The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(51) by J.R.Ward
“It’s so quiet,” Paradise said, stilling.
The room, like the rest of the house, was just so beautifully decorated, antiques everywhere, silks and satins on the walls and the floors, even the chairs people were to wait in covered in rich fabrics. It reminded her of articles she’d read in Vogue and Vanity Fair about Babe Paley and Slim Keith, the scale of the furnishings so perfect, the objets d’art little whimsies of jade and gold and brass, the colors restrained, but not weak.
“I guess Father isn’t here, yet.”
As if on cue, the automatic shutters rose from all the windows, the subtle whirring sound making her jump.
“I shall go attend to the kitchen,” Vuchie said. “And prepare your First Meal.”
As her maid walked off, Paradise nearly called the female back. But for God’s sake, the doggen was not a security blanket.
Determined to get herself ready, even though she didn’t know what she was going to be doing, she went over and sat down behind the desk and … played with the mouse, which got her to a password-protected screen she didn’t bother trying to crack.
Wi-Fi underground was one thing. The computer here? Was going to be locked and then some.
One by one, she opened the drawers, finding nothing but stationery supplies, stationery supplies … and yeah, wow, more stationery stuff—
She heard the voices first. Deep. Low. Very masculine.
Then the front door opened. And there was the bass chorus of many, many heavy feet in boots crossing the threshold—
Paradise’s first thought was to hide under the desk.
Members of the Black Dagger Brotherhood filed into the house, all of them dressed in black leather, each one of them armed with brutal-looking weapons.
They were bigger than she remembered from her introductions the previous night. And it wasn’t like she’d filed the memory of them in the pipsqueak category, either.
“…pump a couple of rounds off in their head,” one of them said.
There was some laughter, and another added, “Or their ass. I ain’t too proud.”
Cue the proverbial tire squealing as they all stopped short and looked at her. Thank God she was sitting down. And the desk added a barrier of sorts between her and all that warrior.
“Hey,” one of them said, the one with the Ben Affleck accent. “Your first night, huh?”
As she started to nod, her father flashed in through the open door.
“I am here, I am here!” Her dad pressed through the group. “Paradise, how fare you?”
As he came up to her, she got to her feet and hugged him hard. She could do this, she told herself. She could absolutely, positively do this.
God, there were a lot of males in the house.
Twins. She was having twins.
As Layla lay in the hospital bed, she rubbed her belly with her free hand, the one that was not hanging out the end of the cast that ran up to above her right elbow. Her aches from her two falls had faded, and the bone break that Manny had taken care of was already knitted back together. The plaster or nylon or whatever it was was going to be cut off in a little bit.
Even though she’d had all day to try to get used to the news, she was still stunned—and making things worse, she and Qhuinn hadn’t really talked about it.
Or what he’d gotten so interested in when it came to those clothes she’d been wearing.
By the time he’d come back with a flannel nightie and her favorite pink robe, she’d been asleep. He’d been good enough to lay the robe over her and leave her be.
Was he mad at her? Had he guessed that she’d been lying about where her car trips had been taking her?
Goddamn, as the Brothers would say—
The knock on her door brought her head up. “Yes?”
Sure as if he’d read her mind, Qhuinn leaned his heavy upper body into the room. “Hey. I just wanted to check in with you before I left tonight. How’re you feeling?”
Layla took a deep breath and tried to have nothing show in her face.
“I’m well. How are you?”
Long pause. That got her heart beating hard.
“So, thank you for the robe.” She stroked the fuzzy length. “I really appreciate it. I just woke up, but I’m going to put it on.”
After a moment, he came in and eased the door shut. His mismatched eyes went up and down her body, and for once, they were reserved.
“So how are you doing?” he said. “You know, with the twin thing.”
“Fine. I mean, it’s a shock…” She shrugged. “But I’m adjusting. I’m happy. Two, what a blessing. I mean, yes.”
“Good. Yeah. Uh-huh.”
Silence. That was filled by him shoving his hands into the front pockets of his leathers, and her playing with the lapels of the damn robe.
As well as breaking out in a cold sweat under the hospital sheets.
“Is there anything you need to tell me?” Qhuinn asked.
The pounding in her ears was so loud, she was almost sure she answered him in a shout. “About what?”
“What you were doing last night?”
She forced herself to hold his stare. “I went for a drive.”
“Why were your clothes covered with leaves?”
“Your clothes. Last night. When I took them upstairs, there were dirt and leaves on them. If you walked across the courtyard and fell in the vestibule, why were they like that?”
She dropped her eyes from his even though she knew that made her seem guilty. Then again, she was guilty.
“Layla?” He cursed softly. “Look, you’re a grown female. Even though you’re carrying my young, I don’t have any right to know what’s doing in your life except for pregnancy-related stuff. I just want to make sure you’re safe. For your sake. For the young.”
Now was the time, she thought. Now … had to be the time.
“I feel trapped,” she heard herself say.
Between Xcor and the Brotherhood. Between danger and safety. Between desire and damnation.
“I kind of figured that.” Qhuinn nodded. “The drives. You’re going out a lot.”
“Outside.” In her head, she tried on a variety of come-clean confessions, swapping out nouns and verbs, trying to find a way for her to describe what she was doing without having him lose his shit all over the place. “Out … in the country.”
Qhuinn walked across the room and straightened the already straight framed picture of a weeping willow. “People do that when they’re working on something. In their head.”
You got that right, she thought.
Dearest Virgin Scribe, she wanted to tell him. She really did … but the revelation was stuck in her throat.
For the first time, she started to get pissed off. At herself. At Xcor. At the whole goddamn thing.
“Did you trip and fall while you were walking?” he said.
“Yes.” She took a deep breath. “I was stupid. I fell over a root.”
So close to the truth. Just with all the salient parts left unspoken.
Man, this was killing her.
“Most females…” Qhuinn came over to the foot of her bed, put his hands on his lean hips and stared down at her feet. “Most females have a partner they can go through this with. I want to be that for you. So does Blay. We don’t want to let you down.”
Great, now she got teary that he might ever doubt how supportive he was. “You are incredible. Both of you are. You are utterly amazing. It’s just … there’s a lot going on.”
At least that was not a lie.
“More now with twins.” He shook his head. “Twins … can you believe it?”
“No.” She rubbed her belly. “I don’t know how they’re going to fit. I already feel huge, and I have how many more months to go?”
“Listen, please know, I got you. I’m here for you, anything you need—”
As a shrill alarm started to sound next door, the two of them frowned at the same time and looked around for the source of the noise.
“Is that coming from Luchas’s room?” she asked. “Oh, my God, is that…?”
Shouting out in the hall. Running footsteps. Jane’s voice barking out orders.
“Fuck, I gotta go see,” Qhuinn said as he pivoted and lunged for the door. “I gotta go help…”
As he bolted for his brother’s room, Layla sat up. Got to her feet. Steadied herself.
Whatever was happening next door was bad news. And she was damned if Qhuinn was going to face it alone.
As Selena sat in the back of the giant Mercedes, the one that Fritz drove and was, in fact, driving, she was smiling so widely, her cheeks were numb and her jaw hurt.
Up ahead of the sedan, the skyscrapers of Caldwell glowed like the mythical sentries of some fantasy realm, and she leaned into her windshield, trying to see the particular one they were going to, the tallest of the giants, the pinnacle of them all.
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