The Wolf by J.R. Ward

“You always take care of me.” Spaz rested his head on her shoulder. “Thank you, friend.”

Closing her eyes for a second, she took them around a corner and looked twice before she piloted them across the street.

“You’re welcome, Spaz. And you gotta take better care of yourself.”

“I know, Rio. I know.”

Vishous, son of the Bloodletter, watched the human woman redirect the drug addict away from where she’d been standing at the back of the nightclub. As it was Monday and the den of iniquity was closed, he could easily hear their conversation, no bass thumping in the background, no stumbling drunks or loose-jointed Molly users kibitzing and crowding the air with their inane dissertations on nothing at all.

The junkie who’d approached her was not part of Caldie’s club crowd. Maybe he had been at one point in time, but he’d fallen through the net of high-functioning to the homeless level below. Next one down for him? Grave site.

Stepping out of his lean, V lit up a hand-rolled and casually smoked as he trailed her and her social services project. You didn’t see a lot of dealers trying to get their customers into recovery. That was like a fry cook urging diners to watch their cholesterol. But humans, you know. They were multifaceted in so many boring ways, and this woman had herself a secret—

As his phone started vibrating, he took the Samsung out of the ass pocket of his leathers. When he saw who it was, he answered immediately. “Tell me.”

“My lead is dead.”

V rolled his eyes. “Quick point of clarification, Hollywood. Was he breathing when you got there, or did your beast bust out the A.1. steak sauce again.”

Of all of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, Rhage was the one with the biggest appetites. Well, appetite in the singular now that he was happily mated to his Mary. The guy had given up all excesses except for food—which would have been fine and dandy if all he ever pounded were half gallons of Breyers ice cream and the occasional six-pack of roasted turkeys with all the trimmings. But Rhage had long ago on-boarded one hell of a chaser when it came to takeout consumption, and sometimes you couldn’t be sure if his beast was going to recognize who was friend and who was lunch.

“That is so judgy,” the brother said.

“I’m just asking. That flying purple people eater you carry around under your skin like luggage has been known to turn whole stadiums of people into a charcuterie board. So it’s not an unfair question.”

As V brought up tall, T. rex, and noshy, he stayed in the wake of the human woman and her twitchy BFF, following them to what he was going to bet would be that new shelter set up by Our Lady of Perpetually Doing Good Shit on 27th Street.

“No, I didn’t eat him. And I meant to only cap him in the knee.”

“With your fist or your gun.”

“I sneezed when I pulled the trigger.”

“Oops.” Overhead, more lightning skipped along the undersides of the restless clouds. “Entry wound is where?”

“In my defense,” Rhage interjected, “this place is filthy. If rat poop were nickels, this motherfucker would be Jeff Bezos.”

When V’s goiter reflex raised its little hand in proverbial class, he swallowed that quick. He was a real male, dammit, not someone who ew’d at things. But God, rat shit?

“So where’d you shoot him?”

“Well . . .” The word trailed off, like the brother was tilting in for a closer look to make sure the anatomy description was right. “Let’s just say he’s going to have some blood in his urine.”

“Not if he’s dead he ain’t.”

“Do you have to be so literal. Fine, if he were still alive and capable of beer’ing himself into a stupor, he’d be pissing blood out of what’s left of his sausage and two eggs. But whatever. You try and pull a gun on me, it’s not going to go well for you.”

“I’m glad you’re okay, Hollywood,” V muttered. “I’d miss our stimulating conversations. Plus, I invested in the Tootsie Roll company years ago, and I enjoy beating the S&P 500.”

“Actually, you would miss the shit out of me.”

The brother was right, of course. But like the rodent-related excremental bleurgh back there, V saw no reason to airtime any kind of awww-ain’t-that-sweet emotion.

Instead, he crossed the street, and played paranormal gumshoe as the woman went—yup, he called it—right up to the shelter’s double doors. As she hit the call button, and then spoke into the intercom, the guy next to her was looking around as if he were assessing opportunities to bolt. She knew better than to let go of that tattered sleeve, however.