The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(26) by J.R.Ward
She had said exactly what was on her mind.
Kind of liberating, actually.
Abalone was not accustomed to violence. Not in the outside world, and certainly not in the house where his daughter slept and practiced her singing lessons and ate with him.
As Rhage all but air-mailed Throe to the ground in front of Wrath, Abalone smothered a gasp with his palm. It was entirely unmanly to show any kind of shock in front of the Brotherhood, and he prayed that none of them noticed.
They certainly did not appear to. Their concentration was on the blond-haired, simply-dressed male who was, for all intents and purposes, naught but a throw rug before the shitkickers of the King.
Wrath smiled, baring fangs that seemed longer than Abalone’s fingers. “Don’t wait for me to help you up.” As Throe began to pull himself up on his knees, the King tucked his arms over his chest. “And don’t ask for the ring. I’ll be tempted to crack you in the face with it.”
Once he was on his feet, Throe brushed himself off and straightened his shoulders. He wasn’t close to Wrath’s size, but he was far from a lightweight, his body more a soldier’s than the whip-thin figure that males from his class tended to favor.
“I have done nothing to deserve a presentation of your ring,” he said in a low, grave voice.
“Well, what do you know, something we agree on.” Wrath’s wraparound sunglasses tilted toward the sound of Throe’s voice. “So, my boy Abalone says you have something on your mind.”
“I have left Xcor and the Band of Bastards.”
“You want a commemorative stamp,” Butch muttered.
“Can I stamp him with the grille of my car?” Rhage tossed out.
Wrath’s brows tightened over the bridge of those dark glasses, as if he didn’t appreciate his males chiming in. “Change in direction for you, isn’t it?”
“Xcor’s goals are no longer my own.”
“It has been a long time coming.” Throe glanced over his shoulder, and Abalone would have preferred not to be the object of his regard. “As my distant cousin recalls, I am not from soldier stock. Through circumstances beyond my control, I was forced to take advantage of Xcor’s dubious kindness. He required me to repay him with a tenure of service. As you know, having found me bleeding in that alley many, many months ago, his methods for ensuring loyalty are not conversational in nature.”
Ah, yes, that was right, Abalone remembered. Some time ago, Throe had been discovered by the Brotherhood, left for dead with a stab wound to the gut not inflicted by a lesser. In fact, from what Abalone had heard, the male had been injured by the Band of Bastards’ own leader. Throe had been taken in by the Brotherhood who had sought to gather information from him, and then released back out into the world with a message for Xcor.
Word had it that Layla had fed the fighter whilst he had lingered on death’s door, the Chosen offering her vein to one whom she had assumed to be a noble soldier instead of her King’s enemy.
Quite a messy affair it all had been.
Wrath’s nostrils flared as if he were testing the male’s scent. “So what do you expect me to do with this little news flash? No offense, but where you’re at and who you’re affiliated with doesn’t affect my world one way or the other.”
“But learning the location of where the Band of Bastards sleeps would.”
“And you’re going to tell me,” the King said in a bored voice.
“Do you think I’m lying?”
“Ever heard of the Trojan Motherfucker?” V spat. “’Cuz I’m looking at him.”
Wrath’s jaw got tight. “Give us an address if you want. But just as with your political alliances, the B.o.B crib is not high on my list of shit to do.”
“You’re a fool then—”
All at once, the members of the Brotherhood jumped forward, and clearly Wrath’s powerful shout was the only thing that kept Throe’s skin still on his bones.
The King leaned forward and dropped his voice to a pseudo-whisper. “Do yourself a favor, asshole, and play it cool. This bunch of rabid cocksuckers has a serious hearing problem even when it comes to orders from me, and they don’t like you any more than I do. You want to live long enough to see another nightfall? You’ll dial back on that attitude.”
“You should care about Xcor,” Throe said, undeterred. “He is capable of anything, and the soldiers who fight under him suffer from the same single-minded devotion to him that your males show you.”
Wrath chuckled a little, the sound somehow more evil and deadly than the naked aggression the Brothers had just shown. “Thanks for the tip. I’ll be sure to keep that in mind. Abalone?”
Abalone let out a squeak and jumped forward. “Yes, my lord.”
“Do you plan on letting this male stay with you? Relation to relation?”
“No, I told him he must leave this night.”
“Don’t kick him out on my account. It doesn’t matter to me whether he stays or goes.”
Abalone frowned—and had to wonder if he was getting a demotion. “My loyalty is to you and you alone. He is tainted in mine eyes no matter what he says his affiliations are.”
Wrath made a noncommittal sound in the back of his throat, and realigned his face toward Throe. “You say Xcor’s priorities are not your own.”
“And you do not intend to pursue his goals.”
“Nay, I do not. Very definitely, nay.”
There was a pause where Wrath’s nostrils flared as if he were testing the male’s scent.
“Very well then.” Wrath nodded at his private guard. “Let’s get out of here. I have real work to do.”
Nobody moved. Not the Brothers. Throe. Certainly not Abalone, who was feeling as though his loafers had been nailed to the floor.
“V,” the King snapped. “Let’s get out of here.”
There was an awkward moment, and then the Brother Vishous and the Brother Butch stepped in beside the King. Standing close to his shoulders, they promenaded out with Wrath, Zsadist falling in behind the group.
The others stayed behind, clearly guarding Throe until the King was safely gone from the property.
“Abalone,” Wrath said as he stopped at the front door.
At the sound of his name, Abalone scurried out of the library and across the foyer, his heart pounding. He had long been aware of how much he loved his King, but the idea that he would lose his vocation as well? Helping civilians meet with and find aid was—
“No, you’re not fired,” Wrath whispered. “For fuck’s sake. What would I do without you?”
“Oh, my lord, I—”
“Listen up, Abalone. I want you to let him stay here for as long as he likes. I’m not buying any of this bullshit. He might well have left Xcor and the Bastards, but I don’t trust him, and I’m a male who believes in keeping my enemies close.”
“Of course, my lord. Yes, yes, of course.” Abalone bowed even though a sudden unease shocked through his system. “I shall do anything and everything you wish.”
As if the King once again read minds, Wrath said, “I know you’re worried about your daughter. Until this sorts out, why don’t you let her stay at my audience house? She can have a chaperone, and security is monitored twenty-four/seven there.”
V stepped in close. “We got two different underground tunnels leading out from the basement suites, and we’ll send our doggen over to take care of her. She’ll be perfectly safe.”
Oh, dearest Virgin Scribe, Abalone thought.
Except then he reflected that Paradise was getting antsy, and not because she was in love or anxious to be mated. She was a young, vibrant female with so much going for her, and yet as an aristocrat, her options were limited.
Perhaps getting her out of the house for a bit would be beneficial.
And he certainly didn’t want her around Throe.
Torn between parental concern, a duty to his King, and sadness that his one offspring was in fact growing up, he found himself nodding through a surge of nausea. “Yes, please. I believe she will enjoy that.”
“I’ll personally make sure she’s safe,” Zsadist said, inclining his head once, as if he were taking a vow. “I got a daughter. I know where you’re at.”
Yes, Abalone thought. He had heard that the Brother Zsadist, in spite of his most fearsome affect, was in fact a settled family male with a beloved young of his own.
Suddenly, Abalone felt better, and bowed low to the scarred fighter. “Thank you, sire. She is my most precious love.”
“Good. Settled.” Abruptly Wrath’s face changed positions, as if he were staring over Abalone’s shoulder toward the library. “Xcor is predicable in his brutality, a real old-schooler right out of the Bloodletter’s playbook. But the final salvo against my throne was a tactical one involving the law and my beloved half-breed Queen. That’s the way an aristocrat fights. Xcor didn’t pull that plan out of his ass—it had to have been something cooked up by Throe. Only explanation there is. So he may in fact be done with Xcor, but even though he wasn’t lying in anything he said in there? We’re not going to know where his allegiances truly lie for a while.”
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