Read Broken Together Online

Authors: K. S. Ruff

Tags: #Romance, #Romantic Suspense, #Inspirational, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense

Broken Together (9 page)

He
nodded. “Ethan and I recruited those men to strengthen the eastern division of
the Knights Templar in the United States. Ethan is my counterpart in the United
States.”

My
breath whooshed out all at once. “This is unbelievable.” I’d been surrounded by
Knights Templar for months and had never even known. Ethan, Brady, Brogan,
Aidan, Chance, and Jase… every single one of those men had been inside my home.

“I’m
still the same man you fell in love with,” Rafael repeated.

“Who’s
the grand master?” For some reason it seemed important to know who it was that
essentially owned Rafael.

“Each
faction has its own grand master. My grand master is Anabal Cavaco Silva, the
President of Portugal. I’m also required to answer to the grand master of the
United States while working in the United States.”

My
knees nearly buckled. Rafael worked for the President of Portugal? And who,
pray tell, was the grand master of the United States?

He
pulled me back onto the couch. “This doesn’t change anything.”

I
stared at him incredulously. “This changes everything.”

“No,
it doesn’t,” he argued forcefully. “We can still be married and have a family.”

I
shook my head. “Your life is not your own. You could be ordered to leave the
United States… to return to Portugal.”

His
shoulders tensed. “I could. But as my wife, you would be welcome here. The
Knights Templar of Portugal would welcome you with open arms.”

“Is
it safe?” Eva inquired from inside the doorway.

“It
is,” Rafael answered, although his voice remained strained.

She
set the bowl on the table. “Benjamim!”

He
stepped out onto the patio. “Is she okay?”

My
eyes narrowed. “How does he fit into all of this?”

A
single eyebrow rose along Rafael’s forehead.

I
huffed out a breath. “This revelation of yours wouldn’t have been important to
him unless he was somehow involved.”

Rafael
smiled. “Sometimes I forget how brilliant you are.”

“I’m
not a knight,” Benjamim clarified, “but I work for the Order. I am one of many inductees
who manage assets.” He set a stack of bowls and a handful of spoons on the
table. “As such, I was required to swear an oath of fealty to the Order.”

Eva
perched on the edge of her seat while dishing an orange colored stew into the
bowls. “It’s not as bad as you might think.”

“What
isn’t bad?” I wasn’t sure whether she was referring to the savory smelling stew
or being inducted into a secret organization.

“Being
married to one of them.” She distributed the bowls.

I
dipped my bread into the warm stew. The rich, creamy sauce tasted like onion,
garlic, white wine, and salty fish stock. Colossal size shrimp and white chunks
of fish dominated the rice. “Is this why you brought me here?” I looked at
Rafael.

He
nodded, somewhat miserably. “I would have told you sooner, but I was forbidden.
We are not allowed to reveal our identity to just anyone. The women we choose
to marry must be approved by the grand master, and we cannot reveal our
identity until she’s agreed to marry us.”

“The
woman must be deemed worthy, demonstrate selflessness and a willingness to
serve others, and she must show loyalty by making a commitment to her betrothed,”
Benjamim elaborated. “We cannot expose our identity in advance of that
commitment because we cannot risk women pursuing a relationship with our
brethren in an effort to infiltrate or destroy the Order.”

Brethren?
Betrothed?
I couldn’t shake the feeling I’d been dropped into
the 12th century.

“We
were persecuted once,” Rafael reminded me. “The secrecy and the uncertainty surrounding
our existence help keep us safe. We can work more effectively this way.”

My
stomach churned nervously. “So the grand master, the President of Portugal, has
to approve of me?”

“He
already has.”

“Impossible,”
I breathed.

Rafael
shrugged. “Maxim did not present the obstacle I thought he would. Inexplicably,
the man passes scrutiny.”

My
eyes narrowed. “Maxim is selfless to a fault. He’s devoted his entire life to
helping the poor and the oppressed.”

“As
have you,” Rafael noted softly.

Like
a deer in headlights, I stilled.

He
grasped my hand. “Think about it, Kristine. The advocacy work you did in Montana,
the legislation you pursued in the Senate, and the peacebuilding you’re doing through
Seeds for Peace. You couldn’t be a more perfect candidate.”

“Candidate?”

“For
marriage,” Rafael clarified.

“She
doesn’t understand,” Benjamim interjected. “You are not doing a very good job
of explaining this.”

“Neither
did you,” Eva chided. “This is not an easy thing to explain or comprehend.”

It
was Rafael’s turn to blow out a breath. “This is why I hadn’t considered the
religious requirements you mentioned on the airplane. I was focused entirely on
these requirements, the requirements imposed by the Knights Templar.” He took a
deep breath before continuing. “The grand master has approved my petition to
marry you, but you will be required to swear an oath to the Order before I’m
permitted to marry you.”

Rafael,
Eva, and Benjamim eyed me expectantly.

I
fidgeted nervously. “I think I can do that.” I wasn’t entirely sure what I was
getting myself into, but if I was swearing an oath to a long standing security
organization with a charitable component based on Christian principles, how bad
could it be? I turned the idea in my head. “There’s a catch, isn’t there?”

This
marked the moment when Rafael looked truly worried. “You must swear this oath
to the same faction I serve, otherwise I will not be permitted to marry you.”

I
stared at him incredulously. “Are you asking me to swear loyalty to a foreign
government… to relinquish my citizenship… my nationality?” The grand master was
the President of Portugal. How could I declare my allegiance to the President
of Portugal?

“You’ll
be granted dual citizenship,” Eva interjected. “Like me.”

“You’ll
be swearing loyalty to the Templar, not the government, and you won’t be forced
to choose between Portugal and the United States,” Benjamim added.

“But
if the President of the United States does something the President of Portugal
disagrees with, then what? Will I be forced to choose?” I was assuming, of
course, that the President of the United States was the grand master of the
United States.

“No,
Kristine. They would work out their differences. There are mechanisms in place.
All of the grand masters would come together to ensure the situation was
resolved in a way that is in the best interest of all humanity,” Rafael answered
confidently.

There
was a long list of American foreign policies that had received international
condemnation as of late, so I persisted. “But what if he does. What then?”

“That
has never happened,” Benjamim argued. “The Templar do not allow politics to
poison their mission, which is protecting and helping people in need. Very few
disagreements ensue over those objectives.”

A
fire sparked in Rafael’s eyes. Clearly, he’d had enough. “On the off chance
that it does, you would be required to side with the Knights Templar of
Portugal, to renounce your American citizenship, and reside permanently in
Portugal with me.”

And
there it was. The big, terrible, awful thing he didn’t want to tell me.

Chapter 3 – Stand by You

 

I
stared at the landscape unraveling outside the Porsche. I couldn’t imagine how opulent
castles could exist less than twenty minutes away when all I could see were
clotheslines weighted with tattered clothes and crumbling buildings marked with
graffiti. We were driving to Sintra in search of a distraction from Rafael’s
obligations and mine.

Rafael,
Benjamim, and Eva had spent the entire evening easing my fears about whether
the Knights Templar of Portugal would require me to renounce my citizenship to
the United States. I felt assured, in the end, that this would only happen if
the United States engaged in genocide, committed mass atrocities against
humanity, or persecuted the knights. I had enough faith in my government to
conclude that those egregious crimes would never be pursued by my country.

So
where did that leave me? Silently contemplating my oath. I was required to swear
an oath to the grand master or his designee within the next thirty days. Apparently,
I’d be doing so before leaving Portugal.

As
surreal as it was to learn that Rafael was a modern day knight, I’d learned
something beyond this chivalrous designation. Rafael had an ego. He was a proud
man who’d apparently had his fill of my insecurities, my waffling, and divided
loyalties. Now that we were engaged, he expected me to put him first, to love
and cherish him above all others, and to choose him above all things… even my
country. It was a tall order from someone who couldn’t deliver on the same
requirements, given his fealty to the Knights Templar.

I
peered out the window. The dilapidated buildings had been replaced by a handful
of houses atop lush green hills. A cloud opened above us, misting more than
raining on our parade.

I
looked at Rafael, who appeared lost in his own thoughts. I admired his
selflessness and his commitment to aid and protect others. Any other woman
would have been swooning over the fact that he was a knight. The Knights
Templar’s mission was very much in line with my social and religious values.
So, why did I view them as a threat?

One
thing was certain. I now knew how Alice felt when she fell into that rabbit
hole. Women who slept battered on bathroom floors didn’t marry knights or visit
castles. Maybe that was the problem. My life had grown unrecognizable once again.

“We’re
here,” Rafael announced softly. We’d entered a quaint, hilly little town. The
tourists who weren’t climbing on and off buses were bartering with merchants
who had jewelry and artwork on display along the cobblestone street.

I
stared slack-jawed at an ominous castle while Rafael secured a parking spot. I
couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to live in such a sinister looking building.

Rafael
peered up at the castle while helping me from the car. “Quinta da Regaleira,” he
revealed in a reverent tone. He opened an umbrella and tucked me beneath his
arm.

I
studied the gothic structure while he paid for our tickets. The castle was a
fascinating conglomeration of spindly pinnacles, elaborately carved windows and
terraces, an octagon shaped tower, and menacing gargoyles.

We
crossed through a large wooden gate and were instantly transported into an
exquisite garden. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of flowering trees,
bushes, and plants surrounding us. Calla lilies sprouted straight from the
ground.

The
dirt trail we were on branched out in multiple directions, creating switchbacks
along the terraced garden above and below us. The trail extended as far as the
eye could see. “It’s breathtaking.”

The
tension eased from Rafael’s shoulders. The first genuine smile I’d seen in
hours lit his face.

I
turned a slow circle, trying to absorb the unspeakable beauty surrounding me.
From this angle, the castle didn’t appear ominous; it appeared inviting. The
exterior looked whiter and brighter somehow. The back of the castle faced an ornately
carved chapel. I couldn’t resist touching the cool, wet stone before we stepped
inside. I wondered how something so beautiful could withstand the test of time.

Angels,
saints, and other religious figures were carved directly into the walls.
Quietly, I pondered the scriptures reflected in the frescoes. “What’s that?” I pointed
to a large circular emblem on the floor. The contemporary design seemed sorely
out of place in the ancient chapel. An armillary sphere lie at the center of
the emblem. The sphere was surrounded by pentagons, which was unusual but not
nearly as odd as the large squat cross that had been stamped over the top. A
thick red line framed the thin white cross before flaring at each end.

Rafael
leaned his head closer to mine. “That, my love, is the Order of Christ Cross.”

“Order
of Christ,” I murmured. Where had I heard that term before? My eyes widened. “The
Knights Templar reorganized as the Order of Christ when they were being
persecuted.”

Rafael
nodded. “Under King Dinis I.”

“What
does this mean?” I nodded toward the cross.

“The
Knights Templar have sworn to protect this site.” Rafael walked outside.

I
stared at the cross for some time before joining Rafael outside. “How many
buildings, artifacts, and people have your knights sworn to protect?”

Rafael
shrugged. “More than I could possibly count.”

We
spent hours exploring the grottos, gazebos, fountains, and ornately carved
benches scattered throughout the extensive grounds. We hiked down a winding
staircase inside an initiation well that displayed another Order of Christ Cross.
This squat white cross included a red circle in the center and red triangle
shaped tips, sort of like a compass.

Rafael
stood staring at the cross. “The Knights Templar met at Regaleira Palace. They held
ceremonies in the chapel, along the lake, and inside this well. The initiation
wells, grottos, tower, lake, chapel, and caves are connected by tunnels.” He pointed
to a dark cavern that was roped off.

We
climbed the stairs so we could finish exploring the palace grounds. The lakes
and gardens were well kept but still felt natural and wild. There was so much
mystery and intrigue surrounding the place, I didn’t want to leave.

The
sun didn’t come out until after we returned to the car. “I thought we’d eat
lunch at Pena Palace.” Rafael eased out of the parking lot. We wound through
the town and looped around a mountain before another palace peeked through the
clouds.

This
palace was massive and bold. A weathered stone foundation loomed high above the
ground just beyond the drawbridge. Above this foundation, one section of the
castle was painted yellow, another section a deep coral color, and the center
appeared blue from this distance. Scalloped windows and balconies wrapped
around the castle beneath an elegant clock tower. There were multiple towers; some
were square, others were round with mosque like domes.

“I
feel like I’ve been dropped into another century.” We hiked up the gravel path.
The trail was very steep. At one point, I had to stop and catch my breath.
Clouds formed wispy tendrils that wound around the massive rocks, lush ferns,
and exotic trees.

“Are
you hungry?” Rafael seemed invigorated and not at all winded.

“Starving.”
A competitive streak forced me to look a little less fatigued

“We’re
almost there.” He grasped my hand and shortened his stride.

We
crossed under a tall Moorish arch covered with four inch tiles. Each of the
tiles depicted a knight. I peered up at the palace. I could picture women in
opulent dresses strolling along the balconies, subtly flirting with knights. The
arch emptied into a courtyard that held an ornate stone cross, multiple coats
of arms, and gargoyles beneath prickly looking guard towers. “What is this
place?”

Rafael
chuckled. “Pena Palace has been a lot of things throughout the centuries; a
monastery, a convent, and a palace. You’ll find both Christian and Islamic culture
reflected in this palace.”

“That
explains why the architecture is so eclectic.” I reached for my cell phone,
then shoved it back inside my purse. I knew if I started taking pictures now,
we’d never eat.

Rafael
led me inside the gift shop where we took an elevator to the second floor. The
elevator opened into a modern, cafeteria-style restaurant. I ordered the duck
quiche with field greens. Rafael ordered
Linguas de Bacalhau
, fried cod
cakes with Portuguese rice.

We
carried our trays to a table next to a small window. “The architecture in my
country must seem very boring to you.” I was referring to our dull concrete
sidewalks, asphalt streets, and unimaginative office buildings.

“Not
at all.” Rafael cut into his cod and offered me a bite. “There are a lot of beautiful
buildings in DC. Besides, your country has a lot of natural beauty, which I
find far more impressive than these eccentric palaces.”

Slowly,
I nodded. I hadn’t stopped to consider the Grand Canyon, the Grand Tetons, the
Redwood Forest, the Na Pali Coastline, Yosemite, Yellowstone, or Glacier Park.

He
eyed me curiously. “How are you feeling about our conversation last night?”

“Concerned,”
I answered honestly. I offered him a forkful of quiche.

He
tried the quiche. “What are you concerned about?”

Although
there wasn’t anyone sitting close enough to overhear our conversation, I
thought it best to remain vague. “I’m not sure I understand to what extent your
involvement with this
organization
obligates you. I mean, is it like
being in the military, or do you have more control over your life than service
members do?”

Rafael
looked thoughtful. “Being inducted is not all that different than receiving a
meritorious service medal. I was awarded this honor for outstanding service to
my country. My induction into the Order merely requires me to live up to that
honor. It’s not as demanding or as consuming as you might think. I vowed to protect
and help those in need. In order to maintain my status, I need to deliver on
those promises. Occasionally, the grand master requests my assistance in
protecting our diplomats or in achieving national security objectives. I can
marry, have children, and pursue my own career goals as long as they don’t
conflict with the goals and objectives of the Order.”

“So
how do you describe this organization to others, like when you’re recruiting or
inducting people in the United States?” Last night, I’d learned there were only
three groups of people with whom Rafael could discuss Templar business; with
people who were already working for the Order, his betrothed, and those he was
recruiting. Since those working for the Templar and their betrothed were
required to issue a vow of secrecy and support, the greatest risk occurred
during recruiting because there was no guarantee that individual would actually
join the Order. Understandably, they were extremely selective in their
recruiting practices.

Rafael
finished his rice. “I think the civil order is best described as an elite
security force with humanitarian objectives.” He walked back to the counter,
placed another order, and returned with two cappuccinos and a small lemon
merengue pie.

I
ate every last bite of my salad and quiche. “You said there was a religious order
as well?” I tried the lemon meringue pie. The tart filling bit at the taste
buds just behind my jaw.

Rafael
laughed when I moaned rather than spoke my appreciation for the pie. “I would
describe the religious order as an elite security force charged with protecting
religious figures, artifacts, and sites. Most republics and constitutional
monarchies have a civil order. Some countries, like England, Italy, Spain, and
Israel maintain a separate religious order.”

I
sipped my cappuccino. The froth was creamy and thick with nutmeg sprinkled on
top. “Why do you have to strengthen the faction in the United States?”

Rafael
frowned. “Your government didn’t really see a need for us until recently. They already
maintain a number of elite forces, far more than any other country.
Additionally, your Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security offers
protective services to foreign dignitaries, which fulfills your country’s
obligations under the Vienna Convention. With the recent economic crisis, your
looming debt crisis, and the resulting budget constraints, it has become
increasingly difficult for your government to fulfill its obligation to protect
visiting dignitaries. They’re allowing the Knights Templar to augment those
services for some but not all visiting dignitaries, which is something my
country has been doing for centuries. Additionally, your country doesn’t offer
protective services for those providing humanitarian aid except in war zones,
so we’ve assumed that role.”

“Who
funds your work?”

“Centuries
worth of investments, public and private donations allow us to absorb the cost
of those services.” He dug into the pie.

“So
you formed a public private partnership that allows you to achieve your shared
objectives.”

Rafael
nodded. “Increasingly, your government has shifted responsibility for social
services and humanitarian aid to charity groups. This is no different.”

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