Home > A Warm Heart in Winter (Black Dagger Brotherhood #18.5)(3)

A Warm Heart in Winter (Black Dagger Brotherhood #18.5)(3)
Author: J.R. Ward

Or maybe the reality they were in was what was doing that: Car stuck, after dark, with no good options.

Elle looked at the tow truck, which was parked a good fifty yards away and facing in the opposite direction. It was red and white, and had a logo that seemed legit: “Murphy’s Towing” was done in script and there was a tagline, “We’re Always There for You!” They even had the AAA thingie. And a local phone number.

But she couldn’t see who was behind the wheel. There was somebody in the truck, though. Smoke puffed out of the tailpipe, and the brake lights glowed red. Why wasn’t he coming to help already, though? It was his job, right? And it wasn’t like there were any other cars in snowbanks around here.

“Lock the doors,” she heard herself say. Like she was a grown-up.

“Oh, my God, you’re going to be dead!” Terrie launched herself at the window, smacking at it with the palm of her hand, her voice all muffled. “Let’s call Dad! I’ll tell him it was my idea!”

“Shh. You’re being weird.” Elle swallowed through a dry throat. “Just lock the doors. I’m gonna ask if he can help us.”

“We’re all alone, Elle.” Now Terrie was more like the four-year-old she’d once been, all doe eyes and fright, the child coming out from behind the tweenager. “We’re going to die.”

“Lock.” She jabbed her forefinger at the door. “Now.”

When there was a chunk sound, she pointed through the glass with another jab, the universal sister sign for Stay the hell there.

It was, like, a hundred miles to the tow truck, and as the snow compressed under Elle’s boots, the squeaks it made were like a motion-activated alarm system that seemed to be counting down to an explosion. She couldn’t see inside the cab even as she closed in on all the winches and pulleys that hung off the back. But whoever was in there had to be able to help, right? Otherwise, why stencil that slogan on the outside of your stupid tow truck?

Right, because all advertising was legit.

Elle’s heart was pounding as she came up to the driver’s side of the cab. “Hey, mister? Hey. Hey, you in there?”

Maybe she’d luck out and find that it was a missus. That would be so great.

She glanced back at the BMW. Terrie’s pale face was mashed up against the window, her eyes wide, her mouth moving like she was talking to herself. Or maybe getting ready to scream when her older sister’s spilled blood turned the snow red as those brake lights—

The sound of the window going down brought Elle’s head around.

With a gasp, she jumped back. The man staring out at her had gunmetal-gray piercings running up one ear, and another set on his eyebrow, and one on the side of his nose. His hair was jet black and stained with purple. His clothes were black and he was wearing a leather jacket. One eye was blue, the other green, and there was the tattoo of a purple tear under one of them.

He was not smiling.

He looked like he never smiled. Unless he was tearing someone’s head off with his bare hands.

As he stared down at her, he was clearly sizing her up for target practice . . . in a way that made where she had gotten lost seem like a war zone.

Elle put her hands up. “Never mind. I, ah, I made a mistake—”

Stumbling away, she started walking fast back to her sister, trying to make it seem like she was, you know, calm. But when the driver’s door opened with a creak, she fucked that lie right off and began to run. Slipping, falling, scrambling, she focused on Terrie, who started to scream and pound at the window with little fists.

Like that was going to do anything.

The decision to go out had been a simple whim back home. Now, it was going to cost her and her sister their lives.

All she wanted was her dad.

The Black Dagger Brotherhood Mansion

Have you ever had wedding cake?”

Blaylock, son of Rocke, looked up from the December 12th issue of The New Yorker. Bitty, a.k.a. Rhage and Mary’s daughter, was standing just inside the library’s archway, a diminutive figure poised to enter the land of wood paneling and leather-bound books. She was wearing leggings and another one of her dad’s black button-downs, the tails of the shirt falling below her knobby knees, the sleeves rolled up her thin arms, the collar flopping on her shoulders. Her dark and shiny hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and she had a steno notebook and a pen in her hand. She looked like a reporter on a lead.

He nodded down at her feet. “Nice slippers.”

The girl picked up one of the fluffy pink unicorns. The things had silver lamé horns, rainbow manes and tails, and expressions of unease, the smiles not quite stitched on right. Actually, the poor things looked nauseous, like the small feet in their insides were too much of a meal.

“They’re part of the uniform,” Bitty said.

“For what?”

“The Party Planning Committee.”

“Did Fritz mandate this?” Weird. The Black Dagger Brotherhood’s butler supreme was more like the spit-and-polish military-shoe type.

“No, Lassiter.”

Blay closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the cushions of the sofa. “Well, I think that is just great.”

“You don’t look like you think it’s great. You look like you ate too much.”

Ah, so he was imitating the unicorns.

He releveled himself. “Is the Party Planning Committee working on anything specific right now?”

A Golden Girls–themed celebration of Taco Tuesday? Rainbow Dash does the second Saturday in December because . . . it was not the first or the third Saturday? No, wait, George’s birthday was coming up. Maybe they’d all have hamburgers and play with chew toys to honor Wrath’s beloved guide dog?

At least that last one didn’t seem so bad.

Bitty tapped her steno pad. “We’re gathering a list of parties. Vampire and otherwise. And then we’re going to plan them as training.”

“Oh, that’s smart. And I’ve never had wedding cake, no. But I’m sure Fritz and the doggen can whip one up for you.”

“That’s our idea. I mean, I know we don’t do wedding cakes. As a species, I mean. But they’re really pretty.”

“They are. I’ve seen pictures.”

“What did you serve at your mating ceremony with Uncle Qhuinn?”

Blay opened his mouth. Closed it. “Well, we just had a party of sorts. I mean, not a ceremony. It was more like a . . .”

“Like what?” When he didn’t immediately reply, Bitty said, “So you’re not properly mated?”

“Oh, we are. Definitely.”

“Then you saw the Scribe Virgin before she left us?”

“Well, not exactly.”

“But I thought when people got mated, that’s what happened. They did their vows, and she blessed the union if it’s a good one, and then the carving in the back of the hellren comes. After that is the party with cake that’s not for a wedding, but that might have many layers separated by raspberry jam, with butter-cream frosting on top.”

Blay thought back to the night he and Qhuinn had finally gotten their act together. God, there had been so much denial and confusion and pain, on both sides, for so many years. And then the false starts and worse heartbreak and all kinds of never-going-tohappens. Finally, though, he’d gone to that club and found his male sitting alone at the bar, turning down offers for sex. Which had been kind of like watching Rhage go “I couldn’t possibly” to a bag full of Big Macs.

Unprecedented.

He remembered slipping his gold signet ring on Qhuinn’s finger and claiming him as family. In that bar. Yeah, because life-changing events didn’t necessarily happen at beaches in the moonlight or in front of roaring fires with champagne flutes. Instagram pics were great, but they were curated to be great. Real life went down when and where it did, regardless of whether things were photogenic.

“But it’s different for us,” he said. “Uncle Qhuinn and I have known each other our whole lives. And when we decided to commit to each other, we had a lot of history behind us. A base of knowledge and familiarity.”

“What’s that have to do with a ceremony?”

“You don’t need the ceremony if you have that much history. And we had a great party. Everyone in the household dressed up—even Uncle Qhuinn had on a tuxedo. My parents came, and he and I danced to ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ ’ in the foyer.”

“Journey.”

“You know the song?”

“Uncle Zsadist sings it the best.”

“I agree with you on that. And as for the back carving and everything, we’ve always meant to do that.”

But since that night when potential had turned into actual, when happily-never-after had lost its “n,” a lot of shit had happened. They had the twins now, and young were some next-level overwhelm, capable of layering a whole new level of exhaustion on top of fighting to protect the vampire species and living a regular life. Still, he wouldn’t change a thing, and Rhamp and Lyric were starting to show their personalities, which was exciting: Rhamp was fierce as his sire, meeting you right in the eye even as you cradled him in his blanket—despite the fact that the full extent of the kid’s fighting arsenal was explosive diarrhea. Which, okay, fine, could clear a room faster than a flash-bang. Lyric, on the other hand, was a watcher, and much more reserved than her brother. But when she smiled? She was the sun.

“Being mated officially doesn’t affect who we are to each other,” Blay said.

Bitty smiled. “Oh, I know that. Your eyes change color when you look at him.”

“Really?”

“Uh-huh. They get deeper blue. Plus you blush a lot. Why do you blush like that? Is it something he does?”

Clearing his throat, Blay ruffled through the pages of the magazine, watching the line drawings flap by in the midst of their frames of text. He stopped on one that depicted a fish on a bicycle.

“Well, ah,” he said. “Um, I don’t really think I blush—”

   
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