Home > Lover Eternal (Black Dagger Brotherhood #2)(5)

Lover Eternal (Black Dagger Brotherhood #2)(5)
Author: J.R. Ward

Silence. Not even breathing.

Dimly, she heard the hum of a car engine flare and then fade in the background. According to the police's audit of incoming calls, the person always phoned from the street and varied his location so he couldn't be traced.

“This is Mary. How may I help you?” She dropped her voice and broke protocol. “I know it's you, and I'm glad you're reaching out tonight again. But please, can't you tell me your name or what's wrong?”

She waited. The phone went dead.

“Another one of yours?” Rhonda asked, taking a sip from a mug of herbal tea.

Mary hung up. “How did you know?”

The woman nodded across her shoulder. “I heard a lot of rings out there, but no one got farther than the greeting. Then all of a sudden you were hunched over your phone.”

“Yeah, well—”

“Listen, the cops got back to me today. There's nothing they can do short of assigning details to every pay phone in town, and they're not willing to go that far at this point.”

“I told you. I don't feel like I'm in danger.”

“You don't know that you're not.”

“Come on, Rhonda, this has been going on for nine months now, right? If they were going to jump me, they would have already. And I really want to help—”

“That's another thing I'm concerned about. You clearly feel like protecting whoever the caller is. You're getting too personal.”

“No, I'm not. They're calling here for a reason, and I know I can take care of them.”

“Mary, stop. Listen to yourself.” Rhonda pulled a chair over and lowered her voice as she sat down. “This is… hard for me to say. But I think you need a break.”

Mary recoiled. “From what?”

“You're here too much.”

“I work the same number of days as everyone else.”

“But you stay here for hours after your shift is through, and you cover for people all the time. You're too involved. I know you're substituting for Bill right now, but when he comes I want you to leave. And I don't want you back here for a couple of weeks. You need some perspective. This is hard, draining work, and you have to have a proper distance from it.”

“Not now, Rhonda. Please, not now. I need to be here now more than ever.”

Rhonda gently squeezed Mary's tense hand. “This isn't an appropriate place for you to work out your own issues, and you know that. You're one of the best volunteers I've got, and I want you to come back. But only after you've had some time to clear your head.”

“I may not have that kind of time,” Mary whispered under her breath.


Mary shook herself and forced a smile. “Nothing. Of course, you're right. I'll leave as soon as Bill comes in.”


Bill arrived about an hour later, and Mary was out of the building in two minutes. When she got home, she shut her door and leaned back against the wood panels, listening to all the silence. The horrible, crushing silence.

God, she wanted to go back to the hotline's offices. She needed to hear the soft voices of the other volunteers. And the phones ringing. And the drone of the fluorescent lights in the ceiling…

Because with no distractions, her mind flushed up terrible images: Hospital beds. Needles. Bags of drugs hanging next to her. In an awful mental snapshot, she saw her head bald and her skin gray and her eyes sunken until she didn't look like herself, until she wasn't herself.

And she remembered what it felt like to cease being a person. After the doctors started treating her with chemo, she'd quickly sunk into the fragile underclass of the sick, the dying, becoming nothing more than a pitiful, scary reminder of other people's mortality, a poster child for the terminal nature of life.

Mary darted across the living room, shot through the kitchen, and threw open the slider. As she burst out into the night, fear had her gasping for breath, but the shock of frosty air slowed her lungs down.

You don't know that anything's wrong. You don't know what it is…

She repeated the mantra, trying to pitch a net on the thrashing panic as she headed for the pool.

The Lucite in-ground was no more than a big hot tub, and its water, thickened and slowed by the cold, looked like black oil in the moonlight. She sat down, took off her shoes and socks, and dangled her feet in the icy depths. She kept them submerged even when they numbed, wishing she had the gumption to jump in and swim down to the grate at the bottom. If she held on to the thing for long enough, she might be able to anesthetize herself completely.

She thought of her mother. And how Cissy Luce had died in her own bed in the house the two of them had always called home.

Everything about that bedroom was still so clear: The way the light had come through the lace curtains and landed on things in a snowflake pattern. Those pale yellow walls and the off-white wall-to-wall rug. That comforter her mother had loved, the one with the little pink roses on a cream background. The smell of nutmeg and ginger from a dish of potpourri. The crucifix above the curving headboard and the big Madonna icon on the floor in the corner.

The memories burned, so Mary forced herself to see the room as it had been after everything was over, the illness, the dying, the cleaning up, the selling of the house. She saw it right before she'd moved out. Neat. Tidy. Her mother's Catholic crutches packed away, the faint shadow left by the cross on the wall covered by a framed Andrew Wyeth print.

The tears wouldn't stay put. They came slowly, relentlessly, falling into the water. She watched them hit the surface and disappear.

When she looked up, she was not alone.

Mary leaped to her feet and stumbled back, but stopped herself, wiping her eyes. It was just a boy. A teenage boy. Dark-haired, pale-skinned. So thin he was emaciated, so beautiful he didn't look human.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, not particularly afraid. It was hard to be scared of anything that angelic. "Who are you?'

He just shook his head.

“Are you lost?” He sure looked it. And it was too cold for him to be out just in the jeans and T-shirt he was wearing. “What's your name?”

He lifted a hand to his throat and moved it back and forth while shaking his head. As if he were a foreigner and frustrated by the language barrier.

"Do you speak English?'

He nodded and then his hands started flying around. American Sign Language. He was using ASL.

Mary reached back to her old life, when she'd trained her autistic patients to use their hands to communicate.

Do you read lips or can you hear ? she signed back at him.

He froze, as if her understanding him had been the last thing he'd expected.

I can hear very well. I just can't talk.

Mary stared at him for a long moment. “You are the caller.”

He hesitated. Then nodded his head. I never meant to scare you. And I don't call to annoy you. I just… like to know you're there. But there's nothing weird to it, honest. I swear.

His eyes met hers steadily.

“I believe you.” Except what did she do now? The hotline prohibited contact with callers.

Yeah, well, she wasn't about to kick the poor kid off her property.

“You want something to eat?”

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