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But the crown sets heavily on his head. As the war with the Lessening Society rages on, and the threat from the Band of Bastards truly hits home, he is forced to make choices that put everything - and everyone - at risk.
Beth Randall thought she knew what she was getting into when she mated the last pure blooded vampire on the planet: An easy ride was not it. But when she decides she wants a child, she's unprepared for Wrath's response - or the distance it creates between them.
The question is, will true love win out. Trez and iAm are tangled up in their past, while the beautiful chosen Selena is making Trez wish for a different future. Assail and Sola … I dunno who these two even are. I skipped over all their parts all the parts … so many parts — why? Wh-what did I just read?
The growl that came out of that massive chest was a reminder that her man was not, in fact, a man. Like, nearly two years. Lot can change. If you shut up. Unlike your kind. Am I supposed to enjoy that? What is your problem? Especially after a night of poker and drinking. Especially to a guy like Stern, who was categorically incapable of being anything but perfectly honest.
So fuck you. Unless you were drunk, which actually, you have been for the last three and a half months straight. For the love of God. Over on the bar, next to his billfold, the glowing screen was lit up—not that he bothered to look at who it was.
He answered the call only because it was either that or commit homicide. No, he thought. Not now. Not this morning. Although would there ever be a good time? From a distance, he heard himself speak. He put that and the phone in the pocket of his slacks and headed for the door. Where the fuck are you going? Hey, Lane—what the hell? At the far end of the hall, he punched through a steel door and started jogging down the concrete stairwell.
As his footfalls echoed all around, and he made tight turn after tight turn, he dialed a familiar phone number. I need a jet at Teterboro now—going to Charlemont. Baldwine, there is a jet available.
I have spoken directly with the pilot. Flight plans are being filed as we speak. With any luck, he would be back in Manhattan and annoying Jeff by nightfall, twelve midnight at the very latest. Ten hours. Fifteen, tops. He had to see his momma, though. That was what Southern boys did.
Down below, the city of Charlemont was laid out like a Lego diorama, its sections of rich and poor, of commerce and agriculture, of homesteading and highway displayed in what appeared to be only two dimensions. For a moment, he tried to picture the land as it had been when his family had first settled in the area in Native Americans.
His people had come from Pennsylvania through the Cumberland Gap two hundred and fifty years ago— and now, here he was, ten thousand feet up in the air, circling the city along with fifty other rich guys in their various aircraft. Except he was not here to bet on horses, get drunk, and find some sex. Fifteen before we land, Mr. We could be a while. His sex life had long depended upon the kindness of such strangers.
Particularly blond ones like her, with legs like that, and hips like that, and breasts like that. But not anymore. Then she leaned into the pour, encouraging him to check out her La Perla.
Such wasted effort. After a moment, she kicked up her chin. Lane lifted his glass and circled the No. Or at least, it had been. As the jet rounded the airstrips for the approach, a ray of sunshine pierced the oval window, falling over the burled walnut folding table, the cream leather of the seat, the deep blue of his jeans, the brass buckle of his Gucci loafers.
And then it hit the No. As he took another pull from the crystal rim, he felt the warmth of the sun on the outside of his hand and the coolness from the ice on the pads of his fingers. Some study that had been done recently put the bourbon business at three billion dollars in annual sales.
Of that pie, the BBC was probably upward of a quarter to a third. There was one company in the state that was bigger— the dreaded Sutton Distillery Corporation, and then there were eight to ten other producers—but BBC was the diamond among semi-precious stones, the choice of the most discriminating drinkers.
As a loyal consumer, he had to concur with the zeitgeist.
Considering how it had gone, he should have been a teetotaller for life. Out of the four siblings, Max was the troublemaker, with Gin, their little sister, coming in at a close second on the recalcitrant Richter scale. Lane knew this was a really poor idea. If they were going to hit the alcohol, they should take a bottle from the pantry and go up to their rooms where there was zero chance of being busted.
But to drink out in the open here, in the parlor? In the peachy glow from the exterior security lights, Max looked over with an expression of such challenge, the stare might as well have come with sprinter blocks and a starting gun. With ice. And it was the only manly out he had for his delay. In her little lace nightie, she was like Wendy in Peter Pan; with that aggressive expression on her face, she was a straight-up pro- wrestler.
Do you want to get caught? Whip me? The ornate server was an antique, as most everything in Easterly was, and the family crest was etched into each of its four corners. With big, spindly wheels and a crystal top, it was the hostess with the mostest, carrying four different kinds of Bradford bourbons, half a dozen crystal glasses, and a sterling-silver ice bucket that was constantly refreshed by the butler.
As crystal chattered and twinkled, the three of them froze. Leaving his brother to choke up or die trying, Lane stared down into his glass. Bringing the crystal lip to his mouth, he took a careful pull. It was like drinking fire, a trail blazing to his gut—and as he exhaled a curse, he half expected to see flames come out of his face as if he were a dragon. He held onto the glass, not letting her take it when she wanted to. Meanwhile, Max was having a second and a third go of it. Edward stood just inside the parlor, a look of absolute fury on his face.
Just shut up. And the demeanor of somebody who could ground the both of them. But the fight was already leaving him, his tone going weak, his eyes dropping to the rug.
They were halfway across the black and white marble floor of the dim foyer when Lane caught sight of something way down at the end of the hall. Someone was moving in the shadows. Too big to be Gin. Lane yanked his brother into the total darkness of the ballroom across the way.
Edward turned around calmly. As soon as Edward told the man what had been going on down here, William was going to go on a rampage. Where is your belt.
Lane thought. No, it was us! Their father strode forward, his monogrammed silk robe gleaming in the light, the color of fresh blood. You married into the family, remember?
Then, with an elegant, powerful slice, Edward was struck with a backhanded slap that was so violent, the cracking sound ricocheted all the way out into the ballroom. After a moment of heavy breathing, Edward straightened. He was not surprised to find that the glass he was holding was shaking, and not because of the landing.
Putting the No. No, the worst one had come later as an adult, and had finally done what all the lousy parenting had failed to do. Edward was ruined now, and not just physically. And not all of them were because of the woman he loved but had lost.
He had to say, however … that Lizzie King remained at the top of that very long list. The construction was a Gothic-style masterpiece, its delicate skeleton of white-painted bones supporting hundreds of panes and panels of glass, creating an interior that was bigger and more finished than the farmhouse Lizzie lived in. With a slate floor and a sitting area with sofas and armchairs done in Colefax and Fowler, there were hip- height beds of specimen flowers down the long sides and potted greenery in each of the corners—but that was all just for show.
Inside, two dozen white hydrangea stalks were wrapped individually in plastic, their heads protected with collars of delicate cardboard. Wo sind sie—? No Yaris for her. Her ride was a black Mercedes station wagon.
The one thing they did have in common? Neither of them could stand to be immobile, unoccupied, or unproductive for even a second. They had been working together at BFE now for almost five years—no, longer. Oh, God, it was close to ten now. Like she needed that pressure as well?
As her head began to pound, she tried to focus on what she could control. Unfortunately, that only left her wondering how she and Greta were going to manage to fill those bowls with the fifty thousand dollars of flowers that had been delivered—but that still needed to be unpacked, inspected, cleaned, cut and arranged properly.
Then again, this was the crunch that always happened forty-eight hours before The Derby Brunch. Or TDB, as it was called around the estate. Because, yup, working at Easterly was like being in the Army: Everything was shortened, except for the work days. And yes, even with that ambulance this morning, the event was still going on. Like a train, the momentum stopped for no one and nothing in its path. In fact, she and Greta had often said that if nuclear war happened, the only things left after the mushroom cloud dissipated would be cockroaches, Twinkies … and TDB.
Jokes aside, the brunch was so longstanding and exclusive, it was its own proper name, and slots on the guest list were guarded and passed down to the next generation as heirlooms. Well, almost all people. In Kentucky, you were either U of C red or Kentucky University blue, and basketball mattered whether you were rich or poor.
The Bradfords were U of C Eagles fans. And it was almost Shakespearean that their rivals in the bourbon business, the Suttons, were all about the KU Tigers. We got this. Newark Harris, the butler, came in like a cold draft.
The House of Windsor pedigree had been the linchpin of his hiring the year before. Baldwine is out at the pool house. Greta, as a German national who still rocked that Z-centric accent, was persona non grata to him.
Thank you. Lizzie closed her eyes. There were two Mrs. Baldwines on the estate, but one only of them was likely to be out of her bedroom and down in the sunshine by the pool. One-two punch today, Lizzie thought. Not only was she going to have to see her ex-lover, she was now going to have to wait on his wife.
After the boxes were unpacked, the leaves needed to be stripped off the stalks and the blooms had to be fluffed one by one to encourage petal spread and allow for a check of quality.
Baldwine wanted, she got. On so many levels. Fifteen minutes of choosing, clipping, and arranging later and she had a passable bunch shoved into wet foam in a silver bowl.
Greta appeared in front of her and held out her hands, that big mine-cut diamond ring flashing. The truth? Motrin, she thought. After this, she was going to take four and get back to the real work. The grass underfoot was brush-cut cropped, more golf-course carpet than anything Mother Nature dreamed up, and even though she had too much on her mind, she still made a mental To Do list of beds to tend to and replantings to be done in the five acre enclosed garden.
The good news was that after a late start to spring, the fruit trees were blooming in the corners of the brick-walled expanse, their delicate white petals just beginning to fall like snow on the walkways beneath their canopies. Also, the mulch that had been laid down two weeks before had lost its stink, and the ivy along the old stone walls was sprouting new leaves everywhere. In another month, the four squares marked with Greco-Roman sculptures of robed women in regal poses were going to be all pastel pinks and peaches and bright whites, offering a contrast to the sedate green and gray river view.
But of course, it was all about the Derby right now.
The loggia that connected the two was topped by a controlled wig of wisteria that would soon enough have white and lavender blooms hanging like lanterns from the green tangle. And beneath the overhang, stretched out in a Brown Jordan recliner, Mrs. Chantal Baldwine was as beautiful as a priceless marble statue.
About as warm as one, too. The woman had skin that glowed, thanks to a perfectly executed spray tan, blond hair that was streaked artfully and curled at the long ends, and a body that would have given Rosie HuntingtonWhiteley an inferiority complex. Can you believe it?
He is so thoughtful. Thank you so much. Oh, so they took her out the main front door. I mean, honestly, can you imagine …?
Yeah, right. But that was what you were supposed to say when the family asked you to do something. Approaching the mansion, she had to pick her point of entry. She chose the door that was halfway between the dining room and the kitchen because she refused to reroute all the way around to the other staff entrances. But she was not going to cry. Not in front of Lane Baldwine. And not because of him. Squaring her shoulders, she kicked up her chin … and started to turn around. Leopards, spots, and all that— Ah … crap, did he have to still look that good?
Nothing had really registered. Not the football-stadium-sized front foyer with that grand staircase and all of the oil paintings of Bradfords past and present. Not the crystal chandeliers or the gold sconces, nor the ruby-red Orientals or the heavy brocade drapes, not even the parlor and the ballroom on either side.
For him, there had been absolutely no burn on reentry at all: It was immersion in ninety-eight-point-six- degree calm water. It was breathing air that was perfectly still, perfectly humid, perfectly temperate.
It was nodding off while sitting up in a leather club chair. It was home and it was the enemy at the very same time, and very probably there was no impression because he was overwhelmed by emotion he was shutting out.
He did, however, notice every single thing about seeing Lizzie King once again. The collision happened as he was heading through the dining room in search of the one who he had traveled so far to see.
Oh, God, he thought. Oh, dear God. After having had to rely on memory for so long, standing in front of Lizzie was the difference between a descriptive passage and the real thing— and his body responded instantly, blood pumping, all those dormant instincts not just waking up but exploding in his veins.
And her body … that hard, strong body that had curves where he liked them and straightaways that testified to all that physical labor she did so well … was exactly as he remembered.
She was even dressed the same, in the khaki shorts and the required black polo with the Easterly crest on it. Her scent was Coppertone, not Chanel. Her shoes were Merrell, not Manolo. Her watch was Nike, not Rolex. Unfortunately, that look in her eye remained unchanged as well. The one that told him she, too, had thought of him since he had left. Just not in a good way. There were too many images filtering through his brain, all memories from the past: her naked body in messy sheets, her hair threaded through his fingers, his hands on her inner thighs.
Talk about different wavelengths. He was off-kilter down to his Guccis, in the midst of reliving their relationship, and she was utterly unaffected by his presence.
Then frowned. Oh, right. What do you think. Just go see her and … do whatever else you came here to do, all right? Leave me out of it. Showing again? That has always been on you. Fine, great, here. Then you can tell them to take it back out to the pool house, or maybe you can deliver it yourself—to your wife.
May I be of service? Harris, sir. I am Newark Harris, the butler. May I attend to your luggage? Your room is in order, and if you require ought further than your wardrobe upstairs, it will be my pleasure to procure any necessaries for you. Nope, he was not staying—he knew damn well what weekend was coming up, and the purpose for his visit had nothing to do with the Derby social circus. He shoved the pitcher at Mr. Just fill it up and take it where it belongs.
Which, considering the mood he was in? Not only was that proper butler etiquette, but it would fall under a self-preservation rubric as well. Two minutes in the house. Two damn minutes. And he was already nuclear. Even though there were a good dozen chefs bent over the stainless-steel counters and the Viking stoves, none of the white coats were speaking as they labored. A few of them did look up, however, recognized him and stopped whatever they were doing, he ignored their OMG!
He was used to that double take by now, his reputation having preceded him across the nation for years. And the three follow-ups since.
And the speculations in the tabloids. No getting it off. And he really wished that meeting with Lizzie had gone better. Like he needed another thing on his mind? His knock was quiet, respectful. Lane frowned as he pushed open the door. And then he stopped dead.
All he could do was blink, and wonder whether someone had played a sick joke on him. There was none. There was absolutely nothing about the sixty-fiveyear-old woman to suggest that she had ended up in the emergency room that morning. One thing he was clear on? There was no leaving before he ate—partially because she would hog tie him to a chair and force feed him if she had to, but mostly because the instant he caught that scent, his stomach had gone hollow-pit hungry on him.
The pair of Barcaloungers were the same, too, each one in front of a tall window, crocheted doilies draped over the tops where the backs of heads went. Pictures of children were everywhere and in all kinds of frames, and amid the beautiful, dark faces, there were pale ones, too: There was him at his kindergarten graduation; his brother Max scoring a goal in lacrosse; his sister, Gin, dressed up as a milk maid in a school play; his other brother, Edward, in a tie and jacket for his senior picture at U.