Judith Pella's Mark of the Cross will leave an indelible spot on your heart. The romance between Beatrice Marlowe, a young, spoiled noblewoman, and Philip De Tollard, a man with no claim to legitimacy or anything to cling to, is sweet, poignant and everlasting. As always, the path to true love isn't smooth. In fact, it's got a lot of twists and turns, mostly spurred on by the death of Philip's father, Lord Hawken, Ralph Aubernon, a man Philip thought never loved him.
But he did. He wanted to claim Philip as his son, but his wife, the evil Lady Clarise, would have none of it. Since she was more titled and landed than he, Ralph abided until the final day of his life. Lord Hawken's death, which was due to his failing health, was turned into a murder post mortem by Clarise and her scheming son, Gareth. Philip was blamed for the crime and nearly executed.
After a daring escape, Philip meets up with Lady Beatrice for one last time - he thinks. She wants to go with him, but his sense of honor won't allow him to take her along. They part sadly.
In the nine years between that meeting and their next one, Beatrice gets married twice - once to Philip's brother, Gareth. She loses a child and has difficulty bearing another. She faces horrible abuse at the hands of Gareth, a man who killed her father, although she never learned of that treachery.
Philip, for his part, lives the life of a wanderer. Eventually, he meets a kind-hearted band of brigands who take him under the wing and grow to love the misfit like a brother, although Philip can't see anything but his anger and hatred for many years.
He leads his new crew into many adventures, including a Crusade. Beatrice, now Lady Hawken, heads to Outremer with Gareth and Prince Edward Longshanks. Their paths cross again when Philip adbucts her. They go on the lam, evading her husband for several months until it becomes apparent that it wasn't Beatrice's fault she couldn't bear Gareth a child. Philip returns her to Gareth after a fight in which he's mortally wounded so his child can be raised in peace, or so both he and Beatrice hope.
Fortunately, Philip doesn't die. He and his band of remaining friends, including Beatrice's faithful maid, stage a rescue of Lady Hawken, who is being kept a virtual prisoner by her evil mother-in-law and husband. Her mother-in-law's plan is to murder the baby after it's born if it's a boy.
The night of the escape, Lady Beatrice goes into labor. Gareth and Philip have their final confrontation, but Philip can't bear to kill his brother. Luckily for all of them, a knight who was loyal to Beatrice's father has no such qualms. With Lord Hawken dead, Beatrice's son inherited the lands that Philip no longer wishes to claim.
The night of the escape, Lady Beatrice goes into labor. Gareth and Philip have their final confrontation, but Philip can't bear to kill his brother. Luckily for all of them, a knight who was loyal to Beatrice's father has no such qualms. With Lord Hawken dead, Beatrice's son inherits the lands that Philip no longer wishes to claim.
Mark of the Cross shows how people can be lost and then found again. They can lose everything, find God and each other, and do the best they can in the process. Pella's book is an action-packed romantic thriller with Christian undertones. She presents her characters as fully human, and the resulting fiction is absolutely divine.