How to Pursue a Princess

By: Karen Hawkins

Chapter Eight



From the Diary of the Duchess of Roxburghe The meeting has occurred, the introductions made, first impressions accomplished, and now all that’s left is to make certain our two lovely candidates spend a lot of time together . . . a lot of time together. Preferably alone.

Two days later, Lily stepped onto the wide portico where the guests milled about, talking and laughing in small groups as footmen served trays of iced lemonade. She carried her bonnet by its ribbons as she strolled to the eastern edge of the terrace, smiling at those who greeted her.

The vista was breathtaking. The late-morning sun spread a golden glow over the lawn, which raced down to the lake on one side and the river on the other. A faint wind stirred the skirts of Lily’s blue walking gown, and she shivered.

The shiver brought on by a cool breeze was vastly different from one caused by being kissed by a green-eyed prince. One type made one want to run for shelter, while the other made one want to beg for more.

Despite her determination not to, she glanced about, but he was nowhere to be seen. Yet. Over the last two days, he’d been at every amusement planned by the duchess: the opera singer brought in from London, a battledore tournament with lavish prizes, a late-night whist party. He was an amusing companion, his blunt assessment of every event sending her into giggles when she least expected it, but his presence had greatly hampered her ability to spend time with Huntley. Fortunately, today’s picnic offered a chance to remedy that.

Still, Wulf had been true to his word and no longer importuned her with outrageous declarations. But while he was on his best behavior verbally, it seemed that he never lost an opportunity to touch her. They were seemingly innocent touches—a brush of his hand over hers, his chest against her arm, his foot by hers under the dining-room table—so she could hardly protest, but each one reminded her vividly of their embrace in the library.

Before that day, the few kisses she’d shared had been shy, timid, and decidedly chaste. She now realized they’d also been passionless. But then she’d kissed Wulf, and now she knew what to look for. Now, all she had to do was entice Huntley into a kiss.

Sadly, the earl was far more polite than Wulf, who would never let a thing like propriety stand between him and the woman he wanted. If Lily wanted a kiss from Huntley, she’d have to win his confidence and then maneuver him into a private meeting. If he didn’t come up to the mark and sweep her into his arms, then unladylike as it might be, she might have to kiss him. But at least then she’d have the reassurance she sought—that passion lurked between her and Huntley, too, but was just more subtle than the roaring sensuality that Wulf enjoyed sparking.

She was certain that, with time, she and Huntley would have the same passion that Wulf inspired.

The wind stirred again, and she rubbed her arms vigorously and glanced at the door. Perhaps she should run back to her room and fetch the red cloak Dahlia had lent her. Lightly lined, it was the perfect wrap for early spring. She walked toward the door, but just as she reached it, the duchess came sailing out.

Her grace was dressed in a fitted habit, an impressive riding hat pinned to her red wig, a white gauze scarf wrapped about her neck and floating behind her. She was followed by a swirl of pugs who barked madly and jumped up in the air, as if trying to entice her to pick them up.

She caught sight of Lily and brightened. “Miss Balfour, how serendipitous! I was going to seek you out and see how you were faring. I didn’t get the chance to speak to you at all yesterday, although I noted that you and Huntley were paired together in the battledore contest.” The duchess gave Lily an arch look. “I saw him giving you instruction in how to better use your racket.”

Lily hid a grimace. It was the one time Huntley had said or done something that had irked her. She was a good player, but for some reason, before he’d even seen her play, he’d assumed she knew nothing about the game and had taken it upon himself to explain every possible swing in detail.

She’d borne it with a smile, although she’d been irked. Which is silly, for he was just trying to be helpful. “His lordship was very instructive.”

“He seems very fond of you. He even told me that— Oh!” One of the pugs had launched itself high enough to paw one of the duchess’s leather gloves. She examined the glove and frowned at the dog. “Look what you’ve done, Meenie! You tore it.” She turned. “MacDougal!”

As if he’d been hiding inside the door, the butler instantly stepped outside. “Yes, yer grace?”

“Meenie tore my glove!”

The butler turned an eagle stare on the offending pug, who promptly threw itself on its back and pawed the air in a pathetic manner.

Lily covered her mouth in an attempt to keep from laughing.

The duchess chuckled with her, her blue eyes twinkling. “They’re terrible, but just look at those angelic eyes. How can I say no?”

“It’s impossible,” Lily agreed. The swarm of dogs, all of them now on their feet, looked eagerly at the duchess, ready to follow her anywhere but where she ordered them. They were as fat as Christmas geese, their bellies round, their little legs splayed to hold their weight. But it was the expression on their faces that made Lily smile—they all looked upon the duchess with adoring eyes and wide grins, their tongues lolling in a variety of directions, completely and utterly in love with her.

The duchess peeled off her riding gloves. “MacDougal, I have another pair in my bedchamber.”

The butler bowed, took the gloves, and then handed them to a nearby footman.

The young man started to dash back into the house but Lily stopped him. “Would you mind also fetching my red cloak? It’s in the wardrobe in my bedchamber.”

“Yes, miss.” The footman bowed and hurried off.

The duchess eyed the pugs. “When I have my new gloves, none of you will mar them. Do you hear me?”

The dogs didn’t answer, though Lily thought that one or two of them grinned even more broadly.

MacDougal cleared his throat. “Pardon me, yer grace, but perhaps we should lock the puir bairns in the sittin’ room until ye’re gone. They’ll wish to go wit’ ye, and ye know how they like to worry Lord MacTavish’s bull.”

“Lud, yes. I’ve asked MacTavish to move the bull out of the south field, but he’s ignored my requests. I thought for certain we’d lost Teenie the last time they got into that blasted bull’s way.” The duchess stooped and picked up the two closest pugs and handed them to MacDougal, who turned and handed them to a waiting footman to carry them off.

The duchess turned back to the pack and began collecting the remaining dogs, who—having seen the way the wind was blowing—were now dancing out of her reach. Lily was surprised when neither the footmen nor the butler offered to catch the remaining pugs, but stayed where they were, politely looking the other way as the duchess scrambled about, huffing and puffing with her efforts.

Just as Lily started to help, the duchess caught two more dogs and passed them to the butler. Once again, the pugs were carried into the house, squirming and barking as they went.

“May I help you catch the last two?” Lily asked.

“What? Oh no, dear.” The duchess shoved her hat farther back on her head, her wig sliding with it. “The footmen have chased the poor things until they’re quite nervous, so it’s best if I collect them myself.”

“Ah.”

The duchess set off after the last pugs, but they had been well warned of their fate by their wiggling, barking brethren and began a series of evasive maneuvers, spinning out of reach, running between the legs of two nearby footmen, and dashing in circles around the duchess.

Her grace leapt first left and then right, trying to grab one, and then the other dog, but to no avail.

Lily bit her bottom lip to keep from giggling as one dashed under the duchess’s skirts and then out the other side, his tongue flying out the side of his mouth.

The duchess was now panting. “Roxburghe vows that chasing is good exercise for them, and so he encouraged the footmen to dash after them pell-mell, but all it’s done is teach them how to escape.” She glared over her shoulder at the footmen as she spoke. “There are better ways to exercise the dogs.”

The footman closest to the duchess nodded smartly. “Yes, yer grace. Chasin’ is bad fer the dogs, it is.”

“Exactly.” The duchess lunged forward and finally caught one of the pugs. “There!” She handed the dog to the footman and looked about for the final one. “Ah, Feenie! Come to Mama.”

The final pug ran a safe distance away before turning to face the duchess, his tail spinning in a circle, his front feet splayed as he readied to hop out of the way.

The duchess took a step forward.

The dog hopped backward.

“Blast it! Hold still, you—” The duchess dove for the pug.

The dog turned and ran past the duchess, grabbing her gauze scarf as it went.

Lily reached out to help, but before the dog could get more than a foot away, MacDougal stepped on the scarf, pinning it to the ground. The dog tugged and tugged and, in doing so, allowed the butler to scoop him up.

MacDougal removed the end of the scarf from the dog’s mouth. “Feenie, ye spalpeen. Stop yer yappin’.” The butler inclined his head at her grace. “Pardon me, yer grace. I’ll deposit this bundle in the sitting room and return.”

The duchess blew out her breath and adjusted her hat. “Thank you, MacDougal.” She watched the butler leave, the little dog licking the butler’s chin in an attempt to get back into the old man’s favor. Fanning herself, she said in a breathless voice, “My, but that took some doing.”

“Yes, it did. Are you well?”

“I’m fine. Just a bit out of breath.”

As the duchess spoke, Huntley stepped out of the wide doorway and paused on the threshold, one foot on the step. Every female eye instantly locked on him, and Lily couldn’t blame them.

The earl was dressed for riding in well-fitted breeches, his white-topped Hessians shining like mirrors, his coat smooth over his lithe frame. His neckcloth was snow-white and framed his square chin, complementing his handsome face.

He cut quite a dashing figure and Lily couldn’t help but stand a little straighter when his gaze passed over every woman present and alighted on her. Instantly, he brightened and came her way.

The duchess couldn’t have looked happier as she murmured to Lily, “That’s a promising sign.”

He reached them and bowed. “Your grace. Miss Balfour.”

Lily curtsied, while the duchess inclined her head in a gracious manner. Her grace took in his riding clothes. “I take it that you will be riding.”

“Miss Gordon and I hoped to sneak in a quick gallop this morning. We wish to stretch our riding legs a bit, something we don’t get to do as often as we like.” His gaze touched on Lily’s blue walking gown, and his brows knit. “Miss Balfour, you’re not riding?”

“I am claiming a seat in one of the carriages. I’m not the best rider, you know.”

The duchess made an impatient sound. “You just need a little tutoring. Perhaps you should change into your habit and allow Huntley to show you how it’s done.”

Huntley hesitated, but quickly said, “I should be honored if Miss Balfour will allow me.”

Lily laughed. “You would be irked, is what you’d be, for I’d slow you down and you just admitted you were longing for a gallop. Go and ride! I’ll see you at the picnic. We’ll both be happier for having arrived in our chosen forms of transportation.”

He laughed, his sherry-brown eyes warm as he captured her hand and pressed a firm kiss to her fingers. “I look forward to seeing you there. May I hope to sit beside you?”

“You’ll get there first, so pray save a seat for me.”

“I’ll do that.” He gave her hand a squeeze, then bowed to the duchess and went to join a group of men who stood examining the horses.

The duchess’s gaze followed him. “He’s quite taken with you.”

“He’s a very nice man.”

“And wealthy. Very wealthy. Don’t forget that!” The duchess regarded Huntley with pride, as if she’d made him herself. “And so polite, too.”

“Very much so.” He was so polite that not once over the last two days had she been able to imagine him kissing her the way Wulf had. But then, the earl was the sort of man who respected propriety. That’s good . . . isn’t it?

The duchess beamed. “Things are going along splendidly.”

Lily was saved from answering when a short, round lady with a large, white feather in her bonnet called on her grace to serve as a moderator for a disagreement she was having with an equally portly gentleman, over the merits of a mustard plaster over Persian Tonic for a cough. Excusing herself, the duchess went to answer the call of her other guests, and Lily was left to wait for her cloak and observe Huntley.

He was everything she could possibly want in a husband—a true gentleman, kind, polite, handsome, and capable of helping her family. He was the perfect candidate, and she should have been thrilled to the tips of her toes that he seemed interested in her. I should be thankful for this opportunity. She straightened her shoulders. I am thankful.

So why am I feeling so uncertain? I must throw myself into this with full enthusiasm, and yet I keep hesitating.

Lily bit her lip, her heart sinking. If she were honest, she knew why: since Wulf’s visit to the library, it hadn’t been the earl who’d filled her thoughts, but the prince. No matter how she tried not to, she couldn’t help but compare the earl to Wulf, and for some reason she couldn’t fathom, the earl seemed . . . less. But once I know him better, I’m sure that will cease to be so.

“Ah,” the duchess said, sweeping past Lily toward the footman who’d just exited the house. “My gloves!” She drew them on as the footman delivered the cape to Lily, who murmured her thanks.

A group of maids came from the house carrying large hampers, which were strapped to the backs of the carriages. “There’s the food,” the duchess said with satisfaction. “If you’ll pardon me, I will go and make certain that everything I requested has been brought out.”

“Of course.”

“I’ll see you when we arrive, then. That is, I’ll see you with Huntley.” With a smile, the duchess hurried off.

Lily was left to wait as the carriages were lined up along the far side of the courtyard.

“It looks as if everyone is going, doesn’t it?” came a feminine voice at Lily’s side.

She turned to find Miss Gordon dressed in an elegant habit of lilac that became her brown hair and eyes. Lily smiled. “Who could say no to a picnic on a day like this?”

Miss Gordon took a deep breath of the fresh air, aglow with pleasure. “Who indeed?”

Over the last few days, Lily and Miss Gordon had had several pleasant conversations and had even partnered to win a battledore match. “A picnic doesn’t offer as much exercise as battledore, but it has its merits.”

Miss Gordon chuckled. “Not the way you play it, no.” Her gaze flickered over Lily’s clothing. “You are not riding?”

“To be honest, I don’t ride very well.” She threw up a hand. “Spare me your disappointment. I’ve already had to bear Huntley’s and it was more than enough.”

Miss Gordon laughed. “Was he blue as a megrim?”

“Bluer.” Lily eyed Miss Gordon with interest. “You know the earl very well.”

“I’ve known him for ages. His wife—” Miss Gordon’s smile dimmed. “Sarah was my dearest friend, and poor Geoffrey was devastated when she died.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you. We miss her, of course, but we cannot dwell.” Though her eyes were shiny with unshed tears, Miss Gordon managed a shaky laugh. “La, I’ve grown maudlin! And on such a beautiful day, too.”

Lily slipped her arm through Miss Gordon’s and gave her a hug. “I shouldn’t have pried.”

“Nonsense. You were asking a simple question. I’m the one who turned into a watering pot.” She turned and looked at the guests. “It looks as if we’re all here.”

“There are so many.”

“Not for one of the duchess’s amusements. I’ve been here with three times as many guests.”

“What a crowd!”

“Yes, you never see the same people, and so it’s difficult to have a meaningful conversation, much less remember their names.” Miss Gordon chuckled. “Huntley says my mind is too weak to retain names, although it never forgets one bit of gossip.”

“My sister Dahlia says that gossip is good for the soul.”

“It definitely keeps life interesting.” Miss Gordon tugged on her gloves. “It will be a lovely outing.”

“Yes. This seems like a merry crowd.”

“Oh, the duchess never invites boring people. She says they give her the frets.”

Lily laughed, looking over to where the duchess stood speaking with MacDougal. She was gesturing toward the line of carriages across the courtyard. Each one was hooked up to teams of exceptional-looking horses. “What lovely horses.”

“Oh, yes. The duke is mad about horses. They say he has one for every day of the year and two for every Sunday.”

“I can’t imagine having the funds to feed so many.”

“Nor can I. Tell me, Miss— Do you mind if I call you Lily?”

“Of course not. It would make me feel at home.” Lily smiled. “I miss my sister far more than I thought I would.”

“Please call me Emma, then. You have two sisters, don’t you?” At Lily’s surprised look, Emma said, “Your sister Rose’s brilliant marriage was the talk of the ton for months.”

“Oh? And what did they say?”

“Nothing notorious. Only that the duchess orchestrated the courtship and that your sister and Lord Sinclair are wildly and passionately in love.” Emma made a humorous moue. “That’s quite against fashion, you know, which makes it very fashionable in itself.”

Lily laughed. “Fashion is so contrary.”

Emma’s gaze flickered over Lily’s gown underneath her red cape. Of pale blue muslin and set with a wide, white ribbon under her breasts decorated with a small line of red rosettes, it was deceptively simple. “If you don’t mind me asking, where did you purchase that gown? It’s lovely.”

Lily had made her gown, but it would have been gauche to admit it, so she merely said, “Someone from Caith Manor made it.”

“It’s not French?” Surprise lifted Emma’s voice.

“Not at all. I—she got the pattern from a women’s magazine and made it from there.”

“I wish I had someone to make me such gowns. I’m relegated to purchasing them on Bond Street, which is well enough, but does make one’s clothing seem far too much like everyone else’s.” Emma’s gaze locked on something over Lily’s shoulder. Whatever it was, it drew the attention of everyone near them. “Don’t look, but Prince Wulfinski just arrived. Such a handsome man.” She slanted Lily an arch look. “You know him rather well, I believe.”

Lily kept her face expressionless. “Slightly.” If Emma has noticed how much attention Wulf has been paying to me, then how many others have? With a casual shrug, Lily said, “The prince doesn’t know many people yet.”

“But he does have a preference.” Emma’s gaze turned back to Wulf. “He’s escorting his grandmother. I’ve heard she’s quite a character.”

Lily turned and saw that Wulf was tying off a large black gelding to a shiny brougham that held a tiny, shriveled apple of a woman dressed all in black.

“His grandmother is the grand duchess something or other.” Emma sighed. “See? I don’t remember names well at all. One of my many failings.”

From across the courtyard, Wulf’s gaze caught Lily’s. Her breath tightened and her skin prickled as if a gust from a fire had suddenly swept over her. He smiled and moved toward her, ignoring a sharp call from his grandmother, who turned a gaze as black as her gown in Lily’s direction, a disapproving scowl on her face.

But Wulf paid the woman no heed as he crossed the courtyard, his narrow hips encircled by a thick leather belt, his loose, black breeches tucked into leather boots that lacked the shine of the Hessians worn by the other gentlemen. Whereas the other men wore a cravat, waistcoat, and fitted coat, he wore a white, flowing shirt and a loose coat, a tie knotted carelessly about his neck, a cape swinging from his broad shoulders.

But it was his mouth, both sensual and masculine, framed by his trim black beard, that quickened Lily’s breath the most. Her hand, still tight about the ribbons of her bonnet, grew damp.

“He’s very handsome, isn’t he?” Emma murmured, her gaze moving appreciatively across Wulf. “Rather like a large bear.”

He is certainly as strong as a bear. The first day they’d met, he’d carried her through the woods as if she’d weighed no more than a feather. And two days ago when he’s kissed her, he’d actually lifted her off her feet and had held her there forever. Her gaze flickered to his arms; she was well aware of his strength. She wondered if she could fit her hands about his muscular arms. Not that she would ever try, of course, but still—

She shook her head. She had to stop thinking about “ifs” and instead think about what really was—her father was counting on her and she could not fail him.

And yet . . . just looking at Wulf made her wish—

She closed her eyes. No.

And with a hollow ache in her chest, she turned her back on the prince. “Come, Miss Gordon. Show me the horse you’re to ride.”

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