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Captivating the Scoundrel Excerpt

Captivating the Scoundrel Excerpt

Legendary Rogues, Book 4

Chapter One

August 1819, Glastonbury

“If you weren’t you, you’d be dead.”

Gideon Kersey, tense as he faced the man who’d been his mentor and who was now, at least secretly, his foe, allowed himself to flinch. Just slightly. Just enough for his opponent to notice.

“I would expect that,” Gideon said.

Timothy Foliot’s once-dark hair was almost entirely the color of metal, his umber eyes glowing with malice beneath the hundreds of candles lighting his great hall. He sat on a dais, looking down at Gideon in judgment like some medieval king of old. But then that was how Foliot liked to be regarded.

“And yet you stand before me, still breathing.” Foliot sounded rather disappointed.

“Only because I have a sword in my hand,” Gideon said wryly. He was no fool, at least not anymore. He knew who Foliot was and what he wanted, just as he now knew how Foliot had used him. It was time, however, for Gideon to turn the tables and use him instead.

Foliot leaned forward slightly, his interest clearly piqued. “Is it…?”

Gideon grasped the sword, which was still sheathed in its scabbard, and lifted it slightly. “Dyrnwyn. White-hilt. The Sword of Rhydderch Hael.” All were names by which the ancient weapon was known.

“Let me see.” The command was whispered but carried a weight that ensured Gideon understood it was not a request.

It was nothing Gideon hadn’t already planned to do. In fact, he would do more than show it to him. He had a much larger goal in mind. Transferring the scabbard to his left hand, he clasped the handle and pulled the blade free.

The guards stationed about the room all stepped toward him, their gazes locked on his movements, their breath ceasing at once to cloak the room in absolute silence save the sing of steel as Dyrnwyn slid from its home.

If Gideon had expected awe from Foliot, he would have been disappointed. Instead, the man frowned. “Are you certain that’s the sword?”

It was purportedly one of the Thirteen Treasures of Britain—magical items found by King Arthur and his knights in the late fifth or early sixth century and supposedly gifted to one of the knights, Gareth, on the occasion of his wedding. Foliot wouldn’t be able to judge its authenticity by simply looking at it.

“You expected it to flame,” Gideon said. That was the magical quality. And it only lit when wielded by a descendant of one of the Knights of the Round Table.

Foliot sat back in his chair, a large polished mahogany piece that looked more like a throne, with gemstones set into the top corners and a single ruby sparkling above his head. “My men said it did—in your grasp.”

“It did. And it will. I believe I have to be threatened, meaning I have to wield the sword with deadly intent.”

Foliot’s dark brows arched. “So you meant to kill my men.” His lip curled. “Give me one reason we shouldn’t relieve you of that sword and slay you where you stand.”

“I should add that using it in defense also…activates it. I wasn’t seeking to kill them, only protect the woman they sought to harm—that Forrest fellow is an idiot.” The woman was Amelia, whom his half brother Penn was in love with, and with whom he was pursuing the Heart of Llanllwch, another of the Thirteen Treasures. They were awaiting Gideon at an inn not far from here.

“Forrest is an idiot, but he’s been very useful to me over the years.”

“As have I,” Gideon said evenly. Forrest was Amelia’s estranged husband, an obstacle to the future she and Penn had hoped to share—or so Gideon assumed. They were meant to be together, and he hoped there would be a way for that to happen.

But things didn’t usually work out the way Gideon wanted. In fact, they’d never done so. Which was why he was so bloody committed to making this time different.

The Thirteen Treasures of Britain are mine, and I will find them.

“Yes, you were useful,” Foliot said, dragging him back to this chess match they were engaged in. “Until you lost the sword and disappeared only to turn up with the damned thing and use it against me.”

“Not against you,” Gideon clarified. “Against your men. Against Forrest in particular. You sought to double-cross his wife—take the Heart of Llanllwch from her and not give her the book you promised.”

It was a fake heart, a decoy created to hide the real one. And the book held information that would lead them to the real one. Penn and Amelia, with Gideon’s help, had pilfered the book that afternoon from Forrest’s house, which was situated on the edge of Foliot’s estate.

Foliot sneered. “The book is gone. But I suspect you know that.” He angled his head. Though a slight movement, the guards standing at the base of his dais took notice and moved toward Gideon.

He gripped the sword and lifted it in a defensive posture. The blade lit with a pale blue, nearly white flame, sending a supernatural glow over the hall.

Loud gasps were followed by the clap of Foliot’s hands. His dark eyes glowed, and he moved forward in his ridiculous throne. “It’s magnificent! Bring it closer.” When Gideon hesitated, Foliot waved his hand. “No one shall trouble you. Not yet anyway. Bring it closer.” It was another command.

Gideon moved slowly toward the dais and ascended half of the six steps to the small platform where Foliot sat. Two guards flanked his throne, their hands on the pistols they wore at their sides.

Foliot rose. He was not a large man but of average height and build. His men towered above him, as did Gideon. However, elevated three stairs above him, Foliot looked down at him, rather at the sword, which had his full attention.

“Do you want to hold it?” Gideon offered it to the man and was surprised when Foliot retreated to his throne.

“No.”

The flame diminished and disappeared.

“You believe the threat is gone?” Foliot asked as he retook his seat.

“For the moment.” Gideon would never not feel threatened in Foliot’s presence again. The man was single-minded in his desire to possess the Thirteen Treasures. And he didn’t care who he hurt—or killed—in the process. Because of that constant threat, Gideon was working hard to guard his emotions. The sword was sensitive to them and would react accordingly. With fear or aggression, the blade would ignite again, signaling everyone around him of his intentions.

The sword was an amazing weapon but would also be a detriment if not wielded properly.

It was that way with all the treasures, or so Gideon had deduced from his intensive research. From the moment nearly two years ago when Foliot had approached him about recovering these treasures, Gideon had worked to learn all he could. However, he’d relied on the man, who’d tutored him in Arthurian lore the past dozen years, to educate him.

But a month ago, everything had changed. Sinking to lows he’d never imagined possible, Gideon had stolen the sword from Penn’s sister. She’d spent years searching for it, and he’d tied her and her now-husband up, then ridden away with her prize. All because he’d wanted so badly to belong to something, to please the man who’d been more of a father to him than anyone. The man who was now staring at him with cold calculation. The man Gideon now needed to woo.

“Yes, I know the book is gone,” Gideon said. “I helped Bowen steal it.”

The only sign of Foliot’s anger was the whitening of his knuckles as he gripped the arm of his chair with his right hand. “Why would you do that?”

“Because Penn Bowen is the best—and perhaps only—person who can find the real Heart of Llanllwch. Don’t you want it?”

“So the one in the Ashmolean museum was fake.” Foliot didn’t seem surprised.

The fake heart had been found by Amelia’s grandfather decades ago and placed in the museum by the Order of the Round Table, a secret society dedicated to protecting the Thirteen Treasures. A society in which Foliot and Gideon were members.

“Yes, but it is a necessary piece to finding the real one.” Which Penn would do and ultimately give to Gideon. Because it belonged to him.

“If you helped Bowen steal the book, why aren’t you with him?” Foliot asked. His ire had faded, but his doubt was still quite tangible.

“He needs the dagger, and I know you have it.” The dagger was linked to the heart and was the key to decoding the information Penn needed to find the heart.

Foliot leaned back and steepled his fingers beneath his chin. He studied Gideon in silence, something Gideon was quite used to. Granted, in the past, he hadn’t been surrounded by henchmen who would attack him as soon as Foliot gave the word.

“You expect me to give you this dagger and trust that you’ll return with the real heart. After you’ve already deprived me of the sword and stolen the White Book of Hergest.”

“Have I deprived you of the sword?” Gideon asked with a half smile. He sheathed the blade and handed it to him. “Take it. You tasked me with finding Dyrnwyn. I failed before, but I have it now. And the heart is nearly within my grasp. Then there will be only eleven more to find.”

The task sounded incredibly daunting, and it might very well take Gideon his entire life to complete. But he would find them, and he—not the Order that prided itself on power and secrecy—would keep them safe.

“You are still committed to our quest?” The doubt was lessening in Foliot’s tone.

“My commitment has never faltered.” Gideon sank to his knee in obeisance and offered him the sword as he bowed his head.

“You’ll bring it to my vault.”

Gideon lifted his head. Foliot rose from his throne and walked past him down the dais toward an alcove set into the back corner of the hall behind a tapestry depicting one of Arthur’s knights slaying a dragon. Pivoting, Gideon trailed Foliot, aware of the guards who fell into step behind him.

The door to the vault was almost indiscernible in the alcove—it was simply part of the wall. A candle flickered in a sconce, casting just enough light to illuminate the small space. A guard stood at attention in the corner of the alcove.

Gideon had been to the vault just once before. The room was roughly ten by twenty feet, without windows, and sealed by a thick, solitary door secured with several locks. A second guard was stationed within.

As he had the previous time Gideon had come, Foliot removed a ring of keys from his pocket and went about unlocking the various mechanisms lining the door. Gideon counted five locks, but Foliot applied only four keys before replacing the ring back into his pocket. He shifted then, blocking Gideon’s view, but as with his last visit, Gideon suspected Foliot kept the fifth and final key apart from the others on the ring.

Foliot pushed the door open and stepped inside. He didn’t turn, but Gideon followed him in. The scent of old parchment and dust permeated the room. Gideon swept his gaze over the interior, lit with a wrought iron chandelier in the center of the room as well as sconces on the walls set at five-foot intervals.

The guard inclined his head as Foliot moved past him and did nothing, not even blink, when Gideon slid him a quick glance.

“Bring the sword over here,” Foliot said, moving to the farthest wall, where there sat a locked chest. He withdrew the ring of keys once more and unlocked the chest. “Can’t be too careful,” he said, eyeing the sword. “Will it fit in here?”

Gideon went to the chest and lowered the sword toward the interior. It fit with just a few inches to spare. The weapon seemed to vibrate, as if it were trying to speak to Gideon. He would have said that was absurd, but given what the sword had already demonstrated, Gideon wasn’t sure if it meant something or not.

The vibration continued as he put the sword into the chest, then it jolted him so that he drew his hand away. The weapon seemed unhappy about being put into the chest. Gideon shared that sentiment. He didn’t want to relinquish the sword, but it was a temporary concession in pursuit of a larger goal.

I’ll come back for you soon, he promised.

Foliot pointed to the corner of the chest, where a partially wrapped dagger lay. “That’s the dagger you want. Go ahead and pick it up.”

Gideon hesitated, but only for a moment. He plucked up the old weapon and moved the soft brown leather to view the writing etched into the blade. This was what Penn needed to find the heart.

“I was prepared to execute you,” Foliot said. “But you’ve pleased me greatly. To have the sword, one of the two greatest of the Thirteen Treasures, is incredibly gratifying. And to know the heart is also within my grasp is thrilling.” His eyes glittered in the flickering light, evidencing his excitement. “You’ll give the dagger to Bowen?”

Gideon wrapped the blade in the leather. “Yes, and he’ll find the heart and give it to me.”

Foliot’s brow creased. “You’re confident in this?”

“I am. There are…reasons he will want to help me.” Not the least of which was the guilt Penn felt for having stolen Gideon’s birthright.

Stolen wasn’t accurate, of course—Penn no more wanted to be the Earl of Stratton than Gideon wanted to lose the title. However, Penn was their father’s legitimate firstborn son, and the vicar who could prove it was on his way to London to provide the evidence of Penn’s birth to the House of Lords. Unless Penn could stop him, which he wholly intended to do.

If he couldn’t, Gideon would be plain Gideon Kersey. Who just happened to be a descendant of one of the Knights of the Round Table. There were worse things. And Gideon had survived them.

“These reasons intrigue me, but we’ll save them for another time,” Foliot said. “Let us return to the hall for supper and to discuss our next steps. There are eleven other treasures to hunt.”

“Indeed there are.” Gideon meant to find every one of them and keep them from the Order and whatever plans they had, specifically those of the Camelot group, the faction inside the organization led by Foliot. While the Order sought to keep the treasures hidden, Camelot wanted to possess them and wield them. For what precisely, no one knew. Or would reveal.

“Will you finally tell me who else is searching for these items?” Gideon asked. There were other descendants—men Foliot had recruited to obtain the treasures. Men who would do his bidding. Men like Gideon, until he’d realized the murderous lengths to which Foliot would go to achieve his ends.

Foliot closed the chest and locked it, but not before Gideon cast a lingering stare at his sword. “You’re going to miss it.” Foliot chuckled. “It’s safe here.”

“Yes.” But safe for what? Gideon still didn’t know what Foliot planned to do with the treasures once he had them all, and Gideon wasn’t sure he was in a position just yet to inquire. He’d done so in the past and had always been told that Camelot’s objective was to keep them safe from those who didn’t deserve them. The treasures were special and had been found by worthy men, who in turn had gifted them to Gareth, an esteemed and honorable knight.

“You don’t sound convinced.” Foliot clapped Gideon on the shoulder as they returned to the door of the vault. “You’re a part of something bigger than yourself, Gideon. These treasures transcend us. We are merely custodians of a history we can only begin to understand.”

Gideon resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Foliot liked to make grandiose statements and speak in enigmatic circles.

They moved out of the vault, and Foliot relocked the door. Gideon thought of the poor guard trapped inside without a chamber pot—at least Gideon hadn’t seen one.

“How often do the guards change?” he asked, hoping to glean valuable information he could use later. He doubted Foliot would answer.

Surprisingly, however, he did. “Every two hours. Can’t have them overtired or hungry. Or pissing themselves.” He laughed as he led Gideon back to the hall. The contingent of henchmen who’d followed them to the vault accompanied them.

As they entered, a pair of maids bustled around the feasting table preparing the meal. Like the dais, the dining area looked as though it had leapt from the pages of a medieval tome.

Foliot went to the tall chair set at the head of the table. “Let us drink and eat.”

Gideon would much rather have left immediately to deliver the dagger, but he didn’t dare press Foliot. There was too much at stake, and he needed the man to believe Gideon was a committed member of Camelot, that finding the treasures for Foliot was his primary objective.

Taking the chair to Foliot’s left, Gideon set the dagger on the table next to his place setting. “Is this to be a typical meal?” If so, they’d be here until midnight probably.

Foliot barked out a laugh. “Not quite. I don’t have many people in residence. But that will change in the coming days. Surely you haven’t forgotten my annual festival. It starts in just under a fortnight.”

Though he called it a festival, it was a regular house party. Not regular, exactly, because it consisted of medieval activities, including a bloody jousting tournament. “No, I haven’t forgotten. It’s a singular event.”

“You always seemed to enjoy yourself. Until you stopped coming.” Foliot sniffed as the footman poured wine.

That had been two years ago, and Gideon had been in no condition to celebrate anything. He picked up his wineglass and took a fortifying drink.

“My apologies,” Foliot said. “I didn’t mean to be insensitive. But thinking of that time leads me to what I must say next.” He looked toward the guards who’d gone to stand at the dais after returning from the vault. They strode toward the table and flanked Gideon’s chair, stoking his unease to the levels he’d felt when he’d stood before Foliot’s throne.

“Is there something amiss?” Perhaps Gideon was still a fool. So far, his plan tonight had executed perfectly. Too perfectly.

“While I appreciate you bringing the sword to demonstrate your fealty, I will require more than that.”

Sweat broke out on the back of Gideon’s neck. This man was known to kill to get what he wanted, and Gideon had seen the violence committed by his henchmen. He struggled to keep his voice even. “I’m happy to provide whatever you demand.” Happy didn’t come close to the true emotion Gideon felt, but pretending to like and admire this man was critical.

“As you know, I have a daughter, and it has always been our intention that she would wed a descendant. Not just any descendant—but one who comes directly from Gareth’s line.”

Bloody fucking hell. Did he want Gideon to marry his daughter? Gideon’s blood ran cold. He couldn’t marry her. He wouldn’t marry anyone. Not again. “You think I come from Gareth’s line? You’ve never said for certain.”

“No, but I think it’s safe to say that’s true. The treasures should work for all the descendants, but they definitely work for Gareth’s progeny—and more easily, I should think. You’ll marry my daughter and solidify your position in Camelot.” He lifted his glass in a toast. “As my most trusted aide.”

Gideon forced himself to say what he must. “I don’t wish to marry again.” The memory of Rose pierced his heart, and he pushed it away.

“I can understand that.” He lowered the glass but didn’t set it on the table. “However, I’m not asking you to. It’s simply what’s required. If you wish to continue the quest for the Thirteen Treasures, you must demonstrate your full commitment. If you don’t… Well, I’d rather not contemplate that.” He smiled briefly before lifting the glass once more. “To your marriage. You’ll like Daphne very much.” He looked at the guards, who moved closer to Gideon’s chair, then inclined his head toward Gideon’s wineglass.

Realizing this was not the time for a fight, Gideon picked up his glass and tapped it to Foliot’s. “To wedded bliss.”

Foliot grinned. “That’s my boy.” He took a hearty drink and set his glass down, then motioned for the footman to begin serving the first course.

Gideon had met his daughter at the medieval festivals, but barely remembered her. She’d been a child, if memory served. No, at his last festival three years ago, she’d been a young lady, but he couldn’t bring her image to mind.

Not that it mattered. He had no intention of marrying her. He’d say what he needed to say and take one day at a time as he worked toward his goal.

Dipping his spoon into his soup, Foliot continued jovially as if he hadn’t just threatened Gideon. “I daresay you’ll fall quite in love with my Daphne. She’s as intelligent and beautiful as they come. And well versed in Arthurian studies. She’ll be a marvelous partner for you.” He smiled at Gideon before sipping from his spoon.

Not only did the man expect Gideon to marry his daughter, he expected him to fall in love with her too? Well, that was never going to happen. His capacity for love was almost nonexistent.

Itching with anticipation to leave with the dagger, Gideon suffered through the interminable dinner, followed by a medieval musical entertainment. It was well into the middle of the night before Foliot stood to retire. He’d said it wouldn’t be a typical meal, but it was. The only thing missing was one of Foliot’s women, who typically joined him after the meal.

Throughout the evening, he’d extolled his daughter’s virtues and restated his threats in every way imaginable. Gideon would marry his daughter if he wanted a future in Camelot. Hell, if he wanted a future at all. The fact that this was a horrible basis for a marriage, let alone one that was supposed to include love, seemed quite lost on Foliot. The man was deranged.

And Gideon didn’t trust him.

“I’ll expect to see you back here for the festival. With the heart in hand. We’ll announce your betrothal then.”

Foliot left the hall, and Gideon didn’t waste time departing. He was all too aware of the guards watching every step he took. Foliot would have him followed, of course, and probably Penn as well.

Gideon’s objective had just become much more difficult. To avoid being leg-shackled to Foliot’s chit, he needed to find the treasures and take down Camelot. Time was now against him, along with everything else.

He was playing a very dangerous game. And Gideon meant to win.

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