A night of secrets a par.., p.30
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       A Night Of Secrets, A Paranormal Romance, p.30

           Lori Brighton
 

  Grayson lowered his head in acknowledgement. “Lord Brimley, so good of you to come.”

  Brimley. The name shot through Meg with a sickening thrum. The man Beth now worked for. Meg sucked in a sharp breath and her gaze swept the crowd as if expecting to see Beth being pulled across the ballroom in chains.

  “Well, my friend,” he said, slapping Grayson on the back, “when I heard you’d married, I had to see for myself.” His blue eyes found her and his attention swept over her form, assessing, yet guileless. “What a fortunate man you are.”

  Grayson frowned, looking more than annoyed. “Lord Brimley, my wife Meg Bellamont.”

  The man actually winked. “You can call me Nate.”

  “Thank you,” Meg murmured, sliding her attention toward Grayson. He didn’t look guilty, but surely it was no coincidence that the very man who Beth now worked for was here, this evening!

  “Tis lovely to meet you, Mrs. Bellamont.” Brimley bent low and kissed the back of her gloved hand. She could merely nod and wait to see what would happen next. “How do we know each other?”

  She almost choked. “Your cousin, my lord, Lady Frilley. We lived near each other at one time and still correspond.” Which is how she’d heard about his need for a nanny. Oh Lord, what a miserable mistake! Meg curled her hands in her skirt, hoping they wouldn’t notice the way she trembled.

  “Of course, of course.” But he was watching her oddly, as if attempting to decipher something he couldn’t quite put his finger on, but would eventually uncover. And in that moment, there was something feral about the man. Something that sent a shiver of unease over her body.

  “Later, Gray, I’d like to discuss the shipment from China, if you don’t mind.”

  “Of course,” Grayson murmured.

  Brimley smiled, the charming man returned. “Well, if you’ll excuse me, there is a lucky lady waiting for a dancing partner.” With a bow of farewell, he turned on his heel and swept across the ballroom, no doubt sending a multitude of female hearts fluttering.

  “You’re shipping partners?” Meg whispered.

  “Yes.” Grayson was watching her closely. Too closely.

  Shipping partners, which meant the man would be at their home often. “How did you know?” she whispered. “I told you the area, but never told you specifics. How did you know she worked for him?”

  He gave her an elusive smile that showed off his blasted dimple. “There are always ways of uncovering the truth.”

  Meg wasn’t sure if she should be impressed, nervous or angry. She settled on confused. “Why?”

  “Why what?” Grayson took a glass of lemonade from a passing tray and handed it to Meg then took a glass of scotch for himself. The servant bowed and left, hurrying toward the guests.

  “Why would you invite him? Have you told him about Beth?”

  He propped his shoulder against the wall, looking completely unconcerned. “Not yet.”

  Meg surged to her feet, a rush of movement that brought a few people looking their way. She swallowed hard and forced her face to appear passive, unemotional. Inside, she was in turmoil. She didn’t understand Grayson at all! “How do you know him?”

  “We were in the war together.”

  “Tell me he’s not one of you?”

  “Are you nervous for your friend?”

  “You’re the one who told me I should leery of your kind,” she snapped.

  “No, he’s not a vampire.”

  It should have made her feel better, it didn’t. There was something off about the man, she was sure of it. “How? How can this be?”

  “Tis what happens Meg. When you lie, the truth always comes out eventually.”

  Her eyes narrowed. How dare he treat her like a child, as if he were teaching her a lesson. Damn him, he was ruining everything with his high-handed way. “How would you know?” She snatched the scotch from his hands and emptied the glass with a tip of her head. The liquid was stronger than she’d thought possible. She turned her face toward the windows, coughing into her gloved hand. “This is a disaster, a bloody disaster,” she managed between gasps of air.

  “Bloody?” Gray’s eyes twinkled. “My, my.”

  She set the glass on a small table and took his hand, clasping it to her bosom, knowing she’d beg if she must. “What will you do, Gray? You must not leave me in suspense. Beth’s life depends on this.”

  He parted his lips to respond, but she saw the answer in his stoic gaze.

  “You can’t.” She shook her head. “You can’t tell him who she is.”

  He pulled his hands from her grasp and raked his fingers through his hair. “Meg, the man is a friend, he should know.”

  She moved closer, resisting the urge to step on his foot, kick him in the shin, anything to get her point across. No, she’d be sweet as honey with him. “Please, Gray, please don’t do this.”

  He sighed. “Beth needs to know what she is truly getting into.”

  “She knows,” Meg whispered. “She knows he has four unruly boys and she can handle them.”

  He rested his hand on her side. “That’s not what I meant.” Before he could explain further, he slipped his arm around her waist and they were Mr. and Mrs. Bellamont once more. “We’ll discuss this later.”

  As much as she wanted to continue to argue with the man, she had a role to play, a facade to perpetuate. Meg forced her lips upward into a smile, gazing out amongst the throngs of guests. Her face felt brittle as ice. She hadn’t heard word from Beth since she’d left and was desperate to know if she had made the journey. Apparently she had. But now she had something entirely new to worry about, her husband betraying her trust.

  As Grayson started forward, taking her with, she couldn’t help but whisper, “Please don’t make me regret telling you.” She felt his muscles stiffen under her fingertips, the only sign that he’d heard her. She prayed he didn’t know what she was really thinking.

  Please don’t make me regret marrying you.

  Chapter 22

  Instead of heading toward the crowds eager to meet them, Grayson turned Meg toward an alcove, his movements stiff, angry.

  “Bellamont!” someone called out.

  Grayson ignored the greeting, turning his back to the crowd. Meg blinked up at him, looking confused and nervous. Hell, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to shake her or kiss her. Seeing her at the top of the stairs as she’d swept down earlier, he’d never been more proud and never been more terrified. She was his, and he was responsible for making her happy, for protecting her. But he couldn’t protect her unless she trusted him.

  Half hidden by the red velvet curtains, he peered down at her, attempting to see into her soul. “You refuse to trust me, no matter what I do for you. Tell me, Meg, tell me how to gain your trust completely.” For one moment she didn’t say a word and Grayson was left with the unsettling realization that perhaps she thought he didn’t deserve her trust.

  She dropped her gaze to the buttons on his jacket. “I will trust you when you cease lying to me and avoiding my questions”

  Anger surged through him. “Lie? I have never lied, tis only you who has.”

  Tears pooled in her eyes, making the blue glisten like sapphires. “I told you where Beth was! I told you all.”

  Did she truly not understand? Was she really going to perpetuate the lie? Perhaps he wasn’t positive Hanna was his sister’s daughter, but he’d spent enough time with the child to know she was a vampire. Her skin chill. Her aversion to the sun. The way she adored her meat raw. “But you haven’t told me the most important thing, have you.”

  Her dark brows drew together and she nervously played with a red ribbon on her dress. “I don’t know what you’re implying—”

  “Hanna.”

  She froze, her face going pale. The entire world seemed to stand still, reduced to just the two of them.

  “If you truly trust me, then tell me about Hanna.”

  Her gaze flickered back and forth nervously, as if looking for help,
or an escape route. “T…there is nothing to tell.”

  He rested his fisted hand on the side of the wall. “You lie. I can see it in the way your pupils flare.” He gripped her shoulders. “If you trust me…if you love me, tell me.”

  Love. Had he truly just said the word? She’d told him she’d loved him on their wedding night. Although his body sung with the proclamation, he wouldn’t believe it until she trusted him. He knew it was ridiculous, wanting her love when he’d never admitted his feelings for her. Hell, he wasn’t even sure if what he felt for her was love or mere obsession. But here he was, daring her to admit her own feelings.

  “Why?” she whispered. “Why is it so important?”

  “Because my sister was murdered in London, Meg. Murdered in front of a church on a cold winter’s night. Her only child survived, taken in by the kindness of a Vicar’s daughter.”

  She reached out blindly, swerving backward.

  Grayson gripped her upper arms, holding her upright. “Tell me, please, I beg of you, tell me Hanna is my true niece.”

  She shook her head, her lower lip trembling. “You…you lied. You said you had no siblings. You said…”

  His fingers tightened on her arms. She was close, so close to admitting the truth, he could feel it. “I did what I had to do, just as you did. What matters is that I trust you enough to tell you the truth now. Will you do the same for me?” He could feel his emotions rising, feel his eyes starting to glow and knew he was close to losing his grip here, in front of a hundred guests.

  “Grayson Bellamont!” The high-pitched voice demanded attention and set his nerves on edge.

  Grayson took in a deep breath, calming his racing heart. Damn it, he didn’t want to be interrupted. But now, he knew, was not the time to demand answers. Reluctantly, he pushed the feral part of him away, tucked deep within his being. He would get the truth from Meg tonight.

  The old woman tottering their way would put an end to any answers he might have received. Lady Winters wore a gown of putrid yellow that did nothing for her pasty complexion. A turban of pea green was wrapped around her head, only a few ringlets of gray hair surrounded her wrinkled face, softening her dour expression. He didn’t care about the old woman, even if she was related by marriage. He only cared about his wife, trembling angrily beside him.

  Lady Winters stopped directly in front of him, her beady eyes fastening to Meg. “Well, not a title to the family, eh?”

  “I’m sorry?” Meg whispered. She looked confused by their change in topic, as if she’d been away and was just now floating back to earth.

  “Not one title in your family, not even a baron somewhere?”

  Meg shook her head, those cheeks flushing. She might not come from a titled family, but even the most arrogant of the ton would admit she was beautiful. Of course Lady Winters would admit no such compliment. He knew how ridiculous his thoughts were. Why he felt the need to defend his wife when she lied to him, he hadn’t a clue.

  The Dowager Lady Winters frowned. Her son obviously got his handsome features from his late father. “You realize what a fine catch you’ve made. Are you with child?”

  Meg’s mouth fell open.

  “No, my lady,” Grayson answered for her, not in the least bit surprised the old witch would state something so offensive, and loud enough for the few people nearby to hear.

  “Meg, this lovely woman is the Dowager Lady Winters. Her son, William, is my brother-in-law.”

  Meg snapped her head up, her gaze wide, frightened almost. “Your brother-in-law? Your sister’s husband?”

  Something was wrong. He could see it in the widening of her pupils. The way her pulse flared to life in the side of her neck, the beat much too quick. She was afraid of something… Of him? As angry as he was, he didn’t want her frightened like this. “Meg,” he started. “What—”

  “Of course he was married to Grayson’s sister,” Lady Winters snapped. “Is she daft as well as poor?”

  Grayson ignored the old witch. He had never liked the woman; she’d made Emma’s life a living hell. Never thought his sister was good enough. If she had any idea what Emma was truly capable of, she would have been begging for mercy. He would not allow her to treat Meg as she had treated Emma.

  “Lady Winters,” he started.

  “And your son… is he here?” Meg asked. He certainly didn’t miss the quiver in her voice. What the hell was wrong with her? He could practically smell her fear.

  “William? Of course,” the woman lifted her hawkish nose into the air. “He feels the need to support Mr. Bellamont, no matter who he has married.”

  “Lady Winters,” Grayson ground out, prepared to put the old hag in her place.

  “I must go,” Meg whispered. She darted around them.

  “Meg.” But before he could latch onto her arm, she was gone, swept into the crowd.

  “Escort me to the drinks,” Lady Winters demanded, taking Grayson’s arm.

  How he wanted to leave the old woman and go after Meg. But tonight was supposed to be calm, normal. He would not create controversy. Still, he couldn’t help but wonder; had Lady Winters offended Meg so deeply, or had something else sent Meg running?

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

  Meg pushed open Hanna’s door and burst into the child’s dark room. “Hanna, wake up.”

  Dear God, the man had found them. He was in the house, downstairs at that very moment. She could practically feel the man’s presence crawling across her skin. Did Grayson realize? Did he possibly have any idea what his brother-in-law truly was capable of? No. No, of course not. Grayson loved his sister, if he knew what William had done, he would have killed the man.

  “Hanna!” Meg stumbled toward the bed and reached out to shake the child awake. The blanket was smooth, the bed empty. Meg grew cold. She stumbled back, sucking in a sharp breath. Had he already found her? She must tell Grayson the truth. Only he could help her. She started to turn, when a shiver raised the fine hairs on the back of her neck. Meg stilled, her very heart seemed to stop beating. Someone was in the room.

  There was a soft swoosh as a lantern was lit. The room burst into light, the sudden glow too harsh. Meg blinked, stumbling backward. Two strong hands gripped her upper arms. Fear was bitter and chill.

  Meg twisted. “Let me go!”

  A large hand slapped over her mouth, an arm wrapping around her waist and jerking her back against a hard body that smelled of smoke and tobacco. “Quiet,” the man growled in her ear.

  Meg shivered, unable to stop her body from reacting to the fear and anger coursing through her. Tears of frustration burned her eyes. From the far corner, a tall shape emerged. A man with blond hair surged from the chair where only this morning she’d been sitting listening to Hanna’s cheerful chatter. Hanna. An ache settled around her heart, squeezing almost painfully. If anything had happened to the child, she would kill the man herself.

  It didn’t matter that he was tall and wide shouldered. It didn’t matter that he was attractive and titled. She would kill him with her bare hands and she’d enjoy every moment.

  William strolled toward them, completely unconcerned. A man at ease. He nodded toward the vile person with his hand over her mouth. “Let her speak, Mr. Smith, I’m sure she has plenty to say.”

  Mr. Smith dropped his hand, freeing Meg’s mouth. “Where is she?” Meg’s voice quivered.

  William quirked a golden brow. “My daughter?”

  She didn’t react to his statement. Hanna had never been his true daughter. A real father wouldn’t want to murder his own child. Wouldn’t murder the woman he had married.

  He smirked, stopping close to her, so close his scent swirled around her. Mint, a smell that made her sick, a smell that would always make her sick. He was even taller, even more handsome, than she’d realized. A veritable angel of death. She understood why Grayson’s sister had fallen in love with the man. But there, in his eyes, she could see the truth. The man was missing a soul.
r />   “I’m touched you cared so much about my child,” he said strolling toward the windows and gazing out into the dark night as if he had all the time in the world. “Cared so much that you stole her from me.”

  Anger overtook any common sense. Meg surged toward the man. “I was protecting her!”

  Strong hands bit into her upper arms and jerked her back.

  William faced her. “From me?” He released a harsh laugh. “Protecting a monster from me, a harmless human?”

  “A monster? She’s a child!”

  His face turned furious for the briefest of moments as he lost control of his emotions. “And what do you think that child will turn into a month from now?”

  Meg froze. What did he mean? Her mind swirled with the possibilities. She’d been right. Hanna was a vampire . But she sure as hell hadn’t realized the child would turn completely a month from now. She needed to tell Grayson. Damn it all, why hadn’t she told him from the beginning!

  “Her mother was a monster,” he seethed. “The man you married is a monster. That child will grow up to be a monster.” He started toward her, his face flushed red.

  She had to resist the urge to step back, to quiver under his wrath.

  “Do you realize, my dear, what you married? Are you shocked to find that your husband is a demon who feeds on the blood of humans? Are you shocked as I was? Only to uncover the truth after we were already married?”

  His words angered and sickened her. She struggled against the man holding her. “Grayson is no demon. The only demon in this home is you.”

  He nodded slowly, his gaze flickering over her form in a curious manner. “You let him feed off you, is that it?” His voice was deceptively soft. But there was something there, in his eyes that warned Meg to keep her mouth shut. She wouldn’t discuss her life with Grayson in front of this man. She wouldn’t allow her life with Grayson to become tainted by his judgment.

  “Where is Hanna?” she demanded.

  He surged forward and gripped her shoulders so tight she yelped. “You tell me.”

  She fought to understand his words over the pain. He didn’t have Hanna? But who did? Lord, she could barely think for the panic that was rushing through her. She shook her head. “I don’t know.”

 

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