Romance Promo Central is happy to welcome Traci E. Hall to the blog! She is the author of The Queen’s Guard Peony. She is here to share some information about her book and if it sounds like something that you would be interested in reading, please find some buy links at the bottom of the post.
In the winter of 1147, the French army makes its way through Asia Minor, with King Louis determined to recapture Edessa, a holy undertaking blessed by the Pope. Mysterious widow Catherine le Rochefort travels with Queen Eleanor and the French army toward Jerusalem, where Catherine hopes to gain absolution for her dark sins. Guarding her secrets as vigilantly as she protects the queen, Catherine has no place in her heart for the desires sparked by the handsome, perceptive Lord Payen de Montfer.
Respected advisor to King Louis, Payen is ordered to infiltrate the queen’s private retinue and determine where Queen Eleanor’s loyalties lie, protecting the fragile peace between the crusading army and the Roman Empire. Distrustful of beautiful women, Payen is appalled at his own attraction to Catherine, the loveliest yet most secretive of the queen’s female guards.
As the caravan winds through the dangerous mountains and steep valleys, skirmishing with Turks and traitorous Greeks, Catherine and Payen fight their growing attraction. Knowing Payen sees too much, Catherine struggles to keep her secrets hidden. If the two give in to their passion, Payen’s honor is at stake, while Catherine could lose her very soul.
Traci E. Hall writes medieval/paranormal romances with a hint of mystery. She lives in south Florida with her husband, kids, and pets.
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I paced the warped floor of our windowless room, waiting for Ragenard’s return. Uneasiness shadowed my heart, and I blamed the jousts he loved almost more than he loved me. Married a year, our passion burned while my conscience roared like a caged beast.
“Please,” I’d say in my sweetest voice, “let us go home and fall upon our family’s mercy. Surely they will understand young love.”
“One more joust, Catherine,” he always answered. “For a purse large enough to command forgiveness.”
Twelve paces by twelve paces, our rented room housed a lumpy mattress I’d freshened with lavender, a dining table, and two benches. The walls smudged with candle smoke, the low ceiling where Ragenard hid his lance and shield. Would this be the day of the big win? Or would he come home wearing the crooked, mischievous smile that captured my heart, a meat pie or trinket hidden behind his back? I touched my fingers to my lips, remembering the taste of his kiss hours before.
Tingles tripped across the breadth of my shoulders, the short hairs alert at my nape. My breath hitched, as if my body prepared to bolt. These feelings came without instruction, sometimes a warning, other times the result of my sensitive emotions.
I shook my hands, drying my damp palms. My mouth dried too, as if I’d swallowed cloth. Staring at the poorly fashioned wooden door that barely kept out the wind, I pondered running to the field. Ragenard didn’t like me to watch him joust. He said I made him nervous.
“What of my nerves,” I’d asked, “waiting alone at home?”
He’d laughed as if a woman’s woes were the least of his worries.
Masculine, with his broad, strong build, Ragenard made me feel feminine, protected. Cherished.
Exhaling, I paced the room one last time before sitting on the bench. It was time to move on. We rarely stayed anyplace more than seven or eight days. Perhaps that explained my apprehension.
Fresh-cut flowers in a water jug, an apple, a small knife. If I had to run, it would take but a moment to pull my two gowns from the hook on the wall and toss them in the same bag I’d left home with. I had the shoes on my feet, my scrying dish for when I told the occasional fortune, a comb, a flagon of empty perfume. Two thin gold bangles and—I brought my hand to the diamond pendant at my throat—my wedding gift.
No matter how poor things got, Ragenard refused to give it up. The truest token of his love, he told me.
Hearing the clomp of heavy booted feet in the hall, I jumped. Stared at the door. My breath caught; my heart stopped beating. My gaze went to the small, sharp knife on the table. A knock sounded, but no cheerful voices called, “Bonsoir.”
I pounded my fist to my chest, forcing my heart to beat, my feet to move. Do not open the door. Do not open the door.
The knob twisted; my belly clenched. With courage pulled from the depths of fear, I yanked the door inward. Ragenard’s drinking and jousting friends faced me with dour expressions. They held Ragenard’s shield between them, my husband’s body dripping blood like a stuck pig on the wooden floor.
“Come in,” I said, trying to understand the tableau before me. The broken lance in Ragenard’s belly. His pasty, white face. Shining golden hair dulled now by mud.
They pushed the flowers to the floor, the jug breaking with a crash, the knife clattering, the blade snapping beneath their boots as they cleared the space.
“It was an accident,” one said as he set the head end of the shield on the table. “He was losing and fought recklessly.”
“The constable is on his way. We cannot stay,” said the other, positioning Ragenard’s feet, hardly able to meet my eyes. “I wish we had a purse, but there was nothing, Lady Catherine. You should go.”
Jousting, while entertaining for soldiers between wars, was illegal. I nodded, knowing they had to leave before ending up in the stocks or, worse, what passed for a cell to await a traveling judge. My nod was all they needed. I had no choice but to stay.
I watched them go, then went to Ragenard’s side. I prayed with all my might, prayed for a solution. Ragenard gasped, his brown eyes opening, bloodshot with pain. I brushed his hair back from his forehead, pressing a kiss to his cool lips. He was dying. I knew it. He knew it. I bit back tears and took his hand, bringing it to my breast, as if I could give my thundering heart to him.
“We should have gone home, mon chéri.” His lips twisted in a wry smile.
I blinked and swallowed around the lump in my throat. “Be serious, this once.”
“I must be forgiven my sins, Catherine.” A current of pain spasmed across his handsome features. “Buried. Promise me.” He paused to suck in a breath, his nostrils flaring as he pulled his hand from mine and gripped the splintered wood. “We must make things right.”
How? I wanted to ask yet silently cried as my irresponsible but beloved husband lay dying before me. He’d lived larger than life, and who was I to take away from his death? “I will find a way. I promise.”
“The necklace,” he whispered, his eyes closing. “It is—”
His entire body shuddered, and I felt his spirit move through me, like a wind touching my soul.
“Ragenard, please don’t go. Don’t leave me alone.”
Tears clouding my eyes, I understood my situation well enough. Bleak to dire. What to do? I had no coin to bury him, and he would not want a pauper’s grave. I could sell the necklace, but his last words had been a reminder that I’d promised to cherish the piece. Fear of the unknown shook my limbs, the future an uncut cloth.
I bathed him, trading my best gown for dressings and an inexpensive coffin. It came to me as I prayed over Ragenard’s body that he’d wanted to go home in the end. Would George see me? Even though I’d broken our betrothal to run away and marry his younger brother? I felt Ragenard’s spirit ruffle my hair, and I accepted this familiar gesture as a sign of approval.
It took both thin bangles to rent a cart, and I had nothing left for a driver. Two days traveling, blisters on my palms, and I arrived at Clemont Manor, my husband’s family home.
Not once did my deceased husband open his eyes or speak to me.
For Ragenard, I’d run away from home, broken an engagement, and lived as if tomorrow would never come.
Tomorrow had arrived.
“Catherine! Catherine, darling, wake up.”
Catherine sat straight, her mouth dry as her eyes flitted around the dark chamber, centering herself. Ragenard, gone over a year. She traveled with Queen Eleanor as one of her lady guards. A bed shared between four women as they went toward Jerusalem and salvation.
“Oui. Stop dreaming of Ragenard,” her friend and fellow guard ordered in soft tones, pulling the blanket up to her chin. “He always makes you sad.”
Lying down, fingers gripping the edge of the mattress, Catherine closed her eyes but fought the lure of sleep. There was no peace in it.