The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(44) by J.R.Ward
Suddenly, she was smiling, too—so hard her cheeks hurt. “Totally sick. Is this what they call gallows humor?”
“Yup. Especially if we keep riffin’.” Trez grew serious. “And okay, so you don’t go.”
“What? To the gallows? That is a relief.”
“Down to see Jane. If you don’t want to go, I’m not going to make you.”
Selena exhaled in a rush. “Thank you. I really appreciate that.”
“Don’t thank me. It’s not my call. It’s yours.” He ran his spoon around the inside of his bowl. “I think it’s important that you have as much say as possible in any and every part of your life, especially the disease and the way it’s managed. I’m guessing you feel like you have no choice about so much of this … fate … that’s come to you, and that makes the opportunities to call the shots especially important.” He glanced over at her. “I may have an opinion, and you can bet your ass I’ll tell you what it is, but the last thing I want you to feel is pressure from me. You’ve got enough penning you in already. I’m not going to add to that.”
“How do you know … God, it’s like you know exactly what I’m thinking.”
He shrugged and his eyes got a faraway look in them. Then he tapped the side of his head. “Good guess.” He refocused on her. “So, the question is, where do you want to go?”
“Where do you want to go? The clinic is not on the list … what is?”
Selena sat back in her chair. Now she was the one staring at the windows. “I like Rehvenge’s Great Camp, if that’s what you mean?”
“Be bolder. Think bigger. Come on, there has to be somewhere exciting. The Taj Mahal, Paris—”
“We can’t go to Paris.”
“Never met Ahhh, don’t know him, don’t care how big he is—if he’s standing in our way? I’ma murder the son of a bitch.”
“You are so adorable.” Selena bent in and kissed him on the mouth. Then tried to force her brain to cough up something, anything. “Isn’t this just my luck. Finally get a free pass … and can’t come up with—oh! I know.”
“Tell me, and I’ll make it happen.”
“I want to go to Circle the World.”
Trez sat back as well. “The restaurant?”
“Yup.” She wiped her mouth with a napkin. “I want to go to Circle the World and have dinner.”
“That’s the one that goes around, that’s on the top of—”
“The biggest building in Caldwell! I saw it on TV once when I was keeping Layla company in her room. You can sit right next to the glass and look out all over the city as you eat.” She frowned as he seemed to swallow hard—and not because he’d taken a big spoonful of the oatmeal. “Are you okay?”
“Oh, yeah, absolutely.” Trez nodded and puffed his chest out as he went all male on her. “I think it’s a great idea. We’ll have Fritz make the reservation for tonight—I’ve got some pull in this city so it won’t be a problem. And they have dinner service until nine and ten o’clock.”
Selena started to smile, picturing herself in one of the Chosen robes, her hair done properly, her body normal … and Trez across the glossy black table they’d shown on the TV ad, with the napkins so white, the plates so square, the silver glinting in the candlelight.
And nothing to do with being sick.
“I am so excited,” she said.
The next bite of oatmeal she put in her mouth was sweet and creamy and altogether the most perfect … what did humans call it? Brake feast?
That made no sense. But who cared.
“It’s a date, isn’t it,” she realized. “Praise to the Virgin Scribe, I have a date!”
Trez laughed, the sound a rumble in his broad chest. “You’d better believe you do. And I’ma treat you like a queen. My queen.”
As they both tucked in, she thought, wow, such a strange emotional landscape this all was, deep valleys of despair, followed by vast vistas that were so emotionally pure and beautiful, she felt honored to have them. It was almost as if her life, with its compressed time span, had been shoved together like a bolt of cloth, that which might have been smooth going and unremarkable, now undulating with great resonance.
She would have preferred the luxury of centuries. But in this moment, right now, she felt so very, deeply alive. In a way she couldn’t say she had been before.
“Thank you,” she said abruptly.
She stared down into her oatmeal, feeling a blush hit her cheeks. “For tonight. It’s the best night I’ve ever had.”
“We aren’t there yet, my queen.”
“It’s still the best night”—she looked into his dark eyes—“of my entire life.”
iAm woke up to the smell of soup, and as his brain started firing again, there was no Is this a dream? bullshit going on for him. In spite of the fact that he’d been out cold from a concussion, not one second of what had landed him in this cell in the Queen’s palace was lost on him: not the quick change of clothes in front of Almost Abraham Lincoln, not the back-end approach through the Territory, not the blow to the head followed by his brief wakey-wakey before.
The soup, though, was a surprise. It was something he remembered from his childhood, a blend of pumpkin and cream, spice and rice.
And there was another scent in the cell. The same one that filled his nose when that priest had come to double-check his markings.
Opening his eyes, he—
A maichen, or maid, was kneeling before him, her body and head draped in the pale blue of her station, her face covered with a mesh mask that showed him absolutely nothing of her eyes or features. In her hands, a fine wooden tray held the bowl, a spoon, a carafe, and a glass, as well as a large torn-off piece of bread.
No priest. No one else was with them.
He inhaled again—and then realized that the female must have come in with the court offical before and he just hadn’t seen her.
He pushed against the floor. And that was when he discovered he was naked.
Whatever. He didn’t want to make the maichen feel awkward, but if she didn’t like the view, she could leave.
Not that she was looking at him. Her head was lowered in submission, as she had been trained.
s’Ex apparently was prepared to take some kind of care of him while he was in prison—or at least keep him alive for the time being. And for a moment, he pitied this poor female whose social rank was so low she was sent in, by herself, to possibly dangerous males without consideration for her safety or her sex.
Then again, in the hierarchy of things, she was considered to be essentially worthless.
Sad. But he had other problems to worry about.
Without acknowledging the maichen or his birthday-suit situation, he got to his feet and walked over to the screen in the far corner. The water facilities were behind it and he took advantage of them—getting another reminder he wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
As he bent over a commoners’ sink to wash his face, he had only a single crank to turn the faucet on, rather than separate ones for hot and cold.
It was not because he was a prisoner: The whole wait-for-hot-water issue was among the things he’d had to get used to outside of the Territory. Humans insisted on toggling some mix of opposites to a perfect temperature. Here at the s’Hisbe? All water was ninety-eight degrees. From drinking to washing to brushing your teeth, it was one single constant, neither hot nor cold.
Splashing his face, he picked up the black towel that hung on a wall rack and dried off. Soft. So soft. Nothing like human ones, and he was just a prisoner.
He retucked the damp length out of habit and stepped free of the screen. “Tell s’Ex I want to see him.”
Prisoners were typically not afforded requests, but he didn’t care. He also refused to speak in the Old Language or the Shadow dialect. Because of the predominance of human culture, English was taught in Shadow schools, and even staff were expected to have some rudimentary knowledge of the language.
“And I’m not eating that.” He nodded at the tray. “So you can take it away.”
God only knew what was in the shit, whether it was a drug or some kind of poison; he was very confident his treatment here wasn’t going to stay so benign. They were, in most likelihood, going to pull his arms and legs out of his sockets at some point—although not until they notified Trez of his captivity.
Shit. He should never have trusted—
The maichen placed the tray on the floor. Then she extended her hand, picked up the spoon, dipped it in the soup, and brought it upward. With her free hand, she lifted the mesh far enough to expose her mouth and take a sample. Then she did the same for the bread, and the fermented apple cider that was in the carafe.
Allowing the mesh to fall back into place, she sat back on the soles of the leather slippers on her feet.
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