The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(73) by J.R.Ward
One by one, he studied each of the photographs. They’d been taken during the big drop after the second ascent, where you went all but weightless and the wind roared and you were not entirely convinced shit was going to end well when you got to the bottom.
He could practically feel the thrill coursing through Selena’s body, the excitement, the pleasure, the vibrating force of life transforming her into a contained lightning bolt of joy.
On his side? He’d never seen himself looking pale before, his dark skin pasty as shit—which was evidently possible.
“We should make a calendar of these,” he announced. “One half of them, at any rate.”
“You look so much better now. Less green. You were kind of green.”
“I would go on that motherfucker a million times more if that’s what you wanted.”
She leaned in, turned his face toward her, and kissed him. “You know what you just proved?”
“What? That even real males need airsick bags sometimes?”
“No.” She kissed him again. “That somebody can say ‘I love you’ without speaking.”
His chest puffed up. He couldn’t help it. “Check me out. A Casanova—who’da thought.”
Finishing the ginger ale, he tossed the empty into the trash bin five feet away, and put the pictures in the inside pocket of his jacket.
Getting to his feet, he offered her his arm. “How would you like a nutritionally deficient, but totally satisfying meal? We’re talking real chemicals and complete over-processing. The kind of stuff humans traditionally enjoy in this setting and later get home and have to take TUMS for?”
“Sounds delightful.” She took hold of what he offered. “I look forward to whatever is served.”
Trez gave the attendant a wave—and then considered maybe throwing in a couple of bodybuilding poses just to get his guy card restamped.
The concession stands were behind and to the right, and as they walked around the foot of that roller-coaster, he glanced up, way up, at the metal scaffolding that held the track in the air. Man, he was glad he hadn’t seen this view from the base before heading up there.
The more he thought about it, the more his case of the vapors threatened a return, sweat breaking out on his palms and across his upper lip, but good news came in the form of the distraction of the hot-dog stand that had been opened just for them.
Stepping up to the counter, he held Selena tight to his side, catching her scent as well as that of the shampoo and the soap she’d used before they’d left the house.
A human female with a round body and a nice smile came over, putting aside her copy of People magazine. “What can I get you guys?”
“Good heavens, so many choices,” Selena said.
The menu was all lit-up red panels with yellow lettering, offering the kinds of things that were guaranteed to taste great going down and cause trouble once they were in you. But like he’d told her, that was what antacids were for.
“What are you having?” she asked him.
“I’m going with the Coney Island special,” he announced. “With a high-test Coke, extra ice.”
“You got it,” the server said. “Ma’am, you know what you want?”
Selena frowned. “I really want a hamburger. But am I missing out if I don’t do the hot dog?”
“You can have some of mine.”
“Great, I’d like a hamburger with cheese and some French fries.”
“No problem.” The woman pointed at another section of the menu. “You want something on them?”
“On your fries. Like chili, cheese, jalapeños—the list is over here.”
As Selena considered round two of her options, Trez took the opportunity to study his queen’s stunning profile. Those lips of hers were nearly irresistible, and the more he stared at them, the more the residual burn of all that adrenaline overload shifted from fight or flight to pure, undiluted lust.
With a discreet move, he had to rearrange himself.
He couldn’t wait to get her home. Get her naked.
His eyes drifted down to her breasts. The Pata-Gucci jacket she had on had obligingly customized itself to those curves he loved so much—
“Do you have any money? I didn’t think to bring human—”
He cut her off. “You’re not paying for nothing.” Taking his wallet out, he said to the lady, “How much do I owe you?”
“It’s on the house.”
“Let me give you something, then.”
“Oh, that’s okay. I know why you’re—”
Trez jumped in, putting a hundred down on the Formica and sliding it forward. “Take it. For being so kind to us.”
The woman’s eyes popped. “Are you sure?”
For one, he didn’t want her to keep going and make Selena feel like some kind of charity case. For another, the human had come out on a cold night for only a couple of hours of work. Holidays were coming for her kind. No doubt she could use the extra cash.
As the woman got to work on the food, he could feel Selena looking at him with respect, and didn’t that make him go all puffed up again in the chestral region.
Talk about getting his guy card stamped—fuck posing like Ahnold. The way she stared up at him? He felt big as a mountain.
A couple of minutes later, they were heading over to a picnic table painted a screaming blue color and sitting down side by side.
The air was cold, the food was steaming hot, the sodas were frothy and sweet. Handling the overstuffed buns was tricky stuff, with both of them going tilted heads and mop-up napkins, but that was even its own sort of fun. And the conversation, when they could manage it, was about the taste and the spice and the tongue burning … the roller-coaster ride … what they were going to do next … whether they were going to have cotton candy or hot-fudge sundaes for dessert.
It was magnificently, beautifully, resonantly normal.
And as he sat with his female, and maybe wiped off the corner of her mouth with his napkin, or shared his soda with her, or laughed when she said they’d better do the carousel next because it was only two feet off the ground, he soaked in the memories until they permeated his mind, body, and soul with a glow he had never felt before.
Just to be with her. Doing nothing special. In the middle of an amusement park.
Was a miracle.
A blessing beyond measure.
Frowning, he realized that if it weren’t for the reality lurking around the corner of this perfect moment, sneaking up behind them like some evil shadow … he might well be wasting this time with her by having half his brain worrying over the opening of shAdoWs, or wondering what was going on at the s’Hisbe, or fixating on whatever happened to be tickling his ass with a feather at that point in time.
He would have squandered this, as a rich male would let diamonds fall from his pockets simply because he had bowls of them back home.
Rarity went hand in hand with reverence.
“I could sit here forever,” he said as he swallowed his last bite. “This is my heaven.”
Selena glanced over and smiled. “Mine, too.”
Just before the first civilian arrived for their appointment with the King, Paradise presented a folder to her father with no small amount of pride. “I’ve reorganized the appointment sheet. I think you’ll find it makes things easier for you and the King.”
Her father smiled as he opened the cover and saw the spreadsheet listing each civilian’s name, family lineage, current issue, and any past concerns that Wrath had dealt with.
“This is … so helpful,” he said, as he ran his forefinger down the columns.
“I thought I could improve on the way it was done.”
He looked up. “You have.”
“What comes next”—she pulled the second of many sheets free—“is a dossier for each subject that goes into greater detail.”
Abalone frowned as he reviewed her notes, and then riffled through the reports. “How did you find all this out?”
“I have my sources.” She grinned. “Okay, so some of it comes off of people’s Facebook pages, and other stuff is from friends of mine.”
“This is … I didn’t know he’d been mated.” Her father tilted the folder toward her. “Him?”
“Last year. It was a low-key thing.” Paradise dropped her voice even though they were alone. “They say she was with young.”
“Ah. So now he wants the mating validated.”
“She’s about to give birth. If I were Wrath, I’d spare the poor male the indignity of asking too many questions about the due date, and just give him the respect he wants to provide his young—”
“Trying to take your father’s job?” Wrath’s voice interjected.
As the Blind King himself appeared in the parlor’s archway, Paradise jumped. “I didn’t mean, oh, no, I—”
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