Home > The Chosen (Black Dagger Brotherhood #15)(6)

The Chosen (Black Dagger Brotherhood #15)(6)
Author: J. R. Ward


The definition of treason, at least according to the dictionary, was “the action of betraying someone or something”—

The knock on the closed door was soft. “Layla?”

She sniffed and turned on one of the faucets. “Hello!”

Blay’s voice was quiet, as was his way. “Are you all right in there?”

“Oh, indeed. I have decided to give myself a bit of a facial treatment. I’m coming out promptly.”

She got to her feet, bent down, and splashed her cheeks. Then she scrubbed her forehead and chin with a hand towel so that the flush was more evenly dispersed across her skin. Tightening the sash on her robe, she straightened her shoulders and went for the door, praying that she could keep her composure long enough to hustle them out to Last Meal.

But she had a reprieve.

As she opened things up, Blay and Qhuinn weren’t even looking in her direction. They were bent over Lyric’s bassinet.

“—Layla’s eyes,” Blay said as he reached in and let the young grab onto his finger. “Definitely.”

“She has her mahmen’s hair, too. I mean, check out the blond coming in.”

Their love for the little one was incandescent, shining in their faces, warming their voices, tempering their movements so that everything they did was with care. And yet that was not what Layla focused on.

Her stare locked on Qhuinn’s broad palm as it stroked up and down Blay’s back. The caress of connection was unconscious on both sides, the proffer and the acceptance both nothing at all and everything that mattered. And as she played witness from across the room, she had to blink fast once again.

Sometimes kindness and love could be just as difficult as violence to witness. Sometimes, when you were on the outside looking in, watching two in-sync people was a scene from a horror film, the kind of thing that you wanted to look away from, forget about, banish the memory of—especially when you were about to go to bed for the day and facing hours upon hours of being alone in the dark.

The knowledge that she would never have that special love with anyone was—

Qhuinn glanced across at her. “Oh, hey.”

He straightened and smiled, but she wasn’t fooled. His eyes were going over her like he was profiling her—although mayhap that was not the case. Mayhap that was merely her paranoia talking.

She was so over living a double life. Yet, in the kind of cruel irony that seemed to be destiny’s favorite source of amusement, the price of relieving her conscience would come at the expense of her very existence.

And how could she leave her young behind?

“—okay? Layla?”

As Qhuinn frowned at her, she shook herself and forced a smile. “Oh, I’m very well.” She was assuming that had been an inquiry about her well-being. “Just fine, indeed.”

Seeking to prove the lie, she approached the bassinets. Rhampage, or Rhamp, as he was known, was fighting the need for sleep, and as his sister made a cooing sound, his head turned and his hand reached out.

Funny, even at this young age, he seemed to recognize his station and want to protect her.

It was the breeding. Qhuinn was a member of the aristocracy, the result of generations of selective pairings, and even though his “defect” of having one blue eye and one green had rendered him beneath contempt in the opinions of both the glymera and his own family, the venerable nature of his bloodline could not be denied. And neither could the impact of his physical presence. At well over six and a half feet tall, his body was braided with great cuts of muscle, his flesh honed by both practice and the actualities of war into a weapon every bit as deadly as the guns and daggers he went unto the field with. The first member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood to be inducted on the basis of merit as opposed to lineage, he had not let the great tradition down. He never let anyone down.

In fact, Qhuinn was an altogether beautiful male, if in a rather raw way: His face was all angles from his having little to no body fat, and those mismatched eyes stared out from under dark brows. His black hair had been cut short recently, all but shaved on the bottom with the top slicked back, and as a result, his neck looked extra thick. With gunmetal-gray piercings in his ears, and an ahstrux nohtrum teardrop under his eye from when he had served as John Matthew’s protector, he caught stares wherever he went.

Perhaps because people, vampires and human alike, worried about what he might be capable of if displeased.

Blay, on the other hand, was the opposite, as approachable as Qhuinn was best avoided in a dark alley.

Blaylock, son of Rocke, had red hair, and skin that was a shade lighter than most in the species. He was every bit as big, but when you were around him, the first impression he made was of intelligence and heart, rather than brawn. Still, no one argued with how impressive he was in the field. Layla had heard the stories, although never from him, as he was not one to boast, create unnecessary drama, or draw attention to himself.

She loved them both with all her heart.

And the separation she felt from them was all on her side.

“Look at this,” Qhuinn said as he nodded at the young. “We got two lights-out specials over here—well, one and a half.”

As he smiled, she wasn’t fooled. His eyes were continuing to go over her face, searching for signs of exactly what she was attempting to hide. To make his examination more difficult, she backed off.

“They are good sleepers, thank the Virgin Scribe—er, thank Fates.”

“You coming down with us for Last Meal tonight?” he asked in an easy tone.

Blay straightened. “Fritz said he’d make you anything you like.”

“He is always so kind.” She went across to the bed and made a show of lying down against the pillows. “Actually, I got peckish around two so I went to the kitchen and had oatmeal and toast. Coffee. Orange juice. Breakfast for lunch, as it were. You know, sometimes one feels like rewinding the night and starting fresh at the middle.”

Pity that could be done only in a metaphoric way.

Although … would she really have chosen not to have met Xcor?

Yes, she thought. She would prefer never to have known of his existence.

The love of her life, her Blay, her match of the heart and soul … was a traitor. And her emotions for the male had been an open wound into which the bacteria of betrayal had entered and spread.

Thus now she was here, in this prison of her own making, tortured by the fact that she had consorted with the enemy; first because she had been duped … and then later because she had wanted to be in Xcor’s presence.

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