A night of secrets a par.., p.11
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       A Night Of Secrets, A Paranormal Romance, p.11

           Lori Brighton
 

  Mary Ellen darted Meg a hesitant glance before taking their father’s arm and helping him up the steps into the house. The foyer was cool and wide, the floor marble, as Hanna had described, and on either side of the walls were beautiful landscaped portraits of rolling hills. The place reeked of a wealth and stature that made Meg feel like a child out of her elements.

  “Do you always open your own door?” she asked softly, at the same time wondering why she was baiting him.

  He smiled, that dimple flashing and making her heart skip a beat. It was hard to believe this was the man who had slipped his hands up her skirts, who had nipped at her lip and licked away the blood, a man who haunted her dreams. She shifted under his gaze, that spot in her lower belly suddenly aching fierce.

  “I told you, I am no lord.

  She didn’t respond, her throat was too dry. Instead, she slowly strolled after her family, forcing her steps to remain unhurried, wondering when the long hall would end and she could escape his presence.

  “Do you appreciate architecture, Miss James?” he asked, following beside her.

  “I appreciate the beauty of something made by God.”

  “God?” He paused and so she stopped next to him as if he controlled her movements. And perhaps he did. After all, she hadn’t felt in control of herself since he’d arrived.

  “The marble of your floor, the stone in your walls.”

  He smirked. “A heavenly woman, are you?”

  “Of course,” she snapped, annoyed with the sarcastic tone in his voice. “Would you expect anything less of a Vicar’s daughter?”

  “I learned long ago to expect nothing and plan for everything.” He stepped closer, his arm pressed to hers and her mind warned her to move away before he pulled her completely into his web.

  Yet, her body… her body told her to move closer. She felt the soft fibers of his linen jacket and the muscular hardness of his body seep through the thin material of her dress. Her body warmed in places she never knew existed. She wanted to touch him, wanted him to touch her. She wanted—

  “By the way, the Constable is here and he’s expressed a keen interest in you.”

  A steel band seemed to cinch around her chest, pressing the breath from her lungs. Gone was the charming man who’d met her at the door. He’d been acting, merely pulling her into his web of charm so he could squash her beneath his Wellingtons. She felt cold, off balance, used. “Is that a threat?”

  “No. Merely a warning from one neighbor to another.” He gave her a curt nod and moved ahead to Hanna and Sally. “Do you like games?”

  Both girls nodded eagerly and followed him out the back door, their father trailing behind. Mary Ellen paused at the back stoop, waiting for Meg.

  “What is he about?”

  Meg fisted her gloved hands, glaring at his broad back. If he’d thought to frighten her, he’d done the opposite. Her resolve hardened. “I don’t know. But I plan on finding out.”

  *****************************************************

  Excited chatter buzzed like a swarm of bees, merry faces alight in the glow of lanterns. For once, no one was watching her, whispering behind their fans, no doubt wondering who her next victim would be. And she knew, as ridiculous as it was, that they thought she’d helped Beth do away with Lord Brockwell.

  Even Grayson hadn’t bothered to glance Meg’s way since his dire warning when they’d arrived. She didn’t know why that annoyed her, but it did. She felt oddly hurt, abandoned by the man. Why must she always be attracted to men above her station? Men who would use and then ignore her? If she wasn’t careful, her fate would follow Julia’s.

  She took in a deep breath, but the air seemed too thin to give her substance. Unwillingly, her gaze scanned the crowds, looking for him. Grayson was easy to find, standing at least two inches above most of the crowd. But it wasn’t just his height that demanded attention, it was his very being, his elegance, his essence. He chatted with Mrs. Hipsher and her daughter, the blonde goddess clinging to his side like a flea on a dog. No doubt they’d make the perfect couple. A quivering, brainless nitwit, she was probably Grayson’s ideal wife. The ton liked their wives stupid.

  Disgusted, she released a frustrated sigh and tore her gaze from the beautiful couple. Even in the dark, Mary Ellen’s brilliant red hair was like a beacon and she found her sister easily, only feet from the Constable. As if sensing her attention, Mary Ellen glanced over her shoulder. Meg gave her a curt nod, and her sister weaved her way through the visitors, sidling up next to the Constable.

  The man jumped and took a step back. Mary Ellen’s teeth gleamed in the low light, like a cat with a bowl of cream. Really, she was overdoing it a tad. Instead of seeming charmed, the Constable glared down his long nose at her. Meg sighed. Poor Mary Ellen, she’d owe her sister a new ribbon, at the least.

  A better opportunity would not present itself. With another quick glance at Grayson to make sure he remained entrapped, she took a hesitant step back. Her heart slammed against her ribcage, blood rushing through her veins drowning out the soft murmur of voices.

  She waited.

  When no one glanced her way, she took another step, the grass crunching under her feet. With each movement backward, her stomach tightened, her heart beat a little faster until she thought it would explode.

  Before she lost all bravery, Meg spun around and darted behind a tall grouping of dying Bellflowers. She waited, waited for the servant to pass with a tray of champagne, waited for her pulse to slow, waited for her strength to renew.

  When the path cleared she darted across the lawn, a shadow slinking from flower patch, to flower patch. Her legs weak, she huddled behind a rose bush. Dew soaked her thin slippers, chilling her toes, but she resisted the urge to shift. It was absurd, the fact that she lurked behind plants to spy on her neighbor. What had she become?

  “For my family,” she whispered, closing her eyes for a brief moment.

  With a quick, deep breath, she made a dash for the area she knew led into his study. The doors gave way easily under her trembling hands, swinging open without a squeak. Inside the dark room, she waited, listening to the footsteps thumping down the hall, the soft murmur of conversation coming from passing servants. The sounds faded and silence settled around her, suffocating, pressing.

  Slowly her eyes adjusted to the lack of light. Monstrous shapes morphed into piles of boxes. She sniffed, detecting the lemony scent of cleaning products. The room was in the midst of being remodeled.

  “Blast,” she snapped.

  Her hands hovered over the nearest box. She’d expected a desk where normal people would keep their important papers. Not crates and crates to wade through.

  A sudden pop made her jump, her gasp lingering in the air. It took only a second for her to realize the fireworks had started. Her knees weak, she leaned against the wall, her hand to her heart as she tried to slow its mad race.

  Pop, pop, pop. Outside, the air lit into a burst of blues and reds. Meg pushed away from the wall. The servants would, no doubt, have their noses pressed to the windows. With everyone outside, it was the perfect, the only, opportunity to search his private chambers. Dear God, dare she?

  Did she have a choice?

  Unable to control herself a moment longer, she raced toward the open door. Holding her breath, she peeked into the foyer. Not a soul was present, the house silent. Her feet padded softly up the steps. The second floor was just as still. Vaguely, she could hear the snap of fireworks. How she wished she could enjoy such a frivolous experience. She pushed open the first door she came to, empty. She didn’t have time for frivolity, no, instead she had to learn to become a criminal.

  She pushed open the second door to find the room just as empty as the last. With a sigh, she placed her hands on her hips. At this rate she’d surely be caught. She could never get through so many rooms before the festivities were over. She narrowed her eyes. Where would Grayson Bellamont reside? In the front, no doubt, so he could look over his land, s
ee who approached his house without his knowledge. Just as soon as that thought entered, it fled. No, not the front, the back. Yes, Grayson Bellamont would watch for a surprise attack.

  As if pulled by some unseen force, she picked up her skirt and raced down the hall, her footsteps like thunder to her ears. Reaching the last door, she took in a deep breath and pushed it wide. She didn’t need a lantern to know it was his chamber, she could smell him, a rush of leather and spice. Heat pulsed through her body pooling in the pit of her stomach. Surely, he must have some magical property in his cologne to make her body react so to his scent.

  She ignored the sudden ache that seeped deep in her soul, an ache for only God knew what. Blimey, what had she become? Sneaking into the bedchamber of an unmarried man, these uncomfortable, unsettling feelings whenever she thought about him. She pulled open the thick drapes and using the light of the moon, she searched the night stand. Her fingers found cool metal. A watch? She pushed it aside, feeling the roughness of paper. Blast it all, she needed to light a lantern.

  Her hands trembled as she reached for the small flint box on the bedside table. She lit the match, the light flaring with a swoosh in the dark room. In the distance she could hear the boom of fireworks as if a war had broken out on the property. Still, she had time, time to find answers. She set the glowing lamp on the table and opened the drawer.

  A small, black leather journal sat in the corner. Shocked, she blinked in surprise. She lifted the book, the weight heavy yet reassuring in her palm. She flipped open the cover to see the name Grayson Bellamont 1725 scrawled in bold hand writing. She started to turn the page, when realization hit. Her gaze jumped back to that date. 1725. Over one hundred years ago. But that made no sense. Unless…it was his Grandfather’s journal of course and no use to her. With a sigh, she shoved the book back into the drawer.

  She started to close the drawer when a flash of metal caught her attention. A medal hanging on a crimson ribbon. Bronze with an embossed lion on the surface. Had Grayson been awarded a medal? She released a wry laugh and set the gift back in its proper place. She couldn’t imagine him being awarded anything, unless it was for the most arrogant man in England.

  With a sigh, she turned and scanned the room. A chair sat by the fireplace, a wardrobe in the corner of the room. Except for the bed, the area was rather bare. His bed. A massive four poster bed with thick, velvet curtains providing privacy for the sleeping occupant. Her hand hovered over the dark green duvet, her fingers trembling. Taking her lower lip between her teeth, she touched the material, soft and smooth, the comforter made of the finest of materials.

  What did he sleep in? For some reason she couldn’t picture him retiring in the long nightgown her father wore. Her face heated and fists clenched at the sinful thought. She stepped back, bumping into the night stand. The lamp tipped, then fell back into place with a soft thud.

  “Wonderful, Meg. Start his house afire.” She shook her head and moved to the wardrobe.

  There had to be something, anything, that would define Grayson Bellamont. She opened the door and found a closet full of white shirts. Pure, crisp shirts smelling of soap and cleanliness. They lined up straight in orderly rows with same amount of space between each garment. No doubt, one inch out of place and he’d know. A man in control.

  “Blast.”

  She pushed aside a shirt, then nudged it back into place. Did it look any different? She’d never known a man to be so clean. Then again the only man she’d truly known was her father, who was anything but neat. She sighed and went back to the nightstand by the bed.

  She wasn’t made to spy. Defeated, she collapsed onto the edge of the bed, staring out the window into the dark night. She’d found nothing about the man, her nerves were still a jumble and yet she’d found not a clue. She pressed her fingers to her lips where the skin still throbbed from his kiss. Who was Grayson Bellamont and what did he truly want from her? More importantly, why did he make her feel so odd?

  “Did you find anything of interest,” a deep, familiar voice curled through the room.

  Meg squeaked and jumped to her feet. In the doorway stood the tall, broad-shouldered outline of Bellamont. How had he appeared without making a sound?

  Her hand’s fisted in her skirts, her body trembling with the need to run. “How long have you been there?”

  He stepped into the room, filling the space with his presence. “I think the better question is, how long have you been in here? And more importantly why?” He shut the door with a soft thud.

  Trapped, Meg stepped back until she hit the edge of bed. “I’m lost?”

  “Hmm, brilliant attempt.” He started toward her and she resisted the urge to jump over the bed and make a rush for the door.

  Stand your ground, Meg. Stand your ground.

  He stopped only inches from her. The light from the lamp hit his face in harsh angles, making him appear fierce. His anger rolled off him in waves and she had to resist the urge to run.

  “I do not take kindly to people going through my things.” He stepped closer. “Just when I think you may be innocent, Miss James, you do something to make me feel ridiculous for believing you.”

  She tilted her chin. “It’s only fair, Mr. Bellamont.”

  “Excuse me?” His breath was like a cold slap across her face.

  “You’ve been asking questions about my family, do not deny it. It’s only fair I snoop on you.”

  “Really, and do you think the Constable will see it that way?”

  Panic seized her, weighing down on her body until she thought she’d collapse. “Don’t you dare threaten me. I’m merely lost.”

  He seemed calm. Too calm. “Ah, trying that again, are you?”

  “You invited me into your home, did you not?”

  “Yes, but did I invite you into my bed chamber?” He stepped closer, so close his chest brushed against her breasts. “Or do you make it a habit of visiting men’s bedchambers?” His gaze slid down her body, then back up to her face in a way that made her feel unclean and at the same time sent chills over her skin. “Well sorry, Miss James, but the only thing I want from you is answers.”

  The vulgarity of his words pierced her heart, hurting more than she wanted him to know. Her hands clenched. “I am tired of your implications, Mr. Bellamont.”

  He stepped closer, nudging her until the backs of her thighs pressed against the bed. “Why do you avoid my questions?”

  She met his gaze, refusing to cower. “I do not avoid anything. I have always answered your questions.”

  “Really, well then, when did you go to London?”

  “Almost two years ago.”

  “Why?”

  “To gather blankets and food for the needy and to visit family.”

  “That is all?”

  “That is all.”

  A blue vein beat steady and strong on the side of his pale temple. “Why do I not believe you?”

  “Why do you care?”

  “Excuse me?”

  She jabbed her finger into his hard chest, knowing she provoked the lion, but unable to stop herself. “You heard me, why do you care? I find it odd, Mr. Bellamont, your extreme interest in my family. So maybe I should be asking the questions.”

  “Do not play the innocent with me. You are starting a game you can’t possibly win.”

  Suddenly, her anger fled and only fear remained. He was right, dear God. Meg fought her tears, wanting to do nothing more than return to the safety of her home. But more importantly she wanted to know why he didn’t care for her. “I’m playing no game, you blasted man. But I will warn you again, leave me and my family in peace.”

  She started past him but he reached out, his grip stinging as he brought her up against his chest. His body was hard, his muscles trembling like a storm about to erupt.

  “And if I don’t leave you alone, what will you do, Miss James. Please, I’m most eager to hear. Will you murder me as you did Lord Brockwell?”

  She cried out and lifted he
r free arm, fisting her hand. He easily grasped her wrist and brought her arms behind her back, pulling her body up against him. She could feel every muscle, every hard contour. He leaned forward, his lips close to her ear, his body hovering over hers and she knew he could so easily crush her.

  “You have no idea what I am capable of. Do not ever threaten me again, Miss James. Do you understand?”

  Meg bit her lip, tears slipping down her cheeks, afraid yet fascinated by this man.

  “Answer me.”

  She gave a quick jerk of her head.

  “Good girl.” He leaned down, his cold lips grazing the side of her face. Heat shot through her body. Whether he’d done it intentionally or not, didn’t matter. Blast her body for betraying her! She jerked away from him, her breathing harsh, but he stood tall and regal without a hair out of place.

  A knock rang through the room, saving her from his wrath.

  “Yes?” Grayson called out, his gaze still on her, burning uncomfortably into her soul.

  “My lord, the Constable is downstairs asking after you.”

  The blood rushed from her head and Meg swerved. Why did she suddenly feel as if Grayson had betrayed her? “What did you say to him? Did you tell him I was here?”

  “I didn’t say a thing.” He brushed past her and started across the room. At the door he turned, his gaze just as fierce. “Are you coming?”

  “Do I have a choice?”

  “Would you rather stay here? I’d be happy to see to you later—”

  “I’m coming.” She rushed past him and jerked open the door. Thank God, the hall was empty.

  Before she could escape him, Grayson latched onto her arm and pulled her down the hall. She didn’t bother to fight him. She knew she wouldn’t win.

  “Sir, I’m sure she went home. Believe she said she had a headache.” Mary Ellen’s voice floated up the stairs, a shaft of kindness in this horrible nightmare.

  “Enough, young woman,” the Constable snapped. “When I find your sister, and I will find your sister...”

 

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