Here are all 4 parts of the excerpts from ” A Warm Heart In Winter”:
“Have you ever had wedding cake?”
Blaylock, son of Rocke, looked up from the December 12th issue of The New Yorker. Bitty, a.k.a. Rhage and Mary’s daughter, was standing just inside the library’s archway, a diminutive figure poised to enter the land of wood paneling and leather-bound books. She was wearing leggings and another one of her dad’s black button-downs, the tails of the shirt falling below her knobby knees, the sleeves rolled up her thin arms, the collar flop- ping on her shoulders. Her dark and shiny hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and she had a steno notebook and a pen in her hand. She looked like a reporter on a lead.
He nodded down at her feet. “Nice slippers.”
The girl picked up one of the fluffy pink unicorns. The things had silver lamé horns, rainbow manes and tails, and expressions of unease, the smiles not quite stitched on right. Actually, the poor things looked nauseous, like the small feet in their insides were too much of a meal.
“They’re part of the uniform,” Bitty said.
“The Party Planning Committee.”
“Did Fritz mandate this?” Weird. The Black Dagger Brotherhood’s butler supreme was more like the spit-and-polish military-shoe type.
Blay closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the cushions of the sofa. “Well, I think that is just great.”
“You don’t look like you think it’s great. You look like you ate too much.”
Ah, so he was imitating the unicorns.
He releveled himself. “Is the Party Planning Committee working on anything specific right now?”
A Golden Girls–themed celebration of Taco Tuesday? Rainbow Dash does the second Saturday in December because . . . it was the not the first or the third Saturday? No, wait, George’s birthday was coming up. Maybe they’d all have hamburgers and play with chew toys to honor Wrath’s beloved guide dog?
At least that last one didn’t seem so bad.
Bitty tapped her steno pad. “We’re gathering a list of parties. Vampire and otherwise. And then we’re going to plan them as training.”
“Oh, that’s smart. And I’ve never had wedding cake, no. But I’m sure Fritz and the doggen can whip one up for you.”
“That’s our idea. I mean, I know we don’t do wedding cakes. As a species, I mean. But they’re really pretty.”
“They are. I’ve seen pictures.”
“What did you serve at your mating ceremony with Uncle Qhuinn?”
Blay opened his mouth. Closed it. “Well, we just had a party of sorts. I mean, not a ceremony. It was more like a . . .”
“Like what?” When he didn’t immediately reply, Bitty said, “So you’re not properly mated?”
“Oh, we are. Definitely.”
Then you saw the Scribe Virgin before she left us?” “Well, not exactly.”
“But I thought when people got mated, that’s what happened. They did their vows, and she blessed the union if it’s a good one, and then the carving in the back of the hellren. After that is the party with cake that’s not for a wedding, but that might have many layers separated by raspberry jam, with buttercream frosting on top.”
Blay thought back to the night he and Qhuinn had finally gotten their act together. God, there had been so much denial and confusion and pain, on both sides, for so many years. And then the false starts and worse heartbreak and all kinds of never-going-to- happens. Finally, though, he’d gone to that club and found his male sitting alone at the bar, turning down offers for sex. Which had been kind of like watching Rhage go “I couldn’t possibly” to a bag full of Big Macs.
He remembered slipping his gold signet ring on Qhuinn’s finger and claiming him as family. In that bar. Yeah, because life-changing events didn’t necessarily happen at beaches in the moonlight or in front of roaring fires with champagne flutes. Instagram pics were great, but they were curated to be great. Real life went down when and where it did, regardless of whether things were photogenic.
“But it’s different for us,” he said. “Uncle Qhuinn and I have known each other our whole lives. And when we decided to commit to each other, we had a lot of history behind us. A base of knowledge and familiarity.”
“What’s that have to do with a ceremony?”
“You don’t need the ceremony if you have that much history. And we had a great party. Everyone in the household dressed up—even Uncle Qhuinn had on a tuxedo. My parents came, and he and I danced to ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ in the foyer.”
“You know the song?”
“Uncle Zsadist sings it the best.”
“I agree with you on that. And as for the back carving and everything, we’ve always meant to do that.” But since that night when potential had turned into actual, when happily-never-after had lost its “n,” a lot of shit had happened.
They had the twins now, and young were some next-level overwhelm, capable of layering a whole new level of exhaustion on top of fighting to protect the vampire species and living a regular life. Still, he wouldn’t change a thing, and Rhamp and Lyric were starting to show their personalities, which was exciting: Rhamp was fierce as his sire, meeting you right in the eye even as you cradled him in his blanket—despite the fact that the full extent of the kid’s fighting arsenal was explosive diarrhea. Which, okay, fine, could clear a room faster than a flash-bang. Lyric, on the other hand, was a watcher, and much more reserved than her brother. But when she smiled? She was the sun.
“Being mated officially doesn’t affect who we are to each other,” Blay said.
Bitty smiled. “Oh, I know that. Your eyes change color when you look at him.”
“Uh-huh. They get deeper blue. Plus you blush a lot. Why do you blush like that? Is it something he does?”
Clearing his throat, Blay ruffled through the pages of the magazine, watching the line drawings flap by in the midst of their frames of text. He stopped on one that depicted a fish on a bicycle.
“Well, ah,” he said. “Um, I don’t really think I blush—”
“And Uncle Qhuinn smiles when he’s with you. He doesn’t smile much anywhere else.”
Blay frowned. “Oh, sure he does. He’s really happy. He’s got me and the twins, and Layla and Xcor, who are excellent co-parents with us. Plus he’s a member of the Brotherhood.”
“I guess he’s just happier with you.” Bitty shrugged.
“Okay, I’m going to put ‘wedding cake’ down on my sample list.”
“What else you got on there?”
“Fourth of July cake. Fruit cake. Bundt cake. Pine- apple upside-down cake—”
“What’s Fourth of July cake?”
“It’s a red, white, and blue cake. Then there’s funfetti, red velvet, Black Forest, pavlova, Yule log—”
“Wait, so are you researching holidays and celebrations? Or cakes.”
He thought of Rhage’s famous appetite. “Is your dad on this committee?”
“How did you know?”
With a wave, the girl strode off with her list, and Blay intended to return to the article he’d been reading. Too bad his eyes refused to get with the back-and- forth program. He just kept staring at that fish with its bicycle. The rainbow trout was anthropomorphized, dressed in a suit and pedaling with his back fins, the basket in front filled with what looked like groceries.
None of the drawing made any sense. Not the clothes, not the food, not the breathing without water. Then again, it was just a cartoon, free to be some kind of metaphor, the point of the pen-and-ink artistry unclear to Blay at the moment.
Maybe it was merely a whimsical sketch, like a vase of flowers for the eye in the midst of an article about something serious.
He checked his watch. A little after ten p.m.
The night seemed long as a lifetime, and he couldn’t wait for Qhuinn to get back from his shift on rotation. The pair of them were allowed to be in the field together, but they were never paired up, and sometimes, like this evening, one of them was off while the other was working. It was fine. There were always the daylight hours.
Blay smiled as he thought of the bed they shared. And what they did in it.Okay, fine, no wonder he blushed so much around his mate. But that was nothing Bitty ever needed to worry about.
Forcing his eyes to get going with the busywork of tracking letters, words, and sentences, he had to push aside a lingering distraction. The sense that something was off-kilter in the universe, some kind of calamity due to arrive at any minute, was the worst company a guy could have.
Especially when the male you loved more than anybody else in the world was out in the cold in the field.
Blay let his head fall back again. The ceiling was about thirty feet up, and it had old beams that were varnished the same tone as all the mahogany wood of the shelves, the hearth mantel, the floor. When- ever he retreated to this room, he always thought that this must be what the inside of a jewelry box was like, the glow of gold from all the spines of the ancient tomes like an extension of the crackling fire, the sense of protection and being among that which was rare making him feel kind of special himself.
He looked to the archway. Voices of doggen and Brothers and fighters wove together, some louder than others depending on whether they were next door in the billiards room, coming down from the grand staircase, or out in the dining room.
The mansion was never truly quiet.
And on a night like tonight, when he was on edge for no good reason . . .
It was such a reassurance to know that he was not alone.
Excerpt belongs to J.R Ward