Home > The Thief (Black Dagger Brotherhood #16)(7)

The Thief (Black Dagger Brotherhood #16)(7)
Author: J.R. Ward

Tilting her head, she stared up at the great gray vertical expanse of the mansion. There were gargoyles along the roofline, and three or four levels of diamond-pane windows, and shadows everywhere because of the various wings, levels, and dormers.

Where else would vampires live?

Shutting her lids again, she told herself she needed to get a grip—and her self-discipline came to the rescue. Becoming one with the air, she moved through the darkness in a swirl that, when she had first started doing this, had made her stomach queasy, but now was just the same as riding in a car.

Traveling through the night toward downtown, she was no substance, all existence, her thoughts and feelings, her soul, remaining intact even as her body was ether—which meant her pain and uncertainty, her anxiety, her stress, came with her.

Off the mountain, into the hills. Through the farm country. Over the suburbs. Past the old-fashioned apartment buildings, entering the urban core of skyscrapers, parking garages, and one-way streets.

The Commodore was a high-rise right on the Hudson River, a Nakatomi Plaza–worthy show of twenty or thirty floors of steel and glass—and she landed, like a superhero, on a terrace right at its top.

“Oh, thank God,” she muttered as she saw the darkened windows of the penthouse.

Vishous was not here with someone else. He hadn’t made a decision she was going to have to do something about. There was, as it turned out, no deception, just a misunderstanding on the part of the butler and a paranoia on her side that, if she were smart and wanted to keep her mating strong, she’d use as a warning shot across her bow. She probably had been too wrapped up in her work lately—which wouldn’t have been any kind of excuse for infidelity on V’s part, but certainly would explain this distance she now was recognizing between them.

And if she had been feeling connected to him, she wouldn’t have been so scared about all this.

Taking out her phone, she got over herself and shot Vishous a text: Hey, off work for two hours. Let’s hang!

Cheerful. Upbeat. Positive. Not hinting that she’d lost her damn mind for an instant and devolved into insecurity. Now, she just had to wait to see what he responded.

As time passed, and she got nothing back, her heart began to beat hard again—and she thought, holy crap, it was like she was sixteen and trying to get a boy in her algebra class to ask her out.

Cupping the phone in her palms, she kept waiting, not feeling the gusts of wind or the cold, not noticing the height that made the Hudson River seem like a stream, not dwelling on the near-miss.

Okay, fine, she was dwelling on that.

But hey, this was an opportunity for them. They needed to get away and be together. Maybe they could head up to Rehv’s Great Camp? She didn’t think of herself as a romantic person, but that old cedar-shingled Victorian with its stone hearths and view of the lake could be just the ticket. Snow everywhere, only the evergreens offering color. No pressures or responsibilities. They could cook their meals together and sleep side by side and re-forge that which had gotten eclipsed by nightly life.

Taking a deep breath, she felt a surge of…optimism? Happiness? She hadn’t had whatever it was in so long that she didn’t know how to readily define the warm buoyancy.

And yeah, that was probably another sign she needed to rebalance things.

When a response still didn’t come, she turned to face the river. The other side of Caldwell was a much quieter landscape, with low buildings that glowed instead of skyscrapers that twinkled.

Assail lived down the Hudson a little ways. On a peninsula in a glass house.

Or at least had lived there.

What was she going to do about him…

Light bloomed from behind her, and she wheeled around, putting a smile on her face. V was here and this was an opportunity—

She frowned. Behind the glass doors, the interior of the penthouse was all wrong. Instead of black floors and all kinds of her mate’s kinky stuff, there was a calming interior of grays, the furniture modern and thoughtfully scaled and placed.

Ruhn, Saxton’s mate, walked in from a hallway, proceeding to a kitchen that was all black granite and brushed-steel appliances.

In her upset and distraction, she had gone to the opposite side of the building.

Before Ruhn saw her and she had to explain what the hell she was doing on his terrace, she disappeared.

This time, she knew immediately she was in the right place. Too bad it was clear she’d wrong-timed it.

One of the sliding glass doors to V’s penthouse was wide open in spite of the cold, and black candles flickered all around the bald space’s interior, illuminating not only his sexual equipment, but the male himself: Vishous was sitting on his sex rack, his lower legs hanging free, his head down as he stared at his phone. He was in his leathers, which was a stupid relief, but his powerful upper torso was bare and she wondered who had taken his customary muscle shirt off.

So he’d gotten her text.

Or another from someone he was more interested in hearing from.

Abruptly, Jane was aware of her palms becoming sweaty and her heart pounding and her stomach churning.

This is not us, she thought. We don’t do things like this to each other.

V’s head lifted and turned toward her, his brows frowning.

For an instant, all she could do was absorb the sight of him. He was not one to ever be defeated. Between his intelligence, his physical brawn, and his incredible reflexes, he was an attacker, an aggressor, a beat-the-system, win-the-game, vanquish-the-foes source of superiority in the world. Not tonight. His broad shoulders were tilted into his chest, and exhaustion was like a stain in the air around him.

His diamond eyes were dull with guilt as they focused on her.

Jane started backing up even before he shifted off the rack and came forward.

“No,” she said into the wind. “No…”

SIX

The knock on Sola’s bedroom door was soft, but she came awake like a heavy fist was trying to splinter the thin wood. “Vovó!”

A shaft of illumination pierced the darkness, making her think of a lightsaber. “There is people here, Sola. Come, get up and get dressed.”

Sola reached for the gun on her bedside table as she looked at the digital clock. Three a.m.? “Where? Who—do not open—”

“I am cooking now. Come.”

Cooking? “Vovó, who is—”

The door closed firmly, and Sola was up-and-out less than a second later, the fact that she had finally crashed fully dressed a stroke of luck. Out in the cramped hall, she flipped the safety off of her nine and kept the weapon behind her back as she padded down the cheap carpeting.

The smell of sautéing onions was so out of context that she decided this was a dream. Yup, she was going to round this corner here and walk into her grandmother’s kitchen and see a non sequitur at their table for two. Lady Gaga or Leonardo DiCaprio or, hell, Leonardo da Vinci—

Sola stopped dead. Across the linoleum, sitting on the pair of cane chairs, were two men she’d been convinced she would never see again.

Her first thought, as identical sets of eyes swung in her direction, was that the chairs were not going to hold all that weight for long—but Assail’s cousins solved that problem by rising to their feet. As they bowed low in her direction, it was bizarre—but also what she was used to them doing whenever she walked into a room.

Dream, she told herself. This was a figment of her imagination.

“You,” her grandmother ordered to the one on the right. “You go and get chair for my Sola. Go.”

The six-five stretch of muscle and banked aggression trotted off into the living room like a retriever sent for a tennis ball, returning with an armchair instead of something lighter. Then again, if you’d asked him to pick up a quart of milk, he’d probably bring the whole Publix back to you.

“ ’Scuse me,” he said as he came up behind her.

As Sola moved out of his way, she wondered how her grandmother could so calmly be dicing red and yellow peppers.

“I need to wake up,” Sola muttered. “Right now.”

“Sola, the coffee.” Her grandmother nodded to the machine. “You start.”

She gave things a minute to wakey-wakey, and when the scene wasn’t replaced by her rolling over and cracking an eyelid, she decided she had to go with it for the time being.

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