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Waking the princess
King, Susan, 1951-
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New York : Signet, [2003]

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339 pages ; 18 cm
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Christina Blackburn posed for a painting that ruined her life. Ever since, she vowed to suppress her passionate nature and keep her identity a secret. Now she has come face to face with the notorious painting-and its dangerously handsome owner.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

After her late husband created a risque portrait of her as the famous sleeping princess of Dundrennan, Christina Blackburn has lived with scandal and notoriety. The painting hangs in the bedroom of Sir Aedan Arthur MacBride, who has become obsessed with its stunning subject. When Aedan is commissioned by Queen Victoria to build a highway, workers find an ancient ruin in its path. The National Museum sends its antiquarian to investigate, and she is none other than Christina. In the meantime, an evil and greedy archaeologist is determined to take the credit for the find (as well as any gold that might be buried there) and will stop at nothing to reach his goal. Aedan falls in love with Christina, his beloved painting's sleeping beauty come to life, but an old family curse prevents him from asking her to marry combines Celtic myths, Arthurian legends, and the tale of Sleeping Beauty to create a delicious romantic blend in the second book in her Victorian Scotland trilogy ( Taming the Heiress BKLl 03), proving herself a masterful storyteller. --Shelley Mosley Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

An ancient Scottish legend about a beautiful maiden asleep in a rose bower and the laird of Dundrennan, for whom true love can have tragic consequences, plays out in the second installment of King's Victorian-era trilogy (following Taming the Heiress). When Sir Aedan MacBride of Dundrennan discovers historic ruins on his land, he's forced to notify the National Museum. The museum sends prim, bespectacled antiquarian Christina Blackburn, the model from Sir Aedan's most treasured painting. Since the revealing portrait reminds Christina of unhappy times with her late husband, she buries herself in her quest to unearth the ruins, which may be remnants of an early Pictish civilization. The past has made Christina close her heart to love, and the legend has made Aedan leery of it, but still the two are drawn to each other. Before they can find happiness together, however, they must circumvent the briar legend and its supposed curse and outwit a stock villain. This romance starts more slowly than King's medieval-era novels, but her fluid prose and engaging central characters weave a subtle spell. Well-researched details about Victorian archaeology and a sensational, swashbuckling climax make this Sleeping Beauty story a treat for King's fans. (Sept. 2) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Half in love with the ethereally lovely "sleeping princess" in the painting that hangs on the wall of his study, Aedan MacBride, Laird of Dundrennan by birth and civil engineer by profession, is stunned when his "princess" literally falls down the stairs-and ends up in his arms. Of course, Christina Blackburn is very real-she's the very real antiquarian sent by the National Museum to determine the historical significance of a stone wall unearthed during Aeden's highway construction project-but she is also the woman who posed for the painting. But the lairds of Dundrennan are cursed by a legend that decrees that if they marry for love, their brides will die, and Aedan is not about to endanger the woman he loves. This mesmerizing reinterpretation of the Sleeping Beauty legend takes a noble hero who wants to do the best for his people, pairs him with a passionate heroine torn between love and loyalty, adds a dash of magic, and spins a lushly romantic tale that nicely combines fairy-tale fantasy with the industrial realities of Victorian Scotland. Like her Taming the Heiress, this novel is sure to please the author's growing fan base. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Scotland, Edinburgh August, 1858 ``I will not do it.'' Christina Blackburn folded her hands demurely but stubbornly and turned away from the window in Sir Edgar Neaves's museum office, which overlooked Edinburgh's sloping streets, crowded with shops and tenements. The National Museum stood in the shadow of the great crag that supported the castle, so that little sunlight penetrated the room. ``I cannot. Surely you both understand.'' She lifted her chin and faced Sir Edgar and the other man in the office, her brother, John Blackburn. ``My dear,'' Edgar said, rising from behind his enormous mahogany desk. He was tall and handsome in a cool, perfect way, his elegance suited to the richly furnished room. ``Traveling to Dundrennan House to investigate the ancient walls found on that hillside would take only a few days of your time. You must go. This a plum, Christina.'' ``You think this is a plum, Edgar,'' she answered quietly. ``You've long wanted to acquire Dundrennan's collection for the museum. If you go, you could make another offer to--Sir Aedan, is it?'' ``Yes. Sir Aedan MacBride, the new laird and the late Sir Hugh MacBride's son. The great Highland bard left no poet in his heir, believe me. Sir Aedan is a blunt-spoken engineer who works on roadways like a common laborer. He seems uninterested in the historical importance of his estate.'' Edgar curled his lip in disdain. ``Perhaps, but since you know him, it would be more appropriate for you to go than for me,'' Christina said. ``Since I am not free to travel there just yet, I prefer that you take my place. The old wall that Sir Aedan discovered on his land, while blasting through rock for a highway, could very well be ancient. You could even publish a little paper about it. I will speak to Mr. Smith at Blackwood's Magazine on your behalf.'' ``You know that Blackwood's has already published four articles by my sister,'' John said curtly. ``She's a well respected antiquarian in her own right, Sir Edgar, without your influence.'' ``Perhaps. But she needn't be concerned about this journey. It could prove worth her time.'' ``It is not the journey. I do not know how you can expect me to go... there.'' Christina paced in front of the window, her moss-green skirt and layered petticoats rustling softly. ``My dear, charming as usual, though somewhat irrational.'' Edgar smiled indulgently. ``Please do this for me. I have promised to deliver a series of lectures at the British Museum, so I cannot go to Dundrennan for several weeks yet. You have the expertise to determine if this discovery is worth my time and the museum's interest. This stone wall could even prove to be Pictish in origin. You have a good understanding of that culture--Reverend Carriston trained you well.'' Christina sighed, thinking of her elderly uncle, who now lingered in ill health. The Reverend Walter Carriston was an authority on the ancient history of Scotland and had taught his niece much of what she knew about history, literature, and scholarly technique. ``I'm honored by your faith in me, Edgar. But surely someone else can do this.'' Although she remained calm and cool, her heart thumped in protest. She could not bear to go to Dundrennan, of all places. ``Your uncle will be disappointed if you refuse--'' Edgar's handsome brow crinkled, then smoothed. ``Ah. Is it the painting?'' Christina felt her cheeks flame, a lamentable barometer of her thoughts. She had inherited her mother's auburn hair and the translucent skin that went with it. Glancing at her brother, she saw John watching her with perceptive concern. ``Yes. The MacBrides of Dundrennan own the painting.'' ``I had nearly forgotten,'' Edgar murmured. ``The famous Blackburn painters are too prolific, the lot of you. So Stephen's painting of you as the legendary Dundrennan princess is there? How very awkward.'' ``Christina is right,'' John said, standing slowly, his cane compensating for the weakness in his left leg. ``Since the MacBrides now own the picture that caused such grief and scandal for her, she should not be expected to go to Dundrennan.'' Edgar came around the desk toward Christina. ``That was the one your husband completed just before his tragic death, isn't that so?'' Stiffening at the reminder, Christina nodded. ``Stephen sold the painting, though he had promised never to part with it.'' ``He always was an unreliable fellow,'' Edgar murmured, watching her. Lean and dark, his long face chiseled perfection, his voice a mellow purr, he was an attractive man. Christina gazed up at him, yearning to feel comforted by his nearness. Yet she did not, and never had, although she told herself that Edgar needed only to learn to show his kinder side. Sir Edgar Neaves was a respected museum director, a sophisticated, accomplished gentleman a decade older than she was. A friend of her father's, Edgar made no secret of his growing fondness for the daughter of one of Scotland's most renowned painters. He had maintained a friendship with the Blackburns, and with her, throughout the humiliating scandal that followed Stephen Blackburn's death six years earlier. Widowed and snubbed by society, Christina was grateful for Edgar's continued loyalty, and for his support of her academic efforts. Weeks ago he had asked her to marry him, and she had not yet answered while she still considered the offer. She hesitated, knowing that she did not truly love Edgar, nor did she feel any spark of passion for him. Yet she had played with the fires of passion before in a wild marriage to her second cousin, and she had been soundly burned. A relationship based on intellectual interests would be safe and might even bring contentment. Edgar was a brilliant scholar who encouraged Christina's academic interests, although he made clear his conviction that a woman could never be a man's intellectual equal. Now Edgar smiled, his cool blue eyes appreciative. ``Dear Christina, no need to be concerned about that painting. No one would recognize you as the model for Stephen's princess. You are several years older now and thinner, not as... lush as you were then.'' He rested a hand on her shoulder. ``Yet still attractive.'' ``Good Lord, Neaves,'' John burst out. ``A little tact would be welcome. The lass was but seventeen then, and scarce twenty-three now. Christina is just coming into her beauty. Several artists would love to paint her, but she refuses to sit for pictures--even for the artists in her own family.'' Slipping a hand into her side pocket, Christina felt the shape of her small spectacles tucked in a little tapestried bag. She generally wore them most of the day now, and it was true that she had grown thin and pale over the last few years. For all her brother's kind defense of her, she wondered if Edgar were right. If she had become a dull little widow, bookish and prim, that was far better than the rebellious, wild girl she had been. ``No harm intended, sir. Some of you Blackburns have that fiery artistic temperament,'' Edgar remarked easily. ``Your sister shares it, too, though she has a more academic bent.'' John frowned and leaned on his cane, and Christina saw the pink stain of anger in his cheeks. Her brother, a striking young man with glossy brown curls and an angelic face, rarely showed any bad temper, but she knew he disliked Edgar. ``Christina, you do not have to go to Dundrennan,'' John said. ``She will go if she cares about Walter's work,'' Edgar said. ``Uncle Walter?'' Christina asked, turning. Edgar nodded. ``Someone else might overlook important details in this site. What of your uncle's research concerning King Arthur in Scotland? He was enamored of Sir Hugh MacBride's writings about the legends of Dundrennan. Think, my dear,'' Edgar urged. ``An archaeological discovery in those hills could vindicate your uncle from his... ah, academic failures. And he has so little time left to him, sadly.'' Christina caught her breath. Walter Carriston's theories of King Arthur's role in sixth-century Scotland, along with Arthurian links to Pictish tribes, had been ridiculed by Carriston's peers. A find of Pictish origin in the Strathclyde hills would add strength of proof to her uncle's lifework. She straightened her shoulders. ``You have a point about Uncle Walter,'' she conceded. ``I will look at the site. I can keep away from Dundrennan House itself.'' ``Actually, Sir Aedan has invited our representative to stay there, sparing us hotel expenses, although we will tender the cost of your transportation. Do not worry about that painting, my dear,'' Edgar added. ``It is part of the past, and it is best forgotten.'' ``Of course you're right,'' she agreed. ``Keep to your usual plain appearance, and no one will be the wiser. John,'' Edgar said, turning, ``your sister will require an escort. I know you are free to go with her, having so few obligations currently.'' Edgar glanced at John's leg and cane. John bristled. ``I will gladly change my schedule for her.'' ``Thank you, John,'' Christina said. While Edgar wrote a note for his secretary to arrange their transportation, Christina waited, her heart slamming. Dundrennan! She twisted her hands anxiously, dreading the sight of Stephen's beautiful picture again, with its unhappy memories. Still, she felt an inner excitement, too. Perhaps curiosity compelled the scholar in her. The chance to uncover something ancient, to see and touch it, to learn more about it, was a plum indeed. Edgar knew her well in that regard. ``Sir Aedan thinks the site will yield nothing much,'' Edgar said. ``I expect you to send word to me, of course. I will come as soon as I can arrange it.'' Christina nodded, then turned away. Dread and anticipation swept through her, and the power of it made her hands tremble. Startled awake, Sir Aedan Arthur MacBride, baronet and laird of Dundrennan, bolted upright in his leather chair. Grasping at shifting reality, he soon recaptured it. The dream, which had seemed as real as life itself, faded swiftly. That damned painting, he thought, had worked its way into his head while he dozed. Legends of briar maidens and Druid princes certainly had no place in his life, yet today had cluttered his dreams. Without glancing at the framed canvas over the mantelpiece, he shoved his fingers through his thick dark hair and tried to dispel a haunted feeling. He never should have settled in the small business room off his bedroom to review the account ledgers. The air was too close and warm, the silence too deep, the columns of numbers too soporific. Imagination, given rein in sleep, had won. Glancing at his pocket watch, he swore. Nearly time for tea. The ladies of Balmossie would fuss at him if he did not appear, to say nothing of the tempestuous reaction of their constant companion, Miss Thistle. Unpleasant matters must be addressed with the ladies, issues that Aedan had postponed long enough. The preparations for the royal visit in October, which he dreaded more than welcomed, had made his life sheer hell. Now he must convince his charming but impractical kinswomen that the estate's finances could not support their continued enthusiasm for readying his house. He, too, wanted Dundrennan House restored to its full magnificence, but it was time for a stricter budget. Before his father's death nearly a year ago, Aedan had promised to complete Sir Hugh MacBride's plans for Dundrennan. The famous poet, often called the Queen's own Highland bard, had gained an immortal reputation and a fortune writing epic poems of power and artistry--though a tad long and overblown for Aedan's own tastes, a fact he kept discreetly to himself. Over the years, Sir Hugh had devoted time, passion, and cash funds to restoring and modernizing the family seat at Dundrennan. Refurbishing Dundrennan was an expensive longterm project, and after Sir Hugh's death, Aedan had discovered how much his father's fortune had dwindled. Yet the will specified that the work must be completed if Aedan was to keep the property. Even with considerable funds drawn from his own accounts, Aedan found it difficult to repay the inherited debts. Honoring the tradesmen's fees incurred by his busy kinswomen proved an increasing challenge. The situation had to improve, or he stood to lose a great deal. Rising, Aedan straightened his black brocade vest and snugged his dark blue neckcloth, then slid into his black coat, settling the lapels. He brushed at the mud stains on his clothing, certain that his Aunt Lillias--Lady Balmossie--and his second cousin, Amy Stewart, would fret over his appearance. Dust and spatters were a daily result of his occupation as a civil engineer and builder of highways and byways in Scotland. He sighed, feeling displaced somehow. Then he realized he felt an emotional residue from the dream, a keen pain of longing. The undercurrent spun in his gut, a yearning for something unfulfilled, like love. Love. He huffed, low and bitter. For the lairds of Dundrennan, love was a waste of time--even a danger. He had fallen in love once, before he had become laird, but that had ended in tragedy. The Dundrennan curse lay square upon his shoulders now, continuing from the days of the first Aedan of Dundrennan to the current day. True love had not done that ancient fellow any good, he mused, thinking of the legend of the princess lost in the briar. A remnant of his dream returned: a woman's sleeping face, his hand upon her brow, desperation rife in him. He had actually been the ancient warrior from Dundrennan's legend, willing to do anything to save his princess. And she had been... Absurdly, he had dreamed of the young woman in the painting. Desire--a soul-deep longing--still burned in him like an ember. Too much worry and too little sleep had brought it on, he told himself. He would have the gilt-framed thing moved elsewhere, and improve both work and rest. Slamming shut the ledger with its frustrating numbers, he sighed. Nothing would improve those figures. The time had come to put his foot down with the ladies of Balmossie. For a start, he would suggest wall paint instead of hand-painted Irish wallpapers; he would point out that the old Turkish rugs, though worn, lent more character than acres of new plaid carpeting. He must tell them, as well, that a museum representative would arrive on Thursday to stay at Dundrennan House while investigating the recent discovery on the nearby hill, Cairn Drishan, at the edge of Dundrennan's policies. Two weeks earlier, Aedan and his crew had been working on the parliamentary highway that was to go over the slope of Cairn Drishan. Although Aedan's heart broke to cut through his own land, he understood the benefits of improvements in Scotland--an issue about which he and his father had often argued. That day, the use of black powder had revealed dark stones protruding from the hillside cut like decayed teeth. Aedan and his foreman and assistant had uncovered part of an extensive stone foundation in the hill. Although he hoped the walls dated to the last fifty years or so, some deeper sense told him that the structure was much older. If so, due to a provision in his father's will, he could very well lose Dundrennan in its entirety. New or old, the discovery had to be examined by a representative of the national museum, according to a recent law of Treasure Trove, before road construction could continue. Frustrated by his father's legacy and delayed in his work for the Parliamentary Commission for the Department of Roads and Highways, Aedan had no choice but to comply with the museum's investigation. Sighing, he flipped through the jumble of papers on his desk, and picked up a letter written by Sir Edgar Neaves of the National Museum. The man had informed Aedan that he was not free to come to Dundrennan yet, but would send a competent assistant, an antiquarian named Mrs. Blackburn. Any old fuss-pot would do in Neaves's place, Aedan thought. The man's covetous interest in the historical collections and objets d'art at Dundrennan House was more than annoying, it was disturbing. When and if Neaves did arrive himself, Aedan would instruct his housekeeper to lock up the plate and hide the keys. Scowling, tossed the letter down and turned toward the door. Then he slowed, and approached the fireplace. Centered over the mantel, the oil painting showed a young woman reclining among a scattering of wild pink roses. Her classic features and her graceful hands were peaceful, her skin was creamy, and her hair was a rippled auburn cascade. The translucent folds of her white chemise, touched with lavender and butter yellow in the folds, hinted at the pink fullness of her breasts and the sinuous curves of her body. Precisely detailed, its colors deep and rich, the painting seemed to glow. The tiny brass plaque on the frame caught his eye: The Enchanted Briar, Stephen Blackburn, 1852. Any work by a member of the prolific, talented Blackburn family was a sound investment, and there were three such paintings in Dundrennan's art collection. Aedan had purchased this one at an exhibit at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh, not only because of the remarkable quality of the painting, but because the subject depicted Dundrennan's famous legend of the princess in the briar. Aedan had hung the painting in his private rooms years ago, never admitting to anyone how deeply the image fascinated him, even haunted him. That exquisite face and sensuous form seemed familiar to him now. She had become a soothing, alluring part of his life. And now he had dreamed about her. That flaw in his solid practicality bothered him. Obsession and dreaming were for poets like his father, not engineers like himself. He shoved his hands in his pockets, frowning. Tranquil and lovely, sensual and disturbing, at first glance the picture was all roses and luscious femininity. But the thorny mesh beneath the flowers added a subtle, wicked element. Each time he gazed at it, the painting seemed to seduce him. She seduced him. He rocked back on low boot heels. A force swept through him fast as a tide, leaving a trace of longing on the shore of his soul. God, how he wanted her, needed her. And she did not exist. Stepping back, he shook his head. He would not indulge in fancies. His brilliant, idealistic father had made a fortune writing passionate epic poetry beloved by many. Pragmatism was sorely needed at Dundrennan now, and Aedan was its sole source. Hanging the picture here had been a mistake, Aedan decided. The image was too dominant for this small room--no wonder it had invaded his dreams. He should consign it to some corner in this enormous folly of a house. Even better, he should sell it and pay off some of his father's debts. But he could never part with it. He had fallen in love, a little, with that briar-caught maiden. Part of him wanted to keep her near him forever. Turning on his heel, he left the room. --from Waking the Princess by Susan King, copyright © 2003 Susan King, published by Signet, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc, all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher. Excerpted from Waking the Princess by Susan King All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.