Home > The Thief (Black Dagger Brotherhood #16)(8)

The Thief (Black Dagger Brotherhood #16)(8)
Author: J.R. Ward

“What are you doing here?” she asked the twins as they resettled in those structurally unreliable chairs.

It was nearly impossible to tell them apart, but the distinction was made as the one on the left spoke up.

“We have come for you.”

That would be Ehric. Evale, the armchair-retriever, would never have volunteered to speak. He was as frugal as Scrooge with his words.

“Assail,” she whispered.

“Coffee,” her grandmother demanded.

She fell in line with the order, Sola’s hands shook as she reengaged her gun’s safety, tucked it away at the small of her back, and went to get the Maxwell House. After she had made quick work with the Krups, she took a seat on the armchair.

“Tell me,” she said. “Where is he.”

* * *

Ehric was a male first and foremost. So as the human woman sat down on the chair his brother had provided unto her, he could not help but catalog her beauty. She was not frilly nor silly. No, no, his cousin, Assail, would not have picked one of those. Sola’s eyes were direct upon his own, her body tense as if she were ready to spring—not away from conflict, but toward it.

And there was a gun holstered at her waistband.

Ehric smiled a little, but that didn’t last. It never did with him.

She was blond now, and he resolved that his cousin would not approve of the change. It was not an unpleasing shade, not brassy or frizzed, but it did not suit her dark eyes or the memories of her natural brown. The hair was shorter now, too, cut around her ears and shorn up close to her neck.

It was a wise choice if she were looking to disguise herself.

But no, Assail would prefer her as she had been a year ago, and at least her face was, as always, strong-featured yet smooth of skin and sensual of lip. And her simple clothes were the same, too, the leggings black and the hooded sweatshirt navy blue with no logo or image upon it.

Her lithe, long body beneath the soft folds was something he refused to let himself assess, out of respect not just for his cousin, but for her. Ehric liked her. He always had.

“Well?” she demanded roughly.

When he and his brother had materialized below her lodgings, he’d wondered the best course of their approach—and wished they could make a proper announcement of their presence during the daytime with a rap on the door and human-like greeting at a human-like hour for visitation. At this point, however, he was already counting down how much time there was until dawn’s early light threatened their lives with the sun.

In the end, he had resolved unto a mental intrusion, one for which he felt guilt, but nevertheless had proceeded with. He had not engaged with Marisol. No, he was unsure of their reception with her, and her participation was vital. Her grandmother, Mrs. Carvalho, had been the better choice. With suitable concentration, and inner apology, he had connected with the elder woman’s mind and roused her from her sleep, summoning her unto the terrace so that she would allow them entrance not just into the building, but the home she shared with Marisol.

Indeed, Assail’s female might well have denied them, but never the matriarch. She had a soft spot for them.

“Forgive us for intruding,” Ehric began, “but we are in need of aid.”

Marisol’s voice lowered as if she didn’t want her grandmother to hear. “I am no longer in that line of work. And if your cousin wanted something, he should have called me and saved you the trip.”

“He is not able to travel the now.”

The woman frowned. “Why? Actually, never mind—just ask me what you need to so I can tell you no.”

“We want you to come see Assail.”

The woman looked back and forth between them. “I can’t do that. I won’t do that, I’m sorry. He knows why I had to go—you two know it, too.”

Ehric glared at her, but kept his voice soft. “He was there for you. When you needed…” He glanced in her grandmother’s direction and was reassured by the older woman’s concentration on her foodstuff preparation. “When you required a…friend…Assail came unto you. He did right by you and you need to make good on that debt.”

“I didn’t ask him—” She, too, glanced at her grandmother. “He did what he did by choice. I never asked him to help me—”

“You would be dead now—”

“I saved myself!”

The grandmother shot a look over her shoulder, and that was enough to readjust the volume on their argument.

Ehric sat forward. “You owe him. And we need you to help him.”

As he stared at her, the woman burst up and went to the coffee machine. As it had yet to finish its cycle, she stood before the unit, tapping her foot. When at last it was through, she took all due care with mugs and pouring.

“Do you guys still take it black?” she muttered.

“Yes, we do.”

She brought them over the coffee and sat down once more. Clearing her throat, she said, “I’m really sorry, but I’m never going back to Caldwell.” Now she stared at Mrs. Carvalho pointedly. “You understand. As much as I might be…grateful…to your cousin, I can’t get involved with his business—”

“Why we have come unto you is personal.” Ehric tested the coffee and found it more than acceptable. “He is not well. And it is our hope that you can provide him with—”

“If he’s sick, he needs to go to a doctor—”

“—a reason to keep fighting.”

Marisol stiffened. “Fighting? What are you talking about?”

Ehric had prepared for this inquiry. “Cancer. Assail has got the cancer.”

The lie slid off his tongue as easily as the truth would have choked him. This human had no reason to know that she had been rescued and later bedded by a vampire. And if he told her that Assail was suffering from cocaine-withdrawal dementia, that was not just less likely to elicit sympathy, but he might well have to provide some manner of explanation as humans, evidently, did not respond to sobriety thus.

Cancer was a different story. No matter that vampires could not get the disease; it was a scourge to humans.

“Oh…God,” Marisol whispered.

“He is too proud to ask you for aid, of course.” Ehric had to look away. “But we are his blood. There is naught we will not do to secure what future he may have.”

“I am not…I am not anything to him.”

“In that,” Evale spoke up, “you are misconstrided.”

“Misconstrued,” Ehric amended. “And that is why we are here. We want you to come to his bedside and…inspire him, in the way only you can.”

When she opened her mouth as if to argue, he wearied of the protest and put his hand up. “Please. Do not waste our time or pretend ignorance when you know precisely why you, of all people, would matter to him.”

Abruptly, the woman fell into a silence that seemed to compress her body, and he knew he had to give her space to feel most properly her emotions: Further commentary by anyone would just give her opportunities for defense. She, and she alone, was going to decide this course.

As the silence continued, Mrs. Carvalho placed plates before him and his brother, the food upon them so fragrant, he closed his eyes, lowered his chin, and breathed in the aroma.

“You have honored us, Mrs. Carvalho.” He turned to the grandmother, who had gone back to her stove. “We do not deserve such a feast.”

“Eat.” A gnarled finger pointed to the table. “Too thin. You are too thin. I make you more.”

Ah, her tone. Clipped, disapproving, accented with the unfamiliar. But her eyes were a-twinkled, and he knew that even as she kept a physical distance from them, she embraced them both with her food, welcoming them with a love that he had certainly never known.

Orphans, after all, were by definition unfamiliar with a mahmen’s heart and hand in their lives.

Putting his fork to its very best use, he found that the eggs were mixed with marvelous spices, and as he began to consume them, another tantalizing scent wafted up from the stove.

“What kind of cancer?” Marisol asked.

Ehric reached out to the center of the wee table and took a napkin from a holder. After wiping his mouth, he said, “It is of blood origin, and of recent and very virulent duration.”

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