Daniela Chiaramonte is a noblewoman who lives in genteel poverty in her beloved island nation of Ascension, but she has always been a tomboy who could ride and shoot as well as any man. With funds so tight and with an ailing grandfather and tenants to take care of, she took up the guise of the outlaw known as the Masked Rider, robbing from the wealthy to give to those in need. As such, she's become something of a legend, loved by the people of Ascension. But when she accidentally chooses the wrong carriage to rob, she finds herself shot by the Prince of the realm and running for her life, certain to find herself at the end of a hangman's noose if she's ever caught.
Prince Rafael di Fiori is known throughout the kingdom as a rakish charmer who frequently indulges in women and other carnal pleasures. As such, no one really takes him seriously despite his heartfelt loyalty to his country. When his ailing father leaves him in charge as Prince Regent while he and the rest of the family go away for a vacation, it's the perfect opportunity for Rafe to show that he has what it takes to someday be king. But it's also a nerve-racking endeavor when he fears that he won't be able to live up to his renowned father's reputation as a just and wise leader. Not to mention, his father is pressuring him to choose one of five suitable young ladies to marry. After being robbed by the notorious Masked Rider, Rafe traces the miscreant to the Chiaramonte estate, where he meets the lovely Daniela, who stirs him like no other woman has before. When he later discovers her secret identity, he can't bring himself to let her hang despite being angered and put out by her actions. Instead, he recognizes it as a chance to ally himself with someone the people of Ascension love as a way of earning their trust and respect, so he strikes a bargain to get Dani to marry him.
What began as a marriage of convenience soon blossoms into a love match. But little does Rafe know that there is treachery afoot within the royal household that threatens not only to end their budding relationship but to bring down the entire kingdom itself.
Prince Charming was an excellent conclusion to Gaelen Foley's Ascension Trilogy. There were a few moments when I wondered if it was going to get tops marks from me, and I have to admit that it was ever so slightly my least favorite of the series, but in the end, it definitely won me over. I loved it almost as much as the other two, giving the series a perfect 5.0 record for me. In this one, Rafael, Lazar and Allegra's (The Pirate Prince) son and heir to the throne of Ascension is left in charge of the fictional island nation as Prince Regent while his parents travel abroad to visit his sister, brother-in-law, and their family. Lazar has been suffering from a mysterious stomach ailment, which the doctors believe is some form of cancer, but only the Prime Minister and Rafe know about it. Rafe wonders if someone might be trying to poison his father, but if so, no evidence of it has been found yet. His heroine, Daniela, lives a double-life as both the daughter of a duke and the Masked Rider, a hero of the people who robs from the rich to give to the poor. When she tries to rob the Prince, she finds she's met her match when she ends up in jail. But knowing he needs to find a bride in order to fulfill his parents' wishes and carry on the regal line and also knowing that Dani is respected by the people of Ascension, Rafe bargains with her, offering her and her cohorts their freedom in exchange for her hand in marriage. He just didn't expect to fall in love with his new bride or for her to prove to be such a worthy match. The two must then stand up to a villainous kinsman, who is trying to usurp the throne.
Rafael is known throughout Ascension as Rafe the Rake. Despite being the heir to the throne, no one takes him seriously because of his reputation as a ladies man and his seeming disinterest in anything other than the pleasures of the flesh. But underneath his devil-may-care facade beats a loyal and tender heart. He loves his country and longs to be a good leader, but he fears he can never live up to his beloved father's legacy. He also feels that his father has been too hard on him throughout the years and that the King doesn't believe in him any more than his advisers or the people of Ascension do. When Lazar leaves Rafe in charge of Ascension during his absence, it's a responsibility that he's been itching to be given, but at the same time, he's uncertain if he can pull it off. Years ago, as a callow youth, in his sister's book Princess, Rafe was taken in by a devious woman who played upon his sympathies to get him to rescue her and become her lover, then she cruelly betrayed both him and the entire country. Needless to say, it left him with a bad taste in his mouth where women are concerned and he doesn't trust easily. When he's robbed by the Masked Rider and tracks the miscreant to Dani's estate, he's instantly smitten with her, but when he later discovers her hidden identity, he isn't sure he can trust her. However, he sees marrying her as no hardship and believes it will raise his worth in the eyes of the people if not the royal advisers.
Rafe may be a rakish playboy who can charm the stockings off most women, but he's a young man whose emotions run deep and who can be hurt easily. That's why I think he's at least partly a beta hero. He wears his heart on his sleeve when it comes to Dani, even though he doesn't realize at first that he's in love with her. But once he does, he wants no other woman. Despite seeming a tad immature, he does take his responsibilities as Prince Regent seriously, which I found admirable, and he's willing to do whatever it takes to save the country, as well as both her life and the lives of his family members. The only two things that gave me pause were his inability to make up his mind regarding whether to keep his mistress after marrying Dani and his charm skating a little too close to forced seduction for me. In regards to the mistress, at first, he's a bit too easily swayed by her manipulations and doesn't immediately give her the boot like I felt he should have. This was another reason for me saying he's part beta, because he can't stand her tears and doesn't want to rock the boat. But in his defense, he does come to his senses before things go too far and doesn't technically cheat on Dani (although other readers may disagree on this point). In regards to the second issue, in one scene, he brings Dani to his room while he's drunk, fully intending to seduce her despite her protestations and probably would have if he hadn't discovered her secret. His saving grace here was that he gave her an opportunity to leave, but she didn't take it. Then on their wedding night, something similar happened, where she was fighting him and telling him no, but he continues trying to make love to her for a while anyway because he thinks it's just maidenly fears that he can overcome. Again, this incident made me a teensy bit uncomfortable, but he does eventually stop. Otherwise, Rafe was a great hero, and his later gallantry pretty much erased these early slight missteps for me.
Daniela may be a noblewoman, but she's been living in genteel poverty, trying her best to provide for an ailing grandfather, the only family she has left, and her tenants. She's always been a tomboy and knows about things that most women don't, such as how to shoot and make bombs, so when finances became too tight, she took up the persona of the Masked Rider. She may occasionally humiliate a rich man, but she never harms anyone when stealing from them. Unfortunately she picks the wrong man to tangle with when she and her cohorts, who've been her friends since childhood, accidentally try to rob the Crown Prince. It doesn't happen right away, but eventually she and her friends are arrested for their misdeeds and threatened with hanging, until Rafe makes his offer of marriage in exchange for their lives. She's had a fairytale crush on the prince since she was a girl and finds it hard to resist him, but she's been an independent woman for so long, she can't imagine being under a man's thumb. However, the prince can be very persuasive.
Dani loves Ascension and her people every bit as much as Rafe does, so when Rafe's cousin comes to her saying that Rafe could be in danger of being disinherited for marrying her if she doesn't resist consummating the marriage so that it can be annulled when the King and Queen return, she's willing to go along with it at first. She's also afraid of getting pregnant, because her own mother died in childbirth, which also played into her decision. I liked that she was smart enough to not entirely trust Rafe's cousin, though, and asked one of her friends to investigate him. When she begins to put the pieces of the puzzle together with regards to what's happening politically and when she realizes how much she loves Rafe, she doesn't hesitate to give him all of herself and her love. I loved that Dani is loyal to a fault and would never betray Rafe or Ascension. She's the perfect mix of sweetness and spice, a gentle, giving woman by nature but a strong, feisty one when she has to be and the perfect match for Rafe.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Prince Charming. Rafe and Dani complemented each other in every way. Their love for each other gave them strength to stand up to the villain when he tried to tear them and their country apart, and it gave them faith and trust in one another. They share some very romantic moments, as well as some super-sexy ones. The villain was very compelling with strong characterization and motives, and his manipulations made perfect sense. Rafe's friends helped him out a lot and were generally loyal to him if a bit too outspoken at times. Since Darius and Serafina (Princess) live in Spain and Lazar and Allegra are off visiting them for most of the story, Rafe's family don't play much of a part, but we do get to see Lazar at the very beginning, as well as him and Allegra at the end. Darius and Serafina come back to Ascension to make a brief appearance at the end as well. The story is well-plotted with plenty of suspense, and although we know who the villain is from very early on, his motives are much more of a surprise. I didn't guess those until it was revealed. Everything came together to make this a wonderful story and a clean sweep for the series.
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