Lady Juliana Verault gladly left England—and its men—far behind in her quest to live as a Beguine. But the Christian community ceases to provide a safe haven when she’s called to travel to Palermo, Italy, where she’s entrusted with a letter from the pope that could radically change the church’s stance on women. Juliana holds the key to upending the power structure throughout Europe, but only if she can dodge her cousin, King Edward I of England, and his plans to marry her off as political leverage.
Edward sets Sir Robert Clarwyn, a knight errant and loyal hunter of criminals and traitors, on Juliana’s trail to retrieve her. Robert has never failed to bring home his target before … but then, he has never encountered a quarry like Lady Juliana, who can befuddle and bemuse him with just a smile.
If he can’t find a way to compel her to return to England, he’ll lose any chance of regaining his family lands and redeeming his heritage. Yet Juliana must complete her mission or risk endangering her gender’s future in the faith.
With danger and intrigue mounting, Robert and Juliana must rely on each other and be willing to risk everything … including their hearts.
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Northwest of Genoa, July 1294
A harsh rumble and a chorus of screams tore Lady Juliana Verault’s attention from directing her small party up the hilly riverbank. Only steps away, a bridge collapsed, raising a shower of mud and havoc. Moments ago she’d declined to follow the rest of the caravan across the clearly unstable structure.
She must save as many folk as she could.
“Gretle, Berthild, find the salve and bandages we packed.” As the shout left her mouth, Juliana plunged down the slope. She’d covered half the distance when a mounted knight raced past her.
By the time she reached the river’s edge, the man, still on horseback, had doffed his surcoat and mail shirt, plucked two women from the current, and tossed a rope around the large chunk of bridge stone that pinned the caravan’s screaming guide up to his neck in water.
Downriver in midstream, a small boy clung to the pointy tip of a rock. The water rushed around him, drowning his cries for help. Busy with rescuing others, the knight could neither see nor hear the boy.
Juliana could not allow an innocent to die. She shed her tunic and boots, tied the skirt of her shift around her hips, leaving her legs free, and waded into the icy stream. Without warning, the river bottom dropped. She sank, her mouth filling with muddy water. She couldn’t see. Desperate to breathe and get to the boy, she kicked against the current, praying she aimed for the surface. Air and light hit her at the same instant. But relief died in the moment it took her to push her hair from her eyes. Where was the boy?
A weak “help” jounced to her over the roaring water. Fighting the current, she turned her head toward the voice. The boy still clung to the pointy rock, thank heaven!
Numbing cold threatened to drag her under, but she refused to yield and focused on the boy’s face. Closer now, Juliana gave up her fight against the current.
Allowing the stream to carry her, she stroked toward the rock. Though her lungs and body ached, she swam for her life and the child’s.
She hit a submerged portion of the stone before she could reach him. The impact jarred her bones and flattened her along the hidden rock face. The boulder was larger beneath the river’s surface than she expected. Water pushed along the length of her, pressing her down onto the slick rock. She lifted her arms but could not grasp the child.
“Grab on to me,” she urged. “I will take you back to land.”
The boy whimpered and shook his head. “Mama.”
“She waits for you on the bank. Come, I will take you to her.” Pray heaven I speak true, and the woman still lives.
The child let go and reached for Juliana. She stretched. A crest of water splashed over her and smacked the boy backward. He teetered. She lunged for him, catching his foot as he fell into the river. He flailed against the current. Pain wrenched her shoulder, but she managed to haul the boy up and wedge him between her body and the rock before her arm fell useless to her side. He clung, coughing from the water he had inhaled, shivering with cold.
“You are safe now, lad. I have you. You will soon be with your mother. Just hold tight.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Author of historical and erotic romances, Rue Allyn fell in love with happily ever after the day she heard her first story. She is deliriously married to her sweetheart of many years and loves to hear from readers about their favorite books and real-life adventures.