Home > The King (Black Dagger Brotherhood #12)(16)

The King (Black Dagger Brotherhood #12)(16)
Author: J.R. Ward

But he was not suicidal. “What are they, Payne,” he gritted out.

The female’s voice was a low growl right in his ear. “We both know that you can get out of this if you choose to. In the blink of an eye, you can overpower me—you more than proved it back in the gym.”

“And the second?”

“If I got to you once, I can do it again. And maybe next time I won’t waste my breath trying to prove the fact that I’m your equal.”

“I am the King, you realize.”

“And I’m the daughter of a deity, motherfucker.”

With that, she released him and stepped back.

Covering his ge**tals with his hands, he turned to face her. He’d never seen what Payne looked like, but he’d been told that she was built along the lines of her brother, tall and powerful. Apparently, she had the same jet-black hair and those pale, icy eyes, too—and the intelligence was something he could judge for himself.

She also, evidently, had the balls.

“I can kill you,” she said, grimly. “Anytime I want. And I don’t need a conventional weapon, either. You are stronger, yes—I give you that. But there are things I am capable of that you can’t imagine.”

“Then why didn’t you use them.”

“Because I don’t want to put you in a grave. You are needed here. You are critical for the race.”

Goddamn throne. “So what you’re saying is that you would have let yourself die back in the gym?”

“You weren’t going to murder me.”

Oh, yes, I was, he thought with self-disgust. “Look, Payne, we can go around in circles about this for the next year and a half and it would get us nowhere. I’m not sparring with you again. Ever.”

“You don’t honestly expect me to accept an argument based on my sex.”

“No, I expect you to respect my relationship with your brother.”

“Don’t pull that old-school BS with me. I am of maturity, and mated at that. I don’t subscribe in any way to my brother having some kind of dominion over me—”

He jerked forward on his hips. “Fuck that. Vishous is my brother. Do you have any idea what it would do to him if I killed you?” He gestured with one hand to his head. “Can you get off your high horse for one second and consider that? Even if I didn’t give a rat’s ass about you, do you think I would do that to him?”

There was a pause, and he had the sense she was going to respond. But when nothing came back at him, he cursed.

“And yeah, you’re right,” he hedged. “You fight well enough to be a Brother—and I sparred with them for years, so I should know. I’m not stopping this because you’re a frickin’ girl. It’s for the same reason Qhuinn and Blay can’t go out into the field together, and why Xhex, if she ever decided to fight with us, wouldn’t be allowed to be on the same squad as John. It’s why Doc Jane wouldn’t operate on your brother or you. Some things are just too close, feel me?”

Against that rushing backdrop of the running water, he heard her walk around, her bare feet nearly soundless on the tiles.

“If you were his brother instead of his sister,” Wrath said, “it would be the same. The problem is me, not you—so do yourself a favor and get off this feminist pulpit you’re on. It’s boring me.”

A little harsh, maybe. But he’d already proven that being civilized was outside his wheelhouse at the moment.

More silence. Until Wrath almost threw his hands up in frustration—but remembered his hey-nannies didn’t need to be on parade. “Come on, Payne. I can totally appreciate your pride being injured. Except I want you living and breathing more than I care about your feelings getting hurt.”

There was another long stretch of quiet. But she hadn’t left—he could sense her presence almost as if he could see her: She was right across the tile from him, standing between him and the exit.

“You believe you would not have stopped,” she said roughly.

“No.” He closed his eyes, regret stinging his chest. “I know it. And like I said, that part has nothing to do with you. So please, for the love of God, drop this and let me finish my shower.”

When there was no more conversation, Wrath felt his temper start to boil again. “What.”

“Let me ask you something.”

“Can’t this wait until—”

“The Brothers spar together, correct.”

“No. They’re too busy taking off-duty knitting classes.”

“So why don’t they work out with you anymore?” Her voice got lower. “Why don’t you keep sharp with them? Did it change after you took the throne?”

“After I went completely blind,” he bit out. “It changed then. Do you want an exact date?”

“I wonder if I asked around whether people would agree with that.”

“Are you suggesting I can actually see.” He bared his fangs. “Seriously.”

“No, I’m questioning whether your brothers would have gone to the mat with you once you properly assumed the crown upon your brow. I have a feeling that answer would be no.”

“You want to explain why this is relevant,” he cut in. “Because your other option is to watch me lose my shit again—and we both know how much fun that was the first time.”

When she spoke next, her voice was farther away and he had the sense that she had gone over to the archway that led to where the lockers were.

“I think the only reason why we spar is because I’m female.” As he opened his mouth, she talked over him. “And I think you would continue to fight with me if I were male. You can keep telling yourself it’s about my brother, that’s fine. But I believe you are more chauvinistic than you know.”

“Fuck you, Payne. For real.”

“I’m not going to argue with you. Why don’t you ask your shellan, though.”

“What.”

“Ask her how she feels about dealing with you.”

He jabbed at the air between them. “Get out. Before you give me a reason to put you in another f**king choke hold.”

“Why doesn’t she want you to know where she goes while you’re working?”

“Excuse me?”

“Females don’t keep secrets from mates who respect them. And that’s as far as I’m going to take this. But blind or not, you need to get a clearer picture of yourself.”

Wrath marched forward over the wet floor. “Payne. Payne! Come back here this f**king minute!”

He was arguing with himself, though.

The female had left him alone.

“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!” he screamed at the top of his lungs.

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck, Trez thought as he breathed in again.

Recovery from a migraine was all about a soft landing for your return to consciousness. Usually the prescription was food and actual rest—because shit knew that even though you were in a dark room with nothing but Howard 100 streaming through your iPhone, you weren’t hanging proper with the sandman.

At the moment, however, he was seriously reconsidering years of get-back-to-normal trial and error: As the door shut behind his brother, and Trez was left alone with the Chosen Selena, every cell in his body went on full tingle.

Oh, man, he had to will on a lamp, even though it was a little early for his retinas to handle any real light—

Hello, goddess.

Selena was tall, and though she wore the traditional white robing of her station, it was clear she was built exactly like a female should be: Nothing was keeping down those curves of hers, not even all that draped fabric. And talk about your beautiful faces. She was all pink lips and pale blue eyes, her features perfectly symmetrical and engineered to catch a male’s stare and hold it. Then there was the hair. Long, thick, and the color of midnight, she wore it in the style of the Chosen, all coiled on the crown of her head.

So that all you could think of was taking it down and running your fingers through it.

She was perfect in every way.

And would not give him the time of day.

Which made her appearance up here with his bag of shit all the more remarkable.

“You have been gravely ill,” she said softly.

Trez’s eyeballs rolled back in his head. That voice. Shit, that voice.

Wait, she wanted him to respond, didn’t she. What had she—“Nah. I’m great. Just great.”

And becoming hard as a rock, f**k him very much. God, he hoped she didn’t catch the scent of his arousal.

“What may I do to help you?”

Umm … how ’bout drop the robe and hop up on this bed. After which you can ride me like a pony until I pass the hell out.

“Would you care for some of this food?”

“What food?” he mumbled.

“Your brother prepared for you that bag.”

Had the bastard even been here? he wondered.

“You just asked him to leave?”

Guess so. “Oh, yeah. Right.”

Trez eased back against the pillows and winced. As he went to rub his temples, he sensed her approaching the bed—and with a fast move, he yanked the heavy duvet higher on his belly.

Sometimes “naked” meant so much more than just “I don’t have any clothes on.”

Man, her expression was so worried. To the point where he had to force himself to remember she’d blown him off before. Which she really had.

Yup, as faulty as his short-term memory was—at least when it came to, like, his brother being in the room—he could recall exactly where he’d been when he’d seen this female last … as well as her less-than-enthused response to him.

He also remembered precisely how he came to know (of) her. He’d heard her name as soon as Phury had released the Chosen from the Scribe Virgin’s Sanctuary and Selena, along with the others, had started living off and on at Rehvenge’s Great Camp up in the Adirondacks. He’d even caught sight of her from time to time, but shit had been going down with Rehv and he’d been distracted.

That had passed, however. And he and iAm had gone up there at Rehv’s request recently—which was when he’d met her properly, one-on-one.

Okay, iAm had been with him, but he’d likewise put the guy out of mind. Then again, the moment he’d seen that female he’d forgotten his own name, most of his English vocabulary, and seventy-five percent of his sense of balance.

Instant. Cosmic. Attraction.

At least, on his part.

She was less struck stupid, of course—although he’d had hopes. And stalker tendencies. For the past week, he’d hung around the mansion for however many nights in a row, hoping to see her in the midst of one of her visits to service the Brotherhood. Because, hey, nothing says, “I wanna date ya,” like grounds for a restraining order.

Eventually, he’d won the lottery and managed to “run into her.” Like the simp he was, he’d told her she was beautiful—and not in a pickup-line kind of way. He’d actually meant it. Unfortunately, and unlike the countless human women he macked on, she’d remained unimpressed.

So again, why the visit up here?

Not that that was a question he was going to look too closely at.

“What may I get you?” she said. And man, that earnest concern put him to shame.

“Ah … actually one of those Cokes, please?”

Oh, yeaaah, the way she moved as she went over to the bag she’d put down. So smooth and even, her h*ps shifting under that robe, her shoulders counterbalancing, her …

He averted his eyes from her posterior assets.

Although, dayum.

As she came over to the bed, he moved himself closer to the middle of the mattress, hoping she would sit down. She didn’t. She bent at the waist and handed him the plastic bottle. Then she stepped back, keeping a respectful distance.

The soda let out a hiss as he unscrewed the cap.

“Please tell me what ails you.”

Her hands twisted in front of her, wringing, wringing.

“Just a migraine.” He took a long draft off the bottle. “Wow, that’s good.”

The view was better.

“What is it?”

“Coca-Cola.” Trez paused before his second hit, realizing she wasn’t asking about the Real Thing. “A migraine’s a kind of headache. No big deal.”

Well, except for the fact that his lasted up to twelve hours and made him feel like death.

Her beautiful eyes narrowed. “If it’s not of concern, why was your brother so worried?”

“He’s like that. A hysteric.” Trez shut his lids and draaaaaaaaaaaaaank. And once more. “Nectar of the gods, for real.”

“I’ve never thought of him in that manner. But of course, you know him better.”

As she hovered, he wished she were half as interested in the fact that his chest was on full display: He wasn’t arrogant, but usually the females looked at him and didn’t look away.

“Don’t worry, he’ll be fine,” he grumbled. “And so will I.”

“But you’ve been up here all day—since you came home last night.”

He was about to get truly annoyed with himself when he thought … wait a minute. “How’d you know that?”

The fact that she glanced away quickly made him sit up again.

“Your brother mentioned something about it downstairs.”

Doubt that. iAm rarely talked to people unless he had to.

So she must have been looking for him. Right?

Trez let his lids lower. “Hey, do you mind sitting down here—I’m finding it hard to keep looking up at you.”

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