Home > The Thief (Black Dagger Brotherhood #16)(6)

The Thief (Black Dagger Brotherhood #16)(6)
Author: J.R. Ward

“That’s not true—”

“I can’t remember the last meal I saw you guys at.” He shrugged and took out a Tootsie Pop. When he looked at it, he cursed. “Orange. I don’t like orange. Then again, I got it out in the dark. Thatswhathesaid.”

Doc Jane laughed. “Really.”

“Michael Scott is my hero, what can I say.”

Rhage gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze and then he caught up quick to the twins and John Matthew.

Doc Jane checked her phone again, and when she saw that there was still just a lot of nothing on the screen, she mentally ran through her patient-status list. Assail was…exactly where he had been. Luchas was in the pool doing PT with Ehlena. No other beds were in use and she wasn’t due for Rhamp and Lyric’s regular checkup for another two hours.

She thought about texting Vishous and asking where he was, but an awkward, unpleasant sensation stopped her—and it took her a minute to figure out what it was.

Intrusion.

She felt as though it would be an intrusion to reach out to him, and the more she considered the tightness in her chest, the clearer things became. When had this started, she wondered. When had she begun to believe she was bothering her mate if she shot him a text?

That was wrong, she thought. All wrong.

Turning around, she headed for the office, opening the way in and going past the desk and the filing cabinets. The supply closet was off to the side, and she entered the shallow space, shuffling by all the stacks of legal pads, the boxes of pens, and the reams of printer paper. At the hidden access door in the back, she entered a code, stepped through into the tunnel—

And immediately chided herself for a lack of efficiency. Letting herself fade to ghost would have obviated all the opening and closing, but the longer she got used to being in her skin, so to speak, the more she fell into the habits and necessaries of regular mortals.

Even though they no longer applied.

Also…she kind of wanted to walk to clear her head.

The subterranean tunnel that linked the training center to the mansion, where the Brotherhood household stayed, and the Pit, which was Vishous and Butch’s crash pad, was a straight shot of underground, the fluorescent lights on the ceiling like a landing strip that had gotten confused about gravity. As she walked along, she took her stethoscope from around her neck and put it into one of the square pockets of her white coat. Her scrubs were clean and blue, her Crocs red, her socks thick and from L.L. Bean.

What season was it, she wondered. Winter, now. It was…yes, January.

When was the last time she had gone outside?

Okay, that was not that long ago. In the last couple of weeks, she and Manny, her medical partner in all things whether it was surgery, general medicine, or administration, had responded to a number of emergencies out in the field downtown. But in situations like that you couldn’t really enjoy the season—or even note whether it was hot or cold. Those trips were the same as going out of town for business: You might have been in New York City, but it wasn’t to see a show or visit a museum or grab a gourmet meal.

No, during those times, she had been desperately trying to save someone’s life: Peyton’s, Rhage’s…so many others. The wounds that the Brothers, the fighters, and the trainees got while engaging with the Lessening Society could easily be life-threatening, and these vampires were not arm’s-length patients to her. They were her family.

If she failed any one of them, she would never forgive herself.

The tunnel’s exit up to the mansion was marked by a short set of steps, and she kept going, passing them by.

God, the farther she went, the more a curdling sense of dread took root in her stomach—although that didn’t make any sense.

She was going home. To see the male she loved.

Why would that bother her?

Maybe it was the Assail situation. Maybe the ringing warning at the base of her neck was just generalized anxiety squirting out during a moment alone, an emotion coloring outside of the line. Yes, that had to be it. Her Hippocratic oath was running up against euthanasia and she couldn’t reconcile the two.

A good hundred, hundred and fifty yards later, she came up to the reinforced door to the Pit. Punching in the code, she went up the shallow half-flight of stairs and then through a second entry—

The sound of a vacuum cleaner had her leaning around the door. Fritz, butler extraordinaire, was working a Dyson back and forth on the runner in the short hall. In his black-and-white uniform, he looked like something out of an ad for a housekeeping service that employed only English dukes.

“Mistress!” As he extinguished the whrrrrring noise, his old, wrinkled face smiled, reminding her of drapes pulled back to let in sunlight. “You have come back to change then! I thought you had already vacated the premises or I would not have begun thus, forgive me.”

She smiled back at him so he wouldn’t worry he’d done a badness.

But she was totally confused here. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Your interlude downtown with the sire.” Fritz glowed like a heart-shaped nightlight. “He asked me to get him candles and libations for the two of you.”

A sensation of numbing cold hit the top of her head and ran down her like water until she felt it fill her legs up as if they were boots.

“Mistress?”

“Yes, of course. I—ah, right. Of course.” What was he asking? “But I’m just going to go as is.”

“It will not matter to him. He will simply be glad to see you.”

Jane said some more things. She didn’t know what they were. And then she walked out to the front room. The black leather sofa, the foosball table, and the gym bags were exactly what she had seen in here for the last however many nights, weeks, months, years.

Vishous’s bank of computers was likewise—except now, as she stared at the monitors, towers, and keyboards, she noted that everything was screen locked and she didn’t have any of the passwords. Then again it never would have occurred to ask for them—or wonder what he was doing when he was sitting in his chair, brows tight, those tattoos on the side of his face pulled ever so slightly out of place.

She had always assumed he was working on his security systems, his programming, his LearnedLeague stuff.

What else had he been doing?

Or…who else—

Okay, Glenn Close, she thought. Why don’t you back away from the pot and the bunny until you actually know what’s going on here.

Maybe there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for what Fritz seemed to suggest was going on. Maybe Vishous was planning something for them as a mated couple and he just hadn’t asked her yet.

She checked her phone. Looked around. Heard the vacuum turn back on.

Part of her didn’t want to go to the Commodore because it seemed like spying. Like something a girl, not a woman, would do. It also felt…too real. As if her mate actually had lied by omission and was in fact meeting someone else—

Screw it, she thought. Waiting around for him to come home was just too passive.

Besides, it was, literally, the work of a moment for her to get downtown: One of the advantages to being nonexistent at will was that travel was more than a binary choice. Courtesy of V’s mother, the Scribe Virgin, Jane now had ambulation, motorization, and mentalization to pick from, with the latter being similar to vampires’ dematerializing: Her process of disappearing and reappearing required the same sort of concentration and will, and she could do it anywhere, anytime, with no apparent limit to the distance.

Closing her eyes, she imagined herself as a breeze, a disturbance of air molecules, a draft. Nothingness. Lightness. A pane of glass.

It had always worked in the past.

Yup. Really. It…had.

Yeah, well, not tonight, she thought as she lifted her lids.

Rubbing the center of her chest, she went to the Pit’s door and let herself out in the event that Fritz finished with his Dyson and caught her standing there like an idiot. As she emerged into the night, the cold woof! of January’s frigid breath made her gasp and have to collect herself.

The cottage she thought of as her home was the carriage house of the main mansion, located across the courtyard from the dour, stone mountain-on-top-of-a-mountain where the Brotherhood, the fighters, and their mates lived. She, V, Butch, and Marissa had been staying in the two-bedroom, two-bath setup since their relationships had taken root, and she had come to think of the four of them as a little family unit.

   
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