The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(74) by J.R.Ward
The King smiled. “I’m impressed with your thinking. Keep up the good work, Paradise.”
With that, he and his blond dog went across to the dining room.
“I can’t feel my feet,” she mumbled.
Her father embraced her. “You are exceeding any expectation I had for this.”
She pulled back and pushed her hair over her shoulder. “I like this. I really do.”
“You’re making me quite proud.”
To hide her flush, she sat down behind the computer that she already felt was hers. “How’re things at home? With—”
“Just fine. I am very well, although you are missed.”
“I could come back.”
“No, no, it’s best you stay here.” He tucked the folder under his arm. “Did you and Peyton enjoy yourselves last evening?”
“He left right after you did.”
Abalone frowned. “I hope you didn’t quarrel?”
“He’s got an antiquated way of looking at things.”
“He does come from a traditional family.”
She picked up one of the Montblanc pens she’d found in the desk. Tapping it on her palm, she pulled her navy-blue skirt down further on her knees. “Ah … Father.”
Drawing in a deep breath, she pulled open the top side drawer and took out the application to the training center’s program. “Father, would you ever let me do something like this?”
As she handed the paperwork to him and his eyes traced the wording, she hurried on. “I’m not saying I want to go into combat or anything. It’s just, they’re accepting females, and I—”
“Fighting? This is … this is to fight.”
“I know. But see”—she reached up and pointed to a part in the preamble—“they’re saying they can train females—”
Annnnd his viewpoint was all pretty much summed up in the way he said her name: a combination of be-serious and don’t-break-my-heart.
“You’re not cut out for this,” he said.
“Because I’m a female, right,” she countered bitterly. “Which means desks and papers at the most—and only until I’m mated—”
“This is war. Do you understand what that really is?” He jogged the application. “This is death waiting to happen. It’s not a Hollywood movie or a romantic fantasy.”
She kicked up her chin. “I know that.”
“I’m not as sheltered as you think I am. The family you lost in the raids was my blood, too, Father. Friends of mine died. I know what this is about.”
“No, Paradise. I will not allow it.” He leaned down and put the application in the trash. “This is not for you.”
Without another word, he turned on his heel and strode off, somehow managing to close the hidden panel doors in her face, even as the panels stayed in their pockets in the walls.
Throe materialized about a half mile from the house Abalone went to every night.
The GPS locator Throe had put into the outer chest pocket of the male’s camel-hair coat had worked like a dream. And one had to admire the wealthy neighborhood.
Not bad, not bad a’tall.
Falling into a casual stroll, he checked out the houses as he zeroed in on the signal his cell phone was directing him to. Actually, the proper term for the residences would be mansions. These places were far too large to count as mere houses: multi-storied, sprawling, set back from the road, they all had dramatic landscape lighting on their exteriors, as if the wealthy humans living inside couldn’t bear to think their position would be ignored during the night hours.
As he proceeded, he had to control his frustration. He missed the fighting more than he’d thought he would. In fact, the lack of bloodshed—of any variety—was a shocking dissatisfaction. When he had started with the Band of Bastards, he’d been horrified by the aggression and gore. After several centuries, however, the warfare had become what he thought of as normal.
The stone manse that came next was an effeminate, mod-con’d version of the medieval pile of rock the Band of Bastards had all lived in back in the Old Country, and he stopped in front of the sprawling expanse. Figures moved inside, crossing windows that were framed by heavy swaths of fabric as lights inside picked up glints of gold and silver on the walls.
And abruptly, he wasn’t thinking of Xcor’s former lair.
He was recalling where he had come from, his true origin of privilege and wealth.
In seeking revenge for his sister, he had sold himself to the devil. Now, on the far side of that bargain, he was poor and alone and without prospects.
His only hearth was his ambition.
At least there was plenty afire in it to warm him over the coming winter months.
Throe pressed on, the cold biting through the leather coat he wore, the one that was still stained with the kills he had wrought from nights ago.
Before all had changed.
The house that was his target turned out to be on the left, on the opposite side of the street. It was grand and historic, a white Federal manse with the bone structure of a true beauty and the attended-to upkeep that only the very wealthy could bring to an old estate: No peeling paint for her. No scruffy bushes. No sagging rooflines or porches.
Unlike with the others, there was no way to see inside.
The drapes were all pulled and so heavy he could see no light through them. There were no cars in the driveway, but as he waited, taking cover behind a shrub, he caught sight of two individuals approaching the front door … even though they had not arrived at the property by any motorized conveyance.
Because they were vampires who had dematerialized to the place.
Ten minutes later, another visitor arrived. Fifteen minutes after that, two more.
They were discreet, and not everyone used the front door—no doubt to avoid suspicion.
Throe checked his phone, in spite of the fact that he knew he had the location correct. Yes, Abalone was in there.
Keeping to the shadows, he stayed longer, not because he had any particular plans to infiltrate, but rather, because he had yet to formulate them. His ambition, strong as it might be, was not as yet an engine in drive—he had recon to do, weaknesses to discover, strategies to define.
A car turned the corner and came down the street.
As it passed under the streetlight across the way, he saw that it was a Rolls-Royce, a dark one with a trademark pale hood.
And here he was without a motorcar.
Indeed, his lack of prospects was a problem.
How was he going to marshal any resources? he wondered. How was he to support himself whilst he built a coalition?
The answer, when it came, was so obvious, it was as if destiny had spotlit a path through darkness for him. Yes, he thought, that was the way …
A moment later, he returned to Abalone’s most generous accommodations with a smile on his face.
On his hospital bed, Luchas was in and out of consciousness, waves of pain rolling through him, battering him senseless. When he simply could not take it anymore, he fumbled around with the hand that still had fingers. Finding the call button, he pressed with his thumb until his hearing registered a beep.
The door burst open, and Doc Jane came in. “Luchas?”
“My leg,” he moaned. “Hurts…”
She came over, checked machines, IVs, God only knew what. “I’ll get you something for the—”
“The infection…” he babbled, turning his head from side to side. “My leg…”
He’d had this plan to waste away, but instead, this felt like he’d decided to kill himself by stepping into a fire pit feetfirst—leading with his bad ankle and calf.
On a crazy surge of strength, he sat up and started pulling at the sheets. Doc Jane grasped his shoulders and tried to get him to flatten out—while at the same time, someone else entered the room. Qhuinn—it was his brother.
“Luchas, Luchas, stop—”
That was Qhuinn, coming in close, trying to capture his hands, and get him to lie back. It was not a fair fight. He was weak, so weak, and then he went on a ride, a sudden floating feeling replacing the burning sensation down below.
Glancing to the side, he saw Doc Jane retracting a syringe from the clear plastic tubing that ran into his arm.
Qhuinn’s face appeared above his own, those mismatched eyes intense. “Luchas, relax. We got you.”
The drug was working magic, soothing him sure as if his body had been sunk into a warm bath. The pain was still there; he just didn’t care as much about it.
“It’s getting worse,” he heard himself say. “The infection … thought I would be dead by now.”
Something about his brother’s affect registered, something about his tone of voice, and the tightness in his mouth and eyes.
“What,” Luchas said. “What?”
Qhuinn looked at Doc Jane like he was hoping for a proverbial airlift out of a danger zone.
“Luchas,” his brother said, “I had to save you.”
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