The Prize cover

  • On Sale: January 1, 2009 (Reprint Edition)
  • HQN, 592 pages
  • Regency,
  • ISBN-13: 978-0373773633

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“Joyce’s writing is like silk! Powerful, evocative and emotionally charged!”

–Literary Times

The Prize

 

An infamous sea captain of the British Royal Navy, Devlin O’Neill is consumed with the need to destroy the man who brutally murdered his father. Having nearly ruined the Earl of Eastleigh financially, he is waiting to strike the final blow. And his opportunity comes in the form of a spirited young American woman, the earl’s niece, who is about to set his cold, calculating world on fire.

Born and raised on a tobacco plantation, orphan Virginia Hughes is determined to rebuild her beloved Sweet Briar. Daringly, she sails to England alone, hoping to convince her uncle to lend her the funds. Instead she finds herself ruthlessly kidnapped by the notorious Devlin O’Neill. As his hostage, she will soon find her best-laid plans thwarted by a passion that could seal their fates forever...

Excerpt

From Chapter 5

Sunlight was streaming brightly through the portholes of the cabin when she awoke. Every part of her body ached and her head pounded, while her eyes felt too heavy to even open. She had never been so tired in her life, and she had no wish to awake. She snuggled more deeply beneath the covers, cocooned in warmth. Then a mild irritation began—only the backside of her body seemed to be covered.

She groped for the blanket...and realized there were no covers and she was not alone.

tired in her life, and she had no wish to awake. She snuggled more deeply beneath the covers, cocooned in warmth. Then a mild irritation began—only the backside of her body seemed to be covered. She groped for the blanket...and realized there were no covers and she was not alone.

She stiffened.

The length of a hard body lay against her, warming her from her shoulders to her toes. She felt a soft breath feathering her jaw, and a arm was draped over her waist.

Oh God, she thought, blinking into bright midday sunlight. And trembling, a new tension filling her, she looked at the hand on her waist.

She already knew who lay in bed beside her and she stared at O’Neill’s large, strong, bronzed hand, which lay carefully upon her. She swallowed, an odd heavy warmth unfurling in the depth of her being.

How had this happened? She thought with panic. Of course the explanation was simple enough and she guessed it immediately—sometime after the storm died, he had stumbled into bed just as she had, too tired to care that she lay there. That likelihood did not decrease her distress. In fact her agitation grew.

Then a terrible comprehension seized her.

His hand lay carefully on her waist.

Not limp and relaxed with sleep, but carefully controlled and placed.

Her heart skipped then drummed wildly. He was not asleep. She would bet her life on it.

She debated feigning sleep until he left her bed. But her heart was racing so madly it was an impossibility, especially as she felt his hand tighten on her waist. Virginia turned abruptly and faced a pair of brilliant silver eyes and the face of an archangel. Their gazes locked.

She didn’t move, didn’t breath, and could think of nothing intelligent to say.

Then his gaze moved to her temple, which she now realized truly hurt. “Are you all right?” he asked, also still. His gaze slipped slowly to her mouth, where it lingered before moving slowly back up to her eyes.

His gaze felt like a silken caress.

“I…” She stopped, incapable of speech. And she could not help but stare. His face was terribly close to hers. He had firm, unmoving lips. Her gaze shot back to his. His face was expressionless, carved in stone and impossible to read, but his eyes seemed bright.

She wondered what it would feel like, to have his hard mouth soften and cover hers. “You saved my life,” she whispered nervously. “Thank you.”

His haw flexed. He started to shove off the bed.

She gripped the hand that had been on her waist. “You saved the ship, the crew. I saw what you did. I saw you up there.”

“You are in my bed, Virginia and unless you wish to remain here with me for another hour, at least, leaving the last of your youth behind, I suggest you let me get up.”

She remained still. Her mind raced. Her body burned for his touch and she knew it. It was foolish now to deny. Somehow, his heroism of the night before had changed everything. Anyway, he was perfectly capable of getting up, never mind that she had seized his wrist. She found herself looking at his mouth again. She had never been kissed.

Abruptly he lurched off the bed and before she could even cry out, he was gone. Virginia slowly sat up, stunned.

There was no relief. There was a morass of confusion, and more bewildering, there was disappointment.

Virginia remained on the bed, sitting there, beginning to realize what she had almost done.

She had been a hairbreadth away from kissing her captor—she had wanted his kiss.

Disbelief overcame her and she leapt to her feet as a knock sounded on her door. O’Neill never knocked, so she snapped, “Who is it?”

“Gus. Captain asked that I bring you bathing water.”

“Come in,” she choked, turning away. O’Neill was the enemy. He had taken her against her will from the Americana, an act of pure avarice and greed. He was holding her against her will now. He stood between her and Sweet Briar. How could she have entertained, even for an instant, a desire for his touch, his kiss?

Gus entered, followed by two seamen carrying pails of hot water. He set a pitcher of fresh water on the dining table, not looking at her. Both sailors also treated her as if she were invisible, filling the hipbath.

How kind, she thought, suddenly furious with him—and furious with herself. She had never even thought of kissing anyone until a moment ago. This had to be his fault entirely—she was overwrought from the crisis of the abduction, of the storm, the crisis that was him! He was somehow taking advantage of her state of confusion, her nerves. In any case, the entire interlude was unacceptable. He was the enemy and would remain so until she was released. One did not kiss one’s enemy, oh no.

Besides, kissing would surely lead to one certain fate—becoming his whore!

“Is there anything else that you need, Miss Hughes?” Gus was asking, cutting into her raging thoughts.

“No thank you,” she said far too tersely. Her cheeks were on fire. She was on fire. And she was afraid.

Gus turned, the other sailors already leaving.

Virginia fought the fear, the despair. She reminded herself that she had to escape. She had to convince her uncle to save Sweet Briar. Soon, this nightmare that was O’Neill would be only that, passing bad dream, a memory becoming distant.

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