Home > A Warm Heart in Winter (Black Dagger Brotherhood #18.5)(16)

A Warm Heart in Winter (Black Dagger Brotherhood #18.5)(16)
Author: J.R. Ward

All in all, a good performance. Maybe not Oscar caliber—because he could tell Blay wasn’t buying it—but certainly worthy of a Golden Globe nomination.

Out in the foyer, there was a dispersing of bodies, people heading upstairs, across to the billiards room, back toward the library. Meanwhile, he stalled out—

Until he realized Blay was standing in front of him with expectation on his face. Something, apparently, had been asked.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Qhuinn replied.

He figured that was a good, broad-spectrum answer, capable of treating a variety of inquiries: Would you like a drink and a round of pool? Would you like to watch a movie? Would you like to head to bed?

Actually, that last one required more of a Fuck, yeah.

Blay frowned. “You want to do that?”

“What?”

“I said, it’s Layla and Xcor’s night to do bath and play, but Lassiter’s got diamond art going on in the library with the other kids, and has asked everyone to join in.”

“Why would I want to do that?”

“Exactly.” Blay cleared his throat. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” He flashed his pearlies, hoping to hit the a-okay mark. “I mean, I’m not thrilled with being stuck here all night, but I thought I’d go down to the training center and check in with Luchas for a while. I was going to stop by his room when I got my medical release—but time got away from you and me, didn’t it.”

Just as a very attractive blush bloomed across his mate’s face, a strange sound wove into the background noise, low and persistent. Qhuinn looked to the windows that faced out the front of the mansion.

“Holy crap, is that the wind?”

He walked over and opened the door into the vestibule, stepping through to the cathedral-like portal of the house’s grand entrance. When he went to lean outside, he had to put his shoulder into the effort, and you want to talk about a slap in the face? The wind was a one-two punch of cold and powerful, the skin of his cheeks stripping back, his eyes burning, his front teeth humming a tingle tune.

Given all of that arctic-ness, he wasn’t exactly sure why he went all the way out. But one minute, he was on the cusp; the next, he was standing at an angle into the gusts and looking in the direction of the distant suburbs . . . and even farther away, to the downtown skyscrapers and the bridges.

Darius, who had built the manse, had chosen a defensible position on the tallest of the mountains just north of the city of Caldwell. The descending acreage, which was extensive and as pine-packed as a Christmas tree farm, was protected from enemies and humans alike thanks to V’s mhis. But that invisible force field had no dimming effect on the wind at all. The gale-worthy blasts didn’t so much weave their way through all those conifers as tear their way past the linked boughs to batter the front face of the mansion.

He actually pivoted and double-checked that the great stone house was holding up all right, but he shouldn’t have worried. All those tons of gray rock and all that cement were standing strong, as if the mighty, sprawling construction was part of the mountain as opposed to something built upon it.

“Big storm,” someone next to him said, loud enough so he could hear the words over the freight train in his ears.

Qhuinn glanced at V. “Yeah.”

Overhead, the sky was a milky white, the cloud cover dense and low and threatening. No snow was falling yet, but the white stuff was coming. There was a thick, winter humidity in the air, the harbinger of flakes aplenty.

“You guys want to come to the Pit?” V said as Blay joined them. “Foosball. Booze. No Lassiter.”

Qhuinn glanced at his mate. And then both of them answered, “Perfect.”

As Blay sat on Butch and V’s leather sofa, he was seriously enjoying the view in front of him. Qhuinn was at the far side of the Foosball table, the male’s powerful body tilted forward, his eyes tracking the action, his hands twirling the rods and switching grips at a breakneck pace.

Or should that be “breakwrist”?

Across the box of spinning plastic block figures, John Matthew was the opponent, and seeing the two going at it reminded Blay of the way things had been before their transitions. So many hours playing video games together in his bedroom at his parents’ old house, the three of them trading off handsets, trading Doritos for Lay’s, trading gummy bears for Tootsie Rolls.

“Swiss Miss, no marshmallows.”

A white mug appeared in front of him and he looked up at Butch. “You are a gentlemale and a scholar.”

“I barely got through high school and I cuss a lot. I’m not sure I’m either of those.”

“Well, you’re a good host, how ’bout that.”

As the Dhestroyer grinned, the male parked it at the other end of the couch and nursed his own mug. When the Brotherhood had moved in together over at the big house, Butch and V, then both mate-less, had bachelor-padded it here in the old caretaker’s cottage. Now, their shellans were living happily with them, but the Pit, as the place was known, remained a frat house extension of the more formal and very definitely kid-friendly atmosphere across the courtyard.

“Looking at stuff to put under the tree for the twins?” Butch asked.

“Hmm?”

“On your phone there?”

Blay glanced down at the cell in his hand—and decided the fact that his mate could still distract him so much that he forgot what he was doing was a good sign.

“Oh, yeah, actually, I love this bouncy castle. I know they’re a little young, but . . . come on. We can put it outside the playroom, you know in that hall by the movie theater? The older kids will enjoy it, and we can sit with the twins in it.”

“Great idea. But I think you’re going to have to keep Rhage away from the damn thing. I mean, he loves a good bouncy castle.”

“I didn’t know that.”

Butch lifted his mug in salute. “Things you learn in snowstorms, my friend.”

“Speaking of kidlets, do you and Marissa ever want any?” Blay shut his phone down and put it away. And then realized that Butch had frozen with his mug halfway to his lips. “Oh . . . shoot, I’m sorry if that’s too personal—”

“No, no, it’s all good.” Butch followed through and took a sip from his mug. “And I don’t know. Sometimes we think about it, but it’s not a priority. Especially as I watch how hard all you guys work at it—”

The howl started low, as just another round of wind blowing, but as the sound of the gust grew in intensity and persisted so much longer than all the others, he and Butch looked to the Pit’s door. On the outside of the cottage, the decorative shutters whistled and rattled, and then there was a groan, the load-bearing exterior walls complaining—or maybe it was the rafters of the roof?—about the force of the storm. Cold drafts, born from the glass panes of the windows and the main door’s loose seal, snaked around Blay’s ankles, and even the Foosballers halted their cranking conflict and looked up from their spinning—

More groaning, definitely coming from up above.

Dust filtered down from the old beams, and over at V’s Four Toys, a.k.a. the computers from which the security and monitoring systems for all the Brotherhood’s properties were run, Vishous got to his feet as if he were prepared to throw himself over his equipment to protect it.

There was a pause, a relenting. But then everything redoubled, the rattling noises, the protests from the little house, the drafts and the eerie whistling, everything rising again like the Creator had His fingers on the volume knob of the world.

Abruptly, some kind of group-think thing happened, and everyone headed for the door to the courtyard at the same time. Well, except for V, who started to type really fast on one—no, two—keyboards.

Qhuinn was in front and opened the door—only to get blown back off his feet. In the blink of an eye, Blay jumped forward and caught his mate, hitching a hold under those big, heavy arms and keeping all that weight from hitting the floor. And even though it might have been inappropriate, for a brief moment, he closed his eyes and breathed in deep, relishing the scent of his male—

The ripping sound was so loud, you could hear it over the storm.

“The fountain cover!” someone shouted.

In the center of the courtyard that separated the mansion and the cottage, a marble fountain the size of a Greyhound bus station was a winterized focal point—and the blizzard’s winds had set upon the canvas tarp that covered the basin and the sculpture. With invisible teeth, it had grabbed ahold of that stretch of woven and waterproof, and ripped it free of some of the sandbags that secured it in place. A good half of the expanse was flapping, a flag that was making the most of its freedom.

Blay ran across the snowpack, the cold biting through his cashmere sweater and icing his bare hands, the force of the wind pushing against his chest and making his eyes water. And he almost caught the damn tarp. There was a fleeting moment when one corner of the tear came at him, and a split second when his fingers felt a lick of fabric—but then the heavy-duty canvas twisted around and was gone, gone, gone, heading for the front of the mansion on an up-up-and-away that was no more threatening than a Kleenex fluttering.

Except it had one bag still with it.

One single sandbag was along for the ride, still hanging on—until it didn’t.

As the thing went AWOL, breaking free of its tie, the math on the trajectory of the ten-pound projectile was not good.

In a Murphy’s law hole-in-one, the tarp managed to toss that dead weight directly at an expanse of diamond-pane windows on the second floor—and what do you know, the old leaded glass shattered like it had been hit by a skull-sized rock.

“Motherfucker!” someone barked.

Yeah, let’s not allow that to happen again, Blay thought.

The rest of the tarp was still ragged and wiggling loose, tugging and pulling and flapping against those other sandbags. More tearing. More projectiles likely—

As he got in range again, the fabric slapped him right in the face, whipping at his cheek. But he snatched hold of the canvas and leaned back, pulling the bucking expanse away from the fountain’s basin, and out of the grip of the frigid gusts. Qhuinn joined him in the effort, helping the ground-game part of things as they dragged the lineup of bags away from the cobblestone skirt of the marble fixture.

   
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