Home > The King (Black Dagger Brotherhood #12)(14)

The King (Black Dagger Brotherhood #12)(14)
Author: J.R. Ward

“Don’t you dare,” the fighter spat before falling into another series of coughs. As soon as she recovered, she went back to being in his face. “Don’t you f**king dare disrespect me—I come here to fight with you to keep my own skills up. If you took advantage of a weakness, that is my fault, not yours.”

“So you think I was just being hard on you?” he asked grimly.

“Of course. And I hadn’t tapped out yet—”

“Do you think for a second that would have gotten through to me.”

A fissure of fear charged the molecules around the female.

“And that is why we will never do this again.” He turned in the direction of Doc Jane. “But she’s also right. This is not your business, so stay out of it.”

“The hell I—”

“Not a request, Jane. An order. And I’ll go see V as soon as I’m out of the shower.”

“You can be a real prick, you know that, Your Highness.”

“And a murderer. Don’t forget that one.”

He started off in the direction of the door, not bothering to take George’s halter handle. When his trajectory got off, the dog course-corrected him by getting in the way and steering him to the proper exit.

“Locker room,” he grunted when they entered the concrete corridor.

George, familiar with either the word or the postworkout ritual, helped him navigate down the hall, his paws clipping along across the bald floor.

Thank God the training center was a ghost town this time of day. The last thing he wanted was to run into anybody.

With the Brothers sleeping, the extensive underground complex was empty, from the gym and its equipment rooms, to the gun range and classrooms, to the Olympic-size swimming pool and the office that ran everything—as well as Doc Jane and Manny’s operating rooms and recovery suites.

Although Payne had almost been a patient.

Shit.

Running his hand down the wall, he stopped when he got to an inset doorway. “You wanna wait here?” he asked George.

Going by the jangling of the collar and the bony tha-bump, the golden decided to sit out shower time which was fairly typical—not a big fan of hot and humid because of that long coat of his.

Pushing his way in, Wrath was able to orient well. Thanks to the closed-in acoustics and all the tile, things were easy to navigate by sound—and habit. Also, spaces that he’d spent a lot of time in back when he’d had some of his sight were so much easier to handle on his own.

Fuck. If that dog hadn’t stopped him just now?

Wrath sagged back against the slick walls, letting his head hang loose. Jesus Christ.

Scrubbing his face, his brain played tricks on him, flashing images of what the aftermath would have been like.

The moan that rose up his throat sounded like a foghorn. His brother’s sister. A fighter he respected. Ruined.

He owed that dog. As usual.

Stripping off his sweaty muscle shirt, he let it flop onto the floor as he shucked his nylon board shorts. Using his hand on the wall once again, he walked forward and knew when he got into the shower room because of the way the floor sloped. The faucet cranks were lined up on three sides and he zeroed in on them, feeling the slick circular drains under his bare feet.

Picking one at random, he turned on the water and braced himself against the cold rush that hit him square in the face.

God, that surge of anger. It was a familiar octane—but not anything he wanted back in his life again. That unholy burn had sustained him all those years between when his parents had been killed and when he’d met and mated Beth. He’d thought it was gone for good.

“Fuck,” he bit out.

Closing his eyes, he braced his palms by the showerhead and leaned into the heavy roping of his arms. His nasty mood made his head feel like it had a set of helicopter blades on it—and they were about two rotations short of separating his skull from the rest of his body.

God … damn.

He’d never thought about it before, but “insanity” was largely a hypothetical concept to the sane; a derogative slur to slam someone you didn’t respect; a descriptor applied to inappropriate behavior.

Standing in the shower, he realized that true insanity had nothing to do with PMS or “hitting the wall” or going on a bender and trashing a hotel room before you passed out. It wasn’t driving crazy or robbing a bank or temporarily taking your temper out on an inanimate object.

It was the removal of the world around you, a good-bye to sensation and awareness that was like a video camera manipulation—your internal shit got zoomed in and everything else, your mate, your job, your community, your health and well-being, went not just out of reach … but out of existence.

And the scariest part? This in-between when you had one foot in reality and the other in your own personal, living-breathing purgatory—and you could feel the former slip, slip, slippin’ away—

From out of nowhere, Wrath’s equilibrium went haywire, the whole world tilting on its axis to the point where he wasn’t sure whether he’d fallen back or not.

But then he felt a sharp blade right under his chin, and realized that someone had grabbed hold of his hair.

“At this moment in time,” came the hiss in his ear, “we know two things. But only one of them is a game changer.”

NINE

This was a bad migraine.

As iAm cracked the door to his brother’s room, the poor bastard’s suffering stained the very air, making it hard to breathe—and even see properly.

Then again, everything was dark by design.

“Trez?”

The moaned answer was nothing good, a combination of wounded animal and sore throat from throwing up. iAm lifted his wrist into the light streaming in from behind and cursed at his Piaget. By this time, the SOB should have been solidly in recovery, his body digging itself out of the headache hole that had swallowed him.

Not the case.

“You want something for your stomach?”

Mumble, mumble, groan, mumble?

“Okay, I’m sure they’ve got some.”

Mumble, moan, moan. Mutter, mutter.

“Yeah, that, too. You want some Milanos?”

Mmmmmmmmmoan.

“Roger that.”

iAm shut the door and walked back to the stairs that took him down to the juncture between the hall of statues and the second-story foyer. Like the rest of the house, everything was silent as a tomb, but as he hit the grand staircase, his chef’s nose picked up the subtle scents of First Meal being cooked in the kitchen wing.

The closer he got to the hub of doggen, the more his own stomach got to talking. Logical. After he’d finished making the Bolognese, he’d checked on his brother and then gone to the gym for hours.

Where he’d seen a hell of a lot more than just the inside of the weight room.

The last thing he’d bargained for was trying to pull the King off of that female fighter. He’d been coming to the end of his workout when he’d heard someone yelling and gone to check it out—whereupon he’d found, hello, the King pythoning that female.

Needless to say he had a newfound respect for that blind vampire. There were very few things iAm hadn’t been able to move in his adult life. He’d changed a tire while acting as his own tire iron. Had been known to walk vats of sauce big as washing machines around a kitchen. Hell, he’d even actually relocated a washer and dryer without thinking much about it.

And then he’d had to lift that truck off his brother about two years ago.

Another example of Trez’s love life getting out of control.

But down in the training center with Wrath? There’d been no budging that f**ker. The King had been bulldog-locked on—and the expression on his face? No emotion, not even a grimace of effort. And that body—viciously strong.

iAm shook his head as he crossed that apple tree in full bloom.

Trying to budge Wrath had been like pulling on a boulder. Nothing moved; nothing gave.

That canine had gotten through, though. Thank God.

Now, ordinarily, iAm didn’t like animals in the house—and he definitely wasn’t a dog person. They were too big, too dependent, the shedding—too much. But he respected that golden whatever it was now—

Meeeeeeeeeeeerowwwwwwwwwwwwww.

“Fuck!”

Speak of the devil. As the queen’s black cat wound its way around his feet, he was forced to Michael Jackson it over the damn thing so he didn’t step on it.

“Damn it, cat!”

The feline followed him all the way into the kitchen, always with the in-and-out around the ankles—almost like it knew he’d been thinking benes about the dog and was establishing dominance.

Except cats couldn’t read minds, of course.

He stopped and glared at the thing. “What the hell do you want.”

Not really a question, as he didn’t care to give the feline an opening.

One black paw lifted and then …

Next thing he knew, the goddamn cat was leaping into his arms, rolling over onto its back … and purring like a Ferrari.

“Are you f**king kidding me,” he muttered. “I don’t like you. Goddamn it.”

“Master, what may I get for you?”

As Fritz, the ancient doggen butler, got up in his face big as a billboard, iAm took a moment to dial back to his happy place. Which, unfortunately, looked a lot like a Saw movie—the body parts of others all over everywhere.

But that was just a stress-induced fantasy. Like, he could remember once, a loooooong time ago, he hadn’t been bitched about everything and everybody. Really. It was true.

Paw, paw, paw. On his shirt.

“Fucking hell.” He gave in and rubbed that black belly. “And no, I don’t need anything.”

The purring got so loud, he had to lean in to the butler. “What did you say?”

“I’m happy to oblige whatever you require.”

“Yeah. I know. But I’m going to take care of my brother. No one else. Are we clear.”

The cat was now rubbing its head into his pec. Then stretching up into the itching.

Oh, God, this was awful—especially as the butler’s already droopy face sagged down to what were no doubt knobby knees.

“Ah, shit, Fritz—”

“Is he ill?”

iAm closed his eyes briefly as the female voice registered. Fantastic. Another party heard from.

“He’s fine,” iAm said without looking at the Chosen Selena.

Leaving the kibitzers in the dust, he went into the pantry with the freeloading cat and …

Right. How was he going to get the load of post-migraine recovery rations down from the shelves with his arms full of—

What was its name?

Fine. It was Goddamn Cat, then.

Looking down into those wide, contented eyes, iAm thinned his lips as he rubbed under its chin. Behind an ear.

“Okay, enough with this.” He played with one of the paws. “I gotta put you down now.”

Assuming control, he took the cat out of its recline and went to put it down on the—

Somehow the thing managed to claw its way into the very fibers of his fleece and hang off the front of him like a tie.

“Are you kidding me.”

More purring. A blink of those luminous eyes. An expression of self-possession that iAm took to mean this interaction was going to go the cat’s way—and no one else’s.

“Mayhap I shall help?” Selena asked softly.

iAm bit out a curse and glared at the cat. Then at the Chosen. But short of taking off his pullover? Goddamn Cat was sticking with him.

“I need some of those Milanos up there?” The Chosen reached up and took a bag from the Pepperidge Farm munchie department. “And he’s going to need some of those tortilla chips.”

“Plain or the lime flavor?”

“Plain.” iAm gave up the ghost and resumed servicing Goddamn—and the cat immediately went into full La-Z-Boy again. “He’s going to want one of the Entenmann’s pound cakes. And we’re going to bring him three ice-cold Cokes, two big Poland Springs, room temperature, and a partridge in a pear tree.”

After one of his headaches, Trez wanted hydration, glucose, and caffeine. Made sense. Twelve hours of no food was bad news. And then there was the heaving he got to party down with.

Five minutes later, he and the Chosen and Goddamn Cat were heading for the third floor. And at least iAm managed to help with things by tucking the long water bottles under his pits. Fritz had also provided one of those handled Whole Foods bags for the rest of it.

Christ, he would have infinitely preferred to make this trip by himself.

“He likes you very much,” the female commented as they ascended.

“He’s my brother. He’d better.”

“Oh, no—I meant the cat. Boo adores you.”

“The feeling is not mutual.”

iAm had every intention of hitting the female with an “I got this” when they finally showed up at the bedroom door—but Goddamn still wasn’t going anywhere.

Which was how the Chosen Selena ended up in Trez’s crib.

Exactly what the situation did not need.

Thank you, cat.

As the door was swung wide, light sliced in, and as luck would have it, the shit spotlit Trez as that big, ugly lug shot up.

Someone had caught the female’s scent.

Oh, FFS.

And P.S., why couldn’t the f**ker look worse? His brother should be roadkill nasty after the way he’d spent the daylight hours.

“Where shall I set this?” the Chosen asked either or both of them.

“Over on the desk,” iAm muttered. It was the farthest point away from the bed—

“Leave us,” came a grunt from the patient.

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