How to Pursue a Princess

By: Karen Hawkins

Chapter Seven



From the Diary of the Duchess of Roxburghe Ah, what a night! I’m so tired that I can barely hold my pen, but my dance was a triumph. Everyone was well amused, and I succeeded in introducing Miss Balfour to Huntley. I can tell he’s intrigued and she . . . she’s harder to read, I fear, but I know that she had to have been pleased for he’s everything she could hope for.

The clock is now chiming three, and I can safely predict that I, and all of the guests, will sleep well past noon.

A little after seven the next morning, Lily pushed open the door to the library and peeked inside. “Ah, empty!” Smiling, she entered and, shifting a large hatbox to one side, held the door wide. “Come on,” she told the fawn-colored pug who stood in the hallway looking up at her with a curious gaze. “We can’t linger in the hallway or we’ll be caught, for the servants are already stirring.”

He took two steps toward the door and then halted, tilting his head to one side as if asking her a silent question.

“Yes, yes. In an hour, I’ll ring for a breakfast tray and I’ll specifically ask if there’s a bone you might have.”

The pug’s tail wagged harder and he pranced past her into the library.

“That was a bit too easy,” she told the dog. “Just so you know, I was willing to go up to two bones.”

Blissfully unaware of the criticism being heaped upon his head, the pug began sniffing the rugs. Lily used her hip to close the door, then carried the heavy hatbox to the desk and set it on the leather surface. “This will do nicely.”

Humming to herself, she went to the four large windows and threw open the heavy drapes to let light stream into the room. “Much better!”

Outside, the morning dew sparkled on the green lawn, while a mist clung to the lake, growing thicker as it rolled toward the forest. “Beautiful,” she murmured. She glanced at the pug, who sat at her feet, waiting patiently. “Should we open the window and let in some fresh air or is it too cold?”

Feenie sneezed.

“Yes, it’s a bit stuffy in here. We can always light the fire if it gets too chilly.”

The pug sneezed again.

“Exactly.” Chuckling, Lily threw the windows open. Instantly, the fresh morning air flooded the room, making her feel far more awake. “Even better.”

She’d only had five hours of sleep and was a bit cotton-headed because of it, but she was unused to late morning hours and, despite going to bed at two, had found herself wide-awake with the sunrise. She went to the desk and unpacked her hatbox. Inside rested a stack of wool stockings with holes in the toes or the heels, as well as a pillowcase and three linen napkins in dire need of hemming. Lily dug a small box from the bottom of the hatbox, took the pillowcase, and settled into the corner of the settee. Feenie jumped onto the settee beside her and curled into a ball to sleep.

Lily opened the box and pulled out a needle, thread, and a pincushion. Within moments, she was busy hemming the pillowcase with delicate, precise stitches. As she sewed, she relaxed, her mind wandering over the events of the last few days.

She’d danced well into the night and had enjoyed several conversations with Huntley, yet she couldn’t shake the memory of Wulf’s furious gaze following her about the room. She’d hated doing such a thing, but if she wanted to secure the earl’s interest and perhaps fall in love with him, then she had to keep her distance from the prince.

She smoothed her stitches, noting the evenness with satisfaction. Thank goodness she’d managed to convince the housekeeper to share the mending that was usually left to a maid. Though obviously surprised by the request, Mrs. Cairness had quickly agreed once Lily had explained how much she enjoyed such duties. “Och, miss, say no more. Me Mam used to say, ‘Busy hands, peaceful heart.’ I’m sure we’ve some darnin’ and hemmin’ ye could do.”

And so now, since she’d awakened at such an early hour, Lily was beyond delighted to settle in for a few hours of peace and quiet. As birds chirped in the bright morning air, she finished the pillowcase and smoothed it out, then folded it and rose to place it beside the hatbox. Then, she took the linen napkins and settled back into place as she prepared her needle and thread.

As she’d sewed, the house had slowly stirred to life. In the distance she heard doors opening and closing, voices calling to one another, and the jangle of silver and china as the footmen prepared the breakfast room.

She picked up the first napkin and had just inserted her needle when horse’s hooves clattered up the drive. It could be anyone—a message from a neighboring estate or a valet of one of the houseguests returning from an errand. Yet she found herself staring at the open windows and wishing she had a view of the front door.

She gently moved Feenie to one side and went to the window. She had to lean out to catch sight of the rider, who was just dismounting at the front portico. And there he was, Prince Wulfinski, hatless in the morning sun, the breeze ruffling his hair and stirring his black cape as he handed the reins of his horse to a sleepy-eyed footman. Hurrying toward him was MacDougal, who was hastily smoothing his hair. Soon Lily could hear MacDougal’s lilting accent mingled with the prince’s deeper, foreign one.

What’s the prince doing here at this time of the morning? Surely he must realize that no one will be awake at this hour, especially after such a late-night dance? Who does he wish to s—

As if he could hear her thoughts, he looked her way.

She gasped and tucked back into the window, hiding behind the thick curtains. She held her breath, and in a moment the conversation between the butler and the prince resumed. She blew out her breath and realized that Feenie was staring at her from the settee, his head cocked to one side.

She knew she had to look foolish, hiding behind the curtains. To be honest, she wasn’t sure why she was doing it, except that since last night, she hadn’t been able to stop thinking that perhaps—just perhaps—she hadn’t been fair to Prince Wulfinski. Instead of avoiding him without a word, perhaps she should have explained how he was making things more difficult for her, and how it would be better not to see him at all, and then demand that he stop pursuing her? “Life would be easier if that big lummox would just do as I say.”

Feenie jumped to his feet as if in agreement, his tail wagging wildly.

She chuckled. “You agree, do you?”

He barked and turned in a circle.

“Perhaps I’ll talk to him th—”

“Good morning, Moya.”

Feenie barked wildly as Lily wheeled toward the open window. Sitting astride the windowsill, one booted foot in the gravel outside, and one planted on the library rug, was the prince. He looked even more handsome up close, his green eyes twinkling gravely as he lifted a brow. “I came to see if I could speak to you.” He glanced at the barking dog and frowned. “Silence.”

He didn’t raise his voice, but the dog instantly stopped barking and sat, his little tail wagging fiercely.

“Good dog,” the prince said before he turned his attention back to Lily. “The butler informed me that he dared not deliver my request to speak with you as he was certain you were still asleep. But you look awake to me.” Wulf’s gaze traveled over her slowly, lingering in places it shouldn’t have. “Delightfully so.”

Her entire body flushed, as if he’d run a hand over her. “I’ve been awake for a while, but I didn’t tell anyone.”

“Ah.” His glance swept the room, resting on her discarded sewing. “You have made a little nest for yourself here, eh? It is pleasant to find peace and quiet after all of the talking, talking.” He opened and closed his hand to mimic a mouth. “I thought I would go mad last night, listening to so many words.”

She chuckled. “It did get noisy.”

“Too much so.” He crossed his arms over his broad chest and leaned back against the window frame, the morning sun making him glow. “You did not enjoy the dance.”

How had he known that? “It was quite lively.”

“Killed by faint praise.” His mouth curled into a heart-stopping, lopsided smile. “Do not pretend you liked it, for I saw you. You were not happy last night.”

Mainly because as soon as she’d decided to distance herself from Wulf, she’d been fighting a huge case of guilt. “I had a pleasant enough time.”

“I didn’t,” he said bluntly. “Which is why I am here this morning. We must talk, you and I.” He stood as if to climb the rest of the way inside.

“No!” She glanced at the closed door. “It would be very scandalous if we were caught alone.”

He growled. “These rules of yours will be the death of me. But if I must follow them in order to spend time with you, then I will. What if we open the door?”

“I suppose that would be better—”

“Then we do so.” He swung his leg over the windowsill and, with that, was inside the library, his cloak fluid about him as he crossed to the door, his booted feet muffled by the rug.

The room instantly seemed smaller and Lily hurried back to the settee, scooping up Feenie as she went.

Wulf opened the door wide. “There. Now we are safe within your little book of rules.”

She shot him a hard look. “It’s not my book.”

“It is society’s, but you have decided to play by it. Except, of course, when it comes to me.” He undid his cape and tossed it over a chair. “I signed your dance card last night as you instructed, but you ignored it.”

“I’m sorry.” And she truly was. “I just . . . I panicked.”

His brows snapped down. “I would never hurt you.”

“I don’t fear you.” No, she feared something much, much worse—herself. Clutching Feenie, Lily sank onto the settee and settled the dog in her lap.

“I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I. It’s difficult to explain.” She caught his dark gaze and sighed. “Wulf, you and I met under very romantic circumstances. I’d fallen from my horse and there you were, looking so—” She flushed.

“Thank you,” he said gravely, though his eyes twinkled wickedly.

She hurried on. “Naturally such an unusual set of circumstances can create a false sense of closeness that is merely an illusion of—”

He laughed, a rueful tone in his voice. “Moya, Moya!”

She stiffened. “What’s so funny?”

“You, trying to explain away the passion that flares between us. It is real, Moya, no matter what you say.”

“It doesn’t matter what does or doesn’t flare between us. I must marry a wealthy man, and I must take this step with my whole heart.”

“You are an honorable woman to protect your heart for your intended, but this path you are set upon does not suit you. Thoughts of your future bring you here, to a little nest where you can hide.”

“I just wished for some quiet.”

He reached over to pick up her hatbox from the desk and looked through the contents. “Woolen socks. A servant’s?”

She nodded.

He ran a finger over the neatly hemmed edge of the pillowcase and then replaced the hatbox, his gaze moving to the napkins pooled by her side, her needle and thread tucked into the top fold. “You like to sew.”

She nodded. “I love to sew. I’m very good at it, and it’s calming.”

Concern darkened his green gaze. “You shouldn’t have to search for calm.”

It seemed as if the prince could read her mind, which made her even more uneasy. To hide her expression, she bent to scratch Feenie’s ear. “Why are you here?”

“Because it pains me to see you distressed.”

Suddenly restless, she straightened. “I’m not distressed.” Not yet. “I’m fine. Truly I am.”

“Moya, do not lie to me. I can see what you are and are not.” He sighed. “You don’t understand how this is. All of my life, I have known that when I finally met the woman I was meant to spend my life with, I would know it in an instant.” His dark green gaze locked on her. “That woman is you.”

This magnificent, bold, sensual prince wished to spend the rest of his life with her? A woman he barely knew? She shook her head. “It’s impossible. You don’t know me well enough to wish to spend a day with me, much less a lifetime.”

His brows drew down. “I do, too.”

“Oh? Then what’s my favorite color?”

His gaze slid to her gown. “Blue.”

Blast it! “What dance is my favorite?”

“The waltz,” he said without hesitation.

He must have noticed that I enjoyed dancing it last night. “When’s my birthday?”

He opened his mouth, then closed it. “I don’t know, but when I find out, I will never forget.”

“Humph. How did I get the scar on my knee? How many sisters do I have? When’s the last time I read—”

“Hold!” He took a deep breath. “I may not know the little details, but I know the important ones. You are a kind person, Moya. Very. It shows in your eyes and the way you treat others and worry about them, too. You love your family enough to make the greatest sacrifice of all—to give up your happiness for theirs. I know, too, that you are beautiful, with hair of fire, and a laugh that makes me ache with desire.” He spread his hands. “What more do I need to know?”

“Wulf, that’s— Oh dear.” She pressed her hands to her hot cheeks, her heart galloping in an odd way. “That’s very kind of you, but— No. I can’t accept that.”

“I am always hones—” Surprisingly, his face reddened. “I am honest when I can be.”

“What does that mean?”

“Moya, what must I do to convince you that I am serious in my pursuit?”

“We haven’t known one another long enough to engender the feelings you think you have.”

“I do not think anything: I know. And it is difficult to watch you sacrifice so much. I am very tempted to fix your problems, but—” Wulf shook his head and wondered if perhaps he’d been hasty in hiding his wealth. But I must. She must choose me on my own merits. “Nyet. It cannot be.”

Lily stiffened, her eyes now ablaze. “I never asked you to ‘fix’ my problems. This is my obligation and no one else’s.”

He eyed her uneasily. “You are ruffled like a threatened dove. I said I was tempted to help you, not that I was going to.” If he were truthful, had he not been determined to secure her affections without the trappings of wealth, he would have done just that, and without consulting with her, either. Looking at her now, he realized that it would have been a mistake of the first order.

Her eyes were a frosty gray. “I would no more ask a stranger to assist me with such a personal matter than I’d invite the king of England to tea.”

Knowing the king, the overweight sovereign was much more likely to want brandy than tea, but Wulf wisely held his tongue. “Moya, please, I did not wish to upset you. I was trying to tell you something good, something wonderful—that I am in love wi—”

“No! Don’t say that!”

“But it’s true!” At her set expression, Wulf blew out his breath and raked a hand through his hair. His declaration was going horribly awry and he wasn’t certain why. Last night, watching Lily from across the room, he’d thought that the reason she was being so distant must be because she didn’t know how he felt. He had to tell her in plain language, so that there could be no misunderstanding: he loved her and wished to marry her. It was that simple.

Or so it had seemed at the time. On the ride here, he’d even been so foolish as to imagine how she’d react to his declaration, one most women dreamed about. None of the scenarios had included her facing him with icy fury. “Moya, please—I have obviously said something wrong, but you don’t understand. When I met you, it was like a thunderbolt. I just knew that—”

“That’s it.” She set the dog to one side and jumped to her feet, the pug watching her with an astonished gaze that mirrored Wulf’s own.

She marched up to him, her eyes blazing. “I don’t want to hear another word of these—these feelings you say you have. Never. Ever. Do you understand? I regretted ignoring you last night because I realized that you are a stranger to our ways and don’t understand the implications of many things you say and do. Our rules are complicated, and I can see how they might be difficult for someone new to our country to understand. But your preposterous tale that you have decided that I’m the one you wish to spend your life with— No! I don’t need such a distraction in my life right now. I’ve got enough things to worry about as it is.”

He rubbed a hand over his beard, eyeing her cautiously. “So I’m never again to speak of my feelings for you?”

“Never. Not if you want me to continue to be your friend.”

His brows snapped down. “I wish to be more than friends, Moya. I’ve said—”

She threw up a hand, stopping him in his tracks. “You don’t get to decide this. I’m probably going to regret even being friends, but you’ve no one to guide you, and I can’t just leave you alone to struggle through the duchess’s house party without a mentor.”

Wulf sighed. “You are a stubborn woman.”

“So now you know yet another thing about me. If you want me to continue to speak to you and advise you on how to comport yourself, then you have to stop telling me this”—she waved a hand—“this story.”

“It is not a story, but,” he said firmly before she could interrupt, “I agree to stop speaking of my feelings since they make you uncomfortable.” Damn it, I could name a dozen women who would welcome a declaration from me—two of them princesses of the realm, and all of them beauties. But not Moya. She stands here with her mouth thinned in disapproval. Damn it, why must I fall in love with such a stubborn woman?

He’d never been put so thoroughly in his place in his life. Part of him wanted to storm away, while another part wanted to toss her over his shoulder and take her to his cottage and show her what he felt in a way she couldn’t deny.

But as he looked into her eyes, he realized that her pride would defeat him at every turn. Tata Natasha was right: love was far more complicated than he’d realized. And for the first time since he’d met Lily, he realized an astonishing, frightening fact—it was distinctly possible that, no matter what he said or did, she might not accept him.

The thought sent an ice-cold shiver through his soul. He’d finally found the woman he’d dreamed of, the woman destined to be his, yet she wouldn’t even let him discuss his feelings. Bloody hell, what am I to do?

He frowned as he considered his options. Perhaps she’d already given him an answer by offering to help him navigate their bizarre societal rules. At least then she’d continue to speak with him, and that was something . . . wasn’t it? Perhaps mere talking could lead to something more, like a kiss. A kiss would be nice. His gaze brushed her plump bottom lip. Very nice, indeed.

“Are we agreed, then?” She brushed an errant curl from her cheek. “I’m sorry if my outspokenness shocks you, but it’s best that we determine this right now. You distract me from my purpose in coming here to the duchess’s house party, and I can’t allow you to do that.”

He caught the note of wistfulness in her voice and hope bloomed anew. “It is I who should be sorry. You and I are passionate people; perhaps it is only natural that we should find ourselves at cross-purposes now and again, nyet?” He smiled at her. “I do not wish you to stop speaking with me. Is unacceptable. I will do what I must to keep that from happening.”

Her expression softened and she offered him a shy smile that sent his heart thudding in his chest. “I wouldn’t like that, either.”

“Finally, something we agree upon.”

She chuckled. “It didn’t take us long, did it?”

“Two days, but who is counting.” He grinned. “But I must ask for one thing first.” He captured her hand and placed a kiss to her fingers in a courtly, nonthreatening manner. “I must ask for your patience. I am not the sort of man to keep his feelings to himself, but I will try.”

“Thank you.” Her gaze locked with his and he became aware of the softness of her hand in his. He lifted her hand again, only this time he turned it over and pressed a kiss into her palm.

Instantly, her eyes turned smoky and her lips parted. Just as quickly, her cheeks blazed and she tugged her hand free and moved away.

It dawned on him that she hadn’t asked for any restrictions on his actions, only his words. He almost grinned, but wisely hid his jubilation. Ah, Moya, already I have found a crack in the walls you build. If you forbid me to speak, then I will seduce you with something other than words.

Unaware that she was already bested, Lily clasped her hands behind her back and took some distancing steps. “Now that we’ve settled this, I can spend my time doing what I came here to do: find a husband.”

“Someone like the Earl of Huntley?”

She didn’t seem able to meet his gaze. “Perhaps.”

“Do not deny that he is your intended target.”

“Target? I’m not shooting at him.”

“Yes, you are. With little cupid arrows of demure smiles and shy glances, hoping one will strike his heart so that he will wish to marry you and save your family.”

“It sounds horrid when you say it like that.”

“Nonsense. I honor your commitment to your family. How could I not? But this kind of love you talk about—one born of necessity—will not sustain you.” His gaze locked with hers, his voice deepening. “You deserve real passion, Moya. The touch of a man who makes you tremble.”

Her chin lifted. “If I marry a man I can honor and respect, the rest will come.”

“Perhaps and perhaps not. Sadly, if it doesn’t, you won’t even know what you are missing.” He moved closer to her, ready to prove his point.

Lily caught the look in his eyes and her pulse leapt in response. Before he reached her, she whirled to face the window. “It’s certainly bright outside. I do hope the weather holds, for the duchess has been talking about a visit to the folly built on the island in the lake.”

He stood so close behind her that she could feel his warm breath on her hair. “It is very sunny. I do not think it will rain.”

“Good, for it would be sad if we didn’t get to see the folly. I’ve heard it’s beautiful.”

Her thoughts were completely divorced from what she was saying. Was Wulf right? Was it possible that if she married an honorable and good man, one she respected and cared for, passion might never flare between them?

She rubbed her arms, feeling alone once more. Never is a long time. She didn’t wish for a passionless marriage, but how did one make certain that didn’t happen?

There had to be signs she could look for, clues to the ability for that passion to bloom. But would she recognize them? She knew so little about it.

She turned to look up at Wulf. He was a man of experience. Perhaps he would know. “May I ask you something?”

“You may ask me anything you wish.”

“How would I know if passion were possible between myself and a man?”

A slow smile curved his mouth, his eyes warming. “Ah, that is the question. Passion is not easy for some, and too easy for others.”

“That doesn’t help. Is there a test of some sort?”

“A test?” He looked surprised, but then he chuckled. “I hadn’t thought of them as tests, but I suppose they could be used so. For example, you might try this.” He brushed his fingertips down her bared arm, moving slowly.

Goose bumps lifted, and a delicious tingle raced through her.

His long fingers locked about her wrists and he tugged her forward until her chest rested against his. “Do you feel that? The tremor that passes between us?”

She could only stare up at him and nod. Her heart stuttered in an agony of anticipation, her entire body softening.

“That, Moya, is passion. And it is a rare, rare gift.”

Every word stirred her more; a wanton restlessness filled her. “Th-that seems to be a very effective test. I’ll have to remember it.” She tried to move away, but he held her firm.

“There is more. You should know it all.”

“Oh?”

“Da. A kiss, Moya. If it makes your heart beat like a caged bird, then you have passion. And if not—” He slowly shook his head.

“Those—” Her voice was so husky that she cleared her throat. “Those are good tests.”

“You need to perform them correctly, though, if you really wish to tell.” He slid his hands up her arms to her shoulders. “We should kiss. Just as a practice.”

A kiss? She blinked. “Wulf, that’s not—”

“You must know. You are young and vibrant. A marriage without passion would be a fate worse than death. Think about it.” He bent so his lips were beside her ear, his warm breath on her cheek. “Years and years, cold and alone, never touched, or worse, dreading it.”

She wet her lips nervously, torn between a shiver of intimate desire and the barren picture Wulf had painted.

But if I want, I can try it right now, this moment. She closed her eyes, lifted up on her tiptoes, and pressed her mouth to his. He enveloped her, his arms slipping about her as he held her closer, his mouth moving over hers, teasing and tempting, opening her lips so that they were, finally, one.

At the touch of his tongue against hers, a flash of heat roared through her, a delicious mix of shock and desire. She couldn’t get enough of him, enough of his touch, enough of the intoxicating feel of his hard muscles as they slid under her seeking fingers, enough of his hands molding her to him.

His hands slipped from her waist to her hips and then lower, to cup her bottom. She moaned against his mouth as he lifted her, rubbing her body the length of his as he plundered her mouth, thrusting his tongue between her lips in an intimate dance.

She was awash in feelings she’d never before experienced, feelings that threatened to drown her, pull her under, lose her. And she thrilled to it, feeling so alive, so—

A servant’s voice called out to MacDougal, the sound splashing over Lily like a bucket of ice water. She broke the kiss, breathless and aching, her gaze flying to the door.

Wulf’s gaze followed hers and he stepped away, too.

MacDougal’s voice rose in the hallway. “Och, now, John, get the polish, fer the candlesticks need a bit o’ work.”

A servant replied, and then silence.

Lily took a deep breath. “Th-that was unwise.”

“Nonsense. Knowledge is necessary.”

She pressed a hand to her cheek, her fingers trembling. “You should go. Someone will find you here.”

Wulf’s hot gaze swept over her. “Are you sure, Moya?”

She wasn’t sure of anything, except that Wulf must leave now, or she might do something that would ruin her chances of a good marriage forever. She nodded. “I’m sure.”

He sent her a regretful look. “Are you certain? I can—”

“Go.”

“But I—”

“Please.”

His lips thinned and he looked as if he might say something more, but one look at her face and he let out his breath. “Fine.” He collected his cloak and tossed it over his arm. “But only because you asked me to.” He walked to the window, pausing by her to whisper. “When you next see Huntley, think about our kiss.”

He put a finger under her chin and lifted her face to his, their gazes locking. For a long time, he remained thus, looking deeply into her eyes. A wild rush of thoughts flew through her: Perhaps just one more kiss— If only Papa hadn’t made such a mull of things— What if she didn’t feel anything at all with Huntley—

Wulf smiled and dropped his hand. “Think of me, Moya.” He turned and crossed to the window. He glanced outside to make certain no one was in the courtyard, and then, with a final heated look and a swirl of black cape, he was gone.

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