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Son of the Morning (Chapter 9)

PARRISH SIPPED THE MERLOT, AND GAVE A BRIEF NOD OF appreciation. Though merlot usually wasn't to his taste, this one was unexpectedly fine, very dark and dry. Bayard "Skip" Saunders, his host, considered himself a connoisseur of wine and had gone to great lengths to impress Parrish by trotting out his best and rarest vintages. Parrish was accustomed to members of the Foundation becoming slightly giddy whenever he visited; though he would have preferred a fine champagne or a biting martini, or even a properly aged bourbon, he was publicly never less than gracious about his underlings' efforts. Skip – a ridiculous nickname for a grown man – was one of the more wealthy and influential members of the Foundation. He also lived inChicago , which was the sole reason for Parrish's presence. Though Conrad had been unable to find a definite trail, he was nevertheless certain Grace had made her way toChicago , and Parrish had faith in his henchman. Skip Saunders would be able to provide support in the search, in the form of both logistics and influence. Should Grace's capture be too messy – in other words, too public – Skip would be able to whisper a few words into an ear or two and the matter would simply go away, as if it had never existed. Parrish appreciated the convenience.

What he would appreciate more, he thought idly as his gaze briefly met that of Saunders's wife, Calla, was half an hour alone with the lovely Mrs. Saunders. What a superb trophy she was, a glorious testament to the seductiveness of money and power. Wife number one, the recipient of Saunders's youthful seed and vigor and the bearer of his two exceedingly spoiled children, was unfortunately fifty and therefore no longer young enough or glamorous enough to satisfy his ego. Parrish had met the first Mrs. Saunders, when she had still been Mrs. Saunders, and had been charmed by her wit. At any dull social affair he would have much preferred to have number one beside him – but if the position were changed to under him, he would definitely choose the lovely Calla. Saunders was a fool. He should have kept the wonderful companion as his wife, the main course, and enjoyed Calla as a side dish. Ah, well. Men who thought with their genitals often made poor choices.

Calla was certainly tempting. Parrish's manners were too polished to allow him to stare openly at her, but nevertheless each look was thoroughly assessing. She was about five six, willowy, impeccably dressed in a simple, midnight-blue sheath that lovingly hugged everysiliconed andliposuctioned curve and provided ample bare flesh on which to display the multitude of diamonds and sapphires she wore. She was a striking woman, with warmly golden skin and big, china-blue eyes, but what interested him most was her long, straight swath of hair, which she let hang freely down her back. Smart woman. She knew her hair was a magnet for male attention, the way it lifted and swung with every graceful movement she made. It wasn't as long as Grace's, he thought dispassionately, or as dark, but still… She was taller than Grace, and more slender. She probably hadn't blushed with shyness since the age of eight, and the expression in her eyes was knowing, completely lacking Grace's innocence and trust. Her mouth wasn't thin, but neither did it have the lush, unconscious sexuality of Grace's lips. Her hair, though… he wanted to wrap his fist in that hair, hold it tight while he used her. He would close his eyes and pretend she was shorter, softer, that the hair he gripped was as sleek and thick as dark mink.

Perhaps later, he thought, and gave her a long, cool, deliberate look he knew she wouldn't misunderstand. One elegantly arched brow lifted as she caught his intent, and her lips curved in both invitation and satisfaction. Once again she had attracted the most powerful male present, and she was obviously pleased.

That minor detail taken care of, Parrish turned his attention back to her husband. "Very good," he said, seeing that Skip was anxiously awaiting verbal approval of his choice of wine. "I don't usually care for merlot, but this is exceptional. "

A flush of pleasure warmed Skip's tanned face. "There are only three bottles of that particular vintage left in the world. I have two of them," he couldn't resist adding.

"Excellent. Perhaps you should acquire the third bottle as well," Parrish suggested and hid his perverse amusement at the knowledge that Skip would now spend an untold amount of time and money trying to do just that. The three bottles could turn to vinegar for all Parrish cared.

He clapped a friendly hand to Skip's shoulder. "I want to have a private word with you, if I may, whenever you are free from playing host."

As he'd expected, Skip immediately straightened. "We can go to my study now. Calla won't mind, will you, darling?"

"Of course not," she calmly replied, knowing her role and in truth not giving a damn where her husband was or what he did. She immediately turned away to see to the needs of her other guests, a select fifty or so ofChicago 's wealthiest citizens.

Skip led the way down a wide corridor to a set of double doors which he opened inward, admitting them into a mahogany-paneled office with a huge expanse of window overlookingLake Michigan . "Magnificent view, isn't it?" Skip asked with obvious pleasure, crossing to the window.

"Magnificent," Parrish agreed. The view was more spectacular than his view ofLakeMinnetonka , but he wasn't envious. He could have had such a view, had he chosen.

Instead he was well pleased with the more staid but equally moneyed Wayzata; it suited him to be slightly out of the mainstream of the larger cities, tucked away inMinnesota . His neighbors were incurious, and so long as he gave the impression of being socially and politically correct, no one ever looked beneath the surface.

The two men stepped out onto the balcony, and the brisk wind off the lake still carried a chill even though summer had truly arrived. Parrish looked both left and right to make certain they were completely alone. "We're searching for a woman, Grace St. John. She's been accused of murdering her husband." He didn't bother to explain that he himself was responsible for both the accusation and the murder. "I believe she has information we would find of vital importance, so of course I would prefer finding her before the' police do."

"Of course," Skip murmured. "Anything I can do?" "My men have the search operation in hand, but should things go wrong, I want you on hand to turn any interest away. I hope requiring your presence here won't interfere with any vacation plans you've made." Parrish said it knowing Skip and Calla were scheduled to leave shortly for a month-long stay inEurope , not that it mattered; Skip would cancel an audience with the Pope to be of service to the Foundation. Of the two, the Foundation was more powerful, though its power and influence were far less noticeable.

"No problem," Skip hastily assured him. "Good. I'll call you if I need you."

As Parrish turned to enter the study he saw Calla standing … just inside the doors, and he paused, wondering what she knew and how much she'd overheard. It would be a pity if she fell over the balcony; such a tragic accident, but accidents happened.

"Dear," Calla said to Skip as she glided onto the balcony. "I'm sorry to disturb you, but SenatorTrikoris has just arrived, and you know how he is."

The senator was notorious for expecting a great deal of ass-licking in exchange for legislative favors. The Foundation was working to develop a file on the senator, one that would bring him in line so that the favors he did were for the Foundation's benefit. When that happened, the senator would be the one doing the ass-licking, and Parrish's would be the ass being licked. The senator wasn't yet aware of the future direction of his legislative efforts, and until he was, Parrish was content to let Skip keep him happy. He nodded a dismissal, and Skip hastily left.

Calla leaned against the wall, her gaze cool and brilliant and calculating as she watched him. The wind lifted the silky ends of her hair, playing with it. Out here in the night, her hair looked dark, as dark as Grace's. Perhaps he would fuck her before assisting her over the balcony, Parrish thought, and felt his body respond to the excitement of the idea.

"Yes, I know about the Foundation," Calla murmured, her gaze never wavering from his face. "Skip's a fool. He leaves paperwork lying around in his office where anyone can see it. You would be better off to get rid of him and work with me."

Parrish lifted his eyebrows. She was right; Skip was a fool, and an unforgivably careless one. He would have to be taken care of. Dear Calla wasn't a fool, however, and the problem of what to do about her was one that demanded an immediate decision.

He leaned against the balcony railing, slim and elegant in his black silk trousers and white evening coat. His debonair image was both carefully cultivated and entirely natural to him, blinding people to the cold reality that lay beneath the silk. He sensed that Calla, unlike most people, had read him correctly and knew how close she was to death. Instead of being dismayed, she was excited by the danger. Beneath the clingymidnight fabric of her dress, her nipples were erect.

"It's Skip who has the contacts, the money," he said neutrally, but he was becoming more excited, too. Grace was the only other woman who had instinctively sensed the reality of him, and she had resisted his charm. Calla made no effort to resist him, but the similarity was enough to make him hot. It wouldn't be like having Grace; Grace had an innocence, a shining incorruptibility, that would drive him to new heights in his efforts to sully her. He doubted there was any sullying in which Calla had not already indulged. But in a way Calla was a twisted, corrupted version of Grace, and he wanted her.

Calla grimaced at his statement. "He has the power, you mean, because he controls the money. But does the true power lie with the man who controls the money, or with the woman who controls the man? What I know about the movers and shakers in this city is ten times more useful than Skip's social contacts."

"You use the wordknow in the biblical sense, I presume?" Her lips curved in a slight smile but she didn't answer the charge. "The Foundation is real power. Forget the trade unions, the political parties; they all have ties to the Foundation, don't they? No matter which party is in the White House, you have a private line to the Oval Office."

In most cases, he thought, but not all. The Foundation hadn't had good luck with the past two Republican presidents, or the Democratic one before them. Their luck had changed four years earlier, however, and he had moved swiftly to make the gains denied the Foundation for sixteen long years. He was also working hard to make certain he maintained guaranteed access for another four years, at least. Politics was boring, but necessary, at least for now. If he could get his hands on the documents Grace held, he wouldn't have to bother with manipulating politics to try and ensure a reasonable occupant of the White House; the president would be coming to him, as would all the world's ostensible leaders.

The Foundation had been poised for centuries, ready to act when the papers were found. How wonderful that the discovery had been made onhis watch, Parrish thought, but less wonderful that a bungling fool inFrance had let the documents slip out of his hands. Those papers meant power. Unimaginable power. The world would be in the palm of his hand, to be manipulated as he willed. Oh, the money and the power wouldtechnically belong to the Foundation, to be passed on to his successor, but his to use as he wished for his lifetime. A man of limited imagination wouldn't see the possibilities, but Parrish had no such limitations.

He had no interest in holding office as president or prime minister, or in waging war. War was so gauche, so much effort for so little gain. The time had passed when nations could be won; now war meant little but destruction. Real power lay in money, as Calla had observed, and whoever controlled the money controlled the world as well as the puppets who stood onstage, in the limelight, and pretended to be the ones in power.

The documents in Grace's possession led to such power, to unlimited wealth. Over the centuries legends and superstitions had formed about some magical source of power the Templars had controlled, much like the ridiculous claims about the Ark of the Covenant, but unlike some in the Foundation, Parrish secretly scoffed at the idea. If the Templars had controlled some magical power, how could they have been so easily destroyed by treachery? Obviously the only power they had possessed had been a material one, an enormous treasury that had attracted the envy of a king and caused their downfall. No, the Templars' power had been wealth, more than could be imagined. There was nothing magical about it, though to the fourteenth-century mind the sheer magnitude of the treasury must have been beyond comprehension, and thus had to be magic. They had been nothing but superstitious fools. Parrish, however, was not.

Nor was he sentimental. If Calla thought to enslave him with her considerable charm, she was doomed to disappointment.

"I'm interested in working with the Foundation," Calla said when he remained silent, his cold gaze fixed on her face. "My assets are considerably more useful than Skip's."

"No one workswith the Foundation," Parrish corrected. "The proper term isfor. "

"Not even you?" she delicately needled. He shrugged. For his lifetime hewas the Foundation, but it wasn't necessary for her to know that. It wasn't necessary to talk to her at all. As delightful as it would undoubtedly be to let her into the Foundation, to have her at his beck and call until he was bored with her, he wasn't about to let someone of her intellect and daring, as well as complete lack of scruples, get that close to the center of power. He would have to watch his back every minute.

She moistened her lips, staring at him. "Do you know what I think?" Her voice was a purr. "I think you're the center of it all. A man with your kind of power – why, you can do anything, have anything you want. And I can help you get it."

Oh, she was definitely too smart for her own good. He reached her in three steps, smiling slightly in the semi-darkness as he looked down at her. Calla stood very still, her perfectly chiseled face illuminated by the light from the study behind her. She licked her lips again, the action unconscious, feline.

"Here?" she whispered. "People with telescopes watch, you know."

He paused. If he were merely going to screw her, he wouldn't care who watched. But since she would be going for a long, vertical walk afterward, he didn't want witnesses.

Smiling, he stepped back and gestured to the door. She laughed as she walked ahead of him into the study. "Somehow I expected you to be more adventurous."

"There's a difference, my dear, between adventurous and stupid." He went to the wall switch and turned out the lights, then locked the door. Calla stood calmly waiting for him, the city lights spilling through the windows, glittering on the jewels at her ears and throat.

He took off his dinner jacket and draped it over the back of a chair, not caring to have it smeared with telltale makeup. His shirt would likely bear the marks, but it would be covered by the jacket, and he would dispose of it as soon as he returned to his own hotel. As a last precaution he took his handkerchief from the jacket and put it in his pants pocket.

Arousal coursed through him as he stood in front of her and worked the tight sheath of her skirt up about her waist. She didn't have on any underwear, but then he hadn't expected any. He lifted her onto the desk and she leaned back until she was lying flat across the polished surface. They both knew what this was, and it wasn't lovemaking. She didn't pretend to have any romantic feelings, or demand foreplay. This was power sex, a gambit involving bodies, though she hadn't yet realized the true game or that she wouldn't survive it.

He unfastened his pants and stepped between her spread thighs, entering her with a smooth thrust that had her humming with pleasure.Good, he thought as he began thrusting. It would be nice if she enjoyed her last time.

Calla'slong hair fanned across the desk. Parrish closed his eyes and thought of Grace, of her luscious mouth. He imagined that the heat surrounding him was Grace's heat, and he pumped steadily into it. She too would die afterward, but perhaps not immediately. Perhaps he would play with her for a while.

Calla gasped, arching. The response struck him as too theatrical, and he paused to consider her. Her eyes were half closed, her head tilted back, her lips open and moist. It was a lovely picture she made, and a totally false one. Why, she was faking, damn her, pandering to his ego. She probably faked it with all her rich lovers, twisting and moaning so they thought they were great in the sack, while all the time she was smirking inside and feeling nothing but contempt because men were so easily manipulated with sex.

Not this time. He slipped one of her shoes off, dropping it to the floor. Deliberately he reached down between their bodies and pinched her clitoris, rubbing his thumb across it in a repeated motion. She gasped again, and tried to twist away from him. Parrish dragged her back, thrusting into her to the hilt and recapturing her hardened nub. "What's the matter?" he softly taunted, his voice coming in soft pants in rhythm with his thrusts. "Don't tell me you like faking it better than actually coming. Can't you feel superior if you let yourself enjoy being fucked?"

"Bastard," she hissed at him, digging her claws into his sleeved arms. Her breath was coming faster, her eyes furious and gleaming in the darkness.

"You like the power you have over men, don't you? You like knowing you can turn them into panting beasts. Is that what makes your nipples get so hard, or do you fake that too, pinching them when no one's looking?"

The glitter of her eyes almost matched that of her jewels. "I pinch them. Did you think aman could turn me on? Don't be funny!"

"What does turn you on? A woman?" He kept his rhythm steady, his thumb moving ceaselessly back and forth while he thrust. Her hostility was far more exciting than her compliance had been; if it hadn't been for her superficial resemblance to Grace, he would simply have pushed her over the railing without giving her a tumble first. But he liked her venom, her contempt; at least she wasn't fakingthat.

"That would please your ego, wouldn't it, if I were a lesbian? No wonder you couldn't make me enjoy it, I'm a man-hater! No such luck," she jeered. "I please myself, a lot better than a man can."

"Until now." He openly gloated as he felt how wet she was getting. Her breath was getting faster and faster, her nipples standing upright without being pinched. He read the signs and thrust harder and deeper, driving into her, and with a choked cry she began climaxing. Triumphant, he rode her to the end, until his own climax began boiling upward. He snatched the handkerchief out of his pocket as he jerked out of her, coming into the silk square while he stroked himself in the final pleasure.

Her features twisted with rage as she sat up. It wasn't just that he'd made her climax, but that he had pulled away from her at the last and accomplished his own pleasure without her, taunting her with the reversal of her usual role with men.

Calmly Parrish folded the handkerchief and replaced it in his pocket, to be disposed of when he could safely do so. He straightened his clothing, tucking and zipping, then assisted her off the desk. She stood silently as he restored her dress to its proper position. "Don't sulk," he advised. "It isn't becoming. You should learn, my dear, to be a better loser. And to be a better judge of the men you play your power games with, because I fear you badly misjudged the situation this time."

She glared at him, not ready to give him any sort of victory, and bent down to retrieve her shoe. Parrish stayed her with a hand under her elbow. "Not yet," he said, smiling, and clipped her under the chin with his fist.

She obligingly sagged forward, and he lifted her in his arms. She wasn't unconscious, Just stunned, and she blinked owlishly at him as he swiftly carried her out onto the balcony. "I would apologize for the little bruise you'll have," he told her as he stood her up at the waist-high wall, "but really, my dear, no one will notice." Then he bent and caught her ankles, and tipped her over.

She didn't scream at all, or if she did, the sound was stifled by terror. Parrish didn't linger to watch; after all, they were fifty-six stories up, and it would take her several seconds to hit the street. He went back into the study and picked up her shoe, then returned to the balcony. Crouching, he pressed the heel of the shoe against the polished marble until the high, sharp heel snapped off. He thought about tossing the shoe over too, but someone might notice its arrival on the street several seconds after its wearer, so instead he left it lying on the marble. All that remained to do was to retrieve his jacket and rejoin the guests, and wait for the cops to arrive and tell Skip his wife had apparently taken a header off the balcony. That should take long enough for everyone to be hazy about the time he rejoined them, especially since the wine and cocktails had been freely flowing for at least an hour now.

He did regret having to soil his handkerchief.

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