The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(88) by J.R.Ward
What he would not do was give in to the nearly choking urge to phone Layla and hear her voice, and beg her to see him in spite of what he had told her.
That would only be a further death for him.
The Bloodletter had taught him that part of strength was the elimination of weakness, and over time, with repeated exposure to that Chosen, his emotions had castrated him: He was making choices and finding distractions in things that compromised the integrity of his warrior self.
And somehow she had figured it all out and called him on his truth.
Her knowledge of all he sacrificed for her had been the wake-up call, and only a fool did not abide by that kind of trailhead; he needed to alter this destination she had become for him, turn away from that untenable situation with her, proceed with alacrity back to the clarity he had once possessed.
Because what was their future? Further clandestine meetings here? Such that eventually a Brother followed her due to some infinitesimal slip-up she made or some suspicion she was unaware of garnering for herself? His soldiers and he needed a safe place to rest and recharge during the daylight hours, and he could not compromise that.
What had he been thinking? Bringing her here?
He and his Bastards had not the money to move once again so soon, the lease on the property being a burden upon their meager coffers now that Throe had departed.
At least Xcor sensed he could trust her. She had had nine months to give up the location of the meadow they had always met at, and he still knew where the Brotherhood compound was. It was a mutual détente—if she divulged this place, she had to know his next move would be to marshal a full-scale attack on the Brotherhood’s sacred mansion.
Where, if the gossip was true, the King’s firstborn slept in his crib.
No, she would say nothing—
The sound of his phone going off cranked his head around. The cellular device was on the floor by the door, in the tangle of his pants.
Jumping across the space, his hands were sloppy as they clawed through the folds, fought against the pocket’s hold, got the glass-fronted plate out.
He had heard nothing back from her concerning the message he had voice-recorded into a text.
Entering a four-digit touch pattern on the number pad, he unlocked the device and went into the text messages. His illiteracy was so pervasive he had to use a text-to-audio translator application in order to receive communications from his soldiers and from her.
But he knew enough to see that whatever had been received was not from the Chosen.
He put the phone away without listening to whatever it was.
The fact that he stalled out, and stood there at the front door as if he were lost, pissed him off.
He could not—he would not—allow this castration to continue. There had been many things in his life that had been more destructive than leaving a female who had not been his to begin with: his mother had been disgusted at his appearance and abandoned him because of his harelip; he had endured unimaginable, sustained abuse at the Bloodletter’s camp; and then there were the centuries of depravity in this war, his unhinged hatred of the world defining him, driving him.
This issue with Layla was not going to break him.
Forcing his feet forward, he went into the bathroom and turned the shower on. The blood the whore had given him was providing him with a physical strength he had not felt since …
No, he couldn’t think of Layla anymore.
He had to shut her out. Shut his emotions down.
It was like a death, he told himself. And Fates knew he was all too familiar with and accomplished in that most definitive currency.
Stepping under the cold spray, he picked up the soap to begin to wash his skin—but then he stopped himself.
No, he needed to keep the stank on his flesh.
The purpose of this shower was solely to wake him out of the post-feeding lethargy that was fuzzing up his brain. After this, he was going to go address his soldiers.
It was time to refocus and renew their efforts in the war.
And resume the natural course of his life.
Trez replugged into the world on a buzzy, trippy high that was the only arguably positive thing about having a migraine: Following the great storm of pain and nausea, there was always a floaty, post-agony period when you were so fucking grateful not to have an invisible ax buried in half your gray matter anymore that you just wanted to hug the world.
Opening his eyes, he blinked a couple of times and looked at the open door to the bathroom. Where was—
“Are you awake?”
At the sound of Selena’s voice behind him, he shoved his torso up off the mattress and cranked around. “Hey.”
She was over on the chaise longue, reading from a Kindle, the glow from the screen casting her features in soft light.
“How are you feeling?” She put the thing aside and came over.
“Better.” Kinda. Now he was worried about her again. “How are you?”
Had anything changed while he’d been out of it? How long had he—
“No, nothing’s changed. And you’ve been out for about eight hours.”
Ah, so he’d spoken all that.
He took her hand and tried to be subtle about the way he tested how she gripped his palm back, how she sat down on the mattress beside him.
“Is there any particular reason you won’t look me in the eye?” he asked.
“Are you hungry?”
“No, especially not when you’re dodging that question.”
He was being way too direct, but social pleasantries and bullshitting were not his core competencies on a good night.
“I, ah, I went to see Doc Jane.”
Now his blood ran cold as ice. “Why?”
“I just wanted to check in with her.”
“She did some tests and…”
At that point, his hearing punched its time card and went on break. “I’m sorry, say that again?”
Maybe if she repeated the words, things would somehow sink in through the alarm bells that were DEFCON 1’ing it in his skull.
“…when we’re ready to see her.”
Trez sat all the way up. Rubbed his face. Looked over at her—while she stared at the carpet. “Go down to the clinic, you mean?”
“And meet with them both. Manny will be there, too.”
“Okay. Yeah.” He glanced at the bathroom. “I need a shower first.”
“There’s no hurry.”
Right, that was not how he felt at all. Pushing himself around her, he got off the bed and padded into the loo, where he turned on the water, used the toilet, and got under the spray. Fast hands with the shampoo and the soap and he didn’t bother shaving.
Out. Drying off. Heading back into the bedroom with a towel around his waist.
She was still sitting where she had been.
As he passed by at a near run to the walk-in closet, her hand snapped out and grabbed onto his wrist.
When she finally looked up at him, her stare was rock-steady, but intense enough to burn a hole through the back of his head. And for some reason, the combination terrified him.
“I need to talk to you first,” she said.
Closing his eyes briefly, Trez sank down to his knees in front of her, and in the back of his mind, he thought, No, no, I don’t want to hear it. Whatever this is, I don’t want—
Her hands, those beautiful hands, reached up to his face and traced his brows, his cheeks, his jaw. As one of her thumbs brushed over his lower lip, he kissed it.
“Luchas lost it tonight.”
Trez frowned and shook his head. “I’m sorry—what?”
“Down at the clinic. He just … lost it. They took part of his leg to save him—I think he’s going to live. But he isn’t happy about it.”
“Oh. Okay. Yeah.”
Even though it was cruel, all he could think was, So what?
“He wanted to die. He was so angry that they didn’t let him.”
What does this have to do with us, he screamed in his head. Who gives a shit—
“I don’t want to go,” she said. “I don’t want to leave you. On some level, I don’t even know how to—I mean, when my time comes, I literally can’t imagine it.”
Trez swallowed through a throat that was tight as a vise.
Before he could respond, she whispered, “I’m terrified.”
“Oh, my queen—”
“About you.” As Trez recoiled—’cuz that was the last thing he expected her to say—she cupped his face. “Seeing that anger in Luchas, that hatred for the world and everybody in it … I’m worried that after I go, that’s where you’re going to be.”
Forcing himself to be calm, he said, “Listen, I—”
“Don’t lie to me or yourself. Whatever you say here, it has to be honest.”
Well, didn’t that shut him up good.
“Having you be that angry scares me more than anything that’s going to happen to my body or my soul. Whether there’s life eternal or nothing at all at the end, what I’m really concerned about is you.” Her eyes bored into his. “I want you to promise me—I want you to swear on your heart and mine—that you’ll keep going. That you’ll stay here with iAm and the Brothers and let them take care of you. That you won’t let the grief destroy you. I can’t … I won’t be able to help you, so you’re going to have to let them be there for you.”
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