In a land fraught with religious strife, they must break the barriers between status and faith to forge a fresh future in a new world…
After her Huguenot father is arrested, aristocrat Suzanne Richelieu escapes Versailles. Handsome German peasant, Johan Rousch, risks his life to bring her to the safety of his family’s farm in the Palatinate duchy, but when Suzanne’s brother and the French army arrive with a warning that they plan to burn the area, she and Johan are forced to flee. With no money or options, both become indentured servants in exchange for safe passage to Philadelphia.
Suzanne falls gravely ill aboard ship and marries Johan, only to survive with no memory of the wedding—a reality made worse when Johan spots the “priest” who married them working as a surveyor and later in Quaker cleric garb. Are their wedding vows valid?
When Suzanne's former fiancé arrives in port, planning to abduct her, Johan must save her again—but can he do so before Suzanne is lost to him forever?
Eastern France, 1742
Suzanne loosened the reins, and the sure-footed mare cantered out from under the thick tree boughs. Inhaling the piney freshness, she shadowed her brother into the clearing as they approached the ancient stone cottage.
They’d mastered the boundary of Grand-mère’s estate, almost to the duchies of Germany.
Success. Laughter bubbled out of her as she tipped her head back to relish the unbound sunlight.
Guillame turned around and bestowed a satisfied smile. He had demanded they ride to the outermost region as practice.
In case we’re ever found out. Her good humor fled. May we never need to run because of Father’s beliefs.
Guillame reined in his stallion, but Fury shook his black head and lifted his white-tipped tail, demanding to be in charge.
Her own sweet mare obeyed instantly. Odd that the horses should be so opposite of their masters’ temperaments.
Instead of the silver-haired woodsman’s wife, a thin youth, holding an axe, emerged from the cottage. Eyes wide, mouth open, he turned and ran back inside before returning with another young man, this one more sturdy. His dark golden hair glistened as he stepped into the pool of light in the clearing.
Even from this distance, Suzanne could discern his fine, even features, wanting to get closer to see him better as he offered a beatific smile to her and Guillame. When they returned to Versailles she would sketch, then paint, his compelling image.
The door behind the young men opened again, and the woman joined them, wrapping an arm around each as though in protection. Were the youths Huguenots? Did the woman believe Suzanne and her brother were there to assist them out of France? Non, we rehearse in case we ourselves are ever betrayed.
“Bonjour!” Louisa raised a frail hand to her eyes.
“Bonjour, Madame Louisa. C’est moi—Guillame.”
The elderly lady released the youths. The shorter one returned to the cottage.
Suzanne dismounted and led the horse to the water trough, mindful of Guy’s admonition always to let him do the talking and to stay clear. Unable to hear his words, she went about watering her mare.
“Johan!” the woman’s warning caused her to look up as the young man headed toward her.
Suzanne paused, chewing her lower lip. She must be very careful. Wasn’t that what Guillame and Papa cautioned? Say nothing.
His face was even more perfect up close, and young. He couldn’t be much older than she but was tall with broad shoulders. When she painted the cleft in his chin, she would shadow it carefully, for his was not too deep. But his eyes—she’d never be able to capture the light blue that changed to green like the ocean as he examined her face in return.
He touched her hair, lifting tendrils that had fallen loose from the queue. Heart beating faster, she stopped breathing as warm fingers grazed her temple. Smiling, he leaned in, his full lips so close she could kiss him if she dared such a thing. She pulled back as he held something between his fingers and then, cupping debris from her hair in his palm, outstretched it for her to examine. A husky laugh accompanied his word. “Insekt.” His pronunciation startled her.
But that wasn’t what made her cheeks burn. Non! She had been gaping at his appearance while he had been examining her for bugs and dirt as though she were a common farm animal. She, the Marquise’s granddaughter. Even at this young age, admired at Versailles as a great “catch.”
Johan bent and released his find back to the earth, then brushed his hands together, grinning—as though he’d just saved the world. Apparently satisfied, the young man walked away from her, responding to Louisa’s second call.
Suzanne, the granddaughter of the family who owned these estates, abandoned now by this Johan, no gentleman at all; whose only greeting was a single German word.
Gossamer threads, woven by Etienne’s words and affixed to Suzanne’s heart, were all that kept her feet anchored to the parquetry floor. She tilted her head back, her neck stiff from sitting so still for the maids’ ministrations. Tonight, certainement, in the ballroom of Louis XV, her future would be revealed.
Yet even as she imagined Etienne’s proposal of marriage, her constant shadow-companion, dread, drew with inexorable strokes, a portrait of her family being carried off to prison. Such would happen to them if their secret Huguenot beliefs were discovered. Sweeping that image aside, Suzanne shook the hundreds of dark ringlets that tumbled from her upswept hair.
“Come to the mirror, Suzanne.” Cracking open an aged leather jewelry case, her mother lifted Grand-mère’s necklace before winding it around Suzanne’s neck.
She shivered as the rows of cold pearls settled against her skin.
Maman’s warm fingers fastened the heavy gold knot closure. “This necklace will be worn at your wedding.”
Soon, with Etienne, Suzanne prayed. After their nuptials, she should be safe. But what of her parents and brother? Dread crept up and clutched the necklace, clung there, dangled like the large topaz in the center.
Maman decanted a beautiful bottle of rose-scented perfume.
Heavy perfume couldn’t mask the unpleasant odor that recently clung to Maman with this maddening illness that would soon claim her.
Suzanne’s gaze settled on the portrait, finally completed after two years. The sea-blue orbs of the German peasant she’d met stared back at her.
Guillame had threatened to show the painting to Etienne.
Etienne LeFort. How many balls had he attended? Surely, she was the only young woman in all the apartments of Versailles never allowed.
Her mother adjusted the sheer ivory fichu tucked into the tight stomacher. Maman padded to the gilded white armoire and returned with buckled shoes with high curved heels.
“Merci.” Suzanne squeezed into the tight pumps. She’d rather go barefoot under the full skirt.
Maman grasped her arm and led her to the main salon.
The front door swung in and banged against the wall.
Suzanne jumped and covered her heart with her hand.
“Maman, I’m back!” Guillame’s boot heels clicked across the floor. “Sorry I’m late.”
Glaring at her brother, she sucked in a slow breath, catching a whiff of soap and leather polish. “You, of all people should know better than to come barging in here like that. Like the guard would do if ever…” she hissed.
His too-handsome features pulled into a mask of contrition, and he clicked his heels and bowed toward her, in apology. “Pardonnez-moi.” He crossed to kiss their mother’s cheeks. “I heard Rochambeau’s aide-de-camp arrived at the palace.” Two spots of red dotted his high cheekbones.
Maman gripped his forearms. “We have been friends with Rochambeau many years, but you must remember, he once trained for the priesthood.”
Lips tightening into a line, Guillame took their mother’s hand in his.
She gazed up at him in maternal affection. “If you hear anything, come to me immediately. Understand?”
Suzanne, after her heart settled, despaired that they had to refrain from displaying any nuances that might betray her parents’ religious beliefs. A word here, a word there—they all added up and could entangle them in a trap.
Guillame came to her side and took her hand in his, an apology still in his dark eyes. “Come on, Suzanne, I’ll accompany you to the ballroom, and then I’ll retrieve Jeanne.”
Forcing a light tone, she shoved her former dark thoughts aside. “You know she only flirts with you so outrageously because you’re so irresistible…and you’re my brother.”
Guillame’s jaw muscle twitched. He lifted the focal piece of her necklace in his palm. “Grand-mère’s.”
The oval jewel was magnificent, like this night would be. Finally, after all this time apart, she and Etienne would be together at court.
Maman paused in front of the porcelain waterfall wall clock. “What’s taking your papa so long?” Her silk brocade gown crinkled as she slowly moved to the divan in the main salon.
“The mirrors in the ballroom will reflect how much Etienne has changed,” Guillame whispered in Suzanne’s ear. “He’s become as big a fool as his brother.” He caught her hand before it struck him.
She glared at him. “The hall of mirrors will duplicate our love for all to see.”
In the daytime, the ballroom’s mirrors magnified light streaming from the wall of windows. The amplified sunlight illuminated the multitude of paintings in the vast room. But in the darkness, would candlelight do the same with their images, or had time changed their relationship forever?
“Wish Maman a good night, Suzanne, and then we’re off.”
She drew close, but her mother’s eyes were closed. “Already asleep.” She pressed a kiss to her forehead.
Guillame traversed the blue wool carpet to their mother and draped a light blanket across her. He tugged Suzanne toward the marble hallway floors and placed one finger over his lips as they exited the apartment.
Question 1: Have you lost a family member to cancer? Did you suspect the type of cancer that Suzanne's mother died from?
Answer 1: Suzanne's mother, the Marquise's daughter, has been ill with pancreatic cancer for some time before she finally dies. Mercifully, she dies quickly as the end draws near.
Question 2: Suzanne has Huguenot parents but she hadn't accepted their faith. And she was drawn to her grandmother's Roman Catholic beliefs as protection. Do you think she was attempting to
Answer 2: Indeed, she was. Suzanne has to come into a relationship with God on her own, which doesn't reach fruition until she's onboard the ship.
Question 3: She used her grandmother's rosary beads as a talisman rather than having formed a true relationship with Christ. Did you ever performed
Answer 3: I leave this to the reader to examine their own heart.
Question 4: Why do you think Suzanne compulsively recited her prayers?
Answer 4: Suzanne has a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and was using the rosary as a way to be soothed. But this later failed to be a balm because it was a mere act.
Question 5: Suzanne had to meet Jesus face to face to finally accept Him as Lord and Savior. Have you known anyone else who has had to come to faith in a similar traumatic fashion?
Answer 5: I believe readers will know quite a few people seeking God who waited until almost too late to accept Him as Lord.
Question 6: This story was inspired by my own genealogical research. Have you discovered anything fun about your own ancestors by doing genealogical studies?
Answer 6: I bet readers will have found many fun things!