The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(64) by J.R.Ward
Leaving the property was all wrong.
Especially to see the likes of Xcor.
And maybe this was for the best. She had been on the verge of crossing lines the night before, lines that would have taken her into territory that, after a lot of reflection, she knew she couldn’t handle. Dearest Virgin Scribe, she couldn’t imagine what she had been thinking, and this forced separation was a good thing—even though she didn’t want Luchas to suffer.
On the huge TV screen over the fireplace, images of gunfire and screeching cars flickered like something out of a movie.
Unbelievable what had happened downtown. Thank God no one had been hurt.
“So where’s your fancy RV now?” someone asked Manny.
“Still down by the river. We had to leave it in V’s warehouse.” The doctor rubbed his eyes like he had a screamer of a headache. “Bullet holes everywhere—and I hit something big with it.”
“Lesser?” one of the Brothers said.
“No. When I got out and checked, there was red blood on the front headlights and grille. So it was either a human or one of you guys—and given the head count around here, and the communal lack of limps, it must have been the former.”
“Or a Bastard.”
“Maybe. Yeah. Whoever it was, I’m damn sure they were hurting afterward.”
Layla frowned. “Someone was hit?”
“Not one of us, don’t worry,” somebody replied.
A strange premonition rattled through her.
Without saying anything further, she backed out of the room. After checking that no one had noticed her exit, she took her phone from the pocket of the fleece she’d borrowed from Doc Jane and sent a quick text. As soon as it went through, she erased the words and then made sure the cell was on vibrate before disappearing the device again.
Pacing by the front door, she kept her hand in her pocket on the slim body of the phone and waited for an answer. When nothing came through ten minutes later, she double-checked that she hadn’t turned the thing off by mistake—
Pivoting around, she saw Qhuinn and Blay emerging from the tunnel’s hidden door under the stairs.
Flushing, she said, “I was just coming back down.”
“He’s resting comfortably. Doc Jane says his vitals are improving. He’s out of immediate danger.”
Blay cut in, “So we’re going to bed. Before we fall over.”
Qhuinn yawned so hard his jaw popped. “Doc Jane is crashing herself down there. Guess she’s been up for two days straight. She’s going to call us immediately if anything changes.”
“Let me know if you need me?” she said.
“I think we’re okay for now. Thanks for everything. Really.”
Hugs were exchanged along with good-days, and she must have done a pretty good job of playing normal, because moments later, they headed for the second floor together.
Unaware of her worry.
Layla glanced back toward the billiards room. Took her phone out and checked the time.
Still no text in return.
Before she was clear on what she was doing, she slipped out through the dining room and the kitchen. The doggen were hard at work preparing Last Meal, and Fritz barely looked up with a deferential nod as she hightailed it past him.
Nobody noticed as she stepped through into the garage. Or rushed to the locked door on the far side. Once she entered the code on the keypad, there was a brief beeping sound as the dead bolt was released.
Moments later, she was behind the wheel of her car and speeding off.
As she proceeded down the mountain, the mhis slowed her, and the delay made her heart pound even harder. But she made it to the foot of the mountain, and as she turned onto the rural highway, she really hit the gas.
There was not a lot of time.
God, this had to be what an addiction felt like, she thought numbly as she gripped the steering wheel hard enough to make her knuckles burn.
The pull to the drug or drink … or in her case, Xcor … was irresistible. And there was no pleasure in giving in, just an aching guilt and a resonant self-loathing over the fact that you had once again overridden your better impulses and succumbed to what might very well kill you.
Or at the least, ruin your life.
But the Scribe Virgin save her soul, she was incapable of not going to make sure Xcor was okay.
At the King’s audience house, Paradise smiled at the elderly male in front of her desk. “Oh, you’re welcome. I’m glad that we got you in tonight.”
“You have been most helpful.” He bowed to her, his cap in hand. “Be of well hour unto the dawn.”
As he walked out of the parlor, she sat back in her chair and closed her eyes. Last appointment of the night. Wrath had seen between two and four people an hour for eight hours, so that was at least sixteen, maybe up to thirty people. And for each of them, she had followed the protocol her father had set up: the check-in, the registration if they had never been to see the King before, the offer of food and drink before they were summoned. Then afterward, she had bid them good-day and entered into the database the notes her father gave her about the discussion and any decisions that had been made or permissions granted.
She wasn’t just exhausted. She was wrung-out. So much to learn, so many names and issues, family trees and bloodlines, and there was no room for error.
Plus, she had had to be welcoming to everyone and engage them in conversation while they waited, especially if they came alone.
Not that that had been a requirement of the job set out by her father. But she had felt like it was important.
Maybe because of her stewardess outfit.
More likely because of her glymera training.
“Lot of empty chairs here.”
Her lids popped open and she jumped. “Peyton! Jesus, can’t you knock?”
“I did. And one of the Brothers let me in—which nearly made me lose bladder control.” He glanced back at the open archway. “And you don’t have a door in front of your desk or I woulda done the knuckle thing. Sorry I scared you.”
Jogging her mouse to the side, she cleared the computer screen of multicolored, transparent bubbles. “What do you want.”
“You haven’t answered any of my texts. Or calls.”
“I’m pissed off at you.”
“Parry, come on. Don’t be like this.”
“I’ve got a question for you.” She shifted her glare from the Excel spreadsheet she’d been working on to his blue eyes. “How’d you like it if you were denied making a choice because you have blond hair.”
He threw up his hands. “Whatever, we’re not talking about hair color—”
“I’m serious. Stop arguing with me and answer the question.”
“I would go to CVS and buy some black hair dye.”
Shaking her head, Paradise picked up the notebook with her punch list on it and checked off a couple of things she’d already done.
“I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal,” Peyton muttered. “Why do you want to be in the war anyway? Aristocrats are going to get killed out there, too, you know. Why don’t you want to be safe—”
“Behind a desk, right? Or more likely in a dress in a big house. Right?”
“It’s not wrong to look out for the fairer sex.”
“Don’t you have to get back to your bong.”
She could feel him glaring at her from his greater height. “Don’t you remember the raids, Parry? Don’t you remember what that was like? People were slaughtered in their own homes. They had pieces of their bodies hacked off of them while they were alive. They found Lash’s parents sitting around their dining room table, the dead bodies arranged so they were upright in those chairs like they were having dinner. Why do you want to be a part of that?”
Paradise met that hard stare again. “I don’t!”
“So why are we having this fight!”
“Because I want to choose. I want to be able to assume the risk if I want—and don’t hit me with the recap on those deaths like I don’t recall every single thing that happened. Members of my bloodline were murdered, too. Am I not allowed to want revenge? Or is that a dick-only thing as well?”
He planted his hands on the desk and leaned into her. “Males can’t give birth.”
She stood up out of her chair and met him jaw-to-jaw. “You got that right. I’d like to see even one of you try to go through that experience. You’d be crying like a little bitch in ten minutes.”
Peyton’s stare dropped to her mouth for a split second, and the distraction surprised her.
In all the years of friendship, that was something that had never happened.
It hadn’t even been approached, actually.
“Fine,” he said grimly. “Put your money where your mouth is.”
“Join the program.” He swept his hand over the desk. “Come out from behind here, put your application in, and try to pass the physical test.”
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