Authors: Gerri Russell
Brianna swept his finger away from her lips. "I want nothing from you." Her words lacked her earlier anger.
"You might want this." He grinned. "I can give you a chance to be what you've always wanted."
Brianna's heart lurched. Could he mean...
"You can ride with me as a knight if you help me figure out what de la Roche will do next to destroy the Templars."
Despite her attempt to appear unimpressed by his offer, excitement flared. The images from her earliest vision came back to her.
She was dressed as a Knight Templar.
Her sword was held at the ready.
Her brothers were in danger.
Only she could save them from certain death. Only she.
The vision had haunted her for years.
It was that vision and so many others that had forced her from the convent and onto her path with the Templars. It was in Edinburgh, among the other Templars, that she had seen her two brothers once more. Pain swelled in Brianna's chest as her thoughts turned to William and John Sinclair.
Suddenly her fingers trembled. She shoved her hands into the folds of her heavy skirt. Her brothers were dead, but not by anything she had done to distract them during the battle of Teba as her father had accused her. But now Simon offered her a chance to save other Templars from a similar fate at the hands of a new enemy. Could she grasp what Simon offered and let go of her anger? Stop blaming him for destroying her dreams and preventing her from saving her brothers?
Slowly she relaxed the death-grip she had on her skirt and brought her hands atop the table. "Give me your word you'll not send me away again at the first sign of battle."
His gaze narrowed, scrutinizing her. "You don't trust me."
"Should I? If you want my help, give me your word."
"I promise not to send you away."
She reached out and grasped his forearm, waiting for his grasp in return. It was how they'd once greeted each other in the Brotherhood. "I will hold you to your word, Simon."
He hesitated only a moment before responding in kind. "I shall not fail you, milady."
At his words, warmth flared where his fingers touched. She pulled her hand away to rest it in her lap. Words of gratitude flooded her throat, but she held them back, unwilling to give him that much power over her. They had reached an agreement. He still had yet to prove his word. "I shall go with you."
"Brianna, no. You mustn't leave here," Abigail gasped.
Brianna twisted toward Abigail, who stood framed by the kitchen doorway. A sick feeling crept into Brianna's stomach. "I must."
Abigail brought her aging fingers to her cheeks. "Your father would not approve of you warring again."
Brianna straightened, relieved that feelings of betrayal slammed into her now instead of her own guilt. "My father's opinion matters not." He had given up that right a year ago when he'd disowned her.
"Abigail, I very much appreciate all you have done for me. You saved my life. You gave me hope when I had none." She stepped up to her friend, taking her fingers from her cheeks to wrap them in her own hands. "I don't understand any more than you do why I behave so unlike my own sex. But I know, deep in my heart, I wasn't born to wield a needle and thread, but to wield a sword, to protect others, and to fight for my people in any way I can. You must understand that about me by now?"
Long absent color filled Abigail's cheeks. "Aye, my child. Even at your birth, you entered this world backwards, fighting convention even then." She gave a little laugh. "Nothing has changed, has it?"
Brianna responded with a soft smile. "So you see why I must go with Sir Simon, Sir Kaden? I am needed." She bit back her own admission of "finally." Admitting such a thing would make her too vulnerable to Simon. Nay, she would keep her insecurities to herself.
Abigail nodded and gave Brianna's hands a squeeze before pulling away. She untied her apron, folding it in two, then set it across the back of the wooden chair nearest her. "I understand." She turned to face Simon. "I hope you also understand that this child has suffered enough ill treatment in her young life. I'll not allow you, or anyone else, to add to her burdens. If she must go with you, then I must go with her."
Brianna gasped. "Abigail, I could never endanger you so."
The older woman ignored Brianna as her gaze fixed on Simon. "Do we have an accord, Sir Simon? I shall serve as a chaperone while you two do whatever must be done."
"Abigail," Brianna took two steps forward, then stopped when she realized how close she'd come to Simon. She needn't move any closer to smell the hint of fresh, clean soap lingering on his skin, or feel the warmth radiating from his nearness. Nay, she needed to keep her distance. She could think better that way. "It will be dangerous."
"Sounds intriguing," Abigail said with a lift of her brow.
Brianna frowned. That was not the response she wanted. She tried again. "The man we must find has ruthlessly tortured and murdered our countrymen."
Abigail nodded. "Then let's hope you young people find him before he has a chance to do that anymore."
"What about the inn? Who will run it while we are both gone?"
She shrugged. "I can close it for a time. You know how few people stop here at present. Perhaps they are afraid to travel with this de la Roche on the loose. Finding him might help create more business." She set her jaw firmly. A sign Brianna had learned long ago meant the discussion was through.
"You are not making this easy." Brianna said, trying to reason with her friend once more.
Abigail fixed Brianna with an all-too-familiar glance. "You are not the only Scottish female with a will of iron, my child. I am going with you, and that is that."
Brianna sighed. "When do we start?" she asked with a note of concession in her voice.
"At first light if you can be ready by then," Simon replied, his tone lighter.
"We'll be ready," Brianna said. Nothing in heaven or on earth would stop her from seeing her visions through this time.
Simon studied the woman beside him. He hadn't seen Brianna for more than a year. Time had changed her, but not in the way time usually changed people. Nay, if anything time had been her friend. Her features had lost their last vestiges of youth, revealing a goddess. Dark red wisps of hair curled against her pale, perfect skin.
How could he have ever thought she was a man, even for a heartbeat? Looking at her now, it would be impossible to see anything but her feminine loveliness. Her classically beautiful face was expressionless as she stood at his side, yet Simon could tell deep emotion simmered beneath that façade.
She made no pretense as to why she was angry or at whom that anger was directed. Him. He clenched his jaw. He'd sent her away from the battle at Teba.
To save her life.
Why did she not see that? He could feel the beat of his pulse pound against his jaw. Women. Why were they such a mystery to him? They shouldn't be ... his family should have prepared him for anything.
Simon watched as Brianna and Abigail headed from the room to make plans for their departure. The tension that had filled the small space moments before dissipated, and the chamber seemed larger for it.
"We accomplished our first goal," Kaden said from the kitchen doorway where he'd remained while Brianna and Abigail had negotiated their terms.
"Aye," Simon agreed. "It appears the women have as well."
Kaden laughed. "You always were overprotective of the gentler sex."
Simon frowned. "I was doomed at birth, having been raised with seven sisters."
"Seven? 'Tis no wonder then why your family sent you away to the monastery to study amongst other men, or why you took vows to remain in that world of men."
Simon relaxed at Kaden's banter. "Let's not discuss women any longer, for I fear we are sadly inadequate to the matter."
Kaden nodded, his expression suddenly quite serious. "Being that we are Templars."
"Being that we are men." Simon had a feeling he would never truly understand why women thought the way they did. Why Brianna wanted more than her gender allowed. She had risked everything to train as a knight. She'd disguised herself as a distant cousin to the Sinclairs.
No one had questioned her as she gained entrance into the sacred circle of the Templars to become one of them. It was only once they were on Crusade, living in close quarters, that Simon had uncovered her guise. He hadn't seen her femininity in the way she battled, walked, or talked. He'd seen it in the simpler moments like when they ate; she always waited for everyone to be served before she took her first bite. Or when they slept at night; she'd tuck one hand beneath her head, cushioning her cheek.
Looking back now, he also realized she bathed by herself, never changed her clothing with the rest of them, and refrained from their rough and tumble games. Yet she'd thrown herself into many battles alongside the other men over and over again. Simon frowned. Why would she risk death or discovery to follow her visions? Did what she saw in her mind empower her or frighten her into seeing things through?
Simon stared at the doorway through which Brianna and Abigail had left. Fear or strength, it did not matter to Simon what her visions did to her; he would see that she had them, many and often, in order to learn what they could about de la Roche.
"What do we do now?" Kaden asked, interrupting Simon's thoughts.
"For a start, you and I are going to the stable to see what kind of horseflesh these women own, then make our plans from there."
Kaden frowned. "It's going to be a long night, isn't it?"
"You never had any sisters, did you?"
The young knight shook his head.
Simon clapped his friend on the shoulder. "Prepare yourself, Kaden. It could be quite some time before we know a moment's peace again."
At dawn the next morning, Brianna crept silently into the stable where Simon and Kaden had bedded down for the night despite the fact they had every room available at the inn. The men had preferred to sleep with their horses. On tiptoe she moved to the two horses Abigail kept for travelers' needs.
Brianna grasped her favorite harness and saddle from the rest of the tack. She made her way to Magic's side. At her approach the horse lifted her nose and eagerly rubbed it against Brianna's outstretched hand. "My beauty," Brianna whispered against the horse's ear. "Good morning. Are you ready for this?"
The horse tossed its head, and a responding wave of nervous anticipation flared in Brianna's chest. She couldn't sleep last night, not one wink, as her mind had raced through the possibilities that lay ahead of her.
Her gaze crept to the reclining figure of the man who had, in part, given her back a small glimmer of hope that her life might amount to something — that the dreams she had each and every night had meaning. Yet caution held her back. Would he be true to his word? Would he allow her to see this journey through, to fulfill her destiny? Would she be able to prove to herself and the rest of the world that she was as good as any man — that her visions were a gift as the Mother Superior had once called them and not the ravings of a madwoman as Brianna had begun to suspect? Brianna pressed her lips together at the thought. It wasn't the rest of the world she wanted to convince she was worthy — for her, the world amounted to only her father and Simon.