Sampler: Promises to Keep by Patricia Sands

A stirring reminder that it is never too late to be joyfully surprised by love.

The painful memories from her life back in Toronto will never be distant enough, but Katherine Price finds peace under the autumn sky in the South of France…and a deepening, dizzying love with Philippe. Together, they savor the delicacies and splendor of life, toasting to a future filled with happiness and hope—a life far away from the heartache they both knew so well.

But during a trip to the medieval village of Entrevaux, a strange note turns into a dangerous car chase. Philippe reveals he has a troubling secret—and the couple’s new life together threatens to crumble before it can begin. Now that Katherine has everything she’s ever wanted, is she about to lose it all?

Promises to Keep is the heartfelt second addition to award-winning author Patricia Sands’s Love in Provence trilogy—and a stirring reminder that it’s never too late to be joyfully surprised by love, life, or even yourself.

Patricia Sands

Sampler: Promises to Keep

“Minou! If you aren’t busy, come up into the hills with me! You’re going to want to see this!” Philippe called, as he burst into the apartment at noon. “We haven’t explored a new village for a while and I promise you will love this one. But then you love them all, don’t you?”

Katherine was editing photos on her computer and looked up in surprise.

“Je suis pressé,” Philippe said as he rushed about. “I have to pick up a special order that I’ll tell you about in the car. And we’ll need warm coats. It will be cooler up there.”

“I’m ready!” she said, picking up her camera. Philippe fetched jackets for them from the closet.

He gave her a playful pat as they left the apartment. “No time to wait for the ascenseur. Allez zou! This will be our one week anniversary adventure!” They hurried down the stairs, and Kat laughed at the spontaneity. It was hard to believe only seven days had passed since he carried her over the threshold.

In the walled courtyard where he had parked, Philippe held the car door open for her. It was a courtesy that seemed to be second nature to him, and Kat appreciated it every time. Then he went to unlock the gate. On his way back to the car, he paused and plucked a folded paper from behind the wiper on the driver’s side. His jaw tightened and he quickly looked around the courtyard. He scrunched the paper and shoved it into the pocket of his jeans before sliding heavily into his seat. Kat had never seen him angry before.

“What was that?” she asked.

“Rien du tout. Nothing, nothing at all,” he answered abruptly.

Putting her hand on his arm, Katherine repeated her question. “I saw the look on your face. It looked like it was something, not nothing.”

Philippe exhaled loudly before he covered her hand with his and lifted it to his lips. “Sorry, Minou. It’s nothing to worry about, and I’m sorry I spoke so sharply.”

“But –”

He squeezed her hand, but he looked pained and his voice had an unfamiliar edge to it. “Seriously, we don’t need to talk about it. It’s just some business from a long time ago that I thought was finished …”

A hush hung in the air. Then Philippe started the engine and they drove off.

Torn between wanting to know what was bothering him but not wanting to push, Katherine stayed quiet as Philippe navigated the town’s narrow streets and drove them into the countryside.

She had learned years earlier, after being scolded and humiliated by James, that she needed to stay out of some matters. Her throat tightened at the memory. His verbal attacks had felt physical, like a kick in the stomach, and completely foreign to her. She had not experienced or witnessed anything like it before she married him. It had crushed her.

Now she struggled to banish those painful memories. She looked straight ahead, taking some deep breaths but saying nothing, until she knew exactly what it was she wanted to say.

She turned to Philippe and touched his cheek lightly. “You know I’m here if you want to talk about it.”

He nodded, staring intently at the road. “Frankly, I hope we never have to talk about it. It’s something that should not be part of our life together. I’m sorry you saw this.”

After a moment, he glanced at her and tried to smile. “I will make it go away, I promise.”

At first the road they were on was flat and uninteresting as it followed the dry, pebbled bed of the Var River. When they turned away from the coast, they could see heavy clouds were gathering in the distance, darkening the sky, and soon they were climbing out of the coastal plain into the hills and the threat of rain. She tried to quell her unease, telling herself, they would work through this, whatever it is. Besides, she thought, it was about time she saw another side to him. No one’s perfect.

When Philippe spoke again, his voice had returned to normal. “Let me tell you where we are going this afternoon. You and your camera are going to be very happy.”

He started to tell her the history of Entrevaux, the hill town that was their destination, and the tension between them slowly dissipated as they drove onward. The river had disappeared into a gorge below the road, which passed through rugged rock cuts at times. A strong wind jostled the car.

Katherine tried to keep the conversation light, unaware that Philippe was keeping a close watch on the rearview mirror. “It’s a completely different type of drive from our usual routes in the arrière pays,” she said. “The terrain is severe, almost harsh, with all the jagged rock. It feels closed in and mysterious. Where are those expansive views I’m so accustomed to?”

“They will come, but they will be different. It’s definitely a complete change as we head into a more Alpine setting.”

“And yet we’re still so near to the coast.”

Just as he was on his motorcycle, Philippe was a fast but safe driver with a feel for how best to manoeuver the car along a challenging route. Today, she was certain he had stepped it up a touch.

“We’re now getting into the foothills of the Alps,” he said. “It’s only an hour’s drive to Entrevaux but it feels like a leap five hundred years back in time when the town appears. I have to meet Jacques. He was bringing me ten kilos of his exquisite chèvre. It consistently wins first prize in Alpes Maritimes competitions, by the way. Wait until you taste it.”

Katherine smiled to see him become his usual enthusiastic self as he spoke about a special cheese.

“His mother lives in Entrevaux and he stopped in to see her. Now his truck won’t start, so I said I would meet him there.”

The road was now taking them past isolated and semi-abandoned villages hanging off ledges, forsaken by younger generations eager to search for new opportunities.

Using a fast shutter setting, Katherine shot photos through the windshield or through the open window. The rain was holding off, and two or three times, she asked him to pull over so she could capture a specific image. She would focus her camera on a striking visual that spoke to her emotionally and withdraw into herself until she knew the image was right. Then she clicked the shutter and reconnected with the world.

“Some of these dwellings appear eerie,” she said when they had stopped for her to get out of the car and photograph a cluster of centuries-old buildings clinging precariously to a rocky ledge but surprisingly still occupied. “They’re sad, but intriguing. Clumped together the way they are, each tiny community is its own work of art. They’re really sculptures in stone, tile and wood. I want to learn their stories.”

“I like to watch you do this,” he said.

“And I like that you like that,” she said as she replaced the lens cap.

Philippe took her hand and pulled her to him. She buried her face in his neck and breathed in the strong, clean smell of him that she loved and that was becoming so familiar.

Peace. This gives me such peace, she realized.

“I love you so much, so very much, and I will never let anything harm what we share. Please trust me,” Philippe whispered.

Katherine’s eyes searched his face, finally meeting his, before she nodded. When he spoke to her of his love, she was sure that she was the center of his universe.

“I do trust you. That’s important to me. What could possibly harm us?”

His arms tightened around her. “Nothing. I will make certain of that.”

They stood for a few minutes, just holding each other, their powerful emotions binding them, before resuming the drive. The silence between them was comfortable now.

Here and there, hikers climbing the high, narrow paths on the hillsides above them unexpectedly emerged from the forest. Walking sticks appeared mandatory. Katherine willed her thoughts to focus on these hiking trails and speculate where they might lead and not think about what the mysterious problem Philippe had might be.

Railway tracks paralleled the road, crossing it from time to time, and once they had had to stop at a crossing to let a long freight train through. For some time, the train kept pace with them but now it disappeared into a tunnel, and they began to navigate sharp switchbacks as the road zigzagged upward.

Katherine was jolted out of her thoughts by Philippe swearing loudly and accelerating. His phone began to ring.

“Hold on! Don’t turn around!” he ordered. The fierceness of his voice shocked her.

She looked into her side-view mirror and saw a black SUV hard on their tail. The two vehicles screeched through a hairpin turn. Her heart thumping, Kat clutched her armrests, thankful there had been no traffic coming the other way. Thankful, too, that the road was dry.

“Turn my cell phone off,” Philippe growled, tossing it in her lap. Stunned by all that was happening, Katherine gripped the deadened phone and stared at it. The sudden stress and the blur of the trees as they passed was frightening.

The chase continued through several more hairpin bends as the road switchbacked down the other side of the mountain spur. Philippe’s smaller and sleeker Citroën pulled marginally ahead.

Her pulse still racing, Kat was shocked to hear railroad signals clanging. She looked up to see the barriers ahead begin to lower and the train emerging from the tunnel a short distance away from where the tracks crossed the road.

Philippe’s swearing was feverish, and she could understand only a few words.

“What’s going on? Who’s behind us?”

“Put your head down and close your eyes,” he shouted, roughly pulling her down in the seat.

Katherine’s last glimpse of the oncoming train made her scream, and she clamped her eyes shut. She realized precisely the risk he was taking. Swerving sharply one way and then the other, the car shuddered and bumped as Philippe raced it across the tracks. The clanging was briefly deafening and a loud scrape could only be the barrier hitting the car roof.

Kat could just hear the squeal of tires on the other side of the train above the rumble of steel wheels on the track.

Back on the smooth road again, Philippe slowed the car and took her hand.

“Oh Christ, Kat! Désolé! Désolé! Are you okay?” he panted, out of breath.

Katherine sat in speechless disbelief, all synapses firing, before howling, “What the hell happened? I can’t believe you just did that! Who was chasing us? Why?”

Philippe glanced at her, his eyes full of apology. “I can’t believe I did it either. I’m sorry. It was sheer reflex.”

He shook his head slowly, still gripping the steering wheel tightly. “I’m not sure who was in that SUV,” he said, “but there’s no doubt they are connected to a very bad part of my life. A part I have not shared with you.”

Katherine stared at him. “That note this morning?”

“It was a warning. I’m so sorry. I didn’t think for a minute that anything would happen so soon. I think it was not by chance that they saw us leave and followed us – a scare tactic.”

“They? Scare tactic? What are you talking about?”

“I can’t pull over. We have to keep going. They may still be after us. Let’s leave it alone now and I will tell you the whole story when we get back home. We are expected in Entrevaux and I will need time to tell you everything. Can you accept that?”

“Are we going to be safe?”

“We will be there in a few minutes, and I know where I can hide the car. If they keep coming, they will think I was going higher into the hills to one of the cheese producers. Entrevaux will not be on their radar, I assure you.”

“Just tell me we are safe now.”

“We are. I promise.”

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