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Authors: Gerri Russell

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BOOK: A Knight to Desire
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He'd hoped beyond hope that, once he returned to Scotland after the slaughter at Teba, he would find only peace and contentment. And he had for a short time. He and William had been happy returning to their old lives for a few weeks. Simon had gone home to Lee Castle and left the precious Charm Stone he'd acquired in Spain in his mother's care. 

Then de la Roche had crossed onto their shores. Nothing would bring peace to any Templar ever again. Not while de la Roche roamed their country torturing and slaying all who had connections to the Templars.

Instantly Simon's thoughts moved to Brianna. Would she be safe? Could de la Roche know her association with their unfortunate band of brothers? Simon clenched his fist around the pommel of his sword until the metal bit into his palm. Nay, he had to believe she was safe. Thinking of anything else would make him feel only more defeated and alone than ever before. 

Her survival had kept him going during the dreadful aftermath in Teba. He'd managed, with great cost to himself, to keep his feelings hidden from her after he'd discovered her deception. He'd treated her as a brother, but his feelings had always gone deeper than that, despite his vows. The memory of Brianna plunged into his gut. The last few years had been such a torment. He was a man whose two loves couldn't possibly coexist, and between which he could never choose. A monk in love with a woman; a man dedicated to God.

Never had he allowed his feelings to compromise his vows — or at least those were the lies he told himself at night as he lay in his lonely bed thinking of her, praying she was well and whole and away from the evilness de la Roche had brought to this land.

Looking around him now, at the men who'd lost their lives to de la Roche, and at the treasure that was now vulnerable to attack, he wasn't so certain of her survival any longer. She was but one woman against that man…

Simon shivered involuntarily. It wasn't up to him to protect her. It was his duty to keep his Templar brothers and the Templar treasure safe. He forced thoughts of Brianna aside and stared at the challenge before him.

The Templar treasure was as vulnerable as it had ever been. Without thinking about the magnitude of what he did, Simon raced up the passageway to the four pillars that the previous treasure guardians had carved into the rock. Between each pillar stood a statue of a Templar. The guardians had spent years creating this underground temple. All of it would be destroyed if his plan succeeded. 

Simon moved to the pillar closest to the cave's opening. But even the guardians had prepared themselves for a day such as this. If the scroll Siobhan Fraser, the daughter of one of the guardians, had shown Simon was correct, then he'd find what he searched for here on this first pillar. Carefully he examined the stone, searching in the golden light of the torches for a flaw in the carving. It took several moments before he found it. A deeply grooved cut in the lower half of the stone pillar. A carefully designed flaw in case such an emergency as this should arise.

Simon stepped back and lifted his sword. For a moment he thought about praying, but banished the idea. Why pray to a God that abandoned those who needed him most? Or perhaps it was Simon's own faith that hadn't been strong enough. Perhaps if he'd believed more? 

He clenched his fingers on the pommel of his sword. Nay, 'twas God who had left them in their time of need. Now when they had need of divine assistance once more, it would be Simon's own might and the guardians' careful design that would bring the pillars down and collapse the rest of the cave. 

On a sharp breath, Simon tightened his grip on his sword and let the weapon fly with all the intensity his muscles could provide. An explosion of sound echoed through the hallway as steel met stone. Pain ricocheted up his forearms and lodged razor-sharp in his shoulders. He clenched his jaw against the agony as the pillar snapped, wobbled, then fell toward the statue and the pillar beside it. 

Simon took several steps back, as the second pillar crashed into the third, then the fourth tumbled down to crash upon the rocky ground. The stone beneath him rocked, making it difficult to stand as he struggled toward the exit.

All around him, the rock shuddered. The air filled with a terrible grating sound. The shriek deepened, grew louder. The world began to shake and sway around him as the ceiling above cracked at the lack of support and tumbled to the ground in huge, raining chunks. In surreal slowness, Simon ran for the opening of the cave. Over his shoulder he watched the cavern fall. One rock tumbled, then another until an avalanche of noise boomed all around him, rattling the walls — the sound both earthly and unearthly. 

The walls were collapsing in upon themselves. Simon surveyed the destruction that intensified with each beat of his heart. If he didn't hurry, he'd be buried along with the treasure. With the earth twisting and rutting upward in his path, he raced down the dark corridor. Ahead he could just make out a splash of light.  He fixed on it. Power surged through his body, made his heart beat faster as dirt showered all around him, spattered on the rock beneath his feet. The light ahead became his single hope for salvation. Large chunks of rock rained down from above. He leapt around them. His breath ripped from his chest at his exertion. He pumped his arms, moving faster. The sound of his ragged breathing pounded in his ears, mingled with the thrumming of his heart, drowning out the noise.

He broke through into the light on a cloud of dust and rock to find his men waiting with alarmed faces. The shaking stopped as suddenly as it had begun. 

A slight breeze stirred and whistled through the treetops below. A bird chirped. The warm rays of the sun kissed the back of his neck, drying the sweat that had gathered there. The world around him went on as though nothing had happened. Yet a vast, impenetrable emptiness invaded his soul. 

What had he just done to the Templar treasure? A treasure his Order had painstakingly gathered and protected over the centuries, a treasure he had re-buried with a single stroke of his sword. Simon drew a sharp breath, forcing the emptiness aside. He'd done what he'd had to do to keep the treasure safe from de la Roche and others until the Brotherhood could dig it out of the rubble.

Kaden immediately came to Simon's side. "I was afraid you wouldn't make it out."

"For a moment, so was I," Simon said, straightening and searching his men's faces. "Our mission has changed."

"Where do we go from here?" Kaden asked.

"Kaden, you'll join me; the rest of you will escort Bernard back to Crosswick Priory. He needs to heal, and the healing baths there will serve him well. The important thing is that we leave here before de la Roche's army arrives."

Kaden frowned at his friend. "Where are we headed?"

"To the north." God have mercy on him. He couldn't leave her vulnerable to attack. It might be a dreadful sin to bring her back into temptation's reach, but he didn't have a choice. Brianna Sinclair had a skill that could help them. "We are heading to the one person I know with the gift of sight."

"Brianna Sinclair."

Simon forced away the ripple of awareness that hearing her name brought to his flesh. "Aye, Brianna. Her visions may help us identify any disguise de la Roche has assumed. She will help us find the man who means to destroy us all."

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

Pierre de la Roche shivered as the morning mist gathered around his feet. His hip ached and his ankle burned as he stood at the edge of the loch. His healing was progressing, but he still had a ways to go before he would be whole once more. He held the cup of Christ in his left hand and the sword of Charlemagne in his right. His days of pain were at an end. It was time to restore himself fully. With these two artifacts he would be invincible.

The sword and the grail.

Ultimate power and eternal life.

The weapons of a true champion.

He bent to the water's edge and filled the unremarkable tin cup with clear, almost sweet-smelling water. He bit back another jolt of pain as his hip and ankle protested the movement. Instead of focusing on the pain, his thoughts turned to all that had happened. He'd damaged both his hip and ankle when he'd fallen from the tower of Stonehyve Castle. The twisted disfigurement of his leg seemed a small price to pay for escaping with his life. But the days and weeks and months since the accident had worn him down. He'd managed to overcome the pain with thoughts of revenge. Revenge that had driven him to do things he'd never imagined. The idea had come to him one cold, rainy, miserable night when he'd happened upon a group of Templar scouts.

Three of the men had stayed with the horses. A fourth man had wandered to the edge of a loch to fill their water skins. That man had never returned, at least not the man the others knew as the Templar Knight, Roinald Brown.

Roinald Brown had taken on a new persona that day along with a slight limp. He'd captured the three other knights one by one and tortured information enough to start his masquerade as one of them. He'd become the thing he hated that day, all for the purpose of bringing them down.

De la Roche's gaze shifted to the cup filled to the brim with liquid. Anticipation flared inside him as he brought the cup to his lips and took a small sip.

Disguised as one of them, he'd stolen the holiest cup on earth, along with the most powerful sword ever forged. A warm and heady power flowed through him, giving him the strength he craved.

The Holy Grail.

A healing cup, and a cup that gave those who drank from it eternal life.

He took another swallow of the liquid, allowing the water to spill past his lips in his haste to consume it. The water rolled down his chin, along his neck, to his chest. Again strength flowed through him, through his body and into his damaged leg. He stared down at his damaged limb. The slight twist of his ankle remained unchanged, yet the appendage felt as though it had never been shattered.

He gulped the remains of the cup, feeling the pain in his hip subside. He drew a breath deep into his lungs, then another. An energized life force that he'd never experienced filled him.

He took a step away from the water's edge. No pain seared his side and his foot and ankle seemed straighter and steady beneath him. He took another step, then another until he was running free from pain and filled with joy.

The Grail had healed him, saved him, and would continue to do so. His steps slowed, then stopped. It was all happening just as he'd hoped it would.

He'd wormed his way into the Templar nest, stolen the Templar's treasures, and now he would use those things to destroy the unholy tyrants once and for all. He would have his revenge against the man who had caused him torment every moment of every day since he'd fallen from the tower and injured his body.

William Keith. De la Roche would see the bastard fall. But first, he had to contend with another Templar. A smile came to de la Roche's lips as he looked off into the distance, imagining his newest target. Simon Lockhart. As the self-appointed leader of the Brotherhood of the Scottish Templars, once Lockhart fell, the others would flounder. Their weakness would be his triumph. With a renewed sense of power, de la Roche gripped the sword of Charlemagne more firmly in his hand. Hunger for revenge raked his soul. With this weapon and the Holy Grail in his arsenal, he would be unstoppable.

 

"Brianna," Abigail MacInnes called from the back door of the small inn she ran with Brianna's help. "We have visitors and I need you to help serve them their supper." 

Silence met her call.

"Brianna?" Abigail stepped out onto the stone path. "Where are you?"

"Up here," Brianna replied from the branches of a stout oak tree that grew to the left of the path. Her private retreat. She quickly replaced the silver spurs she held in her hands into a wooden box, then wedged it between the two branches where she kept it hidden. The pieces of silver were all she had left of her life as a knight. Even that small remnant would upset her old nurse if she found out Brianna still possessed them. Abigail had taken her in when no one else would. Brianna would never intentionally do something to harm her one and only friend.

BOOK: A Knight to Desire
8.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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