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Claire Delacroix

BOOK: Claire Delacroix
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The Princess, The Damsel
, and
The Heiress
are works of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

A Bantam Dell eBook Edition

The Princess
copyright © 1998 by Claire Delacroix, Inc.
The Damsel
copyright © 1999 by Claire Delacroix, Inc.
The Heiress
copyright © 1999 by Claire Delacroix, Inc.

All Rights Reserved.

Published in the United States by Dell Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

Dell and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

The novels contained in this omnibus were each published separately by Dell Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., in 1998 and 1999.

eBook ISBN 978-0-345-53660-0

www.bantamdell.com

v3.1

Contents

“YOU EXPECT ME TO DEPART ON YOUR QUEST. I DO NOT INTEND TO DO SO.”

Luc took a step closer and Brianna, remarkably, backed away, her retreat fueling his suspicions. “Why are you so eager to see me gone, my lady?”

“I am not!” she protested, her guilt more than clear.

“Then what difference does it make whether I linger here or not?” Luc asked. “Tell me what you are scheming.”

“I simply want you to go on my quest.” Brianna looked away, then glanced up at Luc. “Because I like you best,” she said, her cheeks flaming.

’Twas so obviously a lie that Luc laughed aloud. “Aye? Then, if you favor me so very much, why not grant me a token of your esteem?”

Brianna blinked. “What kind of token?”

“Your kiss,” he said, and then waited for her consent.

A sparkle danced in the emerald depths of her gaze. “One kiss,” she whispered breathlessly.

This, he resolved, would be a kiss worth remembering.

P
RAISE FOR THE
P
RINCESS

“Reading
The Princess
is like sipping vintage wine—delectable.”


Rendezvous

“Ms. Delacroix conjures up a marvelously beautiful tale of love. Exquisite!”


Bell, Book and Candle

Published by
Dell Publishing
a division of
Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
1540 Broadway
New York, New York 10036

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 1998 by Claire Delacroix, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher except where permitted by law.

The trademark Dell® is registered in the U.S. Patent and
Trademark Office.

eISBN: 978-0-307-42894-3

v3.1

Contents
Prologue

Castle Tullymullagh, Ireland
October 1171

T
ullymullagh could not be lost! Brianna ran down the corridor, blind to the intricate tapestries hanging on every wall and indifferent to the wondrously fitted stones of her sire’s creation. She tripped over her full skirts, cursed with a vehemence that would have made her father scowl, then gathered her embroidered hems by the fistful and ran on.

A deadly silence permeated the keep, a marked contrast to the rumbling of men’s voices and clunk of pottery that usually echoed from below.

Brianna’s heart began to pound with foreboding. There were men in the hall despite the quiet, she knew it. The smell of wet wool and leather assaulted her nostrils, mixed with the pungency of many mens’ scents. There had to be an entire army below.

Yet they stood mute and still.

Tullymullagh had been surrounded these last two weeks, a foreign and unfamiliar banner riding high above the numerous troops. Brianna’s father, King Connor of Tullymullagh, had refused to surrender. None had been able to guess why the attackers waited to take the keep, but it had been clear enough their unknown leader waited for something.

Or someone.

Until this very morn. The battle for the gates had been brief but brutal, then silence had claimed the keep. Trepidation could not keep Brianna from needing to see the truth with her own eyes. She took a deep breath and plunged down the stairs to the great hall.

She halted halfway down, stunned by the sea of armored men that filled the hall. They stood shoulder to shoulder, their broad backs confronting her, each and every one oblivious to her arrival. Their gazes were fixed on the dais.

There, Brianna’s proud father knelt before a stranger, his silver mane falling forward to obscure his expression. His voice carried clearly, though, his solemn tone making a hard lump of dismay rise in Brianna’s throat. She could hear her sire’s heartbreak echo in his very words.

The tale that had carried to her rooms
was
true.

“I, Connor of Tullymullagh, concede my ancestral holding of Tullymullagh and its environs, including Castle Tullymullagh, its gardens and fields, village and mill, as well as the Priory of Endlist, to—”

“Nay!” Brianna cried. “Father, you cannot do this!”

The trio of unfamiliar men on the dais turned as one to face her, but Brianna had eyes only for her father. When he lifted his head, she was horrified to see how severely he had aged on this day.

Brianna knew Tullymullagh was everything to him, and she could not let him cast it aside—for any price. A king in his own right, Connor of Tullymullagh had reigned over his ancestral holding with pride for twenty long and prosperous years, his sire even longer before him. And Connor had built the very keep they stood within.

’Twas doubly his by right.

“Father, do not surrender! Promise
anything
, but, I beg of you, do not abandon Tullymullagh!”

The other men, the ranks of unfamiliar mercenaries and knights who filled her father’s hall, turned to seek the source of the interruption. Brianna’s cheeks burned with awareness of their appraisal, well aware that the golden mane that was her pride hung loose like a sunlit cloud.

Her father had oft said those very locks would snare a man in desire and indeed, he forbade Brianna to leave her chambers with it unbound. Too late, she realized that her fitted emerald surcoat showed her slender curves to an advantage, and one that was unwise given the circumstances. Indeed, the wide embroidered belt that slung over her hips might draw a man’s eye too quickly to Brianna’s narrow waist.

Only now did Brianna perceive the luxury found within the walls of a secure household. Only now, when that protection was gone, did she see the merit of what she had long taken for granted.

These men were soldiers of war, well used to partaking of the spoils of battle. She saw the truth in their hardened faces, saw a glimmer within the eye of more than one that made her shiver.

But Brianna was not one to cower before a challenge. She lifted her chin, determined to let no one see her newfound fear.

Connor’s lips twisted ruefully at her plea. “I have no choice, child,” he said quietly, though the resonance of his words carried easily to Brianna’s ears. “We have been soundly defeated by the king’s own vassal.”

King
.

Brianna looked belatedly to the trio of men on the dais with her sire. The man whom her father knelt before wore a simple gold circlet over his fair hair. The rings on his fingers and the splendor of his mail revealed his noble status. The telling Plantagenet insignia on the banner hoisted above the
high table, those three golden lions of Anjou, made his identity most clear.

Connor granted Tullymullagh to the very hand of King Henry II of England.

His vassal
. Brianna’s gaze danced over the pair of men who stood alongside Henry. She guessed that one or both of them had been responsible for the seige upon her home. The dark-haired man to the king’s left looked every inch the jaded Norman knight. The older man beside the knight was clearly a roughened mercenary of common origins.

The mercenary, Brianna noted with annoyance, was looking about the hall with a decidedly avaricious gleam in his eye. His heavy face was tanned and lined, the mark of countless years both in the sun and the alehouse. His armor was sturdy and well-used, the leather of his gloves slick with age. His eyes were small and shone greedily, his lips drawn so tight as to have disappeared.

Aye, this was a mercenary whose allegiance was bought and sold—for a hefty price.

A mercenary who had been sent to win Tullymullagh for the English king. This could only be the man whose alien banner had fluttered in the breeze while he awaited his overlord.

An overlord who would steal all Brianna’s father held dear.

BOOK: Claire Delacroix
11.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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