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

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

All that for, Who are you again?

Ehric and Evale had come down, hadn’t they? She and her grandmother couldn’t possibly have had an identical bizarre dream.

“If Assail’s not here, are his cousins available,” she said, her voice growing strident.

“They have just departed.”

“Can you reach them?”

The man shook his head, and he took a step back, as if he were uncomfortable keeping the door open and not just because it was letting cold air into the house. “No. They are—it is private business. Please come back another time—”

She caught the heavy panel with a strong hand and looked the guy right in the eye. “You get on your phone, right now, and you tell Ehric I’m here. And then I’m going to help my grandmother out of that car and escort her in here. She’s eighty damn years old, we’ve been on the road for a day and a half, and she’s not staying in there one goddamn minute longer. Are we clear?”

And if he didn’t do what she said? She was going to pull her gun on him. She was done with the games and utterly over being polite.

Not that she and Emily Post had ever been besties, anyway.

TWELVE

Five minutes. Maybe less.

Within five minutes, Sola and her grandmother were in the house, using the ladies’ room, and getting the kinks out. And two minutes after that? Ehric and Evale came through that back door like they had been shot from a cannon.

The two men stopped dead when they saw her, as if they were shocked that their request had been actualized.

“You’re here,” Ehric said in a strangely flat voice.

“Yes.” She glanced at his twin. “Where’s Assail?”

Ehric bowed so low, he nearly kissed his heavy combat boots. “Let me take you to him.”

“Which hospital? I’ll drive myself.” She glanced at her grandmother. “Vovó, let’s go—”

“I stay here.” Her vovó took off her coat. “Bring me the groceries from the trunk. I send him for more things.”

As she pointed at Evale, the man assumed a look of messianic zeal, and Sola debated putting her foot down. But Assail’s cousins had never been anything less than respectful, and besides, it didn’t seem fair to drag her grandmother to a hospital and ask the woman to wait around while Sola tried to inspire a dying man. That could be hours.

Evale spoke up. “She will be safe herein. Markcus and I shall protect her.”

If Markcus was the thin guy over in the corner, it was hard to believe he’d be much help in a fight. Then again, like Evale was going to need any? He had more guns on him under those loose clothes than he had fingers and toes.

“Okay,” she said to Ehric. “Let’s go.”

The man nodded, and as he headed for the mudroom and the garage, Sola glanced at her grandmother, giving the woman one last chance to change her mind. When her vovó simply went for the refrigerator to check for staples, Sola started off in Ehric’s footsteps.

As she passed by the guy’s twin brother, she said in a low voice, “She’s older than she thinks she is.”

Evale snapped a hold on her arm, stopping her. Eyes that were the color of a blue diamond bored into her like stakes through her skull.

“You take care of my kin, I take care of yours.”

Sola’s chest tightened, and in that moment of connection, she realized how alone in the world she was. She had never felt as though she had help keeping herself and her grandmother safe and alive—because she trusted no one, out of necessity. And yet this killer in front of her? He had just given her the kind of vow that made them…almost family.

“Thank you,” she said roughly.

He released his vise grip of a hand and bowed. And then she was walking out on legs that were wobbly.

In the garage, there was a blacked-out Range Rover she knew all too well. It was the SUV she’d ridden in after the abduction, and the sight of the thing took her back to that horrible night.

“Which hospital is it?” she said as she went around to the passenger side.

“You’ve been there before. It is where we took you.”

“Oh, right.” Even though she had few memories of the place. Shock’ll do that to a girl. “How far out of town is it?”

“Not far. But we have to pick up someone first.”

As she got in, she felt for her gun. “Do I know them?”

“Do not worry.” Ehric glanced over from the driver’s side. “I will not let ill befall you.”

Actually, that’s my job, she thought. But thanks.

Ten minutes later, they pulled into a strip mall, headed around the back, and a man stepped out from behind the mountain of snow that had been cleared from the parking areas. He was blond-haired and—yeah, wow, really good-looking. Wait…she recognized him from before.

As the guy walked over, Ehric stared across at her. “Please remove your hand from your weapon. He is our escort or we will not be allowed to pass. If he senses your aggression, things could get…complicated.”

Sola slid her hand back into view, but kept her palm on her thigh. “Who are these people?”

“Friends.”

File this under birds of a feather, she thought as she re-measured the blond’s enormous size. And P.S., why couldn’t she hang out with normal people who had normal jobs?

The man popped the door, bent himself like a pretzel to squeeze inside, and filled the entire back seat as he unkinked his bends. “How we doing, people? Hey, Sola, I don’t know if you remember me. You were pretty out of it when I saw you last. My name is Rhage, and I’ll be your deadweight for this trip. Please keep all trays in the upright position and the swearing to a minimum. In the event I get carsick, I will request a transfer to the front seat, driver or passenger is fine. And if the lady wouldn’t mind giving me her weapons, we can get moving.”

As she twisted around to look at him, he gave her a winning smile, his brilliant blue eyes so stunning, she was momentarily struck dumb by their color. It was almost as if they were backlit, somehow? But she wasn’t fooled; good looks and charm aside, if she didn’t pony up the metal, he was going to lose that easygoing facade quick as a camo sheet being pulled off an anti-aircraft gun.

“I’d feel better if I kept it,” she muttered.

“I’m sure you would. But then you aren’t going to my facility. So what’s our choice? And by the way, if we get in there and I search you, which I will, and I find anything you didn’t disclose? We’re going to have some problems, the three of us—problems that are going to be difficult to solve amicably. Have I made things clear enough?”

He smiled again. And waited, as if he didn’t care what her decision was, either way. Her choice was going to determine what he did, and he took no ownership over whether the outcome was A) “amicable” or B) “bust a cap in your ass.”

Ehric shifted in his seat and started handing over his weapons. “It does not apply solely to you,” he said. “And I trust them.”

Sola watched the show, coveting the man’s pair of forties. As well as his switchblade, and his—were those throwing stars? And a…

“Excuse me,” she cut in. “Is that a grenade?”

Ehric looked at the compact, palm-sized bomb in his hand. “Why, yes. It is.”

As that was passed back, like it was nothing more than a Halls Mentho-Lyptus being shared between cold sufferers, she knew she was solidly in drink-the-Kool-Aid-or-get-off-the-ride land.

“I really don’t want to do this,” she muttered as she got out her nine and handed it over. “I mean…really.”

* * *

Annnnnnd twenty minutes later, they were out far from the city and its suburban skirting, traveling on a two-lane road through a forest of evergreens, passing by yellow reflective signs with deer leaping on them and nearly no cars.

“Oh, yo! Turn this up!”

The man named for the Hulk’s primary emotion shot his arm out between the seats and hit the volume just as they slowed and bumped off the asphalt onto a pair of deep ruts in the snow and underbrush.

“—you’re face-to-face with greatness and it’s strange—”

   
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