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The Beloved

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About The Book

The daughter of a legend finds the love of a lifetime in this passionate, heart-wrenching installment in J.R. Ward’s #1 New York Times bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood series.

Nalla, the blooded daughter of Zsadist, has led a sheltered life. Protected by her father and the Brotherhood, she is chafing against the walls of the very safety that has ensured her survival. One night, she gives in to her restlessness…and finds herself face-to-face with a male whose inner darkness rivals even that of her sire’s horrific origins.

Nate is a fighter with nothing to lose and nothing to live for. Tortured in a human lab as a young, then cursed with immortality, he is all vengeance and no purpose because he cares for no one—not even himself. The Brotherhood knows this all too well and following Nate’s deliberate violation of the cardinal rule in the war, they declare him a dangerous liability that must be dealt with.

When Nalla and Nate find themselves fighting side by side, daggers aren’t the only things that fly. A sizzling attraction is ignited, though Nalla knows her sire will never accept him—and on his side, Nate has made a secret bargain to end his own immortality. As the enemy closes in, and Nalla realizes she must choose between her mate and her sire, what starts with such passion may well end with eternal sorrow and no chance of a reunion—even in the Fade.

Excerpt

Chapter One CHAPTER ONE
Rural Route 149

Caldwell, New York

I gotta bad feeling about this.”

As Mickey Trix’s cousin spoke, he wanted to beat on the fucker, but it was his own damned fault. Why had he thought bringing the deadweight on a hit was gonna help anything?

“Mickey, you hear what I say—”

Overhead, lightning rippled across the night sky and the snowy forest came alive, the bare branches of the trees turning into arms that reached forward to grab, the knee-deep drifts reflecting the all-wrong flash back to the freaky storm. When everything went darker again, Mickey had a split second of double-thinking himself. It was fucking January. You didn’t get thunderstorms in—

“Shut up.” He searched those trees, which seemed to stalk instead of stand still on their root systems. “Fuck, why you always talking—”

“Where are we—”

Mickey turned on the dumbass as thunder rumbled. All the fucking snow made the landscape glow so he could see too much of his cousin’s weak-dick chin and beady little paranoid peepers. The ski mask he’d given the fool was wedged up over a set of thin eyebrows, the layers of black wool a crown of bad intent that on anyone else would’ve been a warning that shit was about to go down. On Evan? It just covered up all the premature balding.

Even his fucking hair didn’t want to be around him.

And who the fuck couldn’t grow eyebrows. Even cue-ball-bald SOBs had eyebrows—except for when they had that shit, what was it called?

Alpaca.

“Mickey, we gotta turn back. I gotta bad—”

Mickey slapped that crap into silence, hard enough that his palm vibrated inside his glove. “I got business here, and you want to get into business, so we’re coming to take care of business, you fuckin’ asshole.”

As snowflakes swirled, Evan put his bare hand on the side of his face. “Why you gotta do that shit?”

“?’Cuz you’re doing this shit.” He motioned back and forth between them, the sleeve on his parka flapping. “Now, come the fuck on. Fuck.”

Stomping off through the snow, he was not about to tell an adult male that he needed to put his goddamn mittens on. Besides, if Evan got frostbite, he probably wouldn’t even know what it was.

Ten fucking years, Mickey thought. Ten years and he was getting nowhere in the organization or with their uncle. He was twenty-nine years old, still roughing up idiots who didn’t pay when they lost at the book, still pushing small bags on the street. His pops had run the family at this age, and had been in charge right up until the old man had been shot twelve times on 19th Street.

Mickey was the fucking son of a legend, and there was a birthright to that. If his pops hadn’t been murdered over that territory dispute with the Southend gangs, Uncle wouldn’t be more’n a second-in-command of some crew on the secondhand side of the river—

Snap.

Mickey froze and scanned the woods.

“WhatwasthatohmyGod—”

“I stepped on something.” If he hit the guy again, Evan was likely to start crying. “Fuck, relax.”

As another lick of lightning flickered down, Mickey searched for true movement in the forest, not the shit that was an illusion. It was hard to tell, so he was going to stay where he was… until he was sure what was around them was safe. Well, safe-ish. Who the fuck knew what kind of booby-traps could be out here?

“Mickey, I know what you’re doing—and we don’t want to mess with him.”

Scanning. More scanning. “I’m just gonna pay the guy a little visit. Talk to him.”

“You’re not here for conversation.” When Mickey glanced over his shoulder, Evan’s eyes narrowed like he wasn’t completely stupid. “I’m not completely stupid.”

Time to get moving again. “Whatever.”

“Why don’t I get to have a gun? You never let me carry a gun.” Evan tapped him on the shoulder. “C’mon. Let’s not do this—”

“You know what—just fuckin’ go.” Mickey took out the key remote to the car they’d left up on the county road. “Wait for me like a pussy, while I do the work.”

“I’m not leaving you.” Evan shook his head. “I know nobody thinks nothin’ of me, but this guy, he’s dangerous. There’s something wrong with him.”

“He’s just another one of Uncle’s enforcers.”

“No, he’s not. And you brought me ’cuz you know nobody else would come with you.”

No, Mickey thought. He’d brought Evan because nobody else listened to the guy. But trading that kind of go-nowhere-gossip for what was supposed to be halfway decent backup wasn’t working too good.

Punching the remote into his cousin’s chest and holding it there, Mickey leaned in. “I’ll handle this. Like a man. You go wait in the fucking car. Like a goddamn child.”

Lightning fanned out across the base of the cloud cover again, and in the icy blue reflection, the fear on Evan’s face was like a third person standing between them.

“Go on,” Mickey ordered as his own resolve wobbled. “You’re so fucking weak.”

“I had a dream last night—”

“I hope she was good-looking.” Mickey pushed the car fob into the front pocket of his cousin’s parka. “In real life, you’re only pulling shit.”

“You’re gonna die, Mickey.”

“Great. At least then, I’m not dealing with you.”

“You don’t have to prove yourself to Uncle, you know. You’re enough as you are—”

Mickey shoved at his cousin’s shoulders, knocking him backwards into the snow. “Fucking asshole. I don’t have to prove myself to nobody.”

It was a goddamn relief to turn away—until he realized he was making a lot of noise with his heavy breathing, and that wasn’t the smartest move. He was also letting the pissed-off get the best of him, and that was not only dangerous, it put him on Evan’s basement-level, low-fi operating mentals. He was better than that.

He was the son of the rightful head of the family—

As movement registered in his peripheral vision, he glanced over his shoulder again. Evan was up on his feet, snowpack falling from his ass in clumps like he was taking a shit and it was coming out in black and white. With his hands tucked under his chin like he’d seen the boogeyman and his eyes all anime-tragic, Mickey was reminded that just because you were related to someone didn’t mean you had nothing in common with them.

Leaving his cousin, he needed to keep his focus where it had to stay so he put his hand into the front pocket of his snow pants. The USB drive was right where he’d stashed it, ready to be used in the second half of this operation. A gun to the head of some techie had gotten the job done, a fake data trail created on the blockchain making it look like bitcoin had been stolen on a large scale from the family’s digital wallets. He didn’t need to understand how or what was being typed on that fucking keyboard or scrolled on that monitor. All that mattered was that his instructions as to the outcome were followed, and he knew they had been: He had the IT guy’s wife tied up in his secret apartment on 21st Avenue—and hey, he was gonna let the Mrs. go, as long as his uncle came to the right conclusions when Mickey “found” the drive and turned it in—

A shot of paranoia had him glancing around, and he expected to see Evan trailing after him like a beat-down dog.

Nothing. Other than the gnarled trees, looking like they were an unholy army sprung from contaminated ground.

Fine, at least he didn’t have to worry about the dummy.

With the storm’s light show and grumbling guiding him, he kept going, pushing branches out of his way. When one snapped back and caught him in the ass, he wondered why the bastard he was going to kill tonight wanted to live out here in the fucking sticks. Then again, “Nathaniel”—chrissakes, what a street name to pick—was fucking weird. Never said much. Didn’t mix with nobody. Didn’t fight for the good jobs. Youda think he wouldn’t be no problem, but Uncle liked the guy too much for his being an outsider. Hell, for being anybody. Natty-whatever-the-fuck was getting assigned the eliminations, the real work, not the banging-on-doors, nickel-and-dime runs.

Mickey hated to admit it, but the slick SOB knocked people off and got away with it like nothing no one’d seen. Last seven years or so? There was no counting the bodies, and there were ones who hadn’t been found, no doubt. Most of the wet work had been done in Caldwell, but there had been some in NYC and Boston. Rumor had it that Uncle had asked him to go down to Florida and South America, but he’d nope’d the out-of-town trips. It was like he didn’t want to get too far away from the core of the business, and sure, it could be ’cuz he had the Caldie cops in his pocket and that was how he’d evaded complications for so long.

Except it was more than that. Mickey could sense something just wasn’t right, and he was done fucking worrying about it. Time to solve this problem and look like a hero to Uncle—

Up ahead, a ratty old log house appeared in a clearing, and talk about dumps. The place needed to be condemned, the roofline bumpy, one of the chimneys collapsed, shutters with evergreen cutouts hanging like bad teeth in the mouth of a suck-ass MMA fighter. The windows were boarded up, there was no car in the shallow drive, and the barn out back wasn’t in any better shape.

If Mickey hadn’t been one hundred percent sure of his intel, he wouldn’t have believed anybody lived here, much less a hired killer. Then again, keeping a low profile was something Uncle appreciated in his contractors.

“But this shit is frontier land,” Mickey muttered, his breath drifting off like he was vaping.

Fucking. Weird.

And not something he needed to think about. At the moment, Nathaniel was downtown with Uncle. Mickey was sure because he himself wasn’t invited to the Thursday-night hangouts. So he was going to get in this crappy cabin, wait for good ol’ Natty to get home, and then one bullet later, he was going to take the USB drive to Uncle and provide proof that the golden boy wasn’t so golden, and Mickey was a fucking family hero who deserved respect—

His body stopped on its own, no conscious thought involved in the lockdown, every survival instinct he had starting to scream.

Someone was behind him.

And it was not Evan.

Trying to stay cool, he snuck his hand to the gun holstered just inside the hem of his parka. “You’re not supposed to be here right now.”

As he turned around, he brought the… weapon… out…

Tattoos. All over a bare torso that had more muscle in its pecs and arms than Mickey did in his entire body. With a freshly shaved head, a face that made women double-take and drop digits, and a six-inch wound that had been stitched closed by an amateur on his shoulder, Nathaniel was like a lifer in a prison yard. Or someone who should have been kept behind barbed wire for public safety.

“Where are your clothes,” Mickey mumbled as his head started to hurt.

Another round of lightning burst free of the storm, and if he’d lived, he never would have forgotten what those eyes looked like as they met his own: Dead. Nothing behind them. The blue so dark it was like staring into black glass, and in the reflection? Mickey’s own horrified face.

In that moment, he knew he should have listened. Not to idiot Evan, but to his own instincts, back when he’d gotten out of the car, up on Rte. 149—

“Uncle sent me,” he mumbled, trying to course correct. “He tried to reach you. When he couldn’t get through, he sent me. You want we go into your place while I tell you what’s goin’ on?”

Nathaniel lowered his head, those dangerous, gleaming eyes staring out from under the kind of brows real men grew, the kind that were a warning well-heeded on their own, no ski mask required.

“You’re lying to me, Mickey,” came the low voice.

“No, I ain’t.” Wincing, he tried to get his thoughts to pull together. “Sorry, I’ll lower my weapon. We family, right.”

“I hate liars.”

“Me, too.”

More lightning flashed—no, wait. It was a car, coming down the lane, the headlights making noon out of midnight, the log cabin worse for wear in the glare. When Mickey looked back to his uncle’s favorite assassin, something swept by, close to his face. Jerking away, he went to slap off that which had already moved past him—

The gurgling was like someone draining an oil pan in an old-fashioned, gas-powered car, and he had no idea where the hell the sound was coming from. Until he tried to breathe.

Dropping his gun into the snow, he clapped his hands across his throat and felt a flow of warmth, smooth and thick as hot chocolate. “Wha…”

Nathaniel held a blade up and regarded the bright red blood on the stainless steel. Then he extended his tongue, stared across the cold glow into Mickey’s eyes… and licked up the blade.

No, no, nonononono—

“Tastes like a liar. What’s in your pocket, Mickey.”

Mickey stumbled backwards—but he didn’t fall back into the snowpack like Evan, dumb, dipshit Evan, who had been so much smarter than him. Instead, he was caught by a grip on his shoulder, and then he and his killer were face to face—

The pain in his gut came quick and he looked down, wondering numbly how the lightning had found his stomach. But it wasn’t the storm. A fist was pressed right against his abdomen, his parka puffing up around where he’d been stabbed so deep, the blade that had been stroked by his killer’s tongue inside of him to the hilt.

The gurgling got worse, as there was a sudden pressure on his shoulder, a pushing down, after which the sawing started: in and out, in and out, the knife working upward through his internal organs, heading for his sternum. Mickey tried to scream, but with his windpipe sliced open, he couldn’t call for whoever had just parked at the cabin and gotten out from behind the wheel.

Help… me… Mickey reached toward the person in the darkness, the blood on his glove dripping into the virgin snow. Help

“Nate!” The man with the car strode up to the rickety front door and banged on it. “Where you at?”

Mickey’s vision dimmed, like a veil had been pulled over his face. Help me…

He mouthed the words because there was no talking for him. No air in his lungs, no vocal cords. No… anything.

“Nate, we’re late,” the guy at the door hollered. “Come on, it’s time to go.”

Mickey Trix’s last thought was that he wished he had turned around when he’d had the chance.

His stupid cousin, for once, had been too right.

About The Author

Andrew Hyslop

J.R. Ward is the author of more than sixty novels, including those in her #1 New York Times bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood series. There are more than twenty million copies of her novels in print worldwide, and they have been published in twenty-seven different countries. She lives in the south with her family.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Gallery Books (January 7, 2025)
  • Length: 432 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982180096

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