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Son of the Morning (Chapter 26)

NIALL SAT AT THE TABLE, QUIETLY LOOKING AT THE BOOKS Grace had brought. Thinking to convince him she was telling the truth, she had told him where her sack was hidden and he had fetched it, but she realized now he hadn't required proof. He looked at the books out of curiosity, and for knowledge, not for confirmation.

He rapidly absorbed the changes in the language, saying once, "I knew the rhythm of your speech was odd, even though you spoke English." Another time: "So there are other lands across the ocean. I have always wondered."

He wasn't shocked, he wasn't disbelieving. He was highly educated; he spoke seven languages, and he dealt daily with the fantastic. But he was unnervingly calm, and it was destroying what little of her nerves were left.

"These papers you translated," he finally said, turning to face her. "You say I wrote part of them.'

"Yes. You signed your name, and dated them.Thirteen twenty-two . "

"I have not written any papers," he said.

"But I saw them-" "Perhaps you are the cause of their existence." She digested that, and bit her lip. "You mean they wouldn't have been written if I hadn't come back? But I came backbecause of what you wrote!"

A bitter smile touched his lips. "I have hated God for what He allowed to happen to my brethren," he said calmly, "but I cannot doubt His existence. How could I, when I guard His power on earth? Who knows what the hand of God does?" He shrugged. "I have ceased trying to understand Him, I only do my duty."

"You hate God?" Stunned, she could only stare at him.

"How could I not? I did not want to be a Knight; I was forced into the Order. I have a talent for killing," he said in unflinching acceptance of his skill. "I became the Knights' best warrior. I learned the secrets we protected – in service of God! – and He allowed his servants to be butchered in defense of those secrets.. No Knight betrayed his greater oath, not one talked even with the flames of the stake licking up his legs, devouring his entrails. They suffered and died, and He let it happen. Perhaps He directed it, to destroy those who knew. Only I am left, and fool that I am, I have kept my oath all these years, because my last oath was not to God but to my friends who died for Him."

His tone was unemotional, his eyes remote. Grace wanted to go to him but somehow she couldn't, he was too distant.

"Look at me," he said. "I have thirty-nine years. I should be growing old, but my hair remains black and my teeth stay in my head. I never sicken, and if I am wounded I quickly heal. He has cursed me to guard His damned Treasure even after I should be dead."

"No," she said softly. "You're just a healthy man." She could reassure him on this, for she was all too piercingly aware of his humanity, his mortality. "In my time, people easily live into their seventies and eighties, sometimes even over a hundred. I'm thirty-one."

His brows lifted and he looked a little surprised. He surveyed her, noting her smooth, clear skin and lack of wrinkles, her shiny hair. "You look a mere girl."

She didn't want to think of her looks, with her eyes red and swollen from her emotional storm, her face drawn with fatigue from the long night of nothing less than debauchery. She sat down on the bench, wanting to be close to him even if she didn't dare touch him.

"Tell me of this Foundation," he ordered. She told him what she knew. She had already choked out the details of what had happened to her, how Ford and Bryant had died, and why. He listened, his long fingers drumming on the table.

"I wonder how they discovered the Treasure's existence," he murmured at one point.

"An archaeological discovery, probably, " Grace said. She hesitated. "This Power – what exactly is it?"

"It is God's power," he said. "With it, all things are possible."

"But power isn't something you can leave in a chest and take it out when you need it! God can't store His power in the basement of a Scottish castle and-"

He shook his head. "Nay, 'tis not that. Though He could, if He wished. The Knights understood that, the fact that mortal man cannot understand God, that we must not say a thing is impossible, because all things are possible to Him, and our understanding too paltry. God is not limited by our imagination or our small minds. The Church makes rules and says they come from God, but they come only from man and his attempt to interpret God."

Believing God was so powerful, how indeed could he not hate Him? Grace wondered. Niall had long since reached the conclusion that God had deliberately destroyed the Templars, for had He wished to save them they would still be flourishing.

"But why would He want to destroy the Order?" she whispered, and Niall's black eyes flashed.

"To protect the Church," he said tiredly. "Flawed as it is, still the good outweighs the bad. The Church gives the framework of civilization, lass. Rules. Limits."

"How were the Knights a threat to the Church?" He stood and walked away from her to the window, where he looked out over the wild and beautiful land he ruled. "We knew."

"Knew what?" "Everything."

She waited, and the minutes passed. Without looking at her he said, "Did you note I never called you by name? Your name! Grace Saint-John. I want you until I think I shall be alive, but your name eats at me. There is no state of grace, there is only one of ignorance."

She hadn't noticed, but now she felt a pang, as if he had rejected her. Perhaps he had; he hadn't touched her since her confession. "What did you know?" she whispered.

"They found it all in theTemple , inJerusalem . The Lion Throne, that great barbaric throne on which are carved both Yahweh and Ashara, god and goddess, male and female. They were two, and they were one; the ancient Israelites worshipped them both. Then the priests deliberately destroyed all the altars built to Ashara, and tried to erase knowledge of her. Yahweh became Jehovah, the one God."

"Yes, I know," she said. Archaeology had uncovered all that, eliciting a storm of conjecture among the scholars of ancient Jewish history.

"There were other things," he said. "The Cup. 'Tis a plain thing, and despite the quest for the Holy Grail it gives no powers. The Banner. The army it flies over is never defeated, its firebirds rising again and again from the ashes.It plainly depicts the same lions of the Throne, though legend has it that it isn't that old, and that only the Knights had it " He sighed softly. "And there is the Oath."

Her mouth went dry. "The Shroud?" He made an impatient gesture. "So it would be called, but that is false."

"Then what is it?" "The cloth in which Jesus was wrapped when he was taken from the cross," Niall explained. "Then it is the Shroud. He was entombed in it" Niall's eyes were blacker than she had ever seen them before, looking through her. His mouth had a bitter line. "No, not a shroud, because he lived.

He was God's son in spirit and the cross could not defeat him. The Church built itself around the preposterous tales of the resurrection even though its own writings plainly state he did not die, and afterward the truth could not be told without destroying the Church. So we remained silent to protect the Church, to serve God – and He destroyed us in return.

"His face." The words were pulled out of him, taut with fury. "We had his face from the Cloth. We revered it, because he was proof of God's power. Jesus lived! God reached down and saved him, because his duty was fulfilled, and then he left in an explosion of light and heat. We found the record of it! We know how! But when our duty was fulfilled, He broke us, He destroyed us. And still… still I serve."

Grace couldn't speak. Her lips tingled, and she realized she had stopped breathing. The explosion of heat and light… she had felt something like that, when she had come back

"We knew thehow didn't matter. The method He used did not matter; we trusted Him, worshipped Him. Others wouldn't understand, though, with their small minds and rigid superstitions. They try to limit God to their own understanding, their own imaginations. They would have turned from the Church.We didn't."

The bitterness spewed out of him, his lips drawn back in a snarl. She swallowed her fear, and crossed to the window to stand beside him. She didn't dare touch him, though, not when his anger was like a force field blasting from him. "But you're doing it, Niall. Trying to fit His reasons and methods into your own understanding." She paused, trying to work through her thoughts. She believed in basic goodness and when it came down to it she believed in God, sensed a higher power, a deeper meaning, but she was no theologian. "I think… I don't believe God causes all things to happen. I think He gives us the freedom to be either good or bad, because if there is no choice then our actions have no worth, and no blame. I think when people do bad things it's because they have chosen to do so, and we should blame them, not God."

"Why did He not stop Philip? Why did He not strike Clement dead? He could have, but instead He let them act."

"He let them choose, and they'll be judged by their actions."

"Then I'll meet them in hell." "Oh, Niall." She did touch him now, leaning her head against his arm. She felt overwhelmed with tenderness for him, and admiration. "You won't go to hell. How could you? Even with all your pain and anger you've kept your oath, and served God. Don't you think your service is more valuable to Him than the service of those who have never suffered, never been tested?"

He turned on her, gripping her arms so tightly he hurt her. "I would have preferred not to have served Him at all!" he ground out.

"But you did anyway." "Aye, and my entire bedamned life is tied to this castle, to His cursed Treasure I am sworn to protect! Do ye not think I would have preferred to live a normal life, with a wife, and bairns?" His Scots accent was back, and thick with his anger. "I could not! The burden, and the danger, have been too great. And now-"

"Now?" she prompted, when he broke off. He gave her a bitter smile. "Why, now He's sent Grace to me, but only as a means to lead me to another battle I must fight for Him."

She blinked, startled. "I didn't come back for that. If I could find the Treasure I was going to use it myself; if not, I knew I would have to ask for your help, but I only need your knowledge."

"Ah, no, lass," he said gently. "Ye needme. I'm the Guardian, and no other may use the Power."

"How does it work?" Grace asked nervously, clinging to his hand as he led her into the hidden passage. The castle slept around them. They had spent the day arguing, sometimes heatedly, over the course they would take. Huwe was dead and that threat ended, so Niall felt he could relax his defenses somewhat, and now was the perfect time for him to go. Remembering the violence of the procedure, Grace couldn't look forward to going through it again. "How do you get the electricity?"

"Electricity?" He repeated the word slowly, feeling his way along the syllables. "What is that?"

"A form of energy. Power."

"Power." He laughed, the sound humorless. "We use God's Power. The procedure is a means of returning. "

He walked with confidence, as if he had no need for the candle he held. Grace was less certain. She felt surrounded by the nothingness of space, of emptiness, as if the reality of Creag Dhu was already dissolving around her. Her heart pounded wildly, the pressure high in her throat. She swallowed to contain the panic, the unreasonable fear. She had been there before, and with less trepidation.

But still, now she knew. She felt the breeze, and the subtle throb of the very air against her skin. Niall led her down, down, to the deeper darkness beneath the stairs. He left the candle outside and walked into the darkness, his arm hard around her now to keep her with him.

It lay in the blacker depths, hidden from view but pulsing with that silent energy. The air should have felt dead, empty. It didn't. Though cold and dark, the chamber felt fresh, vibrant with the secrets it concealed. Treasures. Things. And yet the real treasure lay not in what they were, but what they represented.

"We have drunk the water and eaten the salt," Niall said in a low voice. "Take us."

The flash was blinding, the force like a giant blow that knocked her flat. She lay senseless for a time, deafened and blind, not even thinking. When the fog began to clear, she groaned and tried to rollover.

"Let me help you, my love," a voice crooned, and she was lifted to her feet, held upright by strong arms. Grace's head lolled back on her neck. She fought for control, won it. She opened her eyes, and stared up into Parrish's smiling face.

"Imagine my surprise when the workers found you lying in the rubble," he said conversationally. "I sent them all away, except for a few trusted men. I believe you've met Conrad, and perhaps you remember Paglione, too. "

Dazed, Grace found herself staring into the cold, emotionless eyes of the man she had shot in the McDonald's parking lot. He didn't so much as blink. The other man, Paglione, looked familiar, but she couldn't quite place which assailant he had been.

A chilly wind stirred her hair, and she turned her face into it. A sea wind, blowing over where Creag Dhu had once stood. All that remained now were a few ruined stone walls, and the rubble that had been unearthed by the workers. Where was Niall? Had they already found him? Had he survived the journey?

"Looking for the gold yourself, were you?" Parrish asked. He pinched her breast, cruelly twisting the tender flesh. Grace bit off a scream, though tears started to her eyes. She didn't want to give him the satisfaction of making her cry out.

"There isn't any gold," she blurted. He stiffened, and his eyes narrowed. "What?" "The Treasure isn't gold. It's artifacts. There isn't any gold!"

"You're lying," he said violently, and slapped her. The force of the blow would have knocked her down if he hadn't been holding her arm. He drew back his arm again, and this time his fist was doubled.

"Aye, there's gold." The softly burred words made them spin, Parrish dragging Grace about, wrenching her arm. She bit her lip, and tasted blood where Parrish's blow had cut her. Niall stood relaxed, the wind lifting his hair, ruffling the ends of his plaid. A faint smile was on his lips, and he leaned negligently on the claymore which he had driven into the ground. He looked wild and barbaric and wonderful, a splendid savage who possessed a sophistication of manner and experience most modem men would never come close to achieving.

"Who are you?" Parrish asked. "Not that it matters." Conrad and Paglione had already spread out, one going wide on each side of Niall, and both of them had guns in their hands.

"Niall ofScotland . And I fear it does matter, for the gold is mine."

Parrish's eyes narrowed. "You've already found it, haven't you?"

Niall looked amused. "It was never lost." He glanced at Grace, and his glance lingered on her bloody mouth, hardened.

"Well, you are a complication, " Parrish admitted. "But I don't think you've spent it all, or you wouldn't be dressed like a bag lady. Maybe you don't have it at all."

"But I do." Niall reached into his shirt, the movement prompting both Conrad and Pagiione to lift their weapons. Niall's eyebrows rose, and he smiled as if they were no more than presumptuous children. "Easy, lads." He drew out his hand and slowly opened it, palm upward. A crude golden coin lay there, gleaming bright in the sun.

Parrish smiled, too, his handsome face creasing in a benevolent expression that made Grace want to vomit. "Where is the rest of it?';

"It isna here. I moved it long ago, against such a day as this."

"A pity." Parrish shrugged. "You'll tell me; Conrad will see to that. But you won't like his methods, and unfortunately you look like the stubborn type." He jerked his head at Conrad, and Paglione anticipated the order, moving toward Niall.

Something wild flared in Grace's eyes. She had watched two men she loved die; she couldn't watch another. A low, animal sound tore out of her throat and she jerked to the left so that she half faced Parrish, and drove the palm of her hand hard against his nose. Cartilage crunched, and blood poured out of both his nostrils. He staggered back, his grip on her loosening, and Grace tore free. Paglione whirled on her, the pistol rising in his hand.

Calmly Conrad tightened the slack in the trigger and fired. Grace screamed, surging forward, only to be jerked back as Parrish recovered and grabbed her again.

Paglione hung there in surprise, not even blinking. The small round hole in his forehead was neat, bluish around the edges. He dropped bonelessly to the ground and didn't even twitch.

Parrish gaped in disbelief. "Are you fucking crazy?" he screamed at Conrad, his voice high and cracking.

"No," Conrad said, and turned to face Niall. Slowly his simian head bowed. "I serve you, Guardian," he said.

Niall acknowledged him with a single nod. Parrish pulled out a pistol and pressed the barrel to Grace's temple. He began backing away, stumbling over the raw dirt and tumbled rocks, dragging her with him. "I'll kill her," he said viciously, the words thickened by the blood streaming from his broken nose. "I'll fucking kill her."

Niall pulled the tip of the claymore out of the ground and rested the blade on his shoulder, his hand draped negligently over the hilt. "No," he said. "You will not." He looked at Grace and smiled, a smile so sweet and strangely radiant that her heart stopped in her chest. "Grace… move."

She dropped immediately, lifting her feet and simply falling out of Parrish's grip. He grabbed for her and stumbled off balance, going down on one knee in the dirt. Grace rolled, throwing herself away from him, and he fired the pistol. The bullet burned along the top of her right thigh and she cried out, grabbing her leg.

Parrish scrambled to his feet, aiming the pistol first at Niall, then at Conrad, daring either of them to make a move. Niall lifted the claymore off his shoulder, the smile on his face changing to something deadly. "Are you sorely wounded, love?" he asked in the most gentle voice Grace had ever heard him use.

"No," she said, though her voice wobbled and her thigh burned like hell. Blood seeped through her fingers, and she pressed her hand hard against the wound.

Parrish fired at him, the shot echoing with a flat metallic sound across the sea. Niall began walking toward him. Parrish fired again, and still Niall advanced.

"Ye canna kill me, servant of evil," Niall whispered. "God damn you, you bastard," Parrish screamed, and fired again. Niall was so close Parrish couldn't have missed, yet his hand must have been shaking, the shots going wide.

Niall's gaze was distant, fixed on something both beyond Parrish and yet inside himself. He turned his head and smiled at Grace, that piercingly sweet smile again. "My own Grace," he said. "I found heaven wi' ye, lass, but that time is gone." Then he lifted the heavy claymore and rested the tip against Parrish's chest. Grace saw Parrish's handsome face go slack with shock, and a bolt of lightning split the cloudless sky. The blinding light enveloped Niall, arcing along the long blade of the claymore, and shot straight through Parrish. He screamed, lifting on his tiptoes as if hauled there by an invisible hand. He trembled and shook, and the lightning arced again. The front of Parrish's trousers went wet and dark, and steam rose from his crotch. His eyes rolled back in his head, until only the whites showed. His lips split, and his hands began to scorch. His blond hair was singed, turned to gray ash. He tried to scream, his mouth open, but no sound emerged over the roar and blast of light. The skin on his face shriveled, pulling away from his bones. Through it all Niall stood motionless, wrapped in brightness. Then with a thunderous boom it was over and Parrish collapsed like a sack of rags, lying motionless on the scorched earth.

"Niall!" Grace struggled to her feet, ignoring the pain in her leg. "Niall!"

He strode rapidly across the ruins to her, catching her as her leg went out from under her and she started to fall. Gently he lowered her to the cool ground, lifting her skirts to bare her thigh and expose the wound.

The man called Conrad went down on one knee beside

Parrish's smoking, stinking corpse. What he saw must have satisfied him, for he gave a brief nod of his apelike head, then rose and came to Niall's side.

Deftly Niall tore a strip of fabric off the hem of Grace's undergown and wrapped it around the long gouge on the top of her thigh. He glanced briefly up at Conrad. "You are of the Society?"

"Yes. We have known of the Foundation's existence for many years. Someone from the Society has always belonged to the Foundation, to monitor its activities. Only twice has it come close to finding the Power; in 1945, and today."

"You were going to kill me," Grace said, her teeth chattering with shock. She couldn't quite take in that this roan with the cold, dead eyes was somehow on Niall's side, at Niall's service.

"If necessary," Conrad said unemotionally. "My concern was the papers, to retrieve them at all cost and prevent Parrish from acquiring them. Then I began to think that… perhaps… you were meant to have them. You are one of only a few people in the world who could understand what they were, who would know to go to the Guardian and bring him here."

"Be verra happy ye didna harm her," Niall said softly as he glanced up from tying the cloth around Grace's thigh. His eyes were as cold as Conrad's.

"We do what we must," Conrad replied. "As do you." Niall's mouth twisted bitterly. "Aye." He looked down at Grace's bare thigh, at his rough hands on the silkiness of her flesh. He smoothed her skirts down, his fingers gentle. "Ye'll be all right, lass. Can ye stand?"

"I think so," she said shakily. Her leg throbbed like blue blazes now, but she had seen for herself that the wound wasn't deep. Niall helped her to her feet, holding her until her balance steadied.

He looked around, lifting his head into the breeze. His gaze lit on the two cars, English rental cars parked near where the stables had once stood. "Automobiles," he said on a note of wonder. "Before, I didna see anything, just that damnable dark little dungeon, and the madman."

"Bunker," Conrad said.

Niall shrugged his indifference at the terminology. "I think there must be many wonders now to see," he said absently. "But many evils, too."

"Yes." Conrad's eyes locked on Niall, and for once they weren't cold. Grace couldn't read his expression, but suddenly she knew that Conrad would give his life unhesitatingly for Niall, and in that moment she forgave him for everything.

Niall tilted his head down, his face calm as he studied Grace. "I must go," he said.

"Go?" She realized even as she said the word how stupid she sounded. Of course he had to go; he was the Guardian.

"I couldna stay here, even if I wished." He cupped her face in his hands, his fingers tenderly tracing her cheekbones, her lips. "My duty is there." He bent and kissed her, his lips soft, barely touching hers. Then he released her and strode away from them, and she heard him repeat the words about water and salt. She took a step forward, trying to scream his name, but panic closed her throat. The flash of light blinded her, and when she could see again; Niall was gone.

"Niall!" Too late, she had voice. She stumbled toward the spot where he had stood, a great fear welling inside her, a fear that had no name.

Conrad caught her arm. "He is gone. He is the Guardian." To him, that explained everything.

"He's a man!" Grace whirled on him, her eyes wild. "He's just like every other man!" She felt hysteria building in her, a sense of loss so sharp it was staggering. "He eats and sleeps and breathes and bleeds, he doesn't have supernatural powers or anything like that-"

"No," Conrad said, turning her away from the ruins. "But God does." He began to lead her toward one of the rental cars. "The Guardian has his work there – and we have ours here."

She stumbled, her leg crumpling under her again, and without a word Conrad lifted her in his powerful arms and carried her to the car. She sat numbly as he drove them away from the scene, but inside she was coming apart, because Niall was gone.

"That man gives me the willies," Harmony muttered, watching Conrad as he sat beside Kris, the two of them patiently pulling up Foundation files and destroying them. It was night, the building deserted except for the four of them. Conrad and Kris could have done the work on their own, but Grace had to be there, her nerves not letting her be anywhere else. Harmony had come along because she was worried about Grace, who looked as if she would shatter at the slightest touch.

"He's strange," Grace conceded. She had spent a little more than a month in Conrad's company, and she still knew little more about him than she had the day Parrish had died. He didn't talk about himself. She knew he was ruthless, that some might call him a stone killer and perhaps be right.

He had been invaluable, making arrangements, contacting Harmony to more thoroughly tend the wound on Grace's leg, doing away with Paglione's body. Parrish's body he left to be found, the victim of a freak lightning strike. Grace had moved like a marionette to his orders, so numb she wondered if she would ever feel alive again. Niall was gone. She woke in the night weeping, reaching out for him. She had spent so little time with him, and yet she felt as if he were imprinted on every cell of her body.

"There!" Kris announced in triumph, his hacker's blood excited by what he had been doing. "We can't kill the Foundation, but it's going to be in the dark for a while. All their records are gone."

Conrad nodded, and for a moment there was a gleam in his dead eyes. "Good," he said, the word filled with satisfaction.

They hadn't told Kris anything more about the situation, except that Parrish was dead, but what he knew was enough to make him willing to help out. Harmony, who still hadn't Recovered from the shock of watching Grace vanish in an explosion of light the month before, was even more protective than normal;

Conrad stood, looking at the blank computer screen. "Are you certain an expert can't retrieve the files from the hard disk?"

"I'm positive. Trust me. The hard disk is wiped clean. If you're sure no floppies exist anywhere, or a hard copy, then there's no way all that information can be compiled again."

Conrad grunted. The possibility of a floppy disk floating around out there worried him. He had personally searched Parrish's house and found nothing, but such a valuable disk, if it existed, would likely be in a bank vault somewhere.

Grace had burned the papers she had worked on for so long, and ached as the flames destroyed her link to Niall. She would never again read about him, marvel at his exploits. The written accounts paled in comparison to the real man, anyway. But she didn't want anyone else to find those papers, and use them to threaten the Treasure Niall had dedicated his life to protecting.

The four of them left together but separated when they reached the street. No one talked much; there wasn't much left to say. Kris departed in his Chevelle. Conrad gave Grace an oddly old-fashioned bow, and walked off down the street. Harmony and Grace slowly walked to Grace's truck.

"What now?" Harmony asked. "No more running, no more bad guys chasing you and trying to kill you. Well, the cops are still after you, but from what I see they can't find their ass with both hands and a flashlight, so I guess you're safe enough. I'd live somewhere else, though. Take up some boring stuff, like skydiving."

Grace managed a ghost of a smile. "I don't have any plans after tomorrow," she said.

"So what's on for tomorrow?" "I'm going to my husband's grave."

***

The June morning was bright and sunny, the flowers in full bloom. Grace carried two bouquets of spring flowers, daisies and lilies and bright yellow primroses making a gay splash of color in her arms. Harmony walked silently beside her through the rows of grave markers.

Grace knew exactly where the graves were. Bryant was buried beside their parents, and Ford in the plot nearby that he and Grace had chosen. The day they had bought the plots she had looked at them and thought how many decades it would be before they were used. She had been wrong.

The two graves had markers on them. The life insurance policies would have paid for the markers, but she wondered who had ordered them. Friends, perhaps, or colleagues. It was possible Parrish had done it; he would have found the idea amusing. She didn't mind. If he had, in this case, the end did justify the means. She was glad they had markers, that these two wonderful, precious men hadn't lain for a year in unmarked graves.

Bryant's marker was simply inscribed. "Bryant Joseph St. John. BornNov. 11, 1962 – DiedApril 27, 1996 ." That said so little. He had been thirty-three years old. Never married, but engaged once. Several serious girlfriends. Loved his work, doing crossword puzzles, an ice-cold beer and salty popcorn when he was watching a ball game. His second toes had been longer than his big toes, and he hadn't liked anything starched. She couldn't have asked for a better brother.

She placed one of the bouquets on the grave, and numbly walked on. She stumbled a little, and Harmony placed a strong supporting hand under her arm.

"Are you all right?" "No, not really," Grace whispered. "But I have to do this."

Bryant's grave had been in partial shade; Ford's was in full sun, and the grass that covered it was thick and lush. "William Ford Wessner," the marker read. "BornSept. 27, 1961 – DiedApril 27, 1996 ." One more line had been added: "Married with Love to Grace Elizabeth St. John."

Grace's knees buckled and she sank slowly to the grass, despite Harmony's alarmed efforts to keep her upright. She reached out a trembling hand and traced the engraved letters of his name, trying to reach the essence of the man. She missed him so much, ached to see his crooked smile, or the humor in his twinkling eyes. He had died for her, and done it willingly.

"I'll always love you," she promised him, though she could no longer read his name in the stone; everything was blurred. He was a man worth loving, and that feeling for him would never die out of her heart, any more than her love for her parents had died.

The human heart had the capacity to love many people, and none of those loves diminished it for the others. Niall had been in her heart even before Ford died, a tiny burning kernel of interest and respect. Losing Ford hadn't extinguished that spark. Instead it had grown during the long months when she was alone, giving her the strength to go on. At first she had loved him as a person, and later she had loved him as a man.It had been a banked fire when she had gone back to his time, and when he stirred the coals the fire had blazed into an inferno. How many women were so lucky as to have two such loves? They were nothing alike in personality. Ford had been cheerful, good-natured; she suspected Niall could be the very devil to live with, as accustomed to command as he was. Different times, different men-and theywere both men, in the best sense of the word.

Harmony knelt down beside her, disregarding the effects of grass on her white pants. "Would he have minded?" she asked softly, nodding at the grave. "Or would he have wanted you to love again?"

"He would want me to love again," Grace replied, brushing her hand lightly over the grass. As she would want the same for him. She couldn't help the small spurt of jealousy she felt, ridiculous under the circumstances, but she would want him to be happy, and he had been more generous and openhearted than she was.

She laid the bouquet on the grave and touched the marker again. Since his death she had been able to see only one image of him, that horrible last one, but the words on the marker summoned another, happier memory, that of their wedding day. She saw him in her mind, nervous and excited, the way he repeatedly swallowed, the way his voice shook when he said his vows. When the ceremony was finished a wide grin broke across his face, and it was that grin she saw, relieved and happy all at once.

Tears dripped down her cheeks, and her mouth trembled. "Oh, Ford," she said, her voice shattered. "I miss you so much; and I love you, but I have to go now."

Harmony helped her to her feet and gently led her away. Grace stumbled; the grass was springy beneath her feet, and wet with early-morning dew. She stopped, tilting her head back. It was a beautiful day. She took a deep breath, inhaling all the fresh scents, and with swimming eyes looked at the wide expanse of blue sky.

"You look like you gonna pass out any minute now," Harmony said sternly. "You eat anything yet?"

"No, not yet." Grace gathered herself and smiled. It was wobbly, but it was a real smile. She ached, but she felt at peace. She hadn't had vengeance, but Ford and Bryant had had justice, and it was enough.

"Did you even try to eat, or did you just start gagging?" "Gagging." Morning sickness had started three days ago, hitting her early and hard. Harmony had said the worse the morning sickness was, the less likely a woman was to miscarry; if that old wives' tale was true, then Grace figured she could play ice hockey in her ninth month without any harm coming to the baby.

She touched her flat stomach. She was five weeks pregnant; she knew the exact date of conception. She would have the longest pregnancy in history, a baby conceived in 1322 and born in 1998. That was one for the record books.

At first it had seemed so unreal, that one night would result in a pregnancy, but when she remembered the night, she wondered how she couldn't haveexpected to get pregnant.

She thought of what Niall had said, of wanting a normal life, a wife and babies. Perhaps a normal life would never be his, but she carried his child and he didn't even know it. He had isolated himself, allowing himself nothing but the burden of his responsibility. Would he want his child; or would he turn away? He would want it, she thought. There was a great tenderness in him, and great passion. He had shown both of them to her. A man like that would adore his children. It would be criminal to keep such joy from him.

"Are you going back?" Harmony asked as they drove away from the cemetery.

"I think I have to. It may be a wasted trip, he may send me here again, but if he wants me I'll stay."

"Man," Harmony breathed. "That must beluuuvvv . I mean, a womangivin ' up hot water and central heat,Chicago Hope and Sean Connery, pizza and enchiladas – a man better have somethin' more to offer than a hot love stick, if you get my drift."

"I get it," Grace said, and found herself laughing. "He has a castle, too."

"Yeah, but it's drafty. Better make that abig, hot love stick. I dunno about leaving Sean Connery, but at least you're tradin' him for another Scotsman, and one you can lay hands on at that. Must be something in the water up there, growin' men like that. So, when you gonna do the deed?"

"As soon as I can get back toScotland , and Creag Dhu." "Reckon it'll hurt the baby?"

Grace touched her stomach again, something she often did these days. "I've thought about that. I can't think why it would. It's low voltage, and the only effect I noticed was a little muscle soreness."

"Want me to go with you toScotland ?" "I'd like that. Have you thought aboutreally going with me?"

"No way. I'll miss you, Gracie; you lead a damn interestin' life. But no way in hell am I givin' up my modem conveniences for no love stick, I don't care how big it is."

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