More than a month later, Cormia woke up in the way she was becoming accustomed to greeting the night's fall.

Phury's hips were pushing at hers, his body nudging a rock-hard erection against her. He was likely still asleep, and as she rolled over onto her stomach and made room for him, she smiled, knowing what his response would be. Yup, he was on her in a heartbeat, the blanket of his heavy weight warm and grounding and¡ª

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She moaned as he pushed inside.

"Mmmm," he said into her ear. "Good evening, shellan."

She smiled and tilted her spine so he could go even deeper. "Hellren mine, how fare thee¡ª"

They both groaned as he surged, the powerful stroke going right into the very soul of her. As he rode her slow and sweet, nuzzling at her nape, nipping at her with his fangs, they held hands, their fingers intertwined.

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They hadn't been officially mated yet, as there had been too much to do with the Chosen, who wanted to see what this world was like. But they were together every moment, and Cormia couldn't imagine how they had lived apart.

Well... there was one night a week that they were separated for a little while. Phury went to his NA meeting every Tuesday.

Quitting the red smoke was hard on him. There were a lot of times when he would get tense or his eyes would lose focus or he would struggle not to snap at something in annoyance. He'd had day sweats for the first two weeks, and though they were lessening, his skin still went through periods when it was hypersensitive.

He hadn't had one single relapse, though. No matter how bad it got, he didn't cave. And there had been no alcohol for him, either.

They had been having a lot of sex, however. Which was fine with her.

Phury pulled out and rolled her over on her back. As he settled into place at her core again, he kissed her with urgency, his palms going to her breasts, his fingertips brushing over her tight nipples. Arching into him, she slipped her hands between them, took his arousal, and stroked it just as he liked it, from base to tip, base to tip.

Over on the bureau, his cell phone went off with a beep, and they ignored it as she smiled widely and guided him back inside. When they were one again, the firestorm took off and took over them, their rhythm becoming urgent. Holding on to her love's surging shoulders and mirroring his thrusts, she was carried away by him, with him.

After the rush had passed and faded, she opened her eyes and was greeted by the warm yellow stare that made her glow from the inside out.

"I love waking up," he said, kissing her on the mouth.

"Me, too¡ª"

The stairwell fire alarm went off, its shrill cry the kind of thing that made you want to be deaf.

Phury laughed and rolled to the side, tucking her into his chest. "Five... four... three... two¡ª"

"Soooooooooorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrryyy!" Layla called out from the foot of the stairs.

"What was it this time, Chosen?" he hollered back.

"Scrambled eggs," she yelled up.

Phury shook his head and said softly to Cormia, "See, I'd have figured it was the toast."

"Can't be that. She broke the toaster yesterday."

"She did?"

Cormia nodded. "Tried to put a piece of pizza in it. The cheese."

"Everywhere?"

"Everywhere."

Phury spoke up. "That's okay, Layla. You can always clean the pan and try again."

"I don't think the pan's going to work anymore," came the reply.

Phury's voice dropped. "I'm so not going to ask."

"Aren't they metal?"

"Should be."

"I'd better go help." Cormia shifted upright and called out, "I'm coming down, my sister! Two secs."

Phury tugged her back to him for a kiss, then let her go. She had a quick shower, as in lightning quick, and came out wearing loose blue jeans and one of Phury's Gucci shirts.

Maybe it came from years of wearing robes, but she didn't like tight clothes. Which was fine with her hellren, because he liked her in his.

"That color looks perfect on you," he drawled as he watched her plait her hair.

"You like the lavender?" She did a little twirl for him and his stare flashed brilliant yellow.

"Oh, yeah. I like. Come here, Chosen."

She put her hands on her hips as the piano started playing down below. Scales. Which meant Selena was up. "I have to go downstairs before Layla burns the house down."

Phury smiled that smile he sported when he was picturing her very, very naked. "Come here, Chosen."

"How about I go and come back with food?"

Phury had the audacity to throw the tangled sheet away and put his hand on his hard, heavy sex. "Only you have what I'm hungry for."

A vacuum cleaner joined the chorus of noise coming from downstairs, so it was clear who else was up and about. Amalya and Pheonia drew straws every day to see who got to use the Dyson. Didn't matter whether the carpets in Rehvenge's great camp needed it or not¡ªthey always got vacuumed.

"Two secs," she said, knowing that if she got within range of his hands, they were going to be all over each other again. "Then I'll come back and you can feed my mouth, how about that."

Phury's massive body trembled, his eyes rolling back into his skull. "Oh, yeah. That's... Oh, yeah, that's a very good plan."

His phone let out a reminder beep, and he reached over to the bedside table with a groan. "Okay, go on now, before I don't let you out of here for another hour. Or four."

She laughed and turned for the door.

"Dear... God."

Cormia turned around. "What is it?"

Phury sat up slowly, his hands holding the phone as if it were worth more than the four hundred dollars he'd paid for it the week before.

"Phury?"

He held it out to her screen-first.

The text was from Zsadist: Baby girl, two hours ago. Nalla. Hope you're good. Z.

She bit her lip and then gently put her hand on his shoulder. "You should go back to the house. You should see him. See them."

Phury swallowed hard. "Yeah. I don't know. Not going back there... I think it's maybe a good thing. Wrath and I can do what we need to over the phone and... Yeah. Better not to."

"Are you going to return the text?"

"I am." He covered his hips with the sheet and just stared at the phone.

After a moment, she said, "Would you like me to do it for you?"

He nodded. "Please. Make it from both of us, 'kay?"

She kissed the top of his head and then texted, Blessings upon you and your shellan and your young. We are with you in spirit, love, Phury and Cormia.

The following evening, Phury was tempted not to go to the NA meeting. Very tempted.

He wasn't sure what made him go. Didn't know how he did it.

All he wanted was to light up so he didn't have to feel the pain. But how messed up was it that he was hurting? The fact that his twin's young had come into the world healthy, that Z was now a father, that Bella had lived through it, that the young was all right... you would figure he'd be thrilled and relieved. It was what he and everyone else had been praying for.

No doubt he was the only one who was fucked in the head over it all. The rest of the Brothers would be busy toasting Z and his new daughter and pampering Bella. The celebrations would be going on for weeks, and Fritz would be ecstatic with all the special meals and ceremonies.

Phury could just see it. The grand entrance of the mansion would be draped in bolts of brilliant green, the color of Z's bloodline, and purple, the color of Bella's. Wreaths of flowers would be hung on every single door in the house, even the closets and cabinets, to symbolize that Nalla had come through to this side. The fireplaces would stay lit for days with sweet logs, those slow-burning, treated pieces of wood whose flames would burn red for the new blood of the darling one.

At the start of the twenty-fourth hour following her birth, every person in the house would bring unto the proud parents a tremendous ribbon bow woven of their family colors. The bows would be tied on the spindles of Nalla's crib, as pledges to oversee her through her life. By the end of the hour, the place where she laid her precious head would be covered with a cascade of satin bows, their long ends reaching the floor in a river of love.

Nalla would be gifted with priceless jewelry and draped in velvet and held in gentle arms. She would be cherished for the miracle she was, and ever would her birth be rejoiced in the hearts of those who had waited with hope and fear to greet her.

Yeah... Phury didn't know what got him to the community center. And he didn't know what helped him through that door and into that basement. And he didn't know what made him stay.

He did know that when he returned to Rehvenge's house, he couldn't go inside.

Instead he sat on the back terrace, in a woven wicker chair, under the stars. There was nothing on his mind. And absolutely everything.

Cormia came out at some point and put her hand on his shoulder, as she always did when she sensed he was deep in his head. He kissed her palm, and then she kissed his mouth and went back inside, likely to get back to work on the plans for Rehv's new club.

The night was quiet and downright cold. Every once in a while the wind would come and brush through the treetops, the autumnal leaves rustling together with a cooing sound like they enjoyed the attention.

Behind him in the house, he could hear the future. The Chosen were stretching their arms out into this world, learning things about themselves and this side. He was so proud of them, and he supposed he was the Primale of old tradition in that he would kill to protect his females and would do anything for any of them.

But it was a fatherly love. His mated love was for Cormia and her alone.

Phury rubbed the center of his chest and let the hours pass as they would, at their own speed, while the wind gusted as it did, at its own strength. The moon drifted up to its apex in the sky and began its descent. Someone put opera on inside the house. Someone changed it to hip-hop, thank God. Someone started a shower. Someone vacuumed. Again.

Life. In all its mundane majesty.

And you couldn't take advantage of it if you were sitting on your ass in the shadows...whether that was in actuality, or metaphorically because you were trapped in an addict's darkness.

Phury reached down and touched the calf of his prosthesis. He'd made it this far with only part of a leg. Living through the rest of his life without his twin and without his brothers... he would do that, too. He had much to be grateful for, and that would make up for a lot.

He wouldn't always feel this empty.

Someone in the house went back to the opera.

Oh, shit. Puccini this time.

"Che Gelida Manina."

Of all the choices they had, why pick the one solo guaranteed to make him feel worse? God, he hadn't listened to La Boh¨¨me since... well, forever, it seemed. And the sound of what he had loved so much squeezed his ribs so tightly, he couldn't breathe.

Phury gripped the arms of the chair and started to stand. He just couldn't listen to that tenor's voice. That glorious, soaring tenor reminded him so much of¡ª

Zsadist appeared at the edge of the forest. Singing.

He was singing... It was his tenor in Phury's ear, not some CD from inside the house.

Z's voice surfed the aria's peaks and valleys as he came forward over the grass, moving closer with each perfectly pitched, resonant word. The wind became the brother's orchestra, blowing the spectacular sounds that breached his mouth out over the lawn and the trees and up into the mountains, up into the heavens, where only such a talent could have been born.

Phury got to his feet as if his twin's voice, not his own legs, had lifted him from the chair. This was the thanks that had not been spoken. This was the gratitude for the rescue and the appreciation for the life that was lived. This was the wide-open throat of an astounded father, who was lacking the words to express what he felt to his brother and who needed the music to show something of all he wished he could say.

"Ah, hell... Z," Phury whispered in the midst of the glory.

As the solo reached its zenith, as the tenor of emotions was struck most powerfully, the Brotherhood appeared one by one from out of the darkness, pulling free of the night. Wrath. Rhage. Butch. Vishous. They were all dressed in the white ceremonial robing they would have worn to honor the twenty-fourth hour of Nalla's birth.

Zsadist sang the last delicate note of the piece right in front of Phury.

As the final line, "Vi piaccia dir!" drifted into the infinite, Z held up his hand.

Waving in the night wind was a tremendous bow made of green-and-gold satin.

Cormia came to stand close at just the right time. As she put her arm around Phury's waist, she was all that kept him steady.

In the Old Language, Zsadist said, "Wouldst both thou honor my birthed daughter with the colors of thy lineages and the love of thy hearts?"

Z bowed deeply, offering the bow.

Phury's voice was hoarse as he took the streaming lengths of satin. "It would be the honor of the ages to pledge our colors unto your birthed daughter."

As Z straightened, it was hard to say who stepped forward first.

Most likely they met in the middle.

Neither said anything while they embraced. Sometimes words didn't go far enough, the vessels of letters and the ladles of grammar incapable of holding the heart's sentiments.

The Brotherhood started to clap.

At some point, Phury reached out and took Cormia's hand, drawing her close.

He pulled back and looked at his twin. "Tell me, does she have yellow eyes?"

Z smiled and nodded. "Yeah, she does. Bella says she looks like me... which means she looks like you. Come meet my little girl, brother mine. Come back and meet your niece. There's a big empty place on her crib, and we need the two of you to fill it."

Phury held Cormia close and felt her hand rub the center of his chest. Taking a deep breath, he swiped his eyes. "That's my favorite opera and my favorite solo."

"I know." Z smiled at Cormia and referenced the first two lines, "Che gelida manina, se la lasci riscaldar." "And now you have a little hand to warm in your own."

"Same can be said of you, my brother."

"So true. So blessedly true." Z grew serious. "Please... come see her¡ªbut also, come see us. The brothers miss you. I miss you."

Phury narrowed his eyes, something sliding into place. "It's you, isn't it. You've come to the community center. You've watched me sit on that swing afterward."

Z's voice grew hoarse. "I'm so damned proud of you."

Cormia spoke up. "Me, too."

What a perfect moment this was, Phury thought. Such a perfect moment with his twin before him and his shellan beside him and the wizard nowhere in sight.

Such a perfect moment that he knew he was going to remember for the rest of his days as clearly and as poignantly as he lived it now.

Phury kissed his shellan's forehead, lingering against her, giving thanks. Then he smiled at Zsadist.

"With pleasure. We'll come to Nalla's crib with pleasure and reverence."

"And your ribbons?"

He looked down at the green and the gold, the lovely satin lengths intertwined, symbolizing the union of him and Cormia. Abruptly, she tightened her arms around him, as if she were thinking exactly the same thing he was.

Namely, that the two went perfectly together.

"Yes, my brother. We're absolutely coming with our ribbons. " He looked deeply into her eyes. "And, you know, if we have time for a mating ceremony, that would be great because¡ª"

The hooting and hollering and back slapping of the Brotherhood cut off the rest of what he was going to say. But Cormia got the gist. He'd never seen any female smile as beautifully and broadly as she did then while looking up at him.

So she must have known what he meant.

I love you forever didn't always need to be spoken to be understood.

From New York Times bestselling author J. R. Ward comes a once-in-a-lifetime event: a unique volume that delivers a behind-the-scenes look at Ward's "to die for"1Black Dagger Brotherhood series.

You'll find insider information on the Brotherhood, including their dossiers, stats, and special gifts. You'll read interviews with your favorite characters, including a heart-breaking conversation with Tohrment and Wellsie, conducted three weeks before she was killed by lessers. You'll discover deleted scenes¡ªaccompanied by the whys behind the cuts¡ªin addition to exciting material from the J. R. Ward message boards and the answers to questions posed by readers about the series. You'll learn what it's like for J. R. Ward to write each installment of the series, and in a fascinating twist, you'll read an interview with the author¡ª conducted by the Brothers. For the first time ever, you'll see an original short story about Zsadist and Bella, and witness the miracle of their daughter Nalla's birth and the depth of their love for each other. This is a compendium no Black Dagger Brotherhood fan should miss... and an insider's guide that will seduce you as powerfully as the sexy band of Brothers and the "ferociously popular"2world in which they live.

Read on for a sneak peek... and look for The Black Dagger Brotherhood: An Insider's Guide, coming in October 2008 from New American Library.

Bella paced around the PT suite in the training center on shaky legs, orbiting the examination table. She stopped regularly to check the clock.

Where were they? What else had gone wrong? It had been more than an hour...

Oh, God, please let Zsadist be alive. Please let them bring him back alive.

Pacing, more pacing. Eventually she paused at the head of the gurney and looked down the length of the table. Maybe it was the stinging distress she felt; maybe it was the panic; maybe it was the desperation; but she found herself thinking of when she had been on the thing as a patient. Two months ago. For Nalla's birth.

God, what a nightmare that had been.

God, what a nightmare this was... waiting for her hellren to be rolled in injured, bleeding, in pain¡ªand that was the best-case scenario.

To keep herself from going crazy, or more likely because she was already nuts and her brain wanted to cough up memories that would make her stay in the land of the gaga, she thought about the birth, about that moment when both her and Z's lives had changed forever. Like a lot of dramatic things, the big event had been anticipated, but when it had arrived, it nonetheless had been a shock. She'd been in her eleventh month out of the usual eighteen and it had been a Monday night.

Bad way to start the work week. For real.

She'd had a craving for chili, and Fritz had indulged her, whipping up a batch that was just as spicy as she liked it¡ª which meant you didn't want to get it on your lips for the burn. When the beloved butler had brought the steaming bowl to her, though, she'd abruptly been unable to stomach the smell or the sight of it. Feeling nauseous and sweaty, she'd gone to take a cool shower, and as she'd lumbered into the bathroom, she'd wondered how in the hell she could possibly fit another seven months of the young getting larger in her belly.

Nalla, evidently, had taken the random thought to heart. For the first time in weeks, she moved strongly¡ªand, with a sharp kick, broke Bella's water.

Bella had lifted her robe and looked down at the wetness, thinking for a moment that she'd lost control of her bladder or something. Then light had dawned. Although she had followed Doc Jane's advice and avoided reading the vampire version of What to Expect When You're Expecting, she had enough background to know that once your water breaks, there's no going back.

Ten minutes later she'd been flat on this gurney, with Doc Jane moving quickly but thoroughly through an exam. The conclusion was that Bella's body didn't seem ready to get with the program, but that Nalla had to be taken out. Pitocin, which was used frequently to induce labor in human women, was administered, and shortly thereafter Bella learned the difference between pain and labor.

Pain got your attention. Labor demanded all your attention.

Zsadist had been out in the field, and when he'd arrived, he was so frantic that what little hair was left from his skull trim was standing straight up. He'd ditched his weapons into a pile of gunmetal and stainless steel and rushed to stand at her side.

She'd never seen him so scared. Not even when he woke up from his dreams of that sadistic Mistress he'd had. His eyes had been black, not from anger but from fear, and his lips drawn so tightly they were a pair of white slashes.

Having him with her had helped her get through the pain, though. And she'd needed any relief she could get. Doc Jane had advised against an epidural, as vampires could experience alarming decreases in blood pressure with them. So there had been no buffering at all.

Moving her to Havers's clinic was a no-go, because once the Pitocin had fired up her body, the labor had unexpectedly progressed too quickly for her to be taken anywhere. And as dawn was close, there was no way to get the race's physician to the training center in time...

Bella came back to the present and smoothed her hand over the thin pillow that rested on the gurney. She could remember holding on to Z's hand hard enough to break his bones as she'd strained until her teeth hurt and she'd felt as if she were getting ripped in half.

And then her vitals had crashed.

"Bella?"

She wheeled around. Wrath was in the PT suite's doorway, the king's huge body filling the space. With his hip-length black hair and his wraparound sunglasses and his black leathers, he seemed in his silent arrival like a modern-day version of the Grim Reaper.

"Oh, please, no," she said, gripping the gurney. "Please¡ª"

"No, it's okay. He's okay." Wrath came forward and took her arm, holding her up. "He's been stabilized."

"Stabilized?"

"He has a compound fracture of his lower leg, and it's caused some bleeding."

Some being massive, she thought. "Where is he?"

"He was at Havers's, but he's being transported home right now. I figured you'd be worried, so I wanted to let you know."

"Thank you. Thank you..."

They had been having their problems lately, but still, the idea of losing him was catastrophic.

"Come here, Bella."

"No, I'm fine." The hell she was. "Really, I'm..."

"The hell you are. Consider it a royal decree if it lets your ego off the hook."

Bella smiled and gave up the fight. As she stepped into him, the king wrapped her in his huge arms and held her gently.

"Let the shakes go through you. You'll breathe easier that way, believe it or not."

She did as he suggested, loosening the rigid control she'd been exerting over her muscles. In response, her body shimmied from shoulders to calves, and she had to rely on the king's strength or she would have twitched her way right onto the floor.

Funny, though. He was right. Once the wobbles passed, she could take a deep breath or two.

When she'd become considerably more stable, she pulled back. Catching sight of the gurney, she frowned. "Wrath, may I ask you something?"

"Absolutely."

She had to pace a little before she could frame the question properly. "If Beth...if you and Beth had a baby, would you love the child as much as you love her?"

The king looked surprised. "Ah..."

"I'm sorry," she said. "That's none of my business¡ª"

"No, it's not that. I'm trying to figure out the answer."

He reached up and lifted the glasses off his brilliant pale green eyes. As he thought for a while, he played with the wraparounds' slender arms, his blunt, strong fingers moving them back and forth, a little plasticky squeak rising up into the tiled room.

"Here's the thing... and I believe this is true for all bonded males. Your shellan is the beating heart in your chest. More than that, even. She's your body and your skin and your mind... everything you ever were and ever will be. So a male can never feel more for anyone than he does for his mate. It's just not possible¡ªand I think there's some evolution at work. The deeper you love, the more you protect, and keeping your female alive at all costs means she can care for whatever young she has. That being said, of course you love your children. I think of Darius with Beth... He was desperate for her to be safe. And Tohr with John... and... yeah, I mean, you feel deeply for them, sure."

It was logical. But Zsadist wouldn't even pick Nalla up¡ª

The double doors of the clinic bounced open as Z was wheeled in. He was dressed in a hospital johnny, no doubt because his clothes had had to be cut off him at Havers's clinic, and there was no color in his face at all. Both his hands were bandaged, and there was a cast on his lower leg.

He was out cold. More than that, he looked dead.

She rushed to his side and put her hand on his shoulder. "Zsadist? Zsadist?"

IVs and pills weren't always the best course of treatment for the injured. Sometimes all you needed was the touch of the one you loved and the sound of her voice and the knowledge that you were home, and suddenly you came back from the brink.

Z opened his eyes. The sapphire blue stare he met brought a gloss of tears to his own. Bella was leaning over him, her thick mahogany hair trailing off one shoulder, her classically boned face drawn in lines of worry.

"Hi," he said, because that was the best he could do.

He'd refused any pain meds at the clinic, because the sluggish effect of them always reminded him of the way he'd been drugged at the hands of the Mistress. So, with his busted leg and what had happened to his palms, he was in mind-bending agony. And yet just seeing Bella helped the pain so much.

"Hi." She smoothed her hand over his skull trim. "Hi..."

He looked around her to see who else was in the PT suite. Wrath was talking to Rhage in the corner next to the whirlpool bath, and Qhuinn, John, and Blay were standing in front of the banks of steel-and-glass cabinetry.

As the details of the room came into clear focus, he thought of the last time he'd been here.

The birth.

"Shhh..." Bella murmured, clearly mistaking the reason for his wince. "Just close your eyes and relax."

He did as he was told, because he was back on the brink and not because of how badly he was hurting.

God, that night when Nalla had been born... when he'd nearly lost his shellan...

Z squeezed his eyes shut, not wanting to relive the past... or look too closely at the present. He was in danger of losing Bella. Again. And it was his fault. Again.

"I love you..." he whispered. "Oh, God, please don't leave me..."

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