The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(39) by J.R.Ward
Rhage started shaking his head. “No, she can’t come. The mother at Safe Place. She needs to stay—”
“Okay, thanks.” Tohr ended the call. “She’s heading back now.”
“No, they need her—”
“My brother?” Tohr put his face into Rhage’s. “I’m not sure you have any idea what you look like right now. Do me a solid and sit down here—yeah, right on the cobblestone. Good man, you’re doin’ good.”
Rhage’s knees were the ones following instructions, his brain too preoccupied with how much his shellan didn’t need to waste her precious time on him. But it looked like that bus had left the station already.
Propping his head in his hands, Rhage leaned forward and wondered if he didn’t have something wrong with his lungs. A fast-acting vampire flu. An infection. A poison in there.
The large hand of his brother made slow circles on his back, and beneath that heavy palm, the beast, in its tattoo form, surged and moved as if Rhage’s little epi was making the thing nervous.
“Feel weird,” Rhage said. “Can’t … breathe…”
For the first couple of miles, Assail was happy enough to dematerialize along with the boat. By the fourth time he reformed, however, he became impatient for the destination to arrive, the exchange to be made, the identity of the third-party encroacher to be revealed.
And there was another reason to be disquieted. With the ever-increasing distance traveled, the two men were getting closer and closer to Caldwell proper—which was an idiotic idea.
Even though the hours were well into the night, downtown was not the suburbs and there were bound to be humans out and about—granted, rarely those credible with the police or others of their kind, but prying eyes were prying eyes, and every asshole rat without a tail had a cell phone these days.
He might be able to spirit away, but that pair in the boat could not pull off that trick—and he wanted to be the person to teach the lesson required here, not the CPD.
Disappearing once again, he was forced to re-form in the midst of the planted trees on the edge of one of Caldwell’s shoreline public parks. And still the boat continued along.
As he waited to see whether they passed his newest position—and there was a good chance they would, because there was no further cover at the shore a’tall—that familiar itch started to twinkle at the base of his neck, triggering a need for more coke.
The urge was coming faster and faster of late. To the point where he was forced to acknowledge how fortunate he was to heal so quickly. If he were a mere human? He would have deviated his septum months ago.
Reaching into his pocket, he took his vial into his palm. Just the feel of the smooth glass container made him relax. And he wanted to pull it out and do his deed, but he couldn’t run the risk of not being able to dematerialize. The problem with his addiction was that the need for more was coming before the buzz had even started to wear off, the worm in his gut turning, turning, demanding more and more even while his body and brain struggled to deal with the racing, bracing load of drugs.
And again, the last thing he wanted was to find himself in difficulty down here because he was too jittery to get himself gone.
God, to have this in common with the Homo sapiens he dealt to was just too demeaning for words—
“Oh, you can’t be serious,” he muttered as the boat finally made a beeline to a destination of sorts.
But it was not a safe one. Certainly not one he would ever have consented to.
The two piloted their craft toward an old Victorian boathouse. Granted, its windows were dark, but there were security lights shining on its shingled exterior, and no doubt a CPD patrol making regular rounds of the park behind the structure.
He had to go inside if they did, however.
And they did.
With no idea what the interior layout was, he settled for re-forming in the shadows between those annoying outside lights, his dark clothes blending him in against the boathouse’s weathered flank. As the troller entered one of the slips, the sound of its pathetic engine echoed, sounding like an old man with the last dregs of a consumptive cough.
Twisting around to one of the windows, he focused his keen eyes through the bubbly glass. The inside was quite extensive, and as soon as he identified his spot, he dematerialized and gusted in through the very entrance the delivery boys used. He was careful as he reassumed his physical form, sticking to a tight nook in the far corner, between a stand of crew shells resting upon their bellies on racks and a forest of orange personal flotation devices strung upon hooks.
The engine was cut and the pair conversed softly in a foreign language. After they fell silent, the only sound was the water clapping and chortling underneath the boat and through the cribbing of the docks.
Assail hated the way the air smelled of old dead fish, decomposing flora, and damp canvas.
After a measure of time passed, the approach of something outside got his attention—and then a flashing yellow light penetrated the interior. Locating a dusty window, he looked out to find a Caldwell Public Parks Department truck pulling up.
Well, now, this was about to get interesting.
Either the delivery was going to be intercepted and the police called … or some human working for the parks was looking to increase his monthly income and on the pick up.
It turned out he was wrong on both accounts.
The main door creaked as it was opened, and the instant a male figure appeared in between the jambs, cold air gusting in from behind him carried the scent of lesser into the boathouse.
It was the Forelesser with whom Assail did his business, entering with a duffel bag of his own.
Son of a bitch.
How dare that bastard do a runaround, Assail thought as his fangs bared of their own volition. And how in the hell had that slayer made contact with the importer?
Formulating a plan for his ambush, Assail outted both of his forties—and wished that he had bothered to put silencers on the guns. He hadn’t expected to have to use them in downtown fucking Caldwell, for God’s sakes.
“Let me see them,” the Forelesser declared. “Unzip the bags and let me see them.”
Assail took a step forward, thinking he could—
The deliverymen each unzipped a bag and tilted the contents forward.
Not at all.
Instead of large blocks that had been sealed in layers upon layers of cellophane wrap, there were …
Guns. Long-muzzled guns that rubbed, metal upon metal, against one another in their duffel bags.
It was difficult, in the dimness, to determine exactly the specifications of the weapons, but there seemed to be a variety of either shotguns or rifles.
Assail’s curled upper lip dropped back into place.
Although he had been prepared to intercede in the event of a drug/money exchange, he felt no such compulsion the now.
If the Forelesser wanted to use his profits to buy armaments, that was his business.
Leaving the boathouse the way he came in, Assail cast himself up river, toward his glass house upon its peninsula.
The only thing he cared about was whether that lesser continued to deliver product to the streets and clubs of Caldwell in a timely, reliable and honest fashion.
His responsibility started and ended there.
“No, no, I’m fine. Honest.”
As Rhage spoke, he sat down at the rough-cut table in the Brotherhood mansion’s kitchen. The rest of the household was gathering for an early Last Meal, doggen filing in and out of the flap door, delivering silver trays the size of tabletops stacked with all manner of freshly cooked meats and starches and vegetables.
Across the way, Mary leaned against the granite-topped center island, her arms crossed over her chest, her eyes trained on him like she was assessing one of her social-work patients.
Squirming, he wanted to go join his brothers and their shellans, but given her expression, that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.
“Fritz?” she said. “I’m going to fix him something, okay?”
The butler paused in the process of bringing a table setting over. “I was going to make up a plate in the other room and bring it—”
“I’m going to take care of my husband,” she said gently, but firmly. “If you like, however—even though it goes against every self-sufficient bone in my body—I’ll leave you the pan and dishes to clean up.”
Fritz’s old, wrinkled face assumed the expression of a basset hound who was being denied chicken for the promise of beef later on: both worried and excited. “Is there not some manner in which I may render you aid?”
Three staff members in their gray-and-white uniforms came back empty-handed from the dining room, the trio heading for the final loads that were destined to be carried in and placed on the various sideboards in that huge, chandeliered space.
“Actually,” his Mary murmured, “do you think he and I could have some privacy in here?”
“Oh, yes, mistress.” Fritz brightened somewhat. “As soon as the presentation of the victuals has been made, I will direct my staff into the foyer. They will be most happy to tarry out there.”
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