Authors: Claire Ashgrove
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Gothic, #Paranormal
“He is in his room.” The man flashed her a warm smile. “I am Alaric le Goix, commander of the European Knights Templar. ’Tis an honor to have you within these temple walls.”
So that’s where Farran had taken her—the European temple. Feeling a bit more secure, she indulged in a smile. “Dr. Noelle Kea…” No, not Keane. She’d said her oath. Her smile brightened as she amended her introduction. “Noelle de Clare. And if we don’t hurry, I think I might pass out.”
For an instant, she thought Alaric might bend to carry her. But as if he thought better of the notion, he shook his head and offered more support to her arm. Slowly they descended to step into another winding hall. This one reminded her of the chambers beneath the temple in Missouri. Lighted by torches, unadorned door after unadorned door lined the narrow corridor.
Alaric guided her past so many she lost track of the twists and turns. Her legs burned. Her side flared hot. She did her best to keep up with him, convinced if they stopped to rest, she’d sink to the floor and never get up again. She could sit when she found Farran. If he wanted her to move,
could carry her wherever he wished to go.
At last they stopped at a door, and Alaric rapped sharply. At Farran’s bark, he pushed the door in and let go of Noelle’s arm. “I take my leave, milady.”
Mystified by the strength she still possessed, Noelle let herself inside. Farran didn’t turn around. Instead, he hovered over a black bag, his hands in constant motion. As he doubled a piece of fabric she recognized, and stuffed it in the satchel, Noelle’s eyes went wide. Surely, he wasn’t packing.
She peered at his broad shoulders. “What are you doing, Farran?”
Farran’s hands stilled over his duffel bag. Slowly, he turned around. The shock of finding Noelle standing in his room almost bowled him over. She had come down here? How? Who had helped her find his room?
Saints’ blood, he did not want to have this exchange. He let out a sigh, turned back to his task, and stuffed another shirt inside the bag. “I am joining Merrick in the hunt for Anne’s sister.”
A heavy moment of silence passed between them. He felt the weight of her stare, the piercing of her frown. At her sigh, he flinched.
“I guess I can travel. I’m not certain it’s smart, and I know I’ll pass out if I move another step, but if you want to leave so soon…”
Farran closed his eyes on a deep breath. He had waited too long. ’Twas as he suspected—she already felt the call of duty. Wishing beyond all measure their circumstances were different, he sadly shook his head and braved her troubled gaze. “Nay, Noelle,” he murmured. “I gave you my oath to return you. I will honor it. I will not have you stay where your heart does not wish to be.” He breathed again, ready now to admit his errors. “I made that mistake once. I shall not suffer through it again.”
To his absolute surprise, she did not beam with elation. Indeed, she did naught but ease herself into the chair. Her expression turned thoughtful, and she lifted one hand to gnaw upon a fingernail. “That’s why you’ve been such an ass? Because you married a woman who didn’t love you? Let me guess—you were betrothed?”
The question stunned him speechless. He had expected her protest. Her admonishment they were bound to the Almighty’s plan. He had in no way prepared for her to ask about his past.
As he considered where to begin, it occurred to him the memories no longer ached. Though Alefric’s rejection would always prickle, even that did not twist his heart to pieces. He held Noelle’s gaze, sank a hip onto the table. ’Twas best for her to understand where it all began.
“I was born in Tonbridge, the year 1102, and the nephew to Walter de Clare. He had no children. On his death twenty years later, I inherited holdings in Sussex, with the condition I take a woman he recommended as a bride. Her family was proud Saxon, as was she. I am of Norman blood.”
Thought drew Noelle’s brows together. She opened her mouth to speak, but he cut off her words with the lift of his hand. “Though the war was long over and William’s might established, pride is oft a difficult thing to set aside. Resentment harbored within her heart—though she hid it well from me.”
“She hid it? How can you hide something like that?”
He shook his head. “In part, ’twas because she did her duty without complaint. She never protested her position, and she did not hesitate to bear my son. In part ’twas also my blindness. I loved her from the moment I set eyes on her golden hair.”
“Do you still?” she asked in a near inaudible voice.
Farran chuckled despite himself. “Nay. ’Tis you I love.” He did not give her opportunity to dwell upon his confession. Before she could speak, he forged ahead. “Five years after we wed, my closest friend—also from a Norman family—pledged his sister to a Norman lord. My wife’s cousin coveted the lass. On her journey to her wedding, he attacked her guards and took her as his own.”
Noelle blinked. “He kidnapped her. Is this some sort of … trend?”
God bless her, she knew how to make him smile. He indulged in it, and became lost in her laughing eyes. Time hung suspended as he fought the need to take her in his arms and taste her honeyed lips. As he struggled with the ache that stirred when he did not.
“Go on,” she encouraged softly.
He shook off longing with the closing of his eyes. “When my friend called for aid, I had no choice but to answer. Together our armies laid siege upon the Saxon’s holdings. After the passing of a week, naught but charred cinders remained. His army lay in shambles, tattered remnants of the might they once had been. And the woman was delivered to her betrothed as she desired.”
The memories rose again, taunting him with the dark chasm of hate he had once drowned in. He gathered strength from Noelle’s quiet stare, the curiosity that gleamed bright. “I returned to Clare where my wife pronounced me traitor. Through a long winter I suffered her sharp tongue and the threats of her family.”
With obvious effort, Noelle dragged her chair closer and twined her fingers through his. Farran reveled in the warmth of her palm, the press of her slight nails. He held tight, the gesture full of suffocating meaning. He knew not how long she remained unmoving and silent. But he spilled the story of his journey to the Holy Lands in an effort to reclaim his noble name. He told her of the nightmare that had haunted him so long—his return, Alefric’s poisoned words, Brighid’s lechery with the Saxon who had begun the war. He even told her of Alefric’s death not six years later when Hrothgar allowed the boy to fight.
When Farran finished, he felt not the shame he had anticipated. Instead, a great weight lifted from his shoulders. He had shared the one secret he had told no one, save Caradoc, and the freedom he experienced he could not put into words.
Noelle pulled her hand from his. Using the edge of the table for support, she rose to her feet. At her audible whimper, Farran supported her elbow and eased her weight to his arm. “You should not be out of bed.”
With a soft chuckle, Noelle shrugged free of his hand. She guided it to her waist, tugged the other free to do the same. “There’s something I don’t understand.” With one uneasy step forward, she looped her arms around his neck.
She stood so close, his body prickled with awareness. ’Twould be so easy to catch her mouth and forget his determination to think of her needs, not his own selfish desires. “Aye?” he whispered.
“You said you loved me. As I recall, you begged me to take this oath and bind us for eternity. Why haven’t you packed my bag as well?”
“I told you—”
Her mouth descended onto his, silencing his answer. For a moment, he could not believe the silken slide of her tongue was not a dream. But when she nudged his lips apart and demanded his participation, he awakened with a groan. He kissed her thoroughly, full of all the tumultuous emotion he had experienced in the last few days.
Noelle tore her mouth away, her breath hard. “Farran…” Their lips clung for a heartbeat. “You really are insane.” Her lips caught his once more, forbidding him to fully process her insult.
As feeling swelled and desire thrummed through his veins, she tormented further by drawing completely away. Her eyes held his, ablaze with the passion that flowed between them. “You didn’t offer me my freedom. You gave me your loyalty. With three words, you effectively turned me into your wife. If you think you’re leaving me at this roughshod altar, you’re every bit as crazy as I thought you were.”
A smile lit the corners of her mouth, and she brushed the tip of her nose against his. “Crazy, handsome Farran…” She let out a soft laugh that reached in and turned his heart upside down. “I love you. Those aren’t just words. There’s not a part of me that doesn’t mean them. Not a part of my heart that doesn’t beat for you. I
Farran. And if you walk away now, as soon as I’ve recovered, I’ll hunt you down and run you through.”
The threat broke past his dizzy thoughts, spurring him into laughter. He gathered her close, her injuries forgotten, and crushed her in a tight embrace. Only when she yelped did he think of the pain she must suffer. He let her go quickly but chased down her mouth for another sweet kiss.
When he eased it to a lingering close to tell her he would never go, she sagged against his chest, her strength expired. “Take me to bed, Farran. I long to sleep within your embrace.”
“Aye,” he murmured as he scooped her into his arms. Come morning’s light, he would tell her of her healing gift, of how he had witnessed the way she had dealt a critical wound to a fallen knight with her palm. For the moment, he had a wife to obey. And for the first time in his life, he did not mind the knowledge his loyalty lay with a woman. With a smile he could not hope to dampen, he carried her to the bed.
TOR BOOKS BY CLAIRE ASHGROVE
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
IMMORTAL SURRENDER: THE CURSE OF THE TEMPLARS
Copyright © 2012 by Valerie M. Hatfield
Cover art by Scott Grimando
All rights reserved.
A Tor Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY10010
is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
First Edition: October 2012