Home > The Story of Son(13)

The Story of Son(13)
Author: J.R. Ward

As she bumped shoulders and declined passed hors d'oeuvres and tried to figure out why she was in battle mode when there was nothing to fight against, her eyes kept going over to the grand staircase. There was something about it. . . something . . . behind it.

Working her way through the crowd, she went over to the foot of the great, rising spread of steps. Putting her hand on the ornate balustrade, a voice came into her head, one that overrode all the noise of talk and her headache and her urge to kill Fletcher.

Behind the stairs. Go behind the stairs. Find the elevator.

Without stopping to wonder how she knew what was back there, she slipped around to the flank of the staircase and found her way into a little alcove . . .

Where there was an elevator. An old-fashioned brass and glass one.

Take it to the basement.

The voice was undeniable and she reached out to slide the filigreed gate wide. Just before she stepped in she looked up. There was a lightbulb mounted at the top.

If she used the lift, that thing was going to send a signal. And her instincts told her to hide her tracks. If Fletcher knew where she was going, she wouldn't be able to . . .

Well, shit, she didn't know what she was doing. The only thing that was clear was that she had to get down to the basement without him knowing.

Looking over her shoulder, she saw a door beneath the curving staircase and went over to it. There was a brass bolt lock at the top and she flipped it free before trying the handle.

Pay dirt.

On the other side, there was a set of rough stairs, lit by cloudy, ancient yellow lightbulbs. She glanced behind her. No one was paying any attention to her and more important, Fletcher was nowhere to be seen.

Slipping into the stairwell, she closed the door after her and descended, her heels making a clipping sound that echoed around her.

Damn, they were loud.

She paused and removed her pumps, slipping them into the Birkin. Making no noise now, she moved even faster, her instincts on high alert. God, the staircase went on forever, its stone walls and floor reminding her of an Egyptian pyramid, and she felt like she was halfway to China before she came to the first landing. And still there was farther to go.

As she went down, the temperature dropped, which was good. The cooler it got, the more focused she became until her headache was gone and her body was nothing but harnessed energy. She felt as if she were on a rescue mission, although damned if she knew who or what she was springing from the basement.

The stairs dumped out into a corridor made of the same stone as the rest of the house. Lights mounted in the ceiling glowed dimly, barely penetrating the darkness.

Did she go left or right? To the left, there was just more hallway. To the right. .. there was just more hallway.

Go to the right.

She went down about fifty yards, maybe seventy-five, her stockinged feet quiet, the only sounds the bumping of her bag on her ribs and the rustle of her clothes. She was about to lose hope and turn back when she found . . . a huge door. The thing was like what you'd expect to run across in a castle's dungeon, all studded with iron supports and with a sliding bar lock as thick as her thigh.

The moment she saw the thing, she started to weep uncontrollably.

Sobbing, she walked up to the stout oak panels. At about eye level, there was a peephole of some sort. She arched up onto her tiptoes and looked—

"You shouldn't be down here."

She wheeled around. Fletcher was standing right behind her, one of his arms discreetly behind his back.

Claire wiped her eyes. "I'm lost."

"Yes, you are."

She slipped one hand into her shoulder bag and another into her suit jacket pocket.

"Why did you come down here?" the butler asked, stepping nearer.

"I wasn't feeling well. When I found the door under the stairs, I wanted to get away from the crowd so I just wandered down here."

"Instead of going out to the gardens?"

"There were people there. A lot of them."

He wasn't buying it and Claire didn't care. She needed him to get just a little closer.

"Why didn't you go into one of the drawing rooms?"

When he got in range, she flipped her pump out of her bag and sent it skittering across the stone floor to the left. Fletcher pivoted to look at the sound and she took out the Mace that was on her key ring and put it to his eye level—so when he turned back and lifted up the hypodermic syringe he held in his palm, she nailed him right in the face.

With a howl, he dropped what he'd been going to use against her and shielded his eyes, stumbling backward until he banged into the far wall.

Mace was illegal in New York, of course. And thank God that was one law she'd been breaking for the last ten years.

Moving fast, Claire grabbed the needle, shoved it into the butler's upper arm, and pushed the plunger down hard. Fletcher squeaked then slumped into a heap on the stone floor.

She didn't know whether he was dead or tranquilized so she had no idea how much time she had. Running for the prison door, she broke two nails as she struggled to get the bar to slide free.

Urgency made her frantic, giving her the strength to move what felt like hundreds of pounds of iron up and back. When the barricade was out of the way, she gripped the toggle handle, wrenched it downward, and put her whole body into dragging the door open.

Candlelight. Books. A dark, lovely scent. . .

Her eyes shot across the space. To a man who was rising up in utter disbelief from a desk full of. . . drawings of her.

Claire's head swam, a screaming pain robbing her of sight. Her body sagged and then her knees gave out altogether, the stone floor no cushion whatsoever as she went down.

At once strong arms were around her, picking her up, carrying her over to . . . a bed with a velvet duvet and pillows as soft as a dove's wing.

She looked up at the man and tears poured from her eyes as she touched his face. God, his beautiful face was that of her dream lover, the one who had been keeping her up at night, the one she had been mourning during the day.

"How did you come back?" he asked.

"Who are you?"

He smiled. "My name is Michael."

The pain in her temples abruptly eased . . . and then the memories came to her, a rapid-fire collage of images and feelings and smells and tastes. . . all of Michael and her, together in this room.

Claire grabbed on to him and buried her face in his hair, sobbing at the near miss, at the fact that had Miss Leeds not died now, Claire might never have come back because she'd been determined to leave the firm.

And then she got pissed and shoved him back. "Why the hell did you do that! Why did you let me go!" She punched at his chest. "You let me go!"

"I'm sorry, my love—"

"Don't 'my love' me!" She was going to keep the tirade going when it occurred to her that the butler might only be temporarily incapacitated. She had no idea what had been in that syringe—and the bastard had that odd strength of his.

Claire hugged Michael tightly and forced herself to calm down. "Okay . . . all right. . . look, we're going to fight about this later. Right now, you're coming with me."

Although how was she going to get him out of the house? Hell, how was she going to get herself up and moving? The headache was gone but she felt dizzy—

Holy shit. She really was pregnant.

Claire looked at Michael. "I love you."

His face transformed, the stress leaving it, a love so deep and strong flooding into his handsome features that the angelic sight of him burned her eyes. "I am not worthy, but so grateful—"

"With all love and affection, shut up with that 'you're not worthy' crap. Now help me off this bed." She swayed a little as they stood up; then she looked at the shackle on his ankle. "We've got to get that thing off of you."

Michael stepped back and shook his head. "I can't go. I can't leave. They won't let me. Fletcher and Mother—"

"Your mother is dead," she said as gently as she could— considering she wanted to dig up that woman and kill her all over again.

Michael paled. Blinked a number of times.

"And Fletcher is out cold in the hall on the floor." When he didn't say anything, she took his hands in hers. "Michael, I want to help you with what you're feeling right now, but we don't have the time. We need to get you out of here. I need you to focus."

"I. . . where will I go?"

"You're coming to live with me. If you want. And even if you don't want that, you'll be free. To do what you wish."

His eyes bounced around the room, clinging to the bed and the books.

He was going to fight to stay, she thought. Which was a product of his decades of isolation and abuse. She needed to shake him up somehow—

She took his palm and placed it on her belly. "Michael, while I was with you, we created something together. A baby. It's in me. Your child is in me. I need you to come with me. With . . . us."

He went dead pale. And then . . .

Well, the change in him would have been scary if she hadn't trusted him implicitly not to hurt her. He seemed to grow bigger even though his body stayed the same, his eyes narrowing, his face becoming a mask of male authority . . . and rank aggression.

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