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

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

Her voice became strident. “After he told me to go, I was confused and upset, but I’ve thought about it. I know what he feels for me is real. I’ve looked him in his eyes. I’ve seen the emotion.”

“Don’t be romantic, okay? Not in matters of war. That bastard is a stone-cold killer and he used you. You’re like everybody else to him. You’re a tool to get him what he wants. Take your blinders off, female, and get real.”

There was a long silence, and he could practically hear her thinking hard.

And then she said in a low voice, “All that aside … what are you going to do with me?”

As Xcor listened to the voices far down the corridor, he tested his bounds anew even though he knew naught had changed and he was stuck where he was, pinned upon the table. And then he caught the scent of a new male, heard heavy footfalls approaching, sensed an aggression that was downright rageful.

The time had come. The reckoning was here, and he was not going to live through it.

Flexing his arms and legs once more, he found his strength at an ebb. But it was what it was. Perhaps that meant he would die faster and that was of measurable benefit.

The face that came into his line of sight was a well-familiar one, the mismatched blue and green stare, hard features, and black hair identifiers that made Xcor smile a little.

“You find me amusing?” Qhuinn demanded in a voice flat as a knife blade. “I’d think you’d greet your killer with something other than a grin.”

“Irony,” Xcor said roughly.

“Destiny, motherfucker.”

Qhuinn went for the steel band at Xcor’s left ankle, the tugging and pulling making Xcor frown—and as the pressure was released, he strained to lift his head. The Brother went on to remove the one on the right … and then proceeded up higher to the wrists.

“What … doing …” Under no construct could he fathom why he would be set free. “Why …”

Qhuinn went around his head and unlocked the last of the binds. “Because I want this to be a fair fight. Sit the fuck up.”

Xcor started to move slowly, bending his arms and then lifting his knees. After having been flat on his back for however long, all of his muscles had atrophied and there was an essential stiffness to his joints that made him think of tree branches snapping. But it was amazing how being on the verge of getting attacked made you break through pain and functional barriers.

“Are you not”—he grunted as he rose onto his elbows, his vertebrae cracking along the highway of his spine—“even going to ask me …”

Qhuinn settled into a fighting stance about five feet away, his fists raised, his weight down on his legs. “Ask you what?”

“Where my soldiers are?”

Ever since his consciousness had been noted by his captors, all of the wires that had been running between his body and the machines that had kept him alive had been removed, save for the IV in his arm. On instinct, he ripped it out and left the hole to bleed.

“This is not about your Band of Bastards.”

With that, the male lunged at him, leading with a right hook that was so accurate and violent that it was like getting hit by a car in the side of the face. With no energy, little coordination, and a naked body that wasn’t responding to commands more complicated than those of breathe and blink, Xcor flipped off the table. In mid-air, he reached out to whatever he could grab hold of to stop his fall—and caught the edge of the gurney, pulling it down on top of himself.

Qhuinn went for the shield, picked it up, and threw the thing over his shoulder like it weighed nothing more than a pillow—and the crash, as it hit the shelves and shattered jars, was loud as a bomb going off in the torch-lit corridor.

“You motherfucker!” Qhuinn shouted. “You fucking asshole!”

Xcor felt himself get dragged upright by the hair, and his legs didn’t have a chance to fail him—his body went the way of the table, flying through the air, hitting a fresh section of shelving, the jars offering as much cushion as gravel.

As he landed in a heap, the rock floor cracked his pelvis like glass, or at least it felt that way, and he rolled over onto his back in hopes of providing some defensive protection for himself with his hands.

Qhuinn jumped over him, one boot on each side of his torso. Crouching down, the Brother yelled, “She was with my young! Jesus Christ, you could have killed them!”

Xcor closed his eyes against a razor-sharp image of Layla with her changing body, the result of another male’s offspring—this male’s offspring—growing within her. And then worse pictures presented themselves upon his mind … that of her flesh bared to another male’s touch, her precious core penetrated by someone other than he, a mating occurring between her and somebody else.

From out of nowhere, a surge of power enlivened his body, gasoline flooding what had been a dry engine.

Without conscious thought, he flashed his fangs, the canines descending on their own, his bonding scent flaring against a target that he was going to kill with his bare hands.

Qhuinn’s nostrils flared, and he froze as if stunned.

“Are you fucking kidding me … you’ve fucking bonded with her?” The Brother started laughing, throwing his head back—but then abruptly, he cut the levity and sneered. “Well, I serviced her in her need. Think about that, motherfucker. I was the one who took her and eased her pain in the way only a male—”

The great wild part of any male vampire took over Xcor, ripping off the claustrophobic blanket of weakness, exposing the warrior in his blood, the killer in his marrow.

Xcor sprung up and hit the Brother with everything he had, tackling Qhuinn and sending them both on a scatter down the opposite wall of shelves, their positions changing one for another as Qhuinn shoved back and punches were thrown. Xcor was by far sloppier and more easily o’erpowered, but he had the bonding on his side, his male need to protect and defend, his innate jealousy, his overwhelming possessiveness providing him with a vital will to attack until he subjugated his competitor.

As they scrambled, his feet got chewed up on the broken pottery, and he bled from his nose, and one of his legs dragged like dead weight, but he nailed Qhuinn with a head butt and then threw all of his strength into shoving his opponent off. As Qhuinn careened back in the direction of the medical equipment, arms pinwheeling for a stability that could not be found, Xcor leaped forth, intending to land upon the Brother and beat him senseless.

But like the trained fighter he was, Qhuinn managed to twist whilst in free fall, and somehow righted himself in time to plant his boots and pick up one of the monitors. Slinging the heavy weight in a circle, he cast it upon Xcor, as one might a boulder.

No time to duck, not with coordination as poor as Xcor’s, and the impact cost him his breath and balance, the air forced out of his lungs as the medical device struck him in the side. After a mere beat of recovery, however, he pitched himself into a defensive roll—for Qhuinn had picked up another piece of equipment, this one even larger.

Qhuinn lifted the ventilator high, and Xcor knew that he provided too large and slow a target for the Brother to miss.

So he rushed at the male instead of away from him. And at the last second, Xcor dropped flat, punched his palms into the stone floor, and mobilized every single muscle he had to send his lower body on a swinging ride, his bare legs circling round—

To knock Qhuinn’s feet right out from under him.

As the Brother fell, the ventilator slipped from his hold and went down atop him, the curse and grunt suggesting contact had been made in a vulnerable place.

Indeed, he curled into himself as if his gut had been compromised.

Split second. Xcor had a split second to cut through his bonded-male response and analyze the fight with logic. Fortunately, there was not much consideration required. Even with the bonding in his veins, he was going to lose this.

And when facing an opponent who outmatched you, if one wished to survive, one retreated and to hell with ego.

The Bloodletter had taught him that. The hard way.

With Qhuinn torquing onto all fours and clutching his side, Xcor took off on his lacerated feet, tripping and falling over the ruined gurney and careening through the debris field of broken lesser jars and the rank, rotting hearts contained therein. He could not run; his stride was more that of a drunk, pitching him all around, the world spinning even though he was fairly sure that the torches and the shelving were static.

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