Fiercely independent, and wholly devoted to her subjects, Crown Princess Thera of Mercia must marry before she can become Queen. But the beauty’s reluctance to choose a husband has plunged her into peril far from home—and into the arms of a handsome rescuer.
Powerful, hot-blooded mercenary Saxxe Rouen has better things to do than fight a crowd of drunken brutes. After all, there is little profit in saving a demoiselle in distress—or is there? His valor should be repaid, if not in silver, then in another kind of reward: Lovely, fiery Thera will spend one night in his bed.
Once safe, Thera didn’t expect to face yet another danger—her attraction to the beguilingly charming warrior. But as a battle of wits ensues, one night may lead to three. And a proud princess may discover the pleasure of surrendering her heart—while Saxxe may find the kingdom, and the love, he was truly meant to win . . .
Previously titled The Princess and the Barbarian
Praise for Betina Krahn’s previous novels
“Daisy's free spirit is contagious. . . . Krahn returns to historical romance with a barn burner of a love story.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Krahn has a delightful, smart touch.” —Publishers Weekly
“Smart, romantic . . . sure to delight readers.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Betina Krahn is a treasure.” —BookPage
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.30(d)|
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The city of Nantes, on the western coast of France — 1262
The sea breeze rolled in, charged with the feel of an impending storm as it glided through the narrow lanes and crowded market squares of the bustling port of Nantes. All over the city, merchants and their patrons cast eyes heavenward, expecting storm clouds, and shook their heads in confusion at the clear sky. When the bells of eventide finally tolled the hours of Vespers, the merchants and tradesmen forgot their customary last calls and eagerly closed down their shops to seek the comfort of their hearths. As the sun's last rays withdrew from the streets, an unsettled sense of expectation hovered over the city.
Crown Princess Thera of Aric and her companion, Countess Lillith Montaigne, shared that sense of expectation as they sat huddled behind a carved wooden screen overlooking the inner court of one of the city's leading nobles. In the stone-paved yard below, household servants bustled back and forth laying three trestle tables with fine linen and silver wine cups ... anticipating, as did Thera and her companion, their master and his party of noble guests.
The evening breeze wafted through the vine-covered trellises ringing the court, providing relief to the two women in their hiding place upon the wooden gallery. But with each slacking of the breeze, heat and foody smells billowed from the nearby kitchen doors, engulfing Thera and Lillith in aromas of sage-stuffed capon and garlic-rubbed lamb. Over-warmed and aching with anxiety, Thera released a taut sigh and fanned herself with the edge of her mantle.
"Let me take your cloak, Princess," Countess Lillith said in a whisper, reaching for Thera's outer garment.
"Nay, I would leave it on." Thera clutched the top of the woolen garment together at her throat and cast a forbidding look at her companion. A fine sheen of moisture covered her features, damp tendrils of burnished hair clung to her temples, and her eyes glowed with a heat that had little to do with their uncomfortable circumstance.
"You'll roast like a guinea fowl, trussed up like that," Lillith insisted, wresting control of the garment and dragging it from Thera's shoulders, baring the pristine white of her fitted silk gown. "Faith — just look what the hood has done to your hair. You should have let me do you up proper plaits ... or worn a crispinet." She wriggled closer on her stool and began to retuck wisps of hair into the long, single plait that began halfway down Thera's back.
"Don't fuss, Lillith," Thera said, brushing away her hands. "It doesn't matter how I look. No one shall see me but you."
Lillith sat back and scowled at her mistress. This was not the princess she knew. Her usual princess would not suffer the slightest disarrangement or the merest smudge on her garments, nor be seen in public with so much as a hair out of place on her head.
"But, perchance, if you are taken with the duc's manner and appearance ..."
Thera pinned the plump, dark-eyed countess with visual daggers. "In that highly unlikely event, I shall slip away, back to our good host's house, and send Henri tomorrow with an inquiry on the possibility of" — her mouth puckered as if the words were distasteful — "marriage negotiations." The decision was made, and the subject, her royal annoyance proclaimed, was closed. She applied her eyes once more to the decorative holes in the screen, watching the movement below.
Lillith sighed and searched Thera's striking features in profile ... her delicately arched brows and carved cheekbones, her straight, perfect nose, and her slightly squared jaw. She was the very picture of regal poise and determination. Or of royal stubbornness run amuck ... depending upon one's view.
Crown Princess Thera Aric had been raised from the age of two years by her widowed mother and a covey of doting noble ladies, with the assistance and advice of a solicitous Council of Elders. Tutors were culled from the burgeoning universities at Paris, Orléans, and Oxford to instruct her in both the trivium — grammar, rhetoric, and logic — and the quadrivium — arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music — of the seven liberal arts. For strength and health, she was taught to ride and to swim, and for entertainment she had a menagerie of pets, a host of attentive adults, and a palace full of gardens and architectural wonders. Then, when she reached a suitable age, children of the kingdom had been selected to come to the palace to share her tutors and experiences ... to ensure that she would know and love her people.
Every part of her life had been planned and guided with flawless precision. She had grown into a strikingly beautiful young woman with a wondrously keen mind, a deep affection for her people, and a strong sense of her royal duty. In truth, her extensive education had prepared her admirably for every aspect of her royal life ... except the fact that she would someday have to marry and share her kingdom with a man.
"Perhaps the Duc de Beure will be tall ... with hair the color of new-spun silk ... and a face that would make the angels sigh," Lillith mused, watching Thera from the corner of her eye.
"Or perhaps he will be short, bald as a melon, and smell like overripe curds," Thera countered testily. Lillith frowned and tilted her nose, undaunted.
"Chancellor Cedric says Normans are wondrously fine bowmen ... that they can nick the spots off a hound at forty paces."
"I shall remember that," Thera said, "in the event I should ever have a hound that needs a few spots nicked off. However, in point of fact" — she leaned closer — "Norman yeomen are the ones handy with a bow.
Norman lords are always bladesmen ... huge, galumphing, radish-faced fellows who use their chins for whetstones and would rather sleep with their broadswords than their wives." The very thought of having to wed such a creature sent a shudder through her.
"Well, he will surely love to ride," Lillith asserted stubbornly. "Norman lords are unsurpassed as horsemen ... true masters of the arts of breeding and training horseflesh. And Elder Mattias says we could use new blood in Mercia's stables."
"There is nothing whatsoever lacking in Mercia's stables," Thera declared, her voice rising, so that Lillith's eyes widened and she put a finger to her lips. Thera glowered, but lowered her voice. "I know full well what Elder Mattias wants ... he wants horse races again." She turned back to the screen and leaned closer to it. "And what a huge waste of time and effort that would be. Where's the point in breeding faster horses, when even our slowest mounts can cover our entire kingdom border to border in less than an hour?"
"One and three-quarters," Lillith muttered under her breath.
"What?" Thera turned back with a scowl.
Lillith gave a start. "Letters. I said Elder Margarete insists he will be a man of letters ... able to speak a number of languages. She says Norman nobles educate their sons in fine estate."
"Fine only if you consider warfare, wine-bibbing, and oppressive taxation a proper curriculum," Thera said disgustedly. "Just imagine what sort of things a man who has applied himself diligently to such studies would add to the life of Mercia."
Lillith drew back her chin, annoyed by Thera's determination to dislike her potential husband, sight unseen.
"Well, we in Mercia never journey anywhere. Perhaps he will have traveled much and can tell us all about Paris and Venice and the Holy See of Rome." Her face lighted anew. "Perhaps he has even seen the Holy Lands themselves."
"Lillith" — Thera crossed her arms with an air of strained forbearance — "there are packhorses all over France who have seen the Holy Lands at one time or another. It hardly qualifies them for sainthood, either."
The countess reddened. "Elder Audra says he will have a fine head for numbers ... will be deft at ciphering and quick on the beads. And Elder Jeanine is certain, if he has spent time in Venice, that he has learned the new Arab numerals and astronomy ... so he can render star charts and do the computus for us —"
"I do the computus for us. I calculate the fall of feast days and Christ Mass and Easter," Thera declared, truly incensed now. "And if my counselors find the Duc de Beure so worthy why don't they bloody well marry him and leave me out of it!"
Lillith clamped her hands on her knees and blurted out: "Because they're not the heir to the throne of Mercia. They don't have to marry, according to law, in order to be crowned queen of their own realm. And you do."
There was the bitter truth of it. Thera glared down into the empty courtyard ... seeing only her crowded and distressingly conjugal future. Married. It was the blight of her otherwise perfect life: she had to marry to be crowned queen of the kingdom she already ruled.
Since ascending to the throne two years ago, at the age of nineteen, Princess Thera had managed to delay, dissemble, and generally avoid the problem of finding a man with whom to share her throne. The Council of Elders, whose task it was to advise the princess and oversee the welfare of the kingdom, had grown increasingly distressed by the way she defied both their revered law and the sacred natural order to remain unmarried. For order — natural and otherwise — was what Mercians valued above all else.
In Mercia's isolated society, there was a reason and a rule for everything ... including a rule requiring that the heir to the throne must be wedded before he or she could be crowned. Their code of law had grown out of the ways of the old Celts and embodied the old ones' recognition of the necessity of both the male and female principles in nature ... and in the affairs of humans. The statutes set this forth in most emphatic terms: the kingdom would prosper only when governed by a king and a queen who shared both bed and power.
With the wane of each passing moon, the councillors eyed the empty thrones in the presence chamber with a bit more anxiety. Too well, they recalled the ancient prophecy warning of the woes that would befall the kingdom in the days of an unwed heir and an empty throne. For the last fifteen years, since Thera's father had died, the fates had been more than patient with Mercia and its youthful heir. The rains had been plentiful and the harvests good, the flocks flourished, and the fine cloth produced by Mercia's looms commanded good prices. Then came the unexpectedly hard winter just past, exacting a toll of their flocks and harvests, and the elders feared that Mercia's dispensation of grace had finally ended.
There the council and Thera had come to an impasse, for the same law which stipulated that Thera must marry before she could be crowned was also emphatic in granting her a choice in whom she wedded.
From the day her chancellor and the Council of Elders had requested their first official audience with her until this very moment, the shadow of her mandated marriage had loomed over her reign. The cursed phrase "for now" seemed to be an inescapable postscript to every proclamation she issued, document she signed, or opinion she expressed. It was as if her learning, her wisdom, and her hard work meant nothing unless validated by a man ... a husband.
It galled her that a nameless, faceless man would someday stride into the palace of Mercia and, simply by virtue of his possession of a male member, claim half of the kingdom she had prepared all of her life to rule. Worse yet: with that same wretched appendage he would also lay claim to her ... to the privatemost parts of her body, to her nights and days, to her womanly rhythms and fertility. She would have to share her throne, her table, her bed, and her very thoughts with this annoying interloper.
And what would she get in return? She glowered, thinking of it. A swaggering, snoring, sword-wielding boar who regularly mistook her for a mattress ... a lifetime of galling deference to a man who might or might not even recognize his own written name ... and years of watching her belly swell and suffering the recurring horrors of childbed. It was a humiliatingly unfair trade.
Her only hope, she had realized early on, was to be as slow and as selective as possible in finding a husband ... so that she might establish her reign and authority firmly before admitting a stranger to her realm and her bed. To that end, she had decreed that she would wed no man without first setting eyes upon him. And it was to that end that she had journeyed from her isolated kingdom to the city of Nantes, to see for herself her chief matrimonial prospect ... the Duc de Beure.
"Ever since we left Mercia you have been singing the duc's praises," Thera said, turning back to Lillith with a searching look. Her irritation had subsided, allowing the anxiety underlying it to reassert itself. Her hands curled into cold fists in her lap. "You sound as if you truly want me to marry."
Lillith took a fortifying breath. "Perhaps that is because I do want you to marry ... for Mercia's sake ... and your own."
Thera gave a short, defensive laugh. "What could a man possibly do for Mercia that I cannot do for it myself? I lead the council, direct the treasury, oversee the trading and commerce, consult with the head weavers, craftsmen, stewards, and bailiffs. I appoint officials, settle disputes, and study writings from other lands to improve our husbandry and trades. I know all of my subjects by name and sight...."
Lillith cocked her head, noting that Thera had ignored the hint of what marriage might mean to her personally. Thera always dealt only with the public and official aspects of a union ... never with the personal ones.
"You were married once yourself, Lillith." A canny gleam entered Thera's eye. "If wedded life is such bliss, then why are you not eager to repeat it?"
"You know full well the story of my marriage, Princess. I was young. He was old and kindly ... and seedless. I am the Countess of Mercia now," Lillith said. "I have a duty. And until it is discharged, I am sworn to solemn vows and cannot marry. Your lot, on the other hand, lies in a very different bushel from mine. Mercia needs a queen." She leveled a faintly accusing look on Thera. "And a king."
The color in Thera's cheeks deepened. "May I remind you that on the day I am fully wedded, you will no longer be a countess."
"Faith, what good is being a countess anyway if you've nothing to count?" Lillith grumbled, clasping her hands together and tucking them between her knees. After a moment she glanced at Thera from the corner of her eye. "Sooner or later you will have to confront the prophecy. "These seven woes,'" she began to quote, "'one for each night the bed of the ruler goes unfilled. With trouble and contention ripe, the kingdom will be cursed ... chaos in the land and in the seasons ... in the hearts of men and in their reason ... the sky will withhold its tears but women shall weep ... the seed will wither and the wombs shall sleep —'"
"Not another word!" Thera shook a finger at the countess, then forced herself to ease. "Scarcely a day goes by that I am not harangued about that wretched prophecy. One disappointing harvest in seventeen years and the council is in an uproar. Logic alone should allow that after so many prosperous seasons we might expect a fallow year." She turned a penetrating look on Lillith. "My solitary bed had nothing to do with lack of rain or the shortness of sheep's wool —"
A burst of noise and movement occurred in the courtyard below, and their attention flew to the screen to search the arrivals for a glimpse of the Duc de Beure. Thera spotted the host of the feast, the Earl de Burgaud, clad in a gold-embroidered tunic and flat burgher's hat, directing his guests to the pillow-strewn benches and chairs around the tables. Next, her eyes fell upon the familiar form of her host in the city, the dapper Henri Jannette, the Earl de Peloquin, a lord of her own court who now resided in Nantes and served as Mercia's agent in the world of commerce.
Thera's heart pounded as she searched the faces and forms for the one who could put an end to both her maiden state and her solitary reign. And there he was.
At first she mistook him for a partition the servants were carrying, then for a part of the wall that was moving. But a head took shape in her vision and she spotted hands at the ends of thick, upholstered arms that were flung wide in a gesture. As introductions and presentations were made, rumblelike laughter set that mass of flesh vibrating. She watched in disbelief as the corpulent figure inched its way through the other guests, behind the earl. A flurry among the servants produced two stout chairs, and the massive guest rolled onto them with a grunt that passed for approval.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Three Nights with the Princess"
Copyright © 2018 Betina M. Krahn.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Saxxe Rouen is a nobleman’s younger son sent off to make his living as a warrior fighting for the King, but time and circumstance made him into a landless mercenary. Crown Princess Thera of Mercia must marry before she can become Queen, but she’s reluctant to wed. She travels to get a closer look at the Duc, the man she’s thinking of marring, and ends up in the middle of brutish mercenaries destroying the town she’s visiting. Mercenary Saxxe Rouen has better things to do than fight a crowd of drunken brutes that is until he hears a shrilling woman scream and decides to go rescue the demoiselle in distress and earn himself a reward. He doesn’t bargain for Thera, she quite the feisty beauty and he decides to bargain for another kind of reward from wants the fiery Thera to spend one night in his bed. She doesn’t want to honor her bargain with the barbarian so she escapes and he rescues her again, the attraction continues to grow and she agrees to have Saxxe escort her safely to her home. A captivating story of a strong will Princess and the barbarian who keeps rescuing her and wining nights of pleasure. Unbeknownst to Saxxe when the Princess spends seven nights with a man he is then considered her mate and her King. I loved this rewrite of the Princess and the Barbarian. It was filled with adventure, romance and enough intrigue to keep you up at night reading not able to put the book down! This is my honest opinions is resolved to build a school for ladies in after I voluntarily read a copy of this book that was provided to me with no requirements for a review.
A Princess needing a husband and a Knight for Hire rescuing her from danger. How much more perfect can it be? Princess Thera of Mercia knows she must marry soon. On a journey far from home she gets into the middle of a fight and Saxxe Rouen, a mercenary saves her from the danger. He soon realizes she needs protection to get home and he names his price he feels is a bargain. One night of passion in exchange for his service. Surely she would not agree? This was really a classic Medieval romance reminiscent of books I read long ago. But it did deliver the hero and heroine finding a strong attraction to each other. Saxxe felt like he could never be good enough for Thera but you never know!
Crown Princess Thera of Mercia needs to marry to become queen. While traveling, she’s placed in a perilous situation. Strongly independent, she thinks she doesn’t need rescuing. But Saxxe Rouen, warrior for hire, comes to her rescue anyway, and looks for payment afterward. He wants a night of pleasure from Thera. Will Thera give him what he desires, and risk her heart? This historical romance started off bad, and never got better. More action was needed to make it interesting. I fell asleep twice reading because it was so dull and boring. Thera came off as spoiled and elitist. I did not like her as a character. I also felt no real connection between the hero and the heroine. Oftentimes, Thera would complain that Saxxe acted like a pig and had no redeeming qualities. I have read stories from this author before, but was highly disappointed with this novel. I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book from the publisher and am voluntarily reviewing it.
Crown Princess Thera of Aric needs a husband before she can be queen. Her counselors thinks she needs a husband, now. There are dark prophecies that affect the whole kingdom of she doesn't. When Thera and her chaperone, Countess Lillith, go to another city to meet someone who could become her King if she likes him. She sees him and he will not do at all. She and Lillith leave, they are captured by Barbarians. Saxxe and his friend, both soldiers for hire, rescue them. Neither one knows that Thera is a Princess. They agree to help Thera and Lillith get home, for a price. So many things happen before and after they arrive at the Kingdom. Will Saxxe and Thera care enough about each other to marry so she will become Queen. Lots of action, adventure and Barbarians. Will Thera survive a kidnapping? So much action that it can't all be put in a review. It is also, a love story and has steamy sex scenes. I received this book from Net Galley and Kensington Books for a honest review and no compensation otherwise.