Home > A Warm Heart in Winter (Black Dagger Brotherhood #18.5)(10)

A Warm Heart in Winter (Black Dagger Brotherhood #18.5)(10)
Author: J.R. Ward

And Lash had brought Luchas back.

The story had never been completely told, and no one had been inclined to press Luchas for details, but a year later, the male had been found in an oil drum at an abandoned site of the enemy’s, reanimated and preserved in a swill of the Omega’s vile essence. Qhuinn had been the one who found his brother, and the only identifier had been the gold signet ring Luchas been given by their sire the night after his transition.

The torture he’d been put through had been extensive, fingers cut off, broken bones all over his body, bruises, contusions, cuts. And then there had been the psychological trauma of it all. The Brotherhood had brought him here to the training center, and since then, Luchas had lost his lower leg as part of the continuing attempt to keep him alive and functioning.

Considering where the male had started out in life, it wasn’t how any of it was supposed to go. If the world had made any sense, if things had gone the way of history’s predictions, Luchas would likely be mated by now, or at least locked into an arrangement with a female of comparable breeding. He would be attending meetings of the Council with his sire, and enjoying grand functions and festivals. He would be rubbing shoulders with vampires like himself, secure in the knowledge that he had more money than he would ever need and an unassailable position in society.

But fiction could pale in comparison to destiny.

In ways both good and bad.

For instance, who’d have ever thought Qhuinn would have been made an official member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood?

Or that the male would ever have decided to settle down. With the best friend who had loved him since they were young.

Luchas was right about one thing. The two brothers had traded places.

It was just such a shame that the former’s fall from grace had been so devastating.

Paper cut.

Huge, weird, inexplicable paper cut.

As Qhuinn came out of anesthesia, his first thought was that someone had taken a manila folder, a crisp, brand-spanking-new manila folder, and whipped it right across his lower abdominals. It was the only way to explain the sweet sting striping between his hip bones, right below his belly button. Except . . . the discomfort wasn’t a surface kind of thing. The sensation was deep inside.

So maybe it was more like part of his intestines had decided to lick a Publishers Clearing House envelope.

Just as he was coming to the conclusion that he had been through so much worse in the owie department, his eyes flipped open.

The medical light fixture above him brought it all back, as did the beep, beep, beep that seemed to suggest that he had a heartbeat as regular as a metronome.

Another piece of good news—

Without warning, a face appeared above his own.

Manny Manello.

The dark-haired human had a surgical mask hanging loose in front of his neck, like a feed bag he’d emptied of grain. When he smiled, his fangless teeth were white and his dark eyes were kind.

“You’re all set.” Manny flashed a thumbs-up. “No internal damage, but it’s a good thing we already took out your spleen. It’s like your organs did some parkour and got away from the blade. Considering what could have been sliced? You’re very lucky.”

“Thanks, Doc.” Qhuinn cleared his throat, which was sore from the intubation. “Where are—”

“I’ll send your people in.”

“Is it okay for the—”

“Yup, the kids are fine to join you.” Manny patted his patient’s knee. “And you don’t have to stay down here for much longer. You’re cleared to head back to the big house as soon as you’re steady enough to walk.”

“Awesome. You’re amazing.”

“Please don’t stop with the compliments. And let’s get your family in here.”

The surgeon went over and opened the door, and Layla was the first to come in. The Chosen had Rhamp in her arms, and her beautiful face was worried—but that concern lifted instantly as Qhuinn clapped his hands.

“There’s my boy,” he said as he hit the button to raise the head of the hospital bed. “And the best mahmen there is.”

Blay was right behind her with Lyric, and the instant the little one saw her sire, she put out her arms, straining for contact.

“Oh, sweetie, Daddy’s okay.” Qhuinn took her first, putting aside the remote and settling her on the bedside as he kissed his mate. “It’s all good.”

Lyric crawled up his chest and snuggled in quick, all chubby and warm and perfect, finding her favorite place in his neck. Closing his eyes, he breathed in deep and smelled Desitin, fresh Huggies, and Aveeno baby wash—and when her little sock-covered foot dug into his belly, he mostly kept his wince to himself.

“No, I’ve got her,” he said to Blay. “I’m okay. And gimme another kiss.”

After a brief contact and a shared smile with his mate, Qhuinn reached up and touched his son’s soft and round face. Immediately, Rhamp grabbed on to the forefinger and yanked back and forth, as if he were making Qhuinn wave to himself.

“We were so worried,” Layla murmured.

“I don’t ever want to scare you guys.” Qhuinn smiled as Rhamp started talking, all the babbling like the kid was giving him a lecture to stay safe in the field. “Really? Tell me more.”

“He’s on a roll,” Blay remarked with a smile.

“When this big guy starts stringing actual words together, we’re going to have quite a ride.”

And he couldn’t wait. He wanted to know what his son had to say. His daughter, too.

“Where’s the last quarter of our fantastic foursome?” Qhuinn asked.

“Xcor’s still out in the field.” Layla sat on the foot of the bed and settled Rhamp on her lap. “He wanted to be here, but I told him you’d rather he stay on shift.”

“Damn right I would. We need everyone out there right now, and I can see him when the sun’s up.”

“That’s exactly how I thought you’d feel.”

“You know me too well.”

There was a momentary quiet, and then Blay and Layla started talking about the upcoming human holidays, and some kind of Party Planning Committee run by—God forbid—Lassiter. As they clearly made an effort to get back to normal, Qhuinn was glad things moved away from the drama. He’d had to work hard to keep his mind from going into the I’m-going-to-die swamp, and he’d just as soon start putting distance in whatever form it came in between him and the stabbing.

On that note, he shifted Lyric around so she lay cradled in the crook of his arm. Then he smoothed her Boston Red Sox onesie and gently poked her tummy. As she giggled, her newly acquired baby teeth showed, two on the top, two on the bottom.

“I’ma do it again,” he murmured to her. “Watch me. Here it comes . . . gotcha.”

The onesie was, naturally, a gift from Uncle V and Uncle Butch, who had made it a personal crusade to outfit every kid in the mansion with bureaus full of Red Sox merch: Bitty. The twins. Nalla. Even George, Wrath’s dog, was decked out with a collar and a cold-weather sweater with the red B on it.

You might have been tempted to tell the guys they’d have even better luck brainwashing the next generation into hating the Yankees if they put flashing neon signs in the front foyer with pictures of Big Papi and bowls of candy in front of ’em. But then you’d run the risk they might actually do it.

“Who’s my smart girl?” he said as he booped Lyric again. “Who’s daddy’s smart girl?”

As she smiled even wider, her eyes, her big green eyes, shone up at him.

Staring into them, he went back into the past. To that moment when he had died and gone unto the Fade.

To that moment when he had seen her face in that shadowy door.

Maybe it was the fact that he had collapsed out on the street in the snow only an hour or two ago . . . maybe it was because life felt extra special when you woke up out of surgery . . . maybe it was a brain fart caused by the lingering anesthesia . . . but for whatever reason, he returned to that night the Honor Guard had been sent after him.

His parents had finally kicked him out of the house. No news flash there. The see-ya-later had been long in coming, and given that Luchas had survived his transition, the social stakes had been even higher. Who the hell was going to mate the guy, considering what his brother was? What well-bred female was going to volunteer to throw her DNA into a gene pool that had already coughed up a corker with mismatched irises?

So Qhuinn had been removed from the family tree, given the boot from the family house, and left to walk off into the night with nowhere to go.

Except his best friend’s house, of course.

He hadn’t made it to Blay’s, though. Four males in hooded black robes had intersected his path, and he could still picture them clear as day, their faces hidden, their role clear: an Honor Guard sent to punish him and avenge his family’s name. And the purpose of the concealment of identity had not been because the males were behaving unlawfully and didn’t want anyone to know who they were. On the contrary, they had been sanctioned in their brutality, and the purpose of the masking was that they represented all of the glymera. They were the generalized shaming and shunning of the entire aristocracy, not a mere quartet of it, but a hundred of the species, not just Qhuinn’s own bloodline, but all of them.

As the attack had commenced, he had put up a fight, as was his nature. But the numbers game had not been in his favor, and once he went down to the asphalt, the beating had really taken off with those clubs.

And then a voice, in the midst of the raining blows.

We aren’t supposed to kill him!

His brother, Luchas. Naturally, the firstborn son had had to be involved in it as the representation of the bloodline. It was the way of things, and Qhuinn had never held the participation against his brother. In their family of origin, neither of them had had any freedom of choice. No one in the aristocracy did, and maybe that was why as a group they were all such fucking assholes.

Not that there were many left after the raids.

   
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