The Prize by Julie Garwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"He never knew what hit him." The first line in this book was enough to hook me. How could I not love a heroine who was smart and resourceful enough to drop the hero to the ground in the middle of a battle?
Baron Royce is Norman and Lady Nicholaa is Saxon, and that makes them enemies in 1066. The Prize starts with Nicholaa trying to defend her home against Royce and his "barbaric" soldiers. She's successfully defeated the three previous knights sent by "the bastard" William of Normandy, soon to be the new King of England, but she realizes Royce is on a league of his own and the chances of her winning against him are nonexistent. So she tricks him into thinking she's her twin sister Danielle - a nun! - and manages to escape and find sanctuary in the nearest convent. When Royce finds out that there's no sister Danielle and that he's been had by the cunning Nicholaa, he can't help but appreciate how clever she is and surprises his men by laughing instead of getting furious with her deception.
Arrogant that he is, Royce doesn't see Nicholaa's escape as a defeat, as he's sure he'll be able to leave her sanctuary and go with him to meet his King William in London. As the Saxon woman who's so valiantly defended her family's holding, she's a legend among the Normans, the bride the King is going to give to his most worthy knight as "the prize" in a contest for her hand - and her family's holding and lands, of course. As it happens, Royce does get Nicholaa to leave her sanctuary and go with him to London, even though she keeps trying to escape every chance she gets along the way. During this journey, they start seeing each other with new eyes, and Royce grows more and more attracted to Nicholaa while she realizes how honorable, caring and protective he is. And that's how they start to fall in love with each other, against their better judgment. Naturally, they still have a long way to understand and accept their feelings, and that's where the fun lies. :)
I liked Royce from the start, and he won me when he laughed - instead of going ballistic - at being bested by Nicholaa with her "nun act". He was arrogant, hard and a bit gruff on the outside, but soft and oh-so-sweet on the inside. He was like a delicious petit gâteau, my favorite dessert, and all I can say is, Yummy, may I have some more, please? ;) He was smart and brave, but didn't think he was worthy of Nicholaa because she was a beautiful and gentle lady while he was just an "ugly" - his face was marred by a horrible scar - and hardened warrior. But she never saw him that way and, incredibly, she even thought his "handsomeness" was disturbing. Ah, love is blind, indeed!
Nicholaa was a strong and cunning heroine. She was a bit ditzy and naive sometimes - her convoluted plan to get Royce drunk with ale backfired big time, LOL - but that came across as charming and not annoying. She also seemed unable to stop herself from telling lies - all for the greater good, of course - but she couldn't keep them straight to save her life and Royce had no problem seeing through them. The way he kept cornering and trapping her inside her lies had me laughing out loud every single time.
And Royce's lectures... I loved those scenes. The man loved to lecture Nicholaa, even though he was aware she didn't pay any attention to it. I had a smile on my face every time he clasped his hands behind his back, started lecturing her and she just sat there with her hands folded on her lap, daydreaming the whole time. That was just one example of the many interactions between Royce and Nicholaa that were just a joy to read, and I couldn't get enough of them.
The only thing that I found a bit "jarring" was the lack of closure in regards to Nicholaa's older brother Thurston. That wasn't "bad" enough to make me enjoy this book any less, it's just that I wanted to know what happened to him.
All in all, what's left for me to say? Another Garwood, another winner! At this point, I'm a truly devoted fan of Ms. Garwood. I haven't gone through all her backlist yet, but I really loved everything I've read so far. Having read her books almost back to back, it was easy for me to notice that her stories have some kind of a "formula", but it's one I love so I'm all for it. Very well done, Ms. Garwood!
View all my reviews