The Pendragon Legacy #1
Mass Market Paperback
Publisher: Forever (Grand Central Publishing)
Pub. Date: Septempber 2009 (08-25-09)
The precious myths of our heritage are our way of understanding things greater than ourselves. They are tales of the inexplicable forces that shape our lives and of events that defy explanation. These legends are rooted in the spilling of our life blood, in the courage of brave hearts, in the resilience of humanity’s tenacious spirit.
In the near future
“Slow down, Marisa,” Lucan Roarke warned his twin. They were deep inside the cave he’d discovered in the Welsh countryside in the shadow of Cadbury Castle, and his helmet light had settled on a gaping crack in the compacted clay of the cavern’s floor. “Don’t step on that—”
“What?” Marisa looked back at him just as the ground opened beneath her feet. Falling, she flailed her arms and clawed at the cave wall for a handhold, but the loose earth crumbled beneath her fingertips, and gravity dragged her down through the crevice into the darkness below.
Lucan lunged to grab her, but the unstable earth lurched and dipped under him, throwing him off balance, and his fingers missed her by inches.
“Marisa!” The sound of splashing water drowned out his cry.
Lucan had brought his sister to Cadbury Castle for a vacation, and he’d been excited to show her this cave—his latest discovery in his quest for the Holy Grail. Although many dismissed the Grail as mythical, his years of exploration and research had convinced him the vessel actually existed.
Lucan peered through the gloom into the chasm, but his helmet light couldn’t penetrate the blackness. Even worse, the earthen sides of the hole made a steep, vertical descent. Reaching for the heavy-duty flashlight he carried in his back pocket, he yelled, “Marisa? Talk to me, damn it.”
Nothing but silence answered him.
Closing his eyes, Lucan inhaled deeply and concentrated on linking his mind with hers, a telepathic communication the two had shared since they were little.
Marisa. Where are you?
In the water. Help me. I’m cold.
Heart racing, Lucan shined the flashlight into the darkness and spotted her head above the rushing water.
“Lucan. Here.” Smart enough not to fight the powerful flow of water that tried to sweep her downstream, Marisa swam for the wall at an angle and clung to a rocky ledge.
She coughed and sputtered, then shot back, “If I let go, it won’t be on purpose. Hurry. It’s freezing.”
Lucan reached for the rope in his backpack and cursed himself for bringing his sister into the bowels of the cave. He’d sweet-talked her into coming along, desperate to break her out of her funk. Since her latest miscarriage, she’d been fighting off depression. He’d hoped this excursion would take her mind off her loss, at least for a little while. He hadn’t intended to distract her by risking her life and scaring her to death.
He uncoiled the rope, then leaned over the hole to see her lose her grip on the ledge. The current pulled her under. “Marisa!”
A split second later, a pale hand broke through the water and clutched a rock jutting from the wall. She pulled her head and shoulders above the torrent, spit water and forced her words through shivering lips. “I knew . . . I should have gone . . . to Club Med.”
He looped the rope around the biggest boulder within reach. Then he tossed the line down the narrow shaft. “Grab on and I’ll book the next flight to Cancun.”
Marisa stretched for the rope. And missed. Water surged over her head. Again she swam to the surface, but the current had carried her too far downstream to reach the lifeline.
With no other choice, Lucan jumped into the dark shaft. He fell about twelve feet before frigid water closed over his head and ripped away his glasses. His flesh went numb, but he managed to keep a grip on his waterproof flashlight. His lungs seized and his vision blurred. Forcing his shocked limbs to move, he kicked for the surface. And heard Marisa’s scream. Turning around, he swam in the direction he’d last seen her.
Already his teeth chattered. He struggled for breath, and his water-logged clothing and boots weighed him down. The raging current swept him under but his concern was for Marisa. She’d been in this icy water too long. Clenching his teeth, he kicked harder until he was finally close enough to grab Marisa’s shoulders. They only had minutes to find a way out before hypothermia set in.
He pulled her close. “I’ve got you.”
When she didn’t reply, fear poured through his system. Fighting to lift her head above the surface, he shined his light around the cave in search of a shoal or a shallow pool.
Marisa lifted a quaking hand. “There.”
Just ahead, the river forked. One side widened, the other narrowed.
Using most of his remaining strength, he steered them toward the wider fork, praying it wouldn’t take them deeper underground. His prayers were answered when they rounded a bend and the water leveled out onto a dirt embankment.
He pulled Marisa out of the river and together they lay on the bank, panting, shivering and exhausted. When she didn’t speak, he aimed the light on her. Her eyes were closed, her face pale, her lips blue. He wrung some of the water from her clothing, then rubbed her limbs with his own freezing hands.
Her eyes fluttered open. “One word . . . about my hair, and I’ll s-smack you up side the head.”
“You look good in mud.”
She slapped at his shoulder, but didn’t have the strength to land the blow.
He smoothed her hair from her eyes. “Save your strength. I don’t want to have to carry you.” She needed to walk to keep the hypothermia at bay.
“W-wuss.” She crawled up the bank until her back rested against a dirt wall.
Lucan focused on survival. “We’ve got to get moving or we’ll freeze.”
“You wrung the water from my clothes. What about you?”
“Of course, you’re fine. J-just like when y-you were in Namibia and that Black Mamba bit you?”
“Barely.” Marisa took his hand and tried to stand, but her knees buckled. She grabbed the wall behind her for support and it began to collapse on top of them.
Lucan lunged and threw his body over hers, shut his eyes and prayed they wouldn’t be buried alive. Clumps of cold mud cascaded over them and bounced aside.
“You okay?” Lucan asked.
“Oh, now I’m really having f-fun.” Marisa spit dirt. “So glad you suggested . . .” Her teeth chattered uncontrollably, “this little vacation.”
Lucan shoved to his feet. “Think what a great adventure story you’ll have to write.”
“I don’t want to be the story.” She rolled her eyes and sighed. “But you love this shit. You’re probably getting off on—”
Wow. Her telepathic thought interrupted her words mid-sentence. And her amazement came through in waves—surprising waves that peaked with astonishment.
“What?” He spun around to see exactly what had shocked her and froze. He focused his flashlight on the unearthed urn, hardly believing his eyes or his luck. The intricate design made dating the piece easy. “It’s Tintagel ware.”
“Tintagel ware is an ancient indigenous pottery. 5th or 6th Century. More evidence that Cadbury Castle really was King Arthur’s home base.”
They both jumped aside as another slice of wall and more pottery crashed down, revealing a hidden room. At the sound of breaking terra cotta, Lucan winced. An ancient scroll poked from the shards, and he dashed to pull the paper from the muddy earth before the dampness reached it.
Old and fragile, the antiquity had survived in amazing condition. He balanced the flashlight between his shoulder and chin, unfurled his find and squinted, wishing for his lost glasses.
Marisa peered over his arm, her reporter’s curiosity evident. “What is it?”
Lucan stared, his pulse racing in excitement. The astrological map revealed the sun, the earth, planets. And many stars. But what had his heart battering his ribs was the line drawn from Earth to a star far across the galaxy. He was looking at an ancient map of the heavens. His mouth went dry. “This is a star map.”
“Why do you sound so surprised? Even the most ancient cultures were into astrology.”
“Astronomy,” he corrected automatically. “I’m no astronomer, but this looks . . . far too accurate for its time. King Arthur, remember. The Age of Chivalry.”
Lost in thought, he ignored her sarcasm. “This map has details the Hubble telescope might not pick up, yet it’s thousands of years old. It’s unbelievable.”
“So it’s a fake?”
“I’ll have to perform tests . . .” He squinted at the map. His gaze moved on to the distant stars and their planets. “Hell.”
He pointed to the map. “This moon is named Pendragon.”
“Wasn’t that King Arthur’s last name?”
He nodded and squinted. “And written right under Pendragon is the word Avalon.”
“Avalon? Is that significant?”
“Avalon was a legendary isle ruled by a Druid priestess called the Lady of the Lake,” he answered. “She helped put Arthur on the throne. And according to the stories, Avalon was also where King Arthur left the Holy Grail.”
“The Holy Grail?” Disbelief filled her voice.
“The powers of the cup are legendary. If the myths are true, the cup might cure physical ills—cancer, heart attacks and . . .” he hesitated before breathing out the word, “sterility.”
Though neither his sister nor her husband was officially sterile, like most of Earth’s population, they couldn’t have children. Her recent miscarriage had been her second in as many years. If the cup truly existed and he could find it, his sister—and hundreds of thousands of others—could finally carry a child to term.
“Throughout the ages,” he continued, ‘many men, including Arthur’s own Knights of the Round Table, have searched for Avalon and the Holy Grail. Legendary stories of the Grail’s healing properties exist in many cultures, yet no one has found it.” He pointed to the small moon on the ancient map. “Maybe that’s because Avalon wasn’t on Earth.”
“You’ve lost your mind.” She sighed, but the catch in her voice exposed her wishful thinking that after all this time despairing, she might be able to hope again.
“A search for the Holy Grail might be the most exciting thing I’ll ever do.”
“It might also be the last thing you ever do. Didn’t you learn your lesson when you went in search of Preah Vihear antiquities?”
“The golden statue of the dancing Shiva I found in the Khmer temple was worth—”
“Ending up in a Cambodian jail?”
“Just a little misunderstanding. We got it squared away.”
She cursed under her breath. “You sure you don’t have a death wish? Or are you just an adrenaline junky?”
She was only fussing because she loved him, so he ignored her rhetorical questions. Besides, he wasn’t the only twin who took calculated risks. As a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times, Marisa had placed herself in danger many times. They were some pair. She wanted to report the present to change the future. Until now, he’d believed humanity was headed for extinction and had studied the past because the future looked bleak. But if he could find the Grail, the past just might offer hope for the future.
Marisa sighed. “We need to dig out of here.”
He carefully rolled up the parchment and placed it in the dry sample bag he’d pulled from his backpack. Then he shined the light on the broken pottery. Kneeling, he began gathering as many shards as he could carry.
He reached for a particularly large piece, covered in an array of signs and symbols, when he spied daylight glimmering through a tiny opening on the far wall of the hidden room. A way out. “Time to go.”
“Now you’re in a hurry?”
“Don’t you want to find out if this map’s authentic?”
She sighed. “I’m more interested in warm, dry clothes.”
“Do you realize what we may have found?”
“We? Just you, my brother. Avalon? The Holy Grail? A cure for cancer? The idea is more than crazy. It’s nonsense. But knowing you, you’ll find a way to follow that map to Avalon.”
“If the star map pans out, you’ll want first dibs on the story—don’t deny it.”
“You’re a restless, adventure-seeking fool. That stupid map is going to take you straight to outer space.”
He could only hope.
As they deny the world, not only in the spirit realm but in the material plane, the world will cease to exist.
Eight years later, half a galaxy away
Cael was going to die. Not with the dignity a High Priestess was due. Not even with the respect afforded a physician.
And it was all her own fault. When she’d thought she’d seen her owl Merlin flapping frantically in the cooling conduit, she’d foolishly attempted a rescue. That had been mistake number one. Instead of calling maintenance for help, she’d grabbed a ladder, yanked off the outer grid and crawled into the duct work. Mistake number two. She’d forgotten to take a flashlight. Mistake number three. And now she was stuck in the dark conduit, half frozen, her hair held firm by the intake valve, her hand caught in the mesh screen meant to keep out rodents.
She’d shouted for help, of course, but no one had heard. With her robes and feet dangling into the hallway, she would have been hard to miss, but her coworkers never came down the hall to the High Priestess’ office. Being High Priestess wasn’t all it was assumed to be. Yes, she lived in a magnificent residence, free of charge, and her people revered her, even enacting a special law to allow her to be both Priestess and Healer, but the average Dragonian wouldn’t think of stopping by for a chat, never mind asking for her medical opinion.
While she believed her empathic ability was a gift that enabled her to use her healing skills wisely, her people too often looked at it as a curse. A curse that might blast them if they looked at her the wrong way . . . so most preferred not to look at her at all.
To her regret, she’d only treated a few patients since she’d joined the Avalon Project’s team of specialists that included astronomers, archeologists, physicists, engineers, geologists and computer technicians. Unless they had an emergency, her coworkers preferred other, less daunting healers. And if she didn’t turn up for work in the lab tomorrow, she doubted anyone would search for her. They’d assume she was attending to her High Priestess duties.
So she was stuck. Alone as usual.
And Merlin wasn’t even here. Mistake number four. Had she imagined that the owl had needed her help? She should have known better. The bird was crafty. He wouldn’t fly into a conduit that had no exit. He wouldn’t get stuck as she had. It would be just her luck if she died here of dehydration.
“Damn it.” She pounded on the metal wall with her free hand and yelled. “Just turn off the cooling coils, hand me a knife and I’ll cut myself free.”
No one answered. The suction from the intake valve threatened to snatch her bald. Again, she wrenched her wrist, but the mesh held her fingers in a claw-like grip. Tired, cold, she closed her eyes and dozed.
“Lady?” Someone tugged on her foot.
She awakened with a jerk and almost yanked her hair out by the roots. Teeth chattering, her side numb, she figured she must have been dreaming of rescue.
Then she heard the same deep and sexy yet unrecognizable voice again. “Are you stuck?”
What did he think? That the High Priestess slept here because she liked being frozen into an ice cube. “Please, can you get me out?”
A warm hand grasped her ankle and an interesting tingle shot up her leg as he tugged.
“Ow! My hair is caught in the intake valve and my hand got stuck in the mesh when I tried to free myself.”
She was about to ask for a pair of scissors or a knife, when she heard the duct metal creak and a thud. Then a man’s chest was sliding over her legs. And his movement was tugging up her gown.
She’d never been this close to someone before. No one dared touch the High Priestess.
Yet, he’d crawled right into the duct with her and was inching his way past her hips. Both her hearts jolted as if she’d taken a direct electric charge. His heat seeped into her, and the feel of his powerful, rippling male muscles had her biting back a gasp of shock.
It was impossible not to feel the heat pulsing between them. Studying the signs of arousal in a medical book was one thing. Experiencing them was quite another.
The stranger was edging up her body, and her senses rioted. Never had anything felt this indescribably good. She wished she could see his eyes and his expression. Even her empathic gift was failing her. Her own excitement was preventing her from reading him. Was he enjoying the feel of her as much as she was him? Did he have any idea that her hearts were racing? That her skirt was above her knees?
Ever so slowly, he crawled to her waist and his head slid between her breasts, his warm breath fanning her flesh. His mouth had to be inches from her . . . oh sweet Goddess.
“The air duct really isn’t made for two,” he joked.
Her pulse leaped. Her nerves were on fire. “There isn’t enough air,” she gasped.
“It’s fine.” He wriggled until his cheek pressed hers and she could feel the fine growth of a beard one day past a shave. His broad chest warmed her. Her hips nestled his and she felt him harden against her.
She stiffened. So he wasn’t unaffected, and that fact secretly pleased her. Although it shouldn’t have.
Apparently not the least embarrassed by his physical reaction, he chuckled, his breath warm and tantalizing in her ear. “Don’t worry. It’s not like we have enough room in here to get any closer.”
She squeezed her eyes tight. “You don’t know who I am.”
“You feel . . . beautiful.” He reached above her head and ran his hand along her hair, his fingers strong and gentle. “I’m going to remove the grate so we don’t have to cut your hair.”
His muscles flexed, and he popped the vent from the duct. “Now, let’s free your hand.”
He skimmed his other hand up her body, lightly teasing her waist, the side of her breast, her cheek. She sucked in her breath as a ripple of pleasure washed through her.
“I’ll be happy to do more of that after I get you out of here,” he murmured and ran his fingers up her arm to her trapped wrist. “Hmm. I’ve got a screwdriver in my back pocket. Think you can reach it?”
She licked her bottom lip and moved her free hand across his firm hip to his curved buttock. Her fingers itched to explore. After all, she had to find his pocket, didn’t she?
“Try a little higher, sweetheart,” he urged, his voice amused.
“If you want to live, don’t call me that,” she said in her best High Priestess voice. But instead of sounding authoritative, her tone was breathy and light.
She fumbled her fingers over his buttock, enjoying the hard muscle and the sensuous curve and finally found and unsnapped the pocket. Oh . . . my. The material inside that pocket was so thin, she was almost touching his bare, warm flesh. At the thought, her breasts tingled, and certain he could feel her nipples hardening against him, she flushed.
“What should I call you?” he teased.
She hesitated. If she told him her name, he might not finish freeing her. “I’ll introduce myself once we’re out of this mess.”
“Honey, we’re way beyond the need for formal introductions—not when your sexy little hand is grabbing my ass.”
She snatched the screwdriver from his pocket. “Got it.”
He gave instructions with an easy self-confidence that told her he was enjoying himself. “Reach up my back, over my shoulder and place the screwdriver into my hand.”
She did as he asked and found herself admiring his broad back, the muscular shoulders. She was wrapped around him, and the feel of his hard male body had her trembling. She hadn’t known a man could feel so good.
His maleness was erotic, exotic. Exciting. Her blood rushed though her veins with a heat that made her feel more alive than she’d felt since she’d first taken to the skies in flight.
“You’re awfully quiet.” The rough texture of his words was almost as exciting as his muscles straining over her. “Am I too heavy?”
Too heavy? He was perfect.
She swallowed hard. “How much longer . . .”
“Until we’re done unscrewing? Now there’s a question I haven’t been asked before.” She could hear the grin in his wry tone and was grateful when he changed the subject. “How’d you get stuck in here, anyway?”
Every time he turned the screwdriver, his pecs tensed against her breasts and his erection pressed hot against her thigh.
She tried to distract herself by talking. “I thought I heard a bird trapped in here.”
She expected him to tell her she was silly, but he paused in his handiwork. “So you’re the adventurous type?”
Was she? She had no idea. From the moment she’d been born, her destiny had been set. The Elders had trained her as High Priestess. It was her duty to perform religious ceremonies, bless babies, to mediate high-level disputes. But she’d wanted to connect with people, so she’d insisted on becoming a healer, too. That was the reason she worked on the Avalon Project, hoping to find the Holy Grail and cure her world of all illness. Was that the same as adventurous?
He popped out the last screw and she tugged her hand free. Her fingers landed in his thick, soft hair. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. I’m not.”
“You might be really sorry—once we get out of here.”
“Why’s that?” He began to wriggle down her body. “Are you married?”
“I’m never getting married.” The High Priestess wasn’t allowed to wed. Even if it wasn’t forbidden, who would want a woman who had the strength to kill her own mate?
“You have seven big protective brothers who’ll want to beat me up?” he teased.
“There’s just me and my two sisters,” she couldn’t keep the wistfulness from her tone.
“No husband. No brothers. And you don’t want to marry. Honey, you’re ideal,” he said, his tone soft and husky. Finally, he jumped down, and she found herself missing his warmth. Then his strong hands slid up her legs.
“I can get out . . . by myself.” She tried to wriggle away, but couldn’t, of course, with the duct restricting her movements. “Is anyone else there?”
“No one. It’s past midnight.”
“Thank the Goddess.” His large hands almost spanned her waist. He lifted her from the conduit and set her down on her feet. Her skirts dropped to the floor, and she smoothed them while avoiding his gaze.
As the ceremonial robes swished around her legs, her customary decorum returned. “Thank you. You saved my life. But I won’t tell anyone, so please don’t worry . . .” She raised her head and met his eyes.
“I’m not worried.” Cocking his head to the side, he’d spoken as if he found the idea absurd. He smiled as if he was seeing Cael the woman, not the High Priestess, and it charged her with intense awareness. Of him.
In the dim light she recognized him. Lucan Roarke. The new archeologist on the team had dark hair, compelling blue eyes and a sculpted jaw. And he wore glasses. Obviously he needed a new prescription, since he didn’t seem to recognize her.
“If anyone learns that you touched me, the State will execute you.”
“The only exemptions are during my healing duties or for blessings bestowed in religious ceremonies.”
She expected him to back away, tremble, even grovel as others in his position would have. Automatically, she braced for the normal blast of fear, but instead, he leaned toward her, his voice seductive. “Lady Cael—” Obviously he did recognize her. “I wouldn’t mind if more than my fate was in your hands.”