When the Templar knight Gaston learns that he has inherited his father’s estate in France, he accepts one last quest for the order and agrees to deliver a package to Paris on his way home. A practical man, Gaston knows he has need of a wife and an heir, so when a lovely widowed noblewoman on pilgrimage snares his gaze, he believes he can see matters solved to their mutual convenience.
But Ysmaine is more than a pilgrim enduring bad luck. She has buried two husbands in rapid succession, both of whom died on her nuptial night, and believes herself cursed. Accepting this gruff knight seems doomed to result in his demise, but Gaston is dismissive of her warnings, and Ysmaine finds herself quickly wed again—this time to a man who is not only vital, but determined to survive.
Neither of them realize that Gaston’s errand is one of peril, for the package contains the treasure of the Templars—and some soul, either in their party or pursuing it, is intent upon claiming the prize at any cost. In a company of strangers with secrets, do they dare to trust each other and the love that dawns between them?
Note: The digital editions of the Champions of St. Euphemia books are only available at Amazon through December 2017 as they are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited.
The Crusader’s Bride is also available in audio, narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds.
Listen to a sample on my Audio page.
An excerpt from The Crusader’s Bride:
Jerusalem—May 15, 1187
Gaston de Châmont-sur-Maine read the missive from his brother’s wife again, unable to believe that he had understood the words correctly the first time. That Raymond should have died so suddenly and at such a young age was incomprehensible to Gaston.
That his older brother was not laughing as he rode to hunt was beyond belief.
But Marie’s meaning could not be doubted. It was there, before his own eyes. Raymond was dead, and he, Gaston, was now Baron de Châmont-sur-Maine. He touched the red wax seal, embedded with the mark of his family’s house, impressed with the signet ring that he had only to ride home to claim.
Châmont-sur-Maine was his.
He would have preferred that Raymond yet lived. His older brother had taken the responsibility of Châmont-sur-Maine with ease and grace, with a charm that Gaston did not share. Gaston was a simple man, a fighting man, a man accustomed to a simple life. He looked around the stables of the Knights Templar, situated in the Temple in the Holy City itself. He leaned against the wall of the stall assigned to his own destrier, Bon Chance, even as that steed nuzzled in the hay. His squires had been dispatched to take a meal in the kitchens, and he had come to this place to read his unexpected letter.
He ached that he would never hear Raymond’s bold laughter again.
As always, the extensive stables of the Templars were bustling with activity. Knights returned from errands and from duty, their horses slick with perspiration. Others were preparing to ride out, their steeds stamping with impatience to run. Some great destriers were being brushed down while others were saddled up. The floor was thick with squires, hastening to do the bidding of their knights, and the air was filled with jokes and commands. He could smell the hay in the stables and hear the clang of anvil on steel from the smithy as repairs were made to armor and armament. Bon Chance nibbled Gaston’s hair playfully from behind and he rubbed the beast’s nose with affection.
Gaston had pledged to the Templars twenty years before and had never expected to leave the order. Raymond was only two years older than him. He was hale and vigorous.
But Raymond had only daughters. His will decreed that Châmont-sur-Maine pass to Gaston instead of his own children.
It was sensible, more sensible than Gaston would have expected from his older brother, but he could not deny the practicality of the choice.
All the same, Gaston was accustomed to war and battle, to the company of men and the good care of horses. He knew little of running an estate, although he had witnessed his fair share of politics and intrigue. He fingered the letter again, astounded at the opportunity, knowing he could not deny it, yet strangely uncertain of what lay ahead.
He would need a wife.
He would need to father children to ensure Châmont-sur-Maine’s future.
He would be a baron. He would ride to hunt at whim, and feast in his own hall upon fine fare, and sleep in the same bed each and every night for the rest of his life. It was impossible to associate his brother’s life with himself and Gaston doubted he would accustom himself readily to the change.
There was no choice, though.
He tucked the missive into his tabard, eying the activity that surrounded him. Responsibility could not be denied, and Raymond’s clear thinking could not be undermined. Gaston would return to France and his legacy.
He would find a bride with all haste and embark upon the task of making sons. He had seen six and thirty summers, and Raymond’s death made him taste his own mortality. There was not a moment to waste in securing the future.
Although he would choose the moment he shared these tidings with the Grand Master of the Temple with care. Gerard de Ridfort was passionate and unpredictable, and truly Gaston could not regret that he would no longer have to follow that man’s command. Gaston instinctively distrusted those who followed their impulse and were impetuous as Gerard tended to be. The astonishing losses of Templar knights at Cresson this same month showed the merit of that man’s leadership, and Gaston did not imagine for a moment that Saladin meant to leave matters as they stood.
Gaston straightened with purpose. If he meant to return alive to Châmont-sur-Maine and ensure the future of his family holding—as was now his responsibility above all others—he had best tell the Grand Master the news as soon as possible.
A Templar could not disobey an order from the Grand Master. Gaston had to ensure that Gerard had as little time as possible to grant him one.
Then he would find a wife, with all haste. Christian women on pilgrimage oft prayed at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It seemed reasonable to Gaston to begin his search there. His expectations were minimal. She would have to be of noble blood, unwed, and both young and vigorous enough to bear him multiple sons. It would not be all bad if he found her attractive, for that would make rendering the marital debt more pleasant.
Beyond that, Gaston expected little of a wife. He hoped to find a practical woman, for he knew naught of courtship or even of conversing with women. He imagined that his inheritance would offer sufficient inducement to the kind of woman he sought.
Gaston de Châmont-sur-Maine left the stables with a whistle upon his lips, certain that all could be arranged sensibly and quickly.
This optimism was only possible because Gaston knew so little of women in general, and of Ysmaine de Valeroy in particular.
That situation would not last.
Excerpt from The Crusader’s Bride ©2014 Deborah A. Cooke