Rendezvous With Yesterday(5)By: Dianne Duvall
Had others joined them? Were there more of them out there somewhere, watching with weapons drawn?
A clatter drew her attention back to Josh.
The shotgun now lay on the ground.
Beth shook her head sluggishly. She needed to warn him that there might be others. But she still struggled for breath and couldn’t find her voice.
Dizziness assailed her, made worse by the wagging of her head—the only warning she could conjure.
“They’re alone,” Josh gritted, managing to gain his feet. Wavering, he stood hunched over with one arm pressed against his side. “B-Beth.” He staggered toward her. Pain and apprehension tightened his features. He stared down at her chest, then met her gaze before his eyes rolled back in his head and his body sank bonelessly to the ground.
Beth tried to call his name, but could produce no sound. Nor would her legs support her when she tried to stand.
Feeling weaker by the second, she glanced down. Blood, warm and wet, stained the sleeve of her jacket. More warmth blossomed beneath her vest.
Dropping the Ruger, she parted the front of her jacket with uncooperative fingers and stared in astonishment at the substantial holes in her vest. Ruby liquid seeped from beneath the lower edge and began to stain her jeans.
Nausea rose. Blackness floated on the periphery of her vision.
Beth sank back on her heels, but even then could no longer remain upright.
Tumbling backward, she barely felt it when her head struck the hard soil. Dappled sunlight winked down at her between the green and brown leaves above her.
Turning her head, she focused on Josh with cloudy vision.
He lay, unmoving, only a couple feet away to her left.
Forcing her burning left arm to do her bidding, she reached out and just managed to brush his hair with her fingertips.
Tears filled her eyes and spilled down her temples. Was he dead?
She managed to draw in a short, jagged breath. Warm, salty liquid pooled in her mouth, threatening to choke her. When Beth coughed, flecks of blood flew from her lips and agony shot through her chest and back. Down her arm. So intense she almost lost consciousness.
But she didn’t. She couldn’t pass out. She had to get help.
Josh needed her. She had to find help.
Curling her fingers in her brother’s hair, she clutched a dusty, silky fistful.
She had to get help.
A shadow fell across her. Blinking, Beth stared up in confusion as a tall figure swathed in black robes and a cowl entered the clearing.
Fear rising, knowing she had to protect her brother, she dragged her left hand back to her side and curled it around the grip of the Ruger she had discarded. She groaned as she raised her arm. Tears of pain streamed down her temples. Her aim wavered wildly as her muscles trembled.
The new menace loomed over her, his dark robes fluttering and fanning a slight breeze across her that carried with it the scent of exotic spices.
“Wh-Who are you?” she whispered.
He sank onto his haunches beside her. “I have come for you, Bethany.” His deep voice held the hint of a foreign accent.
His large hand closed around her wrist, his touch gentle.
Nevertheless, the Ruger fell harmlessly to the ground with a clatter.
The pain in her chest increased, clawing at her and tempting her to seek solace in oblivion.
A strange wind rose, tugging at his cowl and allowing her a brief glimpse of his face.
It was the last thing Beth saw before darkness claimed her.
Dense forest surrounded the four knights as they made their way home. Birds twittered and sang as the branches that supported them swayed in the cool breeze. Squirrels barked their displeasure at the figures that rode past, nearly drowning out the soft thumps the horses’ hooves made each time they touched the ground.
Lord Robert, Earl of Fosterly, drew in a deep breath as they left Terrington’s land and crossed onto his own. ’Twas foolish to think the air smelled sweeter here, but to a fourth son who had never thought to acquire either land or a title, Fosterly was the most beautiful place in all of England.
“I still think the air of Fosterly smells sweeter than any other,” Sir Michael said, echoing his thoughts.
Robert smiled. “You will hear no arguments from me.”
The youngest of the powerful Earl of Westcott’s six children, Robert had been destined for the church until his two eldest brothers had been killed, the first whilst defending his king during the revolt of 1174 and the second in an accident whilst competing in a tournament. Both of his sisters, like their mother, had died in childbirth. When Dillon, the only sibling Robert had left, had accompanied King Richard to the Holy Land, their father had begun to worry he might lose all of his children and had advised Lord Edmund—the man to whom Robert had been sent to foster—to keep a careful eye on him and ensure he came to no harm.