Home > A Warm Heart in Winter (Black Dagger Brotherhood #18.5)(15)

A Warm Heart in Winter (Black Dagger Brotherhood #18.5)(15)
Author: J.R. Ward

You were an adult when you took that car out, sweetie, and now you’ve got an adult-level problem.

As the random male voice shot through her mind, Elle hissed and put her hands to her temples.

“Are you okay? Elle!”

She batted away her father’s palms as he reached forward. “I’m fine. Just slept wrong.” When the pain faded, she sat back like he was. “About last night. Dad, I know that you—”

“I should have told you a while ago.”

In Elle’s head, she finished what she’d been about to say: —don’t let me take your car out without permission and supervision.

Out loud, she said, “Tell me what?”

That he’d, like, installed security cameras somewhere and already knew she’d snuck the BMW out for a drive?

“About Megan.” He took the towel off his neck and pressed it to his face. “I just didn’t know how to bring it up, and I was worried about how you guys would feel.”

“Megan?” She pictured the woman who’d come to the door, all confident and perfumed, all . . . sexy. “Wait, the one from last night?”

“Yes.”

“It wasn’t your first date with her last night?”

There was a pause before he answered. And he lowered his stare and shook his head before he spoke. “No, it wasn’t.”

Elle sat forward. “How long has this been . . . wait, you’re seeing her? Like, girlfriend seeing her?”

“I didn’t know how to handle it all.” He stared across the table. “There’s no handbook for divorce, no blueprint for how to do all of this. And I just didn’t know what was for the best.”

“I’m pretty sure lying to your kids is not on that list.”

He nodded. “That’s fair, and I don’t blame you for being mad. But I’m trying to be sensitive to . . .”

“To Mom? Is that who you’re really worried about?”

“Look, I know that she’s having a hard time. I know that you go over there and it’s hard. I know you worry about her. I worry about her, too.”

Elle frowned. “So Megan is your girlfriend.”

Her father took a deep breath. “Yes, she is.”

As the words sank in, all she could do was sit there and blink. And then she looked at those running shoes by the snow boots and the avocados in with the apples. Suddenly, their little four-top in their new “family” house had a smug ghost sitting in the empty chair.

“Holy shit, Dad, since when has this been going on.” And then she did the math. “Are you even kidding me. All those business meetings? Those overnight conferences when Auntie Bette came over and stayed with us? They were all because you were seeing ‘Megan’—”

“I didn’t know how to tell you. I’m really sorry.”

“So you’ve been lying since for how long?” She crossed her arms over her chest. “How long?”

When he didn’t reply, a cold wash of dread went through Elle. “Is she the reason you got a divorce? Oh, my God, did you cheat on Mom?”

“No, of course not.”

They were the right words. But his eyes had dropped to the table again.

“If you’re lying to me now,” Elle said in a low voice, “and I find out, I am moving in with Mom and taking Terrie with me. I don’t care if that apartment is a mess.”

“Elle . . .” He cursed softly. In French. “It was very complicated. Things between your mother and I, especially at the end, were . . . it was all just complicated.”

Elle shoved her chair back, and as she stood up, her parka fell off her lap and onto the floor. “That’s a Facebook status. It’s not an acceptable reason for killing a family.”

For all of her life, her father had been the steady and calm one, the one she could look to for guidance. Now, he seemed as lost as a child.

“Tell me,” she demanded.

“Your mom and I had been drifting apart for a while.”

“Because you were cheating on her!”

“No, that came later.” This was said almost absently, as if he’d meant to keep that to himself. And then he seemed to snap back to attention. “People grow apart, Elle. It’s a sad, terrible truth. We started with the best of intentions, but then . . . things changed. Especially after her parents died in that car accident. She just disappeared into herself, and I don’t blame her for that.”

Hazy memories of the two-for-one funeral surfaced and then were promptly dismissed. She couldn’t go there right now.

As Elle collapsed back into her chair, her father cursed and rubbed his face with the towel. “Ultimately, it was my fault. I will be honest about that. It was . . . I was working too much, and she was grieving . . . and we . . . people drift apart.”

“But you were married.” Elle felt younger than her sister by ten years as she spoke in a fragile way. “You were in love. Once.”

“Things happen, Elle.” Her father’s eyes teared up. “People get older and events shape your life in ways you’d never predict. But the one thing she and I have always agreed on, and will always agree on, is that you and your sister are the best things we’ve ever done. That will never change. Ever.”

She thought of her mother’s dark apartment, and wasn’t sure how true that was.

“I’m really sorry, Elle—”

Terrie appeared in the archway, hair a mess, bare feet on the tile under the hems of her PJs, a yawn distorting her face. “What’s happening?”

Elle got her parka off the floor and stood up once again, this time with her backpack. “I’m going to go wait for the bus.”

Her father reached out. “Elle, it’s cold out there—”

“Do we still have school?” Terrie rubbed her eyes. “I thought it was going to be canceled ’cuz of snow.”

“The storm’s not here yet,” their father said. “It’s due late in the afternoon.”

“Actually, it already came,” Elle muttered as she walked out of the kitchen.

It was a relief to leave the house and not look back, even though her father was right. The morning was bitterly cold, and the air smelled like snow. God, she hoped they didn’t cancel school.

And who’d have thought that she’d wish for such a thing.

The good news? If there was any?

If Terrie spilled the beans on their little road trip, it was a drop in the fucking bucket after what her father had revealed.

It’s just a snowstorm. I don’t get what all the big deal is. We live in Caldwell, which is second only to fucking Buffalo for accumulation.”

As night fell that evening, First Meal was in full swing at the Brotherhood mansion, the household sitting around the thirty-foot-long dining table, platters of food laid out on the sideboards, all chairs filled. Families were gathered in the Vanderbilt-worthy room in lots of three and four, young on laps and in seats of their own, mated pairs side by side, brothers and fighters and the King all together. As it should be.

“I mean, how bad can this nor’easter be?”

Qhuinn glanced at Butch O’Neal, a.k.a. the Dhestroyer, who was the one playing indignant forecaster to his left.

“Haven’t you lived here for years?” Qhuinn said.

Butch pulled a well-duh double take that did not exactly match the formality of his deep gray Tom Ford suit. “Which is my point. I’ve been through a shit ton of these storms. The city’s been through a shit ton of them. We’ve got the daytime shutters to cover the glass, and like we don’t know from wicked bad wind up here? It’s going to be fine.”

“To be fair, the radar looks like a Christmas card of the Death Star.” Qhuinn cut into his prime rib. “By the way, I heard everyone already voted to leave the island instead of getting stuck here with Lassiter for days and days.”

“And this is my point.” Butch wagged his sterling silver fork. “Why do we all have to stay in tonight just because a couple of flakes fall? Especially if we’re going to get trapped for the day with that angel anyway. That’s like knowing you’re going to come down with the stomach flu and volunteering for a spoiled hamburger the night before.”

“On that, you might have a point.”

Qhuinn glanced down the table. When he couldn’t quite see Lassiter, he leaned forward over his plate full of food so he could get around the lineup of people. About ten seats past Butch, Lassiter was sitting between Bitty and Tohr, his blond-and-black extravaganza of hair falling over a brilliant yellow MrBeast sweatshirt, all of the gold he wore adding a good four tons to his body weight.

The guy was like an entire Zales jewelry store upright and walking around—

Abruptly, Lassiter turned his head, and as their stares met, nothing about his expression was jokey-jokey. His strange-colored eyes were grave and unblinking, his lips a thin line, his whole affect a mask of composure that belonged in Madame Tussaud’s zip code.

A chill went down Qhuinn’s spine.

“Do you need a doctor?”

As Blay spoke up, Qhuinn broke eye contact with the angel and looked at his mate. “What?”

“You shivered. Are you okay? That wound isn’t getting infected, is it?”

“No, it’s fine.” He sliced off a piece of—what was on his plate? Beef? Chicken? Couldn’t be fish. That was the only thing he was sure of, because the King hated the smell of the stuff and forbade it in the house except for Boo the cat’s dinner, which was given nowhere near Wrath. “I’m good.”

Granted, whatever he was chewing could have been a piece of the table, and he was, in fact, running a case of the cold sweats like an iced tea on a hot night. But none of that needed a physician’s review. Besides, he was embarrassed at his case of the cobblywobbles.

Who’d have thought Lassiter in his normal bouncy-castle mood was something to miss.

Caught up in a sense of doom, he refused to look at the angel again, and his eyes skipped over the familiar faces around the table as his awareness retreated deep within himself. Under the fake-it-’til-you-make-it theory, he somehow managed to join the clean-plate club, and talk to Xcor and Layla, and trade off the twins, and get to his own two feet when the meal was over.

   
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