The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(66) by J.R.Ward
“Must I remind you of the nature of our arrangement here?” he asked in a bored tone. “You show up and indulge mine eyes, and I don’t slaughter them all.”
“A vow given to a female would never stop you. You are the Bloodletter’s son.”
Oh, but a vow to you would, he thought to himself.
Her voice grew strong. “You are not going to agress on them, are you. Not tonight. Not tomorrow night. Not a year from now. And not because I’m coming here to see you—otherwise, you would have killed one or more of them in the alleys this eve. That would be outside the scope of our agreement, would it not?”
As he stared up at her, her eyes were so shrewd that he felt diminished in stature—and not because he was sitting down and she was standing over him.
“For whatever reason, they are no longer a target for you, are they,” she said. “Are they.”
As Layla stood above Xcor, she spoke aloud the realization that had formulated in her head during the drive from the Brotherhood compound here to the cottage.
It was as if she had been walking at a steep incline and had suddenly reached a clearing in the brush that showed her the vista that she had been a part of, and yet unaware of.
“Answer me,” she demanded.
He cocked a brow. “You said I am a male of no honor, that the vow to a female would not curtail my actions. Why do you want me to give you any reply when it cannot be trusted.”
“What’s changed? I know it has nothing to do with me, but something has shifted.”
“Since you are so good at filling in my responses, I believe I shall just sit back and allow you to hold both sides of this conversation.”
As he continued to stare up at her, his face as calm and composed as a mask, she knew he was going to give her nothing further. And perhaps he was right: She could not trust what he said.
She would, however, put faith in his actions.
“Take from me,” she said, extending her wrist. “And heal.”
“You are a perverse female. What about your young?”
“Females can safely feed a male, provided they do not take overmuch.”
She had fed Qhuinn and Blay up until about a month ago, when they had switched to Selena out of an over-abundance of caution. And anyway, she herself had taken a vein a mere twelve hours ago, so she was at her very strongest.
And he was not.
“You have not fed properly since you took my vein, have you.”
His eyes flicked away to the fire. “Of course I have.”
“Please make use of that car of yours and spirit yourself back to the Brotherhood.”
His eyes narrowed to a glare as he looked back at her. “You are trying my patience.”
“Because I’m right about all of this—”
Just like that, he was up on his feet, and even though he had a limp, he still managed to press himself against her, forcing her to take a step back or fall off her heels. And another. And another.
Until she was up against the wall.
And held there by his body.
“You might want to rethink your conclusion, Chosen.”
Layla found it difficult to breathe, but not because he was putting any direct pressure on her chest. “I know something else.”
“And what might that be.”
She thought back to over-hearing what Blay and Qhuinn had said about the night before, about how Rhage, V, and the twins had gone out to where the Band of Bastards had stayed.
“I know that you had yet another chance to kill them. I know they went to the house you had been living in, and you didn’t leave anything behind that could hurt them. You could have either ambushed them there, or set up some kind of offensive, and you did not.”
At that, he broke off from her.
It was painful to watch him limp around, see his bloodstained, torn clothes, witness the exhaustion.
Grimly, she said, “So I’m not exactly feeding the enemy anymore, am I?”
Eventually, he stopped before the fire. Putting one hand upon his hip, he stared down at the flames and seemed curiously defeated.
“Just go,” he said.
“Why would you choose to hide what for me is good news?” The idea that he might not be trying to kill the Brotherhood or Wrath anymore would be a tremendous relief. “Why?”
“If we did not have our arrangement, would you come and see me.”
Layla felt a strange warmth come over her, and she was dimly aware that they were, once again, approaching some kind of divide.
All of their nights thus far had been a dance defined by the role of manipulator and victim.
And there had been a perverse safety for her in the position she took.
It meant she could hide behind doing a duty for the Brotherhood.
It meant she could pretend that she was forced into this.
The truth … was far more complicated than that.
An image of him from the night before, standing where he was now before the hearth, made her want to take off her fleece; if she had been hot before, she was now afire.
Xcor looked over his shoulder. As the flickering light filtered over his features, his facial deformity seemed even more prominent. And yet though he might have been ugly to some … he was not to her.
She tried to picture him without his clothes on.
“So,” he taunted. “Would you still come here? And do not worry about hurting my feelings. The very female who birthed me did not want me. I am well familiar with feminine disregard.”
After further silence, he slashed his arm through the air. “I believe that is your answer, then—”
“I would,” she said forcefully. “I would come to see you.”
She found herself putting her hands to her swollen belly, and wishing she could spare her unborn young this reality.
His eyes flared in shock. Then narrowed. “Why.”
His voice was strident, a demand that challenged her to speak some other truth.
“I don’t know why.” She shrugged. “But reasoning doesn’t change the fact, does it.”
There was another long silence.
When Xcor spoke next, it was so softly that she was unsure what he said. But it sounded like, “I wasn’t looking to be transformed.”
She didn’t bother to ask him to repeat whatever it was. No doubt, if he had intended her to hear the words, he would have made things louder.
“Take my vein.”
In issuing the order, she knew there was no going back. Having crossed into this realm that lacked pretense and was all about choice, she was very aware that her destiny was changing. But at least it wasn’t through some random and irrelevant decision to go left or right.
This was conscious. So conscious that it was as if the cozy room in this picturesque little cottage had been bolded with color and infused with scents more vivid than her nose could handle. Her hearing, too, was acute to the point of pain, every crackle from the fire or breath from her mouth or his resonating into some great canyon’s echo.
This time, when he came over to her, it was not fast and it was not with aggression.
His eyes were on her, but they were wary, as if the predator was now in fear of his prey.
Stepping in beside her, Xcor offered his forearm. When she just looked at it, he said, “I saw them once do this. A gentlemale to a female of worth?”
“Yes,” she said roughly. “It is done thusly.”
After she slipped her own arm into his, he led her over to the sofa and sat her down on the worn cushions. Then he turned around and left the room.
“Where are you going?” she called out.
“You have the most beautiful hands.”
As Trez lay in his bed with Selena beside him, they were both naked and totally exposed. The sex had been so heavy-duty, the covers were on the floor, their hot skin only now beginning to cool in the subtle air currents of the dark room.
“You’ve mentioned that before,” she said with a smile.
He made an mmmm-hmmmm in the back of this throat. “I like them on me. I like to look at them. I like the feel of them.”
Smoothing his palm over hers, he felt the contact all over his body. So peaceful, he thought. This was so peaceful.
“I like to see the stars,” she said, after a while. “Through the window over there.”
As it was just before five a.m., the shutters were about to come down for the day. With fall getting a grip on not just the weather, but the sunlight, dawn wasn’t arriving until later these days.
“You know, I’ve never had this before,” he heard himself say.
She turned over on her side, propping her head up on the hand he’d been attending to. And like she knew he missed the contact, she gave him her other one to play with.
“Had what?” she asked.
“This kind of quiet.”
During all those years of empty orgasms, he wished he’d known such profound communion was waiting for him. It would have made that nutrition-less gorging totally unnecessary.
“Do you want some music or something?” he asked abruptly, in case he was the only one enjoying the quiet.
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