Home > The Jackal (Black Dagger Brotherhood: Prison Camp #1)

The Jackal (Black Dagger Brotherhood: Prison Camp #1)
Author: J.R. Ward

Western New York State, Present Day

The whole “life is a highway” metaphor was so ubiquitous, so overused, so threadbare and torn-patched, that as Nyx sat in the passenger side of a ten-year-old station wagon, and stared at the moonlit asphalt trail cutting through brush and bramble in western New York State, she wasn’t thinking a damn thing about how similar the course of roads and lives could be: You could get sweet-sailing easy declines of coasting. Bad, bumpy, rough patches that rattled your teeth. Uphill hauls that you thought would never end. Bored stretches between far-apart exits.

And then there were the obstacles, the ones that came from out of nowhere and carried you so far off your planned trip that you ended up in a completely different place.

Some of these, both in the analogy and in fact, had four legs and a kid named Bambi.

“Watch out!” she yelled as she clapped a hand on the steering wheel and took control.

Too late. Over the screeching of tires, the impact was sickeningly soft, the kind of thing that happened when steel hit flesh, and her sister’s response was to cover her eyes and tuck in her knees.

Not helpful considering Posie was the one with the access to the brake pedal. But also completely in character.

The station wagon, being an inanimate object set into motion, had no brain of its own, but plenty of motivation from the sixty-two miles an hour they’d been going. As such, the old Volvo went bucking bronco as they left the rural byway, its stiff, cumbersome body heaving into a series of hill-and-dale dance moves that had Nyx hitting her head on the padded roof even though she was belted in.

The headlights strobed what was in front of the car, the beams point-and-shooting in whatever direction and angle the front grille happened to be thrown in. For the most part, there was just a leafy morass of bushes, the green, spongy territory a far better outcome than she would have predicted.

That all changed.

Like a creature rising out of the depths of a lake, something brown, thick, and vertical was teased in the verdant light show, disappearing and reappearing as the shafts of illumination willy’d-their-nilly around.

Oh, shit. It was a tree. And not only was the arboreal hard-stop an immovable object, it was as if a steel crank-chain ran between its thick trunk and the undercarriage of the station wagon.

If you’d steered for a collision course, you couldn’t have done a better job.

Inevitable covered it.

Nyx’s only thought was for her sister. Posie was braced in the driver’s seat, her arms straight out, fingers splayed, like she was going to try to push the tree away—

The impact was like being punched all over the body, and there must have been a crunch of metal meeting wood, but with the airbags deploying and the ringing in Nyx’s ears, she couldn’t hear much. Couldn’t breathe well. Couldn’t seem to see.

Hissing. Dripping. Burned rubber and something chemical.

Someone was coughing. Her? She couldn’t be sure.

“Posie?”

“I’m okay, I’m okay . . .”

Nyx rubbed her stinging eyes and coughed. Fumbling for the door, she popped the release and shoved hard against some kind of resistance. “I’m coming around to help you.”

Assuming she could get out of the damn car.

Putting her shoulder into the effort, she forced the door through something fluffy and green, and the payback was that the bush barged in, expanding into the car like a dog that wanted to sniff around.

She fell out of her seat and rolled onto the scruff. All-four’ing it for a spell, she managed to get up onto her feet and steady herself on the roof as she went around to the driver’s side. Peeling open Posie’s door, she released the seat belt.

“I got you,” she grunted as she dragged her sister out.

Propping Posie against the car, she cleared the blond hair back from those soft features. No blood. No glass in the perfect skin. Nose was still straight as a pin.

“You’re okay,” Nyx announced.

“What about the deer?”

Nyx kept the curses to herself. They were about ten miles from home, and what mattered was whether the car was drivable. No offense to Mother Nature and animal-lovers anywhere, but that four-legged scourge of the interstate was low on her list of priorities.

Stumbling to the front, she shook her head at the damage. A good two feet of the hood—and, therefore, engine—was compressed around a trunk that had all the flexibility of an I beam, and she was hardly an automotive expert, but that had to be incompatible with vroom-vroom, home safe.

“Shit,” she breathed.

“What about the deer?”

Closing her eyes, she reminded herself about the birth order. She was the older, responsible one, black-haired and brusque like their father had been. Posie was the blond, good-hearted youngest, who had all the warmth and sunny nature that their mahmen had possessed.

And the middle?

She couldn’t go down the Janelle rabbit hole right now.

Back over at her open door, Nyx leaned in and moved the deflated airbag out of the way. Where was her phone? She’d put it in a cupholder after she’d texted their grandfather as they’d left Hannaford. Great. Nowhere to be found—

“Thank God.”

Bracing her hand on the seat, she went down into the wheel well. And got a palm full of bad news.

The screen was cracked and the unit dark. When she tried to fire the thing up, it was a no go. Straightening, she looked over the ruined hood. “Posie, where is your—”

“What?” Her sister was focused on the road that was a good fifty yards away, her stick-straight hair tangled down her back. “Huh?”

“Your phone. Where is it?”

Posie glanced over her shoulder. “I left it at home. You had yours, so I just, you know.”

“You need to dematerialize back to the farmhouse. Tell grandfather to bring the tow truck and—”

“I’m not leaving here until we take care of that deer.”

“Posie, there are too many humans around here and—”

“It’s suffering!” Tears glistened. “And just because it’s an animal doesn’t mean its life doesn’t matter.”

“Fuck the deer.” Nyx glared across the steaming mess. “We need to solve this problem now—”

“I’m not leaving until—”

“—because we have two hundred dollars of groceries melting in the back. We can’t afford to lose a week’s worth of—”

“—we take care of that poor animal.”

Nyx swung her eyes away from her sister, the crash, the crap she had to fix so goddamn Posie could continue to give her heart out to the world and worry about things other than how to pay the rent, keep food on the table, and make sure they had such exotic luxuries as electricity and running water.

When she trusted herself to look back without hurling a bunch of be-practical f-bombs at her fricking sister, she saw absolutely no change in Posie’s resolve. And this was the problem. A sweet nature, yes. That annoying, bleeding-heart, emphatic bullcrap, yes. Iron will? When it came it down to it, boatloads.

That female was not budging on the deer thing.

Nyx threw up her hands and cursed—loudly.

Back in the car. Opening the glove box. Taking out the nine millimeter handgun she kept there for emergencies.

As she came around the rear of the station wagon, she eyed the reusable grocery bags. They were crammed up against the bench seat as a result of the crash, and it was a good news/bad news situation. Anything breakable was done for, but at least the cold items were cloistered together, united in a fight against the eighty-degree August night.

“Oh, thank you, Nyx.” Posie clasped her hands under her chin like she was doing a devotional. “We’ll help the—wait, what are you doing with the gun?”

Nyx didn’t stop as she passed by, so Posie grabbed her arm. “Why do you have the gun?”

“What do you think I’m going to do to the damn thing? Give it CPR?”

“No! We need to help it—”

Nyx put her face into her sister’s and spoke in a dead tone. “If it’s suffering, I’m going to put it down. It’s the right thing to do. That is the way I will help that animal.”

Posie’s hands went to her face, pressing into cheeks that had gone pale. “It’s my fault. I hit the deer.”

“It was an accident.” Nyx turned her sister around to face the station wagon. “Stay here and don’t look. I’ll take care of it.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt the—”

“You’re the last person on the planet who’d intentionally hurt anything. Now stay the hell here.”

The sound of Posie softly crying escorted Nyx back toward the road. Following the tire gouges in the dirt and the ruined foliage, she found the deer about fifteen feet away from where they’d veered off—

Nyx stopped dead in her tracks. Blinked a couple of times.

Considered vomiting.

It wasn’t a deer.

Those were arms. And legs. Thin ones, granted, and covered with mud-colored clothes that were in rags. But nothing about what had been struck was animal in nature. Worse? The scent of the blood that had been spilled was not human.

It was a vampire.

They’d hit one of their own.

Nyx ran over to the body, put the gun away, and knelt down. “Are you okay?”

Dumbass question. But the sound of her voice roused the injured, a horrific and horrified face turning up to her.

It was a male. A pretrans male. And oh, God, the whites of both his eyes had gone red, although she couldn’t tell whether it was because of the blood running down his face or some kind of internal brain injury. What was clear? He was dying.

“Help . . . me . . .” The thin reedy voice was interrupted by weak coughing. “Out of . . . prison . . . hide me . . .”

“Nyx?” Posie called out. “What’s happening?”

For a split second, Nyx couldn’t think. No, that was a lie. She was thinking, just not about the car, the groceries, the kid who was dying, or her hysterical sister.

   
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