A night of secrets a par.., p.14
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       A Night Of Secrets, A Paranormal Romance, p.14

           Lori Brighton
 

  Meg couldn’t move for her legs seemed to have rooted to the floor. Why did she feel as if

  her soul had just been crushed under the boot of Grayson Bellamont?

  The woman furrowed her golden brows and floated forward on a wave of French perfume. “Why, she’s so young,” she said softly.

  She stopped next to Meg and smiled, a smile that did nothing to light up her pale face, a smile that didn’t quite meet her hard eyes.

  “Miss James, are you?”

  Meg wasn’t sure if she nodded or not. Her body seemed to have grown numb, as if she were there, but hovering over them, watching from the ceiling. She had the ridiculous notion that she suddenly preferred to be in that prison rather than here.

  “I’m a friend of Gray’s. Call me Millie.”

  Meg’s attention jumped to Grayson but she could read nothing on his stoic face. A friend? Gray? She may have been naïve at times, but she wasn’t an idiot. They were obviously more than friends. Her stomach churned and she had the sudden urge to retch all over the woman’s fine, silk nightgown.

  “I’m not feeling well,” she murmured, pressing her hand to her midsection.

  The woman frowned, tilting her head to the side in a show of concern that Meg didn’t fall for in the least. “Poor dear. Please, feel free to retire.”

  Meg didn’t bother to look at Grayson for permission, but rushed into the room. Her skirts whipped around her ankles like manacles, reminding her she was still in prison. She shut the door with a thud, then leaned her head back against the wooden panel, willing her heart to stop its mad race. She knew, in that moment, she could never compete with Millie. There was something about the woman that frightened her as much as those monsters in her cell…only in a different way she couldn’t explain. Something that told her to be very, very leery of the woman.

  Meg turned her head, pressing her right ear to the door. There was no low rumble of conversation, no laughter mocking her plight, merely the soft fall of footsteps as they retired, most likely to the same chamber. Meg couldn’t ignore the horrifying ache that stole into her stomach.

  She stumbled toward the bed, her breath coming out in soft sobs. Is that why he’d brought her here? To display his sinful ways? To mock her. Why had he saved her if only to bring her back here? Why?

  She didn’t understand anything. She pressed her hands to her temples and squeezed her eyes shut. Trembling, she sank onto the soft mattress, and took comfort in the cool, clean material pressed to the side of her face. Why did she care if Grayson and Millie lived in sin? Why did she feel as if, for some inexplicable reason, Grayson belonged to her? He didn’t belong to her, and she didn’t care!

  She swallowed her sob and closed her eyes. Soon, she’d be free of Grayson. She must be free of the man. She couldn’t take being in his presence and not having him fully. It was like torture. A slow, painful death.

  Lifting her lashes, her attention focused on the leering flames in the hearth. A marble mantle reflected orange and red, like the fiery gates of hell. Ice blue in color, the room was exactly what she’d expect from Grayson. Cold, rich, fit for a Queen. She could admit to herself that she wanted Grayson Bellamont. But she didn’t belong here. She didn’t belong with him, just as she hadn’t belonged with Mathew.

  Determined, Meg pushed herself upright. Stumbling to the windows, she gazed at the ground below. “Blast it! Too far.” She’d surely break a leg or two if she jumped. She turned to look over the bed. Could she tie the sheets together? But even if she made it outside, where would she possibly go?

  A knock rang through the room, dissuading any further plans of escape. Meg wrapped her arm around a bed post, leaning heavily on the anchor. The knock thudded again. Or was it her heart? She wasn’t sure. Before she had time to respond, the door creaked open. Meg stepped closer to the post, as if her very life depended upon it.

  “Miss James?” a very feminine voice called.

  Not Grayson, and damn it all if she didn’t feel a tinge of disappointment. No, surely not disappointment. Surely she’d gone mad at this point and was confusing her emotions for something they were not.

  “Miss James?” Millie peeked into the room.

  “Yes,” Meg got out.

  The woman smiled and swept inside. “I’ve brought you some things. A night gown, wrap and slippers.”

  She set the folded garments on the bed and a lamp on the table. “Gray sent a note to your father so he wouldn’t worry. I suspect your family will be here tomorrow.”

  Meg crossed her arms over her waist, trying to hide the dirt that marred her bodice. She felt as disgusting as the scum on the floor of her cell and this perfect woman only made her feel worse.

  “I’ve also called for a bath. You’d like one, yes?”

  Had Millie read her thoughts? No, she didn’t need to. The woman had eyes and a nose. Heat rushed to Meg’s face. Blast it, she must smell atrocious. Not surprising Grayson would rather have Millie.

  “Yes,” Meg whispered.

  Millie nodded. “Good.”

  The silence stretch between them and although Meg felt uncomfortable under the woman’s stare, she had a feeling Millie was perfectly content to stand there all night. Meg resisted the urge to shift under the woman’s intense scrutiny. Why wouldn’t she just leave? Why wouldn’t they all just leave her alone?

  There was another knock and the door opened wider. A maid entered, a tray in hand and suddenly Meg didn’t care about Millie, or Grayson, or her predicament. Her attention riveted on the silver dome. The scent of roasted chicken wafted through the air causing Meg’s stomach to clench.

  With a curtsy, the maid left. Meg wanted to shove Millie from the room, pull the dome from the tray and attack the plate of food with a vengeance.

  “Go on,” Millie said with a nod, her dark eyes sparkling with amusement. “You must be hungry.”

  Meg flushed but she was too famished to care. She lifted the lid, a bubble of savory steam bursting from the tray.

  “You must be frightened,” Millie said, sitting in the dark blue chair next to the bed. She didn’t seem to mind that she only wore a silk nightgown in Meg’s presence, a gown that showed off every curve of the woman’s lush body.

  Meg lifted a piece of chicken, watching the woman through her lashes, but not bothering to respond. She didn’t trust Millie. There was something in her cold manner, something in the way she watched Meg that didn’t sit well.

  The woman shrugged. “At least I would be frightened.” She tapped her long fingernails on the arm of the chair and all the while Meg could feel the woman’s gaze on her.

  The door opened once more and two footmen carried a copper tub inside.

  “Near the fireplace,” Millie said, as if she were the woman of the house. Perhaps she was. After all, what did Meg truly know about Grayson Bellamont?

  They set the tub where she’d indicated and with quick bows, they left the room. Meg couldn’t help but wish they’d taken Millie with them. Who were these people? There was something about Millie and Grayson she didn’t trust.

  “How did your sister die?”

  Grayson had told Millie about Julia? Why did she suddenly feel as if he had betrayed her? Meg tried not to let her emotions show. She picked up the white napkin and twisted the material. Blast her, how dare she ask such a personal question. How dare Grayson share such a personal story! “In childbirth.”

  Millie leaned forward and briefly touched her hand. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.”

  Meg resisted the urge to jerk away from her warm touch. Instead, she pasted a smile upon her lips. “’Tis of no concern. It’s been years now.”

  “It must have been hard on you, to not only lose your sister, but have to take care of her child, basically become a mother at a young age.”

  Meg stiffened, her irritation flaring. Really, this woman was too much! “Of course not, Hanna is family. I’ve been taking care of my father and younger sisters since I was a child.”

  To
her great relief, footmen entered carrying buckets of water. They poured the liquid into the tub until a cloud of steam hovered in the room. The water looked divine; the room had already warmed with the humidity. The footmen left, closing the door behind them and leaving Meg and Millie alone.

  “Come, let me be your lady’s maid.”

  Heat rushed to Meg’s face as her delicate sensibilities were offended. “No, please, I’d prefer to be alone.”

  Millie waved a dismissive hand through the air and stepped toward Meg. “Don’t be silly, you’re exhausted.” She pulled Meg from the bed, the woman’s hands soft and warm, oddly warm. Before Meg could protest, Millie’s fingers moved down the back of Meg’s gown, sending chills over her skin.

  “I know just what you need.” She turned and left the room, closing the door behind her. Meg took the opportunity to finish undressing and slip into the warm water. Heat penetrated her body, making her skin pebble. She sighed, closing her eyes for the briefest of moments and enjoyed the warmth. At home she’d have already rushed with her bathing, too many worries, too many chores and too many other girls waiting for their turn.

  The door opened and Meg drew her knees to her chest.

  “I’ve just the thing.” Millie swept across the room and poured a thin trail of liquid into the bath. “Rose oil. Perfect.” The heady scent mixed with the steam and hovered around Meg, erasing the stench of her prison.

  Millie sank back into the chair and handed Meg a cloth and bar of soap. “Do you know where your friend is?”

  Meg stared at the water, willing her features to remain passive. Of course Bellamont had told his mistress about Beth. He’d told her about Julia. And now that Millie had charmed her with free gifts, she was settling about her task of uncovering the truth.

  “It’s all right,” Millie said. “You don’t have to answer that.”

  Meg scrubbed her arms furiously, until the skin was tinged pink.

  “Was he terrible?” Millie asked.

  Meg’s gaze jumped to Millie, her hand pausing. “Who?”

  “Your friend’s husband. Was he terrible to her?”

  Meg took her lower lip between her teeth and focused on the suds swirling in her bath water. Blast it, how did the woman know? Was it written across her face? Or had Grayson uncovered more than he was letting on?

  Millie sighed. “You don’t have to answer that question either.” She stood and smoothed down her long nightgown. “Well, I should—”

  The door burst open, banging against the wall with such force, the entire room shuddered. Meg squealed, and drew her knees tighter to her chest.

  “Don’t you dare...” Grayson trailed off and Meg could feel his gaze burn into her bare back. Heat raced up her body, into her face. The thought of sinking into the water to drown herself held certain appeal.

  “Hullo, Gray.” Millie grinned. “I do apologize. I know you wanted to question Miss James, and I will be happy to leave. I’m feeling rather … peckish.” She swept across the room and scooped up Meg’s clothing from the bed. “I’ll just give these to a maid for cleaning.”

  “No!” Meg cried out. “Wait!” But she didn’t wait, merely waved and left the room, closing the door behind her.

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

  Meg’s wide gaze focused on the wall, her shallow breathing like a doe at the end of a rifle. Dear God, if Tsar Nicholas himself burst through the door with a legion of his army, Grayson wouldn’t have been able to move. Desire thrummed through his veins, beating under his skin in time with his heart. He could smell her. He could practically hear the blood pulsing through her veins. He could practically taste her desire.

  Her body glowed in the firelight, a mythical goddess come to life. He wanted to touch her to see if she was real, he wanted to taste her, he wanted to possess her. His mouth went dry, his legs numb. Damn Millie, damn the Constable and damn Meg James. So much for resisting his growing attraction to the woman. His mind would never forget this moment for as long as he was cursed to live on this earth.

  “I—I won’t,” she whispered, her body trembling so hard, small waves ran over the surface of the water.

  Meg squeezed down further into the tub, her face white as the first snowfall and realization dawned. She was afraid. She was trapped. A smile pulled at the corners of his mouth. He had her now, completely and utterly at his mercy. Millie had a reason for everything she did. He should have known she had a plan.

  “You won’t what?” he asked, forcing himself to forget the taste of her blood and focus on the task at hand.

  She crossed her arms over her chest, her knees drawn tight to her body. “I won’t be afraid of you, I won’t play your games and I certainly won’t be your...your mistress.” Pink started at her collarbone and raced up her neck, into her face. Dear God, her words brought forth all sorts of troubling fantasies.

  Grayson settled on the chair where Millie had sat. “I see. And have I ever given you the indication I wished you to be?” The field flashed to mind. The day he’d tasted her blood. She wouldn’t admit it though. To admit that she’d allowed him to do something so wicked, would be beyond her virginal sensibilities.

  Her brows furrowed and her gaze dropped to the water. “No.”

  “Well then, that’s settled.”

  “Then why are you in here?” she demanded.

  “Certainly not for the reason you believe. I thought Millie might…. be nagging you. She tends to do that.” He couldn’t admit the truth, that he feared Millie might be looking for her next meal. As much as he appreciated Millie, he didn’t fully trust her. But then he didn’t fully trust any blood sucker.

  “And you know her well, of course.” She turned her face toward the fireplace. He watched the way the light danced across her features, highlighting her high cheekbones, her long lashes. Her entire being glowed with innocence. So different from the woman he’d normally been attracted to. Yes, she was innocent and beautiful, but he knew it was her loyalty and strength that he admired more than anything.

  She glanced at him and he realized she’d asked him a question. Something about Millie.

  “Yes, actually, I know Millie very well.”

  Her face went from pink to red. “You can leave now.”

  In the air hung the heavy scent of roses, Millie’s scent. But underneath the overwhelming perfume, lay the fresh, clean scent of apple blossoms. Meg’s scent.

  “Merde.” He stalked to the fireplace and leaned against the mantle. “I won’t leave until you tell me the truth, Meg.”

  “I did not murder Lord Brockwell. There, I’ve told you the truth, you can leave.”

  He turned to face her. Her shoulders, round and smooth, gleamed in the firelight like a golden statue come to life. How he wanted to kiss that satiny skin, show her just how much he could please her. He flipped open the top button of his shirt, his collar suddenly too tight.

  His gaze dropped to the pulse thumping on the side of her neck. He could grip those smooth shoulders, pull her from the water, lay her upon the bed and sink his teeth into that vein on her neck. Drown in the taste of her blood while he mated with her, bringing her to an ecstasy she couldn’t began to understand.

  “I didn’t,” she whispered. Her body quivered and her arms lowered slightly, revealing the tops of her breasts, perfect mounds that would fit deliciously into his palms. His fingers curled, itching to touch her.

  “You believe me?”

  He jerked his gaze back to her face. “Perhaps.”

  “Then why am I here?”

  “Because the Constable doesn’t believe you. It would help if you told him where to find Lady Brockwell.”

  She looked away. “Would you?”

  “Would I what?” He moved to a side table where a bottle of sherry glistened. Hell, at this point he’d drink a woman’s alcohol. He poured a glass and downed the smooth liquid in one motion.

  “Would you betray your best friend?”

  He set the cup on
the table and looked at her without flinching. “Perhaps I would.”

  Her eyes flashed, angry with his answer. “Well I wouldn’t. Especially if that friend had done nothing wrong.”

  His lips curled into a sneer, angry she was so naïve, but angrier more that he cared. “And you know her so well, do you?”

  “Of course I do. We’ve already discussed this.”

  “You’ve known her for only three years, how can you be sure Lady Brockwell would not kill her husband?”

  “Instinct,” Meg whispered.

  He released a wry laugh and shook his head. “What was she like before she came here? What was her family like?”

  Silence stretched heavy between them. He’d won, he knew it, but he took no happiness from this victory.

  “Truth is, you don’t know her and you’ll give up your own freedom, you’ll put your family in harm’s way to protect someone you’ve been acquainted with for only three years.”

  She snatched a towel from the floor and stood. He saw a flash of rosy skin before the material was wrapped around her wet body, clinging to her curves. “How dare you. How dare you reprimand me for being a loyal friend!”

  “Loyal at the expense of your own family,” he snapped, stepping so close, he could feel the heat radiating from her form. Dear God, he wanted to toss her onto the bed, press his mouth to hers so she’d shut up, to extinguish the fire burning under his skin. To sink his teeth into that pulse and drink until his own body was just as warm as hers.

  “I am teaching my sisters about what is right and wrong. Teaching them about standing true in the face of tyrants.”

  Was he the tyrant she spoke of? “And what about Sally, what about Hanna? Who will care for them when you are hanging from the end of a rope?”

  She paled, swaying slightly. He’d hit a nerve with his harsh words. “The truth will be revealed. God will not—”

  He threw his head back and laughed. “God? Don’t you dare bring religion into this situation.”

  She fell silent, her swimming eyes on him, pleading for something he didn’t understand. Some bloody human emotion he couldn’t feel, let alone know.

 

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