Badeaux Knights is a medieval romance set in the new American South. Sonya escapes at last from her abusive boyfriend and seeks safety in the Badeaux home with brothers Nick and Kale, modern-day Renaissance re-enactors. Ancient chivalry, irresistible passions, and lurking dangers draw the characters into a double love triangle from which not all may emerge alive and all will be irrevocably changed.
The early Mississippi morning matched Sonja’s mood: dark, gray, and temperamental—especially for February.
She took a much-needed deep breath as her late-model soft white Jetta rolled to a stop next to the other two vehicles in the gravel driveway. Putting it in park, her eyes skimmed the two- story house. It felt like home, as always, even if she had never lived there.
The ancient farmhouse, hand-built sometime in the late 1800’s, with its broad front porch added in the early part of the 20th century in true Victorian style, still boasted the original decorative molding. For five generations the Badeaux family lived here, worked here, played here, loved here, and died here. Every Badeaux treated the old homestead like a member of the family, taking care of it and treasuring it until the day it passed on to their children or grandchildren.
Too bad the only legacy my family left was heartache.
For over a century, the soft chocolate brown exterior and royal blue hurricane shutters had remained the same. Two rockers sat empty on the front porch, a new coat of stain every now and again keeping them youthful beyond their years. The barn, quietly aging as it sat off in the back, only needed a can of traditional red paint to give it new life.
A new life is exactly what I need.
The perfectly manicured front yard displayed shrubs and bushes all in matching shapes and sizes. When spring arrived, they would be full of azalea blossoms of fuchsia, soft pink, purple, and white. The old trees grew wherever they wanted, their arms reaching to the sky and trimmed only enough to keep their leafy fingers inches from touching the roof. The warmth and security of the house called to her.
Reliability and love unlike anything else in my life.
Sonja wished she could have grown up here, in this family, or somewhere just like it. At twenty-three, she remained single with no children. Instead of a family, she had chosen a good job and a good education. Her three sisters thought she had gone off the deep end when she left Memphis to go to school in Mississippi. They assumed she would get married and have babies like they did, especially when her mother died two weeks after her high school graduation. Instead, she worked her way through college, concentrating on her studies to distract her from her hardships.
A harsh sigh escaped as she pulled her eyes from the house to look in the rearview mirror.
Now I can add “easily distracted” to my list of faults, right along with “temperamental”. As long as “erratic” and “overly emotional” doesn’t hit that list, I might survive this.
Though nothing else filled her mind since midnight—at least not to any extent—she still couldn’t figure out what to say. The clock moved to six. Although she didn’t remember the time passing, she doubted it was wrong. She didn’t have to worry about arriving too early. Just too late. Way too late.
As she straightened her sunglasses, it crossed her mind to apply makeup. Discarding the thought as quickly as it appeared, she ran her hand through her windblown hair, grabbed her bag, and stepped out into the cool morning air.
A smile briefly crossed her face as she made her way through the wet grass and ankle deep fog. Her life was about to change for good or bad. Opening the screen door, she knocked. It really wasn’t necessary. needing to wait for an answer she pushed open the unlocked front door, stepping in and patting the reliable wood when the hinges didn’t squeak. As Sonja let her bag drop to the hardwood floor, she scanned the room spread out before her.
The L-shaped mahogany staircase crested the length of the room, the steps worn by time, yet as sturdy as the day they were built. To the right, at the foot of the staircase, was the dining area. The centerpiece of the room was a beautiful mahogany drop-leaf table surrounded by four chairs. With leaves added in and the ends folded out, the table became a large oval, comfortably seating twelve—or more for a close family like the Badeaux’s. She could picture the big family dinners eaten at that table. How easy it was to imagine the expansive table covered in favorite family foods, woven placemats, cloth napkins, real silverware, and delicate bone china.
Along the far right wall stood the grandfather clock that kept time as precisely as any digital timepiece. Closer to her was the sitting area, which hadn’t changed in probably fifty years or more. The room was intentionally decorated to make guests feel welcome. The entire house gave her that feeling. To her left was the living room. The new leather couch seemed out of place in the midst of the antique furniture that adorned the house so magnificently.
She glimpsed movement at the corner of her eye and turned her head to look at the archway on the other side of the dining area. It was Kaleb—“Kale.” She caught her breath. He was a marvelous sight, six feet tall, trim and muscular in a long-sleeved T-shirt and Dockers. His broad shoulders filled the archway. His hair, still the same shiny brown mess, was longer than she remembered. His eyes, his best feature, because they spoke to her and emotions poured forth from them, if anyone was perceptive enough to notice. At the moment, they expressed adoration and confusion.
She couldn’t meet his smile with one of her own.
Before Kale had a chance to say anything, a noise from the top of the staircase pulled Sonja’s attention from his questioning hazel eyes. Nicolas bounded down the stairs to his brother’s left. Almost a mirror image of his younger sibling, Nick was an inch taller and more muscular—a fact made apparent by the still unbuttoned black dress shirt that was obvious to her even halfway across the house. The same rich brown hair glinted with a mutiny of colors in a cleaner, more styled cut than his brother’s. The eyes that met hers were also the same as the pair into which she had been staring, except they were more intense and less whimsical, as the emotions within them were being restrained.
“What’re you doin’ here this early? Actually, what’re you doin’ here at all?” Nick grinned as he leaned against the banister.
She was more breathtaking to Nick each time he saw her—not that he ever told anyone she affected him that way. Her rich brown leather jacket partially covering the deep neckline of her red sweater that topped the nicest pair of blue jeans he’d seen since the last time his eyes fell on her. Her shoulder-length, wavy black hair was messier than usual and hung over part of her face. Sunglasses hid eyes deeper and darker than a cup of his brother’s strongest coffee. Her rigid stance was unusual. Normally she was a relaxed person. Something was wrong with his Sonja.
Not knowing what else to do or say, not wanting them to start throwing questions she wasn’t ready to answer, Sonja simply pushed her sunglasses up on her head, pulling her hair away from her face. She couldn’t meet the eyes of the brothers frozen in silence.
When they saw what she hid behind her hair and glasses, their smiles quickly faded. The entire left side of her face was swollen black and blue.
Kale was the first one to speak. “He’s a dead man.”
Nick’s eyes changed. The blood he wanted to spill burning within them. His jaw tightened, too angry to speak. Each step across the open room echoed like the executioner stalking to the gallows.
Kale’s forearms strained, his veins bulging with the abundant adrenaline coursing through them.
“Nicolas! Kaleb!” Her voice came out stronger than she expected, her heart pounding with each footstep. “Don’t!”
“Not this time, Sonja.” Nick found his voice, drowning out every other noise in the house.
“Don’t even try.” Kale added.
“He’s already in the hospital,” she said, hoping reason would prevail.
“We can make it worse.” Nick shot back, grabbing his coat with one hand, the other already on the door.
Sonja put a hand on Nick’s chest, trying to wedge her body between him and the door, knowing she didn’t have the strength to stop him on her best day.
“What are you gonna do? Break bones that are already broken?” If she could control Nick, Kale would be easy.
“For a start, yeah!” Nick couldn’t open the door unless he hit her with it, which was absolutely out of the question.
“He has twenty-something stitches in his head and three broken ribs.”
“I knew you would make him pay someday,” Kale said, his lips quirked into a smile.
“We’re gonna make sure he can’t do it again,” Nick said, still gripping the doorknob tensely.
Kale put his hands on her waist. Sonja wrapped both hands around Nick’s arm as Kale lifted her off the floor. Her voice grew stronger with each word, more of her untapped temperamental power surfacing.
“I came here to see about your extra room, not for you to go off half-cocked for vengeance.”
When she was sure Kale had a good hold on her waist, she wrapped her legs around him, keeping her hands locked around Nick’s arm. Neither would get away easily unless they wanted to pull her in half.
Staring at Sonja’s hands that securely held his arm, Nick’s anger urged him to pull away while his heart said ‘don’t move’. “I don’t do anything half-cocked, darlin’.”
“You’ll end up in jail.” Sonja held both of them as tight as her tired muscles allowed.
“That’s what lawyers are for,” Nick said through clenched teeth, as his brother gave a good tug.
Sonja squeezed tighter. “What happens if you’re in jail when he gets out of the hospital and comes after me?”
“He can’t come after you if he’s dead,” Nick stated without a moment of hesitation.
Sonja spoke softly, her voice pleading. She couldn’t yell. She couldn’t demand any more. Her face hurt. Her heart hurt. She was tired of fighting. “Then you’d be there even longer and your life would be ruined.”
Nick’s eyes shifted from her hand up the leather coat to her face. She was frightened. Not of him. For him. She didn’t flinch, didn’t look away as the intensity of his eyes burned into hers. Normally she would have done one of two things. Either given in, hoping one of them would come to their senses before they got to the hospital, or she would have cried. He could see the tears, but for now, they refused to fall. The pulse-pounding through her fingers kept time with his. Sometime over the past few months, she had discovered anger. Still, the shy woman he always knew, but now with a fire that refused to be contained.
“I won’t kill him,” Nick said, “if you promise me you won’t go back to him.”
“Deal.” It was a bargain she quickly made, having already decided on her own that she wouldn’t go back. If it made Nick feel better and calmed him down, to think he had swayed her decision, then she wouldn’t argue.
No one moved. She considered her position, concerned his body was still too tight. “Nick, let go of the door.”
Nick let his hand slip off the doorknob, catching her upper half in a tight hug. He sandwiched her in between himself and Kale. Understanding she needed the love. Happy she lived in spite of Jerry’s savagery. She’d survived his cheating on her. She’d survived him hitting her, twice that Nick knew of. She’d survived at least so far.
Although being in a compressed position, Sonja tilted her face to look at Kale. “Do you agree not to kill him too?” she asked.
“As long as you keep holding me like this,” Kale said, a wicked grin spreading over his face, “I’ll agree to anything.”
Nick relaxed as much as he could. He stepped back and released her, expecting his brother to do the same. Nick smacked his brother’s shoulder when Kale didn’t follow suit. “Put her down.”
“But I’m enjoyin’ this.” Kale smiled, his eyes full of ornery thoughts.
She almost smiled as a giggle escaped. “Put me down, ya big lug.”
Kale gently put her feet back on the ground, Nick walked around them to sit on the couch, unable to hide the aggression in his voice as he spoke.
“If you won’t let us kill him, you can at least explain what happened.”
Sonja moved to the couch with Kale following. She sat in the middle with a brother on each side. Kale studied the ugly black and blue marks marring her face.
“He got in a good right hook.” She shrugged to imply the entire ordeal was no big deal. “I grabbed the closest thing to me, which happened to be a porcelain lamp and I hit him over the head. He fell to the floor and I kicked until he stopped movin’. Broke his head. Broke the lamp, too.” She sighed. “I liked that lamp.”
“Why did he hit you?” Nick didn’t mean to badger her. He had so much pent up anger he could only control it by chastising himself.
Stubbornly, she lifted her chin. A flash of anger crossed her face, the new fire in her Nick had just discovered. “It was just a fight. I got in his way.”
She was keeping too much from them. Still, Nick was afraid to open his mouth after her reaction to his last question. Kale interrupted the silence quickly enough.
“Well, I’m really proud that you fought back this time.”
“Thanks.” She rolled her eyes. “When do ya’ll need to leave for work?”
Kale glanced across the room to the elderly grandfather clock. “I should’ve left ten minutes ago when you walked through the door.”
“Go before the boss gets mad.” She almost smiled again.
“You know I’d hateto get fired.” He couldn’t say it with a straight face. Kale had opened his own landscaping company two and a half years before. He loved working with his hands and getting dirty. Sonja thought it added to his easy-going charm.
Kale stood, about to be late for the first time ever. The guys working for him were surely going to dish out grief.
“You, young lady, lock up when Nick leaves and don’t touch any lamps.” He kissed her forehead then grabbed his jacket on his way out the door.
Sonja watched until the door closed, then turned to find Nick staring at her. Relieved to see the fury in his eyes was mostly dissipated, she naturally reverted into her former shy self. She was happy to know that part of her still existed. “Young lady?” she huffed, “He’s only three months older than me.”
Nick put his hand on her chin, slowly moving her face to where he could look at the bruising. She tried to stop him, but she realized it was useless. Sooner or later, he would get a good look at the damage. His voice wasn’t as harsh but it wasn’t the friendly tone that she needed, “Did you put an ice pack on that?”
“I kept a bag of carrots pushed against my face until the police left.”
“Police were there too? You didn’t share that part of your little story. What else did you leave out?” They stubbornly eyed each other.
“Nothing of importance. Aren’t there computers somewhere waiting for you?” Nick chose a career as a computer technician to keep his mind busy. His brain worked a lot like hers…technical, methodical, and fast.
“Yeah there are. I guess I should get goin’. Of course, I could call in sick.” His voice had finally lightened.
“Not on my account you won’t.” Her strong voice appeared again. By the look on his face, he liked the new Sonja. That was a relief she would thank him for someday.
“You don’t need to be alone today.”
With a light sigh, she found her softness again. “I have boxes in the car, and more I can go back and get. At some point, I’m sure I’ll need sleep.”
“I don’t like it.”
“Your opinion is duly noted.” Although softer, her voice was still too heated.
“Watch the attitude, young lady. This is still my house.”
“Won’t forget that for as long as I live.” The smile on his face said it all. She was there and he couldn’t be happier. She couldn’t help but watch as he stood, then offered his hand to her. He pulled her up, kissing her bruised cheek as gently as possible.
“Do like Kale said and lock up.”
“Yes, Daddy.” She mimicked a spoiled daughter.
He shot back a stern look as he grabbed his jacket. “If you’re not careful, you’ll get grounded.”
“Go to work,” came out a little exasperated.
“You can’t kick me out of my own house.” Nick was still considering taking a sick day.
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” She headed out the door in front of him.
“Where do you think you’re goin’?” The firm, fatherly tone was back as he followed her.
“Getting boxes out of my car before I fall asleep. Aren’t you going to work?”
“I could stay and help.”
She planted her hand on her hip and sternly tilted her head. Considering her stance for a moment, Nick gave up. “Guess I’m going to work.”
He slowly pulled out of the drive, stopping for a second as he watched her pull a box out of her car. Sonja was home.
For three years, Kale and Nick tried to convince her that Jerry was a waste of her time. She deserved better. Nick smiled slightly as he drove. Now they had her away from him. The only question was how long could they keep her away? He and Kale each loved her in their own way. It had been so since they first met her. Together, they treated her as a sister only because they didn’t know how else to act with her.
The now-hospitalized Jerry cheated on her constantly. One night at a club, he and Kale discovered Jerry being overly friendly with a blonde. They cornered Jerry that night and threatened him with dismemberment, but it didn’t do much good. Rumors ran rampant that Jerry continued his cheating habits with one floozy after another while Sonja continued to blindly trust him. Without rock-solid proof, they couldn’t tell her. She would be hurt and she wouldn’t leave him based only on their suspicions.
A year earlier Jerry hit Sonja in a drunken rage and she appeared at their door. That time, she stayed with the brothers for a week, spending her time talking both of them out of going and giving him a taste of his own medicine. Even with the numerous threats on her life, including one indicating the house would mysteriously burn down, Jerry somehow convinced her to return to him. This time if she returned he would have to let her go, not matter what it did to his heart. This time he wouldn’t be able to let her come home.
As she finished unloading the car, exhaustion crept through Sonja’s veins. Though she yearned to lie down and sleep, necessity drove her to get in the car and go back to the apartment. She slid the key into the lock with a deep breath. The sun shone through the sliding glass door that opened out onto the patio.
Everything in the place reminded her of the time she spent with Jerry. The pictures of them together on the mantel. His and Hers bath towels hanging on the rod. The broken bloody lamp still on the floor. Stepping around it, she hustled to finish packing.
She met Jerry while still in college. Somehow, he made her feel special, unlike anyone before. He was handsome, smooth and wanted to take care of her. Within six months of meeting, he told her they would get married. She could quit college and take care of their children. College was important to her, so she forced herself to tell him no and to keep saying it every time since.
Before leaving the apartment, she double-checked that everything was in boxes by the door. When she brought the brothers with her later it would be a quick grab and go. With the lights out, she slammed the door behind her, smiling—as much as her bruises would let her—all the way home.
Relieved to be back at the Badeaux home, she unpacked what she could from the car before the lack of sleep took its final toll. The feeling of safety caused the slight sleep depravation to be even worse.
Understanding how Goldilocks felt, she tried to find somewhere to sleep. First, she chose the new couch in the living room. It was close enough to the door that she could hear when someone came home. She grabbed her jacket to cover up with, too tired to find a blanket and waste time searching though every closet. It didn’t take long to decide that it was not the best choice. She kept sticking to the leather. Abandoning the modern couch, she moved over to the antiquity in the corner. This second choice looked to be older than the house.
In less than two minutes, she got up from the cloth-covered pile of rocks she mistook for a sofa. Yawning, she shuffled towards the kitchen. The old-world charm of the room wasn’t lost when the brothers replaced the old appliances with new stainless steel. They also added the butchers’ block in the center of the room for a versatile island. The laundry room had a door from the kitchen, as did a half bath that was stuffed behind the staircase.
Passing the island, she made her way to the sink and filled a glass with fresh water. Enjoying the cool liquid, she marveled at the fields outside the picture window. The simplicity of the view and the purity of well water were never lost on her. A simple life. Another yawn escaped as she set the glass on the counter before padding her way back through the dining room. She held the banister as she went, her feet dragging up the solid mahogany steps leading to the four rooms on the second floor.
The first door up the stairs opened to Kale’s room. Pushing open the door, she braced for the worst. The room resembled a pigsty, as always. The four sets of floor length windows made the room appear larger even with the already immense space. The deep rust-colored blanket hung mostly off the king size bed that looked dwarfed in the space against the interior wall. The bathroom on the other side of the bed was something else the boys added when they came home. She carefully closed the door and moved on, afraid of what might be lurking in the mess. Like the stray python he lost shortly after moving in.
Glancing down the length of the T-shaped hallway she could see straight to her bathroom, the only full bath until the brothers renovated the house. The tile was still original, white with a blue tile offset every few feet. It was a relief not to have to share the bathroom with the brothers–unless they wanted a bath. And if she wanted a shower she would simply have to use one of theirs. On the left of the bathroom was her unfurnished room slowly filling with boxes. On the right, the library that now more resembled a computer office than a room of solace where someone would sit quietly.
On the way to the end of the main hall, she looked over pictures of the brothers’ family. Photographs lined every inch from where the stairs started to both ends of the hallway. She picked the boys out of pictures at all different ages. The only pictures she could remember of her own childhood had been taken at school.
Nick’s room was the opposite of Kale’s in layout and in cleanliness. It was neat as always. Nick was probably the only guy she knew that kept his room immaculate. She was pretty sure he even dusted. His bed sat against the outside wall somewhat covering two of the large windows instead of blocking the path to his bathroom. The bathrooms were identical, small, just enough for a shower, toilet, and basin.
Remembering how nice Nick’s bed felt the last time she came to this house for refuge she pulled back the deep gray blanket and sheet. Tomorrow she would go buy a new bed, but for now his was the most familiar. She looked at Nick’s collection of swords knowing she could grab one if anything happened.
Feeling secure for the first time in a year she snuggled down in his covers, drifting off to sleep within a few minutes.
Nick arrived home to find her car in the driveway, happy it was real—not a dream or hallucination. On the other hand, the bruise on her face was something he wished was just imaginary. Quickly ascending the porch, he almost hit his head on the door when it didn’t open, until he remembered that they both told her to lock it. Fishing through his keys, he went through six before finding the right one. His watch confirmed the grandfather clock was still running on time, ten after four. He slowed his pace as he reached the stairs, not wanting to wake her up. Kale’s room was too messy for human inhabitants, so he continued down the hall to his own room.
There she lay curled up in his bed. Her hair flowing over his pillow. Her fingers twined around the edge of his blanket. His brain creating possibilities of what he could do to Jerry for every iota of pain he ever caused her. Time slipped away as he watched her sleep, until he realized in amazement he lost seventeen minutes just staring at her. He shook his head, silently moving through the hall to her new room.
It had always been her room, just waiting on her to claim it. Boxes lining one wall delighted him. The last time she showed up, she only had one bag. He found her keys sitting on a stack of boxes and dropped them in his pocket. He kept busy with chores until it was almost time for his brother to arrive. Then he went outside to the driveway and waited.
Jumping off the trunk of his Mustang, Nick was talking before his brother could get out of his Durango. “Let’s go make sure she got everything from that apartment.”
“Where is she?” Kale said. “I want to take a shower before we take off.”
“Asleep in my bed. We’re gonna leave her there. God knows she needs the rest.”
“When we are done getting her things from the apartment are we going to visit the hospital?” Kale questioned as his brother climbed in the passenger side. Giving up on getting a shower, he put the Dodge in reverse.
After a few seconds of silence, Nick shifted in his seat trying to keep his face from his brother.
“Not sure.” Nick didn’t have much to say, but his mind was going nonstop. Going to jail for killing Jerry wouldn’t do anyone any good. Least of all Sonja. Spending his life in jail wouldn’t be good either, no matter how satisfying putting the bastard in the ground would be.
“I think we should get it over with.” Kale knew the anger would eat at Nick until he exploded if they didn’t.
It didn’t take long for the brothers to clean out the apartment of anything and everything that was hers, or they thought could be hers. Most of it was already in boxes. They loaded up Kale’s SUV then headed to the hospital.
Kale smiled nicely at the receptionist in the lobby, flirting a little while Nick stood by the elevators trying to act inconspicuous and control his temper. Kale thanked the receptionist for the room number and joined his brother as the elevator arrived. Up three floors Kale kept at least a little bit of the smile on his face as they passed nurses and doctors. The last thing they needed was someone stopping Nick, not just yet.
Suzette Vaughn discovered her love of writing novels after her pushy sister made her read a romance novel. The book was awful, and with a lot of extra time on her hands, Suzette decided she could do better. Soon after, she drafted Badeaux Knights. Encouraged by that same pushy sister, Suzette entered her manuscript into a writing contest and received valuable feedback. She decided to take this whole writing thing seriously and delved back into the book. With Badeaux Knights complete, Suzette quickly began working on her second novel, Mortals, Gods, and a Muse. Suzette resides in Winston-Salem with her husband, son, and a cat who insists on walking across the tops of doors.