Read an Excerpt
Her Royal Husband
By Cara Colter
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Chapter OneIt was the sound he had been waiting for.
The faint rasp of the key in the lock, the tumble of the bolt. Prince Owen Michael Penwyck felt his muscles coiling. He was tense, ready. He became aware he was holding his breath, and blew out slowly, forced himself to breathe.
The heavy wooden door creaked on its ancient hinges. Owen was wedged behind it. He remained focused on the shaft of light that penetrated the darkness of his cell as the door swung slowly open.
A long shadow, elongated, fell across the cold, stone floor. The shadow showed one man, his rifle slung over his shoulder, the sharp angle of his elbow indicating to Owen he carried something in front of him. All was as the young prince had hoped.
The shadow paused, and before he became aware of the broken, empty cot, to register danger, Owen launched himself from behind the door, and smashed into his captor. The man had been carrying a food tray, and some of the contents, steaming soup, a cup of coffee, flipped up onto him and he howled in surprised outrage. And then in pain as Owen pressed the advantage of surprise, and kneed him with all the considerable strength of legs hard-muscled from years of mountain climbing, horseback riding, and hiking.
Too much noise, he thought with regret, stepping over the man who had curled up in a fetal position on his cell floor. His captors, alerted by that initial yell, were approaching down thehallway. Owen could hear their footsteps, coming fast, echoing like thunder in the cavernous passage.
Though Owen now knew escape was not likely, not this time, there was fierce swelling within him. It felt like a fire in his breast, a warrior spirit rising. He felt a moment of sweet gratitude for youth and strength, and he unconsciously flexed the hard line of his biceps, filled the breadth of his wide chest with a cleansing breath of air. He took a harder hold on the iron leg he had spent the better part of a day persuading to part company with the cot in his cell.
Fearless, ready, calm, like the knights who had been his ancestors, he stepped out of the doorway. He blinked once, hard, as his eyes adjusted from the murky darkness of the cell to the sudden brightness of the passageway.
Three men were on him almost instantly, dressed in black, faces covered. Owen swung the straight iron bar off the bed, putting all the considerable power of his arm and shoulder into the swing. He felt the jar of connection, and a man toppled to the ground. The bar had glanced off that first man and struck another, and that second attacker backed off warily, swiping at the cut over his eyebrow. He looked at his blood-covered hand with angry, stunned disbelief.
But the third attacker had ducked under the melee of bar and bodies, and was behind Owen. A sinewy arm, appallingly strong, wrapped around the column of the young prince's neck. The second man saw opportunity and rushed forward again. Owen dropped the bed leg and pried ineffectively at the arm that was cutting off his air supply. He reared back, smashing the head of the man who had his arm around his neck with his own head. Though the force stunned him, he was caught in the flow of adrenaline and felt no pain. He heard the other man's grunt, and felt a marginal loosening of the hold on his neck. Owen reared back again, this time kicking forward at the same time. He felt his foot connect with the belly of the second attacker, heard the satisfying "oomph" of the air leaving the man. His neck was free.
His satisfaction was short-lived. A black wave of men appeared out of a connecting passageway and was flowing down the hallway toward him.
And the attacker behind him was a demon. He had a clawlike grip on his shoulder now, and was slamming a hard fist over and over into the soft flesh of Owen's cheek. Owen managed to twist, to finally see his opponent head-on.
He was dressed in black, like the others, but the cover had slipped from his face. Even as Owen let loose a punch, and felt the man's nose give under the force of it, he was trying to memorize the hawkish features. He now knew there was no possibility of winning this fight, let alone escaping. Still, some base instinct roared within him, demanded he do as much damage as possible before the inevitable loss.
Owen used the man's own shock against him. He shoved him to the floor, leapt on top of him, his knees bracketing the man's chest. He pulled his arm back, seeing red now, his fury unleashed. But before he could complete his swing, his arm was caught fast and painfully. The air went out of him as someone leapt on his back, shoving him down hard on top of his opponent.
The young prince fought with everything he had left, but there were too many, now, holding him down. One sat on his back, a hard hand on his neck. Both his arms were being held behind him, and hands held his legs. He was lifted enough for the man underneath him to slither out, and then he was slammed back into the cold rock floor.
"Okay," he said, and heard the calm contempt in his own voice, "uncle."
That earned him a hard swat on the back of his head, and he tasted his own blood on his lip. He heard the subtle rattle of metal before he realized what they were doing, and felt his first moment of panic. He fought desperately with his remaining strength, managed to send a man flying and to get his arm free temporarily. But they came back harder than before, and his head was slammed again into the rock floor, and his arm twisted up painfully behind his back. He felt the shackle close and then click shut with cold metallic finality, first around his right wrist and then, despite the wild fury of his struggle, the left one.
More weight settled on him as he tried to writhe away from the leg irons. Cruel hands held him as the iron bands were clamped, too tightly, around his ankles.
He registered, with impotent fury, his own helplessness, and then was jerked roughly to his feet.
He stood, swaying, captured but unsubdued, and then marshaling his remaining strength, he lunged forward. He allowed himself to feel brief satisfaction in the wary respect he saw as men leapt back from him. He noted, too, that for a single, solitary man, he had managed to cause an inordinate amount of damage. The men who faced him were bloody and bruised, their clothing torn and disheveled. His captors' chests were heaving from exertion.
Owen reminded himself he did not have the luxury to gloat. He had only one thing left and he needed to use it. His mind.
Carefully, he looked at the men, taking swift mental notes. They were dressed the same as they had been the night of his kidnapping, in identical black sweatpants, black turtlenecks, now pulled up over the lower part of their faces and black woolen caps. The effect was dramatic and sinister. He tried to get a sense of nationality from the eyes of the men, from their skin color, but he could not. He did get a sense of organization. This was not a motley crew who had decided to capture a prince for ransom.
This was a highly organized group, quasi-military. He took his eyes from the men. He had been blindfolded when he arrived, and now he looked carefully at the passageway. It looked remarkably like a medieval dungeon, dark and dank. Still, the stones that formed the formidable walls caught his attention. They had a faint pink tinge. His gaze traveled up them. High up the wall was one small opening, barred, no glass. Owen was certain he could smell the sea.
That color of rock was famous on the island of Majorco, an island about to sign a groundbreaking military alliance with Penwyck.
Excerpted from Her Royal Husband by Cara Colter
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.