A heart-wrenching tale of love and betrayal in the Black Dagger Brotherhood world from #1 New York Times bestselling author J. R. Ward.
Framed for the grisly murder of his shellan , Kane is condemned to the notorious prison camp—unaware of the dark truth behind his arranged mating. Centuries later, when he is horribly burned while attempting to save others, he prays he’ll finally be reunited in the Fade with his mate…not knowing what revelations await him.
Nadya is a self-taught nurse who does what she can to ease the suffering of the prisoners. When Kane comes under her care, she cannot help but empathize with his condition for very personal reasons—and as the guards take him away one last time, she fears he is facing a terrible death.
After a daring rescue, Kane is offered a treatment that will change his very nature. Choosing life, for the time being, he goes back for the female who took such good care of him—but his duty to Nadya sets him on a collision course with his own past. When long-buried secrets are exposed, his self-destruction is inevitable…unless true love can save his soul.
About the Author
J.R. Ward is the author of more than thirty novels, including those in her #1 New York Times bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood series. There are more than fifteen million copies of her novels in print worldwide, and they have been published in twenty-six different countries. She lives in the South with her family.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Chapter One CHAPTER ONE
Willow Hills Sanatorium (deserted)
Connelly, New York
Get the fucking car. Right now—wait! Did you disarm the collars?”
“We’ll find out. If our heads blow off, that would be a no.”
After this back-and-forth of disembodied male voices, there was a scramble of footfalls that retreated—and an electronic beeping that was short in duration, quiet in volume. And then, silence.
From behind Kane’s slammed-shut eyelids, he couldn’t tell whether the ragged respiration was his own or another’s, and there was little he could do to settle the debate. He lacked the strength to lift the dead weight that was cutting off his vision, but there were other issues outside of that. His wounded body, covered in third-degree burns, was an anchor that kept his cognitive abilities far, far under the hot water of his pain. Processing anything past a simple state of consciousness required concentration he did not have.
Although, if he was having even these thoughts, surely at least some of the inhaling/exhaling was his own—
Well… dammit. He was going to throw up.
About ten minutes ago, or it might have been ten hours ago—maybe ten days ago?—they’d given him something to ease his agony, the drug administered into a vein at the crook of his elbow. Almost immediately, there had been a floating sensation that had dimmed everything and created the heavy lids he was trying to raise, and now his stomach was rolling, the nausea nearly as bad as the—
The sound of metal on metal registered.
A gun being checked for ammunition.
The shifting and clicking were enough to cut through what few thoughts he had, taking him back to places in his old life he never liked to visit. However, the tide of recollections about his past refused to heed the barriers he attempted to erect. Images, like grenades, assaulted his mental landscape, their detonations creating craters—
Relieved by the distraction, he turned his head blindly to the male he knew so very well. Dragging open his eyes, he saw nothing. At least… he thought his lids were open? He had been recently beaten by some of the prison camp’s guards, and the swelling made him feel like his face was a sack of potatoes.
“Apex,” he said hoarsely.
“I’m going to pick you up.”
Shaking his head, Kane tried to speak further. Movement would be very bad in this instance. Very bad indeed—
“This is our one shot. We have to take it now.”
The arms that shoved their way under his body were like rods inserted through his flesh, and he moaned. Then panicked.
“Wait, stop,” he choked out.
On his command, Apex froze, and Kane had a thought that no one else could do that to the other prisoner. Apex was a force of nature, an immoral scourge within the camp’s confines, whether here at the new location, or in the previous subterranean one. And yet he came to heel for Kane, for reasons that had never been clear.
“We cannot leave.” Kane coughed weakly, which made him feel sicker. “What… of Lucan. The Jackal—”
Kane struggled to keep focus. “Where did they go—”
“We can’t do this right now. The head of the guards is in the workroom and the shift change is happening. We need to get you out of her private quarters while we can—”
“What about the Executioner—”
“I already told you. He’s been taken care of.”
“What about Lucan, what about the Jackal—”
“I just answered that. We’re going now—”
“What about Nadya?”
He didn’t get a reply. And as he was forcibly picked up and carried off, he lost his ability to speak. Sure as if someone had set a charge under his skin and blown him up, his body seemed to lose all structural integrity, becoming nothing but nerve impulses that overwhelmed his brain, even with the drugs. It was all he could do to stay alive—and then he did throw up, bile stinging its way up his throat and souring his mouth. As he began to choke, he was roughly turned in Apex’s arms so his mouth cleared.
Another round of beeping.
Stairs, but in his delirium he couldn’t tell whether they were ascending or descending. The next thing he was aware of was fresh air. Cold, fresh air. As his lungs inflated, his stomach settled a little, and he became preoccupied with the layers of scent. Pine. Wet dirt. A faint vehicle exhaust—
Gunshots. From behind them.
“Fuck,” Apex muttered.
Now, gunshots close by. And a shout as if someone was hit. Followed by another holler.
“Over here!” Mayhem called out.
Fast movement now, and bullets whizzing by, the high-pitched missiles streaking past them.
A stop-short, something opening, and then Apex said, “No, I’m getting in the back seat with him—go! Go!”
With no preamble, he was thrown free of Apex’s arms and landed in a tight space that brutally compressed his arms and his torso. The smell of leather flooded his nose, which was pushed into something with a little give to it.
Apex’s voice, loud: “Go! Fucking drive!”
A slamming thump was followed by many gunshots now with pings of what he assumed were bullets hitting the panels of the car. Roaring, an engine. Screeching, tires on pavement. Rough rocking, his face smacking into something else, and then his body banging back.
The next thing he knew, the car seemed to be gathering speed—
A burst of sound, shrapnel falling upon him, a sharp rain. Wind now, blaring wind, a rush in his ears and across his raw skin.
“Are you hit!” came Mayhem’s voice over the din.
Apex: “Just keep driving, I don’t give a fuck!”
“They’re coming up on us!”
There was more shooting, and then Kane smelled fresh blood along with gunpowder. And after that, an explosion—
“We’re going off-road!”
He wasn’t sure who said that because a sudden lurch was followed by a brief period of total smoothness, as if they were airborne, and too bad they couldn’t keep flying. There was a bumping return to ground and turbulance that rolled him around—
The pounding impact as they crashed was so loud, his ears stung, so violent, that pain consumed him even through the haze of the drug, everything taking him back to the moment when he had made the decision to give someone else’s true love a chance.
And purposely detonated his own restraint collar.
Finally , he thought as his energy ebbed. He could be reunited with Cordelhia in the Fade.
When he felt no relief at the prospect, no happiness, either, he told himself it was because of his suffering.
It had nothing to do with the nurse that had been left behind, the one who had cared for him with such tenderness and concern, the one who, when Apex had not been by his side, had sat with him as if where his destiny went so did hers…
The one whose eyes he had never looked into, and face he had never seen, whose halting movements told a story she had never put into words—and didn’t need to for him to understand.
No, his numbness had nothing to do with Nadya.
It turned out Apex found one grenade in the SUV they stole.
What fucking luck.
As they sped away from the prison camp’s new location, and bullets shattered both the rear and side windows, he dove for cover into the back seat’s wheel well, the fragments of safety glass speckling him like sleet. As a second barrage of bullets pinged off the exterior of the vehicle, he thought of all the fuel in the gas tank, and though his eyes had closed instinctively, he popped them open again pretty damn fast—
The small, fist-sized metal object rolled right into his face, and the palm-contoured, square-ridged little fucker fit just perfectly into his left eye socket. Ever the aggressor, he was ready to punch back when he realized—
Jerking his head toward it, he snatched the thing quick as his next breath. Which was what you did when you won a munitions lottery you weren’t aware of having entered.
Perfect timing. Whoever was trying to pump the SUV full of bullets was reloading so there was a pause in the barrage.
Apex pulled the pin while he surged up from the floor. The roaring sound from the open hole where the passenger-side window had been led him better than sight would have, and he moved instinctively. Shoving his torso out of the bullet-created aperture, a blast of wind hit his back as he trained his focus on the tall, boxy vehicle about thirty feet in their wake.
Thanks to its interior lighting, he identified two guards, one behind the wheel looking out over the hood like his eyes were the laser sights of a bazooka, and the other in the passenger seat with his attention trained on his lap.
No time to get in his head about aim. Besides, he had the grenade in the wrong hand, so this was going to be a shit throw.
Shifting his weight, he got even farther out of the window, his dagger hand gripping a handle mounted on the ceiling to hold his body at a bad angle. Good news: The grenade didn’t weigh much, and he had the wind working for him. The metal knot of kaboom! flew through the air, but the arc was off. Instead of going through the front windshield, it hit the grille—
Nope, bounce was okay. As opposed to going under the vehicle, velocity took the explosive up onto the hood, then up onto that windshield.
Now, goddamn it, now —
Nope, bounce was bad. The grenade rode up the slope of that windshield and disappeared as it hit the roof. Where it was going to blow up thin air in their pursuers’ wake.
“Fuck!” Apex sucked back into the car. “Faster, we need to go fa—”
The explosion was loud enough so that the sound cut through the blaring wind and the engine roar, and the burst of light was like the sun that Apex remembered from before his transition. Wrenching around in his seat, he saw the brilliant yellow light contained inside the guards’ vehicle, the glare beaming out of the glass on all sides and silhouetting the driver and the passenger for a moment.
Before they became just another part of a fruit salad of shrapnel—
“We’re going off-road!” Mayhem hollered.
Their vehicle veered over the shoulder and caught something, their velocity undiminished as they enjoyed a brief moment of flight. Then the landing punched Apex up into the roof of the SUV, his head taking the brunt of the impact—meanwhile, Kane was like loose luggage, banging around the place as they landed on three tires, nearly fell off-balance, but somehow kept going.
With a sudden surge, Apex pushed himself over to the male, yanked the seat belt across him, and roughly shoved the clip into its home.
“Tree!” Mayhem shouted.
Apex wrenched his head around. Right in front of the SUV, spotlit by the headlights, was the single largest maple he’d ever seen.
As their driver hit the brakes, the SUV fought the deceleration, fishtailing, weaving again like it was going to tip over. Then there was a bump…
… a moment of spinning…
… followed by an impact so great that Apex was thrown into the front of the vehicle. As he banged back into place, he was momentarily stunned, his sight flickering, his hearing going out, his heart rate all that he was aware of.
As their lack of motion persisted, with nothing but the hiss of a ruined engine cutting into the silence, he heard something off in the distance.
Another vehicle, traveling fast toward them.
More guards , he thought as he tasted his own blood.
Fuck… but at least they had died trying to get out.
With his eyesight failing, he turned his head and tried to focus on Kane. The male was in a contorted tangle as he lay half on, half off, the bench seat, his bloodstained tunic and bandages making a mummy out of him. He did not appear to be conscious and also wasn’t breathing.
“I am sorry,” Apex croaked as he started to lose consciousness.
His last thought as he died was that he’d never told the male he loved him.
Probably for the best.