The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(31) by J.R.Ward
The sound she made was one of exasperation. Exhaustion. Sadness. “Do you remember that mother and child you rescued with Butch about two years ago? Maybe two and a half? Mom had been a victim for years, so had her child.”
“Yeah, they were the first people in your program.”
“Well, mom’s not doing well. She didn’t tell anyone that she was pregnant when she came here. She hid it so completely, none of us had any idea what was going on. Typical gestation is like eighteen months, but from what Havers told us, some babies can die in utero and just stay there—not possible with humans. However, Havers said he’d seen that before in rare cases.”
“Wait. What? Are you saying she…”
“Yes. It’s just terrible.”
Rhage tried to imagine a female holding a dead young within her womb. “Jesus.”
“She got sicker and weaker—until she lost consciousness and we called Doc Jane and Ehlena in. Jane took the baby out, but the mom…” Mary shook her head. “Mom isn’t recovering. She’s got a low-level infection that refuses to clear, and she just doesn’t look right. And to make matters worse, she’s refusing to have more treatment, and nothing is getting through to her.”
Which meant Mary had been on the front lines.
Rhage tucked her in against his chest and felt like an asshole for coming on to her in text while she was dealing with life-and-death stuff. “Is there anything I can do?”
She eased back and looked up. “Actually, this little break is giving me a second wind. You’re timing couldn’t be more perfect.”
He thought about what was going on back at the clinic with Selena. The situation was weighing on him for some reason, even though he wasn’t that close to Trez.
Good male, though. Real hard-ass with a good heart.
“Well, let me know.” He brushed his mate’s hair back again. “Anything you need, at any time.”
As she lifted up onto her tiptoes, he met her more than halfway, kissing her lips once, twice, and again. She was, even more than his beating heart or his Brothers, the single most important thing in his life. From the instant she had first spoken to him, and he had closed his eyes and swayed at the sound of her voice, he had been lost in her.
Without her being his magnetic north? He would be worse than cursed.
“I love you,” he whispered. “Now and forever.”
“I’ll try to come home at dawn, but I don’t know how this is going to go.”
“You do what you need to here. I’ll check in and you’ll update me when you can.”
“You are always so understanding.”
Like she knew that being separated from her during the day was a kind of hell for him.
“You do the same for me, Mary girl. And your work here is very important.”
She tilted her head, her wide eyes grave. “Thank you. You know, that’s … just really kind of you.”
“It’s the truth.” He kissed her again. “Go on, now. Get back to your patient.”
His Mary took his hand and squeezed. “I love you, too.”
He stayed where he was, watching her run back to the front door, take out her key, and let herself back into the house. Just before she disappeared, she gave him a wave.
As the door shut, he imagined her turning the dead bolts, making sure everyone was safe. Working to improve the lives of the females and young inside.
After a moment, he took out his cell phone and checked again. Nope. Trez had still not gotten back to him.
That had been the second text he’d sent.
With a curse, he scattered his molecules over to Darius’s old house—and as he traveled, the image of Trez bolting out the door of the exam room dogged him. Ate at him.
Shit, he hoped Selena was okay.
For some reason, that was of vital importance to him.
Xcor’s heart beat irregularly as he sat upon the sofa opposite Layla. She had chosen the chair in the corner to place herself in, and consequently, the light from the fire reached only up to her legs. He could picture all of her, however; every detail of her face, her throat, her body was known to him as well as his own.
The question she had asked was like a physical presence between them.
“Well?” she asked. “Has it … come time?”
The trepidation was obvious in that voice of hers, and he brought his palm up to rub his face. Unlike her, he was fully illuminated, and he didn’t want her to be able to see him. If she was already anxious, the sight of him wasn’t going to help.
“I am not an animal.”
“I would never … take you in your current condition. That would be beastly.”
The deep breath she took was audible even over the fire’s crackle. And not for the first time, he hated the position he’d put her in. He was actively lording what he’d discovered over her, forcing her to be here with him, keeping her engaged with him even though it was obviously not something she would choose freely and in spite of the fact that it put her in danger.
The Black Dagger Brotherhood did not forgive their enemies any better than he did. And consorting with a known traitor was a capital offense according to the Old Laws.
Considering he and his Bastards had managed put a bullet into Wrath’s throat last fall? That didn’t put them on any … what were they called, Boy Scotch?—lists.
“Nine months,” she said.
“Since we’ve been meeting.”
He thought back to the beginning, when she had fed him from her wrist beneath that tree. And then later, when he had disarmed himself and gotten into that car with her. He had kissed her then—
“Are you aroused?” she said.
As he recoiled, his body shifted of its own accord, his hips punching up before he could stop the movement.
“Are you?” she whispered.
“Do you really want me to answer that.”
“I asked, didn’t I.”
There was a long pause. “You are agreeing that I asked that?”
He dropped his hand and stared into the dim corner, giving her every chance to remember exactly whom she was talking to. “I think we need to change the subject.”
Given the sound she made in her throat, he knew damn well she was swallowing hard, and he had no regrets that he made her feel awkward. After however many nights of meeting up—typically twice a week—he had never taken anything to the next level.
At least, not while she was in his presence.
When it was just him alone with his memories of her? All bets were off.
At this moment, however, he felt like the boundary he had every intention of crossing at some point shouldn’t be approached at all. And he told himself it was because of the pregnancy.
Of course it was—
“I want to see.”
Xcor went dead still, his breath freezing in his chest along with his heart. “Why? I can assure you I have the anatomy required of males—and in any event, I cannot fathom why its precise dimensions would be of any interest to you until the time, as you say, comes.”
He frowned and glanced to the windows. He’d pulled the drapes. His bastards were out fighting, and they would not be returning to the property’s main house until closer to dawn. But injuries in the field happened, and on occasion, required treatment away from the back alleys of downtown—
Wait a moment. He was not dropping his trousers. So this analysis was unnecessary.
Xcor got to his feet, and refused to look further than the fact that he did not want to expose himself to her. “We shall conclude this meeting the now.”
“Why? I should like to see you. It is a simple enough request.”
Not even close, he thought. “Why would you want to do that.”
“I thought you wanted to have sex with me. That’s the whole point of all this, isn’t it.”
Xcor prowled over to her, his temper rising—along with the heat in his veins. Bracing his hands on the arms of the chair, he leaned over, forcing her back into the cushions.
“It is my intention,” he snapped, “when the time comes, to spare you the visual. So I fail to see why a show would help you through what is going to be done to you.”
The wave of anger that wafted up from her was a shock. She had shown him fear. Courtesy. A gracious restraint that made him respect her as much as he coveted her.
This was new.
“What ails you?” he asked. “What e’er has made you thus.”
Without warning, and with surprising strength, she shoved him out of the way and burst up from the chair.
Layla paced around, making a tight circle in front of the fire, and her emotions were such that the air vibrated about her.
Eventually, she stopped before the flames, putting her hands on her hips as if arguing with them in her mind.
“My sister is dying,” she blurted.
Xcor released his breath on a curse. “I am sorry.”
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