A night of secrets a par.., p.25
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       A Night Of Secrets, A Paranormal Romance, p.25

           Lori Brighton
 

  Her face grew serious. “But what if you decide to become more social? What if I embarrass you?”

  He smiled. “You could never embarrass me. You will be accepted. You will be loved, adored.”

  “How can you be so sure?”

  “Instinct.” Unable to stop himself, he leaned forward and pressed his mouth to hers. It was a soft kiss, his lips lingering on hers just long enough to taste her sweetness. His blood began to sing with her nearness, his body hardening as his heart pounded. Using what strength he possessed, he pulled back. “As for dancing, I can teach you.”

  She shook her head, the loose curls that framed her face danced on the wind. “That is kind, but really.”

  He took her hands and pulled her to her feet.

  “What are you doing?”

  “Teaching you to dance.” He didn’t think on his actions, there would be time to question her about Hanna. Nor did he question his sudden change in mood. His anger, his confusion…gone.

  She shook her head so hard, a few more tendrils came loose from her bun. “We can’t.”

  “Why not?” He pulled her close, her body pressed to his, every inch of her lush form cushioned his weary soul. He rested his chin atop her silky head and breathed in the sweet scent of apple blossoms. After not having touched her in days, she felt like heaven, as if he’d come home.

  “Because it’s not appropriate.” Her words were warm against his neck.

  He rested her hand on his shoulder and took her other hand in a firm grip. “I thought we already discussed propriety. Now, do you know anything about the waltz?”

  “Only that it’s vulgar.”

  He bit back his laugh. The woman let him take not only her blood, but her virginity, and a dance was vulgar? “Well then, it’s perfect for us.” He slipped his right arm around her waist and drew her closer, feeling her soft curves like a tempting dessert. He wanted to taste her to feed on her and have the woman completely.

  She tilted her head back and stared into his eyes. “I am positive people do not dance this close.”

  “Of course they do. Now, I will step forward with my left foot, and you’ll—”

  “Step back with my right. I’m not an idiot.”

  He sighed. “Must you be so contrary?”

  “I’m trying to concentrate,” she muttered, watching his feet as he swept her around the lawn. Her brows had drawn together and he found the way she studied the steps to be endearing. She was endearing and he wanted her more with each day that past. But he wasn’t here to seduce her. He was here to get answers, least he forget.

  “How old is Hanna?”

  She glanced at him, then down again. “Seven. Why?”

  “She is rather tall, is she not? For her age?”

  Meg continued to stare at their feet, whether to hide her expression, or because she was concentrating on dancing, he wasn’t sure. “Yes, I suppose. Her mother was tall.”

  He spun her around a rose bush.

  “I think I’ve got it,” she said, breathless. Moments later, she smiled up at him and stepped on his foot. Her smile fell. “Blast it, don’t look at me like that.”

  He laughed. “Like what.”

  “Just don’t look at me, I can’t concentrate.”

  Her words meant more to him than she could possibly know. He flustered her. She couldn’t concentrate when she looked at him. A slow smile spread across his lips and thoughts of his mission started to dissipate like dew on a summer morning.

  She stopped moving. “Oh, do not look so arrogant. Let’s start over.” She set her hand on his shoulder and stepped close. Heady with some euphoric emotion he didn’t understand, Grayson started the dance, sweeping her around and around, so she couldn’t dare keep up. But he didn’t let her fall, he would never let her fall. And with the sound of her laughter, he found his heart singing.

  “Stop, please,” she finally got out between giggles.

  He paused and she leaned into him, her laughter trailing away. Slowly, she tilted her head back and gazed into his eyes. Heat shot through his body, hard and pulsing. Time seemed to stand still, the very world spinning around and around them as they stood frozen in the center of his garden.

  Merde, he couldn’t help himself. He lowered his head, but Meg reached up, pressing her fingertips to his lips.

  “Did you ask me to marry you merely because you took my virginity?”

  “No,” he said, against her fingers.

  She nodded slowly, satisfied with his answer.

  Grayson slipped his hands into her hair, pins scattering to the grass so her long locks tumbled down her back. Meg’s breath became delightful little pants.

  “Tu se faire belle,” he whispered next to her ear.

  She tilted her head to the side, giving him access to her neck. “What did you say?”

  The questions gave him pause and pierced the sexual haze that had taken hold. “You do not speak French?”

  Her brows furrowed. “No, not really. Why?”

  She was watching him closely, too closely. It was as if she knew she had answered incorrectly but wasn’t sure why. She didn’t speak French. But then who had taught Hanna the language? Her Irish family? Doubtful.

  “And your father?” he asked, his voice casual. “Does he?”

  She hesitated, as if weighing her words carefully. Finally, she shook her head. “Grayson, your hand is too tight.”

  He loosened his hold, but didn’t let go. His heart hammered wildly in his chest. Unable to stop himself, his gaze went to that part in the yew trees where he could see the windows and Hanna still sitting at the table playing cards. Hanna.

  His Collette. He was sure of it now.

  Chapter 18

  “She learned French from her grandfather.” Millie strolled into the room. “Her Irish grandfather.”

  Grayson slowly swirled the scotch in his glass, the amber liquid catching the light coming in through the open windows. He hadn’t slept in days and even they needed to rest once in a while. Lack of sleep had made him slow and easily annoyed. “Must you always make some grand statement with each entrance?”

  “Yes, makes life much more interesting.” She slumped into the chair across from him. “What is it?”

  He took a sip, the alcohol burning a path down his throat. “Do you not find it odd that the James family always has a ready answer?”

  She rested her head back against the chair. “Oh Gray, it’s too early in the morning for intellectual thinking and it’s certainly too early for whiskey.”

  “Well, considering I haven’t been to bed yet, it’s rather late for Whiskey.”

  She fell silent, but watched him with her astute eyes. “Have you changed your mind then? Do you still think Hanna—”

  “I don’t know what I think.” And it was the truth. His mind was a muddled mess since Meg had entered his life, his house, his soul. He wanted to trust her, merde, he did. But his instincts told him she hid something more than Lady Brockwell’s whereabouts. Hanna was Collette. She couldn’t possibly be. The thoughts had gone back and forth through his mind all night.

  “How tall are seven year olds?”

  She frowned. “Gray, I know less about children than you. Why do you ask?”

  He shook his head, taking another drink.

  She sighed. “I merely...I don’t want you to get your hopes up again.”

  He glanced at her. “I won’t. I’m sure she learned the language from her grandfather. Why not.” But even to himself, he didn’t sound convinced. A soft knock rang through the room, loud in the hush of morning.

  Grayson glanced over his shoulder toward the door. “Yes?”

  The door opened and Nelson stepped inside. “My lord, the Constable is requesting an interview. Shall I tell him you are not receiving callers?”

  Grayson resisted the urge to curse. He truly did not wish to deal with the arse at the moment. He downed the rest of his whiskey. “Fetch Miss James and send in the Constable.”

  The
butler bowed and left.

  Millie frowned. “Rather arrogant of him when he knows bloody well it’s too early to receive guests.”

  Grayson didn’t bother to stand, in no mood for politeness. “Since when do you worry over protocol?”

  She shrugged. “From what I’ve heard, he’s a pompous fool and this only supports that claim.”

  “And from whom did you hear such wonderful insight? From the James family? No doubt their version of the Constable is skewed.”

  She hadn’t even met the man and already disliked him. He’d never thought it possible, but Meg had actually gained Millie’s trust.

  “So then you deny the man’s a pompous ass?”

  Grayson lifted a brow. “Well, I wouldn’t go that far.”

  “The Constable,” Nelson’s voice rang out.

  Millie stood. “Unless you’d like me to seduce the man for answers, I’ll be in the sitting room.” She brushed past the Constable as he entered. He gave her a stiff bow but she didn’t react to his show of gentlemanly behavior. Grayson felt his lips twitch, but managed to hide his amusement.

  The Constable titled his chin, looking incredibly put out. “I hope you don’t mind. I was in the area.”

  “Of course, please, sit.” Grayson waved toward the chair next to his.

  “Nothing like good scotch whiskey.” He collapsed into the vacant seat and picked up the decanter, helping himself to a glass.

  Grayson’s lips lifted as he resisted the urge to hiss at the man. He knew this was not merely a social visit. It was too damn early.

  Moments later, the Constable set his empty glass on the small mahogany table next to him. “I have petitioned the courts for a trial against Miss James.”

  Grayson’s heart stilled. The man looked so arrogantly pleased with himself that Grayson wanted to slam his fist into the Constable’s face. “Damn you, I thought we had an agreement.” His fingers curled around the arms of his chair until he heard the crack of wood.

  The Constable shrugged, inspecting his fingernails. “We still do. Will take weeks for any permission to come through.”

  Meg. Court. London.

  The words didn’t seem to fit. With her father’s past and the fact that they were on trial for the death of a lord, she’d hang or be forced to turn in Beth. Would Meg turn in Beth? Blast her, surely she wouldn’t keep her secrets now? He had the sudden desire to go to her, to shake a response from her lips, to bustle her into a carriage and send her to France… Scotland…any place where she could hide.

  The scent of apple blossoms filtered through the air. Grayson stiffened, his gaze jerking toward the door just as Meg appeared. She stood in the doorway, looking beautiful and pale, her hands twisting the material of her dark brown dress. She was trying so hard to look brave. Grayson stood, praying no one would notice how badly his hands trembled.

  “Well, are you finally going to admit where Lady Brockwell is located?” the Constable asked.

  Meg tilted her chin and glared at Grayson. “Did you send for him?”

  Grayson folded his arms across his chest and leaned against his desk. Her accusations were like a punch to the gut. Damn her, when would she trust him? “No.”

  As angry as he was with the woman, mentally, he begged Meg to keep silent. But by the defiant tilt of her chin, he knew she’d be anything but meek. Meg was in this for the long haul. She would not relent. And that thought sent panic through his blood. Hell, if it were up to him, he’d break the Constables neck, toss him in the marsh, scoop up Meg and ride off into the sunset. But he doubted Meg would find it romantic that he had murdered for her.

  “The maid was found,” the Constable declared.

  “But that’s wonderful,” Meg said.

  “Dead,” the Constable added. “Murdered.”

  Meg sank onto the settee. “But she was barely ten years of age. Who would do such a thing?”

  He arched a dark brow. “Why don’t you tell me, Miss James.”

  She surged to her feet, her face flushed with outrage. “You can’t seriously think I would kill a child! I begged Beth to hire her because she reminded me of my own niece!”

  The Constable looked completely unconcerned with Meg’s argument. “I have no idea what to expect from you.”

  “Enough,” Grayson stepped forward, standing between the two. “We’ve something more important to discuss.”

  When both the Constable and Meg looked his way, he was satisfied that he’d gained their attention well enough. “I am honored to tell you of our impending marriage.”

  Meg’s mouth fell open. “What?”

  “What?” the Constable demanded at the same time.

  He wasn’t sure who looked more surprised. Grayson strolled to the sideboard. He’d done it, said the words and now he couldn’t take them back. Strangely, he felt more relieved than worried. He poured the Constable another drink and carried the glass to the man, resisting the urge to grin. He was getting an inordinate amount of pleasure from seeing the Constable’s shocked expression. The man was actually sputtering.

  He snatched the drink from Grayson’s hand. “Explain this nonsense!”

  Grayson returned to the desk, casually leaning against the edge as if he hadn’t a care in the world. “Yes, you see, we’ve found we cannot live without each other.”

  Meg rushed to his side in a flurry of skirts that rustled and cried out in protest. “Grayson, do not be ridiculous.”

  Grayson smiled and crossed his arms over his chest. “Lovely, isn’t she?”

  The Constable tossed back his drink, and swiped his mouth with his sleeve. “Mr. Bellamont, I do sincerely hope for everyone’s benefit that this is a jest.”

  “Oh no, no jest. She is quite infatuated with me and insists on a quick marriage. Between you and me, I’m sure you understand why.” He winked and Meg gasped.

  She opened her mouth to rebut. Before she could say a word, he wrapped his arm around her waist and jerked her up against his body. Her lush form was stiff against him. “Can’t stay away from me.”

  The Constable stood so fast his glass fell to the floor, rolling across the carpet. “I do not know what is going on, but this is ridiculous. I will not believe for one moment that you would risk your reputation, your life, for this...this woman.”

  Grayson stepped toward the man, his annoyance turning to anger. That feral animal within was starting to protest. “Be careful how you speak of my future wife.”

  Meg scampered in front of him, apparently thinking to protect the Constable. “He won’t give up his life.” She turned to face Grayson, her hands flat against his chest. “I won’t let you toss away your life for me.”

  Grayson’s heart warmed.

  “You think to protect her?” the Constable sneered.

  Grayson wrapped his arm around Meg’s waist and drew her close. No one mattered but Meg. He cupped the side of her face as the Constable cursed, sputtering nonsense behind them. “Trust me,” he whispered just loud enough for her to hear.

  “What’s going on here?” Vicar James stood in the doorway, his weary gaze on Grayson and Meg.

  “Nothing,” Meg said, flushing. “It’s nothing Papa. Please return to breakfast.” She tried to step away, but Grayson held her tight.

  “Your daughter is marrying Mr. Bellamont. Hadn’t you heard?” the Constable said.

  Her father paled. “What is this?”

  Meg elbowed him in the gut and Grayson finally relented, releasing his hold. “I am not marrying him.”

  Her refusal annoyed him to no end. Why did she always have to be so stubborn? Didn’t she realize that marrying him was best for all?

  “Mr. Bellamont has gotten it into his head to protect Miss James.” The Constable laughed. “You think with your money and connections you can save her? How romantic.”

  Grayson ignored the Constable and focused on Meg’s father. “Actually, I think to save your daughter’s reputation, Mr. James.”

  Her father paled even further, his han
d reaching out to Mary Ellen, who had just stepped into the room. “What do you mean?”

  He knew he was going to embarrass and hurt her. There was the possibility that she mightn’t forgive him, but he had no other alternative. “Surely you’ve realized the consequences of your daughter’s stay in my home?”

  The Vicar shook his head, his bushy brows furrowing with confusion. Meg’s face turned a brilliant red. If Vicar James didn’t realize, Meg knew exactly what he implied.

  “No one is thinking any such thing,” she snapped, glaring up at him.

  “Actually, they are Meg,” Mary Ellen said and Grayson could have kissed the woman.

  Meg closed her eyes in surrender, no doubt wishing the floor would open and swallow her whole. He should have felt guilty. He didn’t.

  “They’ve been talking, Meg. With the murder and now that you’re staying here, well, it’s not good.”

  “But...but surely not. I’ve fed their children when they’ve had no money. I’ve nursed their sick.” It was a last, desperate attempt to cling to something. They didn’t care about her family, they’d proven they could not forgive and forget.

  The room fell silent and tears glistened in Meg’s eyes. “I’ve tried so hard,” she whispered. Grayson grabbed her hand and pulled her to the far side of the room, as far away from the others as possible.

  “What have you tried for?” he asked her, stepping so close, he blocked the others from view.

  “To make up...” she whispered, but couldn’t seem to go on.

  He cupped the side of her face. “To make up for your families indiscretions.”

  She nodded, tears welling in her eyes. “But it doesn’t matter. My reputation is in ruins.”

  He brushed away her tears with his thumb. He wanted to kiss away her worries. Make love to her until she forgot her problems. “It doesn’t have to be. This is my fault and I will atone for it.”

  She finally met his gaze, but he wasn’t sure he liked what he saw. She looked confused, hurt, exhausted. “Why would you have to?”

  “Because I do have some sense of honor.”

  The Constable cursed and paced to the fireplace. “This won’t work! It won’t, I tell you.”

 

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