The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(90) by J.R.Ward
Eventually, she became aware of the beat of his heart.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
So steady and strong.
Taking a shuddering breath, she eased back. As he brushed under her eyes with his thumbs, she said hoarsely, “Wow, that went well, huh?”
As Selena spoke up, Trez broke out a laugh. And she smiled.
They were both total hot messes, her face swollen and beet red from the screaming and the crying, his forearm bleeding from the glass that had hit him, their bodies shaky as they stood together.
“Did you practice all that?” he asked, brushing her hair back.
“Oh, yeah. For, like, hours.”
He led her over to the bed and sat them both down—before they fell over onto the broken glass that littered the carpet. “And in your head, how did it go?”
Selena leaned to the side for the Kleenex box next to the alarm clock. She offered him a tissue, and then took one for herself.
After they’d both blown their noses, she took another deep breath. “It went so well. You were touched at my magnanimity. Humbled by the purity of my love. And when I got teary, it was all Sleepless in Seattle dewy—not like this.”
As she indicated her face, he tilted her to him and kissed her. “You’re even more beautiful to me than ever.”
She rolled her eyes. “Come on, get real. I just told you I want you to be celibate for the rest of your life.”
“And nothing could possibly make me happier.”
“Trez, be real. That is a total bitch move on my part.”
“Do you think I’d be any different?” He shrugged. “Man, if I were to die? I wouldn’t want you to look at another male—forget being naked with him.” He couldn’t hide the recoil of disgust as he tried that nightmare on for size. “Oh, shit, nope. No way. Uh-huh.”
“Straight one hundred. Serious.”
As she looked down at the rug, the most beautiful smile hit her face.
Man, it felt good to be on the same page.
But then her expression faded.
They were quiet for an awfully long time. And he had a feeling he knew where she’d gone in her head.
“Life can be very long,” she said. As if she were imagining the time he had before him—and how things could change.
“Yes, it can.” He felt as though they had lived three lifetimes in the last two nights. “But my memory is stronger than time. When it comes to you, my memory will be the immortal part of me.”
“If it does come to pass.” She cleared her throat. “If you do find someone, I want you to know … I would never hold that against you. I love you too much to blame you for that.”
“Not going to happen.”
Selena snapped free another tissue, but she didn’t use it. She just folded the fragile square in half. And then halved it again. And a third time.
“I don’t want you frozen in a cemetery of your own making,” she said finally. “That’s I guess the point I’m trying to make. My big fear about being trapped in my body forever? Locked in? I fear that for you in your grief, too. Yes, sure, there is a part of me that wants you to duck your head and let the years pass you by, but an even bigger part of me doesn’t want that kind of prison for you. I guess … what I’m trying to say is that if you ever feel bad, you know, at some point, because something happens and you think it’s funny or you do eat a meal you enjoy or … if there’s a movie you want to see or you’re happy about a present somebody gives you, just please know I love you in that moment. Maybe you could even pretend that they’re gifts from me from the other side.” She smiled sadly. “A kiss from me to you.”
Oh, shit, now he felt like losing it again.
“Can you promise me that, Trez? That you’ll let the good things in even after I’m gone?” She ran her fingers down his face. “Even if those things happen because there’s another female by your side? The only thing worse than me dying is both of us going away, in spite of the fact that that big strong heart of yours continues to beat in your chest.”
He closed his eyes. “I don’t want to think about this.”
“Neither do I.”
In the silence that followed, he was once again confronted by the reality that there was nothing to fight, no one to scream at, nobody he could stab with a dagger to stop any of this.
“You want to go down to Doc Jane’s now?” he said.
“I’d rather you answer the question.”
Trez gathered up her hands in his own. “If it will give you peace of mind, then yes, fine. I promise that…” Okay, he couldn’t actually say it. “I’ll keep going.”
Relief loosened up her face, her shoulders, her entire body. “Thank you. That really helps. You won’t ever know how much that really helps me right now.”
He kissed her softly, and then got up and went into the closet. He had no clue what he put on himself, but he covered up the naughty bits and even remembered to put on deodorant. When he came out, his stomach felt like it had been dredged.
“You ready to go to the clinic?”
She glanced around the room as if searching for something. Or maybe she just wanted to put off the inevitable a little longer.
“I’m so sorry about your window,” she blurted.
“That’s okay. The shutter is still in place, so that’ll cut the breeze and the cold.”
“And the lamp.”
“Like I care.”
She nodded and stood up. She was wearing black skinny jeans and a loose white blouse—and he was struck by how good she looked in normal clothes, not all that Chosen formality. And it was funny, her language was loosening up too, becoming more vernacular.
Goddamn, he thought … he would really love to have had children with her.
The trip down to the clinic felt endless, and Selena wasn’t sure whether that was a bad or a good thing. On the one hand, she was ready to have the news just so she could deal with whatever it was. On the other, she would have been content to live in the no-know zone a little longer.
Trez held her hand all the way to the training center, not letting her go even when he put the various passcodes in or when they had to go one after the other through the supply closet. Walking down the corridor to Doc Jane’s, she thought about all the doors they could have entered instead of the one they were destined for.
As they came to the examination room, she looked up at him. “I couldn’t do this without you.”
He leaned down and brushed her mouth with his. “The good news is that you won’t have to.”
Together, they entered the clinical space. Instantly, Selena had trouble breathing, that chemical scent and all the shiny-shiny getting to her once again. And the choking sensation got worse as Doc Jane and Manny straightened from the computer screen over at the desk and put on identical, professional smiles.
“Bad news, huh,” she said. As both doctors started to prevaricate, she cut them off. “Please. Respect me and my time enough not to waste words trying to sugarcoat all this. Tell me what my body told you.”
“We see some change in the joints.” Doc Jane stepped back. “Everywhere we X-rayed.”
Well … didn’t that take the starch out of her. Even though she had expected that very answer.
The two doctors were taking turns explaining things, and Trez was nodding like he was tracking the conversation. She, however, was focused on the computer screen’s side-by-side comparison of two images, one that had been taken after the last episode had happened … and the other that had been taken hours ago. Separated by a mere two days … the joints now had a gray haze in the spaces between the bones.
“It’s as if it is kindling,” Doc Jane said. “Maybe your body is holding it at bay?”
“For how long?” Trez asked.
“We have no idea.” Manny reached forward and adjusted and readjusted the contrast of the moniter, as if searching for something. “We would like to suggest that you come in for more imaging every six hours for the next day. That way we can see if things are continuing to change.”
“Are you in pain right now?” Doc Jane asked.
“Because we can give you relief if you need it.”
Trez spoke up. “Are there any medications we can try?”
Dearest Virgin Scribe, her brain seemed to have shut down.
“Well, we’ve talked it over.” Manny glanced at Jane. “And we’re stuck.”
Doc Jane took the lead. “One of the things we’ve been considering is anti-inflammatories. Oral steroids would be problematic, because they suppress the immune system and it’s unclear to what extent an episode is being held off precisely by your body’s own defenses.”
“Your white blood cell count is very high,” Manny cut in. “So there’s definitely something happening right now.”
“And steroid injections into the joints, even if we stuck with only the largest ones in your body, would be but a partial solution.” Jane drew a hand through her short hair. “It would seem logical to start you on some NSAIDs—think prescription-strength Motrin.”
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