Son of the Morning (Chapter 20)

THE GRIMY GROUP OF MEN AND THEIR TWO CAPTIVES REACHED A castle just before nightfall. The setting sun had given Grace their direction of travel, and she had carefully noted what landmarks she could. Luckily, they seemed to be traveling due east, so if � when – she managed to free Niall and they escaped, she knew they should go due west.

The castle was surprisingly small, little more than a keep with a great hall added, and in ill repair at that. Grace was ushered into the dark, smelly interior, but at least she walked on her own. She watched, trying to hide her anxiety, as Niall was carried in. The bundle had stopped squirming a couple of hours before, and she wondered if they had inadvertently smothered him. Evidently the same thought occurred to the beast, because he shouted something and one of the four men carrying Niall cuffed him on the side of the head. A muffled growl reassured them, and Grace.

Securing Niall was much more important than dealing with her, at least for the moment. A smoky torch was fetched, and Niall was carried down a narrow, winding stone staircase, deep into the bowels of the castle. Grace trailed along because she didn't know what else to do, and the dirty, sullen women who had watched her arrival didn't seem welcoming. Besides, she needed to know where Niall would be held.

The dungeon was creepy. It was dank and dark, with moisture oozing from the slimy stone walls. The air was noticeably colder. There were three cells dug into the earth, each of them secured by an enormous wooden door. There weren't any grilles in the door; the prisoners in this dungeon would live in total darkness, cold and damp, and likely die of pneumonia within a week or two.

The beast cut the ropes that bound the plaids about Black Niall; he and his men all stood with weapons ready, should Niall try to escape. Grace stood on tiptoe, her eyes wide as she tried to get a glimpse of the man who had haunted her for so long. Her movement drew the beast's attention and he scowled at her. He barked an order, and one of the men reluctantly took her arm and forced her to the stairs. She tried to resist, slow him down, but he wasn't happy to be missing the fun and he literally hauled her up the stairs, wrenching her arm in the process. Below, yells burst from male throats and she twisted her head, trying to see, but she was already too far up the curving stairs. There was a crash, and curses, and the sounds of a scuffle, feet scraping on stone and the thud of fists into flesh.

She flinched, wondering if they intended to beat him to death. Her guard jerked at her arm, scowling at her. She gave him a frustrated glare. Yelling at him wouldn't do any good, because no one understood her.

They reached the great hall and he shoved her toward another flight of stairs, this one curving upward into the keep. This staircase was just as dark and narrow. Grace glanced down and saw the sullen faces watching her.

The guard paused in front of a crude wooden door, opened it, and shoved her inside. Immediately she whirled but he closed the door in her face, with a snarled order that she took to mean "Stay there!"

There was no keyhole in the door and the bar was positioned on this side of the door, meaning she wasn't -locked in, but when she laid her ear against the wood she heard the guard settling himself on the other side.

She turned and looked at her jail. The room was small and dark, lit by a single smoking torch whose light didn't quite reach all the comers of the room despite its lack of size. The only window was a narrow slit, cut so an arrow could be shot from it at any angle. The floor was covered with rushes gone black and smelly with age, and the only furniture was a roughly made bed that was about the size of a modem double, a single chair, and a wobbly table. A small chest sat against the far wall, and a single candle stood on the table. There was a fireplace, but no fire. A leather bottle stood on the table beside the candle, and a single metal cup.

Grace took advantage of her privacy, which she was sure was only temporary. Unless she missed her guess, this was the beast's bedchamber. Hastily she removed the tweezers from her hair, which had held up remarkably well, and unrolled the knife. After replacing the tweezers in their slot, she thrust the knife inside her stocking and retied the garter, determined to keep the combination weapon and tool with her from now on.

Taking the small wooden box from its pocket inside the burlap bag, she opened it and removed the handkerchief, carefully unrolling it so she didn't lose any of the precious pills. She had brought a full course of antibiotics, and prescriptions of painkillers and Seconals, in addition to picking up some over-the-counter stuff in Edinburgh. The Seconals were an impulse, an effort to cover all bases; it was strange that they would be the first drug she would need to use.

The reddish capsules were hundred-milligram doses, enough to put someone to sleep. What she had to figure out was the delivery system, because she couldn't hand one to the beast and say, "Here, take this."

She looked at the leather bottle, thinking. Alcohol intensified the effects of Seconal; what wasn't a lethal dose of the drug could become lethal if the user also drank. She didn't want to kill the beast, just knock him out. Two or three pills were enough to put someone to sleep; the pharmacist had The beast was a heavy man, not very tall but she guessed his weight at two hundred pounds. She picked out three capsules, and returned her drug stash to the burlap bag.

She opened the leather bottle and sniffed the contents. Her eyes watered at the smell of raw, strong ale. He wouldn't notice anything wrong with the taste if she dissolved the entire thirty capsules in his cup.

Three should do the trick, however. Carefully she pulled the capsules apart, pouring the powder into the battered metal cup. Then she poured a little ale into the cup and swished the liquid around until the powder dissolved. She peered into the cup. The color of the ale looked a little cloudy, but in this light he wasn't likely to notice.

Then, forcing herself to calm and patience, Grace sat down in the chair with the cup in her hand.

She waited a long time. The noise that drifted up made her think there was a revelry going on downstairs. She was hungry, but she wasn't anxious to join them. If someone thought to send food, fine. If not, she had been hungry before.

She grew drowsy. The flickering torch was as sedative as watching a fire in a fireplace, and gave off enough warmth that she wasn't cold. She thought of Niall, and knew that he was neither warm nor comfortable enough to sleep. He would be hungry, too; if they hadn't fed her, they certainly' hadn't fed him. That was assuming he was even still alive, but she didn't think they had killed him yet. If the beast intended to kill him, he would want to gloat a bit first. He struck her as that kind of man.

Finally she heard voices outside the door. She didn't jump up, but continued sitting relaxed in the chair, or at least as relaxed as she could be on something as hard as ) rock. The door opened and the beast came in, his shaggy ; head lowered and his small, mean eyes bright with anticipation. He looked at the cup, at the open bottle of ale on the table, and his lips spread in a big grin, displaying terrible teeth and remnants of the dinner he had eaten.

Grace yawned and leisurely came to her feet. She pretended to sip the ale, then looked at him and raised the cup in a silent question, nodding at the bottle. He rumbled what she took to be agreement, and she filled the cup, then passed it to him.

He downed the ale in two gulps, then wiped the back of his hand across his wet mouth. His eyes never left her, and lust burned hotly in them.

She fought the impulse to gag even as relief filled her. Dear Lord, how long would it take the Seconals to work? He had eaten, which would slow the effect, but from the look of him he had also had a good deal to drink. She had to stall for time, anything that would keep him from assaulting her now.

Genius struck, and she made an eating gesture, her brows lifted, and then she rubbed her stomach to indicate hunger. He scowled, but went to the door and bellowed something, she hoped a call for food. Evidently he didn't intend to starve her, but had merely forgotten.

He stomped to the chair and sat down, and poured himself another cup of ale. Grace smiled at him, pointed to herself, and said, "Grace St. John."

"Eh?" At least she understood that sound, she thought in relief. She said again, "Grace St. John," then she pointed at him and waited.

He caught on now. He thumped his bull-like chest. "Huwe the Hay."

"Huwe," she repeated. She tried another smile. "Well, Huwe, I don't wish you any harm, but I hope the Seconal knocks you flat on your butt. I know you have big plans for tonight, but so do I, and you aren't included. As soon as everyone is asleep, I'm going to see what kind of damage you and your goons have done to you-know-who, and then I'm going to get him out of here."

Huwe listened to her speech with growing impatience, and he cut her short with an impatient wave of his hand. Then he spouted something involved at her. She made a helpless gesture, spreading her hands and shaking her head.

A brief thud sounded at the door and it swung open. A plump, slatternly woman with wiry dark hair came in, carrying a small platter on which rested a thick piece of coarse bread and a hunk of cheese. She set the platter down with a thunk, glaring at Grace all the while. Either no one here liked outsiders on principle, or the woman had a thing for Huwe, which gave her a new appreciation of the old saying that power was an aphrodisiac.

The woman left, and Grace pinched off a piece of bread. She sauntered around the room, nibbling daintily at the bread and making an occasional comment to Huwe. His gaze still followed her, but after ten or fifteen minutes she noticed he was blinking owlishly. She continued to pace, her manner completely relaxed, returning to the table to taste a tiny bit of the cheese. It wasn't bad.

Huwe's eyelids were drooping heavily. Grace walked over to the narrow window and stood still, looking out at the night while she pretended still to eat. In the shadows as she was, as drugged as Huwe was, he likely couldn't tell her hand was empty.

The night was bright with starlight, and a soft mist was gathering in the glens. Grace quietly watched, listening for Huwe's snores, but the inaction gnawed at her. She felt she felt as if her body couldn't contain the force of her blood, pounding through her veins. She felt excited, anxious, burning with energy. The constant wariness with which she had lived the past year, the sense of doom hovering over her, was gone. Parrish couldn't reach her here. There were very real dangers she might face but still she felt oddly light, as if a weight had been lifted from her.

She felt alive. The realization shocked her. She had become so accustomed to the numb bleakness inside her that she hadn't even noticed its absence. Until today, all she had felt for a year had been fear and rage and hate, punctuated by moments of a pain so sharp the numbness had been welcome. But today she had felt excitement, and interest; she had even smiled like mad atHuwe! The smiles were totally false, but they were more than she had managed in a year.

She was really here. She ached in every muscle, she felt sore inside, but she was here and Black Niall was just two floors below her. They were both captives, he was likely wounded, by their captors' fists if not their swords and daggers, but she could feel his presence like an energy field, making her fingertips tingle.

A soft rumble reached her ears. She looked over at the table, where Huwe was slumped across the surface, his head pillowed on one outstretched arm.

She tiptoed over to the table and moved the bottle to a safer location. A swipe of his arm would have dislodged it, and perhaps awakened him, though she thought likely not even a cannon would do the job tonight. She wasn't going to take the chance.

She had no idea of the time, so she gingerly sat down on the bed and forced herself to wait. The ale would have flowed freely that evening; the men would be tired and sore from the battle earlier, and the ale would ease their aches. They would sleep early that night, and deeply.

Still she waited, until she was in danger of falling asleep herself. When she jerked herself to attention for the second time, she knew she had to go now.

She picked up her bag and walked silently to the door. She eased the door open, peering through the crack to see if a guard stood outside. Empty darkness greeted her, lightened only by a dim glow from down below.

She slipped out of the chamber and eased down the stairs. Men slept in the great hall, snoring lumps rolled in their plaids. She didn't tiptoe; she walked quietly, as if she had a right to be there. Anyone who woke and saw her in the dim light might think her nothing more than a serving wench, but if she were sneaking about, her furtiveness would rouse suspicions. Harmony had told her that: "Walk as if you have a right to the entire sidewalk, and the bad dudes will leave you alone."

A big iron candlestick was set on a table, the thick candle burned half down. Grace picked it up in case there was no light below; she didn't want to use her penlight and try to explain it to Niall, at least not yet.

The staircase to the dungeon was at the back of the great hall, hidden behind a door so dark she almost didn't see it. She set both candlestick and bag on the floor, and eased the door open by increments, taking care the leather hinges didn't creak. A light came from below; there would be a guard, then, for a prisoner wouldn't need light.

She eased her body into the opening, holding the door while she retrieved both bag and candlestick. She didn't need the candle, but she did need a weapon. She blew out the candle and pinched the wick with spit-dampened fingers, then removed the candle from the spike atop the stick and placed it in the bag. Carefully setting the bag down on the top step, she took a deep breath, then another, and silently prayed.

The stone wall of the dungeon was cold and damp against her back as Grace eased down the narrow, uneven steps. There was no railing, and the flicker of the torch below didn't penetrate up the inky, curving stairs. She had to feel her way down, wishing for the candle after all, but it would have alerted the guard to her presence.

The weight of the heavy iron candlestick pulled at her arm. When she was halfway down the curve of steps she could see the single guard, sitting below on a crude bench with his back resting against the wall, a rough skin of wine at his elbow. Good; if she were lucky, he had drunk himself into a stupor. Even if he had a Scotsman's hard head for spirits, at least the liquor would have slowed his reflexes. She hoped he was asleep because given where he was sitting, she would have to approach him almost head-on. The light was poor and she could hide the candlestick against her leg, but if he stood up it would be much more difficult for her to hit him hard enough to knock him out. She was so sore and battered from the trip through time that she didn't trust her strength; better if she could simply lift the heavy candlestick and swing it downward, letting gravity aid her.

Grace cautiously edged her foot forward, searching for the edge of each step while trying not to scrape her shoe against the stone. The air was cold, and fetid; the smell assaulted her nose, making it wrinkle in disgust. The odor was composed of unmistakable human waste, but beneath that lay the sharper, more unpleasant odors of blood, and fear, and the sour sweat of pain. Men had been tortured, and died, in these foul depths that never saw the sun. It was up to her to make certain Black Niall didn't join their ranks.

She had a guilty thought: was it her fault he had been captured? Common sense told her that was ridiculous; it was impossible for Niall to have heard her mental call to him. She couldn't have caused a split second of inattention that could have resulted in his capture. She hadn't actually seen what had happened, anyway, so it was silly to feel guilty. But then, her very presence here was evidence that the impossible was possible, so she couldn't say for certain that Niall hadn't heard her call him.

She didn't know how much time she had. Huwe of Hay would sleep until late morning, under the double influence of alcohol and Seconal. Given how much he had drunk, she only hoped she hadn't overdosed him. Crude and disgusting as he was, she didn't want to kill him. But she was heartily grateful she had brought those drugs; without the Seconal, she could never have escaped from Huwe at all, much less avoided being raped.

Her searching foot found no more steps. The floor was nothing more than hard-packed dirt, uneven and treacherous. She stood still for a moment, taking deep, silent breaths as she tried to steady her nerves. The guard still sat slumped on the bench, his head nodded forward onto his chest. Was he truly asleep, or drunk, or merely playing possum? As careful as she had been, had he still heard some betraying rustle, and was now trying to lure her closer?

It didn't matter; she didn't have any choice. Even if his capture wasn't her fault, she couldn't leave Black Niall here for Huwe to kill. Niall was the Guardian, the only person alive who knew both the secrets and the location of the Templars' Treasure. Unless she could find the Treasure herself, she needed his knowledge, his cooperation, to prevent Parrish from getting his hands on the Treasure. She wanted Parrish stopped, and she wanted Parrish dead; for that, she needed Black Niall alive.

She considered the guard. If he were awake and merely being crafty, then she would arouse less suspicion by approaching him directly, as if she had nothing to hide. Harmony's theory, again. Moreover, if he saw her, he wouldn't expect any threat from a woman. Her heart thumped wildly in her chest, and for a moment black spots swam before her eyes. Panic made her stomach lurch, and she thought she might throw up. Desperately she sucked in more air, fighting back both nausea and weakness. She refused to let herself falter now, after all she had already been through.

Cold sweat broke out on her body, trickled down her spine. Grace forced her feet to move, to take easy, measured strides that carried her across the rough floor as if she had nothing at all to hide. The torchlight danced and swayed, as if under the spell of some unheard music, casting huge, wavering shadows on the damp stone walls. The guard didn't move.

Ten feet. Five. Then she stood directly in front of the guard, so close she could smell the stench of his unwashed body, sharp and sour. Grace swallowed, and steeled herself for the blow she had to deliver. She sent up a quick prayer that she wouldn't cause him any lasting damage, and used both aching arms to raise the heavy candlestick high.

Her clothing rustled with her movements. He stirred, opening bleary eyes and peering up at her. His mouth gaped open. Grace swung downward, and the massive iron candlestick crashed against the side of his head with a solid thud that made her cringe. Anything he might have said, any alarm he might have given, dissolved into a grunt as he slid sideways, his eyes closing once more.

Blood trickled down the side of his head, matting in his filthy hair. Looking down at him she saw that he was younger than she had thought, surely not much more than twenty. His grimy cheeks still held a certain childish curve. Tears stung her eyes, but she turned sharply away, need shouldering aside regret.

Of the three cells, only one was barred. "Niall!" she whispered urgently as she grasped the massive bar. How was she best to communicate with him? Today had taught her that Gaelic wasn't a possibility. He was a Templar, though; he would almost certainly speak French. She felt capable in either Old English or Old French, but Latin hadn't changed at all since his time, so that was the language she chose.

"I have come to free you," she said softly as she struggled with the bar. My God, it was heavy! It was like wrestling with a tree trunk, six feet long and a good ten inches wide. Her hands slipped on the wood, and a splinter dug deep into her little finger. Grace bit off an involuntary cry of pain as she jerked her hand back.

"Are you hurt?" The question was voiced in a deep, calm, softly burred voice, and came very clear to her ears as if he stood close against the other side of the door. Hearing it, Grace froze, her eyes closing as she struggled once more with tears and an electrifying surge of emotion that threatened to overwhelm her. It was really Black Niall, and oh,God, he sounded just as he had in her dreams. That voice was like thunder and velvet, capable of a roar that would freeze his enemies or a warm purr that would melt a woman into his arms.

"Only… only a little," she managed to say, her voice shaking. She struggled to remember the correct words. "A splinter… the bar is very heavy, and it slipped."

"Are you alone?" Concern was there now. "The bar is too big for a mere woman."

"I can do it!" she said fiercely. Mere?Mere? What did he know? She had survived on the run for a year; she had managed to get here, against all odds, and moreover she was the one on thefree side of the door. Anger mixed with exhilaration, surging through her veins, making her feel as if she would burst through her skin. She wanted to scream, she wanted to hit something, she wanted to dance. Instead she turned her attention back to the bar.

Abandoning any attempt to lift it with her hands, she bent her knees and lodged her shoulder under it, driving upward with all the strength in her back and legs.

The weight of the bar bit into her shoulder, nearly drove her downward again. Gritting her teeth, Grace braced her legs and strained. She could feel blood rush to her face, feel her heart and lungs labor. Her knees wobbled. Damn it, shewouldn't let this stupid piece of wood defeat her, not after all she had already gone through!

A growl of refusal burst past her lips and she summoned every ounce of strength in her aching body, gathering it for one final effort. Her thigh muscles screamed in pain, her back burned. Desperately she shoved upward, forcing her legs to straighten, and one end of the bar slowly rose inch by inch. It teetered for a moment and she shoved again, and the bar began sliding down through the other bracket. The rough wood scraped her cheek, snagged her clothes. Using both hands, ignoring the need for quiet, she shoved the bar forward until it was free of the right bracket.

Instead of continuing its slide through the other bracket, the heavy bar slowed, its weight tipping it back toward her. Grace scrambled out of the way as one end hit the dirt floor with a reverberating thud. The bar stood braced there, one end on the floor and the other balanced against the second bracket.

She stood still, breathing hard, trembling in every muscle, but triumph roared through her, fierce and sweet. Heat radiated from her, banishing the cold as if she stood close to a fire, and she couldn't feel any pain in her injured hand. She felt invigorated, invincible, and her breasts rose tight and aroused beneath her clothing.

"Open the door," she invited, the words coming out breathlessly despite her efforts to steady her voice. Then she couldn't resist a taunt: "If you can."

A low laugh came to her ears, and slowly the massive door began to open, pushing the huge bar before it. Grace took a step back, her gaze fastened hungrily on the black space yawning open between the door and the frame, waiting for her first glimpse of Black Niall in the flesh.

He came through the door as casually as if he were on vacation, but there was nothing casual in the black gaze that swept over the unconscious guard and then leaped to her, raking her from head to foot in a single suspicious, encompassing look. His vitality seared her like a blast, an almost palpable force, and she felt the blood drain from her face.

He could have stepped straight from her dreams. He was there, just as he had been in the images that had plagued her for endless nights, as he had been when his essence had pulled her across nigh seven centuries. Slowly, like a lover's hand drifting over the face of a beloved, barely touching as if too strong a contact would destroy the spell, her gaze traced his features.

Yes, it was he. She knew him well, his face memorized in countless dreams. The broad, clear forehead; the eyes, as black as night, as old as sin. The thin, high-bridged Celtic nose, and chiseled cheekbones; the firm and unsmiling lips, the uncompromising chin and jaw. He was big. Mercy, she hadn't realized how big he was, but he stood more than a foot taller than she, at least six-four. His long black hair swung past his shoulders, shoulders that were at least a two foot span of solid muscle. The hair at his temples was secured in a thin braid on each side of his face.

His shirt and plaid were dirty, and dark with dried blood. Bruises mottled his face; one eye was swollen almost shut. But for all that, he was strong and vital, impervious to the cold that was making her shiver, or at least she told herself it was the cold. He was wilder than she could have imagined, and yet he was exactly as she had dreamed. The reality of him was like a blow, and she swayed.

He looked around, his face hard and set, every muscle poised for action. "You are alone?" he asked again, evidently doubting that she had managed the bar by herself.

"Yes," she whispered. No enemies rushed from the inky shadows, no alarm was raised. Slowly he returned his gaze to her, and with the torch behind her outlining her form she knew he could see how violently she was trembling.

"Frail but valiant," he murmured, coming closer. Despite herself, she would have shrunk back, but he moved with the deceptive speed of an attacking tiger. One hard arm passed around her waist, both supporting and capturing her, drawing her against him. "No, don't fear me, sweetings. Who are you? No relation of Huwe's, I'll wager, not with such a pretty face – and a command of Latin."

"N-no," she stammered. The contact with him was going to her head, making her feel giddy. Oh, God. His voice had taken on a deep, unmistakable note. Her stomach clenched in panic. She lifted her right hand to brace against his chest; the touch jammed the splinter deeper into her finger, and she flinched from the sudden pain.

Instantly he caught her hand, hard fingers wrapping gently around it and turning it toward the light. Her stomach clenched again at the contrast of her hand lying in that callused palm. Like Huwe's, his hand was dirty from the battle he'd fought that day, but that was the only resemblance between the two men. Black Niall's big hand was lean and powerful, the long fingers well shaped, the nails tended. For all the obvious strength in that hand, it cradled her much smaller one as delicately as if he held a baby bird.

She glanced at the small, burning wound on her hand. The long, jagged splinter had entered her finger lengthwise, and the end protruded just above the bend of the first knuckle. He made a softly sympathetic sound, almost a croon, and lifted her hand to his mouth. With delicate precision he caught the end of the splinter in his animal white teeth, and steadily drew it out. Grace flinched again at the pain, sucking in a hissing breath and rising on tiptoe against him, but he held her hand steady in his powerful grip. He spat the splinter out, then sucked hard at the sullenly bleeding wound. She felt his tongue flicking against her skin, laving her hurt, and a moan that had nothing to do with pain slipped from her lips.

That black gaze moved back to her face, so close to his now, and his eyes grew heavy-lidded as he sensed how it was with her. His thin nostrils flared like a stallion's, drawing in her female scent. And then his expression changed, shifting into furious recognition.

"You!" He spat the word as if it were an epithet. His hands bit into her shoulders as he whirled her toward the light. She hadn't put her hair back up after removing the knife, and he sank one hand deep into the heavy mass, lifting it as if to measure its length. His. olive-toned face was savage.

"M-me?" she squeaked ungrammatically, in English. She caught herself and returned to Latin. "I?"

"Who are you?" he asked again, and this time the question was hard with barely contained fury. "It was you, screaming my name, who distracted me today and caused me to be captured. You have watched me for months, never showing your face until you invaded my dreams. Are you a spy, a witch?"

Grace went white, staring at him in horrified dismay. He had felt her dreams, shared them with her?Oh, no. She felt a fiery blush begin to heat her cheeks. Then she jerked as his last words registered. "No! I'm not a spy, or a witch!"

"Then why have you watched me?" he asked grimly, releasing her to cross swiftly to the unconscious guard. He looked briefly at the young man's bleeding head, then at the iron candlestick lying beside him, before taking both sword and dagger as if he felt the need to be armed in her presence.

The dagger disappeared inside his soft leather boot, and he turned to face her, eyes narrowed and watchful. "How have you come to my bed so often I know the very smell of you? How came you to be with Huwe today? I heard your voice, I know you were there."

"They c-captured me, too." The unsteadiness of her voice annoyed her, and she took a deep, irritated breath. She was mortified that he had shared those erotic dreams with her; she didn't know how it had happened, but everything about this went beyond the normal and there was nothing she could do about it.

"A likely tale. You hardly bear the look of mistreatment." "Huwe intended to ransom me, I think."

"That would not keep him from rutting on you, sweetings."

She blushed again, unable to control the heat in her cheeks, but it seemed as much in response to the rather biting endearment than to his crude words. "No.I kept him from that."

"How did you accomplish that feat? A spell?" "I am not a witch! I gave him a drink that made him sleep. He was drunk, anyway."

"And all the others?" "They are all asleep from drink. They think you safely locked away, and that your men will not dare attack while they have you."

"No, but they will be nearby." He didn't seem as angry now, though his gaze was still hard when he looked at her. "You have not yet answered my question. Who are you?"

"Grace St. John." She said it in English, because she didn't know the specific Latin applications.

He repeated her name as she had said it, slowly duplicating the pronunciation, his tongue sure on the syllables with the deftness of someone who spoke several languages. Then he stepped closer to her, the sword still in his hand, so close that his big body blotted out the light of the flickering torch. "And how have you watched me?"

"I haven't." She made a helpless gesture. "I dreamed."

"Ah. More dreams." He was still angry, she could feel it, but his voice had taken on that low, seductive note again, making her shiver as she fought the pull of it. "In your dreams, sweetings, was I inside you?" he whispered, moving even closer, his left arm sliding about her waist and slowly, inexorably, pulling her against him. "Were you beneath me in my bed, did I ride you hard?"

Grace struggled to breathe. Her lungs weren't working properly, only drawing in fast, shallow breaths. She braced her hands against his chest, feeling the incredible heat of his body through his rough linen shirt. She felt hot, too, restless and panicky, her skin almost painfully sensitive.

His gaze was sharp and hot, startlingly aware. His lips parted slightly, his own breathing coming a little too fast as the hard arm around her waist urged her even closer, closer, until her breasts touched him. "I'm a fool," he murmured, this time in Scots, but somehow she understood him. "I've no time for more, but I'll at least have the taste of ye."

He lifted her, turning to pin her against one of the cell doors. His big, iron-muscled body ground against her from shoulder to knee, and her breath snagged at the fullness of his arousal. Instantly he took advantage of her parted lips and set his mouth to hers. His kiss was ravaging, not in force but in effect. Her blood surged wildly in response, and her body instinctively molded to him. His taste was hot, tart and uncivilized, shatteringly familiar. He used his tongue with soul-searing skill, demanding her response, then deepening his advantage when she helplessly gave it. His hands moved over her body, cupping her breasts, her bottom, moving her against him. His long fingers slipped between her legs, feeling her through her gown. Grace had a second of warning, an almost painful inner tightening, and frantically she pushed against him but it was too late. Sensation splintered into a thousand piercing shards, and with a hoarse cry she arched into him.

She felt his surprise as his mouth muffled her cry, then he gathered her tighter while her climax pulsed through her, those devilishly knowledgeable fingers gently rubbing to give her a full measure of satisfaction. The spasms finally slowed, diminishing to tremors, and she sank weakly against him.

She jerked her mouth from his and pressed her head hard against his shoulder, her face hot with mortification. She had never been so embarrassed and humiliated in her life.

Reaching climax in a dream was unsettling enough, but to do it in front of him, with no more stimulation than a kiss and a bold caress-she burned with shame.

"Lass," he said, his voice low and husky, almost a whisper. His lips pressed briefly to the exposed curve of her neck, the touch hot and tender. His breath came in soft, short pants as he let her slide to her feet, all down the length of his body.

She would have kept her head down but he cupped her chin, lifting her face so he could see it. His thumb swept over the soft bloom of her mouth. His own lips were swollen and shiny, his eyes narrow with lust."A pity I must go," he whispered in Scots. "Ye burn a man to a fair crisp, but I'd turn to ash wi' a smile on my face." He bent and brushed her mouth with his, then patted her bottom and set her away from him.

Shaking, Grace leaned against the door, her mind a blank and her knees like water. He moved so fast that he had already reached the stairs before realization sank into her brain. She struggled upright, her eyes wide. "No, wait!" she cried. "Take me with you!"

He didn't even pause, his powerful legs taking the stairs two at a time. He tossed her a grin. "I give you thanks for my liberty, but gratitude doesn't make me a fool," he said, returning to Latin, and he disappeared upward into the darkness.

Oh, damn!She didn't dare call out again. She launched herself after him but her legs were still shaking, and she barely had the strength to climb the stairs. There was no sign of him when she emerged from the dungeon.

She couldn't sound an alarm, for after all she didn't want him recaptured. Nor did she herself dare to remain. She collected her bag and tiptoed toward the kitchen, thinking that the most likely avenue of his escape. If there were a guard there, Niall would have taken care of him. She had to get out of this grimy hold and find him again. He wasn't a hero, damn him, no knight in shining armor. He was just a man, though bigger than most, more bold and vital. He was arrogant and rude, and he was her only hope.