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Son of the Morning (Chapter 12)

"FEAR-GLEIDHIDH,"GRACE MUTTERED TO HERSELF, moving the words around on the computer screen and trying to make sense of the sentence.Fear-gleidhidh meant "guardian"; she was familiar enough withthat word to recognize it at a glance. Over the past several months she'd spent so much time with these blasted Gaelic papers that she'd learned to recognize a lot of the nouns, though sometimes the spelling threw her off. Even with the help of a two hundred dollar set of tapes that promised to teach her how to speak Gaelic, and which she'd bought in a useless hope that it would help clarify the murky medieval Gaelic syntax, it could still take hours to translate a few sentences.

But what on earth didcunhachd mean? Running her finger down the page of the Gaelic/English dictionary, she couldn't find any such word. Could it becunbhalach, which meant "steady," or cunbhalachd, which was "judgment"? No, it wouldn't be the first, for if she was reading it correctly the sentence was "The Guardian has theCunhachd ." The capitalization didn't necessarily mean anything, but the sentence certainly wouldn't be "The Guardian has the Steady."

"The Guardian has the Judgment"? Grace rearranged the words on the screen once again, wondering if she had misread the verb or tangled the syntax for what seemed like the millionth time. Without the benefit of classes, it was taking her more time to learn Gaelic than any other language she had studied. She was getting better at it, though.

She rechecked the paper, bending close and using her magnifying glass to study the faded letters. No, the verb was definitely "has."Cunhachd was the stumbling block. She turned her attention to it, and noticed that then was smeared. Could it be anm instead? Returning to the dictionary, she looked up cumhachd, and a surge of triumph went through her.Cumhachd meant "power."

"The Guardian has the Power." She raked her hands through her hair, lifting the long strands and letting them sift through her fingers. What were some synonyms forpower? Authority, right, might, will. All of those would fit, yet each differed somewhat in meaning. If she interpreted the sentence literally, then what power did the Guardian have? Power over the Treasure, absolute control of it? Money was power, as the old saying went, but the chronicles had also said that the Treasure was "greater than gold." It followed, then, that though there had likely been a monetary treasury, that wasn't the Treasure referred to so reverentially.

So what had the Treasure been, and what sort of power had the Guardian wielded because of it? If Black Niall had been the possessor of such mighty power, why had he spent his life as a renegade in the remote westernHighlands ? How had a Templar, supposedly a religious man, become a man as renowned for his sexual appetite as he was for his skill with a claymore?

Two more hours of work still left her in the dark. The Treasure was either "a knowing of God's will," something that was certainly ambiguous enough, or "proof of God's will," which was equally unenlightening. It possessed the power to "bow kings and nations before it," and "vanquish evil."

She read aloud the words on the screen. "The Guardian shall pass-or travel, or walk-beyond the bounds of time, or season-in the way of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to do His battle with the Serpent." That sounded as if the Guardian would emulateJesus's struggle with Satan, which hardly translated into any great power, but rather an effort to live an honorable, blameless life – something difficult enough, and from what she'd read about Black Niall he hadn't eventried.

So what was the Treasure, and what was the Power? Religious myth? Parrish evidently believed the gold was real; on the surface that was motive enough, yet she kept coming back to the Treasure that was greater than gold, and wondering if more than wealth was involved. If so, what? No Templar had ever betrayed the secret of the Treasure, though some of them had been hideously tortured. Perhaps most of them hadn't known anything to tell, but certainly the Grand Master had known, and he had gone to the stake with the secret untold. Instead he had cursed the King of France and the Pope, and within a year both Philip and Clement had died, giving credence to the superstition of the time that the Templars had been in league with the devil.

Slowly Grace paraphrased the unwieldy sentence. "The Guardian shall walk beyond time to vanquish evil." Sometimes putting the words in a more modem context helped her see through the lapsed centuries to find the most logical translation. She tried again. "The Guardian shall pass the season in battle against evil." What season? The years following the destruction of the Order? Was the Guardian supposed to fight Philip and Clement on behalf of the Order? If so, Black Niall had instead fought his skirmishes in bed and in the mountains and moors ofScotland .

It didn't make sense, and she was too tired to keep at it. Grace saved the file, then turned off the computer. In six months she had translated all the tales of Black Niall's battles and conquests, the Latin and French and English, but parts of the Gaelic still defeated her. Come to that, some of the Latin didn't make sense, because for some reason adiet had been included. What did a carefully regulated consumption of salt have to do with a history of the Templars? And why was the amount of water they drank based on their weight? But there it was, right in the middle of a long passage on the duties of a Guardian:VictusRationemTemporis, the diet of time, or for time.

She paused in the act of removing her sweatshirt. Time. What was this about time, that it cropped up in both Latin and Gaelic? Come to think of it, there had been something similar in the French documents. Swiftly she returned to the rickety table she used as a desk, flipping through the documents until she found the page she sought. "He shall be unbound by the chains of time."

Walking beyond time. Unbound by the chains of time. Diet for time. There was a common thread here, but she couldn't make sense of it. They had all been fixated on time, but was it in a metaphorical sense, or a conceptual thing? And what did time have to do with the Templars?

Well, it wasn't a puzzle she was going to solve by worrying at it; she would have to complete her translations, a project she could see the end of now. Another three weeks, perhaps a month, and she would have the Gaelic section completed. Gaelic was so difficult she'd saved it for last and she couldn't be certain of her translation, but she'd done the best she could. Whether it would tell her anything beyond the supposed location of the Templars' gold remained to be seen.

After undressing for bed, she neatly placed the computer and all her papers in the computer case, and set it within easy reach beside the bed. If she had to leave abruptly, she didn't want to waste time gathering everything together.

She turned out the light and lay on the narrow, lumpy bed, staring out the dingy window at the softly falling snow. The seasons had changed, summer giving way to fall, color dulling into the monochromatic shades of winter. It had been eight months since her old life had ended. She survived, but she couldn't say that she lived.

Her heart felt as bleak and stark as the winter. Her hatred for Parrish kept the pain at bay, untouched and undiminished. She knew it was there, knew she would someday lose control over it, but she would pay that price when the time came.

She blessed Harmony every day. She had a passport in LouisaCroley's name, in case she had to get out of the country in a hurry. After obtaining that, she had left Louisa behind and taken another name, as well as another job. Marjorie Flynn had existed for two months, then she'd moved on and become Paulette Bottoms. Another low paying job, another cheap room. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area was large enough that she could lose herself in it, never meeting anyone she knew from before, so she had no difficulty in changing names. She made no friends, on Harmony's advice. She saved every penny she could and had amassed almost four thousand dollars, counting what she'd had left after buying the truck. She would never again be as helpless as she'd been after the murders.

Not that she evercould be, even without the assets of cash and transportation. Part of her helplessness had been her own total lack of knowledge about survival on the streets, and she was no longer ignorant. Her face was a cool, expressionless mask, and she walked with an alertness, a readiness, that told seasoned street predators she wouldn't be easy prey. At night, alone, she practiced the moves Mateo had taught her, and she carefully arranged her grim little rooms to provide the maximum in protection and opportunity for herself.

She was never unarmed. She had bought a cheap revolver and kept it with her, but she also had the knife in its sheath, tucked out of sight under her shirt. She had a sharpened screwdriver in her boot, a hatpin threaded in her shirt cuff, a pencil in her pocket. Finding a place to practice her nonexistent marksmanship hadn't been easy; she'd had to drive far out into the country, but she had achieved, if not true skill, at least a degree of efficiency and familiarity with the weapon, so she could carry it with some confidence.

She doubted anyone from her former life would recognize her now, even if she came face-to-face with a friend. Her long, thick hair was let down only in the privacy of her room; she wore a cheap, light brown wig to work, and at other times she twisted her hair into a knot on top of her head and covered it with a baseball cap. She was thin, weighing barely a hundred pounds, her cheekbones prominent over hollow cheeks. She had managed not to lose any more weight, but she had to make a deliberate effort to eat, and she exercised faithfully to stay strong. She wore tight jeans and sturdy black boots, and a fur-lined denim jacket as protection against the frigidMinnesota winter. On Harmony's excellent advice she'd bought some cheap cosmetics and learned how to use mascara, blusher, and lipstick so she didn't look as if she were fresh out of a convent.

A couple of men had hit on her, but a blank, frozen expression and a terse "No" were enough to turn them away. She couldn't imagine even having a cup of coffee with a man. Only in her dreams did her sexuality reawaken, and she couldn't control that. Black Niall was so firmly in her thoughts, preoccupied her so many hours of the day, that she had found it impossible to shut him out of her subconscious. He was there, living in her dreams, fighting and loving, grim and beautiful and terrifyingly male, and so lethal she sometimes woke shivering with fear. She never dreamed that he threatenedher, but the Black Niall of her imagination was not a man one crossed with impunity.

She felt alive, painfully so, when she dreamed of him. She couldn't preserve the vast emptiness that protected her when she was awake; she ached, and yearned, and trembled at his touch. Only twice more had she dreamed of actual lovemaking, but both times had been shattering.

It was a mistake to remember those dreams now, when she was trying to sleep. She knew that, and turned restlessly on her side. She was all but inviting a recurrence. But the dreams of lovemaking were more welcome than the dreams of battle, which had been occurring incessantly for the past four months. He hacked and slashed his way through her sleep, wading through blood and body parts, the images so intense she could hear the clang of swords striking together, see the men slip and stumble, hear them grunt with effort, hear the screams of pain and watch their faces distort in death throes. Given a choice between carnage and sex, she would definitely choose sex, were it not for the guilt that haunted her afterward.

After an hour of lying there she sighed, resigning herself to a sleepless night. She was tired but her brain refused to stop working, going over and over the papers, thinking about Niall, trying to piece together some feasible means of revenge against Parrish. She had hoped to find something in the papers to use against him, but if she'd been thinking straight she would have realized there couldn't be anything incriminating about him in papers that were almost seven hundred years old. The papers fascinated her so much that she hadn't been able to see past her own obsession. No, if she could manage any sort of revenge against Parrish it would have to be something much more straightforward, like killing him herself.

She got out of bed and turned on the light, her eyes stark, her soft mouth set in a grim line. Over the past eight months she had learned she could fight to protect herself, perhaps even kill in self-defense, but she didn't know if she could kill in cold blood. She paced back and forth, hugging her arms around her to ward off the night chill. Could she kill Parrish? Could she walk up, stick the revolver to his head, and pull the trigger?

She closed her eyes, but the vision that came to mind wasn't of herself shooting Parrish, but of the utter disregard, almost boredom, with which he had shot Ford and Bryant. She saw the sudden blankness on Ford's face, thebonelessness of his body as he slumped over.

Her teeth clenched, her hands knotted into fists. Oh, yes, she could kill Parrish.

Why didn't she just do it, then? She had driven by his house a few times when she'd been working for the cleaning service; she had never seen him or his car, but then she hadn't expected to. If he were at home, his car would be in the garage, and Parrish wasn't the type of man who enjoyed gardening. She knew nothing of his schedule, hadn't spent her days watching his house in order to follow him. She had taken self-protective measures, but in reality she had done nothing to avenge her family. Instead she had concentrated on the papers, persuaded herself that there could be something useful in them,deluded herself so she could merely mark time and lose herself in the translations.

But self-delusion was at an end. She needed either to do something about Parrish or to go away quietly and spend the rest of her life grieving and hiding.

All right. She would do it. She would track Parrish down, and kill him.

Grace felt the weight of the decision settle on her. She didn't have the stuff of which killers were made, and she knew it. On the other hand, she hadn't sought any of this; Parrish had begun the dance. The Old Testament said, "Thou shalt not kill," but it also said, "An eye for an eye." Perhaps she was rationalizing, but she took that to mean that once a murder was committed, society or the wronged family had a right to put an end to the murderer's existence.

No matter. Tomorrow she would begin tracking him down like the animal he was.

Morning, however, brought a new reality: she had to work. She couldn't spend all day sitting in some hidden place and watching Parrish's house. Her old truck would be out of place, and very noticeable, in any case. Physically watching for him, following him, seizing an opportunity, simply wasn't feasible. She had to know in advance where he would be, and be there before him.

For all she knew, he wasn't even in town. During the winter he often took long vacations in warmer climes, staying away for as long as a month at a stretch.

There was only one way to find out. During her lunch break with another cleaning service, she stopped at a fast food joint and used a pay phone to call the Foundation.

Her fingers moved without volition, punching in the! familiar numbers. It wasn't until the first ring buzzed in her ear that she realized what she was doing, and her heart thumped wildly in her chest. Before she could slam down the receiver the flat, impersonal voice of the receptionist answered. "AmaranthinePotere Foundation. How may I direct your call?" "cc Grace swallowed. "Is Mr. Sawyer in the office today?" One moment."

"No, don't ring-" she started to say, but the line had already clicked and another ring was sounding. She took a deep breath and prepared to ask the question again of Parrish's secretary; she would need to disguise her voice a little, becauseAnnalise had once been fairly familiar with

"Parrish Sawyer." The smooth, cultured tones stunned her, panicked her. She froze in place, her mind going blank at actually hearing that hated voice again.

"Hello?" he said, more sharply. . Grace gasped.

"Is this an obscene call?" he asked, sounding both bored and annoyed. "I really don't-" Then he stopped, and she could hear his own breathing for a few endless seconds. "Gracie," he said, purring her name. "How nice of you to call."

She felt wrapped in ice, a coldness that had nothing to do with the fifteen-degree weather. She couldn't speak, couldn't move, could only clench the receiver with white, bloodless fingers.

"Can't you speak, darling? I want to talk to you, clear up this dreadful misunderstanding. You know I wouldn't let anything happen to you. There's always been something between us, but I didn't realize how potent it was until you ran away. Let me help you, darling. I'll take care of everything."

He was a wonderful liar, she thought dimly. His warm, seductive voice oozed sympathy, trustworthiness; if she hadn'tseen him commit the murders, she would have believed every word out of his mouth.

"Gracie," he said, cajoling, whispering. "Tell me where to meet you. I'll take you away, just the two of us, to someplace safe. You won't have to worry about anything."

Hewasn't lying. It was lust she heard in his voice. Horrified, sickened, she finally managed to hang up the phone and blindly made her way back to the truck. She felt filthy, as if he'd actually touched her.

My God, how could he have the utter gall, how could he possibly think she would let him touch her? But there wasn't anyletting involved, she realized. She started the truck and drove carefully away, not doing anything to attract attention, but her heart was beating so rapidly she felt faint. He didn't know for certain she'd seen him that night, so he'd taken the chance that she hadn't and tried to talk her into coming to him. She had never had any doubts he would kill her; now she knew he would rape her first.

Wispy snowflakes drifted across her windshield, just a few at first, but by the time she got to the next house on her list the snow was coming down fast enough to begin collecting on the hood of the truck. This was one of her least favorite houses to clean; Mrs. Eriksson was always there, carefully watching every move Grace made as though she expected her to walk off with a television or something. But she didn't chatter, as some people did, and today Grace was grateful for the silence. She moved in a daze through the cleaning, her mind spinning while she carefully mopped and dusted and vacuumed.

Mrs. Eriksson dumped a load of clothing on the sofa. "My bridge club is coming over tonight and I have to bake a cake; it would help me a lot if you'd fold the laundry while I start the baking."

The woman was tireless in trying to get the cleaning service to perform extra, unpaid tasks. Grace made a show of looking at her watch. "I'm sorry," she said politely. "I have to be at another house in half an hour. I have just enough time to finish your floors." It was a lie; today was a light day for her, and she had only one more house to do, atfour o'clock . But Mrs. Eriksson was probably lying about the bridge club, too, and perhaps even about the cake.

"You're very uncooperative," the woman said sharply. "You've refused my requests before, and I'm thinking of changing services. If your attitude doesn't change, I'm going to have to speak to your supervisor."

"I'm sure she'll be happy to schedule laundry services for you."

"Why should I use her service for that, when you've been so unsatisfactory in everything else?"

"She can assign someone else, if you like." Grace didn't look up, but stuffed her dusting cloth back into the canvas bag in which she carried all her cleaning products, then deftly plugged in the vacuum cleaner and turned it on. The noise drowned out anything Mrs. Eriksson might have said, and Grace industriously shoved the machine back and forth across the carpet. The service owner had Mrs. Eriksson's number; she might assign someone else to clean the house, but Mrs. Eriksson still wouldn't get her laundry folded or her dishes washed unless she paid for it.

Mrs. Eriksson sat down on the sofa and began folding clothes, snapping the garments and glaring all the while, but Grace's mind immediately went back to Parrish.

Everything inside her recoiled in revulsion. She couldn't even imagine the horror of being in his hands. He wouldn't have to kill her, because she would go mad if he touched her, her mind would shut down completely.

How had he known? How had he guessed it was her on the phone? What kind of feral instincts did he have that had led him so swiftly and unerringly to her identity? More important, had he immediately phoned theMinneapolis police and told them she was in the area?

Parrish did place an immediate phone call, but it was to Conrad instead of the police department. "Ms. St. John just called my office," he said smoothly, pleasure and exhilaration in his voice. "Doubtless she only wanted to know if I am here, and she would have expectedAnnalise to answer the phone. Get to our source with the phone company immediately and find out where that call came from." He glanced at his Rolex. "The call came in to me attwelve twenty-three . "

He hung up without waiting for Conrad's reply, if he had intended to make one. Parrish leaned back in his massive leather chair, breathing hard from the excitement pouring like water through him. Grace! After six damnably frustrating months, in which she had seemed simply to disappear from Chicago, who would have thought she would make contact herself?

Conrad was sure he'd found where she'd been working inChicago , at an Italian dump where most of the employees were paid under the table. The woman had been thinner but she had sometimes carried a small case, had kept to herself, and had a blond, frizzy hairdo. The blond frizz job had also been reported involved in a peculiar altercation outside the Newberry Library. The Newberry happened to be one of the foremost research libraries in the country, something Grace would know, and a resource she would need. Parrish knew by that she was working on the papers, and Grace was very good at her work. She would have a very good idea of why he wanted the papers.

But then she'd vanished again, simply not returning to the restaurant, and no one there had known where she lived. Conrad had checked the bus lines, the trains, airlines, but no one had noticed a woman with frizzy blond hair carrying a computer case. She had disappeared, and not even Conrad had been able to find a trace of her.

Where was she now? InMinneapolis , or hiding in some backwater? Why had she called? She hadn't said anything but he was almost positive, just from that one tiny betraying gasp, that she was the caller.

Soon he would know, if not her present location, at least where she'd been when she made the call. The police had to have a court order to access those kinds of records at the phone company, but he wasn't hindered by their ridiculous regulations. Conrad would at least know where to begin searching for her, and his pride was at stake now; he was still smarting from letting a little nobody like Grace St. John escape from him.

Why would she want to know if he was in the office? He laughed softly to himself. Was little Grace planning some sort of revenge? What did she think she could do, walk into his office and point a pistol at him? She knew the security of the building, knew she wouldn't get past the lobby.

Perhaps he should let her, though, draw her to him. He could overpower her easily enough, and then he'd have her.

He could work late; the building would be deserted, and she would feel more confident. He could arrange for the guards to be looking conveniently the other way, but not make it so easy that she became suspicious. He would wait by the door for her, ready to disarm her of whatever weapon she carried; he wouldn't want to give her an opportunity for a lucky shot.

Perhaps he wouldn't wait for a more comfortable, convenient place in which to take her. Perhaps he would have her right on the desk, stretched across the glassy surface. She would struggle and kick and he would soothe her, whisper to her, and kiss her astonishingly carnal mouth. She would feel so soft beneath him, so helpless.

He was fully aroused, almost panting. Once wouldn't be enough, he knew that now. He wanted to come in her mouth, and he wanted to feel her come. He wanted to hear her cry out his name in pleasure.

Thenhe would kill her. What a waste, but it had to be done.

***

"She called from a pay phone at a McDonald's inRoseville ," Conrad reported. "No one noticed her, but the only other calls received around that time originated from legitimate contacts."

"Roseville." Parrish considered the location. It was a suburb just northeast of downtown. "Do you have men watching the place in case she returns?"

"Yes." Conrad had taken care of that detail immediately. People were generally creatures of habit, adhering to the same routine for months, years. Grace had shown herself to be unusually unpredictable, but he couldn't afford to assume she would immediately take off for parts unknown. If she remained in the city, sooner or later she would at least pass by that McDonald's – if not today, then tomorrow. If not tomorrow, then perhaps on this same day next week. He was a patient man; he would wait.

"So she came back here," Parrish mused. "Gutsy of her don't you think? I never would have expected it. Do you think she's going to try to kill me?"

"Yes," Conrad said impassively. Otherwise, there was no logical reason for her to return toMinneapolis . The danger was too great.

"Perhaps we should let her try." Parrish smiled, his eyes bright with anticipation. "Let her come to us, Conrad. We'll be ready."

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