Home > The Chosen (Black Dagger Brotherhood #15)(10)

The Chosen (Black Dagger Brotherhood #15)(10)
Author: J.R. Ward

She trembled as Qhuinn checked her hand and then wrapped it with a black bandana. “I think you’ll live.”

Will I? she thought. I’m not so sure about that.

“You’re freezing out here.”

“Am I?”

Qhuinn took his jacket off, and as he draped it around her shoulders, she was swallowed by its size and warmth. “Come, let’s go back to the mansion. You’re shivering—”

“I can’t do this anymore,” she blurted. “I just can’t keep going.”

“I know.” As she recoiled in surprise, he shook his head. “I know what’s wrong. Let’s go home and we can talk about it. Everything’s going to be okay, I promise.”

For a moment, she couldn’t breathe. How could he have found out? How could he not be angry at her?

“How did you …” The tears came fast, emotion overriding everything. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry … it wasn’t supposed to be like this …”

She wasn’t sure whether he opened his arms or she clawed herself onto his chest, but Qhuinn held her against him, sheltering her from the wind.

“It’s all right.” He made big circles on her back with his palm, soothing her. “We just need to talk it through. There are things we can do, steps we can take.”

She turned her face to the side and looked out over the meadow. “I feel so awful.”

“Why? It’s out of your control. You didn’t ask for this.”

She pulled back. “I swear to you, I did not. And I never want you to think for a second that I would endanger Lyric or Rhampage—”

“Are you kidding me? Seriously, Layla, you love those young with everything in you.”

“I do. I promise you that. And I love you and Blay, the King, the Brotherhood. You are my family, you are all I have.”

“Layla, listen to me. You are not alone, okay? And like I said, there are things we can do—”

“Really? Truly?”

“Yes. In fact, I was talking about it before I came here. I don’t want you to think that I’m betraying you—”

“Oh, Qhuinn! I am the betrayer! I am in the wrong—”

“Stop it. You are not—and we are going to take care of it together. All of us.”

Layla put her hands up to her face, the one that he’d bandaged and the one that was bare. And then, for the first time in what seemed like forever, she released her breath all the way, a balming ease replacing the horrible burden she had carried.

“I have to say this.” She looked up at him. “Please know that I’ve been eaten alive with regret and sadness. I swear that I never meant for this to happen, any of it. I’ve been so alone, struggling with guilt—”

“Guilt is unnecessary.” He brushed under her eyes with his thumbs. “You’ve just got to let that go, because you can’t help the way you feel.”

“I can’t, I truly can’t—and Xcor is not evil, he’s not as bad as you think he is. I swear. He always treated me with care and kindness, and I know that he would not hurt Wrath again. I just know it—”

“What?” Qhuinn frowned and shook his head. “What are you talking about?”

“Please don’t kill him. It’s just as you said, there is a way to work this out. Maybe you can let him go and—”

Qhuinn didn’t so much step back as push her away. And then he seemed to struggle to find words.

“Layla,” he said slowly. “I know I’m not hearing you right, and I’m trying to … can you …”

Seizing the chance to make her case, Layla hurried to speak. “He never hurt me. In all the nights I went to him, he never once hurt me. He got us a cottage so that I could be safe, and it was only ever just the two of us. I never saw any of the Bastards …”

She trailed off as his expression went from confusion … to an ice-cold reserve that made him look like a total stranger.

When Qhuinn spoke next, his voice was flat. “You have been meeting with Xcor?”

“I’ve felt terrible—”

“How long ago?” he snapped. But he didn’t let her answer. “Did you go see him while you were carrying my young? Did you willingly and knowingly consort with the enemy while my fucking young were in your body?” Before she could answer him, he held up his forefinger. “And you need to think really long and hard about your answer. There is no going back from it, and it better be the truth. If I find out you lied to me, I’m going to kill you.”

As Layla’s heart thundered in her chest and panic made her light-headed, her one and only thought was …

You’re going to kill me anyway.

Back at shAdoWs, Trez tucked his gun away and tried to plug back into reality. “Well?” he prompted. “What are you doing here, especially without a Tony Manero polyester special on?”

Lassiter, the Fallen Angel, smiled in a way that didn’t include his strangely colored, pupil-less eyes; the expression only affected the lower part of his face. “Oh, you know, leisure suits are so last week for me.”

“Moving on to eighties New Age? I don’t have any neon to lend you.”

“Nah, I have another new costume to wear.”

“Good for you. Scary for the rest of us. Just tell me you aren’t going to pull a Borat on the beach.”

When the angel didn’t immediately reply, Trez felt a set of Freddy Kruegers tease the nape of his neck. Normally, Lassiter was the kind of guy who was so upbeat most folks couldn’t decide whether to shoot him to put everyone out of their misery … or just grab some popcorn and a Coke and watch the show.

Because even if he pissed you off, it was always hella funny.

Not tonight, though. That bizarre stare of his was about as light and frothy as a granite slab, and his huge body was so still, none of the gold on his wrists and his throat, his fingers and his ears, was glinting in the low light.

“What’s up with the statue routine?” Trez muttered. “Someone move your My Little Pony collection again?”

Unable to stand the silence, Trez made a show of sitting behind his desk and shuffling some papers around. “You trying to read my aura or some shit?”

Not that that would require any special skills. Everyone in the household knew where he was at—

“I want you to meet me for dinner tomorrow night.”

Trez looked up. “What the hell for?”

The angel took his damn time answering, heading over on a saunter to the glass panes and staring down at the crowd from the exact place Trez had been standing in. In the dim light, the angel’s profile was the kind of thing that the females would love, all good proportions and right angles. But that frown …

“Out with it,” Trez demanded. “I’ve had a lifetime’s worth of bad news already. Whatever it is, it can’t compare to the shit I’ve been through.”

Lassiter glanced over and shrugged. “Just dinner. Tomorrow night. Seven p.m.”

“I don’t eat.”

“I know.”

Trez tossed whatever invoice or staff schedule or whatever the fuck he’d been busy not looking at back with the rest of the crap on his desk. “I find it really hard to believe you’ve taken an interest in nutrition.”

“True. This gluten-is-the-enemy thing is total bullshit. And don’t get me started on kombucha tea, kale, anything with antioxidants in it, and the fallacy that high-fructose corn syrup is the root of all evil.”

“Did you hear that Kraft Macaroni & Cheese took out all its preservatives months ago?”

“Yeah, and the bastards didn’t tell anyone up front, either—”

“Why do you want to have dinner with me?”

“Just being friendly.”

“That’s not your style.”

“Like I said, I’m changing things up.” Annnnnd there was that smile again. “Figure I’d begin with a bang. I mean, if you’re going to turn over a new leaf, you should start as you mean to go on.”

“No offense, but I’m not in the mood to spend time with people I actually like.” Okay, that came out badly. “I mean, my brother’s the only one I can tolerate right now, and I don’t want to see even him.”

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