Despite all of the grandness, there remained an indescribable warmth to the hall. Thick rugs softened the stone floors. Two fireplaces at either end, tall enough to trot horses through, promised merry winter fires. Even now they were filled with massive bouquets, scenting the room with summer’s endless promise.

And Gray could tell where the nickname for the estate, the Lodge, came from. The mansion’s reputation as a hunting lodge was plain. Several of the rugs on the floor were bearskins. Mounted on the walls were the heads of beasts from every continent.

Hemingway would have been very happy here.

“Keep up,” the team leader barked.

Gray hurried forward, led across the hall to a door beside one of the fireplaces. The leader knocked.

“Come in.”

Gray was ushered into a small library, done up as a sitting room, with French antique furniture, a small fireplace, and tiny windows, no bigger than arrow slits, offering peeks at the gardens beyond.

The lone occupant sat in a chair to one side of the cold fireplace. He wore a conservative gray suit, though he’d shed his jacket and had it folded over the edge of a chair. The white shirt was unbuttoned at the top, sleeves rolled up.

Robert Gant held out his hand.

The team leader rushed forward, passed the transmitter into his palm, along with the keys to Gray’s cuffs—then hurried out, clearly under specific orders, as not a word was exchanged between them.

The door closed.

The president’s brother stared at Gray’s face and spoke his first words. “Did he suffer?”

Gray didn’t need to be told the subject of that question. Still, he didn’t know his footing here. This was made worse by the fire in his chest, flaming the edges of his eyes, burning at the bonds of his self-control. But cuffed and at the mercy of the transmitter, he could do nothing but stand, his legs trembling with the desire to send him charging regardless of the consequences. His fists tightened so hard that the bulge of his wrists cut into the tight cuffs.

Robert waved him to the other chair opposite the fireplace.

Gray took it, not trusting his control. He sat on the edge, ready to lunge, to exact whatever revenge he could upon the man responsible for his mother’s death.

Robert asked again, his voice cracking this time. “Please … I know Jimmy’s surgery is futile. I heard the grim prognosis. But in those final moments, did my brother suffer?”

Gray heard the pain more than the words. That keen of grief let him see past the red haze to the man’s barely contained agony. Robert’s eyes were stitched with red veins, shadowed darkly by pain, his skin as ashen as his gray jacket.

For some reason, as much as he hated the man, Gray answered as truthfully as he could. “No. Your brother didn’t suffer.”

Robert nodded, turning to stare at his lap. “Thank you for that.”

The man sat quietly in that stricken pose for a long time. When he lifted his face again, tears ran down his face. He wiped them away and stared at the cold fireplace, as if needing its warmth.

He spoke his next words softly. “I’m sorry for your mother.”

Gray stiffened, coming close to leaping out of his chair.

But the face the man showed Gray, so honestly distraught, quelled his anger. “Loss is an affliction that never lets go of your heart. I know that too well. It is too high a price, even for life everlasting, which now seems a horrible thing.”

Gray remembered Seichan saying something similar. What was going on with this man? He had expected torture and interrogations upon landing here. His only hope was that Painter had gotten his secret message and understood enough to figure out where he’d been taken.

“The accumulation of grief over one lifetime is more than a heart can bear,” Robert explained. “Only the heartless could withstand more. Or the very young, those too naïve to truly understand loss. Like I was when they came for me.”

“When who came for you?” Gray asked, trying to understand.

Robert remained silent, seeming to be working through something, clearly teetering on the edge. “I’ll show you. You may be useful to my plans.”

He stood and drew Gray after him. He crossed to a bookcase and pulled a handle tucked into the frame to unlatch a secret door. A section of the case swung open, revealing a spiral stone stair going down.

Robert led the way, lit by wall sconces. Gray had expected cobwebs and wall torches, but the passage merely wound down to basement levels. Through the open doors to other landings, he saw laundry facilities, kitchens, and they ended up in a wine cellar. Arched tunnels, carved out of the natural stone, spread outward in multiple directions, dimly lit by bare bulbs strung above. Massive oak barrels lined both sides. Neighboring rooms, like small chapels dedicated to Bacchus, held towering racks of dusty bottles, an accumulation of unimaginable wealth.

Robert moved swiftly forward, as if fearing he might change his mind, or someone might stop him. Gray got dragged behind, as much by the pull of his invisible leash as by curiosity.

Their journey ended deep within the vintner’s maze, in a side room holding four massive French oak barrels, as large as elephants.

Robert stepped to one and released a latch to open the face of the barrel. The wooden barrel was lined by steel. Robert hopped inside, followed by Gray. The back of the barrel looked like the doors to a bank vault. Robert typed in a code on the front and placed his hand on a palm reader.

Green lights flashed, and a low hum of hydraulics rotated a two-foot-thick plate-steel door.

It opened to a small room—an elevator, he realized as Robert entered more codes and the cage began to drop.

During this entire trip, Robert hadn’t said anything. He looked beyond words at the moment, lost in his own grief.

Finally, the elevator stopped, the doors opened into an anteroom to a massive, hermetically sealed clean room, half the length of a football field. But this was no sterile industrial white-and-stainless-steel place. Beyond the air-locked sealed door was something out of the British Museum. Mahogany display cases held dusty tomes, yellowed scrolls, and worn artifacts from every age of man. Domes of glass sat atop marble plinths, protecting delicate statues and golden treasures.

Robert turned to him. “Within lies the true heart of the Bloodline.”

37

July 4, 2:07 P.M. EST

Blue Ridge Mountains

Lisa crouched in a dark bathroom stall, perched on a toilet with the baby cradled on her lap. She clutched a Langenbeck amputation knife in one fist.

She had found the weapon, which looked like a scalpel with a four-inch blade, in a necropsy lab. The morgue, like much of this labyrinthine facility, looked long-deserted. A layer of fine dust had covered everything. She knew she could not stow herself in one of the body cabinets. Her footprints were plain on the dusty floor.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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