Authors: Kathryn Smith
“But it’s a sin. You know that.”
“Not if you don’t kill them. And there are so many people out there who are not innocent—killers, thieves…”
Chapel smirked. “Protestants?”
Father Molyneux pursed his lips. “You know what I mean.”
“I do, and I appreciate the sentiment, but sin is sin, old friend.”
“Perhaps it is not a sin. Perhaps it is the only way for you to retain your humanity. Perhaps your powers are divine, not evil.”
“Are you drunk? What the devil are you talking about?”
“You are as He intended. Neither of us can presume to know His plan, but perhaps if human blood gives you strength, then you are meant to have it.”
“You’re mad.” The words were spoken to Molyneux’s back, as the priest had already started back toward the doors of the house.
Molyneux paused long enough to grace him with a fatherly smile. “No, I am old. I’ve had many years to come to this conclusion. Perhaps you would too if you would just stop nailing yourself to a cross long enough to consider it.”
And Chapel was left alone to ponder those shocking words—and he was so shocked, he hadn’t even noticed that his cigarette had burned down to his fingers until he smelled his flesh start to burn.
Marcus rushed up to his room immediately after leaving Chapel. His mind and heart raced as he closed the door behind him.
Inside the privacy of his private quarters at Rosecourt, he unlocked one of the portmanteaus
inside his wardrobe and withdrew a packet of private papers.
Heart pounding in anticipation, he rifled through the pages until he found what he was looking for—a letter from a member of a secret and modern branch of the Knights Templar who held close ties to the occult. The letter was part of the package they had used to seduce him into working for them, into helping their cause.
They were the ones who had confirmed many of his theories concerning the excavation and the history behind it. They had given him so much information about Dreux Beauvrai—his ancestor. They had confirmed the rumors that Dreux had become—of all things—a vampire simply by drinking from a cup known as the Blood Grail, which they had stolen from the Templars.
And the Templars—or Order of the Silver Palm, as they preferred to be called—wanted the Blood Grail back.
The order suspected that it might be the Blood Grail hidden in the ruins near Rosecourt. Marcus wasn’t sure what he believed, but for Pru’s sake, he hoped the order was wrong. Still, the Templars had promised him information for his trouble, and they had seduced him into compliance with the letter his trembling fingers now pulled from the sheaf of papers.
There, scrawled before his eyes on a piece of well-handled vellum, was a list of the men who had been part of King Philip’s mercenary group along with Dreux Beauvrai. The list also contained
several aliases the men—or vampires—were said to have used.
“Good God.” He found what he was looking for among the black ink. In one heart-stopping moment, what seemed at first like a foolish notion was confirmed. The suspicions he’d formed not even half an hour before were now certainty.
Still, he read it one more time just to be certain his eyes weren’t deceiving him. They weren’t.
Severian de Foncé.
Also known as
hope I’m not interrupting.”
Chapel looked up from his book. It was later that evening; he hadn’t expected to see her again. Pru stood in the doorway, her loveliness highlighted by the soft lights and the low strains of a ballad coming from the phonograph in the corner. “Not at all.”
He had been lounging on the chaise but sat up as she entered the room, his book set aside and forgotten as the warm scent of her enveloped his senses. She invoked his hunger, but it was back under his tight control. What he seemed to have less control of was his body’s response to her.
She was more properly dressed than she had been the first night he had encountered her in this
very library, clad as she was in the same violet gown she had worn to dinner. The tight bodice thrust the perfect swells of her breasts high on her chest and accented her small waist. Breastbones and collarbones stood out sharper than they should. So delicate, so fragile.
He had seen her eat at dinner and knew that she did not starve herself. Perhaps she was just naturally thin.
Or perhaps illness had caused her to lose weight.
“I never had a chance to inquire after your health, Miss Ryland. I trust you are recovered from your ordeal?”
She blushed as she approached him, stopping a few feet away to seat herself on a nearby chair. “I thought you agreed to call me Pru. And I am quite well, thank you. I am indebted to you for your assistance that morning.”
He smiled. “Well, I couldn’t very well leave you there, could I?”
Pru’s lips lifted lopsidedly. “You could have, especially when seeing me to my room risked your own well-being.”
“It was a risk I took willingly and would again.”
Her face pinkened, a sweet flush of blood to her delicate cheek. “Thank you.”
He’d risk more than just a sliver of sunlight for that sweet smile of hers. What a siren she was, a tantalizing slip of seductive innocence. Molyneux had suggested that he needed to drink human blood more often, but the idea of marring Pru’s flawless flesh, of puncturing her and violating the
purity of her throat, was distasteful, no matter how much he longed to do just that.
A knock at the door signaled the arrival of a maid bearing a tray with a pot, two cups and an assortment of finger foods on it.
“I hope you do not mind,” Pru said to him, “but I thought you might desire some refreshment.”
Yes, he did, just not the kind she thought. “Thank you. That was very considerate of you.”
She preened under his praise. It was somewhat sad that such a simple statement pleased her so.
They drank their tea and ate with pleasant small talk between them.
“How long have you known Mr. Grey?” he asked, trying to keep his tone disinterested as he finished the last of his tea.
“Oh, about a year?” She shrugged. “Sometimes it seems I’ve known him forever, he has become such a fixture in my life.”
He envied Marcus Grey, the little bastard. “You must be very close.”
She eyed him suspiciously—like a woman who knew jealousy when she heard it. “He’s like a brother to me.”
Christ, he was actually blushing. Was he that transparent? Flirtation was his only savior. “We all should be blessed with such sisters.”
Pru chuckled and peered into his now-empty cup. “Would you like for me to read your tea leaves?”
That was a question he hadn’t expected. “You can do that?” It wasn’t exactly an aristocratic pastime, at least not in his experience.
She nodded. “My governess taught me. I find it helpful when I want to know more about a person.”
“You may find there are things about me better left unknown.”
She made a
ing sound as she picked up his cup. “How maudlin. You make yourself sound very dramatic, Chapel, but I’ve a feeling you’re not nearly as dark as you like to pretend.”
Chapel laughed—a bark of sound. She had certainly put him in his place! If only she were right.
“Go ahead.” Even if there was something dark there, Pru wasn’t likely to interpret it as truly sinister. He gestured easily toward the cup as he leaned back against the chaise, crossing an ankle over his knee. “I’ve never had this done before and I am eager to hear what the leaves have to say about me.”
Her eyes widened. “Really, you’ve never had your leaves read before?”
“I’ve never had my fortune told in any way.”
“Perhaps because I’m not often in the company of hum—people.”
“Were you going to say ‘humans’?”
“Humanity. Forgive me, sometimes my English is not that good.”
She seemed to believe that, for which he was grateful. She handed him the cup upside down on the saucer and told him to turn it three times counterclockwise while making a wish. He did as he was told. He wished for salvation, no big surprise there. Then he handed the cup back to Pru.
She lifted it and peered inside. “Well, your wish is very close to the top.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you’re going to get it—relatively soon.” She frowned. “There’s a woman attached to it.”
His shock must have been audible, for Pru raised her head and smiled at him. “Yes, a woman. One of those people with whom you do not often associate.”
Cheeky wench. “Can you tell who it is?”
Color burned up her cheeks as she stared into the cup. Slowly, hesitantly, her gaze lifted to his. “I may be impertinent, but I feel that it is me. Can you think of any way that I might be attached to your wish?”
Chapel’s heart pinched. He could ask that same question. “Because I wished for you to find the Grail.” It was a lame lie, and one he shouldn’t have uttered, for he saw hope flare in her eyes.
“Thank you,” she murmured.
Their gazes locked and time seemed to stop. Her guiless stare drew him in, surrounding him with the suffocating desperation of her hope and fears. Whatever drove her to find the Grail, it drove her relentlessly.
He knew her need. He understood the obsession of chasing something just out of reach. He didn’t know why the Grail meant so much to her, and in truth he didn’t want to know. What he wanted was to take her into his arms and kiss those rosy lips. He wanted to taste her, feel her
lithe body shiver against his. He wanted to possess her in every way he could: body, blood and soul.
Their faces were just inches apart when she jumped to her feet like a frightened rabbit.
“I should go.” Her voice trembled with desire. Her scent was rife with it. She wanted him too—and she would allow him to possess her. She would possess him in return.
“Yes.” He looked up at her, and the uncertainty on her face. “You should. Unless, of course, you want me to kiss you.”
She hesitated and the demon inside leapt. Chapel came to his feet fast—so fast, Pru started.
“Go,” he growled. “Go now.” If she didn’t, he wouldn’t be able to stop himself. He would kiss her. He would claim her. He would bite her. Molyneux might think that feeding from humans was his true nature, but that didn’t mean he had to give in to it.
She pivoted on her heel and ran to the door, where she paused long enough to glance over her shoulder at him. And then she did the damnedest thing. Impertinent indeed, for she flashed him a shy but undeniably arousing grin before puckering those ripe lips and blowing a kiss to him. And from the way the breath was knocked out of him, Chapel knew he had caught it.
She should have let him kiss her.
She should have said to hell with her fear and allowed herself the pleasure of his lips on hers. It
was what she had wanted—what he had wanted as well.
Why, when her life was going to be so painfully short, did she not seize the moment? Why had she been so terribly afraid of a simple kiss?
Because of the suspicion that nothing with Chapel was simple. He was a complicated man, and getting involved with him would only complicate her own life further.
She wanted to experience life and love. Yet at the same time she knew it would be just as painful as it would be wonderful to fall in love. It would not be so wonderful, however, for the person who fell in love with her. Selfish as she might be, she didn’t want to hurt Chapel.
Chapel didn’t know that she was sick. He might have suspicions, after her collapse at his door, but there was no way he could know that she was dying. It wasn’t fair to him to offer any kind of relationship while he was blind to the truth.
So she had two choices: tell him she was dying and see if he still wanted anything to do with her, or keep silent and stay away.
Actually, there was a third choice. She could keep silent and take whatever he offered her, but that was a selfish choice and one she could not make in good conscience.
Why was he the one who drew her to him, who made her want to be bold? He made her wish for more time, made her desperation to find the Grail all the more oppressive. She wanted to know everything about him.
And yes, she wanted him. No man had ever
made her want to break society’s rules like Chapel did. Not even when she was younger and new to the
had a man turned her head like this.
It was as though he understood what drove her, even though there was no way he could.
“All right, I demand to know what it is you’re thinking about.”
Prudence looked up, straight into the questioning gaze of her sister Caroline. Georgiana and Matilida were watching her as well. It was just the four of them around the breakfast table, as they had decided to break their fast in the small sitting room this morning. Everyone else had already eaten and it gave the sisters some time alone together—a habit Pru relished.
“Is it Marcus Grey who has your thoughts?” Georgiana teased.
Matilda smirked. “Or the mysterious Mr. Chapel?”
Caroline rolled her eyes. “That leaves me to inquire after Father Molyneux. Why must it be a man that has her so quiet?”
“Because,” Matilda muttered, “nothing ever makes
The look Caroline shot their sister could only be described as annoyed. Her attention came back to Prudence. “Are you unwell this morning, dearest?”
That, of course, brought an expression of contrition to Matilda’s fair countenance. Pru sighed.
“I am fine. Mattie, don’t you dare feel guilty. If the three of you must know, yes, I was thinking of Mr. Chapel. Satisfied?”
Georgiana obviously wasn’t. “Not Mr. Grey? You are daft, my dear, daft.”
Matilda scowled at her. “Mr. Chapel is extremely handsome. And he has that air of intrigue about him.”
“Just what you want in a man.” Sarcasm dripped from Georgiana’s tone. “Besides, he’s
” She made it sound like a curse.
“Dig out your pitchforks,” Matilda replied with equal dryness.
“He almost kissed me last night,” Pru blurted.
brought an end to her sisters’ bickering. One by one, they turned their heads to stare at her—at the one they sometimes still referred to as “the baby.”
“You were alone with him?”
“You didn’t let him?”
The questions came at her so quickly, Pru wasn’t quite sure who asked what, although she was pretty sure it was Matilda who expressed shock at her denying Chapel.
She had to admit that the more she thought about it, the more she questioned her own sanity as well. To think she could have felt those lovely lips against her own….
“We were in the library last night. We had tea. I read his leaves.” She didn’t mention seeing herself in his cup. That would give her sisters far too much to speculate on, and give herself hope where there was none.
“He tried to kiss you for reading his leaves?”
Georgiana chuckled and cast a glance at Matilda. “Must have been some reading!”
Matilda ignored her. “As much as I find Mr. Chapel…interesting, you know it is not good for you to be alone with him. It isn’t proper.”
Pru’s brow creased. “Proper? The three of you have been trying to throw me at any man you can for the last six months, and
you want to lecture me on propriety?”
Matilda shrugged, but she didn’t meet Pru’s gaze. “The gentlemen we chose for you were not quite so intimidating as Mr. Chapel.”
Intimidating? Yes, she supposed Chapel could be a little overwhelming. She was wary of him on occasion as well, but she was comforted by the power of his presence now too.
“When you say he tried to kiss you, do you mean he tried to force himself on you, dear?”
Pru reached across to pat Matilda’s leg. The action seemed to ease the worried lines of her sister’s face. “Not at all. He was a perfect gentleman.” For the most part, anyway. A perfect gentleman wouldn’t have tried to kiss her at all.
“How disappointing.” Georgiana sighed. “Perhaps he isn’t as dangerous as I thought.”
Pru stared at her. “Will you make up your mind? First you are all offended thinking he tried to force himself on me, and then you seem disappointed that he didn’t.”
Georgiana feigned a look of indignation. “My dear Lord, I am certainly not disappointed that he didn’t try to force himself on you. You are my
baby sister. I’m disappointed he hasn’t tried to force himself on me.”
Georgie’s naughty grin filled the room with laughter. The four of them were still laughing when a knock sounded on the door and Marcus stuck his head inside. He was covered in dirt and the look on his face brought a heavy weight into Pru’s stomach.
“What is it, Marcus?” Her voice shook ever so slightly.
“There was a cave-in during the night. At the dig site.”