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

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

“I was born here, but my parents, they came over from Cuba. Oh—I have a coupon for these.” He leaned down under the counter—

And she went for her gun, tucking her hand into her jacket.

Stopping that instinct before she blew his head off, she forced herself to keep in control. And sure enough, he popped up with a battered old folder full of colorful flyers, instead of a weapon.

“It’s okay,” she said as he started going through the pages. “Really.”

He glanced up. “I’d like to help.”

“I’m kind of in a hurry.”

“Oh. Okay.” He shrugged and put the thing away. “Busy day ahead?”

She made a show of inspecting the lottery-ticket selections behind him, the rolls of tickets lolling out of their vertical slots like dog tongues in August. “Have you ever sold a winner?”

He nodded and smiled. “We had fifty dollars last week.”

“Outstanding.”

When everything had been added up, she pushed her money at him and bagged for herself as he made change. Then she was out of there with a quick bye.

She was going to have to find another place to shop, and that sucked because his market was so close and had really good—well, plantains, among other things.

On the street with her plastic bags of her vovó’s list, she walked fast, searching the faces of every person who came toward her as well as the pedestrians across the street and those behind her. There was no fear for her, though. No paranoia, either.

Okay, fine, maybe there was a little paranoia. Bottom line, she was living out that last scene of The Sopranos, waiting, waiting, for the end to come from an unexpected angle—only there was no Journey soundtrack and she had a better hairline than Tony had had. Waistline, too.

Going back to Caldwell was not going to help any of this reality, she reminded herself. The people who were after her weren’t going to grant her a mercy pass because she was up there on a humanitarian mission. They were going to look at her conscience as a stroke of luck for them.

Assuming they hadn’t found her already and only had yet to reveal themselves.

By the time she stepped out of her building’s elevator on the fifth floor, she was feeling no better about anything. Not Assail. Not the shadows still thrown by the life she had lived. Not—

As she opened the door to the condo, she stopped and cursed.

There was a suitcase by the armchair that had been briefly relocated earlier. As well as a duffle bag, a pair of winter coats, two sets of gloves and scarves, and her grandmother’s pocketbook.

“Vovó,” she groaned.

Her grandmother came out of the back, where the bedrooms were. “We go now. Drive through. Get there eight tomorrow morning if we no stop.”

“No.”

“You right. Closer to ten.”

Her grandmother had changed out of her housecoat and was in one of her handmade dresses. She even had hose and short-heeled pumps on. Her hair had been curled and sprayed, looking like a washed-out version of Sally Field’s Steel Magnolias brown football helmet, and yes, there was lipstick involved.

“This is not a good idea, Vovó.” Sola let the door close itself behind her. “It’s not safe in Caldwell.”

“They will keep us safe.”

Sola looked around the condo, taking in all of the anonymity. Then she stared at her grandmother with hard eyes. “You know what kind of man Assail is. You know his business.”

“And.”

As those old eyes glared right back at her, she wanted to curse some more. But she knew better. And she should have known “criminals” and “against-the-law” were relative terms to her vovó. The woman had a long history with people who were less than on the up-and-up.

Make that loved ones who were not all that law-abiding.

Fine, time to bring out the big guns, Sola thought.

“He’s not Catholic.”

“He will convert.”

“Vovó.” She shook her head. “You need to stop this. Even if we help him—and honestly, what can I do for someone who’s terminal?—he and I are not going to get married or anything.”

“We go now. Why we talking?”

The old woman bent down, draped her winter coat over her arm, and picked up her pocketbook.

Jesus, Sola thought. Now she knew what people had to deal with when they crossed her: Brick. Frickin’. Wall.

She closed her eyes. “I made a vow to God. I promised Him, if He saved me, if I got to see you again, I would leave…that life…forever.”

“Assail, I called. I called him that night when you were taken. He came when I needed him. God brought you back to me through him. So now we go. We help who helped us. That is the way.”

Sola shifted the plastic bags of groceries around to relieve the pinching of her hands and fingers. When that didn’t help, she put the weights down on the floor.

“I don’t know if I can protect you up there. Or protect myself.”

“And I say they will take care of us.”

Will you forgive me, Vovó, she wondered. If something goes wrong, will you forgive me?

Will I forgive myself?

“You are all that matters,” Sola said hoarsely.

Her grandmother came forward. “We will go. It is God’s way.”

“How do you know that?”

The smile that came back at her was old, and wise, and very beautiful. “I, too, prayed. To the Virgin Mary. I prayed you see Assail again, and then God sent those men to our house last night. We will leave now. Come.”

With that, her grandmother, who not only had no driver’s license, but couldn’t reach the pedals on anything other than a tricycle, headed for the door.

“Bring the groceries with the suitcases, Sola” was the command over her shoulder.

NINE

It was a little after ten o’clock two evenings later when Vishous materialized into the alleys of downtown, re-forming in the lee of some crappy-ass walk-ups on the east side of the city’s armpit of skyscrapers.

By a stroke of luck, the normal rotation schedule had not required him to be on deck the evening before, so he had managed to isolate himself from everyone for a good forty-eight hours, crashing at the modest ranch Layla had lived in during her estrangement from the household. V had not contacted anyone, not even to ask Fritz to bring him food and drink.

Learned that lesson well enough, fuck him very much.

And hey, Arby’s had been good enough back in his bachelor days, and it was good enough now.

As his time to calm the fuck down had come to a close, there had been a part of him that had debated going off the grid and pulling a permanent relocation. Shit, there were plenty of places to disappear to if a male wanted to not get found. In the end, however, he decided he wanted to fight more than he wanted to be in a pussy’s retreat.

On that note, the Hummer he was looking for came around a street corner like a predator stalking dinner, its headlights off, its running lights glowing softly, the steam coming out of its tailpipe curling up orange and red. As it stopped in front of him, the passenger door opened, a long leg with a shitkicker at the end landing treads-deep in the dirty, packed snow.

Butch O’Neal had been a human for a good thirty and a half years, give or take. Now the former homicide detective was not just a vampire, but Wrath’s own kin: One of the few survivors of a “jump-started” transition, his body hadn’t just gotten taller, but had filled out like he was shooting up steroids and pumping iron like Ahnold in the good ol’ days. Compact as a bulldog, mean as a snake in a fight, loyal as any good Red Sox fan had to be, he was the brother Vishous had never had.

And the bastard knew too much.

“Thanks for the ride, Q—what? Yeah, I’ll text.” He leaned back into the SUV a little farther. Laughed. “Too right.”

The cop shut the door, banged his gloved fist on the quarter panel, and stepped aside as Qhuinn’s second armor-plated SUV rumbled forward. The first one had been car-napped in front of a CVS—when the brother had left the keys in the ignition. Talk about your engraved invitation for a drive-off.

V lifted a hand as the vehicle went by. And then he started the countdown in his head. Three…two…one—

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