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The Man Behind the Mask

The Man Behind the Mask

4.5 4
by Christine Rimmer

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He had been in hiding for years, but the sight of Dulcie Samples, with her girl-next-door appeal, was enough to finally draw Prince Valbrand into the light. Yet Valbrand, whose face—not to mention spirit—had taken a serious hit from the assassination attempt that had driven him underground, was sworn to spend all the rest of his days hunting down the


He had been in hiding for years, but the sight of Dulcie Samples, with her girl-next-door appeal, was enough to finally draw Prince Valbrand into the light. Yet Valbrand, whose face—not to mention spirit—had taken a serious hit from the assassination attempt that had driven him underground, was sworn to spend all the rest of his days hunting down the enemies who had done this to him. And even if he had the time for love, who could see past his scarred face to the man inside? Certainly not the beautiful Dulcie….

Or so Valbrand thought. But despite the darkness and mystery that surrounded him, Dulcie knew that the half-masked man before her was her destiny. Now, if only she could convince him that she held both the key to his heart and his kingdom in her trembling hands….

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The Man Behind The Mask

Chapter One

For me, it was love at first sight.

Okay, okay. Nobody believes in love at first sight anymore. It's like disco. Or the dickey. Went out decades ago, isn't coming back, no matter how many brave fools try to resurrect it.

And, you may ask, how would I, Dulcinea Samples, a semi dewy-eyed young thing of twenty-four, even know about a dickey?

My mom used to wear them. She's wearing one, in fact, in the family portrait that sits on our mantel back home in Bakersfield. The outline of it is just visible beneath her V-neck sweater.

My mom's a true romantic. She's always claimed she fell in love with Dad at first sight.

As I said, like the dickey. People don't do that anymore.

But my mom did. And there's more. Witness my name. How many people get named after the purer-than-pure alter ego of the barmaid whore heroine in Man of La Mancha? With a last name like Samples? Hello?

Just call me Dulcie. Please.

And back to my mom. Yeah. Romantic. Capital R. And I know some of it rubbed off on me, though I swear I always tried my best to keep my romantic impulses strictly under control. They're about as useful as a dickey if you're a single girl living in East Hollywood. Not to mention a lot more dangerous. Get too romantic in East Hollywood - really, in any part of L.A. - and there's no telling what could happen to you. Did you see Mulholland Drive? Enough said.

And maybe that was part of it - why I fell in love with this certain guy at first sight. Because that first sight didn't happen in L.A., where I understood the hazards and would have had my guard up. Not in L.A. but in a ballroom in a palace in a tiny island country called Gullandria.

He was a prince - did I mention that?

And not just as in "a prince of a guy." No. I mean a real, bona fide, son-of-a-king type of prince. A Gullandrian prince. That's right, Gullandria. Remember? That island country I mentioned?

Gullandria is a story in itself. Picture the Shetland Islands. Get an image of Norway. And then, midway between the two, a little to the north, put a heart-shaped island maybe a hundred and fifty miles across at the widest part - you know, ventricle to ventricle? Lots of dramatic, jewel-blue fjords. Mountains to the north and rolling lowlands in the south. A capital city named Lysgard. "Lys" means light. And the king's palace, which stands on a hilltop just outside the capital? Isenhalla: Ice-hall. Oh, I love that.

Now, the deal about Gullandria is the people there never completely gave up their Norse heritage. That would be Norse as in Vikings. Dragon-prowed long-ships; Odin and Thor and the gang? You're following, I hope.

Because I truly am getting to the part about the prince and me.

On the evening in question, there I stood in the aforementioned ballroom. I was wearing one of the two dresses I owned that was even marginally suited to such a strictly white-tie event - a midnight-blue strapless ankle-length A-line Jessica McClintock, a dress I bought in a moment of wild spending abandon. At Nordstrom. Yes, on sale. After-Christmas, if you just have to know. At the time of the purchase, I felt positively giddy about wasting money I didn't really have, a giddiness compounded by a burning awareness of my own foolishness. I knew I'd never find a place to actually wear such a dress, proms and senior balls and the like being pretty much a thing of the past for me by then.

But see? Wild spending abandon and utter foolishness are good things - now and then. You might get invited to a palace ball in some fascinating northern island state. I did.

So you understand. The dress was fine. It showed off my best features: breasts. And skimmed forgivingly over my worst: a not-concave stomach and hips I liked to think of as generous on days when I wasn't consumed with body-image issues. I'd been in Gullandria since the day before when the royal jet flew me in from L.A. Picture it. Just the pilot, a flight attendant and me, the passenger-of-honor, on my way to attend the wedding of my best friend, Brit Thorson.

That night I stood a little off to the side in my pretty blue Jessica McClintock, heart beating too fast with nerves and excitement, hoping I wouldn't end up doing something really gauche that would remind everyone of the basic truth that I was, after all, a bright but ordinary girl from Bakersfield who dreamt of someday actually selling one of the novels she'd written; a girl who, until the day before, had never set foot in a royal palace in her life.

I'd had an escort when the evening started, a dapper prince who appeared at the door to my room and brought me to the ballroom. I'd lost track of him early on.

That was okay with me. It wasn't like I even knew the guy. And I wasn't left dangling. Brit kept dropping by to check on me, to whisper funny comments in my ear on the whole Norse-based culture thing - Gullandrians, remember, were Vikings at heart - and to introduce me to a stunning array of friends and relatives whose names I forgot as soon as they were told to me.

Brit was not your average best friend. For starters, she was a princess. A princess born in Gullandria, one of three fraternal-triplet princesses. When Brit was still a baby, her mom the queen left her dad the king, and took the girls to Sacramento, where they grew up blond and beautiful and rich - and about as American as anybody can get.

And beyond the princess angle, Brit was not a person you messed with. She had a high pain threshold and a scary kind of fearlessness. Once, two years before the night in the ballroom, I watched her go after a guy who'd displayed the bad judgment to try to stick up a coffee shop while Brit and I were standing at the register, waiting to pay after a little serious pigging out on chili dogs and fries. The guy ordered us - and everyone else in the place - to hit the floor. We all did as we were told. Except for Brit. She dived for the guy's knees. Took him down, too - though he put a couple of rounds in the ceiling before the cooks lurched to life and gave her a hand.

As I said, fearless. A fearless tall, blond California-girl princess. And my best friend in the world.

About the fifth time she came by, she edged good and close and murmured in my ear, "Note the redhead." I noted. Drop-dead gorgeous, in petal-pink satin - which I would never dare to wear - the redhead whirled by in the arms of some prince or other.

We were up to the ears in princes at that palace. From what I understood, every male noble, or jarl as they called themselves, was a prince. And they were all eligible to someday become king.

But I wasn't really thinking about the rules of Gullandrian succession at that moment. Right then, I was wondering why I couldn't be that kind of redhead - the kind like the woman waltzing past Brit and me. The sleek kind, you know? The kind with a waterfall of red silk for hair, with porcelain skin, a cameo-perfect face and a Halle Berry body.

"The Lady Kaarin Karlsmon," Brit whispered, as I reminded myself to get a grip and be at peace with being me. "So very well-bred. And nice, I guess - in her own oh-so-aristocratic way. Always laughs at the right places. But just a little too cagey, if you know what I mean."

I gave my friend a look. "So and?" Grinning, blue eyes agleam, Brit wiggled her eyebrows. I leaned a little closer. "Tell."

"Tell what?" asked a male voice behind us.

It was Prince Eric Greyfell, Brit's fiancé. He wrapped his arms loosely around his bride-to-be and nuzzled her hair.


Excerpted from The Man Behind The Mask by Christine Rimmer Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

A New York Times bestselling author, Christine Rimmer has written over ninety contemporary romances for Harlequin Books. Christine has won the Romantic Times BOOKreviews Reviewers Choice Award and has been nominated six times for the RITA Award. She lives in Oregon with her family. Visit Christine at http://www.christinerimmer.com.

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The Man Behind the Mask 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Loved every minute.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ms Rimmer has written a wonderful book in the first person through the American Dulcie and Prince Valbrand--I love it! Suspenseful but with Dulcie's humorous look at things. Dulcie is a writer and best friend of Princess Brit Thorson who's getting married. Dulcie loves to research and Gullandria's Royal Library is just the place with her AlphaSmart and her new friend Prince Medwyn Greyfell, the King's top advisor. The Prince wants to find the person/persons who have tried to stop him from being King. Dulcie finds herself involved with this search too--The Man Behind The Mask can be Dulcie's romantic hero in real life! Here's hoping we do see more of Gullandria and the Royal Family
Guest More than 1 year ago
An excellent ending to a wonderful trilogy. For all the fans of Ms. Rimmer's wonderful Viking trilogy, this book provides a great endcap. I would highly recommend this book to any reader and would ask Ms. Rimmer to please give us some more books about the great island of Gullandria.