Authors: Gerri Russell
"Do you have any idea who this poor man was?" Brianna asked over the pop and hiss of the flames.
Simon prepared to answer that he did not know when his gaze caught on the ground near the burning stake. Scratched into the earth were four words:
You are next, Lockhart
Brianna stared at the ground and the words etched there. "Simon?" The word was barely a whisper. "He is after you?"
"Aye. He's been after me and all the Templars for some time now. And he has two holy relics that may help him accomplish that task. He'll continue until he gets what he wants. That's why I need your help so desperately. Your visions are the only advantage we have."
"I want to help." Simon studied her with a gentleness that brought a catch to her breath. She pushed out of his arms. She stepped away as guilt and anger consumed her over the senselessness of the deaths of all the men this day.
The pain of loss was nothing new to either one of them. They'd lost many warriors in the days they'd fought together. They would lose many more before this was over, if the ambush today were any indication. Her gaze swept the ground and the eleven men who lay dead. "De la Roche's men?"
Simon came to stand behind her. She could feel him, sense him standing there. As always, he was close enough to lend her comfort, yet kept a distance between them as well. "We must leave here, Brianna. Until we have reinforcements and know more about de la Roche's identity, we cannot risk anything happening to you."
He nodded. "You are everything. The edge we need to destroy de la Roche for good."
Before she could reply, Simon gripped her waist, then lifted her up onto the back of her horse. "This is no time for us to delay. De la Roche could be anywhere."
Simon assisted Abigail onto her horse before he mounted his own. Kaden bundled the charred remains of the Templar into his cloak then lashed the body to the back of his horse before mounting. "We must ride as far as we can this day. Only once we reach the priory and the other Templars there will we be safe." Simon turned his horse to the southeast. They all fell silent as they picked their way through the dense forest.
"How could de la Roche know you were on your way to find me, or that you'd head to Rosslyn Castle?"
Simon frowned. "I don't know, but from this moment forward we must proceed with absolute caution. It was probably best that Abigail came with us. I'd hate to have left her for de la Roche to use as bait to get to you."
Brianna twisted back toward Abigail. She was too far back to hear their conversation. Pain squeezed Brianna's chest. She loved Abigail and had never intended to put her in harm's way because of her own choices. "Will Abigail be safe at the priory?"
"As safe as any of us."
Brianna frowned. "You mentioned that de la Roche possesses two holy relics. Why does his possessing them concern you so?"
Simon twisted toward her. "He stole both the sword of Charlemagne and the Holy Grail. With those two items, he holds the power to slay and to heal in the palm of his hands."
A shiver rippled down Brianna's spine. "He will be a formidable foe."
Simon nodded, but said nothing further.
As they rode, Brianna glanced at the man beside her. She had not seen Simon for a year. He sat his horse with more confidence than he had when they were in Teba together. His bearing was proud, his gaze thoughtful, yet she didn't miss the lines of worry that were etched beneath his watchful eyes. And in those eyes there was a sadness that had not been there before. No doubt Simon had seen many horrific things in the time they'd been apart, but was that the reason for the sadness or something more?
Her gaze shifted to his hands. They were large and well-shaped, strong, masculine, and lightly scarred. They were the hands of a capable warrior who was used to fighting. She shifted her gaze to her own hands. A light scar laced the back of her right hand that she'd received in one of the many battles leading up to Teba. Her left hand bore two smaller scars from early days of sparing with her brothers. The hint of a smile tugged at her lips. They both wore the evidence of their chosen life. The thought warmed her.
Brianna allowed silence to fall between them as they traveled for what felt like forever. At nightfall, her muscles screamed at the lack of movement and exhaustion settled over her. A glance at Simon told her he was as tired as she, yet he wasn't about to give in.
Brianna straightened. If he could take the relentless motion and stiffness in his muscles, so could she. But a quick glance at Abigail confirmed that not everyone in their party was so stubborn.
Abigail came forward. "My horse is tired. As are yours," she said. "Will we be stopping soon?"
"There is a village ahead."
A wave of relief swept across Abigail's weary face. "Where we will stay the night?" she asked hopefully.
"Nay," Simon responded. "We will stay only long enough to trade the horses and eat something warm; then we shall continue onward."
"With so little rest?" Abigail asked.
He shrugged. "I have no desire to give de la Roche time to catch up to us. Do you?"
"Nay, but how can you fight him if you are exhausted?"
"You'd be amazed at how hard you can fight with no sleep whatsoever when the need arises."
"Simon's right," Brianna agreed. They'd both fought against their foe when exhaustion had been heavy upon them. "We had best keep moving until we know we are safe."
Though a look of disappointment shadowed Abigail's features, she nodded and let her horse fall back into step beside Kaden and his horse.
As they continued on, Brianna tried to focus her thoughts on the trees, the slight wind that picked up as dusk fell over the land. No matter what she tried, her thoughts turned back to the quiet man beside her. What had happened to him since his return to Scotland? They'd parted suddenly after the battle of Teba. She'd been escorted by four of the surviving foot soldiers back to Rosslyn Castle along with the bodies of her brothers.
She shuddered at the memory. Suddenly she had to know more of what had become of Simon after that day. "You mentioned going back to Lee Castle after Teba?"
"For less than a day. That's when I received word from Sir William that it was urgent I meet him at Crosswick Priory. That's when we learned about the threat de la Roche had brought to Scotland's shores."
"You've battled de la Roche before?"
"It did not go well. The man escaped." As if saying the words released him from some spell, he finally met her eyes.
Every question she asked raised only more questions. Brianna met his gaze as suddenly she needed to know all of what he did not say. Was he protecting her or himself? Without thinking, she brought her horse next to his and reached out and touched his hands as they clutched his horse's reins. "I'm sorry for the pain he's added to your life."
Her nerves flickered as the scent of soap teased her senses and warmth curled down her spine.
He didn't pull away, but his breathing quickened. "He'll not get the chance to do so again."
Through her fingers she could feel the tension thrumming through him. "Does anyone else know about de la Roche infiltrating the Templars?"
"I sent the others who were with me at the treasury ahead of us to the priory. By now, I have hope they've been able to spread the word as far and as wide as possible." He sighed and some of the tension left him. "But that is why it is imperative we get to the priory because none of us knows what the man looks like — how he's disguised himself." His gaze warmed. "That's why we need you. Your dreams can tell us what we do not know."
If only I could dream.
Brianna looked down at where their hands were joined. It had been a year since they'd been this close. She could feel the heat of Simon's body pass into her own, sensed the raw desire that lay just below his surface — the energy that was always there. She'd not forgotten how it felt to touch him. How she felt charged with tension and yet renewed each time.
She drew a shuddering breath, trying to keep her thoughts centered on the challenges ahead. "What do you expect de la Roche will do with the artifacts he has?"
A flash of pain darkened his eyes the instant before he pulled his hand from her slackened grasp. "He's obviously injured which explains the Grail. And the sword, no doubt, is to help him overtake the Templars. He almost accomplished that feat last time when he stole the Spear of Destiny, but thanks to Sir William and Lady Siobhan Fraser, that attempt was thwarted."
"I know this might be unpleasant for you, but what can you tell me about him physically? Does he have any notable features? Things he could not disguise? It might help me."
"His eyes." Simon's voice became hard. "He has unusually light blue eyes."
"Merciful heavens," Brianna whispered. "Blue eyes…"
Simon's gaze snapped to hers. "What is it?"
"I've seen him before in my dreams." She reached up and toyed with the place where the lock of hair that had gone missing the night before Simon had arrived. "Or perhaps in person."
Simon's expression darkened. "Explain yourself."
She lifted the hair that had been left blunted after that night. "I had a dream one night that there was a man in my chamber. He stood over me and clipped a lock of my hair. Why would he do that?"
Simon stopped his horse then reached out for her bridle, forcing her to do the same. Fear and anger mixed in the depths of his dark eyes. He reached for her hair, running his finger and thumb along the severed ends. "He did not hurt you, d
"I could have taken care of myself if he had tried anything."
Simon released her hair. "Nothing good can come of this."
"What could he possibly do with my hair?"
"I don't know for certain, but since I've come to you, it has seemed as though the man has known our every move."
Abigail and Kaden stopped their horses. "It's the old magic," Abigail said with a frown. "I've heard tales from my mother and her mother before her that a lock of hair from one who has visions can allow others to partake in those dreams."
"Is there any way to sever the bond?" Kaden asked, bringing his horse up next to Brianna.
"Brother Kenneth might know." Simon glowered, quietly smoldering, but there was worry behind his eyes. "I know you are all tired, but with this new development, we absolutely must continue to the priory."
All the color drained from Abigail's countenance. "It's that serious?"
Abigail stiffened. "Then let's go."
"There is a small village ahead." Kaden paused, then added, "We can refresh the horses and perhaps ourselves there."
Simon inclined his head. "When we reach the village, you and Abigail will gather food while Kaden and I see to the horses. Agreed?"
Abigail gripped her horse's reins. "I'll do whatever it takes to get this man away from us," she said as they started forward once more.
None of them spoke again until they entered the village. "How long do we have?"
"Not long. I'll come back for you as soon as Kaden and I refresh the horses."