The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(65) by J.R.Ward
“Maybe I will—”
At that moment, her father walked in. “Oh, hello, Peyton. How are you, son?”
Immediately, Peyton disengaged. “Sir, I’m well, sir. Thank you.”
As the two shook hands, she was pretty sure her father was clueless as to the undercurrents in the parlor—and very sure Peyton was not. His shoulders were still set tightly, as if he were arguing with her in his head.
“…kind of you to come and support Paradise.” Her father smiled at her. “Especially on this first night. I must say, you have exceeded my expectations, my dearest one. This is going to be a wonderful way for you to keep busy before your presentation.”
“Thank you, Father,” she said, bowing.
“Well, I must needs depart. Peyton, perhaps you will keep her company until the dawn?”
Those sharp blues shot back over to her. “You’re not at home anymore?”
“Do not be alarmed,” her father interjected smoothly. “She is fully accompanied and properly chaperoned. Now, if you will excuse me, I must depart.”
To check on their “visitor,” no doubt.
“The Brothers have escorted the King off the property,” her father said as he came around the desk and embraced her. “The doggen shall be cleaning for an hour, at least. Call upon me if you need aught?”
And then he was gone.
“I can’t believe he’s letting you stay here,” Peyton said.
“It’s not necessarily his choice.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Nothing.” She pulled a hand through her hair, shaking out the waves. “You don’t have to stay. As a matter of fact, I wish you wouldn’t.”
She could feel him staring at her, and when he didn’t reply, she glared at him. “What.”
Those eyes of his were heavy lidded in a way she’d never seen before. “You’ve never been so…”
“No,” he muttered. “Not that.”
“Well, what, then.” When he didn’t answer her, she shook her head. “Go home, Peyton. Just go home and light up and get ready to big-man all over the campus at the training center. It’s the role you were born to play.”
With that, she walked around him and left the parlor. She didn’t care what he did, whether he left … or kept standing there at her desk until the doggen Swiffered him out with the dust bunnies.
She was done.
For the night. And with males, in general.
“No. Here. Put him by the fire—”
Xcor broke himself loose of the holds upon his arms. “I am not an invalid.”
As he limped across the shallow room of the cottage he had bought for Layla, he kept to himself the fact that he was cold to the bone, and he did, in fact, appreciate the warmth of the flames that boiled around the logs at the hearth.
“Your leg is broken,” Zypher said.
Whilst he settled himself upon the sofa, a sharp nausea threatened to empty his stomach, but he buried that response as well, swallowing down the risen bile. “It shall mend.”
“There are victuals here.”
He didn’t know who said that. Did not care. “Where is the liquor?”
As a bottle of God only knew what appeared before him, he took what was proffered, shucked the cap, and brought the open mouth to his lips. Vodka it was, the white bite burning the back of his throat and lighting a second set of flames in his gut.
It had been a very, very long trip home, with him dematerializing mile by mile because they had no motorized conveyances at their disposal. And now, all he wanted was to be left alone—and he feared, given that all of them were here and worrying over him, it was going to take more energy than he had to get his soldier to go in peace.
“You were nearly killed,” Balthazar said from by the door.
He drank more of the spirit. “Yourself as well—”
“Someone is here,” Syphon said by the bay window. “A car.”
Immediately, all guns were unholstered and trained upon the glass—except for his. Beneath his thin jacket, his arm was hanging limp, the joint most likely dislocated.
And he was not putting down the vodka.
“Who is it,” he demanded, thinking it was likely the doggen he had sought to hire.
“’Tis a female,” someone breathed. “And not of the servant class.”
Instantly, Xcor wrenched around and bared his fangs. But he didn’t need visual confirmation. There was only one female who knew about this place, and who would come in a car.
“Leave us,” he commanded. “Now.”
When his Band of Bastards just stood in a semi-circle, transfixed by what was out that fucking window, he released a lion’s growl. “Leave us!”
Zypher cleared his throat. “She is bonny, indeed, Xcor—”
“And she shall be the last sight e’er you behold if you don’t get out of here!”
One by one, the soldiers grudgingly dematerialized … such that, when his female knocked upon the door, he was by himself.
Seeking further fortification from the bottle, he drank hard; then rousted himself off the couch, walked over and opened the panels wide.
The second Layla looked at him, she exclaimed, “You’re hurt!”
The shock in her face was such that he glanced down at himself and his bloodstained clothes. “Yes, it would appear I am.” Funny, now that she was before him, he felt no more pain. “Won’t you come and warm yourself by the fire.”
As if there were nothing wrong. As if she hadn’t blown him off when they were supposed to have met at midnight—so she could give him her decision.
He knew her answer, however. Her previous absence was all the reply required—she had clearly come to her senses.
Layla stepped inside, her eyes going up and down his body. “Xcor, what happened?”
“Nothing.” He closed them in. “I thought you indicated you could not get away.”
“I saw what happened downtown. And I had to…”
“Had to what? Come here to see if I had died and thus set you free of your obligation?” When she didn’t answer, he chuckled and returned to the couch. “Pardon me, but I need to sit.”
He was acutely aware of that stare of hers tracking him. And no doubt her keen ears caught the groan that he did his best to hide.
“You should go to a doctor.”
Xcor laughed and took another drink from the bottle. “You think this warrants attention? The Black Dagger Brotherhood must have a different standard for injury than we do. I have had much, much worse happen upon me in the course of centuries. This is naught of consequence, nothing that shall not be cured upon the night’s fall.”
“When was the last time you fed?”
Abruptly, his body stilled. “Are you offering.”
As she got busy looking everywhere in the cottage but at him, he laughed softly again. “I’ll take that as a no. Besides, you already aided and abetted the enemy once, and we all know how well that turned out.”
“Why are you baiting me?”
He drank anew, swallowing hard. “Because I feel like it. And I’m a bastard, remember? A bastard who has forced you to come unto my presence night after night whilst you become heavy with another male’s young.”
“You are in pain.”
“Actually, now that you are here, I am no longer.”
That quieted her for a moment.
And then he was shocked when she took steps forward, approaching the couch … because as she came forth, she pushed up the sleeve on her right arm.
“What are you doing?” he demanded.
“I am going to give you my vein.” She stopped before him. Close enough to grab. Near enough so that if he wanted, he could have yanked her into his lap. Found her breasts with his hands, his mouth. “You are worse off than you think.”
“Oh, aye,” he said harshly. “You are right. But not about my injuries.”
She put her wrist to him. “You were hit by a vehicle of the Brotherhood’s, weren’t you.”
“So you feel you owe me this? Interesting change in affiliation.”
“You do not deny it, then.”
“I cannot fathom where you are going with this, female. You had no comfort being treasonous before. What has changed?”
“You didn’t attack them tonight, did you. You had a chance when the fighting happened to go after members of the Brotherhood, but instead of ordering your soldiers to target Manny and Rhage, or the other Brothers who were down there, you left the theater without hurting any of them.”
Aye, he thought. He had gathered that the RV was the Brothers’.
He had caught that scent dematerializing out of it—and no other vampire group could afford such a luxury.
Xcor cracked a hard laugh. “Have you not heard of self-preservation? If I was injured as badly as you think I am, I left to save myself.”
“Bullshit. I know your reputation. You had an opportunity tonight and you didn’t take it. Matter of fact, you’ve had the chance to attack our compound for almost a year and you’ve done nothing.”
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