The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(67) by J.R.Ward
“No, this is … perfect.”
At that, he had to twist around and kiss her on the mouth. Then it was a case of resettling back against the pillows and resuming this new kind of hand job … where he traced each of her fingers with his, stretching them up and pulling them out, before playing with the strong, blunt tips.
“I love the stars,” she said as if she were speaking to herself.
“I have an idea about tonight.”
He threw out another mmmmm-hmmmm. “It’s a surprise. You’re going to need to put off our boat ride, though.”
And he was probably going to want a valium. But she was going to love it.
“I want you to do something for me.”
He smiled in the darkness. “Does this involve my tongue, by any chance? Just name the body part, my queen.”
The change in her voice stopped him. And for a split second he wanted to say, Please, no. We can talk about it at nightfall. Let’s leave the day hours for the fantasy of forever.
But as always, he could deny her nothing. “What is it?”
Selena took a while to answer, and that probably meant she was choosing her words carefully.
He tried to stay calm. “Take your time.”
“My sisters.” She hesitated. “The ones who have passed … they’re put up in a cemetery. You know, right where you found me?”
That hedgerow, he thought. The one that he had looked through to see those marble statues … which now he feared weren’t made of marble at all.
“Yes, I remember.”
“Don’t let them take me up there.” She took her hand away from him and sat up. As she stared down at him, her long, beautiful black hair poured over her shoulders, covering one of her breasts, touching the skin of her thighs. “They’re going to want to. You’re supposed to pick a position … you know, when the time comes, they can put you in any position you want. Then they plaster over your hair and your face and your body. It’s a ritual. That’s why they’re all different up there—in different poses, I mean.”
Trez rubbed his face. Which did nothing to relieve the lancing pain in his chest. “Selena, let’s not talk about this—”
She grabbed his arm. Hard. “Promise me. I won’t be able to advocate for myself when that time comes. I need you to do that for me.”
Again, he could deny her nothing—and as a bonded male, that not only seemed right, but healthy. Except with this request? It broke him in half to nod.
“All right.” He cleared his throat. “Okay, I’ll make sure of it.”
At once, her body relaxed and she let out an exhale. Then, as she resettled beside him, she shook her head. “I know this is against everything I’ve been taught and all the traditions of my service … but a part of me is paranoid that they’re stuck in there.”
“I’m sorry—what? You mean, your sisters?”
She nodded. “How do we know for a fact that the Fade is real? What if everything we’ve been told is true is actually not? As with everyone else in the Sanctuary, I have always tried to avoid that cemetery—I hate the silence and the stillness inside, and, God, those poor females, some of whom I knew and shared meals with and worked alongside in service to the Scribe Virgin.” She cursed softly. “They’re stuck in that cemetery, not just frozen in their bodies, but forgotten by the rest of us because we can’t stand how we feel when we’re with them. What if they can see us? What if they can hear us? What if time just stretches out into forever with them imprisoned…” Selena shuddered. “I don’t want that. When I go, I want to be free.”
Her eyes returned to the window, to the twinkling stars so high above.
“Every species has a version of an afterlife,” he said. “Humans have Heaven. Vampires the Fade. For Shadows, it is the Eternal. We can’t all be wrong—and each one is a version of the same. So it would seem to make sense that there’s something after all this.”
“But there’s no guarantee—and you won’t know until it’s too late.” She seemed to retreat into herself. “You know, when I’m in the Arrest, I can hear things … when I’m in that place where my body is just … out of my control, I can hear and smell, I can see. My awareness is with me, I am there, but I can’t do anything. As I’ve said before, there’s no greater panic than what you feel when your brain is functioning and nothing else is.”
Don’t lose it, he told himself. Don’t you dare lose it.
You pull your shit together and you be there for her. Right here, right now.
As she grew quiet, he put himself in that place she had described, aware of everything, but unable to respond or speak or react.
Reaching over, he stroked her long hair back. And then he was kissing her, softly, slowly. A moment later, he rolled on top of her and found her sex with his own. As the penetration happened, as that familiar yet ever shocking tightness of her gripped him, he gave her his vow through the physical act.
Sometimes, the evil you fought wasn’t anything you could hit or shoot or dismember. Sometimes you couldn’t even hurt it.
And that was really fucking awful.
As his hips rocked and she wrapped her arms around him, he kept the rhythm sweet and careful so that he could kiss her the entire time.
Halfway through, he caught the rainwater scent of tears.
They were both crying.
Down in the training center’s gym, Rhage was running like he was being chased by his own beast.
The treadmill was not feeling it. He was pretty sure that the scream coming from the belt—which was loud enough that he could hear it over the T.I. he was pumping into his ears like the shit was heroin—meant the machine was going to check out at any moment. But he didn’t want to break stride long enough to move to the one next door.
When the thing began to smell like a lesser, however, he knew the decision had been made for him. Jumping to the side rails, he pulled out the red Stop card and the slow-down was pretty instantaneous. Either that or he had timed his get-off with the machine’s functional demise.
Catching his breath, he mopped his face with one of the scratchy white quarter towels. The things were pretty much sandpaper, but they all preferred ’em that way. Fritz had tried, from time to time, to switch the old schools out to something softer, but he and his brothers always protested. These were gym towels. They were supposed to be thin and mean, the terry-cloth equivalent of coyotes.
When you were sweating like a pig and couldn’t feel the bottoms of your feet from exertion, you didn’t want to pat yourself down with a Pomeranian.
Had he really done twenty-four miles?
Shit, how long had he been down here?
Popping off his Beats, he realized that not only had his high-steppers gone numb, but his groin muscles were on fire, and that shoulder he’d injured a good five nights ago was cranked off.
He ended up parking it on one of the wooden benches that ran down the far side of the room. As his breath gradually came back to him, he felt as if he were surrounded by his brothers even though he was alone: Whether it was the bench press that was still set to the six-hundred-pound load Butch had put it at yesterday or the barbell that Z had been doing curls with or the chin bar that Tohr had been crunching up and down on, he could picture each of the fighters with him, hear their voices, see them walk by, feel their eyes on him as they talked.
And all that should have made him feel more connected, instead of less so.
But the reality was, even if the forty-by-sixty-foot space had been crammed tight with all those big bodies, he would still have felt isolated.
Passing that towel over his face again, he closed his eyes and was transported to a different place, a different time … to a memory that he knew now was what he had been trying to put behind him ever since it had threatened to resurface.
Bella’s white farmhouse. That porch of hers, the wraparound one that was so New England cozy you wanted to either vomit … or cop a squat and eat some apple pie on the bitch. Him walking out that front door, head hanging like he had been decapitated and only the gristle of his neck was keeping his basketball still on.
His beloved Mary upstairs in that bedroom, having just told him to fuck off.
Although, of course, she hadn’t been so crude.
His life had been over as he’d left that house. Even though he’d been ostensibly alive, he had been a dead male walking …
… until suddenly she had exploded out of that doorway in her bare feet.
I’m not okay, Rhage. I’m not okay …
“Why are you thinking like this, buddy.” He rubbed that hard towel over his face once more. “Just drop that shit … come on, think about something else…”
Except his brain wouldn’t be rerouted. And the next memory was even worse.
A hospital room, but not one here at the compound, or even at Havers’s clinic. A human hospital room, and his Mary was in the bed.
Shit, he could still remember the color of her skin. Wrong, all wrong. Not just pale, but beginning to go gray.
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