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Authors: Meg Cabot

Ransom My Heart

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Ransom My Heart

Princess Mia Thermopolis

with Help and an Introduction by

Meg Cabot

To my prince

Contents

Introduction
to Ransom My Heart

Chapter One

The hawk was back.

Chapter Two

Hugo Fitzstephen might have spent the past decade in the…

Chapter Three

Finnula knew what it was she had to do. She…

Chapter Four

Hugo wasn't certain how much longer he was going to…

Chapter Five

Hugo could scarcely believe his ears. “What?” he demanded stupidly.

Chapter Six

The insufferable knight seemed actually to be enjoying himself, and…

Chapter Seven

Lord Hugo Fitzstephen, seventh Earl of Stephensgate, looked down at…

Chapter Eight

For the rest of the day, Finnula tried as best…

Chapter Nine

Hugo was amused the next morning when Finnula, waking slowly…

Chapter Ten

Finnula lay on the bed she and Mellana had shared…

Chapter Eleven

It had been ten years since Hugo had last seen…

Chapter Twelve

Dinner at the millhouse that night was a draining affair.

Chapter Thirteen

Dawn had just turned the eastern sky rosy and sent…

Chapter Fourteen

The banging sound that woke Hugo shortly before noon was…

Chapter Fifteen

My what?”

Chapter Sixteen

When Hugo woke the next morning, it was because his…

Chapter Seventeen

Don't be ridiculous.”

Chapter Eighteen

Finnula would never approve of her sister's relationship with Jack Mallory.

Chapter Nineteen

Finnula's surprise was not the kind Hugo had expected…at least,…

Chapter Twenty

If the entire village of Stephensgate had turned out for…

Chapter Twenty-One

Finnula saw Hugo's head fall limply to one side, and…

Chapter Twenty-Two

When the man who had called himself his father was…

Chapter Twenty-Three

It wasn't until they were a good distance away, and…

Chapter Twenty-Four

When Lord Hugo finally regained consciousness, the sun was high…

Chapter Twenty-Five

In the three days that she'd been a prisoner in…

Chapter Twenty-Six

Finnula waited only until darkness fell, encompassing the land in…

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Like bloody hell I will!”

Chapter Twenty-Eight

She found him well before dawn.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

No amount of cajoling, pleading, or threats on John de…

Chapter Thirty

As it happened, though she fitted herself promptly with new…

A
s the person charged with the duty of chronicling the ups and downs of the life of Princess Mia Thermopolis, it is with great pleasure that I introduce
Ransom My Heart
. Those familiar with the journals of the Princess of Genovia (published as The Princess Diaries, Volumes I–X) will be aware that it's long been the princess's secret dream to become a published author one day.

Well, that day has finally come.
Ransom My Heart
, the historical romance that Princess Mia spent twenty-one months (between Princess Diaries Volume IX,
Princess Mia
, and Princess Diaries Volume X,
Forever Princess
) researching and writing has been published at last.

In this book, readers may find characters or incidents vaguely reminiscent of Mia's own life—the fact that the heroine's sister Mellana is an accomplished brew mistress (note Mia's unfortunate first experience with the single beer she consumes in Princess Diaries Volume VII,
Party Princess
), for instance, or that the
heroine's dog is named Gros Louis (French for Fat Louie, the name of Princess Mia's cat).

I'm certain the princess would not want readers to make the mistake of thinking that these things have any hidden meaning…that, for example, when creating the character of the hero, Hugo, Mia was thinking of any individual from her own life, particularly one who might have gone away for a long time, and then come back (I'm certain the princess would point out that she and Michael Moscovitz weren't even going out during the time she wrote this book. Whether they are currently together is something readers can discover for themselves in Princess Diaries X,
Forever Princess
).

It should be noted that all author proceeds from this book will go to Greenpeace, the princess's favorite charity. And though Mia will not, as she once dreamed, be spending her gap year working for Greenpeace manning a rubber dinghy, keeping whales from getting harpooned, income generated from this book will help someone else do so.

So through this book, the heartfelt dreams of a princess will be realized. And isn't that what books are for? So that readers can vicariously live their own dreams?

And for the millions of readers who have lived the dream of being a princess through Mia's diaries, with
Ransom My Heart
comes the chance to know what princesses dream of. I hope you will enjoy it!

Meg Cabot
January 2009

England, 1291

T
he hawk was back.

Finnula saw it the instant she pulled open the wooden shutters of her bedroom window and peered outside to see whether the sheriff and his men had yet ridden off. The evil-eyed, hulking brown bird was perched on top of the thatched roof of the henhouse, as cool as you please. It had killed two of Mellana's favorite hens the week before, and now was eyeing a third, the one Mel called Greta, as the speckled chicken scratched the muddy henhouse yard for leftover bits of feed. Though the hawk never stirred, even as the cold spring rain drizzled steadily down its back, Finnula knew it was poised to strike.

Quick as one of the earl's prize does, Finnula seized her bow
and quiver from where they hung on the bedpost and centered the bird of prey in her sights, though her balance was a little off because the beams in the ceiling by the dormer window were so low. Drawing back the well-worn string of her bow, Finnula focused her entire mind on the target below her, the ruffled breast of the hen-murdering hawk. She didn't hear her sister climbing the stairs to the room they had once shared, or feel the scrape of the bedroom door being flung open.

“Finn!”

Christina's horrified voice so startled Finnula that she let go of the drawstring too soon. With a musical twang, the arrow sailed through the open window, arcing through the rain and planting itself harmlessly in the thatch at the hawk's feet, startling the indignantly squawking bird into flight.

“God's teeth, Christina!” Finnula cursed, jumping up from her archer's crouch and pointing an accusing finger in the direction of the shaft's flight path. “That was a perfectly good arrow, and now look at it! How am I going to get that one back? It's stuck in the henhouse roof!”

Christina was leaning back against the doorjamb, her plump face red-cheeked from the exertion of climbing the narrow staircase, one hand on her broad chest as she attempted to catch her breath.

“Fie on you, Finnula,” she panted, when she was finally able to find her voice. “What were you thinkin'? The sheriff left not five minutes ago, and here you are, shootin' at poor innocent birds again!”

“Innocent!” Finnula slipped the battered leather strap to her quiver over one slim shoulder. “That was the hawk that's been killing Mellana's chickens, I'll have you know.”

“Have you lost the brains the good Lord gave you, Finn? If the
sheriff should have looked back and seen that arrow flyin' out of your bedroom window, he'd've turned round and arrested you on the spot.”

Finnula snorted derisively. “La! He'd never. Imagine, arresting a sweet maid like myself. He'd fast become the most hated man in Shropshire.”

“Not with the earl's cousin, he wouldn't.” In her eighth month of pregnancy, Christina wasn't able to climb the stairs to her old bedroom with her usual swiftness, and now she sank down onto the bed her youngest sisters shared and sighed, the auburn curls that had slipped from her linen wimple swaying. “Can't you see reason, Finn? His Lordship knows it's you that's been poaching his woods—”

Again, Finnula snorted. “Hugo Fitzstephen doesn't know any such thing. How could he? He's been in the Holy Land these past ten years. No one's even heard from him since Michaelmas, when that filthy bailiff of his got word he'd been captured by Saracens.”

“Really, Finn, you oughtn't to refer to your betters so coarsely. Reginald Laroche is Lord Hugo's
cousin
, and acting bailiff of the Fitzstephen estates in His Lordship's absence. How can you call him filthy? You know we are to accord him the same respect we would if he were our true lord. How can you—”

“Respect?” Finnula looked as if she might spit. “When he starts acting respectable, I'll respect him. In the meantime, do not ask me to call him my lord. For no lord worthy of the name would treat his vassals with such—”

Christina sighed again, this time in exasperation, and interrupted her outspoken sibling. “Very well, Finnula. I know there is no point in arguing with you over this issue. But think on this: Reginald Laroche told the sheriff he's got good reason to be
lieve that it's you that's been picking off all of Lord Hugo's best game. All he needs is some little proof, and it's to the stockade you'll go.”

Finnula kicked irritably at the wooden trunk that sat at the foot of the bed. Inside it were the kirtles and bliauts she eschewed for the more sensible garb she currently wore, tanned leather chausses and a well-worn woolen tunic.

“It isn't as if,” she grumbled, “I was doing it for sport. If Hugo Fitzstephen were about, and he saw how poorly his serfs were being treated by that devil Laroche, he'd not begrudge the meat I provide them.”

“That's neither here nor there, Finn.” Christina spoke tiredly. It was an old argument. Essentially, it dated back to the day that the girls' oldest sibling and only brother, Robert, picked up a short bow and, mostly in jest, instructed then four-year-old Finnula in the art of targetry. Her first shot had been dead center in the rear end of her beloved wet nurse, Aggie, and ever since, no one had been able to pry a bow from the fair huntress's hands.

“Besides,” Finnula went on, as if she hadn't heard her sister's interruption. “The sheriff's not going to find any proof. I never miss, so it isn't as if he'll ever get hold of one of my arrows and trace the markings on the feathers back to me. The only reason he even bothered calling today is that he's in love with Mellana.”

“Finn, that simply isn't true. Monsieur Laroche told Sheriff de Brissac that another one of the earl's stags has gone missing.”

“It hasn't gone missing at all,” Finnula said, the corners of her sensually shaped mouth suddenly slanting upward in a smile. “That stag is right where it always was, on the properties of Stephensgate Manor. It just so happens that now it's resting in the bellies of some of Lord Hugo's serfs.”

Christina blinked at her incorrigible sister. It occurred to her, not for the first time, that if Finnula would abandon her eccen
tric mode of dress and put on one of the silken gowns that had been purchased for her at the time of her ill-fated wedding, and brushed out her lovely auburn hair instead of keeping it tied away in that single braid, she'd be quite a beautiful woman. The girl probably wasn't even aware of it, and would most likely deny it if anyone broached the subject, but in Christina's opinion, it wasn't Mellana that was forever drawing the sheriff to the millhouse, but Finnula herself, and not just because of her poaching habit.

Christina sighed for a third and final time, and using the bedpost to swing herself awkwardly to her feet, she said, “Well, I've done what I could. Robert can't accuse me of not trying.”

Finnula smiled again, and patted her sister fondly on her plump shoulder.

“Poor Christina,” she said, sweetly. “I'm so sorry to cause trouble for you and your dear Bruce. I can't promise I'll stop, but I do promise you I'll never get caught, nor do anything to embarrass you in front of your new mother-and father-in-law.”

Christina, forgetting her place as a married woman—and an important woman at that, being the wife of the village butcher—let out a snort not unlike one of Finnula's.

“That will be the day.” She laughed, shaking her pretty head. “Well, I suppose you'd better get below stairs and make that same pledge in front of Robert.”

“Robert?” Finnula pushed some loose tendrils of flame-red hair from her smooth white forehead. “What's Robert doing home at this time of day? Shouldn't he be at the mill?”

“Would have been, if it weren't for that visit from your greatest admirer, shire reeve John de Brissac.” Christina's soft gray eyes took on a distinct sparkle. “But that hasn't been his only distraction today. Rosamund is here, and I believe she and Robert have something to tell you—”

Finnula gasped. Unlike her sisters, things like weddings and
gowns had never held much appeal for her, but because she worshipped her brother, she was glad for him. “You don't mean…Rosamund's father agreed to it at last?”

Christina nodded, the mirth that she'd been trying to disguise as she chastised her little sister finally bubbling over. “Yes! Go now, go downstairs and welcome her to the family. She was quite confused by the presence of armed men in her future home. I had to assure her 'tis not a regular thing—”

Finnula, however, was no longer listening. Fairly flying down the steep stairs to the ground floor, where a tight knot of people were gathered at the fireside, she cried, “God's teeth, Robbie! Why didn't you tell me?”

The small crowd parted, and Robert, all six feet and then some of him, hurtled toward his much smaller, but quite a bit louder, youngest sister. Catching her up in arms rock-hewn from years of working His Lordship's mill, Robert swung Finnula high toward the rafters before setting her back on her feet and giving her pert backside a wallop that caused tears to sting her eyes.

“Damn you, Robert!” Finnula backed away from him, her hands slipping behind her to massage her throbbing skin. He'd hit her hard enough to wear a hole in her leather chausses. “What was
that
for?” she demanded hotly.

“For the stag,” Robert replied, with a gravity that was quite at odds with his usual good humor. “If I have to lie for you one more time, Finn, you won't be able to sit for a week, mark my words.”

This was hardly the sort of familial celebration Finnula had been hoping for. Blinking back tears that were more from anger than from pain, Finnula glared at her brother, trying to ignore the small, perplexed face of his bride-to-be, hovering near his elbow.

“Fie on you, Robert,” Finnula snapped, furiously. “You can't prove it was me that shot that stag, any more than Sheriff de Brissac or that loathsome Reginald Laroche can prove it. I
was
going
to wish you and Rosamund joy and felicitation, but now I think I'll just go after the sheriff and tell him to go right ahead and hang me, since it's clear I'm not wanted in my own home—”

And she turned toward the front door, knowing full well that Robert, though he'd tried to discipline her over the years since their parents' death, couldn't stand to see her unhappy. He was the only brother of six sisters, and each of them, in her own way, was capable of manipulating him. But the youngest one of all, Finnula, had it down to a science. Her older sisters watched with barely suppressed smiles as their brother's anger visibly melted beneath Finnula's fiery gaze. “We oughtn't,” Robert ventured slowly, “to let anger mar this special day—”

“Nay,” Rosamund chimed in, still looking a bit shocked at her betrothed's display of manly temper. “We oughtn't.”

At the door, Finnula smiled to herself, but carefully schooled her features into an expression of contrition before turning around.

“You mean,” she murmured, “that you'll forgive me?”

“Aye.” Robert said, and nodded gravely, as if granting a reprieve to a convicted prisoner. “Just this once.”

With a shout, Finnula threw herself once more into his arms. There she was joined by Rosamund, the angelic-looking daughter of the mayor of Stephensgate, the first girl Robert had ever wooed unsuccessfully, and therefore the love of his life. Perhaps understandably, Rosamund had been reluctant to attach herself to a family as odd as the miller's—Robert had six sisters, after all,
six
, something that would be considered a curse in many families, but something that his parents, before their deaths, had rejoiced over. But worst of all, there was the youngest sister, who gadded about in boyish garb and prided herself on the fact that she was the finest shot in Shropshire, despite the fact that at seventeen, she was far too old for such pursuits. And then of course there was the matter of Finnula's debacle of a marriage…

But the other five sisters all had reputations beyond reproach. There was the eldest, Brynn, at five and twenty a year younger than Robert, and happily wed to the village blacksmith. She had four boys already, each with his father's stocky build and mother's flame-red hair. Then came Patricia, wife to the local innkeeper and mother of three, and Camilla, who'd fought and wept and generally made herself unpleasant to live with until Robert had agreed to let her marry a winemaker two times her age. Then there was the newly wed Christina, who loved her butcher husband, Bruce, dearly, and the fifth daughter, Mellana, considered by many to be the family beauty, but, though approaching her twentieth birthday, who had yet to find a husband.

In all, the miller's family was not one against which Rosamund's father could have had many strong objections. Indeed, the mayor would have had no objections whatsoever, for a more promising young man than Robert Crais could scarce be found in Stephensgate. But there was the small matter of his youngest sister's oddly independent ways, her flagrant defiance of poaching laws, as well as that unfortunate incident between her and the late earl. How to overlook the fact that Finnula Crais, however wrongly, had been accused of murdering her own husband?

But Rosamund's affection for Robert was quite genuine, and, an only child, she eventually brought her doting father round to her way of thinking. If Finnula was his only objection, well, there was nothing to be done about Finnula. The girl was young, and it could be hoped that one day she'd grow out of her love for sport—and the leather chausses she insisted upon wearing. At least she had the sense to stay off the main thoroughfares while wearing them. And in the meantime, perhaps Rosamund's gentle influence could help her to see the error of her ways.

What with all the married Crais sisters and their spouses and progeny at the millhouse noisily celebrating Robert and Rosa
mund's impending marriage, it was perhaps understandable that no one missed one of the single sisters…at least, not right away. It was Finnula who eventually lowered her cup of ale and wondered aloud what had happened to Mellana.

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