Lover eternal, p.32
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       Lover Eternal, p.32

         Part #2 of Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J. R. Ward
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Chapter Thirty-two

  O leaned over the civilian male and tightened the vise. He'd abducted the vampire in the alley next to Screamer's downtown, and so far the newly erected persuasion center was working perfectly. He was also making headway with the captive. Turned out the guy had a tangential connection to the Brotherhood.

  Under normal circumstances, O should have been as close to a hard-on as he could get. Instead, as he watched the vampire's cold shakes and glassy, lolling eyes, he saw himself with the Omega. Under that heavy body. Powerless. Out of control. In pain.

  The memories clogged his lungs with siltlike dread until he had to look away. As the vampire moaned, O felt like a pussy.

  Christ, he had to get his shit together.

  O cleared his throat. Sucked some air in. "And, ah. . . just how well does your sister know the Brotherhood?"

  "She. . . has sex. . . with them. "


  "Don't know. "

  "You're going to have to do better than that. " O hit the pressure some more.

  The civilian yelled and his wild eyes bounced around the center's dim interior. He was getting close to passing out again, so O loosened the clamp.

  "Where does she meet them?"

  "Caith goes to all the bars. " The male coughed weakly. "Zero Sum. Screamer's. She went to One Eye the other night. "

  "One Eye?" Odd. That was out in the sticks.

  "Can I please go home now? My parents are going to be¡ª"

  "I'm sure they are worried. And they should be. " O shook his head. "But I can't let you go. Not yet. "

  Not at all, but the vampire didn't need to know that.

  O reapplied the vise grip. "Now tell me, what was your sister's name again?"

  "Caith. "

  "And which of the brothers does she fuck?"

  "Know for sure. . . the one with the goatee. Vishous. She likes the blond warrior. . . but he's not into her. "

  The blond brother with the beast? "When did she see the blond last?"

  A tumble of sounds came out.

  "What was that? I couldn't hear you. "

  The male struggled to speak, but suddenly his body seized up and his mouth gaped as if he were suffocating.

  "Oh, come on," O muttered. "It doesn't hurt that badly. "

  Shit, this vise action was just kindergarten stuff; they weren't even close to anything lethal yet. Still, ten minutes later the vampire was dead, and O was standing over the body wondering what the hell had happened.

  The door to the persuasion center opened and U strode in. "How we doing tonight?"

  "This civilian kicked it, but damned if I know why. I was just getting started. "

  O disengaged the vise from the vampire's hand and tossed the thing where the other tools were. As he stared at the lifeless bag of skin on the table, he found himself suddenly, shockingly queasy.

  "If you broke a bone, maybe he threw a clot. "

  "What. . . huh? Oh, yeah. But wait, from just his finger? A thigh bone, I could believe, but I was working his hand. "

  "Doesn't matter. One can get sprung from anywhere. If it works its way to the lungs and gets lodged? Game over. "

  "He was gasping for breath. "

  "Probably what happened. "

  "Bad timing, too. His sister is fucking the brothers, but I didn't get much out of him. "

  "Home address?"

  "No. The idiot had his wallet stolen right before I found him. He was drunk and got mugged in an alley. He did name some places, though. The usual clubs downtown, but also that hick bar, One Eye. "

  U frowned as he took out his gun and checked the chamber. "You sure he wasn't just talking to get you to stop? One Eye's not far from here, and those bastard brothers are city dwellers, aren't they? I mean, that's where we find them. "

  "That's where they let us find them. God only knows where they live. " O shook his head at the body. "Damn it, he said something right before he died. I didn't understand the words. "

  "That language of theirs is a bitch. Wish we had a translator. "

  "No kidding. "

  U looked around. "So how's the place working for you?"

  Whatever, O thought.

  "Perfect," he said. "I had him in one of the holes for a while, waiting for him to come around. The halter system works just fine. " O flipped the vampire's arm up onto its chest and tapped the stainless-steel slab the body was on. "And this table is a godsend. The drain holes, the restraints. "

  "Yeah, I thought you'd like that. Stole it from a morgue. "

  "Nice. "

  U walked over to the fireproof closet they used to store ammunition. "Mind if I take a few rounds?"

  "That's what they're there for. "

  U took out a palm-sized cardboard box marked Remington. As he refilled his clips, he said, "So I heard that Mr. X put you in charge of this place. "

  "He gave me the key, yeah. "

  "Good. It'll be run right. "

  Of course, there had been a condition to the privilege. Mr. X had required that O move in, but the relocation did make some sense. If they were going to be keeping vampires over a period of days, someone had to monitor the captives.

  O propped his hip against the table. "Mr. X is going to announce a new orientation of the Primes. Within each squadron we'll be pairing up, and I get to pick first. I want you. "

  U smiled as he closed the box of bullets. "I was a trapper up in Canada, did you know that? Back in the eighteen twenties. I like being in the field. Catching things. "

  O nodded, thinking that before he'd lost his drive, he and U would have made a hell of a pair.

  "So is it true about you and X?" U asked.

  "Is what true?"

  "That you met with the Omega recently?" When O's eyes flickered at the name, U caught the reaction and, thank God, misread it. "Holy shit, you did see him. Are you going to be X's second in command? Is that where all this is leading?"

  O swallowed in spite of the nauseating whirl in his gut. "You'll have to ask sensei. "

  "Yeah, sure. I'm really gonna do that. Don't know why you have to keep it a secret, though. "

  As O didn't know any more than the other lesser did, he had no choice.

  Jesus. A little while ago, the idea of being second Fore-lesser would have elated him.

  U headed for the door. "So when and where do you want me?"

  "Here. Now. "

  "What do you have in mind?"

  "We're going back downtown. I wanted to call the others in for a lesson tonight, but I seem to have lost my textbook. "

  U inclined his head. "Let's head for the library, then. And get us another. "

  Rhage prayed for an outlet as he stalked the bar alleys downtown. In the cold rain he was a twitchy mess, anger and agony seething in his chest. Vishous had given up trying to talk to him two hours ago.

  As they emerged on Trade Street once again, they paused next to the front door of Screamer's. An impatient, shivering crowd was waiting to get into the club, and there were four civilian males mixed in with the humans.

  "So I'll try one last time, Hollywood. " V lit a hand-rolled and repositioned his Sox cap. "What's up with all this quiet? You're not still hurting from last night, are you?"

  "Nah, I'm good to go. "

  Rhage squinted into a dark corner of the alley.

  Yeah, bullshit he was fine. His night vision was shot to hell, its acuity way off no matter how much he blinked. And his ears weren't working as well as they should, either. Normally he could hear sounds from almost a mile away, but now he was concentrating just to catch the chatter from the club's wait line.

  Sure, he was upset at what had happened with Mary; getting shut out by the female you love will do that to a male. But these changes were physiological, not tied to emotional, crybaby crap.

  And he knew what the problem was. The beast was not with him tonight.

  It should have been
a relief. Getting rid of the damn thing even temporarily was a blessing beyond measure. Except evidently he'd come to rely on the creature's flinchy instincts. God, the idea that he had a kind of symbiotic relationship with his curse was a flipping surprise, and so was the vulnerability he was now sporting. It wasn't that he doubted his hand-to-hand skills or his flash and slash with a dagger. It was more like his beast gave him information about his environment that he was used to relying on. Plus the ugly-ass thing was a terrific trump card. If all else failed, it would lay waste to their enemies.

  "Well, what do you know," V said, nodding to the right.

  A pair of lessers were coming down Trade Street, their white hair gleaming in the headlights of a passing car. Like puppets on the same string, their heads turned in unison toward him and Vishous. The two slowed. Stopped.

  V dropped the cigarette, crushing it with his shitkicker. "A lot of damned witnesses for a fight. "

  The Society members seemed to realize this as well, making no move to attack. In the standoff, the odd etiquette in the war between the Brotherhood and the lessers played out. Discretion among Homo sapiens was critical to retaining the secrecy of both sides. The last thing any of them needed was to get into it with a throng of people watching.

  While the brothers and the lessers glared at one another, the humans in their midst had no idea what was going on. The civilian vampires in the wait line, however, knew what was doing. They shuffled around in place, clearly thinking of running. Rhage pegged them with a hard look and slowly shook his head. The best place for those boys was in public, and he prayed like hell they got the message.

  But of course, the four of them took off.

  Those damn lessers smiled. And then sprinted after their prey like a couple of track-and-field stars.

  Rhage and Vishous flipped into high gear, tearing off at a dead run.

  Foolishly, the civilians headed down an alley. Maybe they were hoping to dematerialize. Maybe they were just scared stupid. Either way, they drastically increased the likelihood of their deaths. Back here, there were no humans around on account of the icy rain, and with no streetlights and no windows in the buildings, there was nothing to prevent the lessers from doing their job out in the open.

  Rhage and V ran even harder, shitkickers pounding through puddles, spraying dirty water everywhere. As they closed the distance on the slayers, it looked as if they were going to take them down before the civilians were caught.

  Rhage was about to grab the lesser on the right when a black truck cut into the alley up ahead, skidding on the wet asphalt and then finding traction. The thing slowed down just as the lessers caught one of the civilians. With a messy flip, the two slayers tossed the male into the back and then wheeled around, ready to fight.

  "I get the truck," Rhage shouted.

  V took the slayers on as Rhage sprinted forward. The truck had slowed for the pickup, and its tires were spinning out, giving him an extra second or two. But just as he came up to the F-150, it took off again, shooting past him. With an awesome surge, he launched himself into the air, catching the lip of the bed just in the nick of time.

  But his grip slipped on the wet metal. He was scrambling to get a better hold when the rear window slid open and a gun muzzle came out. He ducked, expecting to hear the sharp crack of a bullet discharging. Instead the civilian, who was trying to jump out, jerked and grabbed his shoulder. The male looked around in confusion and then fell in slow motion back into the bed.

  The truck ripped free of Rhage's fingers, and he twisted as he fell, landing faceup. As he bounced and skidded on the pavement, his leather coat saved him from getting shredded.

  He leaped to his feet and watched the truck round a distant street corner. Cursing like a son of a bitch, he didn't stick around to mourn the failure, but ran back to V. The fight was on and it was a good one, the slayers confident in their skills, far from their recruitments. V was holding his own, his dagger out and doing a number on the slayers.

  Rhage fell upon the first lesser he got to, pissed off at losing the civilian to that truck, rank mad at the world because of Mary. He beat the holy hell out of the bastard with his fist, cracking bones, breaking through skin. Black blood kicked up into his own face, getting into his eyes. He didn't stop until V peeled him off and shoved him back against the alley wall.

  "What the fuck are you doing!" Rhage had half a mind to go at V because the brother was blocking his access to the slayer.

  V fisted the lapels of the trench coat and gave Rhage a good slam, as if trying to get him to focus. "The lesser's not moving. Look at me, my brother. He's on the ground and he's staying there. "

  "I don't care!" He fought to get free, but V held him in place. Barely.

  "Rhage? Come on, talk to me. What's going on? Where are you, brother?"

  "I just need to kill it. . . I need. . . " From out of nowhere, hysteria crept into his voice. "For what they do to. . . The civilians can't fight back. . . I need to kill. . . " He was cracking up, but couldn't seem to stop the fracturing. "Oh, God, Mary, they want her. . . they're going to take her like they took that civilian, V. Ah, shit, my brother. . . What am I going to do to save her?"

  "Shh. Easy there, Hollywood. Let's just cool out. "

  V clamped a hand on Rhage's neck and smoothed his thumb back and forth over Rhage's jugular. The hypnotic stroking brought him down first by inches, then by yards.

  "Better?" V asked. "Yeah, better. "

  Rhage took a deep breath and walked around for a minute. Then he went back to the lesser's body. He riffled through the pockets, finding a wallet, some cash, a gun.

  Oh, this was good.

  "Look what I got," he muttered. "Say hello to Mr. Black-Berry. "

  He tossed the device to V, who whistled under his breath. "Nice. "

  Rhage unsheathed one of his daggers and buried the black blade in the slayer's chest. With a pop and flash, the thing disintegrated, but he didn't feel like he'd done enough. He still wanted to roar and weep at the same time.

  He and V did a quick patrol of the neighborhood. All was quiet. With any luck, the other three civilians had taken their asses home and were right now shivering from adrenaline overload in safety.

  "I want those lessers' jars," Rhage said. "You get anything off the one you took out?"

  V waved a wallet. "Driver's license says One Ninety-five LaCrosse Street. What's in yours?"

  Rhage went through it. "Nothing. No license. Why the hell did he carry¡ªHuh. Now this is interesting. "

  The three-by-five index card had been neatly folded in half. On the inside was an address not far from where they were.

  "Let's check this out before we head over to LaCrosse. "

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