Authors: Kathryn Smith
The excavation was located on a low hilltop near the cliffs. Tall grass waved in the breeze, dots of wildflowers swaying among the blades. The sun shone high overhead, lulling Pru into a sense of deep contentment as gulls cried in the distance. The surf lapped gently at the rocks below, flushing the air with the scent of salt and wet sand.
If there was a heaven, this was surely it, and it wasn’t nearly so frightening as Pru sometimes thought.
The men digging stopped to don their shirts as the buggy approached.
“Blast,” Georgiana remarked with her usual dryness, “I was so hoping to catch a glimpse of Marcus without his shirt.”
Pru laughed. Her abdomen didn’t even twinge—blessedly. The pain was gone today, but the effects of the laudanum lingered, making her mouth dry and her limbs heavy.
Marcus—clad in the lamented and grimy shirt—met them. His brow and cheeks were flush, streaked with smudges of dirt. His teeth flashed white in the tan of his boyish face.
“I hoped you would come today,” he greeted, stripping off his gloves to help her down from the runner.
Those words were like wings to her heart. “Oh? Have you found something?”
Setting her on the ground, he flashed her another grin as he turned to assist Georgiana. “You’ll see.”
“Oh, I hate it when you do that!” But she laughed anyway. After yesterday’s reminder of the perilousness of her life, she needed something to get excited over. Something to cling to.
He led them to a hole on the least-sloped side of the hill. The landscape was dotted with uncovered foundations and bits of stone. The structure that had stood here once before had been a series of smaller buildings surrounding a larger one.
Marcus stood grinning at the slanted opening. “I had a suspicion that this might be some kind of cellar, set off as it was.”
That would explain why he approached from the side rather than straight on.
Pru climbed to the top of the hill and looked down into the hole the men had begun to expand. The wondrous sight that met her anxious gaze was definitely a stairwell—as old and crumbling as the rock might be, there was no mistaking it.
“An entrance,” she breathed. She lifted her gaze to Marcus.
Her friend was practically beaming. “Yes. This could be the secret cellar where Arthur hoarded his most valuable possessions. If my calculations are correct, I hope to reach the door by the day after tomorrow.”
Oh, God, thank you.
Limbs trembling, Pru jumped at Marcus, all her joy rushing out of her in near-hysterical laughter. He caught her in his arms and swung her around as the diggers cheered. The moment he set her down, Pru was off thanking each of the men who were helping Marcus, shaking their hands and hugging them and not caring if it was proper or not. Georgiana, she noted, was not spared Marcus’s enthusiasm either. He didn’t swing her sister around, but he certainly swept her into one of his exuberant embraces. Georgiana didn’t seem to mind one bit.
With the promise to celebrate that night at dinner—and with thoughts of planning a larger party in the near future—Pru returned to the house.
Father Molyneux was walking through the garden as Pru and Georgiana drove up from the site, so Pru bade her sister to stop and she went to join the priest as Georgiana continued on.
The older man waved in greeting, flashing her a genuine smile as she approached.
“Miss Ryland, how lovely you look this morning. I trust you are recovered from your earlier illness?”
Chapel must have told him. Oddly enough, that realization wasn’t annoying so much as it was warming. The poor man must have really been concerned. She would have to thank him that evening.
“I have, Father. Thank you. May I walk with you?”
He looked genuinely delighted with the suggestion. “Of course. My friend Chapel has told me of the beauty of your roses. I thought to seek them out for myself. Perhaps you would do me the honor of showing them to me yourself?”
“But of course.” She took his offered arm. She wondered if Chapel’s experience with their roses was limited to having a servant cut one for him, or if he had sought out that perfect bloom himself. Most likely he had someone do it for him, but she rather preferred the image of him in the garden just after sunset, painstakingly searching in the dusk until he found the flower he wanted.
Truly, what woman wouldn’t prefer the latter?
“I am so pleased to have found you,” Pru told him as they walked. “I was at the site this morning and Marcus has uncovered a stairwell. He hopes to find an entrance to the cellar two days hence at the very latest.”
“That soon?” Father Molyneux’s expression was
one of astonishment. And there was something else. Was it fear? How odd.
“Yes. Isn’t that exciting?”
“Terribly.” Pru wasn’t so certain he meant that in a good way either.
“Begging your pardon, Father, but you do not seem as joyous as I expected.”
He graced her with a soothing smile—one that only men who were totally at peace with themselves could manage. “I assure you, my dear lady, that if the Grail is in that cellar, my joy will know no boundaries.”
Now it all made sense. “You are not convinced that we have found the right location.”
He shook his head. “It is no slight against yourself or Mr. Grey, but I have witnessed many of these excursions and the devastation their failure brings.”
There was something too shrewd and knowing in his warm gaze. Pru glanced away from it. She would not think of failure, not now.
“But this one might succeed.” How she hated that whine in her voice.
He patted her hand. “
And for you I hope it does. But I wish you to be cautious, Miss Ryland.”
“Cautious? In what respect?”
“These places that have been hidden have often been hidden for a reason. Do not enter it alone, and please have myself or Chapel with you. I do not wish to sound presumptuous, but he and I know what traps to look for.”
“Traps?” Marcus hadn’t said anything about traps or such dangers!
Her dismay must have been evident, because he patted her hand once more. “I’m sure Mr. Grey has done his research into these matters as well, but it would ease my old heart if the two of you would agree to take one of us inside with you.”
It seemed a small request, and it wasn’t as though Marcus and his men couldn’t overpower the priest, or even Chapel, for that matter, if one of them decided to try stealing the Grail from them.
“I will discuss it with Mr. Grey, but I see no reason why you should not accompany us, Father.”
He smiled at her, so sweet and serene it was difficult to suspect him of anything nefarious. “Thank you, my dear. Ah! I see we have reached your roses.
He released her to move to the bushes, the joy on his face undeniable as he took in the array of color and blooms. Pru watched him with a smile, but her heart was troubled by the priest’s warning.
Even more troubling was the realization that if there was any danger awaiting them in the cellar, the man Pru wanted there with her was Chapel.
“How is she?”
Father Molyneux paused in the act of brushing lint from the back of Chapel’s evening jacket. For some reason the old priest seemed to take pleasure in acting like a valet—or a father.
“She seemed well,
Her spirits were high and I saw no sign of illness other than a bit of fatigue.”
Tugging on his sleeves, Chapel nodded. “Good.” But there was no denying that something had
truly been wrong with Pru the day she collapsed in front of his door. People didn’t experience pain like that for no reason.
An illness or affliction would certainly explain her quest for the Grail. For her sake, he hoped that was indeed what she found inside the cellar.
“What if they find the Holy Grail?”
Molyneux’s gaze met his in the mirror. His smile was one of patience, the kind given to a curious—but mistaken—child. “The Grail is not there.”
“How do you know?”
He shrugged. “I just know. Whatever they find in that cellar, it will not be the Cup of Christ. I only hope it will not be the Blood Grail either.”
The idea of Prudence believing she had found the cup of life when really it was the cup of damnation was sickening.
“She must not be allowed to drink from it until we are certain.”
Molyneux gave his coat one last swipe with the brush. “That goes without saying. It will be your eyes and memory that we trust; mine are not what they once were. You will recognize it,
Chapel stared at himself in the mirror. His countenance no longer unsettled him as much as it once did. This was the face that he had seen for centuries, and it was his.
“I will recognize it,” he vowed. “As if I could ever forget it.” Every crevice, every imperfection and tarnished inch of that cup was forever ingrained in his memory. His master, his curse, his bane, it was that chalice from which he had willfully drunk.
Molyneux tugged at the shoulders of Chapel’s coat. The light black wool fit snugly, contrasting sharply with his crisp white shirt and wine-colored cravat. Six centuries ago he never would have dreamed of dressing this way.
“Miss Ryland believes they will uncover the door to the cellar within the next day or two. I believe a celebration is planned. We must be ready.”
Chapel turned away from the mirror. “Hopefully I will be able to get inside the night before.”
“Hope can have nothing to do with it.” Molyneux’s brow creased. “You must get in. We cannot risk Temple being found.”
“I cannot sense his presence here.”
“He may be preventing you from doing that as protection.”
“I suppose.” He knew it could be truth—and that it probably was—but he didn’t want to think that Temple could shield himself so perfectly, not from him. He couldn’t help but think that if Temple were in the area, he would somehow make himself known. Even if he was shielding himself, surely he could sense Chapel’s presence?
A comforting hand clapped his shoulder. “I know you do not want to fight him,
I pray it does not come to that. Temple has sacrificed much to protect the False Grail. I would hate to have him sacrifice his very self as well.”
Chapel glanced away. “Especially to me, of all people.”
The fingers on his shoulder tightened. “It was not your fault. You did not force the others to drink.”
“No.” But he had foolishly taken the first drink and he had known the others would follow. They never allowed one of them to do something without taking the same chance themselves.
He would fight Temple if he had to, but only if it was the Blood Grail in the cellar. Despite Molyneux’s thoughts, the treasure in that hillside just might be the one Pru sought.
He would keep hoping that, because he would much rather see triumph on Prudence Ryland’s face than be forced to kill his oldest friend.
inner was a painful affair. Chapel enjoyed every morsel of food, but it was the people around him who most appealed to his hunger, a fact that shamed him, given that he’d begun to know and like many of them. Molyneux had given him a vial of his blood just before dinner to pour into his wine, but Chapel hadn’t a chance to do so just yet.
“How long have you lived in Paris, Mr. Chapel?”
It was Pru who asked. Molyneux was right about her looking healthy and well, for which he was thankful. Unfortunately, her presence at the time was the most disconcerting of them all as the sweet, warm scent of her made his fangs twitch.
About six centuries, give or take a few decades here
He couldn’t very well tell her that. “It seems I’ve lived there forever, Miss Ryland.”
Her sister Matilda, who was there with her husband, smiled dreamily. She was a lovely woman with ginger hair, hazel eyes and a smattering of freckles across her nose.
“Frederick and I went to Paris last summer. I simply
the cafés there. I got so fat!”
Everyone at the table laughed, so Chapel chuckled with them.
“You must find our little village very rustic compared to Paris, Mr. Chapel.”
His gaze fasened on Pru once more. God, but she was a lovely little thing. A few weeks of eating too much cake and she’d be soft in his hands and melt on his tongue.
to get Molyneux’s vial into his wine, otherwise he was going to start slathering like a damn dog—or worse, a werewolf, disgusting creatures.
“I find this place very charming, Miss Ryland. Forgive me, I seem to have dropped my napkin.”
Under the guise of retrieving the pristine linen from the carpet, he thumbed the top off the vial Molyneux had given him and swallowed the contents in one quick gulp. The vial then very quickly went back inside his jacket before he straightened in his seat.
No one was watching him, an oddity that came as a bit of a shock. Both he and Molyneux had been treated as curiosities since their arrival and it was a welcome reprieve to discover that their novelty was finally wearing off.
It also gave him a chance to do some watching of his own.
Prudence was seated across the table from him, three chairs to his right. Her vibrant hair was styled in an elegant twist, leaving the sculpted lines of her face open to his appreciative gaze. The soft light and the rich violet of her gown lent a rosy hue to her cheeks and a bright gleam to her hazel eyes. Certainly he must have seen women just as lovely in the course of his long, long existence, but he couldn’t remember for the life of him.
It was Prudence’s father who spoke. Damn. He probably wanted to roast him for staring at his daughter like a dog after a bone.
Thomas Ryland made a face. “Please, call me by my first name. ‘Sir’ makes me think of the headmaster at my old school and I couldn’t stand the man.”
Chapel smiled—he’d been doing a lot of that the past few days. “Fair enough, but only if you’ll call me Chapel.”
“I have been meaning to ask you about that, Mr. Chapel.” Prudence raised her wine to her already delicately stained lips.
He arched a brow. “About my name?”
She dabbed at her lips with her napkin. “Yes. Forgive my impertinence, but how is it that you came to be simply ‘Chapel’?”
All eyes were on him once more, as though
everyone wished to ask the same question. Everyone save Molyneux, that is.
“It would be an honor to assauge your curiosity, Miss Ryland. I was a foundling, discovered on the chapel steps, and so named by the good fathers who took over my care.” It wasn’t a lie; he simply chose to leave out that he was a full-grown man at the time and that centuries had passed since that day.
Both Caroline and Matilda looked sorry for him, and a little uncomfortable, no doubt because they now believed him an unwanted bastard. It was preferable to the truth, however, so he could tolerate their pity.
Prudence, on the other hand, simply smiled, turning her attention to Molyneux. “And were you one of those who raised him, Father?”
Now, there was a question that might have been cause for laughter in different company. If either of them had watched the other grow into a man, it had been Chapel watching Molyneux.
“Yes,” the priest answered, a twinkle in his eye as he grinned at Chapel. “But I take credit for his virtues only, Miss Ryland.”
That wicked hazel gaze came back to Chapel. “Oh-ho, that implies that you have vices, Mr. Chapel. Surely Father Molyneux would not mislead us on that account?”
Chapel sipped his wine. “The good Father would mislead you in any way that might cause me discomfort, Miss Ryland, just as any family member would to another.”
All four of the Ryland sisters laughed at that, and began recounting just such stories about one another, which thankfully took attention from Chapel once more. He was not accustomed to such scrutiny. His facade of humanity might not hold up under much more intense study.
During dessert Thomas offered both Chapel and Molyneux full use of his library for their personal and professional use. Chapel didn’t bother to tell him that Prudence had already given him a great many books to peruse. That an unmarried lady had gone alone to his room was not something a gentleman announced at dinner.
It wasn’t something a
announced at any time.
After dessert, just when Chapel thought he might escape the confines of the house for some fresh air, free of the rich scent of human life, Marcus Grey approached him.
The man was young, handsome, mortal and spent a lot of time in Pru’s company. There was very little reason for Chapel to like him, and yet there was very little reason for him to despise the man either, save for the fact that Chapel would like to be him, if even just for one day.
being the key factor.
“Mr. Chapel.” The young man’s voice was low and oddly respectful. “I understand from Miss Ryland that you have a fair bit of knowledge about the Grail.”
“I have a bit.” So Pru had been talking about him, had she?
“What would you consider your era of expertise?”
“Medieval lore.” It was the first response that came to mind.
“Would you happen to know much about the Knights Templar and their expulsion from France?”
If he drew breath like a normal person, Chapel would have choked on it. Did he know anything? Did actually being there count? Of course, he couldn’t tell Mr. Grey that he had been one of King Philip’s soldiers.
“Uh, yes. I do know about the Templars.”
Blue eyes brightened and cheeks flushed with interest. Chapel could smell the warm blood coursing through the boy as his heart picked up an excited pace. His gums ached. He was in no way sexually attracted to this man, but the demon inside him didn’t have a gender preference when it came to food.
“Perhaps we could discuss the Templars sometime during your stay.”
Chapel nodded. He’d have to make sure he was well fed first. “I would enjoy that.” Provided he didn’t reveal too much information that he couldn’t explain knowing.
As he stepped forward to leave, the young man stopped him with a hand on his arm. Chapel stared at the bronzed fingers against the black of his coat. This young man didn’t have the hands of a scholar, but the callused, dirty hands of a warrior. The sight made Chapel remember a time
when his hands had looked the same, when his sword and his friends had been all he needed.
His gaze must have unnerved Mr. Grey, for he released his grip cautiously and edged away, as one might from a wild dog. Chapel looked up—against his better judgment—and met the young man’s questioning gaze.
“Was there something else, Mr. Grey?”
It wasn’t fear reflected in the blue eyes, it was intrigue and curiosity. To be honest, it was as worrisome as it was refreshing.
“Miss Ryland tells me that you are more of a night person, Mr. Chapel. Should you like to tour the dig site, I would be happy to take you there at dusk some evening so that you might view our progress.”
Was Marcus Grey extremely polite or extremely stupid? Either way, Chapel had to struggle for a reply. “Thank you. I would like that very much.”
He would have to take Molyneux with him—someone who would stake him if he went for Marcus’s throat. The young man didn’t know how naturally he offered himself.
Or perhaps he did.
Marcus’s voice stopped him as he made to turn away once more. “Would you happen to know anything of a band of mercenaries sent by King Philip to find the Holy Grail during a raid on the Templars?”
Surprise and pain gutted him. Images slammed into his mind before he could guard against them—images of the six of them, so brash and full of life. So cocksure and stupid.
“Yes,” he rasped, hating the sound. “I know of them.” The question was, how the hell did Marcus Grey know about them?
Footsteps sounded behind him. Mr. Grey was coming closer—oh, the boy was so very foolish. Chapel did not turn around. He should have, but he knew he would not look right to Marcus Grey if he did.
“Do you know anything about a man named Dreux Beauvrai?”
Chapel closed his eyes. A familiar tightening took hold in his chest as Dreux’s face swam in his mind. Did he know of him? Bitter laughter threatened to spill forth. God, yes.
This time he did turn, schooling his face as best he could. “I know something of him, yes.”
Marcus’s face brightened. “Then I would very much like for us to talk. Researching these mercenaries, especially Beauvrai, has become something of an obsession for me.”
Was this just a coincidence, or something darker? Or was it God’s way of torturing him? Molyneux would suggest that perhaps it was a way for Chapel to exorcise his demons, but Chapel knew better. There would be no release for him, not just yet.
“Of course. If I can give you any new information, it would be my pleasure to do so. Now, if you would excuse me?”
Grey looked a little abashed. “Of course. My apologies for keeping you.”
Somehow, Chapel managed a smile. “None necessary. Good evening Mr. Grey.”
Leaving the young man behind, Chapel slipped outside through a set of doors off the dining room and found himself alone on a small terrace that led out into the garden.
It was quiet out here, the air scented with sea and sand, animals and flowers. He lit a cigarette to cover the remaining human fragrance in his nostrils.
This was more difficult than he ever could have imagined. God must be testing him indeed.
A slight sound behind him snapped his attention. Then a sense of the known swept over him.
are you all right?”
Chapel shrugged. No, he wasn’t all right. His fangs had extended enough to prick the inside of his lower lip and he could feel the hunger gnawing at his insides.
Molyneux came up beside him. Chapel sensed rather than saw his friend open his hand. He looked down.
Molyneux offered him a small bottle. Chapel knew instantly what was in it, even though it was bigger than the normal vials he supplied.
“This is very hard on your control,
His hand trembled slightly as Chapel reached for the bottle. As his fingers closed around it, something overtook him.
No, not something.
thing. Clenching the bottle, he turned on the priest with preternatural swiftness, catching Molyneux by the shoulders and forcing him into the shadows, pinning him against the warm stone of the house.
The priest’s eyes widened. “Chapel, what are you doing?”
“You tempt me with vials and bottles.” Chapel shook the bottle in the old man’s face. “You knew how this would be for me, didn’t you, old man? You brought me here. The safety of all in this house rests upon your withered shoulders. The least you could do is open a vein for me—or better yet, let me open it for you.”
Saliva pooled on his tongue, anticipation tingled in his jaws.
Molyneux met his gaze, and Chapel could see the fire in his own eyes reflected back at him. “I am sorry for your suffering, Chapel, but you do not want to do this.”
“Don’t I?” Chapel laughed, low and dark. “Oh, but I do. You know I do.”
“You are not a monster. You are not a killer.”
“Killer? I don’t want to kill you, Molyneux. I just want more than you’ve been giving me, you little tease.” He was losing control, and it felt so
“I want what you’ve denied me.”
“I have never denied you anything. It was your decision to stop feeding on humans. Your choice. You made a vow. Do you want to go back on that now, when we have more important matters to attend to?”
Chapel trembled with the effort to keep himself from plunging his fangs into Molyneux’s neck. He would kill him if he drank, he knew that. It had been too long and he wouldn’t be able to stop. It would take a whole group to slake his thirst—like the Rylands’ dinner guests.
Prudence. The thought of her should have sent him into a frenzy, but instead it sent a chilling wave through him, tamping the demon down enough for him to take hold of himself. He could not hurt anyone who meant anything to Pru. He could not hurt her. He did not want her to know what he was. He didn’t want any of them to know, but especially Pru. It didn’t matter why, he simply clung to that knowledge and forced himself within.
Slowly, he released Molyneux, smoothing from his friend’s jacket the wrinkles he had wrought and turning away. He removed the stopper from the bottle and downed the contents in one gulp. It eased the hunger and quieted the demand for more.
“I am so sorry,” he spoke over his shoulder.
“As am I. I had no idea it would be this difficult for you.”
Chapel chuckled. “I did.”
Silence stretched between them as Molyneux slowly approached. The old priest was nothing if not brave. “Perhaps we have gone about this all wrong, my friend.”
“What do you mean?”
“Perhaps feeding off humans is the only way to keep yourself under control.”