Home > A Warm Heart in Winter (Black Dagger Brotherhood #18.5)(5)

A Warm Heart in Winter (Black Dagger Brotherhood #18.5)(5)
Author: J.R. Ward

“Wh-h-h-hat—who are they?” Terrie said.

Three men came out of the shadows. Three men with ski hats pulled down low over their foreheads and hands that were out of sight as they walked forward through the snow.

“Elle? What are we going to do?”

“It’s fine.” She punched the locks again even though it wasn’t like she could more-lock the doors. “Get down.”

“What?”

Without looking away from the approaching trio, Elle shoved her sister toward the passenger side’s wheel well. “Shut up, and get down there—”

“I can’t fit—”

As Terrie argued, Elle’s heart pounded and she put her face into her sister’s. “Please. I don’t want you to get hurt. It’s safer there.”

“You said it was fine.” Terrie’s lower lip trembled. “You told me we were fine. I’m scared.”

“It’s going to be okay. Just get down.”

“What are you going to do?”

At least this was asked as the girl folded herself up under the glove compartment, becoming a pink marshmallow Peep crammed badly into some very non-Easter packaging. Elle went back to staring at those men. The closer they came, the younger they got, until she decided they were only a year or two older than herself. The one in the middle was the shortest, but he seemed to be in charge, walking in front of the taller two. They all had parkas on, gray and black, but not like it was a uniform, more like they had the same style.

She looked to the tow truck man. He was leaning back against the door of his vehicle, his arms hanging casually down at his sides. He seemed totally unconcerned, and was not taking out a cell phone and calling 9-1-1. Had he already done that? No. He couldn’t have.

The boys fanned out, like they had done this before, and knew that spreading wide would give them a better attack.

“What you doin’, old man,” the one in the center said as they stopped in a semicircle.

His voice was muffled on account of the BMW being so well insulated and sealed up.

Did they have guns? Elle wondered. Safety glass didn’t go far when it came to stopping bullets.

“I’m never taking you out again when I shouldn’t,” she whispered. “Ever.”

“I’m not going to tell Dad,” Terrie said in a small voice.

“Huh?” the punk demanded out by the tow truck. “What the fuck you doin’?”

Elle narrowed her eyes on the tow man. He was staring at the one who was talking, eyes unblinking, body utterly still. She had a thought that the punk needed to be careful. As much as he seemed to think he was in control, something about what was going on here was not in his favor; he just didn’t seem to be aware of it yet. Then again, maybe Elle was the one who was reading this wrong.

Yeah, ’cuz really, her judgment had been so great tonight already.

Then again, the way the tow truck man was staring at the punk was . . . way too focused.

Like how a cobra might look at a bare foot that had invaded its territory.

She almost cracked the window to yell that the punks needed to run. But it was just a tow truck guy, right? And maybe she was making a dangerous superhero out of him because he was all that stood between her and a whole lot of even-worse happening. She’d thought he was a threat and she’d been wrong. But she was not wrong about the three who had come out into the street.

“You fucking deaf?” the one in front said.

“I’m going to tell him,” Elle whispered as her head got buzzy with fright and she closed her eyes. “I’m going to tell Dad. This was a horrible mistake and I need to be responsible for it.”

“I wish he were here.”

The fact that it didn’t dawn on either of them to call their mother was lost on Terrie, and something that lingered for Elle. But she should be used to it by now, she supposed—

The sound took her back to Labor Day, when her father had been carrying that cooler full of soda and ice and had dropped things: Loud, dull, and with a rattle.

Her lids popped open.

Outside, at the tow truck, one of the taller kids was slumping off the side of the hood, a streak of blood marking the path of his seemingly unconscious flop to the snow. The man in leather didn’t pay him any mind. He lunged forward, grabbed the shorter one who’d thought he was in charge by the throat. As the leader of the pack Three Stooges–slapped at what was locked on the front of his neck, all the man with the mismatched eyes had to do was point at the remaining boy—

And the kid took off at a dead run, his ski hat flying off his head.

Elle blinked. And blinked again. But what she was seeing did not change. The tow truck man just kept squeezing the neck in his grip, the kid clawing at the hold with his gloved hands, boots kicking at the snow . . . until he was lifted up high enough so that just his tiptoes made contact with the icy road. Meanwhile, the man stared with absolutely no expression at that reddened face with its gaping mouth and wild eyes. He might as well have been making himself a sandwich—

Close to where he was standing in the snow, there was a knife, dropped by one of the kids.

The punk who’d had his face banged on the hood flopped onto his side—and saw the weapon at the same time Elle did. Before she could yell, he moved faster than he should have considering he had blood dripping out of his nose and one of his eyes wasn’t working right.

Elle yanked the door release, but forgot she’d locked everything. Banging on the window, she shouted, “Watch out!”

The tow truck man glanced toward her—just as the punk got the knife and surged upward, leading with the sharp point of the blade.

“No!” Elle screamed as she threw open her door.

The knife went right into the tow truck man’s stomach, buried to the hilt.

“Get back in that car!” he snapped at her.

Then he threw the short one he had by the throat away. Like, literally, tossed the entire body of the kid he’d been strangling off to the side like someone littering with an empty soda can. The former leader of the attack landed in a heap, and he didn’t hang around to see what was next. He tore off in a sloppy retreat, snow flying behind him.

Not that the tow man paid any attention to the bye-bye.

He was all about the stabber. Not at all about the knife.

How was this possible?

Even with the blade embedded six inches into his stomach, he bent down to the kid who’d done the deed—who was now back on his ass and staring up with a look of confusion Elle could totally relate to. Clearly, he couldn’t believe that he’d stabbed the Terminator, but the tow man didn’t give him any time to square up reality with expectation. He grabbed the kid’s arm, yanked him to his feet, and forced the limb back until there was a loud crack! As the screaming started, and Elle felt a sickening urge to vomit, the man spun his attacker away like a top—with the kid taking the hint and racing off around the building.

Looking down at the handle of the knife, the man seemed more annoyed than anything else. Which was not the typical response when something that could cut steak was at a ninety-degree angle with somebody’s belly button.

“Motherfucker,” he muttered as he took out a cell phone.

Just before he dialed, he listed to one side. Then he fell down to his knees.

He was still looking annoyed as he slumped to the snow.

The Black Dagger Brother Zsadist, blooded son of the Black Dagger Brother Ahgony, bonded of the fair and well-bred Bella, proud sire of Nalla, and brother of Phury, Primale of the Chosen, was cooling his jets on the corner of Market Street and 14th when the first of the punk-ass motherfuckers hauled by him at a dead run, black-and-gray parka flapping, boots stomping, fear scenting the air in his wake with an acrid burn that was a cross between a marshmallow too close to the campfire and Cascade dishwashing pods.

Talk about a snooze. Given that it was after dark in downtown Caldwell, all kinds of humans were running this kind of footrace, twelve million kinds of bad decision making resulting in exactly this sort of panicked, rethink-sprint.

Like he cared.

Except then number two came tooling along. This guy was wearing a similar parka, which wasn’t necessarily a thing, and seemed slightly less terrified—but he smelled like bong water spilled on an old carpet, so it was possible that his body was making a more accurate survival assessment than his THC-dusted brain was. But again, not Z’s problem. Humans had an extraordinary capacity for stupidity, and who was he to get in the way of consequential learning—

Inside his ear, there was a low-level brrrrng. Then Vishous’s voice: “Z? We need you three blocks to the north. Qhuinn’s down. Manny ETA four minutes. Abdominal stab.”

“Fuck,” he muttered as he leaned into his shoulder. “Leaving now.”

He would have dematerialized, except you didn’t do that unless you knew exactly where you were reforming and he wasn’t far. He started running, the daggers that were holstered handles down on his chest moving with his torso’s power as if they were a part of his body that he’d been born with. His guns and his ammo were the same, everything lock-holstered to his shoulders and his hips, nothing slapping against him, the whole arsenal coming with and right in reach.

And what do you know. He was looking to shoot something all of a sudden. Qhuinn was not only a member of the Brotherhood, but he’d also saved Z’s life one night. So yeah, there was loyalty all over the place.

When he got to the corner of a storage building that was every bit as bright and shiny as a discarded hubcap, he choked up on his leg churn. Fresh blood on the breeze. Nothing gunpowdery, so no bullets. At least not yet—

Footfalls were coming fast on an approach toward him, and a split second later, a lanky kid with a busted-up, bloody face tooled around the side of the building, right into Z’s path. To avoid a head-on collision, Z punched at the fucker’s pecs, and like a pool ball on a billiards table, things went ricochet, the body in motion spinning off and slamming into the metal siding with a cymbal crash.

   
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