Giveaway(+ Excerpt): Prince and I by Karen Hawkins

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From New York Times bestselling author Karen Hawkins, the lively and sizzling second book in a new fairytale-based Scottish historical romance series, The Princes of Oxenburg.

Gregori Romanovin, Oxenburg’s warrior prince, is escorting his grandmother to a house party deep in the Highlands when he and his entourage are robbed at sword point by a group of ruffians led by a man the locals have dubbed “The Scottish Robin Hood.” The battle-savvy prince instantly realizes there’s something different about this thief, and it’s not just the Scottish accent—it’s the fact that “he” is really a “she.”

Lady Murian, a young widow out for revenge against the powerful earl who killed her husband and stole his birthright, is now living in the woods with her family’s banished retainers. To stay alive, she and her band of men rob rich nobles coming to visit the evil earl. But when she ambushes the Prince of Oxenburg’s golden coach, she gets far more than she expected. For when the prince uncovers her true identity, she’s afraid that he might be the real thief…of her heart.

Giveaway:
Everyone in US will have a chance to win a copy of Prince and I by Karen Hawkins. The giveaway rules are:


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                                                                         Excerpt:

Chapter 1








“. . . the roads are wretched, this carriage is sprung like a log, and I am freezing. Bozhy moj, have the people of this frigid country never heard of a foot warmer?” In the dim glow of the lantern that swung on a hook in the creaking coach, Grand Duchess Natasha Nikolaevna waited for a response. She’d catalogued no fewer than fourteen complaints, yet her companion didn’t look impressed. In fact, he seemed to be asleep.
Deeply asleep.
But she knew better. Her grandson might be a prince, but he was also a lifelong soldier who’d made a name for himself in many hard-won battles. A famed general and the leader of the Grand Army of Oxenburg, Prince Gregori Maksim Alexsandr Romanovin didn’t sleep deeply. Ever.
His brothers and parents called him “Grisha,” a nickname for Gregori, but Natasha had refused. From the day he was born, she’d called him “Max” as befitted a conqueror. The name had fit him, and to his parents’ irritation—and Natasha’s delight—he grew to prefer Max and eventually refused to answer to anything else.


2 KAREN HAWKINS
But warrior prince or not, there was no excuse for ignoring his grandmother. She thumped her cane on the carriage floor.
His lashes shifted and she knew he’d slipped a glance her way. Though it wasn’t much, it proved her point: she was being deliberately ignored.
Her hand tightened on the gold cane top and she imagined his face if she rapped the cane across his knee. That would make him take heed. Sadly, it would also infuriate him, and she needed to be in his good graces. At least until she found a way out of her not-so-little predicament.
She forced her tightly curled fingers to relax. There would be time to sort that out later. For now, she should focus on her grandson. To be honest, he worried her.
Like his three brothers, he was tall and broad shoul- dered, his hair thick and black, his eyes a deep green. Un- like his brothers, he bore a scar on his forehead, caused by the graze of a bullet during some battle. Other scars marked his chin and jaw, and doubtless other parts of his body. The scars she could see did not concern her, though.
Lately she’d come to think that her grandson bore much deeper wounds. If what his companions reported was true, the death of Max’s childhood friend and one of his top aides, Dimitri Fedorovich, had strongly af- fected him.
Not that Max would admit such a thing, no matter how many opportunities she gave him. He hadn’t be- come the best general and the most brilliant tactician


The Prince and I 3
in all of Europe by admitting weakness, and he wasn’t about to start now.
Damn it. She scowled as she regarded his handsome profile. Even scarred, with an oft-broken nose, he still looked princely. As befits a prince of the blood of stately Oxe—
The coach jerked to one side, tilting crazily as if lift- ing onto two wheels. Natasha grabbed the edge of her seat but was tossed forward. With the grace of a lion, Max caught her midair and set her back into her seat, just as the coach slammed back onto all four wheels and continued on at a much faster pace.
Huffing, Natasha collected her shawl, tugging it back over her shoulders in the light of the wildly swing- ing lantern. “That was nearly a dangerous accident— no surprise, considering the way this coachman has driven, hitting every bump and hole in the road.”
No longer pretending to be asleep, Max flicked back the curtain and looked outside, his brow lowered.
Shouts mingled with the wild neighing of horses and the coach suddenly lurched to a dramatic halt, slid- ing to one side of the road. There was a thud and then a drop, as one wheel seemed to slip into a ditch. Once again Natasha flew forward, a rag doll tossed by the wild ride. She would have hit the edge of the opposite seat had Max not once again caught her.
He deposited her on the coach floor and blew out the lantern, casting them into darkness.
She scrambled to return to her seat, but he placed a hand on her shoulder. “Stay.”


4 KAREN HAWKINS
“I will not sit on the floor—”
“Shh! I must listen.” Max peered through a small crack in the curtain, a sliver of light from the lantern out- side making a white slash across his face. “The luggage coaches have stopped as well.”
Discordant voices rose in the dark; yelling, followed by anxious shouts.
Natasha noticed the suddenly firm line of his mouth, the intentness of his expression.
A voice bellowed through the night, harsh and as- tonishingly loud, asking the coachmen to step down.
Natasha gripped her cane tighter. “Highwaymen?” She’d heard there were none, but she’d told Max that they preyed constantly on this isolated road in order to convince him to escort her. “I told you there would be—” “Silence,” he hissed. Another bellow rang out, this time an oddly polite but firm request to the two out- riders to dismount. At the sound of a scuffle, Max’s face grew harsher as he closed the leather curtain, leaving them in blackness. She heard a rustling move- ment, and then a blanket was tossed over her. “Stay
here.”
Nyet!” She yanked the blanket from her head, smoothing her mussed hair. “I will not hide.”
“You will do as I tell you.” The soft words brooked no argument, and she realized she was hearing the general, not her grandson.
“Whatever happens,” he said calmly, “do not let them know you are here. If they open the door, make yourself as small as possible and do not move. If we are lucky, they will not see you in the dark.”


The Prince and I 5
“You don’t need to tell me what to do; I am not a fool.”
“What you are is a stubborn old woman far too used to getting your way.”
“Pah!”
He lifted one corner of the curtain to provide a faint ray of light as he adjusted his sword, and then quickly examined his pistol. Satisfied, he returned it to its hid- ing place in the back of his belt, and closed the curtain. In the dark, she heard the click of the door handle.
She lunged for his arm, grabbing it with both hands. “You cannot go out there!”
There was a chilled silence, and she could imagine the hardness of his expression. With a wince, she released him. “You cannot protect me outside. That is your job: to protect me and no one else. If someone opens the door you may shoot them, but you will not place yourself in danger—”
“Stay down.” With that he threw open the door, the dim light outlining his broad figure. The last thing she saw before he was enveloped by darkness was his black fur-lined cape swinging from his broad shoulders, his boots agleam in the lantern light.
Shutting the door behind him, Max gave quick thanks for the low mist that allowed him to make his way unseen behind a trunk that had fallen off one of the other coaches. It laid on its side, broken open, several of Tata Natasha’s expensive fur-lined cloaks spilled across the mud.
Crouching behind the trunk, he surveyed the scene before him.  Two men  wearing kerchiefs  over their


6                                 KAREN HAWKINS
lower faces had collected the coachmen into a small knot. Two more masked highwaymen guarded the other coaches’ doors to prevent the inhabitants from exiting. As Max peered over the trunk, a third masked highwayman was sent to watch Tata Natasha’s coach. Max had been fortunate to get out when he had.
Where are my men? He leaned to the side of the trunk, keeping low. Piotr Orlov, his large, gruff sergeant at arms, the youngest son of a minor noble from Oxen- burg, and Max’s most trusted man, leaned against a tree at the side of the road, holding his arm against his chest, a smear of blood on his forehead. A few paces back, Ivan Golovin, a tough four-campaign veteran, was unconscious on the ground, his nose bloodied. The rest of his men were nowhere to be seen, probably sent ahead by Orlov to scout for just such an ambush. Which I suggested he do, dammit. The thieves were fortunate in choosing their time of attack. Or have they been watching us as we travel?
Max bit back a growl. The security of the entire trip had been marred by Tata Natasha’s demands that they stop at every inn they passed, a practice he’d allowed to continue for far too long. The delays had forced them to travel at night, which was much more dangerous, but he’d been swayed in his decision by her age and ob- vious exhaustion. Despite her hard words and harder glares, Tata Natasha was old and frail. And as unpleasant as sour wine. That old woman will be the death of me.
A movement in the bushes drew Max’s gaze. Ah. More of you hide among the trees. He counted four shadowy fig- ures flitting in the mist. It was impossible to tell if the


The Prince and I 7
men were armed, but it would be foolish to assume they weren’t.
As if this number of ruffians weren’t enough, sitting astride a steed at the head of the whole was a lone man. The mist swirled about the legs of his steed while a lan- tern shone behind him, casting light on those before him and highlighting the barrel of a long rifle. A sharp- shooter, and in the same position I’d have placed him, too.
Which was it, a rifle or a blunderbuss? The uncer- tain light glinted on the barrel but hid the rest of the weapon. Rifles were harder to load than blunderbusses, and had to be cleaned between shots as the barrels were easily fouled by black powder residue. But they were extremely accurate; one shot could be deadly. Whoever planned this little encounter has done a damn fine job.
As Max watched, a slender figure appeared at the edge of the road. The newcomer held back, away from the action, yet all of the thieves instantly focused on the slight man. So, the leader has shown himself.
The man spoke quietly to the largest of the thieves watching over the coachmen, a veritable giant who turned toward  where  Max  was  hidden  behind  the fallen trunk.
The large man’s hand moved to the curved butt of what appeared to be a pistol stuck into his thick leather belt as he bellowed, “Pray come oot, Yer Highness. We know ye’re hidin’ there. We can see ye, we can.”
So they know my title. Interesting. There was little profit in continuing to hide if the thieves knew where he was, and much profit to be had in facing them, so Max rose and stepped forward.


8 KAREN HAWKINS
“Hold!” the giant barked. “Dinna come any closer.” Max eyed his opponent narrowly. The brute was larger than any man he’d ever seen, his face broad, a red beard showing beneath the kerchief on his lower face. The man possessed an impossibly thick neck and
had arms the size of most men’s thighs.
“I will speak with your leader.” Icy puffs of breath punctuated every word.
The man’s eyes narrowed. “Ye’ve an odd accent.” “Do not pretend that surprises you. You know who I
am, so you must also know I’m from Oxenburg.”
“I know many things, bu’ I’ve ne’er heard of this Oxenburg.”
“That’s quite all right. I only recently learned of Scotland, and I’m beginning to dislike it.”
The man’s brows snapped together. “If ye dinna like it, then ye can go home where ye belong.”
Another man snorted, this one a slim youth with flowing brown hair, his mocking blue eyes bold over the top of his mask. A jaunty but worn hat adorned his head, a scarlet cape swinging from his narrow shoul- ders. “A prince, eh? Lord Loudan is gettin’ fancy.”
They also know whose guests we are. How did they get such complete information?
As if aware of the slip, the large highwayman cut a warning glare at the second man, who shrugged, not the least remorseful.
Loud of mouth and brash of person are weaknesses, my young friend. The giant has the right of it. Max addressed the bolder highwayman. “You know I’m a guest of the earl’s.”


The Prince and I 9
“Tha’ is the reason we’re here.” The highwayman’s voice dripped with barely contained fury. “We only bother the low scum as come to visit his lordship, the Earl of Louse.”
The giant hissed a warning, but the lad was roused and continued, “The earl has done naught bu’ thieve his whole life, and we’re here to see to it tha’ he stops.” “If what you say is true—which I doubt . . .” Max paused to let that sink in, watching the lad stiffen in outrage. “. . . then look at you. You are no better than
he: a low-life thief.”
The youth’s blue eyes blazed, but before the fool could open his mouth and blurt out more information, the giant snapped, “Whist, now! Dinna say nobut wha’ needs to be known—which isna much.” The giant re- turned his attention to Max, his breath puffing white like that of a huge dragon getting ready to spit fire. “Throw yer pistol on the ground.”
Max wished he could draw and engage; except for the lone highwayman positioned at the head, not a single man had his weapon drawn. While not having their guns ready was a good strategy to keep rowdy troops from unnecessarily firing and perhaps raising an alarm, it left them open to surprises.
It was sorely tempting to answer this lack of fore- sight, but the realization that his grandmother was in the coach behind him and thus directly in the line of fire, kept Max from pursuing the risky course.
Instead, he shrugged. “As you wish.” He withdrew his sword and dropped it at his feet, yet close enough to reach should the opportunity arise.


10 KAREN HAWKINS
“And yer pistol.” The giant’s eyes narrowed. “Dinna say there’s none, fer we know ye’ve one, and mayhap two.”
Max resignedly removed his pistol and dropped it to the frozen ground beside his sword.
The giant nodded at the youth, who loped forward to pick up the weapons. Ignoring the sword, he fell upon the pistol, examining it in an expert way. “Silver engravin’. Italian?”
“And a hair trigger,” Max said in a dry tone. “Don’t point it in a direction you don’t wish to shoot.”
The young highwayman’s jaw tightened. “I know pistols, I do. I’ve no need fer yer advice.” He emptied the chamber, pocketed the bullets, and dropped the pis- tol back onto the road beside the sword.
Why didn’t he take the—
“Dinna get any wild ideas, Prince,” the giant warned. “The only idea I have is to find a warm fire and some
ale, and there’s none to be had here.”
The giant grunted agreement. “’Tis possible a small donation might see ye sooner on yer way to a wee dram and a warm fire.”
“A donation?”
“Aye. A thanks, ye could call it, fer safe passage.” The giant’s eyes gleamed with humor. “The woods are filled wi’ bandits.”
“So I’ve heard,” Max returned drily. He’d never met such polite highwaymen, and in his wide travels he’d met quite a few. What is this? There must be a reason. Per- haps I should test them. He rocked back on his heels. “I’m


The Prince and I 11
in no mood to pay a donation. If you wish for hand- outs, go see your parish church.”
The giant didn’t move, but his brows lowered.
Max added, “In fact, I am tired of standing in the cold and believe I shall go.” He bent and retrieved his sword.
“Stop there!” The huge man moved toward Max, his beefy hand rising to the pistol stuck in his belt. “Drop yer sword!”
Nyet,” Max said softly. He slid the sword back into its scabbard, using the side of his foot to surreptitiously nudge away his pistol so it wouldn’t be underfoot if he had to use the blade. “If you want it, then come and get it.” He readied himself, but the leader, who still held himself from the group, murmured a word that made the giant’s brow blacken yet more, though his hand moved away from the pistol in his belt.
Obviously every bit as disappointed as Max, the huge man growled, “I suppose ye can keep it. If ye’ll find yer way to makin’ a small donation to our cause, oot of sheer happiness of havin’ a safe way ahead of ye.”
“How do I know it’s safe from here on out?” “Because we made it so, dinna we, men?”
“Aye!” replied the men, several of them oddly gruff in tone.
The giant nodded his shaggy head. “There ye go; a guarantee. If ye like, ye can toss yer gold where ye threw yer pistol.”
If Tata Natasha weren’t here, the outcome of this would be vastly different. Even as he had the thought, Max caught


12                               KAREN HAWKINS
a movement where Orlov stood. In Oxenburgian, Max said quietly to his sergeant, “We cannot. The duchess is with us.”
Orlov, whose hand had been slowly moving toward his hidden pistol, grimaced and then gave a regretful nod. “Aye, General.”
“Here now,” the giant called gruffly. “Dinna be talkin’ tha’ gibberish. If ye’ve somethin’ to say, then say it in proper language.”
“I was telling my sergeant we should cooperate so that we might soon be enjoying a beverage near a warm fire.”
“If he’d really like to help quicken yer departure, he can donate to the cause, too.” The giant looked at Orlov. “Would ye like to gi’ a bit to the effort, lad?”
Orlov scowled, but with a regretful glance at the duchess’s coach, pulled some coins from his pocket and tossed them where Max’s pistol lay.
Max cast a hard glance at the slender man still stand- ing in the shadows. No doubt he was silently laughing at their helplessness. Ehta prosta nivazmozhna. I will enjoy bringing you to justice, my fine friend. But for now, there was no more to be done. “Here.” Max withdrew a few coins from his pocket and tossed them to the icy mud.
The giant’s smile slipped. “Surely tha’ isna all ye ha’.” “It’s all you’ll get.”
The giant’s thick red brows knit over his nose, but he gestured to the caped highwayman, who hurried for- ward to collect the gold.
Max tried to get a look at the handle of the pistol stick-


The Prince and I 13
ing out from the youth’s waistband, but the knotted belt rope prevented a clear view. Still, the belt told its own story. A flamboyant cape but only a frayed rope for a belt. The cape is fine indeed, but the belt indicates the true state of affairs.
Max flicked a glance over each of the men within the faint light cast by the lanterns on the sides of the coaches. Though he could see none of their faces, their barely adequate coats, boots with holes in the toes, and the rest of their worn attire were plainly visible.
He noted then the thinness of the caped lad’s hands, the deep lines around his eyes. They look as if they’re hungry.
Max’s jaw tightened and he sent a look at Orlov to see if he’d noticed the same thing, receiving a faint nod in return.
Max turned his attention back to the young man, who was now tucking the coins into a worn leather bag. As he did so, he bit each one. “Ian, they’re all real!”
The giant stiffened, while the leader shifted in the shadows.
“Sorry,” the lad mumbled as he pulled out a small bag and secreted the coins away and then hurried out of sight.
Max eyed the giant with a grin. “Ian, is it?”
Ian’s thick brows couldn’t have been knit tighter. “Ferget ye heard tha’. Now open the door to yer coach an’ ask the grand duchess if she wishes to donate to our cause, too. I daresay she has a brooch or two she’s tired of, and would like to see used fer worthier reasons.”
Nyet. There’s nothing of value in that coach other


14 KAREN HAWKINS
than a cranky old woman. Well . . . except a basket of food I’m willing to ‘donate,’ as you call it.”
“Food?”
Da. Some spit-roasted chickens, fresh bread, jams, boiled eggs, cheeses. You may have it only if you will leave the grand duchess in peace and let us leave quickly.” The giant’s eyes glistened and he placed a hand on his stomach as if already tasting the contents of the bas-
ket. His gaze flickered to their leader.
A faint nod answered him.
“Fine!” Ian rocked back on his heels, looking well pleased. “We accept yer donation. A chicken or two would no’ be amiss.”
Max returned to the coach and opened the door, his body blocking the view of the interior. A slat of light fell across Tata Natasha’s furious face.
“What are you doing?” she hissed.
He picked up the basket, whispering sternly, “I told you to stay hidden.”
Nyet!” Her gnarled hands grabbed the basket handle. “I won’t give good chickens to a group of dirty thieves!” Max lowered his voice. “They are hungry, Tata Na-
tasha.”
She stopped tugging on the basket, her gaze locked on his face. “How do you know?”
“I can see it in their eyes.”
“Oh.” She released the basket, adding in a sullen tone, “I suppose they can have it, then. We can stop at the next inn—”
Nyet. We go straight to Rowallen Castle. We will be safer there than in these woods.”


The Prince and I 15
She scowled. “I will starve by the time we—”
He threw the blanket back over her head, took the basket, and slammed the door behind him.
Ian had moved closer, the light from the lone re- maining lantern now slanting across his face, and Max could see the man’s blue eyes were now crinkled with good humor. “The grand duchess sounds like a woman of spirit.”
“That’s one word for it. I call it stubbornness.” Max placed the basket on the ground and pushed it forward with his foot.
The giant jerked his head, and the scarlet-cloaked youth came to take the basket. He peered inside, his eyes wide. “Och, Ian, there’s a ham hock the size o’ yer heed! An’ bread, an’ pots of jam, an’— Bloody ’ell, there’s one, two, three . . . four chickens!” He tilted the basket so his comrades could see.
The men stirred, some of them closer now and several steps away from their original posts, their gazes locked on the food.
The leader called out, his husky voice hushed but commanding.
The men returned to their posts, reluctantly tearing their gazes from the basket.
Hopefully a group of thieves so obviously happy to have procured a basket of food would now be in a hurry to send them on their way. But Max still had to tread carefully, for there were weapons all around him and— He frowned. Were they even loaded? Men who couldn’t afford food could not afford powder. If Tata Natasha weren’t here, I’d test that theory.


16 KAREN HAWKINS
The scarlet-clad thief carried the heavy basket into the mist-thickened woods. One of the shadowy figures came out from behind a tree to take it from him, lantern light catching the thief’s hands—far too delicate and slender for a man’s.
A woman? Max’s frown deepened. Perhaps the shadowy figures are all women, trying to create the imager of a larger force—
“The basket and the coins are a guid start,” the giant said, obviously emboldened by his success. “But I no- ticed ye’ve a pretty bauble upon yer hand. One last dona- tion, Prince, and we’ll leave ye to a smooth, safe journey.” Max looked down at his gold ring, a gift from his mother when he’d turned sixteen. He curled his hand closed. “While you are more than welcome to the gold and the basket, the ring is personal property. You’ll get
no more.”
Ian’s brow lowered as he rested his hand on the butt of his pistol. “Ye’re a greedy one. I’ve a mind to—”
The leader coughed softly, and Ian removed his hand from his pistol.
You have them under tight control, my friend. Max couldn’t help but grudgingly admit some respect for the brigand leader.
But only a little. “Our business is done, and—”
The leather curtain on the coach lifted and Tata Natasha’s hand appeared, no longer be-ringed as she tossed some rings upon the ground, a few gold coins rolling with them.
Damn it, you were told to stay hidden! Will you never listen?


The Prince and I 17
Ian blinked in astonishment at the unexpected bounty, and his eyes crinkled with delight. “Och, Her Grace is generous, unlike her grandson.” He raised his voice, “Thank ye, Yer Grace!” He squinted at the reply, which wasn’t in English. “Wha’ did she say?”
“It had to do with goats and your parentage.” The giant chuckled. “Full of vinegar, is she?”
“You have no idea. But be that as it may, I am done with this, so I will leave you.” Max turned and walked toward the coach.
“Hold!” the giant bellowed. “Wha’ of tha’ ring?”
Max turned, resting his hand on one hip. It was a showy pose, but it put his hand in easy reach of his sword. “If you wish to attack me, you with your entire retinue of fools and thieves, all so brave behind your pistols and muskets, then do so now. I grow tired of this game.”
Ian puffed out his cheeks, his face red. “I’ll show ye brave—”
“Stand doon, Ian. I ha’ this.” The leader stepped for- ward, walking into the edge of the light that pooled from the lantern. Tallish and slender, he was dressed far more dapperly than the others in a green coat with silver buttons.
Max hid his pleasure at this new development. Fi- nally, you join in the fun. Perhaps this little encounter will be enjoyable after all.




Comments

  1. So excited for this one, I love Karen Hawkins!
    email-mstlcmn@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love Karen Hawkins' books, thanks so much for the excerpt! This is going to be a fun read, I can't wait to find out how Lady Murian fares as Robin Hood. Unfortunately, I'm Canadian so I won't be able to win but congrats to the lucky winners of Karen's book!

    ReplyDelete

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