"I loved this story from cover to cover. Iain and Catherine are great characters. This story may be shorter in word count than the others in the series, but it is just as well written grabbing my emotions and interest right to the end." ~ Delighted Reader Reviews
"There is something so gripping and dramatic about this series that each book pulls me straight into the pages I am reading. The action, the love, the heart felt need for each of the Templar Knights to find their one love- what a fantastic series." ~ Vampires, Werewolves, and Faeries
"I really enjoyed this instalment of an already great series, as I said, I always wondered what had happened to Iain and it’s nice to get some insight. Seeing as it was novella length it was fast paced with a great story line and as always some Templar hotness which is always welcomed." ~ Book Passion for Life
"If you have read the other three books, you will want to make sure to read this as well. The only disappointment I had was that it was over way too early." ~ Urban Girl Reader
“This series (The Curse of the Templars) is explosive, sexy, riveting,
and Claire Ashgrove is a master of her craft.”
MAGGIE SHAYNE, New York Times Bestselling Author
“Ashgrove's Templars will steal your heart and her world building
will leave you wanting more.”
KARIN TABKE, National Bestselling Author
“Claire Ashgrove weaves complex layers of history, paranormal worlds
and romantic fiction seamlessly.”
CATHERINE BYBEE, New York Times Bestselling Author
Whence comes the teacher, she who is blind will follow.
The one who digs in dust precedes the finding of the jewel.
And she who understands the sword precludes the greatest loyalty.
When darkness rapes the land, the seraphs shall purify the Templar
and lead the sacred swords to victory.
—ancient prophecy of the Knights Templar
Kansas City, Missouri
Iain Donnelly was so preoccupied by the easy way he succumbed to Lady Anne’s determination to bestow upon him the title of errand boy that he failed to execute the proper turn on his sheet of directions. He swore beneath his breath as 14th Street rolled by.
It had taken very little persuasion in truth. Merrick’s wife had a gentle but firm way about her that few of the Templar Knights could resist. In no time at all, Iain found himself agreeing to drive to the Salvation Army drop-off point, pick up the heavy leather couch she had purchased, and deliver it to Tane du Breuil’s new center for homeless teens. Tane, the traitor no less. Though in truth, Iain had not been present when Tane damned himself, and he held no opinion on his fellow knight’s status within the Order. Lady Anne had made peace with him, the archangels discussed restoring him to duties, and Merrick . . . well the North American commander of the Knights Templar had never been particularly soft of heart.
Iain glanced at the approaching street sign, intending to circle around the way he had come, only to discover a one-way sign. Damnation! He had turned himself around thoroughly, and the vile streets of Kansas City seemed intent on forbidding his escape. Where, in the name of all things sacred, was this accursed Truman Road? This grid-layout was no better than the narrow, twisty roads of Europe, despite what the Americans claimed.
He turned and headed down the one-way road, hoping the next corner would offer a ready solution. Sabbatical had never been less enjoyable. At least he could take a measure of relief in the fact he did not still sit in the bowels of the temple, attempting to find faith in the purpose he served and make peace with the knowledge he would die.
Iain hit the brakes as a flash of yellow entered his peripheral vision. In the next instant, a bright red Jeep shot into the intersection ahead of him. A horn blared angrily. His own tires squealed in chorus with the yellow convertible’s.
His pickup truck screeched to a halt. In front of him, the convertible sat helpless as the Jeep’s front bumper plowed into its polished chrome grill. The crunch of metal echoed off the brick buildings. Glass shattered as headlights exploded onto the pavement. The convertible spun sideways, pushed along by the momentum of the speeding Jeep. Its passenger door smashed into an ornate, green lamppost. Then everything went still, including the passersby on the street.
Iain’s heart pounded. Had he hesitated a moment longer, he too would be part of the twisted mess of tangled automobiles. Not that he would have known harm, nay, immortality prevented such. But he could be responsible for injury to another. As he had been responsible only a few short months ago.
He stuffed the rising memory down with a grimace and opened his door to investigate whether the colliding drivers suffered injury. He could not pass through the intersection, could not turn around—at least he could make himself useful. Judging from the appearance of the convertible, quite likely the driver needed aid.
Halfway across the street, the yellow car’s driver’s side door creaked open. Relief swept through Iain as a young blond woman stumbled to her feet. He increased his pace to a jog and swiftly crossed to her. “Are you injured, mademoiselle?”
Startled, she turned to look at him, and the prettiest pair of pale blue eyes Iain could ever recall seeing met his. Her shock was evident. Though she was already fair, her skin took on the color of ash. She held on to the crinkled door frame as if she might topple over at any moment, and the nod she gave him came with such hesitance he wondered whether she comprehended his question.
Iain laid his hand over her white-knuckled grip. “Mademoiselle, are you harmed?” he repeated with concern.
Slowly, those blue eyes focused, and awareness registered in her expression. A hesitant, embarrassed smile touched the corners of her mouth. “I-I’m . . . fine.” She cleared her throat, but when she spoke again, the nervous vibration in her voice remained. “I . . . got turned around. I didn’t know it was a one-way—”
“You stupid bitch!”
The furious masculine bellow came from behind Iain. He looked over his shoulder to find the Jeep’s owner storming across the pavement, his face a mask of rage.
“Can’t you see the fucking signs? It’s one way through here! Let me guess, you were texting or something.”
Venom dripped from the man’s voice. He thrust his hand out, grabbing for what, Iain did not know. But the way the woman shrunk away swept Iain back in time. In a flash he remembered terror within another maid’s lovely blue eyes. Fear that lingered despite the smile she had somehow found for him those long centuries ago.
Before he realized what he was doing, he grabbed the man by the shirtfront, whirled him around, and pinned him against the hood of the woman’s demolished car. “Do not think of touching her.”
Strong fingers plied at Iain’s wrists. “Get your hands off me, asshole.”
Iain tightened his grip. “You will take yourself across the street, where you shall wait until the police arrive. Away from the lady. Is this understood, good sir?”
Bushy eyebrows drew together as the man scowled. Beneath two days’ worth of stubble, his lips pursed. A moment of silence strained between them, and then, he offered a short, succinct nod.
Iain released him, backed up a step, and folded his arms across his chest. From the corner of his eye, he noticed the woman stood a bit taller. He kept his attention focused on her assailant, however, watching as the driver of the Jeep crossed the intersection and began to pace on the opposite sidewalk. Iain gave the woman a smile. “You are certain you are not injured?”
She exhaled. “Just a little shaken.” With a shy smile, she extended her hand. “I’m Catherine. Thanks for getting rid of him.”
Iain clasped her smaller hand, captured once more by the uncanny way she resembled a maid he had not considered in centuries. Ella. Saints’ teeth, she too had difficulty holding his gaze. Though Ella had possessed entirely different, far more dangerous reasons for looking at her toes.
Nevertheless, Catherine’s faint blush warmed him. He squeezed her hand affectionately. “And I am Iain. Iain Donnelly.”
Wide, compelling blue eyes lifted once more to his. Their palms touched for a heartbeat too long. Where her soft skin met his, his nerves prickled. Pleasant. Her touch was most pleasant indeed. His pulse skipped several beats.
Catherine’s fingers let go, forcing Iain to do the same. He took a step back, all too aware of her nearness. As a rule, women’s perfumes offended his nose. But something about the faint whiff of fragrance that drifted to his awareness made him want to breathe deeply. He tempered the urge, shifted his weight. For the first time in eons, he could not think of a single word to speak.
The wail of approaching sirens broke the odd, heavy cloud that draped around them. Catherine blinked, as if she were once more drawn from some far away place, then bent inside her open car door. “I guess I better have my insurance ready.”
Though ’twas most improper, Iain could not stop himself from inspecting the slight indentation of her narrow waist. Nor could he keep his gaze from dropping to her backside, no matter how he ordered it to remain locked safely on her shoulders. When he observed the way her faded denim jeans molded against a perfectly shaped bottom, warmth infused his veins.
She backed out of the car, and he quickly averted his stare. Saints’ toes, she was most lovely.
And he had no business entertaining such thoughts. Not when his stay in America would soon end, and he would again return to the calling of the Templar, fighting Azazel’s foul creations until his soul became as black as the things he slayed.
Most certainly not when he had recently failed to protect his own seraph from a horrific end.
“Do you require a ride somewhere?” The question popped free before he consciously became aware of the thought.
The blare of sirens whined to a stop beside the Jeep that remained in the middle of the intersection, forbidding Catherine’s reply. Behind the police car, another rolled to a stop, its light bar flashing, sirens blessedly silenced. Two men filed out from both patrol cars. The pair from the first moved around the parked Jeep, inspecting it as the second pair approached Catherine.
“You all right, ma’am?” one drawled, though his gaze remained sharp and alert.
“I’m fine,” Catherine answered. “The whole mess is my fault. I got lost and turned down the wrong way.”
Iain cocked an eyebrow. So she was honest then as well. Entirely too many years had passed since he witnessed such merit in humankind. But then, until he came to America to escape the hellish nightmares of Europe and his murdered seraph, Bianca, he had little cause to interact with modern mortals.
From across the street, her pudgy bully yelled, “Give that bitch a ticket!”
Once more, Catherine shriveled. Iain bit down a fierce rush of anger. Hundreds of years of warrior instincts rose, and he took a step forward, placing himself between Catherine and the man across the street. Which also placed him between her and the officers, earning him a reproachful, lifted brow.
“He has already attempted to assault her person,” Iain explained. “Mayhap you should speak to him first, so he will leave.”
The shorter officer nodded at his dark-haired partner. “You head on over, Dane. I’ll finish up here. Shouldn’t take long.”
Dane nodded, reached into his front shirt pocket to withdraw a tablet and pen, and strode off across the street. The other turned to Catherine. “Officer Martinez, ma’am. Care to tell me what happened? Let’s start with your name. May I see your license please?”
* * *
“Catherine Grady.” Catherine answered the officer’s inquiry as confidently as she could and passed him her driver’s license. But the devastatingly handsome man to her left made confidence almost impossible. He was so big, so there, her skin tingled with awareness. A feeling she hadn’t experienced in a good four years or more. And the way he’d stepped in to protect her made her heart do all kinds of flip-flops.
Iain. Iain Donnelly. His introduction played through her mind, distracting her from the embarrassing position of having to confess to this cop that the convoluted city streets confused her and she’d caused a serious accident. It also kept her from dwelling on how she was going to break this news to the sisters at Mount Saint Scholastica. Her novitiate director wouldn’t hesitate to point out this would be God’s way of handling her refusal to part with her car, the last tangible memory of the only family who’d ever loved her. On the heels of that reminder would come the piercing stare and the remark she’d heard one too many times lately: Perhaps your calling is with children, not the community.
Catherine took her driver’s license back from the officer and nervously stuffed it into her purse. The last time she’d gotten a ticket for anything, she’d been sixteen. After that DUI, she lost her license, lost her freedom, and had only regained the right to drive three years ago.
“And the man who collided with your vehicle, you say he assaulted you?” The officer changed the direction of his questioning with a severe frown.
Catherine glanced at Iain. “Not . . . exactly.”
Officer Martinez’s frown deepened as he cocked his head and squinted at Iain. “I thought—”
“We really aren’t certain what his intentions were,” Catherine rushed to explain. “He grabbed at me. He didn’t touch me physically.” Fidgeting once more, she twined her hands together at her waist. “It’s really nothing. He’s just angry. I have insurance—I’m sure it will smooth over.”
The cop scrutinized her for a moment, then offered a slow, reluctant nod. “If anything happens—”
“’Twill not,” Iain interjected. His firm, unyielding tone sent an unexplainable thrill rolling down Catherine’s spine.
“Yeah, well,” Officer Martinez continued, “If it does, you contact me. Okay?” He gave Catherine a pointed look.
“Yes, of course.”
“You have a towing company you prefer? Or are you good with these guys?” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder at the tow truck parked at the corner, waiting to hook on at first opportunity.
It didn’t really matter in the scheme of things. Her adoptive father’s car was toast. Insurance wouldn’t touch it. She sighed inwardly. At least she could put whatever money she received toward the classroom. For six months now, she’d been trying to persuade the school board to invest in new textbooks next fall.
“They’re fine,” she answered with a forlorn look at the destroyed convertible.
Before he wandered across the street to join his partner, Martinez waved at the driver, and in seconds the tow truck’s engine purred to life. Beeps echoed down the clogged street as it backed toward the lamppost where Catherine stood.
Iain clasped her by the elbow, pulling her gently away from the wreckage. “’Twould be my pleasure to offer you a ride, Catherine. Surely you were headed somewhere?”
Criminy, one simple touch and her head swam with newfound sensations. Tingles zinged down to her toes. Warmth flooded her veins, making her oddly dizzy. And looking him in the eye—good grief, she’d faint, she was certain of it.
Instead, she glanced at her sandals. “I was on my way back to the school where I teach.” No way would she ask this stranger to drive an hour to her home. He seemed safe enough, but that was foolish. Besides, it would be rude. Grabbing for a smile, she braved meeting his warm brown eyes. “I’ll call someone to come get me.”
Iain chuckled. “You would arrive sooner if you did not have to wait to be retrieved.” He beckoned her to follow. “Come. I must deliver this sofa to the teens’ shelter. Perhaps you could tell me how to get there, in exchange for a ride.”
Not smart—this wasn’t smart at all. She’d learned this lesson the hard way. But that stranger wasn’t anything like Iain. Not once had he seemed helpful. Certainly not in the way any normal human being would define the word.
Catherine’s gaze strayed across the street at the man whose car she’d inadvertently destroyed. Evidently too good for the first-arrival towing companies, he waited beside his Jeep—which now sat near the opposite curb—glowering at her.
That malicious stare was enough to make up her mind. She’d rather chance a ride with the man who’d prevented whatever that jerk had in store, than stand here while he was still around.
“Okay.” She blew out a hard breath. “I need to go to Atchison, though.”
“Atchison? I was there three days past.”
Catherine grinned. “It’s quaint. I like it a lot.” Falling into step behind him, she crossed the street.
Iain opened the passenger door of his silver pickup truck and gestured for her to climb inside. “You are a teacher then.” It wasn’t really a question, more a reaffirmation of what she’d already said.
“Yeah.” It was true . . . for the most part. She did teach. She held a specialist’s degree in secondary education with a specific emphasis in the needs of special circumstance children. Teens and tweens who, for whatever reason, lacked stable home environments, and in some cases, homes at all. But for some unexplainable reason, Catherine couldn’t bring herself to voice the first response that came to mind: No, actually I’m a nun.
Catherine chewed on the inside of her cheek all the way across the inner city, telling herself over and over again she hadn’t committed a cardinal sin by failing to disclose she was a nun. Okay . . . actually . . . not a nun. Not yet. She was still a novitiate, still discerning whether the monastic life really fit. But for all intents and purposes, though she hadn’t said her vows, she considered herself a full Sister.
She stole a sideways glance at Iain. His relaxed posture erased some of the edge to his powerful build. Both hands on the wheel, he navigated the pickup confidently, with just a touch of aggression that she shouldn’t have liked, but made her belly flutter all the same.
That involuntary reaction was exactly why she should confess her commitment to the faith. He’d stop tossing sexy grins just as the silence became awkward. Once he found out, like every other man, he’d back away as if she breathed fire. Which would make it that much easier to pretend that he didn’t have her insides tangled like spaghetti.
“So, where are you from, Iain?”
“Europe.” He downshifted, drawing her attention to a thick thigh that bunched beneath his jeans. “A small community just beyond Paris.”
Catherine let out a wistful sigh. “I’ve always wanted to see France. Guess that explains why you called me ‘mademoiselle’.” Combating nerves the only way she knew how, she laughed. Then immediately frowned. What was the matter with her—she’d never had trouble around men. Not the kind of trouble where her tongue wrapped itself in knots and she trembled like a leaf. She’d been around the block so much as an orphan teen . . . well, she didn’t like to think about the years she spent cycling through foster home after foster home.
So what was it about this guy that made her insides feel like melted butter?
Something he’d said clicked in her head. “You’re taking the couch to the homeless teens’ shelter? I didn’t know there was one specifically for teens in need.”
Iain turned his head and smiled, sending her pulse on another skyward leap. “My brother Tane is opening one at the end of this month.”
“Really? That’s wonderful! Kids hate going to the adult shelters.”
“’Twas what he discovered. As I have been told, a friend of his—Marie—had a need. To aid her, her brother, and those in their situation, Tane founded the home.”
She looked at him again, really allowed him to sink into her brain. His hands were fascinating. She’d seen them in action with the man she’d hit, knew the strength those fingers held. The faint dusting of hair at the back of his wrist continued up a muscular forearm. He wore a simple dark blue T-shirt that pulled across broad shoulders and a powerful chest. Nothing about him was weak. And yet, nothing about him was intimidating.
A chuckle shook his shoulders.
“What’s so funny?” Catherine asked.
She ignored the pleasant shiver that his accent stirred and tipped her head to the side. “Me? What about me?”
Deep brown eyes met hers for a flicker of an instant, before he looked back to the road and shifted position in his seat. He shook his head, an amused smile playing on his sensual mouth. “’Tis naught.”
“No, tell me. What did I say?”
“I do not wish to embarrass you.” He navigated a corner and eased to a stop in front of a newly renovated old warehouse. Sporting a full grin now, he opened his door and climbed out.
Just as Catherine began to think he’d close the door on her question, he braced his arms on the top of the pickup and ducked his head inside. “If I were to inspect you so thoroughly when I believed you could not notice, I am quite certain ’twould earn me the lash of your tongue.”
In a heartbeat, her cheeks blistered with heat. Oh good grief! But in the next heartbeat, the saucy attitude she’d worn with pride before she began considering life with the Church reared its head. Give it a try, and we’ll see. She stopped the thought an instant before it could slide off her tongue. But it echoed in her head even as she turned her back on his grin and exited the vehicle.
Catherine bit back a snort. Thinking like that would get her into deep trouble.
Before she could develop any sort of reply, the shelter’s crimson-painted wooden door swung wide, and another dark-haired man descended the short stairs. He clapped a hand on Iain’s shoulder, then embraced him in a quick masculine hug. “’Tis good to see you, Iain.”
She stayed a few inches behind the pickup’s rear fender, lingering on the sidelines, not wanting to intrude. The man had simply offered her a ride—sticking her nose in his business further wasn’t her style. But their similar accents intrigued her. Was this man from France as well? Had they immigrated at some point? They must have, for their native inflection to come through so strong.
As the new man turned toward the pickup, he stopped short, his gaze halting on her. Surprise passed across his face, then green eyes sparked with curiosity. Catherine gave him a hesitant smile.
“Tane, please meet Catherine Grady.” Iain gestured at her with a warm smile. “She found herself in need of a ride. I offered aid.”
Tane glanced at Iain, lifted eyebrows asking some question she couldn’t comprehend. She wouldn’t have noticed the slight shake of Iain’s head if she hadn’t been looking straight at him. Whatever the meaning, Tane’s brow smoothed, and he turned back to her, one hand extended in greeting. “I am Tane. A pleasure to meet you.”
Catherine shook his hand. “Likewise. It’s great what you’re doing for the teens here.”
“My thanks, good lady.” Releasing her, he stepped toward the pickup again. “’Twill be meaningless if they lack a place to sit. Let us move this inside, Iain.”
His grin turned harsh features into handsome ones. Good genes must run in their family. He matched Iain in height, but his build was stockier. A touch of uncertainty plagued the way he moved, whereas Iain’s movements held the same appealing confidence she’d observed as he drove. And Iain exuded warmth with his constantly laughing eyes, while his brother’s countenance remained closed, walled off from strangers.
She followed behind them as they hefted the couch through the door. What she found inside astounded her. Instead of plain white walls and industrial fluorescent lighting that so many shelters sported, Catherine discovered layer after layer of welcoming warmth that contradicted the man behind the idea. Aged bronze fixtures washed walls of rich, dark green with soft incandescent light. Instead of tile floors, she walked on polished, laminated wood. And she didn’t enter a sterile, wide front room set up with card tables and chairs, but rather a long hallway—as if she’d walked through the front door of a residential home. Dark wood-framed entryways opened into comfortable rooms: an entertainment room with a wide flat-screen television, a room with individual computer desks situated in each of the four corners, a smaller library with fully stocked shelves.
Iain and Tane angled through another doorway and led her into a back room, where they set the couch down beneath a wide picture window that overlooked a fenced-in yard, complete with an inviting patio.
He hadn’t created a shelter. He built a home.
“This is amazing, Tane. But there’s five floors—what’s on the rest?” And where in the world had he come up with this kind of money?
“Tane! I need you in the kitchen! I can’t get this stupid stove to work!” a feminine voice called.
He sighed, shook his head, and cast an apologetic glance at Catherine and Iain. “Iain, do show her around. I must help Marie. My apologies, Catherine.”
He hurried out of the room, leaving Catherine alone in Iain’s company. His devastating smile pinned her in place. The flicker of appreciation that lit in his eyes turned the spacious area surrounding her into a room no larger than a closet. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t stop the erratic pounding of her heart. An old familiar feeling stirred. One she knew she should ignore. But the sharp clamping of her womb and the rush of heat that flared through her body was so incredibly pleasant, she didn’t care. For just this moment, she wanted to revel in the simple pleasure of being a woman.
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