A night of secrets a par.., p.23
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       A Night Of Secrets, A Paranormal Romance, p.23

           Lori Brighton
 

  Meg’s gaze widened, surprise and confusion sparkling in their blue depths. “You sent for my family?”

  “Damn it, Millie,” he whispered.

  Millie’s lips parted on an outraged gasp. “I had nothing to do with this.” And she actually had the audacity to look offended, as if only minutes ago she hadn’t been trying to latch him to Meg in marital bliss.

  “Papa!” Meg cried out. She didn’t slow but threw her arms around the old man’s neck as he stepped into the room. Grayson frowned. The way Meg clung to the Vicar made it seem as if she’d been treated miserably.

  “Meg!” Sally screamed, followed by Mary Ellen and finally Hanna. The three girls piled into the room, all grabbing onto Meg, surrounding her with hugs and excited grins on their pretty faces.

  Grayson looked away, staring out the windows onto the rose garden. A twinge of something— regret, jealously—raced through his body. No, surely not either emotion. Yet, he couldn’t stop himself from glancing back at Meg. The pure joy on her face made his heart warm and at the same time painfully clench. Could he ever make her smile that way?

  “My dear child, my dear child.” Mr. James patted his daughter’s cheek.

  When Meg finally stepped back, she had tears trembling on her lashes. Grayson shifted, rubbing the back of his neck, wishing he could take away her pain, at the same time wishing he was anywhere but here. Somehow Meg had slipped into his body and taken hold of his heart, his mind, hell, his soul…if he had one.

  “Mr. James, please come, sit,” Millie said, becoming hostess as he’d seemed to have lost his manners. She darted a worried glance at him, noticing his strange behavior.

  The old man shuffled forward, as if every movement brought forth pain, and collapsed in a chair near the fireplace. The four girls followed, standing around him, awaiting his next command. He knew Meg would do anything for the old man. She’d do anything for her family, her friends, even if it meant sacrificing herself. Could she ever hold such loyalty toward him?

  “What is it?” Meg asked. “Why are you here?”

  “To visit, my dear.” Her father patted her hand.

  Meg smiled and settled on the settee next to the man. Was Grayson the only one who noticed her smile didn’t reach her eyes? She knew, as did he, that something was wrong. “I’m so happy to see you, Papa.”

  “And I you.”

  Grayson leaned against his desk, while Millie sat in the chair across from the family, hanging onto their every word like she was watching a play. She was suddenly finding humans rather fascinating and he would have found that fact amusing if he wasn’t lost in his own problems. Life was so much easier when he’d kept to himself.

  “Please,” Meg took her father’s hand in hers, “you must tell me everything. Are you all well?”

  Grayson knew immediately something was wrong. Not one of the James girls met her sister’s gaze. He pushed away from his desk, his suspicion flaring.

  “What is it?” Meg demanded.

  Her father’s face flushed and he twisted his gnarled hands together in his lap. “We umm, well, my dear. We will be going to London for a spell.”

  Meg paled. “London!”

  Mr. James patted her hand. “Yes, you see, your uncle would like us to stay with him.”

  But it was obvious the old man was lying and apparently Meg realized also. Her gaze slid to Mary Ellen. “What’s happened?”

  Millie shot him a glance. He knew what she was thinking, with Hanna in London, their questions would be left unanswered. Hell, if he was more worried about Meg leaving him. The realization angered him more than he wanted to admit.

  Mary Ellen shifted, her attention riveted to the floor.

  Meg’s gaze jumped to her youngest sister. “Sally?”

  “They made us leave,” the girl blurted, too young to care about manners.

  “Sally!” Mary Ellen cried, glaring at her. “We promised we wouldn’t tell. Meg has enough to worry about.”

  “Who made you leave?” Meg asked, interrupting their argument.

  Mary Ellen’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “The town.”

  Meg jumped to her feet. “But Lady Young swore she’d see you had a place to live out your retirement.”

  For some odd reason, Grayson felt outraged on their behalf. Damn, but his feelings for Meg were growing into the ridiculousness.

  “She’s changed her mind.” Mary Ellen picked at a loose thread on the back of the settee. “People in town complained.”

  “Was it in writing?” Grayson asked, unable to remain quiet a moment longer. “Was it in writing that she would offer you retirement?”

  Mr. James shook is head, his eyes heavy, dark, like a lost puppy.

  “I don’t understand,” Millie said.

  Meg swept to the windows, but not before Grayson noticed the tears in her eyes. His hands curled as he resisted the urge to pull her into his arms, to offer her comfort that wasn’t rightfully his to give.

  Mary Ellen settled on the settee, taking Meg’s place. “Papa thought the position permanent, as it was supposed to be. But when Lady Young had a second son who decided he’d like to be the Vicar, she swept Papa aside, swore she said it was a temporary position. Which isn’t true. Her son wasn’t even born when she hired Papa.”

  Mr. James patted Mary Ellen’s hand. “She promised she’d see me taken care of, but that was before….” He shook his head. “I take the blame. If only…” The old man’s rheumy blue eyes sparkled with tears. If only the man hadn’t gotten drunk and made a spectacle of the family name. He’d been drinking even now. Grayson could smell the alcohol from where he stood, although humans wouldn’t detect the light odor. He wasn’t sure who to be angry with, Mr. James or this Lady Young. His gaze traveled to Meg, her body outlined by the soft glow of the morning sun. She looked like an angel. Too good for him.

  “Surely you can fight this,” Millie said.

  Mr. James held up his hand. “No, my dear. All of this, tis my burden to bear. Tis my own fault.”

  Damn right, Grayson thought. He had children to take care of, he shouldn’t have been thinking of himself. But he’d lost his wife and his senses and that’s what love could do to a man...destroy him.

  “It’s because of me, isn’t it?” Meg didn’t face them as she made that statement.

  The room fell silent. Grayson stiffened, preparing to interfere if need be.

  “Of course not,” Mr. James finally said. “If anyone is to be condemned, tis I, Meg. You know that.”

  Meg raced across the room and knelt by his chair. “Papa, I’m so sorry.” She rested her head on his knee, soft sobs echoing around them. Grayson could merely watch, his hands fisted as he resisted the urge to go to her, to promise her anything if she’d only stop crying. But he couldn’t because she didn’t belong to him.

  “My poor child.” Mr. James smoothed his hand over Meg’s hair. “What has become of us? What have I done?”

  Millie moved toward him, her face intent in a way he’d never seen on her. “Grayson, please, do something.”

  Merde, even Millie had fallen for their silly human emotions. The woman had seen men die, for God’s sake. Had killed a few herself. Yet, so had he and here he was wishing he could build a damn castle for the entire family just to see Meg smile.

  “You’ll stay in the hunting lodge. All of you,” he blurted out.

  Mr. James shook his head. “No, we can’t. We will burden this town no longer.”

  “I insist.” Grayson swept across the room, ignoring Meg’s wide-eyed gaze. He tore open the door. Nelson pushed away from his position by the wall where he’d been eavesdropping and bowed.

  “Take some servants. Head to the James household and pack their things. Have the maids ready rooms in the lodge.”

  “Sir, please,” Mr. James said, shuffling to his feet. “We cannot stay here. It would not be proper.”

  Millie rested her hand on the man’s forearm. “Just until things with Meg are cleared.”


  Mr. James opened his mouth to protest, then pressed his lips into a thin line. His watery gaze focused on Meg. “What say you, Starling?”

  But Meg was staring at Grayson, her eyes red-rimmed from crying. He didn’t know what she looked for and a part of him worried she’d see something she didn’t like.

  Finally, she nodded and Grayson found he could breathe again.

  “Meg,” her father whispered, his voice holding a warning.

  “Please, Papa, for me. I can’t do this alone.”

  Her words pierced Grayson’s heart, the pain actually physical. He wasn’t enough for her. He’d never be enough.

  Vicar James took Meg’s hands and nodded.

  Millie smiled, nodding as if Grayson had done the right thing when in reality he’d demanded they stay merely so he could be with Meg. He felt on the edge of battle, as if at any moment he might lose and he wasn’t even sure if he wanted to win.

  “Mr. James, girls,” Millie said, “please, come with me and I’ll find you some tea and biscuits.”

  “You have gingersnaps?” Mr. James asked.

  Grayson felt his lips twitch even as he continued to hold Meg’s gaze.

  “I’m sure they do,” Millie replied.

  The small group shuffled from the room and suddenly they were alone. Silence settled

  comfortably around them. Whereas earlier he’d been desperate to escape her intense presence, now, he was merely happy to have these few moments alone with her.

  Meg stood by the fireplace, her hands twisting her skirt. “Thank you.”

  He nodded.

  He wanted to pull her close, to press his lips to hers. He wanted… Hell, he knew exactly what he wanted. He didn’t care if she was too good for him. He was a selfish bastard and he wanted Meg completely.

  He stepped closer to her, his heart hammering wildly in his chest. “Marry me, Meg.”

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

  Meg’s knees gave out and she sank onto the settee her father had vacated. “What?” Her entire body had grown oddly numb.

  Grayson cleared his throat. “It’s the best solution.”

  He didn’t look determined. He looked…ill, as if he hadn’t meant to say the words. Yet, now that he had, he was stuck like an insect in tree sap. Her mind buzzed, her heart hammered in her chest and she thought perhaps she might get sick.

  “Solution? Marriage?” She couldn’t quite understand the words he said. Surely he had not just asked her to marry him. She was dreaming, or she had gone mad.

  He began to pace the room, walking back and forth, back and forth in a dizzying whirl. “I’ve always wanted to marry. You would be a suitable wife. And, well, it would benefit your situation.”

  “Become your wife so we have a place to live?”

  He stopped and raked his hands through his hair. “Because it will be much more difficult to put you in prison when you are married to a respectable man who has money. I’ve received high respect in the military, Meg. I know people who can help you. I can help you.”

  She blinked rapidly, forcing her mind to focus, her mouth to work. Marry a vampire. “It doesn’t seem like a very good situation for you. What do you get out of it?”

  “I get...” He stilled, obviously floundering.

  Meg released a wry laugh and shook her head. She shouldn’t have asked the question for his reluctance to speak only made her heart ache. “Blood?”

  He frowned. “I can get blood anywhere, from anyone. I get … I get a good wife.”

  He could get blood anywhere. The thought made her angry, disgusted. She didn’t want him drinking from just anyone.

  “You’re motherly, loyal, thoughtful, honest...well, usually.”

  His words were kind, yet there was something cold about them. “You make me sound like a trained mutt.”

  He gave her a lopsided grin that showed off his dimple. “Well, it is easier to procure one already trained then to train one yourself.”

  She gasped and Grayson’s grin deepened.

  “Not funny,” Meg snapped.

  He leaned against his desk, the muscles in his long legs straining against his black trousers. “Marriage will benefit us both. Will benefit your family.”

  She waited for him to take back the words, waited for him to laugh and tell her he’d been jesting. The words never came. “Dear God, you’re serious.”

  He didn’t respond, merely stared at her. There was something in his gaze that frightened her, as if he was asking for her very soul.

  “And if we marry, will you feed on others or just…” Her face heated, the words sinful. “Just me?”

  His pupils flared, his body stiffening. There was a heat there, in his gaze that warmed her soul. “Only you.”

  Suddenly the air in the room seemed to fade. Meg couldn’t breathe. Only her. “I...I...”

  “Meg,” Sally swept into the room like she owned the place. “Hanna said I must share a room with her. I don’t want to share a room. Surely there are enough for us each to have our own?”

  Meg stood, her legs trembling and she thought for a moment they would give out. She prayed they would hold her at least until she could escape Grayson’s intense gaze. “I have to go.”

  Grayson nodded, rubbing his jaw with his knuckles. He was no longer smiling. “Think on it, Meg.”

  She didn’t respond but rushed from the room, taking Sally’s hand and dragging her along.

  “Think on what?” she whispered.

  “Nothing. Tell Hanna she will sleep here.”

  “But Meg, can’t you tell her?”

  “Go,” she snapped.

  Sally blinked her eyes wide and Meg immediately regretted her harsh tone. “Please, Sally. Just tell her. I need air.”

  “Meg,” Millie stepped into the hall. In all her bloody perfection, if anyone should be mistress to this home, it should be Millie.

  “Not now, please.” She ignored the woman’s stunned face and raced down the hall, out the back door. Outside, she sank against the stone wall of the estate, grateful no gardeners were about. But the cool breeze did little to ease her flaming skin.

  Marry Grayson.

  Have him feed off her for the rest of her life. When the thought should have horrified her, the only thing it did was send her senses spinning with relief. She paced down the small, stone path her mind numb with shock. Had she just imagined his words, or had he actually asked her to marry him?

  Her legs suddenly weak, she sank onto a patch of grass, hidden by daisies. She wrapped her arms around her waist, but couldn’t seem to stop shaking. For years she she’d been constantly worried about the future and what would happen to her family. Now… now the future was completely about her, completely about the present.

  What did she want? She’d never truly asked herself that before. Did she want a life with Grayson? Her fingers went to her neck and she thought of the man. Could he ever love her as she so desperately wished? And if he couldn’t, did she still want to be with him?

  “Meg,” Millie’s soft voice broke through her muddled mind. “Oh, Meg, why are you crying?”

  Meg lifted her hand to her face. Her fingers came back wet. “I...I don’t know.”

  Millie settled next to Meg, careless with her expensive dress, a dress that would surely feed the James family for a month. The large hat covered her face with shadows. “You’ve had a very trying month.”

  Meg could merely nod.

  “But there’s something more?”

  “He asked me to marry him,” Meg blurted out. Immediately, she regretted speaking. With a horrified groan, she covered her face with her hands.

  “Yes, I heard.”

  Sniffing, Meg dared to meet the woman’s gaze. “Heard? How?”

  She shrugged. “We have exceptional hearing.”

  Meg’s face heated. “Wonderful, bleedin wonderful.” She turned toward the woman, daring to look into her eyes. “Millie, how often do you … that is to say… how often do you
feed?”

  “Drink blood?”

  Meg flinched at her words, but managed to nod.

  Millie shrugged. “Depends on the vampire, but we can usually get away with once a month.”

  At least once a month he would sink those teeth into her neck; he would take her very all. A shiver of heated delight raced through her body. A shiver that angered her. She shouldn’t want such things!

  “What did you say?” Millie finally asked. “About marriage.”

  “Say?” Meg replied, plucking a blade of grass. “I said nothing. I didn’t know what to say.”

  “Meg,” Millie rested her hand on Meg’s arm. “If he didn’t want to marry you he wouldn’t have asked.”

  Meg shook her head, unable to look at the woman. “He feels guilty, or...or he thinks he’ll get more information this way.” Or he wanted her blood. Meg frowned. Was that the reason why he wanted to marry her? A ready meal on hand? It must be something! She couldn’t possibly accept the thought that Grayson actually felt something for her. If she thought he held the slightest affection, she feared she’d fall so deep for the man she’d never recover.

  “Nonsense,” Millie said. “I’ve known Grayson a long time, through extreme circumstances.”

  Meg’s gaze jumped to Millie. Extreme circumstances? What did she mean by that? The statement made her realize how very little she knew about the man.

  “Are you…disgusted because of who he is?”

  Meg surged to her feet, outraged. “What do you mean?”

  “Because of what he feeds on.” She stood as well. “What we feed on.”

  She flushed. “No. Of course not.” She frowned. Being ashamed would mean being ashamed of Hanna.

  Hanna.

  If Hanna turned fully into one of them, would Grayson be able to help? “I never really thought on it, to be honest. But no. I’m not disgusted by Grayson, never.”

  “And can you imagine, Meg, Grayson feeding off another?”

  She stiffened. “What?”

  “He must drink. If not you, then someone else.”

  The thought repulsed her, made her angry in a way that sickened her. She knew Millie was playing with her emotions, yet the woman was also right.

  “If the man asked you to marry him, he wants you.” She turned and started toward the house, leaving Meg standing alone in the garden.

 

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