Home > Lover Unveiled (Black Dagger Brotherhood #19)(11)

Lover Unveiled (Black Dagger Brotherhood #19)(11)
Author: J.R. Ward

“Fuck,” she muttered. Even though she rarely swore.

Then again, this night was breaking allllll kinds of records.

Caught in her head, she started walking without bothering to see who was around. Fortunately, the cops were kibitzing on the other side of the parking garage, and all the other humans had already gotten out of Dodge, as the saying went.

Crossing the street, the random flashes of red from the lights on the squad cars strobed around the abandoned buildings, and there was absolutely no traffic on any of the roads in what seemed like a ten-block radius. Likewise, the parking lots that had been SRO for those flashy cars were now empty, nothing but trash and the occasional beater left behind—and overhead, the police helicopter was turning off its searchlight and paddling out of the area.

It was like the last scene in a horror movie, the scares over, the heroine safe, the lessons learned. Cue the credit roll.

Great analogy—metaphor, whatever.

Yeah, except this was always when Jason came back out of the proverbial lake and dragged the counselor down to the bottom with him.

Claiming his last kill, after all.

Her car was where she’d left it, and getting in, she cranked the ignition, put things in reverse, and k-turned around. As she headed off, in a direction that ensured she’d avoid the cops, she gripped the steering wheel, but sat back in the driver’s seat.

God, this was not at all how she’d thought things would work out. And she needed to call Tallah.

Instead of getting her phone from her purse, she just drove out of downtown’s Venn diagram of one-ways, finding an entrance ramp onto the Northway—

Shit, she was headed south, not north.

“Damn it,” she muttered as she looked over her shoulder to merge.

There were no cars, just a couple of semis, and Mae got off at the next exit, tangled with a stoplight, and headed back onto the highway, going in the right direction.

Even as she kept the car in her lane, and stayed at the speed limit, and monitored the ascending numbers of the exits, she was mostly in her head, a slideshow of everything that had just happened flipping through scene by scene. As the start-to-finish came to an end and got ready for a replay, she glanced at the clock on her dash.

Holy crap. Only an hour had passed.

It felt like twelve.

Or maybe an entire week.

Yet for all that had transpired, the essentials remained unchanged, and the crushing reality of her situation made it hard to breathe. Cracking her window, she took some big inhales. Then she turned off the heater.

When she came to her exit, it felt as though her car got off on its own, and the same thing happened as she approached the Shell gas station she had been stopping at every night. As the Honda rolled to a halt in front of the shop part, away from the pumps, her head turned to the ice cooler.

For a moment, things got blurry, the cartoon penguins with their red scarves disappearing in the midst of their arctic landscape.

She held the breakdown off by opening her door and getting out with her purse. Heading into the convenience shop, the young guy behind the cash register looked up from his phone.

“Oh, hey.” He stroked his scraggly beard. “The usual?”

“Yup, thanks.”

As Mae got out two twenty-dollar bills, the human did his beep, beep, beep thing at the register and the cash drawer popped out. When he handed her back twenty-seven cents in change, she put the coins in the plastic dish for someone else.

“I kept it unlocked for you,” he said as he resettled on his stool and went back into his phone. “You sure throw a lot of parties.”

“You want me to pull the chain for you and put the lock on when I’m done?”

He glanced up in surprise, like a customer helping him had never happened before. “Yeah. Thanks.”

“Take care.”

“Yeah, you too.”

Back outside, she went over to the freezer. It took her three trips back and forth to her car, and on her last one, she put her slippery, cold bundles on the pavement, ran the chain links through the pull-handles, and clicked the Master Lock in place.

Looking up into the security camera, she waved.

Through the glass wall, the man behind the cashier lifted his hand over his shoulder in response.

With a grunt, Mae gathered the final bags of ice and humped them over to the trunk. Tossing them in with the others, she slammed things closed and got back behind the wheel.

She cried all the way to her house.

To the house she and her brother had grown up in.

To the house that they now lived in together, following their parents’ deaths.

The driveway seemed to rush up to meet the front tires of her car, and as her high beams washed over the face of the one-story ranch, she saw that one of the bushes by the door had died over the winter, and there was a branch down in the side lawn. She was going to have to deal with them.

As she waited for the garage door to open, she realized that she had been noticing that bush and that branch every night when she came back with the ice. And she made the same resolution each evening. Tomorrow night? She was probably going to repeat the whole thing.

Because nothing had changed—

“Crap,” she muttered as she put things in reverse.

Out in the street again, she turned her car around, twisted to see over her shoulder, and backed the Civic in properly. Braking just before the Honda’s rear bumper hit the back wall, she turned off the car and waited for the garage doors to descend and bounce into place. After that, it was a couple of minutes before she could bear to get to work.

She kept thinking of that fighter.

And no, she wasn’t going to help him wash his back. Like she had any interest in staring at that skull while she Ivory-soaped his huge shoulder muscles and his tight waist and his—

“Do not go any further with that,” she ordered as she got out of the car.

The ritual of propping the back door open with the trash bin and going back and forth from her trunk to the place where her purse had thrown up the night before was more exhausting than it should have been.

When she was finally done, she made sure the dead bolt was thrown, and then stood over the eight bags of ice cubes. Her palms were stinging and red, and she rubbed them on her pants. She couldn’t breathe, but that wasn’t from exertion.

When she felt like she could stand it, she walked down the narrow hall and passed through the kitchen. Out in the front of the house, the living room was dark, and the corridor on the far side of it, where the upstairs bedrooms and shared bathroom were, was likewise dim.

She and her brother had always crashed down there. But for the last two weeks or so, she’d moved to the cellar spaces.

Pausing at the closed door to the communal loo, she closed her eyes. Then she knocked. “Rhoger? Rhoger, it’s me.”

She waited, for no good reason.

When she opened the way in, she kept her eyes on the tile floor until she couldn’t avoid it any longer. Shifting them to the tub, she felt a singing pain in the center of her chest.

Rhoger’s body was submerged under a pool of ice water, the cubes she’d added the night before mostly melted. He was still in the clothes he’d been wearing when he’d come home and collapsed in the front hall, the bloodstains faded because of all the water, the shirt and its sleeves billowing out in the submersion, the worn jeans the same. There were no shoes, and his bare feet were the same marble white as his face.

His eyelids were open again.

Clasping her mouth with her hand, Mae started to hyperventilate, her rib cage working overtime, her burning lungs getting nowhere when it came to relieving a sudden smothering sensation.

“Rhoger, I swear . . .” She wiped her face and cleared her throat. “I’m going to get the Book. Somehow, I’m going to get it and save you.”

Beneath the still water, her brother looked up at her with vacant, unblinking eyes.

She was well familiar with them. When she was able to sleep even a little, she saw them in her nightmares.

Stumbling back out into the hall, she wanted to fall onto her knees and retch.

Instead she pulled herself together . . . and went to get the fresh ice.

You were . . .”

As Balz waited for the Mrs. to finish her thought out loud, he smiled into the twilight of her and the Mr.’s majestic master bedroom. He’d been sure to keep the doors to the marble bathroom open so there was enough light for her human eyes to see what he was doing to her. And it had been a really good session, the kind of core workout that meant he was not going to have to hit the training center’s gym when he got home.

Rolling to his side, he took his fingertip and ran it over the necklace of diamonds he’d put on her. “This was fun.”

The Mrs. turned her head to him, her professionally tended hair spilling over the pillow, the brunette extensions tangled now, thanks to her orgasms and the way she’d arched back against the bed so many times.

“It was so much more than fun.”

He trailed his forefinger up her throat and brushed her lower lip with his thumb. “I have to go.”

“You can stay until morning—” Abruptly, the Mrs. looked away, her profile perfectly balanced, likely thanks to a little help from someone with a scalpel. “But you don’t have to say it, I realize this is not . . . you know.”

Balz pressed his lips to her bare shoulder. “You’re incredibly beautiful, and any man would be honored to be in your bed. Trust me. I’m never going to forget this.”

As her eyes returned to his, her smile was slow. “Thank you. I’m forgotten a lot.”

“Never by me.” As he told her what she wanted to hear, he took her hand and placed it on his chest, over his heart. “Right here, there’s a place for you. Even though we won’t see each other again.”

The Mrs. nodded. “I am married.”

“And you shouldn’t feel bad about this. Especially when he’s in Idaho. Promise me that, ’kay?”

When she nodded sadly, Balz kissed her on the forehead, and then extricated himself from her body, her sheets, her bed . . . her life. As he re-dressed in his black thieving clothes, she watched him, curling onto her side and holding the blankets to her breasts.

Which had, in fact, been spectacular. As well as real.

“You’re not taking this?” she asked.

When he glanced over, she touched the diamonds at her throat and he shook his head. “No. You keep it. I don’t want to take anything from you.”

“Aren’t you worried I’ll call the police? I mean, I won’t, ever, but—”

“No, I’m not worried about that.”

And because it was time, because it was the way things had to be, he went into her brain and sent her off into a deep, healing sleep. Inside the file cabinet of her memory, he assigned everything they had done together to the figments of a dream state, the time they’d spent a wonderful, satisfying fantasy that would feel as real as it had when it was actually happening.

A banked fire to warm herself in front of in the midst of the winter of her marriage.

Before Balz left her, he pulled up the duvet so that as the sweat dried on her skin, she wouldn’t catch a chill. Then he soft-footed it out of the boudoir and went back into the closet. Willing the double doors closed behind him, he made a second trip into her husband’s formal wear section, and parted the tux-sea-dos again.

Balz snorted at his own funny as he reopened the safe, and there was no question what he was going to take this time. Picking up the case of rocking watches, he tucked the Mr.’s collection of timekeepers under his arm and reclosed everything.

What a fucking idiot the guy was. Had a good thing right at his side, but nooooo, he needed to go find some strange. In Idaho.

So stupid.

Back out in the hall, Balz had a thought about dematerializing through one of the double-paned windows. Instead, he found himself padding down the curving stairs just so he could go by the Banksy stuff again. Now that was art.

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