The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(32) by J.R.Ward
“Her life is coming to an end.” Layla’s hands went to her swollen belly. “I have never really had a lover. In spite of this pregnancy, I feel like I am a virgin.”
Xcor settled his weight upon the chair’s padded arm. Or collapsed was more like it. For one, he hated thinking of the mechanics of how she had begotten the young. For two …
He shook his head, tossing that thought right out. “The male has not mistreated you, has he?”
“Oh, no. And I do love Qhuinn. He is my family. But as I told you, the mating that occurred during my needing was solely for the purpose of having a young. I can barely remember what transpired.” She looked over at him, the flickering glow making her seem impossibly beautiful. “My sister is dying. I am alive and I have not lived. That is why I say to you … show me.”
It was not supposed to be like this between them.
Layla hadn’t meant to reveal this truth about herself to Xcor. Or to ask him to do what she had. But ever since she had walked into this little house, her brain had been functioning on two tracks: one here with him, the other back in that exam room at the training center.
Where she had stood over the contorted body of her sister, horrified to find out that yet another of them had been stricken with the Arrest.
Paranoia made her wonder if she had the disease; if she could pass it down to her young. There had been no episodes for her, but when had they started for Selena? Layla was younger than the other Chosen … was it only a matter of time?
Of course, there was a good possibility that the mental wheel spin was tied to her hormones. She had noticed her thinking growing more convoluted and less accurate as the pregnancy had continued.
That did not, however, change the reality that, as all but a virgin who was in fact pregnant, she was scared of never knowing sex. Angry at what she had been denied by fate. Grateful for her young, and yet stifled by her body’s natural progress.
And Xcor was the only one she could turn to. The Brothers were all mated, and besides, she didn’t think of them sexually. Further, it wasn’t as if she were going to come into contact with anything else of the male persuasion anytime soon.
Xcor was her only avenue to express the toxic mix of fear and yearning.
He cleared his throat. “You need to consider this more thoroughly.”
Lowering her eyes, she focused on his hips, at the straining length behind the fly of his combat pants. “I am.”
His sharp inhale inflated that powerful chest and he dropped his hands to cover himself. The veins running down into his blunt fingers were yet another symbol of the power in his body, and abruptly, she wondered what his hands looked like on his sex.
“Leave the now,” he said. “And consider—”
“I am not a toy, Layla. I am not something to be taken out and played with—and put away at will. Once certain doors are opened, they cannae be closed neatly. Do you understand? I have every intention of having you, but I shall endeavor to honor you and respect you for your station. This is against my nature, however, and if pushed too far, I shall revert. Especially when it comes to sex.”
As his words drifted across the tense air, his eyes went down her body, making her feel naked even though she was fully clothed. And round with the pregnancy.
“I just want to watch you,” she heard herself say. “I want to see what you look like when you pleasure yourself. I wish to start there.”
Xcor closed his eyes and swayed. “Layla.”
“Is my name leaving your lips like that a ‘no’?”
“I shall not deny you,” he groaned, lifting his lids. “But you must be sure you want this. Think on it o’er day.”
At that, he gripped himself, closing a fist around his heavy arousal.
“Tomorrow night, then,” she heard herself say.
But she already knew the delay was going to change naught—even though she understood on some level that he was right. There was a careening quality to all this, as if she had ricocheted from Selena’s suffering to some kind of wild expression of an inner problem of her own.
“Tomorrow,” he affirmed. “And now you need to go.”
Walking over to the door, she glanced back at him. He was drawn in sharp lines, his shoulders tight and high, his forearms straining, his thighs twitching as if he were going to leap forward at any moment.
“Go,” he barked. “Get out of here. Get the hell out of here.”
Fumbling with the latch, she got the door open and burst out into the chilly night. In comparison to the cottage’s warmth, the air was harsh and icy in her nose, and her coat offered little insulation. She paid no attention to the discomfort—
Xcor shut the door behind her, and as it slammed into place with a clap, she heard the click! of a locking mechanism.
She needed to go.
She had to go.
Instead, she stayed where she was, breath leaving her open mouth in puffs that rose up until they were consumed by the cold. Looking around, there were no indications that anybody else was on the property, no sounds of people walking or talking, no lights filtering through the trees.
She could not leave.
Stepping carefully so as to avoid hitting fallen sticks that might snap and give her presence away, she went to the bay window. A gap in the fall of the curtains on one side allowed her to see inside to the fireplace and the cozy room.
Where was he?
Abruptly, Xcor came into view, pacing like a caged animal, back and forth, back and forth. His face was twisted into a snarl, his fangs elongated, muscles straining up the thick column of his neck. Finally, he pivoted around to the hearth and punched out at the chimney, pitching his fist into the pattern of mortared stones.
She winced, but he didn’t seem to notice any pain.
Splaying his palms out, he braced his weight against the mantle, his body bowing as he faced away from her toward the fire. Blood ran down the back of his hand and wrist from the wounds on his knuckles, twin dark streams uniting and seeping under the cuff of his black shirt.
A moment later, his bleeding hand dropped down. At first, she thought he was shaking off the hurt. But then his pants moved, tugging left, tugging right.
His shoulders bunched up tight and his spine jerked.
He had gripped himself.
Layla bit down on her lower lip and leaned in closer, until her nose hit the cold glass. Spotlit against the fire’s orange glow, Xcor’s body cut a black silhouette as he widened his stance and let his head fall forward.
His elbow moved back and forth.
He was stroking himself.
Closing her eyes briefly, she sagged against the bay window. When she opened her lids again, he was working it faster. And faster.
Xcor turned his head to the side and bared his fangs. Sinking his sharp canines into his bulging shoulder muscle, he bit down through his shirt, his face wincing as if in erotic agony.
And then his hips punched forward toward the flames, over and over again as he climaxed.
Backing off, she—
—tripped over a root and fell into nothing but air. Between her big belly and her vital distraction, she tried to twist around and catch herself, throwing out her own hand to prevent herself from hitting the ground hard. Terrified for the safety of her young, she landed in a sprawl, her hip taking the brunt of the impact, her arm getting pinned.
The agony was instant and overwhelming, a sudden surge of nausea making her heave.
Groaning, she stayed perfectly still. “Okay, okay … you’re okay…”
She really had to get out of here now.
Struggling to her feet, she weaved her way over to the car while holding her arm against her body. When it came time to open the driver’s side door, she had to brace the injury on the back window so she had a free hand, and she needed to catch her breath after she was behind the wheel.
Getting the Mercedes started and then turned around nearly made her faint, but she eventually made her way down the lane and out, out, out to the main road.
It was then that she realized that without Xcor’s direction, she had no idea how to get home.
Tears of frustration pooled in her eyes and she envied Xcor’s ability to punch something. If she could have, she would’ve.
But she’d already broken her arm.
Busted knuckles she did not need.
iAm followed s’Ex’s instructions to the letter, waiting a good hour and a half before dematerializing from the condo at the Commodore to the outskirts of the Territory of the s’Hisbe. When he resumed form in the forest, he tracked in about three hundred yards to the river that made a curl around a granite rock formation in the shape of that human president Lincoln’s head.
He found the garb where the executioner had told him to expect it, tucked under the cleft chin of the makeshift face. As he shed his clothes and donned the traditional farshi dress of an unmated servant male from the lower classes, he was surprised to find he felt utterly vulnerable under the loose gray garment.
Of course he kept his dagger and his gun on his body: Relying on s’Ex was a had-to in this situation, but he didn’t trust the motherfucker farther than he could throw the guy.
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