Home > A Warm Heart in Winter (Black Dagger Brotherhood #18.5)(6)

A Warm Heart in Winter (Black Dagger Brotherhood #18.5)(6)
Author: J.R. Ward

If Qhuinn hadn’t been wounded, Z would have grounded the little shit the old-fashioned way.

With a shovel and a grave marker.

Instead, he followed the trail of blood in the snow to the Black Dagger Brotherhood’s tow truck. The vehicle, which was supposed to be reserved for AAA situations of the vampire variety, was front-winch-in to the trunk of a BMW sedan the color of cabernet sauvignon. One of the car’s doors was wide open, and a human girl, mid to late teens, was kneeling over a facedown and fetal-positioned Qhuinn. Another human girl, younger, was leaning out of the front seat, one hand clamped over her mouth, eyes the size of basketballs.

The brother was leaking. Badly. And that copper tint to the cold air was the equivalent of a fire alarm, something you couldn’t see but made your ears ring.

Z went right for his brother. As he bent down, the girl who was with him backed off.

“Is he d-d-dead? Is he dying?”

“I’m fine,” Qhuinn muttered. “I just ate too much for First Meal.”

Z wanted to roll the male over and see what was doing, but he didn’t have the medical training necessary to do that safely. “Yeah, that Henkel you had for dessert really put you over the edge.”

“FYI, I don’t think it’s that fancy.”

“Swiss Army?”

“Prison shank maybe—”

“He w-w-won’t let me c-c-c-call the p-p-police.”

Z looked at the girl. She had to be seventeen, he was guessing. Jeans. Boots. Parka in pale blue. Nice, middle class, not the kind who should be out in this part of town at this time of night. Instead of fucking around and asking a bunch of questions, he barged into her brain and went directly to her file cabinet of memories.

Ah, yes. Mild rebellion against Daddy run amok—and then things really went wrong.

“Relax,” he told her.

“I d-didn’t mean for this to happen.”

Oops in one hand, shit in the other, see what you get the most of, he thought.

Checking his watch, he figured he had three minutes until Manny arrived so he better get on with it. Rising to his full height, he strode over to the winch and the back of the sedan.

“Don’t hurt my sister!”

The older girl had both of her hands outstretched in a way that reminded him of medieval altar pieces, all helpless, Virgin Mary entreaty for him not to do something he had no intention of doing anyway. Uninterested in talking to her, to anyone, he slammed that open door shut and cut the proverbial cord. Unlatching the tow truck’s hook from the BMW, he tossed the winch over his shoulder and gripped the underside of the car’s bumper. With a grunt, he sank down into his thighs and was careful to lift with his glutes, not his shoulders.

’Cuz really, their snow-locked car was not worth a slipped disk.

Through the rear window, the younger girl in the front seat wheeled about and stared at him, her arms wrapped around the back of the driver’s seat like she was hugging it in lieu of a parental figure. As the angle of the tilt increased, the suspension adjusted to the redistribution of weight with an undercarriage creak, and then there was some serious snow-squeak as he relocated the butt while the two tires in front stayed where they were. His human peanut gallery, both the one inside the sedan and the one standing next to him, were jawbone-slacked as he let the back of the BMW drop to the ground again.

Heading to the driver’s side, he reopened the door—

“No!” the younger girl screamed as she reared away from him again.

“Oh, please,” he muttered, filling the space she’d vacated behind the wheel.

The engine had been left on, so things were warm. Not that he cared. He put the gearshift in reverse and gently eased some pressure onto the accelerator with his right shitkicker. There was a flare of noise from the hood first, and then a subtle shift of position, the tires grabbing at the snowpack with delicate manners. Using what little traction he had, he coaxed those treads to take more of the slippery meal under them, and more, and more—

The BMW rolled away from the snowbank it had been planted in, and he made sure not to run over Qhuinn as he righted its trajectory down the city street. Hitting the park button, he went to get out—

Like a butterfly, a small hand landed on the battered leather sleeve of his wartime jacket. “Mister?” the younger girl said.

He didn’t want to look into her eyes. So he stared at the speedometer. “Yeah.”

“You’re really strong.”

Z got out and took his sleeve with him. Facing the older of the pair, he said, “Go home. Don’t do this shit again. Your father loves you, that’s why he’s got rules. You think he wants to ruin your life? He’s just trying to make sure you live long enough to trash it on your own terms.”

The girl blinked at him. When she didn’t move, he opened the door wider and indicated the way in with a hand motion that was more annoyed than gallant elder statesman.

“What’s going to happen to him?” the girl asked of Qhuinn.

“You don’t have to worry about that.”

“But it’s my fault. All of this is.”

Zsadist frowned. “Why would you care about us?”

As he heard himself speak, he stamped his shit-kicker. He was supposed to have kept that as an internal thought.

“Are you going to call the police?” she asked.

She was so worried. So horrified. So full of self-blame. And even though humans were of less than no concern to him, he had been through those exact trails of brambles so many times. Especially that last one.

“I’m going to take care of him,” he told her. “Now you gotta go.”

“Promise?” she whispered.

He was about to do another round of what’s-itto-you, but of course she didn’t have a clue they were vampires. How could she?

“Do you know how to get back to the highway?” he demanded.

“I go that way?” she said as she pointed deeper into town.

“No.” He put his hand on her shoulder and pivoted her around to the river. “That way.”

The girl nodded, and for a moment, she seemed like she wanted to give him a hug. Or maybe get one from him. He took a step back.

As a set of headlights flared and the deep rumble of Manny Manello’s mobile surgical unit came down at them, she got into her dad’s car. Going around to that back bumper again, Z pushed to help with traction as she turned the BMW in a circle to face the Hudson. At the last moment, just before he let go, he reached into her and her sister’s brains. Not only did he scrub their memories, he made sure the one with the provisional driver’s license knew exactly how to get back on the highway. Past that, though, she was going to have to get herself to the ’burbs.

“You weren’t all that nice to her,” Qhuinn muttered as the car rolled off at a snail’s pace.

Like its driver was worried that the other snowbanks might spontaneously animate and decide to retaliate for what she had done to their comrade-inheaps.

Z looked down at his brother as Manny’s RV pulled up to them. “Are you going to die right now?”

“Nope. And did you hear what I said?”

“I got them going. That’s all that matters.”

“You have a daughter. Some night, she may need help from a human. How’d you like him to treat her?”

Zsadist refocused on the taillights as the BMW’s brakes were hit and then a turn signal—to the left, which was the correct way to go—started to blink.

“Whatever,” Z said under his breath. “Haven’t we got enough to worry about right now?”

“You think Nalla is never going out into the world on her own?”

“No,” Z announced as Manny disembarked with his Little Black Doctor Duffle of poke-and-tickle toys. “That will never, ever happen.”

As Qhuinn started to chuckle, and Manny began to rapid-fire questions of the how-are-we variety, Z decided that the night was going to get a job-satisfaction rating of zero.

Maybe less than zero.

Then again, it could have been worse. Given his history, you’d think he’d remember exactly how creative destiny could get with the bad news.

Blay ran down the underground tunnel toward the Brotherhood’s training center, the clapping sound of his leather-soled loafers like a round of applause for his haul-ass. Inside his skin, he was screaming. On the outside, his rigid composure was his armor, the thing he was going into a battle with, and his rational mind was his ammunition, his primary line of defense.

Too bad fate wasn’t the kind of thing you could actually fight against.

When he came up to the locked door to the facility, he punched in a code and ripped through a supply closet kitted out with all kinds of OfficeMax. Out the other side, he scrambled by the desk, and from habit, smacked the Fuck No! button next to the computer.

As the tinny voice expressed what he was feeling, he punched through a glass door and jogged down the concrete corridor. Doc Jane’s medical area, which had been constructed and outfitted as an engagement present by V, was state of the art. Thank God. With its fully stocked examination rooms, ORs, and patient rooms, it was the best place an injured vampire could be.

Like, for example, if one had been stabbed in the gut.

Going by the scents, Blay knew exactly where his mate was, and when he came up to the exam room, he wanted to throw his body through the closed door. He forced himself to slow that roll. The last thing he needed was for his panic to cause a golf-sprinkler bleed—

The door in front of him opened and Manny Manello, Doc Jane’s clinical partner and Payne’s human hellren, jumped back. “Oh, good, you’re here.”

“Last rites?” Blay choked out.

Manny stepped aside as he took off his white coat. “No, awake and asking for you.”

Blay’s knees went weak as he peered around the surgeon and got a load of his one true love.

“Oh . . . God,” he said. “What happened to you?”

Qhuinn was propped up on a gurney, his mismatched eyes bright and alert, his color good, his mouth pursed with mild annoyance . . . like maybe he’d picked the wrong tollbooth on the turnpike or a bad lane at the supermarket check-out. His shirt had been taken off—no, wait, cut off, given the two shredded halves on the tile floor—and for a split second, Blay’s libido responded with a hey-there-big-boy.

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