Home > Prisoner of Night (Black Dagger Brotherhood #16.5)

Prisoner of Night (Black Dagger Brotherhood #16.5)
Author: J.R. Ward

PROLOGUE

Twenty-One Years, Three Months, Six Days Ago . . .

WHERE IS IT! GODDAMN you, where’s it at!”

Duran spit blood out of his mouth and spoke over the ringing in his ears. “I’ll never tell you—”

Chalen the Conqueror swung his open palm again, nailing Duran’s lacerated face like a bat hitting a fastball. But it didn’t hurt as much as the other shit they’d been doing to him in this castle’s great room. They’d already pulled out his fingernails, broken all of his toes, and whipped his back until strips of his own flesh flapped against his ribs. At the moment, he didn’t have the strength to keep himself on his feet, but no worries there—two guards, with grips locked under his pits, were holding him up off the floor.

As his head flopped back into its lolling hang, he shook it to get the sweat and blood out of his eyes. In the hissing, kicking light of the hearth, the male in front of him was stocky of build and ugly of feature, an oak stump with a bulldog’s muzzle and a hungry bear’s bad fucking attitude.

“You are going to tell me the location.” Chalen took Duran by the throat with one of his meat hands. “And you’re going to do it now.”

“Sorry, not . . . a big talker—”

The conqueror grabbed onto the lower half of Duran’s face, squeezing so hard his jaw split and the inside of his mouth was forced between the hard-and-sharp of his molars. More blood welled, spilled, fell on his bare chest.

“Why are you protecting the very male who put you here?” Chalen’s opaque eyes searched Duran’s expression as if he were trying to extrapolate a map of Maryland in the features. “All you need to do is tell me where that facility is. Your father has something that belongs to me.”

Duran waited for that grip to release. When it did, he spit more blood out. “I’m not . . . protecting him.”

“Then what are you doing?”

“Making sure you don’t cheat me of what’s mine.” Duran smiled, aware he must look deranged. “You kill him . . . I don’t get to. When it comes to revenge, sons win over business partners.”

Chalen crossed his strong-man arms over his barrel chest. He was dressed in weapons, whatever clothes he had on underneath the holsters of guns and knives largely hidden by metal. No daggers, though. He’d never been Black Dagger Brotherhood material and not just because he was a mutt according to his lineage: Even among black market thieves, there was a code of conduct.

Not for Chalen. He had no code. Not in the Old Country, and not during his last century here in the New World.

There was only one male who was worse.

No wonder the two of them had made so much money together in the drug trade.

“I will break you,” Chalen said in a low voice. “And I will enjoy it.”

Duran laughed in a wheeze. “You have no idea what I’ve already been through—”

Chalen swung that palm wide again, the crack so heavy Duran lost his vision, everything going checkerboard. And then there was a drop in blood pressure, his brain emptying of oxygen, floaty disassociation riding in, a foggy savior buffering the suffering.

The sound of chains moving and gears shifting brought him back to reality. A section of the sweaty stone wall rose by inches, the great weight ascending like a gate, revealing a corridor . . .

Revealing a male who was naked but for a black hood that covered his head.

“I will make you pray for death,” Chalen said. “And when you give me what I need, you will think back to this moment. When you could have saved yourself from so much.”

Duran exhaled in a gurgle. His body was on fire, the pain burning through his veins, turning him into a semi-living, kind-of-breathing, sort-of-conscious incubator for agony.

But fuck Chalen.

“Do what you will,” he mumbled. “I’m not going to give you a goddamn thing.”

“I will make you wish you were never born.”

As the hooded male came forward, Duran was dragged over and slammed face-first down onto a table, his torso bent parallel to the floor. Turning his face to the side, he smelled the spoiled meat and rancid fat embedded in the fibers of the planks.

“Already there, asshole.”

Chalen’s face appeared at table level, their eyes meeting. “He just gave you to me, you realize. He didn’t even take my money. Just delivered you here and dropped you like garbage.”

“No one ever accused my father of giving a shit.”

“You need to know who you’re dealing with—”

“I hope you stay and watch this.” As Chalen frowned, Duran smiled through the blood again. “I want to be looking at you when it happens. All of it.”

“There will be no mercy.”

“I don’t want that.” Duran felt his pants get cut with a knife. “You’re on my list now, too. I’m going to kill my father and you.”

Chalen laughed, his fangs showing. The one on the left was not as long, as if part of it had broken off in someone’s neck. Leg. Face.

“That is not your destiny.”

“I will make it mine.” Duran began to memorize every pore, each eyelash, all the flecks in those muddy hazel eyes. “And I shall not fail.”

“Such optimism. I hope it persists as I look forward to ridding you of it. Last chance. Tell me where your father is, and I will let you go.”

“I’ll see you in Dhunhd before that happens.”

Chalen shook his head and straightened. “Just remember, you could have stopped this . . .”

1

Present Day

THERE ARE STILL SECRETS in America. In spite of population density, the internet, modern law enforcement, and the constant intrusion of cell phone cameras, there remain, across this great nation, whole tracts of hill and dale that are largely uninhabited. Uninvestigated. Unpenetrated by the prying eye.

For both humans and vampires.

Ahmare, blooded daughter of Ahmat, drove through the night, alone on highways that rose and fell over the heaving earth of the Appalachian Mountains. She was far from Caldwell, New York, by now, a good seven hours into her trip and close to her destination. She had stopped only once, at a roadside gas station to refuel. She had timed herself. Eight minutes from insertion of credit card to reclose of gas cap.

A human male who had been doing the same to his motorcycle had looked across at her, his eyes lingering on her body, his sexual hunger obvious under the harsh glow of the fluorescent lights.

When he’d sauntered over to her, all cock and swagger, she had debated castrating him both to get him off her back and as a public service.

But she couldn’t afford the delay—and more to the point, she might fantasize about doing something like that, but she wasn’t a natural born killer.

She’d just learned that firsthand.

The leering bastard did deserve a corrective event, however, and if she’d been hardwired differently, she was exactly the kind of destiny to deliver it to him. Vampires were a far superior species to those rats without tails, so it would be the work of a moment for her to overpower him, drag him behind the gas station, and take out her hunting knife.

The trouble with humans, however, was that they were an invasion of non-lethal pests, ants intruding on an otherwise enjoyable picnic. And the last thing she needed was a bunch of—what state was she in now? Maryland?—cops with Southern accents flashing their lights and pulling her over ten miles down the highway for aggravated assault because the attendant in that little glass box with the lotto ads all over it had positive-ID’d her.

Which wouldn’t be tough. There weren’t a lot of six-foot-tall, black-haired, black-clothed females stopping to pump gas at three in the morning. And the security cameras no doubt had the license plate on her Explorer.

So, yup, instead of taking action, she’d told the human with the bright ideas that he’d have more success fucking off than fucking her. Then she’d gotten back in her SUV and returned to the highway, reflecting that her ability to override her aggression for a greater purpose proved another truism in the long list of differences between Homo sapiens and vampires: For the most part, her kind had a higher evolved rationality.

Although perhaps that quality wasn’t intrinsic to divergences in the cerebral makeup between the two species, but rather the result of the much longer life spans of vampires. If you lived long enough, you tended to put things in better perspective. Stay focused on your goals. Understand that present sacrifice yielded tenfold future gain.

Which explained why she was going to get her far younger brother out of a warlord’s dungeon.

Overhead, lightning tripped and fell across the velvet black sky, and just as hail struck her windshield like marbles poured out of a sack, her exit glowed green and white in the headlights.

Getting off the interstate, she traveled over a series of roads that grew narrower and more degraded. By the time she pulled onto a dirt lane ten minutes later, the summer storm was raging, great gusts of wind and lashing rain bending the fat-topped, kudzu-choked trees and releasing them just before they snapped free of their root systems.

And there it was.

Chalen the Conqueror’s century-old stronghold in the New World.

Either that or a Disney antagonist had jumped out of a movie to get away from all the damn singing and set up shop in this sweaty forest to kick puppies and scare children.

The stone fortress had high walls with thin slits to shoot out of and defensible positions all along its roofline parapet. The entrance even had a bridge that could be drawn up from a murky moat and locked into place. All that was missing were the alligators—and there was a good possibility they weren’t missing.

Oh, look, they were waiting for her.

As she stopped the Explorer in the gravel parking area, two males stepped forward out of the shadows on the castle side of the lowered bridge. They didn’t appear to notice the storm, and the lack of visible weapons on them was nothing she was fooled by.

They were a pair of cold-blooded killers. Everyone who worked for Chalen was.

She removed her gun and her knife and hid them under her seat. Then she slipped on a windbreaker and turned to the duffel bag that had ridden shotgun with her for the trip. A nauseous swell made her swallow her gag reflex back into place, but she grabbed the handles and got out. Locking up, she took her keys with her.

   
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