For nearly six centuries I have roamed the night, a mortal man no longer. Would that I could undo the past when I entered the sanctuary of the Knights Templar to wrest from them the Holy Grail, only to discover the chalice I raised to my lips was not the sacred relic but a hellish cup of damnation. Now I shun the day and all things human, driven by an ungodly thirst. And yet...
Never have I known a maiden the like of Prudence Ryland, whose beauty and spirit awaken a heart I feared long cold and dead. But her young life is slipping away, and she also seeks the deliverance of the Grail unaware that the cost of her search could be her soul. I must help Prudence, for in six hundred years, no other woman has stirred my passions so. But dare I tender to my beloved that which she most desires the sensuous "gift" of forever that is both rapture and a curse: my immortal kiss?
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Be Mine Tonight
By Kathryn Smith
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Kathryn Smith
All right reserved.
"You talked Papa into buying a parcel of land because you believe the Holy Grail is hidden there?"
Prudence Ryland knew her sister would not understand. "Yes."
Caroline's pretty face was marred with concern beneath the brim of her riding hat. "Darling, isn't this clutching at straws?"
Perhaps Caroline understood better than Pru had first thought.
Squinting against the sun -- her foolish little cap did nothing to shield her eyes -- Pru set her jaw. "Perhaps."
They were riding back from the village, Caroline on a gray mare, Pru on a chestnut gelding. With the men out hunting and their sisters busy at needlework, Caroline and Pru had desperately needed something to pass the day -- something that required air and exercise. Anything else would have left Pru alone in her head -- something she tried to avoid these days.
The afternoon was warm -- too warm for a velvet riding habit, as pretty as her dark green one was. But Caro had wanted one last ride before her pregnancy denied her the exercise. Sweat trickled beneath the boning of Pru's corset, making her itch. She would try to scratch if she thought it would do any good. Instead, she clenched her jaw and urged her mount into a trot.
Her sisterremained silent, blast her. Caroline knew she couldn't stand awkward pauses. She always had to fill them. "Will it not be worthwhile if the Grail is there?" Pru didn't mean just for her own benefit either, but for the benefit of the entire world.
"Only if it does what the legend claims." Caroline shook her head, the sun catching fire in the copper of her hair. "Really, Pru. The Grail is as elusive as Noah's ark! Don't you think that if it really existed, someone would have found it by now?"
Yes. No. "Perhaps no one has thought to look in the right spot." Perhaps she truly was grasping at straws, but what else could she do?
Caroline's green eyes were bright with worry. "I am worried about you."
She wasn't referring just to this hunt for the Grail. Pru glanced away. Of course her sister worried. Everyone in her family worried. They would continue to worry until . . . until she wasn't there to worry them any longer.
She turned a bright smile on her sister. "I am fine, Caro."
Her sister recoiled as if spat on. "You are not fine! You are -- " She stopped, choking on her words. Oh, no, she wasn't going to cry, was she? Poor Caroline, she was the most emotional of all of them -- the one with the kindest countenance and sweetest temper. Her hair and eyes were as bright as her spirit, while Pru's own auburn and hazel pairing was darker, more shadowed. Caro cried at the drop of a hat, and it broke Pru's heart every blasted time.
Smile gone, Pru leaned over -- at the risk of toppling herself to the ground between the two horses -- and touched her sister's arm. "I am fine, Caro. No matter what happens, I will be fine." She honestly believed that, but it didn't make the truth any easier to accept.
Caroline nodded, sniffing back her tears. Prudence righted herself as they turned down the lane to their father's estate. She and Caroline talked of trifling things for the rest of the ride -- mostly books they had both read and the new typewriting machine that Caroline's husband Walter had brought her. Their earlier conversation hung over them, however.
A small group of gentlemen were gathered in the horseshoe-shaped drive. It wasn't an entirely surprising scene. Thomas Ryland was a very sociable man and was often off visiting friends, or being visited; and with his family in residence for a month's visit or longer, other gentlemen from the area often joined the various outings. It was obvious, from the size of the group -- and the object they were clustered around -- that this was more than mere sociability.
Their father was about to go touring in his -automobile -- a "racing car" manufactured by the Daimler Company. Obviously the other gentlemen were there for a demonstration of the motorized carriage's capabilities. Even Prudence was aware that Daimler's racing car was capable of reaching speeds in the vicinity of fifty miles per hour. She knew because her father had told her, not because she had experienced such exhilaration firsthand. He never drove that fast with her in the vehicle.
Ever since attending the automobile show in Richmond earlier that summer, Thomas Ryland had become obsessed with the new mode of transport and was one of the few people in the area to own such a contraption. Pru's sister Georgia thought it dangerous, and that a man their father's age shouldn't indulge in such a pastime, but Pru loved the snappy little conveyance, with its red exterior and black leather seat. Her father refused to allow her to drive it -- claiming that he feared for her safety.
Hmpf. She saw how her father careened about like a madman. She could not be any worse at it than he. It was something she would have to discuss with him, because she didn't want to waste the remainder of her life being treated as though she were made of glass.
There was a time when he would have indulged his youngest daughter's desire to take the Daimler for a jaunt. A time when his biggest worry would have been for the car, not for Prudence.
The grooms had seen them approaching the house and were there waiting for them. Pru and Caroline dismounted and greeted their father and his guests. Their father shot Pru a look that covered her from head to toe, lingering on her face as though searching for some sign of fatigue or pain. Dear Papa, he was so very protective. She smiled at him, and bade he and his companions a good day.
Excerpted from Be Mine Tonight by Kathryn Smith Copyright © 2006 by Kathryn Smith. Excerpted by permission.
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