Home > The Story of Son(12)

The Story of Son(12)
Author: J.R. Ward

She swiveled away from the view and looked across her desk. "Oh, Mick. It's you."

Mick Rhodes, former lover, partner in the firm, all-around good guy, took up the whole space between her doorjambs. "You're leaving?" When she just nodded, he shook his head. "You're not pulling out. You can't walk away. What the hell are—"

"I've lost the burn, Mick."

"Since when? Back at the end of August you were eating opposing counsel for lunch on the Technitron merger!"

"I'm not hungry anymore." Which was both a professional figurative and a literal truth. She hadn't had any appetite for the last week.

Mick yanked his red tie loose and shut the door behind himself. "So take a vacation. Take a month. But don't throw your whole career in the shitter over what is just a case of the momentary burnouts. So Technitron didn't go through. There'll be other deals."

Absently, she listened to the sound of the phone ringing on Martha's desk just out in the hall. And the talk of other attorneys as they hurried by her. And the bird-pecking sounds of a printer.

"I've always loved your name," she said softly. "Did I ever tell you that?"

Mick's eyes popped like she was nuts. Well, natch on that. She'd been feeling nuts ever since Labor Day weekend when instead of working, she'd slept for three days straight.

Truth was, she was worried that she was why the Technitron deal hadn't gone through. Ever since that lost weekend, she'd been fuzzy. Soft. Anxious and distracted.

"Claire, maybe you should talk with—"

She shook her head. "Except why do you use Mick? I've never known you as anything other than Mick. Michael is such a . . . beautiful name."

"Um, yeah. Listen, I really think you should talk with someone."

He was probably right. At night, she couldn't sleep because she was plagued by dreams and during the day she was preoccupied by a depression for which there was no basis. Sure, Technitron had fallen apart, and maybe some of it was her fault, but that just couldn't account for her prevailing listlessness or the ache in the center of her chest.

Martha knocked and put her head in. "Excuse me, your doctor's on line two and I thought you might want to know that old Miss Leeds died. Her butler left a message Tuesday that got lost in the system. I only found it now."

Miss Leeds.

Claire put her hand up to her head as a wave of disassociated hatred washed through her and her temples started to pound. "Ah, thanks, Martha. Mick, I'll talk to you later. I think Friday's my last day, by the way. I haven't totally decided."

"What? You can't take off that fast."

"I've drafted a list of my files and clients and the status of everything. I'll let the rest of you fight over them."

"Jesus Christ, Claire—"

"Shut the door on your way out. And Martha, please find out the where and when on Miss Leeds's funeral, please."

When she was alone, she picked up the phone. "This is Claire Stroughton."

"Please hold for Dr. Hughes."

Claire frowned and wondered what she needed to talk to the doctor about. The tests she'd had done yesterday weren't supposed to be back for several days—

"Hi, Claire." Emily Hughes was typically to the point. Which was why Claire liked her. "I know you're busy so I won't waste your time. You're pregnant. Which is why you've been feeling tired and nauseated."

Claire blinked. Then rolled her eyes. "No, I'm not."

"You're about three to four weeks along."

"Not possible."

"I know you're on the Pill. But the antibiotics you took at the end of August for that cold could have reduced its effectiveness—"

"It's not possible because I haven't had sex." Well, at least not in real life. Her dreams had been hot as hell lately and probably part of the reason why she was so exhausted. She kept waking up in the middle of the night, writhing, covered in sweat and wet between her legs. Try as she might she could never remember what her dream lover looked like, but God, he made her feel spectacular—at least until the end of the fantasies. They always parted at the end and she always woke up in tears.

"Claire, you can become pregnant without technically ha**ng s*x."

"Okay, let me be more clear. I haven't been with a man in over a year. So I'm not pregnant. Your back room must have gotten my blood sample mixed up with someone else's. It is the only logical explanation. Because, trust me, I would have remembered ha**ng s*x."

There was a long pause. "Would you mind coming down and giving another sample?"

"No problem. I'll stop by tomorrow."

When she hung up, Claire looked around her office and imagined herself taking down her diplomas from Harvard and Yale. She wasn't sure where she would go. Maybe upstate. Caldwell, for instance, was really nice. And it wasn't like she needed to work. She had plenty of money, and if she got bored she could put her shingle out and do a little legal work for private individuals. She was good at wills and anyone with half a brain could close a residential real estate deal.

Martha knocked and stuck her head in again. "Miss Leeds's funeral starts in a half hour, but it's private. There's a reception afterward at the estate, though, which you could make if you left now."

Did she really feel like driving all the way up to Caldwell? For a dead client who, for some reason, she hated now?

God, she had no clue why she absolutely despised poor, elderly, nutty Miss Leeds.

Martha pushed her sleek silver glasses up on her nose. "Claire . . . you look like hell. Don't go."

Except she couldn't not go. Even though her head throbbed to the beat of her heart and her stomach was rolling, there was no way she wasn't making the drive. She had to get there.

"Call for my car. I'm going to Caldwell."

Claire parked at the end of the Leedses' estate driveway, capping off a line of some fifty cars that stretched all the way up to the mansion. She didn't use the valets because she wasn't going to stay long and there was no reason to wait for someone to bring the Mercedes around. Plus she needed a little fresh air.

And, as it turned out, a bottle of aspirin. The moment she stepped out of the sedan and looked up at the big stone house, her head screamed with pain. Sagging against the Mercedes's hard body, she took shallow breaths as dread washed through her.

Evil was in that house. There was evil in that house.

"Ma'am? You okay?"

It was one of the parking attendants. A young kid of about twenty or so, dressed in a white polo shirt that had mcclane's parking on the breast in red thread.

"I'm fine." She carefully leaned in for her B irk in then shut her door. When she turned to smile at the guy, he was looking at her funny, like she was about to faint and he was praying she didn't on his watch.

"Ah, ma'am, I'm just getting this car right here." He nodded to the Lexus in front of her. "Do you want a ride up to the house in it?"

"Thanks, but I'll just walk up."

"Okay . . . if you're sure."

She went up the drive, eyes fixated on the gray stone house. She was shaking by the time she stepped up to the front door and lifted the knocker. Light-headed, weak, she felt as though she had the flu again; with hot and cold waves assaulting her body and her head pounding.

The door was opened by Fletcher.

Claire stumbled back in the face of the old man, her panic going out of control for absolutely no good reason.

Except abruptly she was rescued.

Her lawyer instincts, the ones that made her so good at confronting opposing counsel, the ones that made her a killer negotiator, the ones that had kicked in time after time when she couldn't afford to have her emotions show . . . her instincts clamped down on the out-of-the-blue panic and dread and calmed her instantly.

You never show weakness to your enemy. Ever.

Although why the hell an elderly butler would engender such a reaction, who the hell knew? Still, she was grateful because at least she didn't feel like she was going to pass out anymore. Once fogged, now she was clear.

Claire smiled coolly and extended her hand, the sounds of the wake inside bubbling in her ears.

"I'm sorry for your loss. And I brought the will." She patted her shoulder bag.

"Thank you, Miss Stroughton." Fletcher looked down, his drooping eyes even lower than usual. "I shall miss her."

"We can go over the will next week or do it after the wake. Whatever is best for you."

He nodded. "Tonight would be best. Thank you for your thoughtfulness."

"No problem." Claire flashed him her teeth and gripped the straps on her bag tightly. As she walked into the foyer, the fact that she wanted to use some of Hermes's best as a weapon against him was a shocker.

Claire joined the throng of people milling about between the dining room and the living room. She nodded to a number of folks, several of whom were CEOs of the companies the Leeds family had interests in and Claire's firm represented. Out of the rest of the hundred or so men and women, she guessed at least half were senior staff from various philanthropies. No doubt anticipating a huge payday.

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