The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(55) by J.R.Ward
“Make me forget all my fear.”
She flushed. “I didn’t want to bring it up, but why didn’t you tell me you don’t like heights? I thought you were going to jump out of your skin in just the elevator. We could have gone somewhere else.”
“This was where you wanted to go. And like I wouldn’t suck it up for you?”
“I want us to both enjoy tonight.”
He lowered his lids. “I had fun in the car. Already looking forward to the trip home.”
As her scent flared, she let out something that sounded like a purr.
Later, much later, he would remember this moment between them … the way it seemed to last forever, stretching into the divine infinite. All of the details would stay with him, too, from the sparkle in her eyes to the shine of her hair, from the way she smiled at him to the flush on her cheeks.
Memories were especially dear, when they were all you had left of a loved one to hold on to.
“What’s happening! What is … what’s that alarm mean?”
Layla was right behind Qhuinn as he burst into his brother’s hospital room and started talking. Over his shoulder, she saw Doc Jane standing by the bed, and Luchas down flat, his johnny ripped down to his waist, the covers shoved off his prone body, the pillows scattered on the floor.
Some piece of medical equipment had been rolled over and Ehlena was initiating something on its computer as Doc Jane grabbed a pair of handles that were connected by curlicue cords.
“Clear!” she barked, and then put metal paddles directly on Luchas’s chest.
There was a juicing sound, and then a mini-explosion on the bed, his torso jerking upward.
And still the alarm sounded, a single note that was a mechanical kind of scream.
“Luchas!” Qhuinn yelled. “Luchas!”
Something told Layla to hold him back, and she wrapped her arms around his broad torso, pressing her belly into him. “Stay here,” she said in a voice that croaked. “Let them do…”
“Clear!” Doc Jane called out.
The bed shook while Luchas’s torso seized again, and as he flopped back down, Layla’s own heart thundered. She couldn’t believe she was seeing this once more. Yesterday, it was Selena, now it was—
Beep. Beep. Beep—
“I have a heartbeat.” Doc Jane ditched what had been in her hands, throwing the paddles at the machine. “I need you to…”
Ehlena responded to the commands as fast as the physician gave them, providing medicine-filled syringes one after another before slipping an oxygen mask over Luchas’s face and adjusting even more equipment.
About ten minutes—or it could have been ten hours—later, Doc Jane came over. “I need to speak with you.” She nodded toward the hall beyond. “Out here, please.”
As they all stepped from the room, Doc Jane rushed the door shut, even though it was trying to close on its own. “Qhuinn, I don’t have time to sugarcoat this. I’ve barely got his blood pressure and heart rate stabilized, and he’s not going to stay this way. If he’s going to survive, I need to take that lower leg, and it’s going to have to be now. The infection is killing him and that’s the source of the problems. Hell, even if I do amputate below the knee, it may be too late. But if you want to give him a chance, that’s what I’ve got to do.”
Qhuinn didn’t blink. Didn’t curse. Didn’t argue. “All right. Take the goddamn thing.”
Layla closed her eyes and put her hand to the base of her throat.
“Okay. I want you to stay out here. You don’t need to see this.” As Qhuinn opened his mouth, the doctor cut him right off. “No. Not an option. If it comes to it, I’ll let you say good-bye. Stay out here.”
This time the door closed on its own, easing back into place.
Closing her eyes briefly, Layla could not imagine what they were doing in there. There had been plenty of surgical equipment with them, though—as if Doc Jane had been prepared for this.
And given Qhuinn’s quick response, so had he.
“He’s going to kill me,” he said roughly. “If he survives.”
“You don’t have a choice.”
“I could let him die.”
“Could your conscience handle that?”
“So there’s no choice.” She put her palms to her face and tried to get the image of Luchas on that bed out of her head. “God, how has it come to this?”
“Maybe I should tell her to stop it.”
“And then what?”
“I don’t know. I don’t fucking know.”
They were out in the hall forever, and Layla tried not to hear the sounds from the other side of that door, especially when there was a subtle whrrrrring that seemed really close to a miniature chainsaw firing up. Whereas she stayed still, Qhuinn paced back and forth, his head down, eyes on his boots, hands on his hips. After a while, he stopped and looked at her.
“Thank you. You know, for not leaving me here alone.”
Stepping up to him, she held her arms wide and he came to her, leaning down, putting his head on her shoulder. As they waited together, she held him because that was all she could do.
It didn’t feel like enough.
Approximately ten blocks over and fifty floors down from Circle the World, Xcor was standing flush against a sweaty brick wall.
The lesser he and Balthazar had been tracking was behind and to the left of where they stood, the stench of its body floating down on a breeze that carried a sting of industrial grit and grime along with it.
His body was itching for a fight, everything that had happened with Layla the night before making his inner demons ride him until he had been so nasty, all of his soldiers had left him underground alone during the daylight hours.
Better to face the risk of sunshine than deal with his mood.
At least he had a good killing to look forward to.
On his signal, Balthazar ghosted over the damp pavement, becoming one with the shadow of the building across the way. There was a clear night sky overhead, but the added moonlight was a largely irrelevant complication. Caldwell’s downtown had enough ambient illumination that he could have read a novel even here in this narrow alley.
Assuming he were magically literate.
Staying in the shadows was not only part of the vampire myth, but a very prudent reality for them all.
With a practiced movement, he withdrew his scythe from its holster, freeing the weapon from the strap that ran across his back. Balthazar, on the other hand, preferred the more conventional double-dagger armaments, the pale blades flashing as he sank down on his thighs.
Footfalls came at them. Fast, multiple, but not at a run.
Two human males, hands in pockets, feet moving quickly, came down the alley. They paid no attention as they passed, and that probably saved their worthless little lives.
And then it was a waiting game.
A single set of footfalls now, at a much slower speed. Accompanied by the stench that preceded the undead.
As the lesser came into view, rounding a corner and hitting their straightaway, he, too, was paying no attention to them. He had cash in his hands, the sum of which he appeared to be obsessed with, counting, recounting, as he went by.
Xcor stepped out in his wake. “How much did you get for blowing them?”
The lesser wheeled around, shoving the money away into a baggy coat. Before it could respond, Balthazar sprang from his position, leaping high into the air and landing dagger-first. The slayer screamed as those blades penetrated his shoulder and throat, proving that though soulless and heartless, the bastards had central nervous systems that registered pain quite efficiently.
And that was when the bullets started flying.
Xcor was twisting around, prepared to swing his beloved scythe wide as soon as Balthazar rolled himself free, when a telltale popping sound echoed down at him. And then another.
And then a fury of them.
The discharging was too quick for even autoloaders.
The first hit he took was in the shoulder. Second was in the thigh. Third grazed his ear, leaving a burning that felt as if he had a bright red car blinker up there.
Balthazar was hit as well.
They had no choice but to run and pray. Was it humans? Unlikely, but not unheard-of. It could not be slayers; they were so pitifully armed, the heaviest firepower any of them brought into the alleys were nine-millimeters, and very few at that.
A quick dodge to the right and he and Balthazar were in a narrower lane, temporarily out of the onslaught. That would change as soon as the shooter or shooters got to the corner they had wheeled off around.
“Left!” Balthazar barked.
Sure enough, there was another opportunity in the maze of streets to pare off, and they ghosted down the next alley, ironically running past the pair of humans who had sauntered by previously. The two men were likewise going as fast as they could, having clearly heard the racket. Their speed was much slower, however.
So, as the machine gun came around the corner, they provided some vital cover.
Screams, deep throated and terror-filled, exploded as the next round of fire came down at them, the humans taking the brunt of the impacts.
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