When it comes to temptation...***
Turning his back on his old life as a rogue, Gavriel de Marqueda has joined a monastic order in Spain and taken a vow of chastity. Before he becomes a monk, he must pass one final test: help a woman who has lost her way. But when he lays eyes on Ada of Keyworth, he is tempted beyond measure by her sultry beauty and dangerous curves.
Rules are meant to be broken...
Far from her home in England, Ada has been battling inner demons for more than a year. When she discovers that her only friend has abandoned her, she has no choice but to grudgingly accept Gavriel's help. But Ada is not fooled. Though Gavriel wears the robes of a monk, Ada sees that he is a virile man who looks at her with a hunger that matches her own--one that begs to be satisfied again and again....
"I beg you," he said quietly. "Take her with you."
Gavriel had been studying Ada's peaceful face, revisiting the violence he had felt in the brothel--that black and deadly surge. He had not held a sword in a year. He missed it, just as he lamented the loss of power, status, and authority that had been his.
But young Jacob's request snatched him from that picture of false peace. "What?"
"You are brothers of the Order of Santiago." Jacob met each man's gaze in turn. "And your monastery is to the east, in Uclés, sí?"
Pacheco nodded. "That is correct."
"Please, take her with you."
Old fears slithered over Gavriel's skin. The girl was dangerous. "Absolutely not."
Jacob drew back his shoulders, a motion that must have aggravated the wound at his collarbone. But he stood straight to look Gavriel in the eye. "You owe me a debt of life."
"Your actions put us in danger in the first place."
"I saved you," Jacob said. "Pay me in return by saving her."
"You're not able?"
Those same proud shoulders slumped forward. "I...I try. All that I can think and do--it falls short." The boy no longer aimed his pleading gaze at Pacheco or Fernán. Only at Gavriel. "I ask for her sake."
Jacob curled his hands into fists. "You turn on a soul in need? What manner of man are you? What manner of Christian servant are you?"
Fernán snorted. "More than you can claim, judío."
The boy leaped. Colliding with Fernán and falling to the ground, the weight of their bodies broke a chair into a heap of splintered timber. Jacob grunted and landed a solid punch before Gavriel and Pacheco hauled him up.
Jacob sputtered and kicked, planting his boot in Fernán's side. "I will kill him!"
Gavriel squeezed the back of Jacob's neck until he calmed. "And I'll pretend I didn't hear you say that. The magistrate would not take kindly to a Jew making such a threat."
Struggling to his feet, Fernán wiped blood from his mouth. "I want him jailed."
Pacheco raised a restraining hand. "Enough, Fernán. The boy is distressed, and you test the steadiest souls."
Fernán spit and dabbed his lips with shaking fingers, looking around to wipe them on something other than his robes. "Oh, go ahead and take her, Gavriel. What's the worst that could happen? She's a senseless, voluptuous, completely vulnerable woman who'll depend on your care for all the hours of the day and night." He snickered, but his body was still cowed. "That's hardly any challenge at all."
"I can let him finish what he started," Gavriel said. "I doubt the outcome would be in your favor."
Pacheco stepped between them. His age, authority and a single cautionary look quelled the fight. "You behave like squabbling children, not Jacobeans." He pointed to the adjoining room. "Fernán, leave us."
Gavriel released Jacob and bowed his head. The brief violence had only delayed their master's decision.
"I ask that you return to Doña Valdedrona's estate," Pacheco said to Jacob. "I'll arrange an escort of knights for you. Return with the girl's personal effects and we will discuss her care in the morning, when tempers have cooled."
Jacob nodded, still flushed, his eyes keen. He pulled on his boots and strapped a belt around his waist. He left the room after one last glance toward the woman on the cot.
"Master." Head still bowed, Gavriel struggled for calm. "Master, tell me what to do."
"She will be your responsibility now."
A judgment. A sentence. Not for the first time, he thought that exile would have been the wiser choice. This life of sacrifice and restraint was far too grueling.
"And if I cannot?"
"You will," Pacheco said firmly. "And we both know the consequences if you do not."