The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(37) by J.R.Ward
“Yup.” Wrath looked up. “All right, assholes, introduce yourselves, will ya? And keep it classy.”
Cue the throat clearing. At least until Phury stepped forward and did the intros. Probably best—he was the closest to a gentlemale they had.
“Glad you’re here,” the Primale said. “I’m Phury—we love your dad, by the way. Good guy.”
Annnnnd now Abalone was levitating right out of his Bally loafers.
She looked up into those yellow eyes and offered him a shy smile. “Hi.”
“Over there is my twin.” He indicated Z—and Zsadist, ever aware of what he looked like with that scar down his face, stayed way back, lifting his hand as Paradise recoiled. “Zsadist’s mated and has a daughter named Nalla. She’s gorgeous—here’s a picture.”
As Phury flashed his cell phone, the girl looked at the image. Glanced at Z. Went back to the snapshot.
“My baby girl,” Z said in a deep voice. “She’s two, and she got her mahmen’s looks.”
Instantly, the girl relaxed. Then Phury intro’d Vishous, who just nodded, and Butch, who gave her a Bostonian, “Hi, hawre ya!” John Matthew, Blay, and Qhuinn were up next, and then Phury indicated Rhage.
“And Brad Pitt over there is Hollywood.”
He smiled. “Glad you’re here.”
Paradise’s stare stayed on him, her eyes getting big, but not because she was scared. Far from it.
“Yeah, he’s a looker,” someone said. “Until you get to know him.”
“Aww, come now,” Rhage tossed back. “Don’t hate.”
Talk sprang up, with Wrath asking Paradise some questions to get her talking about herself. As the girl refocused on the King, Rhage thought back to before he’d met his Mary. No doubt he would have made a run at that innocent—and would have been successful. He’d had a zero failure rate as he’d controlled his beast by fucking anything and everything that had moved. Which had been good for him. Not so hot for females who’d wanted to keep their virtue.
And he had no doubt Paradise was one of those.
So yeah, he was glad he was meeting her now, when there was absolutely no chance of him getting with her. He had mated his Virgin, just as Vishous had said he would, and his life had been saved.
For some reason, a sick feeling came over him.
Shoving his hand in his pocket, he took out his cell phone. Checked his texts.
Trez, the poor bastard, still hadn’t gotten back to him yet. It seemed stupid to bother the guy again, given everything that was on his plate, but it was hard not to reach out one more time.
Rhage wished there was more to be done to help the guy and his Chosen.
He truly did.
There was no doing any kind of turn signal.
As Layla drove her Mercedes back to the Brotherhood mansion, she had her injured arm propped on the middle console between the seats, a spare jacket wadded up to increase its height and provide some extra cushioning.
The pain was stunning, the kind of thing that was so bad, it registered in her gut.
So no, there was no signaling left or right.
At least there was nobody else out on the country roads this late at night.
It was hours, maybe years, before she made it to the turn off to the compound’s mountain, and the mhis was a nightmare. V’s distortion of the landscape, a security measure to keep them safe, meant that everything was blurry, as if a fog had overtaken the forest. Exhaustion from fighting the urge to vomit, combined with her vision beginning to fail, meant that she felt utterly lost, and her instinct was to lean in and get closer to the windshield—not that that helped.
All that did was just piss her arm off even more.
When the glowing lights of the mansion finally came into view, she prayed, prayed that the Brothers were all out fighting and she could make it to her room without anybody seeing her. Pulling around the just-winterized fountain, she parked next to Rhage’s purple GTO and Butch’s new toy, a black Mercedes that looked like a bread box.
She had to reach around the wheel and push the gear lever in to get the engine into park—and discovered she had to stretch even more to hit the Stop/Start button to turn the sedan off. Then it was a case of breathing shallowly through her mouth as she recovered from the effort. Looking in the rearview mirror, she caught sight of the entrance to the mansion … and had no clue how she was going to get over there. Much less haul herself up to her room.
There was no other choice. Either she did it on her own, or she had to ask someone to lie for her: There was no hiding the injury, not as fresh as it was. And she couldn’t let Qhuinn find out what had happened.
Or, even worse, what she’d really been doing when she’d fallen.
Damn it, this situation was the punishment for her double life—her two opposing realities slamming together, knocking her senseless, exposing her.
Time to go inside.
Layla got a fresh lesson in pain as she opened her door and tried to straighten up from the leather seat, her arm letting out a scream as the broken bone ground against itself.
Recovery breath. A number of them.
And then somehow, she got herself out of the car.
Had the mansion always been so far from the parking area?
Walking around the fountain wasn’t so much a case of putting one foot in front of the other, but shuffling over the cobblestones and trying not to pass out. When she got to the stone stairs that led up to the cathedral-size doors, she wanted to cry. Instead, she surmounted them one at a time.
Pulling open the vestibule’s door, she realized she’d made two mistakes: She had left her car door unshut … and she was, in fact, going to have to interact with someone—there was no getting into the house this way without putting your face in the security camera and waiting for an answer.
Glancing back at the Mercedes, she didn’t have the energy to go back there and close things up.
And trying to get around to the staff entrance by the garage was—
That was where things ended.
As her mind labored over her limited options, her body pulled its own plug out of the consciousness socket: Lights-out and gravity did their business on her, the stoop rushing up to greet her with a hard, hard embrace.
That she did not feel.
It was four a.m. when Assail drove his bulletproof Range Rover out to the Hudson River’s edge. The lane he was on was about as wide as a pencil and as smooth as an obstacle course. Beside him, Ehric was silent, the male’s forty sitting out on his thigh, a twitchy trigger finger ready to squeeze rounds off at the drop of a hat.
A quick glance in the rearview showed him that Ehric’s twin, Evale, was likewise on the alert and prepared for anything.
They had been working with the importers for how long now? Nine months? Longer? He couldn’t remember. But only a fool let their guard down.
About twenty meters farther up on the “road,” he was going to come to the shallow clearing on the shore. The procedure was the same every time: He would stop the SUV in the tree line and turn it around so that if anything untoward happened, he could get out fast with either his money or the drugs. Then he would wait with his males, typically about ten minutes, before the trolling boat putt-putt-putt’d into view.
His cousins were wearing bulletproof vests. He was not.
They were sober. He was not.
Neither were a surprise. He never bothered with any kind of chest guard, and as for the second one? At this point, he would have to be unmedicated for several days to get the cocaine completely out of his system.
As he drove along, he found his mind drifting, the image of another kind of shore, a different sort of body of water, presenting itself and refusing to leave.
He saw a beach. The ocean. Palm trees. All of it glowing in the moonlight.
He saw a lone female walking along the sea’s lapping warmth, her arms locked over her chest, her head down, her aura that of a survivor who had regrets—
“Watch it!” Ehric barked.
Assail shook himself back into focus just before the Range Rover ate an oak tree for Last Meal—or more likely, it would be the other way around.
Fortunately, the trip was over minutes later, and he managed the K-turn just fine, crushing the dry underbrush until the SUV’s prodigious front grille was pointed outward. There were no headlights to kill; the complete lack of running lights inside and out had been another of the modifications he’d ordered up along with the lead-deflection package.
The engine went quiet and his two passengers got out. Before he joined them, he palmed up a vial from the inside of his wool coat’s pocket. Quick twist. Spoon up.
And two for the other nostril.
After a quick huff to make sure everything stayed where it needed to be, he got out of the warm interior himself. Returning his stash to its safe place, he brought his coat around his body. The night air was very cold, and fallen leaves crunched under his boots as he joined his cousins.
There was no talking.
And yet their disapproval of his consumption rate was obvious in the grind of their lower jaws.
’Twas no matter to him, however. Whether they wasted breath on words, or simply glowered as they were the now, he had no intention of changing his usage.
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