The Princes Bound [The Princes Book 1]
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by Robin Danner
Category: Historical Fiction/Fantasy
Description: Murder, abduction, and rebellion threaten the peace of the kingdom, and Nadia is caught in the middle of it all. Can she find a way to stop the events sure to destroy them all by surrendering her heart to a handsome prince, or will fate get in the way? Prince Mathis wants nothing but peace for his kingdom, while his brother, Prince Talin, seems determined to align his own kingdom with their family's sworn enemy through an alliance in the form of marriage. Mathis will be damned if he will witness the ceremony binding his brother to the daughter of the man rumored to have murdered their father. Talin's most trusted captain, Nadia d'Arcy, is ordered to abduct Mathis and bring him by force to Noventia for the wedding, a marriage that is not what it seems to be. Mathis and Nadia's mutual attraction tests both the captain's loyalty to her prince and Mathis' already worn patience. As a rebellion begins to threaten all that they hold dear, Nadia must choose between the life she has always known or surrender to the handsome prince who is determined to make her his.
eBook Publisher: Atlantic Bridge/Liquid Silver Books, 2012 2012
eBookwise Release Date: November 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [164 KB]
Reading time: 104-146 min.
"Make way for the royal messenger!"
Prince Talin of Noventia lifted his head from the bosom of a delightfully wicked widow and spoke for her ears only. "Pardon me, my dear. It seems the duties of court await me."
True to her nature, she pouted with disappointment at the delay. Talin lifted her from his lap and nodded to signal she could go. She turned in a flurry of skirts and brushed past the messenger who had reached the raised dais before the throne.
The messenger doffed his cap and bowed low. "Your Highness, I have a letter from your brother, Prince Mathis."
Talin accepted the letter and broke the wax seal he recognized as his brother's own. A dove. Talin snorted with humor. How like his puritanical brother to choose such a mild creature as his seal. Talin had wanted something fierce, an animal characteristic of strength and power. To that effect, he'd chosen a dragon.
Talin scanned the elegantly scripted words and then read the words once again in disbelief. "He says he will not come! He has turned down an invitation to his own brother's nuptials."
"Do you have a reply, Your Highness?"
Talin pinned the messenger with a steely gaze. "Did my brother hand this letter to you personally?"
"Aye, Your Highness. That he did. He said I was to make sure it reached your hands with all haste."
Talin crumpled the letter and tossed it to the floor. "I will not honor him with a response. You may go."
"As you wish, Your Highness." The man bowed and hurried from the room.
Once he was alone, Talin stood and paced the length of his throne room. His steps echoed on the marble floors as he strode from one end to another. Normally the vaulted ceilings and gold-leafed columns pleased him, but today the evidence of the riches of his kingdom reminded him of all he'd sacrificed in his quest for greatness. His brother was the only family he had left. He had to ensure Mathis attended his wedding one way or the other.
With angry steps, he strode toward the end of the hall and threw open the wooden doors that led into the atrium of his palace. "Collin!"
His top advisor immediately halted his conversation with the Earl of Yardmore and hastened forward. "Yes, Highness?"
"Where is Nadia?"
Collin, who made it his duty to know the doings of everyone at court, answered without delay. "She is training in the yard."
"Bring her to me," Talin barked and then turned on his heel and shut the door behind him. He didn't need to wait and see if his order would be obeyed. Collin had proved himself faithful on numerous occasions. For thirty years, he'd fought beside Talin's father in battle. Then, nearly ten years ago, he'd been the one to come to Talin and his brother and deliver the sad news of their father's death. Adhering to the old king's wishes, the land of Novent had been split in half. Talin's portion had become Noventia, and Mathis had declared his as Isidor, after their beloved mother Isidora.
Collin had not been gone more than ten minutes before Talin heard the echo of a voice raised in anger. Nadia had answered his summons. She must be upset that he had interrupted her training. Talin felt his lips curve into an amused smile.
Of all his captains, Nadia was his favorite. Not because she was female, and a lovely one at that, but because she didn't quake with fear at the sight of a formidable enemy. The daughter of Collin, she was a sight to behold in battle. No trepidation, just a steely resolve to get the fight over with as little bloodshed as possible.
More than once he'd imagined what she would be like as a lover. When he'd made her a captain, he'd toyed with the idea of bedding her, but she'd quickly disabused him of that notion. Her refusal to become his lover had proved to him, more than any words could, that Nadia held herself to a higher standard than other women. While the women of his court believed serving him in bed was the greatest honor, Nadia preferred to serve him in other ways, and she'd earned his undying respect as a result.
The doors to the hall banged open, and Nadia strode forward. He admired her as she approached. Tall and lithe, she moved like a dancer, yet her body was far from dainty.
She wore leggings like a man, which emphasized the tautness of her thighs. Her jerkin hid round, full breasts. A long dark braid hung to her waist, and he could see the end swinging from side to side with every step she took. Her line of work should've lent her a masculine appearance; instead she was the most enticing of all women in the realm. More than one man had tried for her hand, but she'd turned them down without a moment's hesitation.
Seeming oblivious to his admiration, she stopped at the edge of the dais and planted a booted foot upon the carpet beneath his throne. "You sent for me?"
The casual attitude she adopted never failed to amuse him. "Yes, I have a favor I would ask of you."
She tilted her head, and her full lips lifted in a smile. "Does this favor involve me engaging in battle?"
"I suppose, in a way, you could look at it like that. I need you to visit Isidor and bring my brother to me within two weeks' time."
She was clearly unimpressed as she lifted her hand and examined her fingernails. "Not interested."
"Did I mention he may be reluctant to join you?"
A spark of interest lit her catlike green eyes. "Explain."
Talin recited the reason he believed his brother turned down the invitation. "Mathis refused to sign the treaty with Roarke of Bevelaire. He believes Roarke is the man responsible for our father's death."
Understanding dawned on her face as she picked up the thread of his explanation. "And your being affianced to Roarke's daughter only fuels his anger. While the drama of it all is entertaining, I will not help you. Send one of the other captains to fetch your brother."
"My dear Nadia." Talin gave her a fond smile. "This is my brother we are talking about. You are the only one I trust to properly see to his well-being."
She put her hand on her hip and tapped her fingers against the hilt of her sword. "I am much too busy training the new recruits."
He widened his smile as he hit upon the perfect solution. "Why not take the recruits with you? They can receive training during the journey and even help you with the retrieval of my brother."
"While your idea has some merit, I do not have a wish to involve myself in matters of the heart."
"Nadia, my dear girl, this isn't purely a matter of the heart. This is a matter of the court. Imagine how it would look to our new allies, who have agreed to help us defend our northern borders from the rebels, if my own brother refuses to attend the wedding. It would reflect badly upon my ability to gain control of unsavory situations."
"You should've thought about that before you tied yourself to your brother's unspoken enemy."
"Tut tut, my girl. Your viper's tongue may get you in trouble."
She tossed back her head and laughed. "With you? I am too valuable for you to risk my anger."
She has a point, damn her.
Talin tried a different tactic. "What if I promise you your nephew will receive a knighthood?"
He was well aware Nadia's sole weakness was her brother's orphaned son. Though she was only seven years his senior, Nadia had appointed herself the protector of Hugh d'Arcy and would do almost anything to advance his career. "What do you say, Nadia?"
"Hugh will earn a knighthood on his own merit. I have no doubt."
"Yes, you are probably right, but imagine how happy he will be when he is knighted at a mere eighteen."
"You are far too cunning for your own good, Highness."
Talin grinned. He didn't detect any trace of ire in her statement, which was a blessing, as Nadia's temper was legendary when provoked. "So you will do as I ask?"
"Aye, that I will." Nadia's eyes gleamed with promise. "Your brother shall attend your wedding in two weeks' time."
"Your Highness, we have received word the rebels have been turned back at N'ior."
Mathis lifted his gaze from the hand drawn map on the table in front of him and focused on the man who awaited his response. The informant shuffled his feet in a nervous gesture as Mathis' brows drew together in a frown. "N'ior is well guarded by my brother's army, yet the rebels seem to be moving closer to the border between Noventia and Isidor. How long until we can expect them at Junsten?"
"Three weeks, maybe four." The man who'd been charged with bringing news of the rebels' activities to his prince spoke with calmness, but a tremor of apprehension colored his words. "The soldiers will be prepared for battle within a month's time."
"So soon?" Mathis pinned the man with a steady look. "Tell the other officers I will send further instructions to them once I have spoken with my council."
"Yes, Your Highness." The man bowed and waited to be dismissed.
Mathis gave his informer a final cursory glance. "Thank you. That will be all."
The door clicked shut behind the messenger. Mathis leaned back in his chair and cast a look at the five members of his council. The men gathered at his table were of varying ages and backgrounds, but each had proven himself a worthy advisor. "I will not have the activities of these rebels harming the lives of the innocent farmers along our northern borders."
Edward, a slim red haired man not much older than Mathis, spoke up. "We should evacuate Junsten. The people there are unprepared to fight the rebels."
Mathis nodded in agreement. "I shall send word that Junsten be evacuated until this matter is dealt with. I will see to it the royal farms in Giordan are made ready to house the displaced farmers for now. Giordan should be far enough south to escape the rebels."
A volunteer lifted his hand. "I shall see to the evacuation, Your Highness."
Mathis turned toward the man who had spoken. He nodded again to indicate he approved the suggestion. "Thank you, Trevor. The stables here at Isis are available as well. Take as much horseflesh as you need to ensure Junsten is evacuated with as quickly as possible."
Trevor, the youngest of the council, got to his feet and gave a quick bow. "Thank you, Your Highness."
The remaining four council members awaited his instructions. Mathis trusted these men with his life. All of them shared his views on peace, but they would fight at a moment's notice to protect Isidor and its people. He'd ruled the small kingdom for ten years and had done his best to provide his subjects with both peace and prosperity.
The Noventian rebels had raided the northern borders of Noventia for nearly a year, but this would be the first time they marched on Isidor. Not that Mathis wanted his brother's kingdom to bear the brunt of the rebel's attacks, but he was thankful Isidor had been left untouched.
All of that changed when his brother signed that damnable treaty with Roarke. Few were willing to take on the ruthless army of Bevelaire, so the rebels' attention turned to Isidor. The impending bloodshed didn't sit well with Mathis, and though he couldn't blame his brother for it, he would be damned before he celebrated his brother's unwanted alliance with Bevelaire.
"The castle at Giordan will need to be fortified as well in the unlikely event the rebels breach Junsten." Owen, Mathis' childhood friend and most trusted advisor, suggested. His bright blue eyes were lit with purpose. "Would you like me to handle it?"
Mathis shook his head. "No. I have need of you and James here." His gaze moved to a slight, gray-haired man who sat to his left. "Gerald, I trust you with this task."
Gerald, the oldest member of the council, nodded sharply. "Yes, Your Highness. I will see to it immediately." He stood and strode from the room without another word.
Mathis stood and studied the three remaining men, who got to their feet as well. Edward, James, and Owen were the most knowledgeable of war. All three had trained in the army and saw their fair share of battle until they'd been appointed to their positions as advisors. He would need their expertise in the coming weeks. "The remainder of you will stay here in Isis and serve as advisors unless it becomes necessary for us to change tactics."
Mathis prayed it wouldn't be so. He'd seen enough war in his father's time to know the toll it could take on a kingdom. His father's reign had been a glorious one, but one shadowed with death.
Mathis leaned over the table to examine the map once again. The men hovered near him as he reviewed the plans they'd drawn.
"There is nothing else we can do tonight."
"No, Your Highness." James, a former knight who'd lost an arm in battle, shook his head. "There is nothing to do but wait until the rebels make their move."
Satisfied they'd done all they could, Mathis waved his hand to dismiss his advisors. "We're as prepared as we can be. It's late. Go to your beds. We will reconvene tomorrow morning."
One by one, the men bid him goodnight. Once he was alone, Mathis banged his fist on the table in frustration. It was out of character for him, but he felt as if he had to do something.
He considered sending for his mistress, but quickly discarded the notion. He wasn't fit company for anyone tonight. Ever since he'd sent his refusal to Talin, he'd been uneasy. He knew his brother would never harm him, but some sort of retribution would be in order. He had to wait for his brother to make his intentions known, just as he waited for the rebels to reveal theirs.
He made notations on the map and jotted down topics to discuss with the council the next morning before he finally made his way to his bedchamber. His chamber was simple in design, which suited his nature. The only exception was an enormous bed, carved out of mahogany. Mathis had made it himself, intending it to be a gift to his mother, but she had died before he'd completed it. Though it was perhaps more feminine than one would imagine for the bed of a prince, he'd kept it out of sentimentality.
She'd been gone nearly twelve years, but Mathis still felt a pang of sorrow when he thought of his mother.
A knock sounded on the door behind him, and then his valet entered the room. As always, the valet's arms were laden with nightclothes and a jug of warm water for rinsing. The items were placed on the washstand and arranged in the order Mathis preferred. He dismissed his valet once the task was complete. "Thank you, Vincent. That will be all."
"Yes, Your Highness." Vincent bowed and left the room.
Mathis disrobed and placed his clothing in a neat pile beside the door, where Vincent would retrieve them next morning. He crossed the room to stand before his open window. His chamber overlooked the carefully tended gardens of the palace.
The light of a full moon lent a silver tint to everything it touched, including his nude body as he stretched his arms overhead and sighed at the pull of his stiff muscles. He'd stayed hunched over the maps too long that day, and his body yearned for exercise. The smell of damp earth teased his nostrils as he leaned forward to gaze at the moon reflecting off the surface of the river beyond the palace gardens.
As young boys, he and Talin had spent hours down by the river. Talin had enjoyed fishing, while Mathis had preferred to wade in the water. Memories assailed him and made him long for days past, when his parents were still living, and their country had not yet been torn apart by war.
With a harsh sigh, Mathis turned away from the window and retrieved the pants he'd discarded.
A swim in the Dora River was exactly what he needed.