”
In the long silence that followed, she waited for his response. But no matter how awkward things got, she wasn’t recanting a word.
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