The Prize

The Prize

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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, and will soon find her best-laid plans thwarted by a passion that could seal their fates forever…

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781522675952
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication date: 06/28/2016
Series: de Warenne Dynasty Series

About the Author

Known primarily for her historical romances, Brenda Joyce is the author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed de Warenne series, as well as the Deadly series and the Dark series. She has written over 50 novels and novellas and there are more than 14 million copies of her books in print. An avid equestrian, Joyce lives on a ranch in Arizona with her family.

Read an Excerpt

April 5, 1812

Richmond, Virginia

"She doesn't even know how to dance," one of the young ladies snickered.

Her cheeks burning, Virginia Hughes was acutely aware of the dozen young women standing queued behind her in the ballroom. She had been singled out by the dance master and was now being given a lecture on the sissonne ballotté, one of the steps used in the quadrille. Not only did she not comprehend the step, she didn't care. She had no interest in dancing, none whatsoever—she only wished to go home to Sweet Briar.

"But you must never cease with polite conversation, Miss Hughes, even in the execution of a step. Otherwise you will be severely misconstrued," the dark, slim master was admonishing.

Virginia really didn't hear him. She closed her eyes and it was as if she had been swept away to another time and place, one far better than the formidable walls of the Marmott School for Genteel Young Ladies.

Virginia breathed deeply and was consumed with the heady scent of honeysuckle; it was followed by the far stronger and more potent scent of the black Virginia earth, turned up now for the spring burning. She could picture the dark fields, stretching away as far as her eye dared see, parallel lines of slaves made white by their clothes as they spread the coals, and closer, the sweeping lawns, rose gardens and ancient oaks and elms surrounding the handsome brick house that her father had built. "She could have been built in England," he'd said proudly, many times, "a hundred years ago. No one can take a look at her and know any differently."

Virginia missed Sweet Briar, but not half as much as she missed her parents. A wave of grief crashed over her,so much so her eyes flew open and she found herself standing back in the damnable ballroom of the school she had been sent to, the dance master looking extremely put out, his hands on his slim hips, a grim expression on his dark Italian face.

"What's she doing with her eyes screwed up like that?" someone whispered.

"She's crying, that's what she's doing," came a haughty reply.

Virginia knew it was the blond beauty, Sarah Lewis— who was, according to Sarah, the most coveted debutante in Richmond. Or would be, when she came out at the end of the year. Virginia turned, fury overcoming her, and strode toward Sarah. Virginia was very petite and far too thin, with a small triangular face that held sharp cheekbones and brilliant violet eyes; her dark hair, waist long, was forced painfully up, as she refused to cut it, and appeared in danger of crushing her with its massive weight. Sarah was a good three inches taller than Virginia, not to mention a stone heavier. Virginia didn't care.

She'd been in her first fight when she was six, a fisticuffs, and when her father had broken up the match, she'd learned she was fighting like a girl. Instruction in how to throw a solid punch—like a boy—had followed, much to her mother's dismay. Virginia could not only throw a solid punch, she could shoot the top off a bottle at fifty feet with a hunting rifle. She didn't stop until she was nose to nose with Sarah—which required standing on her tiptoes.

"Dancing is for fools like you," she cried, "and your name should be Dancing Fool Sarah."

Sarah gasped, stepping back, her eyes wide—and then the anger came. "Signor Rossini! Did you hear what the country bumpkin said to me?"

Virginia held her head impossibly higher. "This country bumpkin owns an entire plantation—all five thousand acres of it. And if I know my math—which I do—then that makes me one hell of a lot richer than you, Miss Dancing Fool."

"You're jealous,"' Sarah hissed, "because you're skinny and ugly and no one wants you...which is why you are here!"

Virginia landed hard on her heels. Something cracked open inside of her, and it was painful and sharp. Because Sarah had spoken the truth. No one wanted her, she was alone, and dear God, how awfully it hurt.

Sarah saw that her barb had hit home. She smiled. "Everyone knows. Everyone knows you've been sent here until your majority! That's three years, Miss Hughes. You will be old and wrinkled before you ever go home to your farm!"

"That's enough," Signor Rossini said. "Both of you ladies step over to—"

Virginia didn't wait to hear the rest. She turned and ran from the ballroom, certain there were more titters behind her, hating Sarah, hating the other girls, the dance master, the whole school and even her parents... How could they have left her? How?

In the hallway she collapsed to the floor, hugging her thin knees to her breasts, praying the pain would go away. And she even hated God, because He had taken her parents away from her in one terrible blow, on that awful rainy night last fall. "Oh, Papa," she whispered against her bony knee. "I miss you so."

She knew she must not cry. She would die before letting anyone see her cry. But she had never felt so lost and alone before. In fact, she had never been lost and alone before. There had been sunny days spent riding across the plantation with her father and evenings in front of the hearth while Mama embroidered and Papa read. There had been a house full of slaves, each and every one of whom she had known since the very day of her birth. There had been Tillie, her best friend in the entire world, never mind that she was a house slave two years older than Virginia. She hugged her knees harder, inhaling deeply and blinking furiously. It was a long moment before she regained her composure.

And when she did, she sat up straighter. What had Sarah said? That she was to remain at the school until her majority? But that was impossible! She had just turned eighteen and that meant she would be stuck in this awful prison for another three years.

Virginia stood up, not bothering to brush any dust from her black skirts, which she wore in mourning. It had been six months since the tragic carriage accident that had taken her parents' lives and while the headmistress had expressed an interest in Virginia giving up mourning, she had solidly refused. She intended to mourn her parents forever. She still could not understand why God had let them die.

But surely that witch Sarah Lewis did not know what she was speaking about.

Very disturbed, Virginia hurried down the wood-paneled hall. Her only relative was an uncle, Harold Hughes, the Earl of Eastleigh. After her parents had died, he had sent his condolences and instructions for her to proceed to the Marmott School in Richmond, as he was now her official guardian. Virginia barely recalled any of this; her life then had been reduced to a blur of pain and grief. One day she had found herself in the school, not quite recalling how she had gotten there, only vaguely remembering being in Tillie's arms one last time, the two girls sobbing goodbyes. Once the initial grief had lessened, she and Tillie had exchanged a series of letters—Sweet Briar was eighty miles south of Richmond and just a few miles from Norfolk. Virginia had learned that the earl was trustee of her estate and that he had ordered everything to continue to be managed as it had been before his brother's death. Surely, if Sarah was correct, Tillie would have told her of such a terrible and cruel intention on the part of her guardian. Unless she herself did not know of it....

Thinking of Tillie and Sweet Briar always made her homesick. The urge to return home was suddenly overwhelming. She was eighteen, and many young women her age were affianced or even married with their own households. Before their deaths her parents hadn't raised the subject of marriage, for which Virginia had been grateful. She wasn't quite sure what was wrong with her, but marriage—and young men—had never occupied her mind. Instead, since the age of five, when Randall Hughes had mounted her on his horse in front of him, she had worked side by side with her father every single day. She knew every inch of Sweet Briar, every tree, every leaf, every flower. (The plantation was a hundred acres, not five thousand, but Sarah Lewis had needed to be taken down a peg or two.) She knew all about tobacco, the crop that was Sweet Briar. She knew the best ways to transplant the seedling crop, the best way to cure the harvested leaves, the best auction houses. Like her father, she had followed the price per bale with avid interest—and fervent hope. Every summer she and her father would dismount and walk through the tobacco fields, fingering the leafy plants in dirty hands, inhaling their succulent aroma, judging the quality of their harvest.

She had had other duties and responsibilities as well. No one was kinder than her mother, and no one knew herbs and healing better. No one cared more about their slaves. Virginia had attended dozens of fevers and flux, right by her mother's side. She was never afraid to walk into the slave quarters when someone was ill—in fact, she packed a darn good poultice. Although Mama had not allowed her to attend any birthings, Virginia could birth foals, too, and had spent many a night waiting for a pregnant mare to deliver. Why shouldn't she be at home now, running Sweet Briar with their foreman, James MacGregor? Was there any point in being at this damnable school? She'd been born to run the plantation. Sweet Briar was in her blood, her soul.

Virginia knew she wasn't a lady. She'd been wearing britches from the moment she had figured out that there were britches, and she liked them better than skirts. Papa hadn't cared—he'd been proud of her outspoken ways, her natural horsemanship, her keen eye. He had thought her beautiful, too—he'd always called her his little wild rose— but every father thought so of a daughter. Virginia knew that wasn't true. She was too thin and she had too much hair to ever be considered fair. Not that she cared. She was far too smart to want to be a lady.

Mama had been tolerant of her husband and her daughter. Both of Virginia's brothers had died at birth, first Todd and then little Charles when she was six. That was when Mama had first looked the other way about the britches, the horses, the hunting. She had cried for weeks, prayed in the family chapel and, somehow, found peace. After that, her smiles and sunny warmth had returned—but there had been no more pregnancies, as if she and Papa had made a silent pact.

Virginia couldn't comprehend why any woman would even want to be a lady. A lady had to follow rules. Most of the rules were annoying, but some were downright oppressive. Being a lady was like being a slave who didn't have the fine home of Sweet Briar. Being a lady was no different from being in shackles.

Virginia paused before the headmistress's office, the decision already made. Whether Sarah Lewis had spoken the truth or not, it no longer mattered. It was time to go home. In fact, making the decision felt good. For the first time since her parents had died, she felt strong—and brave. It was a wonderful way to feel. It was the way she had felt right up until the minister had come to their door to tell her that her parents were dead.

She knocked on the fine mahogany door.

Mrs. Towne, a plump, pleasant lady, gestured her inside. Her kind eyes held Virginia's, solemn now, when usually they held dancing lights. "I'm afraid you will have to learn to dance sooner or later, Miss Hughes."

Virginia grimaced. The one person she almost liked at the school was the headmistress. "Why?"

Mrs. Towne was briefly surprised. "Do sit down, my dear."

Virginia sat, then realized her knees were apart, her hands dangling off the arms of the chair, and quickly rearranged herself, not because she wished to be proper, but because she did not want to antagonize the headmistress now. She clamped her knees together, clasped her hands and thought about how fine it would be to be in her britches and astride her horse.

Mrs. Towne smiled. "It isn't that difficult to cooperate, dear."

"Actually, it is." Virginia was also very stubborn. That trait her mother had bemoaned.

"Virginia, ladies must dance. How else will you attend a proper party and enjoy yourself?"

Virginia didn't hesitate. "I have no use for parties, ma'am. I have no use for dancing. Frankly, it's time for me to go home."

Mrs. Towne stared in mild surprise.

Virginia forgot about sitting properly. "It's not true, is it? What that wicked Sarah Lewis said? Surely I am not to remain here—forgotten—a prisoner—for another three years?"

Mrs. Towne was grim. "Miss Lewis must have overheard me speaking privately with Mrs. Blakely. My dear, we did receive such instructions from your uncle."

Virginia was shocked speechless and she could only stare. It was a moment before she could even think.

For a while, she had been afraid that Eastleigh would send for her, forcing her to go to England, where she had no wish to go. That, at least, was one dilemma she did not have to face. But he would lock her up in this school for three more years? She'd already been here six months and she hated it! Virginia would not have it. Oh, no. She was going home.

Mrs. Towne was speaking. "I know that three years seems like a very long time, but actually, considering the way you were raised, it is probably the amount of time we need to fully instruct you in all the social graces you shall need to succeed in society, my dear. And there is good news. Your uncle intends to see you wed upon your majority."

Virginia was on her feet, beyond shock. "What?"

Mrs. Towne blinked. "I should have known you would be dismayed by the proposal. Every well-born young lady marries, and you are no exception. He intends to find a suitable husband for you—"

"Absolutely not!"

Mrs. Towne was now the one speechless.

Anger consumed Virginia. "First he sends me here? Then he thinks to lock me away for three years? Then he will send me to another prison—a marriage with a stranger? No, I think not!"

"Sit down."

"No, Mrs. Towne. You see, I will marry one day, but I will marry for love and only love. A grand passion—like my parents had." Tears blurred her vision. There would be no compromise. One day she would find a man like her father, the kind of love her parents had so obviously shared. There would be—could be—no compromise.

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Prize (de Warenne Dynasty Series) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 76 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am usually not into romance novels, but a friend of mine suggested that I read this one and I enjoyed it very much. I actually went out and bought the book for my library. And just for the record, it would be better if you allowed people to read the book for themselves instead of summarizing the entire book. It takes away the mystery and the desire to read the book for yourself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As some of the other reviewers said, I literally finished this book in a day. But in the end I came away with such mixed feelings. Yes, I kept reading because I definitely wanted to see what happened next but at the same time I felt as though it was like watching a train wreck, it's-awful but-you-just-can't-look-away sort of thing. Through the whole thing I couldn't decide if I liked Devlin at all. Especially when he started using Virginia the way he did and yet the idiot still loved him? Yes, there were times I felt like he was a heroic, tortured soul but it took soooo long for Virginia to crack through that shell that by the end of the book, I found myself skimming paragraphs so I could just find out how it ended. I wouldn't say I hated this book but I don't know if I would ever re-read it. Which to me is the sign of an excellent book, that every few months or so you break it out and read it again because you fell so in love with the characters. I guess I just had a hard time understanding the chemistry. I do give it three stars though because it did have alot of depth in the plot and in the end it was hard to put down because after all that time invested in reading the first 500 pages, I just had to find out how it ended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is my favorite book Brenda Joyce has written! I feel in love with the characters and could not put this down. Since owning it I have read it a few times now and have recommended it to others to read. I highly recommend this book!
Avid_ReaderLL More than 1 year ago
I'm glad I've read other books by Brenda Joyce before reading this one because I know she can write better stories than this! Devlin is a harsh, cruel man and I'm not sure the author gave him enough time to really redeem himself. It's hard to believe in this love story and if this is your first Brenda Joyce novel, please go read The Masquerade, The Perfect Bride, or Impossible Attraction as they are so much better! Overall, I'm very disappointed in this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I agree with one of the other reviewers....this would be a great movie. I would love to see Devlin taking a sword to that mans neck when he tries to accost Virginia.
fairfield More than 1 year ago
What can you say, A stong beautiful headstrong woman who has never know passion and a strong, drop dead gorgeous, masculine, very virle man who abducts her for revenge against her uncle. Well, you put those two together and you know fire works will go off and boy does it! Brenda Joyce writes so good that you know but can't wait until the two main characters realize that love will conquer all...even revenge!! Loved it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely LOVED this book and would love to see it as a movie some day. Devlin and Virginia are both made for each other characters.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It was very hard to put this book down for even a second. I stayed up until the crack of dawn reading this book. The Prize comes alive. I felt as if I was actually there. Brenda developed very strong characters. So much passion and great love scenes. I read a part from a love scene to my husband and he was blown away. This is a great read. It just felt so real. An Emoitonal Rollercoaster!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have been reading historical romances for over 20 years (since high school). I stopped reading a few years ago as many books started to sound the same and I just couldn't find good new authors. I started reading again this year and followed up with Brenda Joyce. Some of her earliest works are ok (Captive, The Game, The Rose, The Conqueror, Dark Fires & Darkest Heart). You can tell she develops well as an author as her middle works are just the best - Captive, Secrets, After Innocence, Splendor, Beyond Scandal and Finer Things. These last books were all great - you will enjoy them if you want solid characters, interesting plot lines and vivid hero & heroine passion. After Innocence was the best - I still think about the characters in that one - Sophie and Edward - their love was that intense. Brenda Joyce has a real knack for making her characters come alive and you will miss the stories when they come to an end. Ms. Joyce notes in this book she deviated from historical romances for a few years and came back again with The Prize. She missed writing this type of book and developing this type of plot line. I for one am glad she returned - she does it very, very well. The Prize was the first book I had picked up again in about 5 years. I was very glad to see she hadn't lost her touch. This story jumped off the pages. Virginia and Devlin were meant to be from the first time they spotted one another. The story keeps going and doesn't loose steam as the novel goes on. It is witty, charming and passionate. I like when an author gives you a strong female lead - one that doesn't buckle and become wimpy (you'll love when Virginia shoots at Devlin the first time they meet and challenges him at every turn - take that you wicked pirate!). In turn, I like when the leading man is a bit naughty and wrong at times (taking her captive and refusing to let her go out of revenge even though he knows it's wrong) but, has the conscience to reform once he finds the right love of his life. Some of the side characters are also developed well and quite likeable (such as Devlin's brother Sean, his parents and some other characters). Alot of authors can't develop anyone else or the book looses steam - Ms. Joyce is able to do this well so, everything works in her plot lines. You won't want to miss adding this one to your library. Buy it, read it and you'll agree. Enjoy!
Guest More than 1 year ago
First time I read one of Brenda Joyce's books and I am totally hooked! I can't wait to read another one - - - can't imagine it could be better than 'The Prize'. Loved the history behind the storyline.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book! If you are into historical romances like I am, you will love it. I couldn't put the book down. I read it in one week. This is a really good book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book captured my attention and kept it throughout the book! I read it three times just because it wouldn't leave my mind alone. It was soo good! The plot was fantastic! My new favorite stories are now historical. I love it when a pirate or naval officer captures and girl and takes her with them to another country aganist their will!
mbosvyle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Yuk! It starts out promising enough, though the heroine seems a little inconsistent, but then disaster! He hurts her and emotionally abuses her, repeatedly, yet she stupidly swears she still loves him. The worst kind of heroine, and a hero with few redeeming qualities, in a "romance" with the worst kind of plot twists.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I agree with all the positive reviews. Well written and interesting to the end. Will read again one day! LORRAINE
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was mesmerizing. I read it all in one sitting
avidreader78WA More than 1 year ago
Full of anachronisms and angst. Jury still out as to whether or not I finish this hot mess.
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