Home > The Chosen (Black Dagger Brotherhood #15)(15)

The Chosen (Black Dagger Brotherhood #15)(15)
Author: J.R. Ward

He was praying that for once, word did not travel fast in the Brotherhood. That the brother on duty maybe hadn’t checked his phone, or maybe everyone back at the house was still so up in their head about the fucking drama that they didn’t think to text the person who was on duty here—

Phury came down the torch-lit hall of shelves, the sound of his shitkickers on the stone floor echoing up among all the lesser jars.

“Oh, hey,” the brother said. “How we doing?”

In the flickering orange light, there was no suspicion, no alarm on that face, no narrowed eyes. No hands going for a cell phone to call out for backup. No tension like that warrior body was prepared to defend its position even with the gates in place.

“We’re fantastic,” Qhuinn replied as he tried not to focus on how long the guy was taking to saunter the fuck to him. “Other than the fact that I’m covering Lassiter for today.”

Phury stopped at the gate and put his hands on his hips. Which made Qhuinn want to scream.

“Let me guess,” the other brother said. “Golden Girls marathon.”

“Worse. A retrospective on Maude. Bea Arthur is hot, apparently. So you gonna let me in?”

The Primale started in with the copper key. “He’s awake, by the way.”

Qhuinn’s heart started pounding. “Xcor?”

Like they’d be talking about someone else?

“Not very communicative, but he is conscious. No interrogation, yet. V had to peel Tohr away and then Butch left when I got here.” Phury opened the way in and stepped aside. “And you know the policy. There have to be two of us present to work on him—and I can’t stay. I’ve got to meet Cormia up at the Great Camp. Do you have a number two or are we waiting for nightfall to start the fun and games?”

Ironic, really. Everyone had been worried about Tohr going rogue and taking out his pound of flesh too early.

But that wasn’t going to be the problem, was it.

Qhuinn released a breath and made sure he didn’t rush inside. “Blay was going to come with me, but he has to go see his mahmen.”

As they traded places, Phury handed over the key, which he’d almost put into his pocket. “Oh, sorry—you’re going to need this. Yeah, I heard about the fall. How’s her ankle?”

Qhuinn was so distracted by what had been put in his hand that he lost track of the conversation. What the hell had they been—

“Better,” Qhuinn heard himself say as he closed things up and put the key head back into the lock slot. “Anyway, he was going to arrange for coverage.”

“I’d stay if I could.”

Qhuinn watched from a distance as he cranked the ornate handle to the left, throwing the tumblers so that the lock’s gears met and grabbed hold—

“Qhuinn?”

He shook himself and made a show of affecting a pleasant expression—something his features were generally not familiar with, regardless of the crisis he was currently in.

“Yeah?”

“Are you okay? You don’t look right.”

Making a show of brushing his hand through his hair and jacking his leathers up, he rolled his shoulder—and wanted to high-five the body part as it let out an obliging crack!

“To be honest, this rotator cuff is killing me.” He reached across and massaged things for show. “Doc Jane thinks she might have to operate on it to clean out the socket. But don’t worry, it’s low-grade chronic, not acute, and I’m not on any meds. If anything happens with the piece of meat back there”—he motioned behind himself—“I can handle shit.”

Phury cursed. “Been there. And I’m not concerned about you. I know you’ll take care of business. Do you want me to swing by the mansion and see if Z can come hang?”

“No, Blay’s gonna find someone. But thanks.”

For the love of all that was unholy, could they please stop fucking talking. Any second the brother’s phone was going to go off with a text or a call to inform him that under no circumstances was Qhuinn to be within three hundred yards of their prisoner—

“Bye.” Phury turned away and lifted a hand. “Good luck with him.”

“He’s going to fucking need it,” Qhuinn whispered to the brother’s retreating back.

NINE

In his blindness, Wrath was both more isolated from, and more connected to, the world than those who were sighted: Isolated, because the lack of visual cues from his environment meant he was forever floating in a galaxy of darkness, and more connected because his other faculties were amplified in his perpetual, internal night sky, stars of other information that he orientated himself by.

So, as he faced off at Layla, and she told him the whole story, he caught and tracked all of her nuances, from the variations in her scent and tone of voice, to every little move she made, to the change in air pressure between them as her mood alternated between anger and sadness, regret and guilt.

“So Xcor found the compound,” Wrath concluded, “by tracking your blood. That’s how he did it?”

There was a slight creak as the bed adjusted to a shift of her weight.

“Yes,” she said softly. “I had fed him.”

“Yeah, that first night. When Throe tricked you into coming out to that field. Or did it happen again after that.”

“It happened again.”

“Your blood was in him,” Wrath repeated. “And he followed the signal here.”

“He promised that if I continued to see him, he wouldn’t attack the compound. I told myself I was protecting all of us, but the truth is … I needed to see him. I wanted to see him. It was awful, being trapped between my heart and my family. It has been … awful.”

Goddamn it, Wrath thought. There was going to be no easy way out of this.

“You committed treason.”

“I did.”

Wrath had worked hard to reverse many of the restrictive and punitive Old Laws, abolishing things like blood slavery and indentured servitude, and establishing basic due process for offenses among civilians. But the one thing he had adhered to was that betraying the crown was still punishable by death.

“Please,” she whispered, “do not take me away from my young. Do not send me unto the Fade.”

She was hardly an enemy of the state. But she had committed a very serious crime—and God his head was pounding.

“Why did you need to see Xcor?” he asked.

“I fell in love with him.” The Chosen’s voice was level and lifeless. “I had no control over it. He was always so gentle with me. So kind. He never once made an advance to me—and when I did to him, he pushed me away even though it was well obvious that he … was not indifferent. He just seemed to want to be near me.”

“You’re sure he wasn’t lying.”

“About what?”

“Knowing where we stayed.”

“No, he wasn’t. I saw him on the property. I met him … on the property.” Now she spoke more quickly, a fervent begging entering her voice. “So he has honor—he could have attacked, but he chose not to. He kept his word, even after he told me to go and never see him again.”

Wrath frowned. “You’re saying he ended it between the two of you?”

“He did. He cast me out and deserted the cottage we had been meeting at.”

“Was there any reason he would have done that?”

There was a long pause. “I confronted him about his feelings for me. I knew he had them, and … but indeed, that was when he threw me out.”

“How long ago was that?”

“It was right before he was captured. And I know why he ended it all. He didn’t want to be vulnerable with me.”

Wrath frowned and crossed his arms over his chest. “Come on, Layla, don’t be naive. You haven’t even once considered it was more a case of him finally having mobilized enough troops and intel to marshal an offensive here?”

“I’m sorry? I don’t follow.”

“Xcor has been actively working with the glymera to form allegiances against me. Before and after he put a bullet in my throat.” As she gasped, he would ordinarily have stopped. But reality was ignored at one’s peril. “If you’re going to sack a fortification like this one, you’re going to need months and months of surveillance and planning. You’re going to require a well-equipped army. You have to gather supplies and equipment. And you’re telling me that you didn’t consider, even for a moment, that he was continuing to use you just to buy time? And maybe he blew you off because he was finally ready?”

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