Home > The Chosen (Black Dagger Brotherhood #15)(4)

The Chosen (Black Dagger Brotherhood #15)(4)
Author: J.R. Ward

The knowledge that she would never have that special love with anyone was—

Qhuinn glanced across at her. “Oh, hey.”

He straightened and smiled, but she wasn’t fooled. His eyes were going over her like he was profiling her—although mayhap that was not the case. Mayhap that was merely her paranoia talking.

She was so over living a double life. Yet, in the kind of cruel irony that seemed to be destiny’s favorite source of amusement, the price of relieving her conscience would come at the expense of her very existence.

And how could she leave her young behind?

“—okay? Layla?”

As Qhuinn frowned at her, she shook herself and forced a smile. “Oh, I’m very well.” She was assuming that had been an inquiry about her well-being. “Just fine, indeed.”

Seeking to prove the lie, she approached the bassinets. Rhampage, or Rhamp, as he was known, was fighting the need for sleep, and as his sister made a cooing sound, his head turned and his hand reached out.

Funny, even at this young age, he seemed to recognize his station and want to protect her.

It was the breeding. Qhuinn was a member of the aristocracy, the result of generations of selective pairings, and even though his “defect” of having one blue eye and one green had rendered him beneath contempt in the opinions of both the glymera and his own family, the venerable nature of his bloodline could not be denied. And neither could the impact of his physical presence. At well over six and a half feet tall, his body was braided with great cuts of muscle, his flesh honed by both practice and the actualities of war into a weapon every bit as deadly as the guns and daggers he went unto the field with. The first member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood to be inducted on the basis of merit as opposed to lineage, he had not let the great tradition down. He never let anyone down.

In fact, Qhuinn was an altogether beautiful male, if in a rather raw way: His face was all angles from his having little to no body fat, and those mismatched eyes stared out from under dark brows. His black hair had been cut short recently, all but shaved on the bottom with the top slicked back, and as a result, his neck looked extra thick. With gunmetal-gray piercings in his ears, and an ahstrux nohtrum teardrop under his eye from when he had served as John Matthew’s protector, he caught stares wherever he went.

Perhaps because people, vampires and human alike, worried about what he might be capable of if displeased.

Blay, on the other hand, was the opposite, as approachable as Qhuinn was best avoided in a dark alley.

Blaylock, son of Rocke, had red hair, and skin that was a shade lighter than most in the species. He was every bit as big, but when you were around him, the first impression he made was of intelligence and heart, rather than brawn. Still, no one argued with how impressive he was in the field. Layla had heard the stories, although never from him, as he was not one to boast, create unnecessary drama, or draw attention to himself.

She loved them both with all her heart.

And the separation she felt from them was all on her side.

“Look at this,” Qhuinn said as he nodded at the young. “We got two lights-out specials over here—well, one and a half.”

As he smiled, she wasn’t fooled. His eyes were continuing to go over her face, searching for signs of exactly what she was attempting to hide. To make his examination more difficult, she backed off.

“They are good sleepers, thank the Virgin Scribe—er, thank Fates.”

“You coming down with us for Last Meal tonight?” he asked in an easy tone.

Blay straightened. “Fritz said he’d make you anything you like.”

“He is always so kind.” She went across to the bed and made a show of lying down against the pillows. “Actually, I got peckish around two so I went to the kitchen and had oatmeal and toast. Coffee. Orange juice. Breakfast for lunch, as it were. You know, sometimes one feels like rewinding the night and starting fresh at the middle.”

Pity that could be done only in a metaphoric way.

Although … would she really have chosen not to have met Xcor?

Yes, she thought. She would prefer never to have known of his existence.

The love of her life, her Blay, her match of the heart and soul … was a traitor. And her emotions for the male had been an open wound into which the bacteria of betrayal had entered and spread.

Thus now she was here, in this prison of her own making, tortured by the fact that she had consorted with the enemy; first because she had been duped … and then later because she had wanted to be in Xcor’s presence.

They had parted badly, however, him putting an end to their clandestine meetings when she had forced him to acknowledge his feelings. And then things had gone from sad to tragic when he had been caught and taken into the Brotherhood’s custody.

At first, she had been unable to gain information on his condition. But then she had traveled in the way of a Chosen, going unto him and witnessing him near death in a stone corridor filled with jars of every shape and color.

There had been naught that she could do. Not without coming forward and exposing herself—and even if she did as such, she could not save him.

So she was stuck here, a ghost haunting a tangled stretch of emotions studded with the poison ivy of guilt and regret, never, ever to be free.

“—right? I mean …” As Blay continued speaking to her about something or another, she had to force herself not to rub her eyes. “… end of a night when you’ve just been up here with the young. Which is not to say that you don’t like being with them.”

Get out, she willed the two males. Please, just go away and leave me be.

It wasn’t that she didn’t want them with the young or that she held some kind of animus unto Lyric and Rhamp’s fathers. She just needed to breathe, and every time either one of the fighters stared at her as they were doing the now, that became next to impossible.

“Does that sound good?” Qhuinn asked. “Layla?”

“Oh, yes, of course.” She had no idea what she had agreed to, but she made sure she smiled. “I’m just going to rest now. They were up a lot during the day.”

“I wish you’d let us help more.” Blay frowned. “We’re just a knock away.”

“You are both out fighting most nights. Sleep is required.”

“You matter, too, though.”

Layla shifted her eyes to the bassinets, and as she remembered cradling the young in her arms and feeding them, she felt even worse. They deserved a mahmen who was better than her, one uncomplicated and unburdened by decisions that should never have been made, one who was uncontaminated by a weakness for a male who should never have been approached … much less loved.

“I do not matter at all in comparison to them,” she whispered starkly. “They are everything.”

Blay came over and took her hand, his blue eyes full of warmth. “No, you are also very important. And mahmen need time for themselves.”

To do what? Ruminate on regrets? No, thank you, she thought.

“I shall go to my grave without them and enjoy my own company, then.” As she realized how grim that sounded, she hurried forth with, “Besides, all too soon they will be grown. It will happen faster than the three of us know.”

There was further conversation at that point, none of which she heard because of the screaming in her head. But then, finally, she was left in peace when the bonded pair departed.

The fact that she was so glad to see them go was one more sadness to carry.

Shifting off the bed, she went back to the bassinets, her eyes watering once again. Wiping her cheeks, over and over, she took a tissue out of a hidden pocket and blew her nose. The young were fully asleep, their lids closed, their faces turned to each other as if they were communicating telepathically in their slumber. Perfect little hands and precious little feet, rounded, healthy bellies wrapped in a flannel sheet. They were such good young, cheery and smiley when awake, peaceful and angelic when at rest. Rhampage was gaining weight faster than Lyric, but she seemed heartier than he, fussing less when being changed or bathed, meeting eyes with greater focus.

As tears dropped off Layla’s face and landed on the carpet at her feet, she didn’t know how much longer she could do this.

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