Lover At Last
A Novel of the Black Dagger Brotherhood
Qhuinn, son of no one, is used to being on his own. Disavowed from his bloodline, shunned by the aristocracy, he has finally found an identity as one of the most brutal fighters in the war against the Lessening Society. But his life is not complete. Even as the prospect of having a family of his own seems to be within reach, he is empty on the inside, his heart given to another....
Blay, after years of unrequited love, has moved on from his feelings for Qhuinn. And it’s about time: it seems Qhuinn has found his perfect match in a Chosen female, and they are going to have a young. It’s hard for Blay to see the new couple together, but building your life around a pipe dream is just a heartbreak waiting to happen. And Qhuinn needs to come to terms with some dark things before he can move forward…
Fate seems to have taken these vampire soldiers in different directions... but as the battle over the race’s throne intensifies, and new players on the scene in Caldwell create mortal danger for the Brotherhood, Qhuinn finally learns the true definition of courage, and two hearts who are meant to be together... finally become one.
“Now, that a muthafuckn’ whip rite chur.”
Jonsey looked over at the idiot who was hunkered
down next to him in the bus stop. The pair of them had been parked in the Plexiglas gerbil cage for three hours. At least. Al¬though comments like that had made it seem a matter of days.
And were going to make shit justifiable homicide.
“You a white boy, you know that?” Jonsey pointed out.
Okay, make that three years of waiting. “Caucasian, dude. As in you need fuckin’ sunblock in the summer. As in not like m’self—” “Whatever, man, check out that ride—” “As in why you gotta talk like you from the ’hood? You act a
At this point, he just wanted to get the night over. It was cold, it was snowing, and he had to wonder who he’d pissed off to get stuck with Vanilla Ice over here.
Matter of fact, he was thinking about pulling out of this bullshit altogether. He was making good paper dealing in Caldwell; he was two months out of prison for those murders he’d done as a juvie; the last thing he was interested in was hanging with some white bitch deter¬mined to get street cred through vocabulary.
Oh, and then there was the Richie Rich neighborhood they were in. For all he knew, there was an ordinance out here that you weren’t allowed on the streets after ten p.m.
Why the hell had he agreed to this?
“Will. You. Please. Look. At. That. Fine. Automobile.”
Just to shut the guy up, Jonsey turned his head and leaned out of the shelter. As blowing snow got into his eyes, he cursed. Fucking upstate New York in the winter. Cold enough to ice-cube your balls—
Well . . . hello, there.
Across a shallow parking lot, sitting right in front of a sparkling-clean, no-graffiti’d, twenty-four-hour CVS, there was, in fact, a sweet-ass fucking whip. The Hummer was totally blacked out, no chrome anywhere—not on the wheels, not around the windows, not even on the grille. And it was the big-body—and, going by all that trim, no doubt had the big engine in it.
The ride was the kind of thing you’d see on the streets where he was from, the vehicle of a major dealer. Except they were far from the inner city out here, so it was just some cracker trying to look like he had a dick.
Vanilla-man hiked up his backpack, one-strapping it. “I’ma check it out.”
“Bus is coming soon.” Jonsey checked his watch, and did some wishful thinking. “Five, maybe ten minutes.”
“You scared or some shit?” The SOB lifted his hands and started going Paranormal Activity. “Oh, scurrrrrry—”
Jonsey outted his gun and punched the muzzle right into that dumb-ass face. “I got no problem killin’ you right here. I done it before. I do it again. Now back the fuck off and do y’self a favor. Shut the fuck up.”
As Jonsey met the guy’s eyes, he didn’t particularly care what the outcome was. Shoot the bitch. Don’t shoot him. Whatever.
“Okay, okay, okay.” Mr. Chatty backed away and left the bus stop.
Jonesy put his gat away, crossed his arms, and stared in the direc¬tion the bus was going to come out of—like that might help.
Stupid fucking idiot.
He looked at his watch again. Man, enough with this shit. If a bus heading back into downtown got here first, he was just going to get on and fuck it all.
Shifting the backpack he’d been told to get, he felt the hard con¬tour of the jar inside. The pack he understood. If he was going to transport product from the sticks into the ’hood, then yeah. But the jar? What the hell you need that for?
Unless it was loose powder?
The fact that he’d been chosen by C-Rider, the man himself, for this had been pretty fucking cool. Until he’d met White Boy—and then the idea he was special lost some juice. The boss man’s instruc¬tions had been clear: Hook up with the dude at the Fourth Street stop. Take the last bus out to the ’burbs and wait. Transfer to the rural line when service resumed near dawn. Get off at the Warren County stop. Hoof it one mile to a farm property.
C-Rider would meet them and a bunch of other dudes out there for the business. And after that? Jonsey would be part of a new crew set to dominate the scene in Caldie.
He liked that shit. And full respect to C-Rider—that mother¬fucker was tight: high up in the ’hood; strung.
But if the rest of them were like Vanilla—
The roar of an engine made him assume something, anything from the Caldwell Transit Authority had finally shown, and he got to his feet—
“No fuckin’ way,” he breathed.
The blacked-out Hummer had pulled up right in front of the bus stop, and as the window went down, White Boy was full-on insane-in¬the-membrane behind the wheel—and not just because Cypress Hill was, in fact, blaring.
“Get in! Come on! Get in!”
“What the fuck you do, yo?” Jonsey stuttered, even as he shot around behind the SUV and jumped into the passenger seat.
Holy motherfucking shit—bitch ass was not a total fool, not pull¬ing off something like this.
The guy floored the accelerator, the engine roared, and the teeth of the tires grabbed onto the snowpack and shot them forward at fifty miles an hour.
Jonsey held on to whatever he found as they went gunning through a red-light intersection and then rode up over the curb and across the parking lot of a Hannaford. As they shot out on the far side, the music buried the beeping sound that was going off because no one had put their seat belts on.
Jonsey started grinning. “Fuckin’ yes, motherfucker! You crazy bitch, you fucking crazy ass snowflake . . . !”
“I think that’s Justin Bieber.”
Standing in front of a lineup of Lay’s potato chips, Qhuinn looked overhead to the speaker inset into the ceiling tiles. “Yup. I’m right, and I hate that I know that.”
Next to him, John Matthew signed, How do you know?
“The little shit is everywhere.” To prove the point, he motioned to a greeting card display featuring Short, Cocky, and Fifteen-Minutes¬Are-Up. “I swear, that kid is proof the Antichrist is coming.”
Maybe it’s already here.
“Would explain Miley Cyrus.”
As John went back to contemplating his finger food of choice, Qhuinn double-checked the store. Four a.m. and the CVS was fully stocked and completely empty—except for the two of them and the guy up at the front counter, who was reading a National Enquirer and eating a Snickers bar.
No lessers. No Band of Bastards.
Nothing to shoot.
Unless that Bieber display counted.
What are you going to have? John signed.
Qhuinn shrugged and kept looking around. As John’s ahstrux nohtrum, he was responsible for making sure the guy came back to the Brotherhood’s mansion every night in one piece, and after well over a year, so far, so good. . . .
God, he missed Blay.
Shaking his head, he randomly reached forward. When his arm came back at him, he’d snagged some sour cream and onion.
Looking at the Lay’s logo, and the close-up of a single chip, all he could think of was the way he and John and Blay used to hang out at Blay’s parents’ house, playing Xbox, drinking beers, dreaming of bigger and better posttrans lives.
Unfortunately, bigger and better had turned out to be only the size and strength of their bodies. Although maybe that was just his POV. John was, after all, happily mated. And Blay was with . . .
Shit, he couldn’t even say his cousin’s name in his head.
“You good, J-man?” he asked roughly.
John Matthew snagged a Doritos old-school original and nodded. Let’s get drinks.
As they headed deeper into the store, Qhuinn wished they were downtown, fighting in the alleys, going up against either of their two enemies. Too much downtime on these suburban details, and that meant too much dwelling on—
He cut himself off again.
Whatever. Besides, he hated having any contact with the glymera— and that shit was mutual. Unfortunately, members of the aristocracy were gradually moving back to Caldwell, and that meant Wrath had gotten inundated with calls about so-called slayer sightings.
Like the Omega’s undead didn’t have better things to do than stalk around barren fruit trees and frozen swimming pools.
Still, the king wasn’t in a position to tell the dandies to go F them¬selves. Not since Xcor and his Band of Bastards had put a bullet in that royal throat.
Traitors. Fuckers. With any luck, Vishous was going to prove without a shadow of a doubt where that rifle shot had come from, and then the bunch of them could gut those soldiers, put their heads on stakes, and light the corpses on fire.
As well as find out exactly who on the Council was colluding with the new enemy.
Yup, user-friendly was the name of the game now—so one night a week, each of the teams ended up here in the neighborhood he’d grown up in, knocking on doors and looking under beds.
In museum-like houses that gave him the creeps more than any dark underpass downtown.
A tap on his forearm brought his head around. “Yeah?”
I was going to ask you the same thing.
You stopped here. And have just been staring at . . . well, you know .
Qhuinn frowned and glanced at the product display. Then lost all train of thought—as well as most of the blood from his head. “Oh, yeah . . . ah . . .” Shit, had someone turned up the heat? “Um.”
Baby bottles. Baby formula. Baby bibs and wet naps and Q-tips. Pacifiers. Bottles. Some kind of contraption—
Oh, God, a breast pump.
Qhuinn did a one-eighty so fast, he got faced by a six-foot-high stack of Pampers, bounced back into the land of NUKs, and finally ricocheted out of infant airspace thanks to an A+D rebound. What ever the hell that shit was.
Baby. Baby. Baby—
Oh, good. He’d made it up to the checkout counter.
Shoving a hand into his biker jacket, Qhuinn pulled his wallet free and reached behind for John’s finger food. “Gimme your stuff.”
As the guy started to argue, mouthing the words because his hands were full, Qhuinn snagged the Mountain Dew and Doritos that were clogging up communication.
“There ya go. While he’s ringing us up, you can yell at me prop¬erly.”
And what do you know, John’s hands flew through the positions of ASL in various I-got-this combinations.
“Is he deaf?” the guy behind the cash register asked in a stage whisper. As if someone using American Sign Language was some kind of freak.
As the man kept staring, Qhuinn wanted to pop him. “You going to help us out here or what?”
“Oh . . . yeah. Hey, you got a tattoo on your face.” Mr. Observant moved slowly, like the bar codes on those bags were creating some kind of wind resistance under his laser reader. “Did you know that?”
Really. “I wouldn’t know.”
“Are you blind, too?”
No filter on this guy. None. “Yeah, I am.”
“Oh, so that’s why your eyes are all weird.”
“Yeah. That’s right.”
Qhuinn took out a twenty and didn’t wait for change—murder was just a liiiiiittle too tempting. Nodding to John, who was also mea¬suring the dear boy for a shroud, Qhuinn went to walk off.
“What about your change?” the man called out.
“I’m deaf, too. I can’t hear you.”
The guy yelled more loudly, “I’ll just keep it then, yeah?”
“Sounds good,” Qhuinn shouted over his shoulder.
Idiot was stage-five stupid. Straight up.
Stepping through the security bar, Qhuinn thought it was a mir¬acle that humans like that got through the day and night at all. And the motherfucker had managed to get his pants on right and operate a cash register.
Would miracles never cease.
As he pushed his way outside, the cold slapped him around, the wind blowing at his hair, snowflakes getting in his nose—
Looked left. Looked right.
“What the . . . where’s my Hummer?”
In his peripheral vision, John’s hands started flying around like he was wondering the same thing. And then the guy pointed down to the freshly fallen snow . . . and the deep treads of four monster tires that made a fat circle and headed out of the parking lot.
“Goddamn motherfucking shit !” Qhuinn gritted.
And he thought Mr. Observant was the stupid one?
J. R. Ward lives in the South with her incredibly supportive husband and her beloved golden retriever. After graduating from law school, she began working in health care in Boston and spent many years as chief of staff for one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation.