How to Pursue a Princess

By: Karen Hawkins

Chapter Epilogue



From the Diary of the Duchess of Roxburghe I will never again include insects as decorations. While the release of the butterflies into the gardens at the onset of the ball caused the collective gasp of delight I’d envisioned, the creatures quickly lost their appeal. Who knew butterflies like to cling? And cling they did, to gowns and hair and glasses of orgeat. They landed in plates of cake, and one poor thing even caught on fire from straying too close to a candle and then chased Lady Lansdowne about a gardenia bush before thankfully expiring.

But the worst part of the evening was, sadly, my beloved pugs. Although they were adorably dressed as butterflies—thanks, I later learned, to Miss Balfour’s skillful needle—they had no compunction in seeing the masses of butterflies as some sort of game, which involved snapping at the nearest insect and eating it. And so they scrambled about, trying to eat all of the butterflies they could, while dressed like butterflies themselves. The entire scene had a macabre, cannibalistic feel to it. . . .

Early in the wee hours of the morning, Lady Charlotte had just settled her nightcap upon her head when a knock came at her door. Recognizing the duchess’s brisk rap, she hopped from bed and hurried to the door.

The duchess swept into the room, a vision in her deep blue dressing gown, belted with a white sash, her red wig still pinned atop her head. “Ah, I was afraid you’d be abed.”

Charlotte kept herself from glancing longingly at her bed. “No, no. I was just sitting by the fire. Would you like to join me?”

Margaret took a chair by the fireplace and Charlotte did the same. “My mind was too full to sleep.”

“It was quite an eventful evening,” Charlotte agreed.

“The poor pugs are quite worn-out.”

“And full. They must have eaten twenty or thirty butterflies apiece.”

Margaret shuddered. “Please do not remind me.”

“I’m sorry I mentioned it.” Lady Charlotte plopped her feet on a low stool that faced the fire, smiling when the duchess followed suit. “At least Miss Balfour’s engagement to the prince drew the proper response. Everyone was quite aflutter over it.”

“Aflutter?” Margaret threw up a hand. “Must you keep bringing up those damned butterflies?”

“I’m sorry,” Charlotte said meekly. While the butterflies hadn’t elevated the ball to the fairy tale–like event they’d wished, she’d been quite fascinated with the entire thing. Such beautiful creatures and yet so dangerous. Who would have thought?

“About the prince and Miss Balfour.” The duchess sighed, a note of contentment in her tone. “Such a lovely announcement. No one could doubt they were deeply in love.”

Charlotte smiled at the satisfaction in Margaret’s voice. “So they are.” It had been a lovely moment, hopefully one that the guests would remember more vividly than the butterfly debacle. “Everyone is talking about how you did it yet again, bringing about a magnificent match under your roof.”

Margaret sighed happily. “I know. It would have been nice if we could have announced Huntley and Miss Gordon’s good news, too, but they refused.”

“The world will know soon enough.” Charlotte wiggled her toes at the crackling fire. A moment later she said, “I hope you don’t mind if I ask a question. One that’s been vexing me for quite some time.”

“Yes?”

“It’s about Lord Kirk, who made that horrid loan with Lily’s father.”

Margaret’s smile grew sly. “Ah, yes. Lord Kirk.”

“He’s one of your godsons.” The duchess had too many godchildren to count, but as Charlotte wrote most of the duchess’s correspondence, she knew them all, perhaps better than the duchess.

“Kirk’s one of the first children I agreed to be a godmother to,” Margaret said thoughtfully. “His mother was a very dear friend of mine. It’s a pity he was injured. His life has not been happy.”

Lord Kirk had once been a startlingly handsome man, but a horrid accident had left him scarred and reclusive. The man rarely ventured out, so it had been a surprise to see his carriage in the duchess’s drive several months ago. “He is quite abrupt.”

“He has no manners at all,” Margaret agreed. “We’ll have to work on that. If we’re given the chance, of course.”

“Margaret, you’re up to something. It’s a bit odd that Kirk should visit you, and then, shortly thereafter, Miss Balfour should arrive in desperate need of funds because of Lord Kirk’s sudden actions.”

“Odd?” Margaret’s smile was that of the cat with the cream. “I would call it fortuitous.”

“It did bring us Lily. But then tonight you told Lily that you planned on asking her youngest sister, Dahlia, to join us for the Christmas Ball. I saw that list yesterday, Margaret, and you’ve added Lord Kirk to it, too.”

“I owe him a favor.” Margaret yawned and stretched. “A very special favor.”

“Does it involve Dahlia Balfour?”

“Perhaps.” Margaret sighed happily and wiggled her toes before the fire as well. “We’ve much to do before the Christmas Ball, but it may be our biggest triumph yet.”

Charlotte wanted to ask more questions, but then thought better of it. Perhaps in time Margaret would reveal her plans. And if not, it would at least be entertaining to watch them unfold. “Very well, Margaret. Then I shall look forward to the Christmas Ball.”

“We all will, my dear. We all will.”

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