Ball & Chain (Cut & Run #8)(13)

by Abigail Roux

“Boyd?” Ty asked. “Did we just meet your wife?”

“Indeed, if you were exploring the kitchen.” Hamish finished his polishing and set the candlestick back in its rightful spot. “Would you like anything?”

“No, Hamish, thank you,” Deuce answered.

Hamish gave a nod and picked up another candlestick to polish. Ty turned until he was staring at Deuce, a smirk curling his lips.

“What?” Deuce asked.

“You have a butler. I’m judging you so hard right now,” Ty said under his breath.

Zane tried desperately to muffle his laughter as the tour continued.

Nick and Kelly followed Livi into the suite she had designated as theirs. The room was modern, with silver-toned floors and ebony-stained furniture. A four-poster bed with sparkling, gray netting sat opposite an intricate fireplace, complete with an ornate mirror and corbels carved into angels. A silver chandelier cast gentle light on sumptuous gray-toned linens.

On the outside of the door was a little wooden sign with their names carved in it, a stylized ampersand between, hung with a red ribbon. Livi blushed as Nick looked it over.

“I’m really sorry, I completely misunderstood when Ty called and told me the name of your guest,” she said. “I can have another placard made for you.”

Nick laughed and jerked his thumb at Kelly. “Blame the doc, he’s the one with the girl name.”

Kelly jabbed him in the ribs. “Don’t worry about us. I’m sure you’re up to your ears in things to deal with, so you can mark us right off your list. We’re happy.”

Nick nodded in agreement, still trying to catch his breath. The little girl kept grinning at Nick, reaching her hand out to him, but Nick wasn’t comfortable responding. He didn’t handle children well.

Livi smiled, her shoulders slumping in relief. She hitched Amelia higher on her hip. “Thank you both. For so many things. I can’t even begin.”

Nick managed a weak smile at Amelia before meeting Livi’s eyes again. He could see the strain around her eyes and mouth, the worry she was trying to hide behind the task of being a hostess. This was not the way a blushing bride was supposed to feel. For the first time, Nick truly began to worry.

“Well, I’ll leave you to rest up,” Livi said. “There’s a welcome dinner tonight at seven on the back patio. After that, Deacon and I will try to fill you guys in on what’s going on.”

“Sounds good,” Nick said, keeping his voice gentle.

Kelly held his fist up as Livi passed, and Amelia gave him a fist bump over her mother’s shoulder. She giggled as Livi carried her out. Kelly chuckled and pushed the heavy door shut after them, leaving him and Nick alone for the first time in almost twenty-four hours.

They stared at each other for a few seconds, and just as Nick was about to step closer, Kelly smiled slyly and moved away. He peered at the fireplace, walking with his hands in his pockets. Nick trailed after him, watching the way Kelly’s shoulders moved, the way he cocked his head and exposed his neck.

“Kels,” Nick whispered.

Kelly turned to grin at him. “When are we going to tell them?”

“If we tell Ty now, he’ll go ballistic, and we’ll ruin that poor girl’s wedding. And you know it.”

Kelly laughed. “So . . . the plane ride home so he can’t be armed?”

“Agreed,” Nick growled. He took a last step and grabbed Kelly by his upper arms, shoving him against the paneled wall beside the fireplace. He pressed their bodies together and kissed Kelly hungrily.

Kelly flailed, reaching out to grab at the closest thing for leverage. His hand fell on one of the angel corbels, the one whose bent wing was attached to the fireplace by a dainty ball and chain. Something clinked inside the fireplace, and before they could break the kiss, the wall gave way behind Kelly’s back and they both went tumbling into a hollow space behind it.

Nick tried to catch himself on the edge of the new opening, but Kelly didn’t let go of him and they crashed gracelessly to the floor. They were both laughing before the dust settled.

“Ow,” Kelly groaned, still giggling. “What the hell happened?”

Nick pushed himself up, looking around. The walls were hollow, with at least two or three feet of space between the thick stone and plaster of each room. The passageway came to a dead end where the hallway was, but in the other direction it seemed to turn a corner on the outer wall. Shafts of light pierced the darkness in odd places, highlighting cobwebs and floating dust motes.

“This place just gets creepier and creepier,” Nick muttered. He shoved up, helping Kelly off the floor and dusting both of them off. They peered at the bend in the passageway, then met each other’s eyes.

“Want to see where it goes?” Kelly asked, his eyes sparkling.

“Hell, yeah.”

They got out their phones, turning on the flashlight apps. Kelly took the lead, Nick’s hand on the small of his back as they moved together with practiced ease in the small space. When they got to the bend in the passageway, it stretched off in both directions like Nick had suspected, but it also presented them with a narrow set of stone spiral stairs. They each aimed their lights in opposite directions. Several feet off, the wall came down so low they would have to crawl to get under it. Nick assumed that was the window casing.

“Up or down?” Kelly asked.

Nick put his lips against Kelly’s ear, smiling. “Down.”

Kelly shivered, leaning back into Nick’s hand briefly. They managed not to give in to temptation just then and instead headed down the steps to see where they’d end up. The steps were so narrow Nick’s foot didn’t fit on them even if he turned it sideways. His shoulders brushed both sides of the staircase. He was glad he wasn’t claustrophobic because it felt a little like getting stuck in a hole as they descended.

Kelly looked at him once the staircase was so tight that he had to turn to get down it. “Guess this rules out showing Ty this shit.”

Nick nodded. Ty would go into a full-fledged panic trying to get down these things.

At the base of the staircase it opened up again. There were more shafts of light that Nick guessed were peepholes into rooms. He also assumed there were more ways in and out, but he saw no indications along the walls. Kelly went to the first peephole and peered through, then made room for Nick to look.