“Ascencion (a fictional kingdom) 1816 -- Crown Prince Rafael di Fiore has grown bored with his lifestyle, the endless days and nights of pointless pleasure. On the eve of his 30th birthday, his life still has no direction. His only training is to become his father's successor, and said father, thankfully, is in apparent good health. Rafael longs for a useful occupation with which to fill his time. He yearns to prove himself. A youthful mistake that had destroyed his faith in women and had nearly had dire consequences for Ascencion, had made the court advisors loathe to trust his judgment even now. The evening's festivities are interrupted by a summons from the King. Though he is sure of yet another reprimand, Rafael heeds the summons. However in a petty act of defiance he refuses the royal carriage sent for him, choosing to borrow a conveyance instead. This is yet another lapse in judgment, for he is beset by highwaymen, a group led by the infamous, Masked Rider.
The evening's festivities are interrupted by a summons from the King. Though he is sure of yet another reprimand, Rafael heeds the summons. However in a petty act of defiance he refuses the royal carriage sent for him, choosing to borrow a conveyance instead. This is yet another lapse in judgment, for he is beset by highwaymen, a group led by the infamous, Masked Rider.
The Masked Rider too has made an error in judgment this evening. The Prince has no intention of being made a laughingstock. She is Lady Daniela Chiaramonte, a impoverished noble woman, a female version of Robin Hood who robs the rich to feed the poor. She is wounded by the prince who stalls the band of thieves until his guard can reach him. The bandits flee but are readily apprehended, with the exception of Dani, mere yards from her home.
Dani confronts the royal guard as the lady of the house. She is demanding an explanation when the Prince arrives. The Prince is quite taken with her. The tart tongued beauty was a refreshing change from the usual women who fawned all over him. He invites her to attend his birthday gala, not knowing that he's intended her to be his gift to himself. No matter, she intends to spend that time liberating her friends.
Naturally, after all this, the Prince arrives late to the King's meeting. There he learns that his father plans to take an extended leave of absence. Rafael is elated by the opportunity to act in his stead, but his pleasure is short- lived. There is a condition -- marriage. In fact, his father has given him five suitable princesses from which to choose his bride. Angered by the manipulation, Rafe refuses, forcing the King to reveal that he is gravely ill. Disheartened by this news, Rafe agrees to his terms. He suspects, however, that foul play is involved in the King's ill health. He isn't far from the truth.
Dani's rescue plans are thwarted, as the clever Prince had separated his prisoners, forcing her to attend the Prince's birthday celebration after all. In Rafe's attempt to seduce her, he not only discovers the wound he inflicted on her, but surmises her identity as the Masked Rider as well. This time when she is caught while fleeing, but Rafe cannot bear the idea of her hanging. He proposes marriage, the perfect solution for them both. It would spare her life, and him the choice of princesses.
Within the walls of the palace is a man who envies Rafe his birthright, and will stop at nothing to claim his own. The clever villain begins to divide and conquer by preying on Dani and Rafe's fears and insecurities. Somehow though, love always seems to prevail.
The story is fast paced and difficult to put down. The reader should note that this is not a watered down historical romance. There are realistic scenes of violence that are not for the faint of heart. Casualties occur on both the side of good and of evil. The story kept this reader on the edge of her seat. Highly recommended.
Reviewed for PNR Reviews”