The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(81) by J.R.Ward
“Are you having some symptoms?”
She couldn’t speak. But found herself nodding. “I think … yes.”
Doc Jane made an mmm-hmmm sound. “Do you want to tell me what they are?”
Selena put out her hand, the one that had gotten frozen on the doorknob, and flared her fingers wide. As she flexed things open and closed, her mind went on a wild ride of Are they worse? Are they better? Are they the same?
“Your hands?” When all she did was nod again, Doc Jane asked, “Anywhere else?”
At least this time she could shake her head.
“Do you remember,” the doctor said, “when an attack came before, whether or not you had any prodromals?”
“What does that mean?”
“Any sort of advance warning?”
Selena brushed at her eyes again and wiped her hands on the pants Trez had taken off her body no more than a half hour before. With a surge of agony, she wanted to go back to that moment, back to the time before her disease had started talking again.
“I don’t know. I don’t remember ever noticing anything. But before … I used to ignore it as much as I could. I didn’t want to think about it.” She glanced over at the doctor. “I’m sorry that I didn’t come back down to see you, you know, after I…”
Doc Jane batted at the air. “God, girl, don’t worry about it. There are no hard-and-fast rules, and you have to do what feels right. People need to direct their own lives.”
“Is there anything we can do for me? Anything … we should do?”
The healer took her time in answering. “I’m going to be straight with you, okay?”
Ah, yes. Nothing was available. “I’d appreciate it.”
“For the last forty-eight hours, there have been a lot of people searching for solutions. Manny’s reached out to his human contacts. I’ve talked with Havers. Rehv headed up to the symphath territory—and I got a text from iAm saying that he went to the s’Hisbe.”
“Havers is only aware of patients who struggle with localized episodes, like arthritis flare-ups that hit hands or knees, hips or shoulders. Nothing with the systemic symptoms as severe as you present with. He treats the patients with anti-inflammatories and painkillers—even though he’s tried some human drugs, he hasn’t had any breakthroughs of note when it comes to prevention or cure. And neither the symphaths nor the Shadows have any familiarity with the issue.”
Management. That was the best she could hope for.
“Can you tell me how much time I have?”
Doc Jane shook her head. “I can check your inflammatory markers. But I don’t really have anything to compare them to—and the attacks come on fast, from what I understand. That suggests a sudden surge, like an earthquake.”
They kept going around the gym, heading down, down, down to the distant end, where there was a door marked, EQUIPMENT ROOM AND PT.
“I guess we should go back and check my … you know.” Selena circled the air next to her with her hand. “Inflammation things.”
“We can if you want. I think the important thing is that you do whatever makes you feel supported and calmer.”
“Okay. All right.”
A moment later, she felt Doc Jane take her hand and squeeze. And as she looked over, she was shocked to see the emotion on the healer’s face. Such stark sadness, a pain that went deep.
Selena tugged the other female to a halt. “This is not your fault.”
Those forest-green eyes went around the cavernous expanse of the gym, not landing anywhere. “I just … I want to help. I want to give you the rest of the many, many years you’re due. I want you to live. And the fact that I can’t find a solution … I’m so sorry, Selena. I’m so sorry—and I’m going to keep fighting. I’m going to keep trying, looking…”
It seemed liked the most natural thing in the world to put her arms around the woman and hold on.
“I’m so sorry,” Doc Jane choked out.
Later, Selena would realize …
… it was the first of her good-byes.
maichen had struggled to find the cabin. Black Snake Mountain was easy enough. East side of the peak was also not a problem. And the scent of the fire should have been simple because even when she was in molecular form, her sense of smell was strong, and there was nothing clearer than smoke on a Fall night. Even so, it had been difficult. She had traveled through the air, searching, searching …
She had been on the verge of turning around and going back, an aching sadness taking hold within her—but then that smoke had come upon the breeze and she had crisscrossed over its trail, tracking the strength of the scent, zeroing in on its source.
And there was the cabin he had spoken of.
She had Shadowed up to the thing, staying in her energy form, shooting over the scruffy ground, going around the small, simple structure—reassuring herself that it was, in fact, him and him alone.
Taking form, she approached the door and knocked. When he didn’t answer, she opened the way in.
He was by the fire, crouched down, tending to the flames.
Instantly, his big body rose to a stand, the flickering light behind him creating an aura.
As she stepped inside, the wind caught the door and flipped it closed, the slam making her jump.
“It’s cold in here,” he said roughly. “I’m trying to get it warmer.”
Seeing him was enough to make her completely unaware of her surroundings. She could have been in a desert, on the ocean, off to the polar ice caps and nothing would have registered.
“Come closer.” He beckoned her with his hand. “To the fire.”
Her body obeyed him without hesitation, although it was to him she went, not the flames. And as she stepped beside him, he moved back as if he didn’t want to crowd her.
“Let me get you something to sit on.”
Before she could tell him not to bother himself, he went over to a bedding platform and pulled the soft pad off the top along with some rough blankets. With sure hands, he arranged everything and then once again moved away.
The sex rolling off of him was irresistible.
As cool as he was trying to be, as respectful as he was being, she could sense the need in him.
And yes, she realized … this was indeed why she had risked so much to come here.
She wanted him, too. Even though it was going to create a crisis. Even though it was irresponsible. Even though it made no sense.
She had followed the rules all her life. But there was no responsibility or duty that was even half as captivating as he was—and her time for what relative freedom she had was running out.
Lowering herself onto the bedding, she crossed her legs under her heavy robing. “Please. Sit with me?”
“You sure you want me to.” He loomed over her, his dark face absorbing that playful light.
“Yes,” she breathed.
He lowered himself to his knees, his heavy-lidded eyes moving over the robing that covered her from crown of head to sole of foot.
“Will you let me see you,” he said in a deep voice.
maichen swallowed hard. Then she lifted her hands to the mesh that covered her face—but it was to hold the masking in place. “I am afraid.”
What if he didn’t like what he saw?
“I already know you’re beautiful,” he said, as if he read her mind.
He touched the center of his large chest. “I see you in here. I know you … in here. You are very beautiful to me, no matter what you look like.”
Acutely aware of everything that she hadn’t told him about herself, she whispered, “We do not know each other.”
“Does that matter to you?”
“Me, neither.” He frowned and looked into the fire. “The last couple of nights, with everything going on with my brother—it’s been an eye-opener. I don’t want to waste any more time. I want to get on with living, instead of keep going in this neutral-zone nightmare, waiting for the ax to fall.”
“Is your brother … is he going to come back to the Territory ever? They say … he refuses his duty, even though the Queen has decreed after the mourning…”
She had to stop. The anxiety was too great.
She was supposed to come unto her mate untouched.
That was not going to happen.
But what could the Anointed One do to her? They were both being forced into the mating, and tradition dictated that he was essentially her property.
A protest from him would be like a chair making an argument against being sat upon.
iAm shook his head. “After Trez loses Selena, all bets are off—and frankly, that Princess? She isn’t going to want what’s left of him, not unless she’s into necrophilia. He’s going to be dead whether he’s walking or in a grave.”
maichen hung her head. She had never not known about the mating that awaited her. It had been part of her rearing, the expectation that the Anointed One was destined by the stars to be her impregnating mate—and that with him, through him, she would ensure her mother’s bloodline continued to rule over the s’Hisbe.
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