Home > A Warm Heart in Winter (Black Dagger Brotherhood #18.5)(2)

A Warm Heart in Winter (Black Dagger Brotherhood #18.5)(2)
Author: J.R. Ward

Every fucking night of your life.

Blay’s voice cut in through the heaving. “I’m here for you. And I’m so damned sorry . . . I’m here for you . . . just don’t do anything stupid, okay? Let me come over—”

Leave it to Blay to know that he was thinking about things that involved ropes and showerheads.

In fact, his free hand had already gone down to the makeshift belt he’d fashioned out of a nice, strong weave of nylon—because his parents didn’t give him money for clothes and the one proper buckle-and-strap combo he’d owned had broken years ago.

Pulling the length free, he glanced across to the closed door of his bath. All he needed to do was tie the thing to the fixture in his shower—God knew those water pipes had been run in the good old days when things were strong enough to hold some weight. He even had a chair he could stand up on and then kick out from underneath him.

“I gotta go—”

“Qhuinn? Don’t you hang up on me—don’t you dare hang up on me—”

“Listen, man, I gotta go—”

“I’m coming over right now—” Lot of flapping in the background like Blay was getting his shit together. “Qhuinn! Do not hang up the phone—Qhuinn . . . !”

Present Day

Market Street and 17th

Downtown Caldwell, New York

Oh, shit! Dad is going to kill us—”

“What are you talking about, ‘us’? I’m not driving—”

“You’re in the car, Terrie! And not because I kidnapped you—”

The two Allaine sisters were talking over each other, talking over the radio that was still playing loud enough to be heard in the suburbs they’d left, talking over the accident that had just occurred. They were also going nowhere, the front grille of the burgundy 2018 BMW 5 series embedded in the face of a dirty, downtown snowbank that loomed big as a mountain.

“I know I’m in the car, Ellen,” the twelve-year-old snapped. “But you’re the one who crashed us!”

“It wasn’t my fault, Therese!” Elle punched the radio button, which canned the music and turned up the volume on two things she was so not interested in dealing with: whatever wasn’t ever going to work again under the hood and her stupid sister’s opinion on what had just happened. “Something ran out in front of the car. It was not my fault—”

“It’s your fault where you steered us, and you’re never going to get your full license—”

“You can stop yelling. Anytime.”

No airbags. The airbags hadn’t deployed. Elle pulled herself up by the steering wheel and looked over the hood. Whatever had shot across the icy road was gone, the black shadow scurrying off as strays did. In contrast, the snowbank they were headfirst into was about five feet tall and a whole block long of going-nowhere. Beyond it? Nothing but a warehouse the color of a mud puddle that was covered with graffiti and absolutely no exterior lights.

Two seconds sooner or later and this would never have happened. The dog would have crossed the street before or after them, and right now they’d be elsewhere—although probably not where she’d meant to be going. She’d been trying to get onto Trade Street, and she’d thought, as she’d made a bunch of turns after taking the—hello—Trade Street exit off Northway, that it’d be no problem to find her way. Instead, they were . . .

Cranking around in her seat, she looked past Terrie, who was still talking, her hands all animated, her indignity act on a solid roll. The Northway was down about four blocks, at the Hudson River’s edge, and Elle pictured herself back on the four-laner going out of town, headlights leading the way home. Too bad there was no on-ramp that she could see and no signs to one, either—plus the highway was super-raised up on pylons. But, like, what did she think she’d do if it were on the level? Bust through a guardrail?

On the other side of things there was . . . nothing much. Just a bunch of dark buildings that offered no help. No security lights on them, either. Were they all abandoned?

“—going to tell Dad everything. How you stole his keys and took us downtown—”

Elle turned to her passenger with the big frickin’ opinions. “It’s not like I put a gun to your head. You said you were bored, so you were coming.”

“I’m twelve, you know, I’m a minor and it’s ten o’clock at night, and if you left home I’d be alone there, and that defeats the whole purpose of baby-sitting, doesn’t it. And where are we.”

Barely a break between words, much less pauses for sentences. If there had even been more than one.

“We’re here,” Elle muttered. “I mean, don’t freak out.”

“Who do we call?” her sister demanded. “We can’t call Dad—”

“Shut up, Terrie. I’ll take care of it.”

“Don’t tell me to shut up! You know, this is just like the time you . . .”

As Terrie got back on the bitch train, Elle couldn’t decide whether she wanted to be home because it was safe and this stretch of Caldwell’s downtown felt anything but that, or because she could not stand to be in an enclosed space with Terrie the Big Mouth. The good news? Now that the shock was wearing off, she realized the engine was still running, the heater was still on, and she couldn’t smell any smoke or anything burning. And hey, “abandoned” meant no one was around to get involved, right?

Get involved = call her father. Or call the police, who would then call her father.

All she had to do was reverse. Reverse was everything. And then she was getting them the hell out of here, and never, ever babysitting her sister again.

“You are such an idiot,” Terrie announced.

“Shut up.”

Putting things in reverse, Elle hit the gas. There was a jerk, and then a whrrrrrrrr. So she pushed down more on the accelerator. Whereupon the whrrrrrrr from the back end of the car just got higher pitched and louder.

Terrie cocked an eyebrow. “That’s not working.”

“Thank you, Mr. Faulk.” Mr. Faulk was the seventy-million-year-old English teacher at Caldwell Middle School. They’d both had him, and they’d both hated him. It was the only thing they’d ever agreed on. “And it will work.”

Elle stomped on the accelerator. And all she got was more volume out of the spinning rear tires, so she eased off. Then tried again, with less gas.

“FYI, this isn’t helping us.”

Elle put the car in park and thought seriously about pulling out all of her sister’s hair. “I’m never taking you anywhere ever again. Like, ever. You’re a fucking pain in my ass.”

“Just wait until I tell Dad ALL about this. Including that f-word.”

“Good. Then you’re in trouble, too, because you were supposed to be in bed an hour ago.”

“My bedtime was your responsibility. He’s never going to let you babysit—”

“Who the fuck else do you think is going to sit with you when we’re at Dad’s and he’s on a date?”

“That’s two f-words and he can pay someone better than you—”

“Shut up!” Elle slapped the steering wheel. “Fuck!”

Before her sister could update the tally, Elle leaned across the console and stared right into Terrie’s brown eyes. For once in her life, the girl thought better about speaking. But it wasn’t going to last.

With shaking hands, Elle got her cell phone from the drink-cup holder, but she couldn’t think of who could help. None of her friends could drive without an adult in the car—well, technically, neither could Elle—and any parental type who would come with them would call her father, which was exactly what she needed to avoid.

And their mom was out of the question.

Terrie crossed her arms over her pink parka. “You’re sixteen and only have your learner’s permit. This isn’t legal, you know.”

“You still can’t do long division, what the hell do you know.” Elle rubbed at her foggy window with the sleeve of her coat. “Hey. Check it. There’s a tow truck over there—”

Terrie grabbed her arm. “Lock the doors!”

“They are locked and what are you talking about?”

“It could be a murderer!”

Elle shoved off her sister. “Oh, shut up. And like you have a better idea?”

As she opened her door, the cold made it seem like it was three a.m. and they were in a bad part of town. Then again, she had a feeling this was a bad part of town, and ten p.m. might as well be three a.m. when you were alone with your baby sister.

If something went wrong, maybe she could just throw Terrie at the masher and run away. God knew the kid had that machine gun mouth of hers to use as a weapon.

Shutting her sister in, Elle kept her phone in her hand and double-checked to see if anyone, anything, was around. Nope. Just still December air, distant traffic, and a whole lot of wishing she were back home: Not that she’d ever admit it to Terrie the Big Mouth, she was seriously regretting this whole thing. She’d just wanted to drive down to where the clubs with the lights and the banging music were. When you were stuck babysitting your little sister—while your father was out on a date for the first time since the divorce and your mom was sitting in an apartment in the dark ’cuz it was always dark at her apartment—sometimes catching sight of the twenty-one-and-over glory that was just around your corner was the only thing that made you feel better.

Like what if their dad liked that woman? She was terrible. All perfume and LBD when she’d come to their door to pick him up. Like she was somebody special.

“Elle? You’re not going to leave me, are you?”

At least that annoying voice was contained inside the car, but Terrie hadn’t stayed put. She’d crawled over the threshold separating the two front seats, and she was staring up out of the driver’s side window, the ambient gray light of the city sucking the smart-ass out of her expression.

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