Home > The Thief (Black Dagger Brotherhood #16)(10)

The Thief (Black Dagger Brotherhood #16)(10)
Author: J.R. Ward

“You never asked, is the point.”

Jane rubbed her face with what looked like exasperation, scrubbing, scrubbing. “Vishous, listen, you are not the easiest person to read, and you don’t do emotions. It’s like you’re blaming me for one of your core characteristics. How was I supposed to know—”

“I was in a warehouse with my brothers and the Bastards. I was in a fucking melee that could have ended a fuck of a lot differently than it did. You never asked me what it was like. You never sat down with me—”

“It’s Brotherhood business! You guys don’t talk about that stuff, ever!” She threw her hands up. “You need to look at this from my side. You’re knocking me for abandoning you when all I’ve done is take my cue from you. You never talk about fights with me. You don’t tell me about the war. You disappear behind those computers like they’re camouflage you’re hiding in. What am I supposed to do? Sit across from you on the sofa and do needlepoint until you deign to ask me to get you a snack? Screw that 1950s crap. If you’d wanted a house pet, you should have gotten a cat.”

“Whatever, Jane. You come home after being at work for fifteen, eighteen hours straight. You’re half dead, dragging, cross-eyed. I put you in bed after you fall asleep on that couch for more days than you’re choosing to remember—”

“Those patients are not strangers. Those people I’m treating are your family.”

“You’re my mate. Or at least you used to be. Lately, you’ve been less than a roommate.”

Jane narrowed her eyes. “Do you want to consider, for even half a second—if you can spare the time in the middle of your epic rant here—what it would be like for me to lose one of those Brothers or fighters on my watch? To not take care of them well enough? To make a bad call even if I don’t always have all the information or the answers? You are out battling the Lessening Society, but I’m on cleanup duty, and I would much rather be a shitty fucking wife to you than a bad doctor for them when they’re dying.”

V crossed his arms over his chest and nodded. “You’ve made it very clear where your priorities are. I’m very familiar with them.”

“And you’ve handled not getting your way so admirably. If you had things you wanted to talk about, why didn’t you just bring them up?”

“Check your texts.”

“I never ignore you when you hit me up.”

“You sure about that?”

“Yes. I always get back to you.”

V stared down at her and felt absolutely, positively nothing like himself. He had no idea how he had morphed into this cesspool of confusion and anger, the steel dagger he always had been turning into a plastic butter knife. All he was certain of was that he wasn’t going on like this anymore.

He was not a beggar. He was not a pussy. And he was not a victim in this circumstance—neither was Jane. They were two people who had gone separate ways, a thousand incremental choices made over time taking them further from their relationship rather than deeper into it.

His dumb decision had just turned the lights on the landscape, and all this emotion they were both feeling and releasing was the result of them finally catching up to where they had been for quite a while.

“I’ve got a scream, Jane.” He pointed to his head. “In here, I’ve got a scream and I’m going insane. It’s too much for me to hold in, and in the past, I’ve known what I can do to help me get through until it quiets down. It sure as fuck isn’t talking, and you know what? You’re the only person I would ever say any of this to. I’m scrambling to keep in my own skin and I’m not proud of it—I fucking hate this. But I have to function. Do you understand? I can’t let Wrath and the Brotherhood down. I have to go out there and fight and be alert and get my fucking job done, and this”—he jabbed his finger into his cranium—“needs to fall in line. I didn’t touch her. When it came down to it, I couldn’t do it, not because it was morally wrong, but because I want to be with you. Hate me for making a bad decision out of desperation if it makes you feel better, but I didn’t fuck her and I’m never doing it again.”

Jane studied him for the longest time. “What you did or didn’t do doesn’t matter to me. Because as far as I’m concerned, you’re a free male as of right now.”

* * *

As Jane heard the words come out of her mouth, there was a part of her that was shocked. She hadn’t expected to go that far, but her emotions were way out in front of her brain, the anger, the frustration, the pain, so great that it took over.

“You don’t mean that,” Vishous said remotely.

In the silence that followed, she studied his face and found the familiar features to be foreign to her, as if the upset had caused a kind of amnesia. His cropped black hair, his white irises with their blue outer rims, the tattoos at his temple, the goatee were all the same…and yet she seemed to recognize none of his details.

I don’t know you anymore, she thought.

“I am going back to work,” she said.

“Of course you are.”

She jabbed a finger at him. “I am not the bad guy here.”

“And neither am I.”

“Then why are all those candles burning in there. And while we’re at it, nice shirt.” She eyed his naked chest, the circular scar on the pecs signifying his membership in the Brotherhood. “Next time you attempt to convince me you haven’t been with another woman, try not being half naked.”

“Jane. We need to talk this out.”

“We just did. There is nothing else to say.”

When he reached out to her, she took a sharp step back, and the sensation of something penetrating her flesh made her look down at herself.

She had gone through the glass panels that ran as a safety railing around the edge of the terrace. In all the upset, she had become ghostly enough to find the spaces within the molecules.

“Go then,” Vishous said coldly. “Bury yourself in work. If you ever come up for air and want to talk, you know where to find me.”

And there it was, she thought, the condescension and reserve she knew so well. Vishous was back behind his gates, holed up and encapsulated, removed even as he stood right in front of her.

“You’re so damned superior,” she muttered.

“I’m the son of a fucking deity. You want me to be average?”

She stared past his shoulder at all those lit candles. Those “toys” of his. That rack. “Just so you know, I wish I had never treated you back at St. Francis. I wish I had been off that night when you came in.”

“Well, that’s one last thing we can agree on then. Cheers to us.”

They both turned away at the same time, he to go back into his den of iniquity, she to disappear.

For a moment, it was tempting to just let herself drop, to call her corporeal form into being fully and allow gravity to do its thing, grabbing her and snapping her down to the pavement. But the impact would only matter for however long she kept herself intact. As soon as her hold on herself lapsed and she became invisible, she had to believe she would be back to non-normal.

Or perhaps she would warp on contact with the ground. Or maybe her exterior would crack and fly apart, leaving her ghostly core uncovered.

She wasn’t going to find out. Of all the things she would never allow herself to do, at the top of the list was getting broken by a man. A male. Whatever.

There was pain, yes. Disappointment in spades. A sense that this was either a bad dream or a case of her destiny having followed the wrong set of MapQuest directions.

But she refused to let this sink her. V was being utterly unreasonable, unfair, and had his head up his ass if he thought he could blame her for their problems.

As she traveled back to the Brotherhood compound, her first thought was to go to the training center and get right to work. There were always drug orders to put in and records to update and then that appointment with Layla and her young. But instead, she landed herself at the Pit’s front door and hoped that Fritz was finished with the rugs.

No such luck.

When she walked in—or rather through—the entrance, she caught the old-fashioned, vaguely minty spice of Spic and Span, and sure enough, the doggen had switched his black jacket for a full body apron and was up to his elbows scrubbing the kitchen sink.

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