Home > The Thief (Black Dagger Brotherhood #16)(4)

The Thief (Black Dagger Brotherhood #16)(4)
Author: J.R. Ward

This was quite unseemly of her, after all. This whole thing. An unmarried woman out in the world, seeking vengeance.

Yes, it was true, the Benloise family had never been well off. Not until Ricardo had come along, at any rate. But that did not mean that there were not rules. Standards. Expectations. All of which were for the women, of course. The men were allowed to be who they were, do what they wished, carry on as they would.

Not so for a sister, a daughter.

But at least their parents were dead, and she did not care what anyone else in her family thought. More to the point, this was her chance.

She had waited all of her life for this. Thirty-five miserable years of fighting for her right to get an education, to not take a husband, to be what she wanted to be, not what others decreed for her.

She turned off the engine and got out. Cold, so very cold. She was going to hate being here, the loss of her native Colombia’s warmth and humidity a thing to mourn.

Looking around, she noted that the snow had been shoveled up to the grand and glossy door, and also around to the back, all the way to the detached garage-like structure. One might be tempted to see such as a sign her brother remained alive, but she knew better.

She had not heard from him in nearly a year—and clearly, this property was held in a trust whereby its upkeep was managed as if its owner were still alive.

Money, however, was running short, and that was why she had come. For the first few months after Ricardo and Eduardo had not been in touch, she had wondered, worried, gotten concerned about her brothers. But as more and more time passed, and disgruntled suppliers had come to her with their inquiries about the business, she started to develop a plan.

If Ricardo could run a drug trade back and forth across the ocean, why could not she? And then the reality of expenses had come home to roost. Her brother had expected her to look after his various real estate holdings in South America, given that she had failed at her true calling of becoming a wife and a mother—and all that upkeep was costly. The accounts were dwindling.

No, both of her brothers were dead, and she had to do what was necessary to survive—no matter the risks.

Taking a key out of her Chanel bag, she approached the ornate, old door and slid the slender, notched length into its home. A turn, a tumble, and she was…

An alarm began to sound the moment the seal was breached, and she left the portal wide as she followed the noise through rooms that were dark and stuffy, navigating by virtue of the exterior lights. She found the security panel in the professional-grade kitchen, by a hardy door that she guessed opened to the outside.

The code she entered was going to work.

And it did.

Their mother’s birth date, month, day, and year. Eight numbers, unknown to anybody but the three siblings. That strict, hard-driving, fervently Catholic woman had had no patience for sentiment, but Ricardo had brought her a flower on the same day each year, and uncharacteristically, she had never thrown it out.

That this was the code to his mansion was a clear tie to his hardscrabble youth. A measure of how far he had come. A defiance against the disapproval they had all grown up under.

Childhood had been a struggle, a test of endurance, for the three siblings. Then again, their mother had had to raise them all on her own, without the benefit of a husband, a steady job, a roof over their heads. Not a lot of room for extravagances or indulgence in that reality—and then there had been all the rosaries, Hail Mary’s, and confessions.

But that was over now.

With the alarm silent, Vitoria’s return to the front entrance was more leisurely, and she took time to measure and add up the value of the antique chairs and Persian rugs, the ornate tables and the paintings of the ancestors of others. It was impossible not to draw comparisons with how Ricardo had always seen her. As with this art and these antiques, her role in his life had been to stick where she was put, without question or objection. Her virtue was part of his illusion, a saintly sister to add another layer of curtain to hide the truth of his origin.

Her footfalls slowed and she stopped before a bronze statue that had to be a Degas. There was only one artist who could have composed and completed such a winsome, light-though-it-was-heavy object of beauty.

Perhaps Ricardo had thought of it as the daughter he had never had, Vitoria mused. Certainly a far better bet than a living breathing offspring.

Onward, onward, to the open front door.

For a moment, she just stood there—and it was then that she realized she was waiting for a butler to appear and take her bags from the boot of the rental.

As much as she derided Ricardo for his airs, she, too, had succumbed to the habits of luxury. It was, indeed, far better to be of means than not.

She was going to need people. She could not do this alone.

Fortunately, money talked, did it not.

Planting her hands on her hips, she regarded the undisturbed snow cover of the vast, descending lawn. It was as if Ricardo had permanently disallowed all manner of deer and rodent from marring the pristine winter landscape. She would not have put it past him. Image had been so important.

With a lift of her chin, she regarded the sky, measuring the bright, full moon.

“I will avenge you, brothers,” she said to the heavens. “I will find out who killed you and take care of things as you would have wished.”

Her smile was slow and did not last.

In fact, Ricardo would not have wished this at all. He would have hated this whole thing. But that was his problem, not hers—and given that he was dead, he had no more problems, did he.

Yes, she would find out exactly what had happened to her siblings, and when she was done addressing the wrongs, she was going to step into Ricardo’s handmade shoes.

Her future was bright as the moonlight. She was finally free.

FOUR

THE COMMODORE

DOWNTOWN CALDWELL

As Vishous took form on the terrace of his penthouse, the cold wind howling at the high altitude was to his back, pushing him, pushing him toward the glass doors. And yet he hesitated, his purpose for coming one that made him feel as though his marrow had turned toxic and was melting through his bones and flesh.

Liar.

Like the hateful secret he was embarking on, the interior of his sex den was dark. Like the haunting of his conscience, his moonlit reflection was a ghost of himself in all that glass: leather on his legs, leather on his shoulders, dark hair and a goatee, gloved right hand.

Cheat.

The last thing he wanted to do was look at himself, so he willed the black candles inside to light up, not one by one, but all at once. The insta-llumination was soft; what was revealed was not. His rough-honed sex rack, the one he had used for years, was a stained and studded piece of hardware sitting smack-center in the open living area, supplanting all manner of table and chair arrangements that would have been far more appropriate, far more vanilla. On the black walls, there was not art, but straps and chains. On the section of shelving, there were instruments. On the black floors, there was nothing on the bare wood.

Cleanup. You know.

Whore.

This was not a home. This was a factory for sexual satisfaction and expression. He’d even gotten rid of the bed he’d had for a while.

The place was also a relic. He had not visited it for how long now? Back when he and Jane had first gotten together they had sometimes come here for a little play, but compared to what he had been like before her, that had been lightweight stuff.

Turned out when he cared about the person, he wanted different things from them.

They hadn’t been back for…Jesus, a while. Then again, they hadn’t been together, sexually or otherwise, in…Jesus, a while.

As he went to the closest sliding door, his head hurt, but not from the concussion he’d gotten during the great warehouse battle. No, that brain damage had cleared itself up nicely, along with the bruising and other minor injuries he’d sustained as the Brotherhood and the Band of Bastards had fought the Lessening Society side by side.

Turned out those fuckers with the harelipped leader were handy.

They were also now roommates at the BDB mansion—

Am I really going to do this?

Pressing his thumbprint onto his new, discreetly mounted reader, he heard the metallic shift of the lock turning free and then he willed the door to slide open. Stepping inside, he left things wide, the winter gust barging in and ruffling the flames on all those wicks. No longer at peace, now the illumination trembled, sure as if his anxiety and unhappiness had become manifest and taken on properties outside of his heart and soul.

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