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Authors: Gerri Russell

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BOOK: A Knight to Desire
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Brianna turned toward the small inn to find a large, buxom woman opening the door to welcome them inside. About the same age as Abigail, the woman had graying black hair and kind brown eyes.

"Good eve," the woman said, smiling brightly. Her smile faltered for a moment as her gaze fixed on Brianna's sword. "Will you be needing a room for the night?"

"Nay, just a bit of food before my companions and I are on our way again."

The woman looked past her as Simon and Kaden headed for the stable. "Judging by the tall one's steps, he appears to be in a hurry."

Brianna nodded.

"Then we'd best get you taken care of before he returns." The woman stepped aside to allow Brianna and Abigail to enter. "Go on into the common room. We have mincemeat pies and roasted lamb."

They needed food that would be easy to carry. "We'll take four pies, two skins of ale, and apples if you have them, please?"

The woman nodded and left the two of them alone in the empty common room. An odd sensation fluttered across the back of Brianna's neck. She scanned the empty chamber. Even for a small town, it was unusual for the inn to be vacant at suppertime.

Brianna sat in a chair near the hearth to wait. With her gaze on the door, she gripped the hilt of her sword.

"There's no need for that." A frown pulled down the corners of Abigail's lips as she sat down next to Brianna.

Brianna opened her mouth to speak, then paused as she heard something odd from outside. If she didn't know better…

A dagger whizzed past the right side of her head, narrowly missing her.

Abigail shrieked and dropped to the floor.

Before Brianna could unsheathe her sword, the door slammed open and a body dressed in a green tunic and black breeches rolled to the floor.

Four long steps took her across the room where she rested her blade at the man's exposed neck, only to find him already dead.

A heartbeat later, Simon stepped through the door with his dagger in his hand. "We must leave now."

"De la Roche's man?" Brianna asked.

"It has to be. We must keep moving. That is our best defense until we know more."

Abigail joined them. Her face paled as she gazed at the man slumped in the doorway. "What about the food?"

Simon bent down and hoisted the dead man over his shoulder. "Our hunger won't matter much if we are dead." He vanished into the darkness of the inn yard to return a moment later without the man.

Brianna shut the door to the inn, then she and Abigail strode toward the horses Kaden held for them at the center of the yard. Silently, they mounted and under the cover of darkness, left town.

As they made their way through the dark forest, Brianna couldn't stop the frantic beating of her heart. Who was this de la Roche? He'd sent men to attack them twice now. Would more follow? How did the Frenchman know where the four of them were? Did the man follow them as well?

Suddenly the burden of what Simon had asked of her settled around her shoulders. How many more men or women would die before she could identify who or what de la Roche had become? Her visions would tell her. "Please," she whispered into the night. "Let me sleep."

 

De la Roche frowned as a torch, illuminating the buxom woman he'd paid to set his trap, came toward him, revealing his hiding place on the far side of the inn yard.

A few more days of drinking from the Grail and his shattered leg would be fully healed. Then he could challenge Lockhart and all the Templars himself. Each day he grew stronger, the damage to his body improved and the pain was less crippling.

"They left in a hurry," the woman cried. Her face was pale and her expression void of the friendliness with which she'd first greeted him. "I tried to make them stay. I did everything you asked."

De la Roche pulled his brown robes around him and stepped out of the shadows.

The woman stopped an arm's length from him, quivering. "They killed your man."

At her fear, his anger faded and a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. She was only an innkeeper's wife, yet the effect his presence had over her was everything he'd ever hoped for. It was about time someone saw him the way he saw himself — powerful and indestructible. The woman's fear was palpable. To him it was as heady and as intoxicating as the finest wine in France. "Did you poison their pies and their apples?" he asked, his voice hard, filled with the power that ran through his veins.

Her face became ashen. "They left without the food."

Joyeuse swung free of his scabbard, and displacing a mere whisper of air, cut her down.

She dropped to her knees as her face contorted with pain. "Milord…" The words faded into the night as she fell to the ground at his feet.

The air still vibrating with the song of death, de la Roche sheathed the mighty weapon. Armies throughout history had fallen before Charlemagne's sword. The Templars would be easy prey once he was fully healed.

De la Roche lifted the pouch filled with the lock of Brianna Sinclair's hair that he wore suspended by a silken cord about his neck. Just as the old woman who'd helped to harbor him after his fall from the tower of Stonehyve Castle had said, the lock of hair he'd taken from Brianna Sinclair gave him an odd connection to the girl. Through her hair, he had known where to go next to find Lockhart and his band of warriors.

De la Roche stretched his broken and battered limb, feeling no pain. The Grail would continue to heal him. But the time was past for sending assassins to do what must be done. He must face his enemy himself. Before he met Lockhart face-to-face, he would strike the man in a more subtle way — a way that would hurt him far more than a sword to the chest.

And de la Roche knew just where to start. Lee Castle was not too far from here. The Lockhart estate would most likely hold many treasures worth destroying. With a satisfied smile, he headed for the innkeeper's kitchen.

The unprotected sisters of that bastard Lockhart would welcome a basket of beautiful apples. They would accept a gift from one of Lockhart's many associates. He would make certain of it.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eight

 

They rode through the night and all the next day, until once again night fell. The sky was bloodred as the last rays of sunlight pierced the horizon. The rays turned the glimpses of the sea peeking out between the trees on their left a blazing red. Instead of taking in the breathtaking beauty, Brianna frowned at the sight. She hated the color red. Since Teba, she'd not been able to separate the color from the sticky red liquid that had covered the battlefield that day.

Pulling her gaze from the sky, she slowed her pace to bring her horse next to Abigail. They'd been riding for hours. The older woman was as dusty as she from their travels, yet Abigail's oval face and sparkling gray eyes showed no sign of weariness. In fact, with each mile they rode, it seemed as though Brianna's exhaustion increased in proportion to Abigail's excitement.

"Are you truly that excited to be away from your home?" Brianna asked when Abigail laughed after turning her face into the slight breeze.

"I've been in that inn for so long. I had forgotten what the world around us looks like — the hills, the trees, the sky. They are all so beautiful!"

Brianna wished she were enjoying the scenery as much. It had been so long since she'd been free of the confinement of the inn as well. But instead of joy, she felt the incredible pressure of forcing a vision to come to her. What if nothing came? She'd been given a chance to change her future and now what if her gift of sight refused to cooperate?

"That's a very dark look on your face for such a beautiful sunset," Simon drew his horse up to ride beside her.

Brianna frowned. Was she the only one who thought the sky appeared wrathful? "How much farther until we reach the priory?"

"Another day's travel at least. We will have to beg shelter from the lord in the castle just beyond the trees at the shoreline."

"Is the lord someone we can trust?" Out of habit, Brianna's hand moved to the hilt of the sword at her hip. She fingered the Celtic design carved into the haft, ready to draw if needed.

Simon smiled. "With our lives." Simon gave his horse a command. His steed leaped to a gallop through the woods.

Brianna, Abigail, and Kaden followed his lead as they crossed a wide, fast-flowing stream. Moments later, they emerged from the trees to see a shimmering four-square tower made entirely of red stone, rising from the edge of a bluff with the sea stretching endlessly behind it.

"Red Castle," Simon said, slowing his horse beside her. "The home of Sir Alan Cathcart and his wife Jessamine."

"Sir Alan is no longer a Templar?"

Simon nodded. "He helps the cause in other ways now."

Silence fell as the four of them progressed up the lane to the drawbridge. Before they reached the gate, the portcullis went up and a tall man with dark hair stepped forward to greet them. Brianna held back. Abigail did the same, allowing the men to talk privately.

The dark-haired Sir Alan clapped Simon on the shoulder and laughed. Simon's staid demeanor brightened and pleasure lingered for a moment as he smiled, before all emotion vanished once more. Simon turned to Brianna and signaled for her and Abigail to come forward.

Brianna paused, uncertain of how Sir Alan would greet her. He had been upset when he'd learned of her deception. She worried her bottom lip between her teeth. Most of the other Templars had been angered by her ruse, but none of them had been mean to her after the fact. They'd mostly just ignored her.

Sir Alan offered her a welcoming smile. "Brianna, 'tis good to see you again. Come." He waved her forward. "I want you to meet my wife."

She and Abigail joined the men and headed through the gate, across the bailey, up a flight of steps, and into the castle's great hall. Just past the doorway stood an exotic woman with long black hair and honey-colored skin.

Her dark eyes were kind as she met Brianna's. "Welcome to Red Castle. Alan has told me so much about you. I feel as if I already know you."

Brianna's eyes moved to the woman's rounded belly and back to her face. "You are with child?"

"I sure hope that's what this is!" She laughed as she cradled her belly with her hands. "Very soon there will be a little warrior in the castle and in our lives."

Sir Alan strode to stand behind his wife and placed his hands on her shoulders. A tender smile pulled up the corners of his mouth. "We are blessed."

Brianna could only stare. Never once, in all the time she had spent with the Templars had she ever seen Sir Alan smile. And yet he smiled easily now, standing beside his exotic bride and his soon-to-be baby. He appeared content. "Sir Alan, I am pleased to see you so happy. But what about de la Roche? Doesn't his presence in this country worry you? How will you keep your family safe?"

Sir Alan's smile slipped. "De la Roche's presence here concerns us very much. But is it not infinitely better to hope for the best than to fear for the worst? Jessamine and I have every confidence that you, Simon, Kaden, and the others will find a way to do what must be done. And if you have need of me, all you need do is ask."

"If you will excuse us," Jessamine said to the others. "I would like to speak with Brianna alone."

Simon nodded as he and the others walked past them into the high-roofed hall. They'd arrived at suppertime. Men sat at long tables clustered near a raised dais at the opposite end of the chamber. A cheery fire crackled in the hearth along the far wall. Busy serving maids carried platters of savory-smelling meats to each of the tables already laden with bread, fruit, cheese, and tankards of malty-smelling ale. Roasted mutton and onions were scents that reminded Brianna of home and should have brought her comfort. Tonight, they only made her stomach churn at the impossible task that had been placed on her shoulders. She needed to sleep, not eat, if she were to help them continue their journey.

BOOK: A Knight to Desire
8.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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