Home > The Thief (Black Dagger Brotherhood #16)(15)

The Thief (Black Dagger Brotherhood #16)(15)
Author: J.R. Ward

“We shall leave the now,” Ehric told the healer. “And meet transport as soon as they can get to us.”

* * *

Vishous penetrated the alley’s throat with his guns up and his instincts on high alert. His body, unfortunately, was logy and uncoordinated, as though his blood had turned into rubber cement and his bones were struggling to hold his weight. But goddamn it, he was going to find out if there were any more of those shadows.

“You ever seen anything like that before?” Butch asked in a low voice.

“Nope.”

“Heard about something like—”

“Nope.”

“Read about—”

“What do you think,” V snapped.

The cop cursed. “You know what, I’m going to dub in a ‘yes’ at this point because I am totally freaked out by the idea you have no clue what that was.”

Breathing in through his nose, V caught a lingering scent in the air, and he stopped. Frowned. Turned to the right.

“What is it?” Butch demanded.

Sniffing like a bloodhound, Vishous closed in on the alley wall. “Cologne. Fresh. And there’s vampire under the shit. Someone was just here.”

Butch leaned in and sniffed the building’s flank like it had mortar made out of cocaine. “Acqua di Parma. Expensive stuff. And yeah, it was a male who’s one of us. Maybe a member of the glymera? But what would they be doing in this part of town?”

“No blood, though.”

“So that shadow didn’t get them.”

Vishous removed the lead-lined glove from his curse and lifted his deadly, glowing hand up. Willing illumination from the center of his palm, he lit the entire alley for the distance of four blocks.

No one was there. And the snow was so packed and ice-covered that a retreat wouldn’t leave any prints—although considering it had been a vampire, they would have dematerialized to get away.

Unless the entity could consume a mortal?

“I don’t like any part of this,” V muttered as he lowered his palm and re-gloved.

As the wind swirled and changed directions, coming at his face, he sorted through the complex, interlacing layers of scents, a job challenged by the cold because it tamped down the smells’ intensity: There was garden-variety city-nasty, which was a combination of human feces, rot, and generic decay…your typical gas and oil fumes…an electrical burn from somewhere…

Nothing remotely lesser or vampire-ish.

Whoever it was had left.

“I’ve smelled that before.” He nodded to the wall. “I just can’t frickin’ place it. No…wait. I think…”

Taking out his cell phone, he sent a text. The reply was instantaneous, and the response he was after nearly as fast: In less than a minute, two huge fighters appeared. The one with the harelip and the scythe on his back was Xcor, leader of the Band of Bastards, mated of the Chosen Layla. Next to him, his soldier Zypher was just as big, but preferred guns to big knives.

Which was a minor strike against the male. Then again, V had been making daggers for a couple of centuries, so he was biased toward the steel.

“Greetings,” Xcor said. “What is the—”

Instantly, the male’s head cranked toward the alley’s wall. And then he stepped in close.

“Throe,” he growled as he inhaled.

ELEVEN

Six stops.

Sola and her grandmother made six stops on the fourteen-hundred-mile, thirty-six-hour-long trip. Other than that, they had steadily moved north on the highway system, through the never-gonna-frickin’-end, long-and-thin of Florida, into Georgia and the Carolinas, and finally up to the almost-theres of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

The idea that they could have come in to Caldwell’s zip code at ten in the morning had been craziness. Especially given that, after some thirteen hours of driving, she’d had to get out from behind the wheel and grab a crash of about six hours at a La Quinta. But then they’d kept right on going after her sleep, and man, she’d enjoyed a shot of thank you, Jesus triumph as they’d finally passed into New York State. Talk about your premature celebrations. There had still been hours to go at that point, and by the time she’d battled through Manhattan traffic to shoot out the other side, she had reached the cold-storage suffering part of any long trip.

It Was Never Going To Be Over.

Like all things, however, the rule of beginning, middle, and end applied to their travel and signs for Caldwell had started to appear, like the lights of a rescue plane to someone who had been Tom Hanks–stranded for the longest time.

“We are here,” her vovó said as the Northway made a turn and the city’s bridge over the Hudson River appeared like the promised land.

Or, at least, the land of less-likely-to-get-a-DVT-blood-clot-in-your-leg-because-you-can-finally-get-out-the-car.

“Yes, we made it.”

There was only a moment of relief, however, that balm to her aching neck and stiff shoulders immediately replaced with an OMG. She had no idea what was going to happen when they got to Assail’s: For one, they were not expected. His cousins hadn’t left her with a way of getting in touch. And then there was the unknown of Assail’s condition and the shock of seeing him after a year.

Why hadn’t she thought to get a phone number from Ehric? Then again, she hadn’t seen this turn of northbound events, had she.

As she took herself and her grandmother over the bridge to Caldwell’s quieter side, she looked to the left, searching for Assail’s glowing glass house on its peninsula. She couldn’t see anything but tiny clusters of lights on the shore, and God knew, his big place lit up like the Kennedy Space Center at night.

Maybe he was at a hospital? She had no idea where he was being treated.

After they came off the bridge, she took the first exit and then the turnoff for the peninsula’s road was a split from a curve that narrowed things down considerably. Finally, she passed that little hunting cabin, which was the last structure before Assail’s mansion.

Now her heart began to beat hard, the beautiful, transparent house appearing like the bird’s nest of a Swarovski finch.

But yup, everything was dark inside, which didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Although at least, as she rolled around to the garages in back, there were lights on in the kitchen and someone was standing at the sink.

“You stay here,” she ordered her grandmother as she stopped the car and ran a check of her gun.

Nine times out of ten, she deferred to her elder. Okay, fine, nine and nine-tenths out of ten. But when it came to physical safety, she was always going to be in charge and her grandmother recognized those instances.

“Lock up,” Sola said as she got out and shut the door.

She waited until there was a thunk sound that meant the car was secure. Then she walked over to the rear entrance of the mansion, her running shoes squeaking in the snowpack, her breath coming out in puffs of white, her sinuses humming and her ears tingling.

Ah, January in upstate New York. You might as well have been on the arctic circle.

Especially when you’d been living in Miami.

Before she could knock or otherwise make herself known, the back door opened and she gasped. The dark-haired man standing before her was half the size Assail had been, with the arms and legs of someone who was starving to death. Or dying.

“Assail…” she whispered.

“May I help you?” a voice she didn’t recognize asked.

Wait—what? Okay, no, that was not Assail—which was a relief. “I’m a—I’m a friend of Assail’s. This is still his house, right?”

“Yes.”

When nothing more was offered, she cleared her throat. “May I see him?”

“He is not here.”

“Where is he?”

“Who are you again?”

Sola glanced back at the road-grime-covered car and saw her grandmother sitting there, buckled into the passenger seat, her pocketbook clutched to her bosom. Thirty-six hours. Sola had driven that poor old woman thirty-six hours in a car that had the shock absorbers of a cardboard box and a heater that smelled like an electrical fire if they were going over sixty miles an hour.

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