Beleaguered by Jenna Jaxon
When death holds sway in the world, can even the greatest love survive?
Finally in France, Alyse and Thomas return to their roles as courtiers to Princess Joanna. Their passion for one another continues to smolder hot and deep—until one fateful encounter changes everything.
During a formal banquet, Alyse must share an intimate dance with Geoffrey, her first love. His searing touch proves Alyse’s love and desire for him is as strong as when they first met. Tormented by this revelation, Alyse is bitterly torn between the love of her life and her love for her husband.
Into this agonizing situation, the disaster of the Black Death rears its head, decimating the princess’s retinue and threatening all their lives. Alyse, Thomas and Geoffrey must try to save the princess from the ravening disease but at a dire cost to themselves. With her world plunged into chaos, Alyse struggles with her feelings for both of the men she loves. But which love will survive?
Thomas rolled over in bed, his eyes fluttering open. He gazed at her, then a frown rent his face. “Why are you dressed so early, my love? ’Tis barely light. I thought sure we had some hours left to ourselves?” He held out his hand to her, and she smiled as she moved to him.
“I am sorry, my love, but the princess bade us all come to her chapel early this morn for special prayers of thanksgiving that the pestilence has seen fit to pass us by. Were it otherwise, I would certainly still be in your bed.” Alyse kissed the hand that entwined hers. “There is nothing short of a royal command would keep me from you.” She leaned over to give him a loving kiss. “When do you meet Geoffrey?”
“He will come fetch me before breakfast so that we may see to some business in the village before the heat of the day sets in.” Thomas stretched and lay back on the pillows. “’Till then I shall lie abed, remembering the sweetness of our night past.”
“You are lazy today, my lord.”
“You have worn me out these last few nights, my lady.”
Alyse looked askance at him and moved back to stand before her husband, hands on hips. “A complaint, Lord Braeton?”
He grinned, a wicked glint in his eyes. “A boast on your behalf, Lady Braeton.”
“Mayhap then tonight we should simply sleep the night away in sweet repose,” she said, with feigned innocence. “I would not have you fatigued and neglect your duties.”
Thomas chuckled and pulled her down to him. “Not while I have breath in my body, sweet Alyse.” He pressed another, more ardent kiss to her mouth.
Loath to leave when he heated her passion thus, Alyse sighed and broke the kiss, moving determinedly toward the door. At the moment, her duty lay with the princess, not her husband. “I will return to you as soon as possible, my love,” she said, blowing him another kiss ere she closed the door.
Determined to concentrate on the task at hand and not her longing to return to Thomas, Alyse made her way to Princess Joanna’s private chapel. She opened the door, hoping the service had not yet begun. As she stepped inside, the complete silence of the place gave her pause. Had she mistaken the time the princess had appointed? There was certainly no one in evidence here, not even the priest who had come with them from England as the princess’s spiritual advisor. Frowning, Alyse left the chapel and walked swiftly toward Joanna’s apartments.
The door to the princess’s chamber was slightly ajar, an unusual sight, and Alyse could hear an odd sound, like a low whimpering, emerging from it. Alyse pushed the door open with trepidation, entered and stopped, transfixed by the tableau before her.
Princess Joanna sat in her accustomed seat in the middle of the room, her eyes wide and staring. Lady Anne stood to her right, wringing her hands, her face contorted in fear—the same look Alyse had seen the day they left Bordeaux. But most terrifying, Lady Mary sat at the princess’s feet, her head in Joanna’s lap, a low moan issuing from her open mouth.
Shocked by this unheard of breach of protocol, Alyse stood, confounded for some moments, before the import of the women’s grief sank in. She swept forward demanding, “Highness, what has happened?”
No one moved. Alyse glanced from Anne’s staring eyes to Princess Joanna’s tear-stained cheeks, her gaze finally coming to rest on Mary’s contorted face.
What is wrong with this goose now? She caterwauls as if…
An icy hand clutched her heart.
No. It cannot be so.
Her mind reeled. She bent and grabbed Mary’s arms then jerked her up almost off the floor. Peering directly in her face, she searched her eyes for the horrible truth she could not bear to hear.
“Geoffrey?” The only word she could summon from a throat that had suddenly gone dry as dust.
Jenna Jaxon is a multi-published author of historical and contemporary romance. She has been reading and writing historical romance since she was a teenager. A romantic herself, she has always loved a dark side to the genre, a twist, suspense, a surprise. She tries to incorporate all of these elements into her own stories. She lives in Virginia with her family and a small menagerie of pets. When not reading or writing, she indulges her passion for the theatre, working with local theatres as a director. She often feels she is directing her characters on their own private stage.
Jenna is a PAN member of Romance Writers of America as well as a member of Chesapeake Romance Writers. Her debut novel, Only Scandal Will Do, is the first in her House of Pleasure series, set in Georgian London. Her medieval novel, Time Enough to Love, is a Romeo & Juliet-esque tale, set at the time of the Black Death.
She has equated her writing to an addiction to chocolate because once she starts she just can’t stop.
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