How to Pursue a Princess

By: Karen Hawkins

Chapter Nine

From the Diary of the Duchess of Roxburghe I will not stand for Prince Wulfinski interfering in the budding romance I’ve set on course between Lily Balfour and the Earl of Huntley. I hope the prince is used to failure, for he will make no gains in this particular pursuit.

I shall make certain of that.

Emma leaned forward. “Lily, you seem upset. Is it—”

“No, no. I’m just looking to see if the duchess is ready for us to leave.”

“Where has her grace gone to— Ah! There she is, by the carriage.”

Lily couldn’t help but notice that while she faced the crowd, they were looking past her at the prince. And who could blame them? It was difficult enough to—

“Good morning.”

The deep voice poured over her like honey, and aware that many eyes were now turned her way, she reluctantly turned and curtsied.

Emma curtsied, too. “Your Highness, we’ve only met briefly, but I’m Miss Emma—”

“Gordon,” he finished, bowing in her direction. “I never forget a name or”—his teeth flashed—“a pretty face.”

Emma turned bright pink, and Lily suspected that the older woman might say something arch, but Wulf’s attention had already returned to Lily.

He inclined his head in her direction. “I was hoping you would be here.”

She colored under his gaze, her lashes dropping as she looked away. Her skin was as pale as fresh cream and decorated with a smattering of freckles across her nose—exactly eight—which he suspected would become prominent if she stayed in the sun for any length of time. His gaze flickered to her neck and lower. He frowned. “You are not riding?”

“I will be traveling by carriage.”

“Do you know which one? Perhaps—”

“Miss Balfour!” the duchess called from across the courtyard. “Lady Charlotte insists that I join her in her carriage, so I will not be riding after all. Would you care to join us?” Her grace was standing with Lady Charlotte, who was wearing a ridiculously large hat with two huge feathers poking from the top, one of which was already broken.

As Lady Charlotte went to accept a hand from a footman, Lord Huntley broke from the small group of gentlemen standing nearby. He waved off the footman and assisted Lady Charlotte into the carriage.

“Miss Balfour?” the duchess asked again. “Are you coming?”

Wulf’s jaw tightened. There was no mistaking the frown that flickered across the duchess’s face when she looked at him.

“Sadly,” Emma said in a low voice, “I don’t think her grace is really asking.”

“So it seems.” Lily curtsied to Emma and Wulf. “Excuse me, but I am wanted.” She left, hurrying off as if the hounds of hell were hard on her heels.

He rubbed his chin as he watched her. She was such a small thing, his Moya, her hair gleaming red-gold in the late-morning sun. She reached the carriage and, taking Huntley’s hand, stepped up, her cape and gown revealing the tempting curve of her ass as she bent to take a seat. Instantly, Wulf’s body was ablaze. Oh, Moya, what you do to me—

The sound of someone clearing her throat recalled him, and he turned back to Miss Gordon. “I’m sorry. I was lost”—he pointed to his head—“here.”

“I saw exactly where you got lost,” she returned in a surprisingly dry tone.

Up until now, Wulf hadn’t been impressed with any of the women he’d met at the duchess’s castle other than Lily. But as he looked into Miss Gordon’s smiling brown eyes, he realized he’d been hasty. She didn’t bat her eyes and giggle like a schoolgirl as the other women had. She had a steady, direct gaze that he rather liked. “I beg your pardon for my inattention. If you do not mind, can you tell me what we do here today, about this—what do you call it? A peeknil?”

She chuckled. “You mean ‘picnic.’ ”

“And what is this picnic?”

“It’s a luncheon served outdoors. I daresay you have something similar in your country, for I know they have them in France and Italy, and I would imagine everywhere else, too.”

He shrugged. “It is cold in Oxenburg, and very wet. I do not think we have such things.”

“Too bad, for it’s wonderful fun. We all go to the same location—atop a hill with a view, or near a lake or something pretty. The servants pack up a luncheon and we take it to that spot and we eat.”

He waited. When she merely smiled up at him, he frowned. “That’s all there is to a picnic?”

“Yes. Isn’t it enough?”

“Not to me. You just”—he waved a hand—“eat under the sun?”

“Oh, don’t look like that. I assure you that it’s very civilized and is an excellent opportunity to commune with nature.”

“In my country, we do not commune with nature. We sleep out of doors when we must, when we travel or camp. But we do not visit it so.”

“It’s considered quite romantic.”

“Not if it rains. Or if there are”—he walked his fingers up his arm—“what do you call them?”

“Ants?” She chuckled. “Yes, those can be very off-putting for a picnic. But it’s something to do and the duchess loves having something to do. Besides, everyone is going, so why not enjoy this lovely weather?”

“I am going. I just did not fully understand what it was.” He watched as Huntley leaned against the carriage, talking to Lily and Lady Charlotte while the duchess stood to one side, beaming as if they were all puppets of her making.

Miss Gordon’s gaze followed his. “Please pardon me for being blunt, but you seem intrigued with Miss Balfour.”

“I enjoy her company.” At Miss Gordon’s amused look, he grinned sheepishly. “It is no secret that I also find her attractive. You have noticed, nyet?”

“You have been very attentive. I mentioned that to her this morning.”

“Ah. Perhaps that is why she was so determined to leave just as I arrived.”

“Because of something I said? I hope not.”

“She is a prickly one, is Miss Balfour. Very, very stubborn, too.”

“She’s lovely.”

“She is exactly as I have dreamed,” he said quietly.

Miss Gordon’s eyes widened. “Careful, Your Highness, or someone might think you are in love.”

“Perhaps I am.” He crossed his arms and rocked back on his heels. “I am thinking I am more so every day.”

“My! You are a refreshing change.” When he quirked a brow her way, she gave a rather brittle laugh. “Most men do not so freely admit when they are in love.” Her gaze flickered to Huntley. “Some don’t even know it.”

“Fools. I know when I feel something, and I feel it strongly. My Tata Natasha—my grandmother—thinks I have fallen too swiftly for Miss Lily for it to be real, but she will see.”

“She is wrong. Falling in love can take only a moment.” Miss Gordon looked past Wulf, a sad curve touching her lips. “But it can last forever.”

Wulf followed her gaze to where Huntley was saying a laughing good-bye to Lily and Lady Charlotte. So that’s how it is. His sympathy stirred. “Men can be fools.”

Emma reluctantly returned her gaze back to his. “That is not a particularly comforting thought, Your Highness.”

“Please, call me Wulf.”

“I would be delighted. Pray call me Emma.”

“Emma, then.” At her smile, he continued, “As for men and their foibles, we are not the most observant of creatures and frequently miss what is under our very noses.”

“How do you know this when most men that I’m acquainted with do not?”

“My grandmother is not shy in pointing out every fault—perceived and otherwise—of everyone she meets, especially me. Perhaps it is due to self-preservation that I honestly admit to the faults that are mine.”

Emma chuckled again. “However it is, your openness is a unique trait. Sadly, you are not the only one who is taken by Miss Balfour.”

“You speak of Huntley,” Wulf said, suddenly grim.

“Perhaps. Of course, with the duchess sponsoring her . . .” Emma shrugged. “It is a great advantage.”

“So I’ve been told.” Wulf watched as Huntley laughed at something Lily said. “They like one another.” Wulf’s heart felt like a weight in his chest.

Emma sighed regretfully. “Yes. I know Huntley well, and he is charmed with your Lily.”

Wulf scowled. “This, I do not like.”

“I’m not fond of it myself.”

Damn it, it seemed as if he’d waited his entire life to meet the woman of his dreams, and now, because she was unusually stubborn and had a meddling duchess for a godmother, things were not progressing as they should. What should have been easy was difficult, and growing more so by the moment. “The duchess would prefer that I see less of Miss Lily.”

“And if she has her way, I will see less and less of Huntley, too, until . . .”

“Until what?”

“Until Lily and Huntley become attached. And then engaged. And once they are engaged, there is nothing we can do about it—especially if the duchess announces it in front of everyone, which she will.”

“I don’t understand. Why would a public announcement make their engagement more difficult to break off?”

“It is scandalous to break off an engagement, especially for a man. Huntley is very protective of his honor. Once he’s set such a course, nothing will sway him from it.”

Wulf scowled. “So many rules! You are all tied up in knots with them.”

“There are far too many.”

Wulf rubbed his chest. He’d thought he’d made progress with Lily over the last few days, first with their kiss in the library, and then their continued conversations after that day. Though she hadn’t been encouraging, neither had she been discouraging. Today, something was different. Today she was letting him know that she was moving closer to Huntley and thus further away from him.

He watched her smile at something the earl was saying. But our kiss, Moya. How can you forget that?

He had to find a way to turn her attention back to him, but how? How did one secure the attentions of a woman determined not to pay any attention to one? How did one— His gaze fell on his companion. “Hmmm.”

Her brows lifting, Miss Emma put a hand to her cheek. “What? Do I have something on my face?”

“Nyet.” He slipped a hand under her elbow. “Miss Emma, we seem to be in danger of losing the attentions of those we hold dear.”

“So it seems,” she said wistfully.

“Then let us become partners, we two.”

“In what way?”

“We will become partners in securing the interest of . . . shall we call them ‘others’?”

Her eyes were bright with curiosity. “That’s an interesting proposition.”

“Huntley and Lily have the duchess watching out for them, so you and I will watch out for each other.”

Emma’s gaze slid to where Huntley and Lily conversed while the duchess beamed upon them like a fairy godmother. “It would be nice to have someone on my side for a change.”

“Da, and I think I know a way to capture their attention.”

“Oh? Pray continue, Wulf. You have my complete attention.”

“Simple. By pretending to possess an interest in each other.”

Emma’s brows lifted. “You think they will pay more attention to us if they think we are courting?”

“It has certainly made us pay more attention to them.”

“True.” She pursed her lips. “A very intriguing scheme. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to have an ally.”

“It is war, Miss Gordon. An all-out war.”

“Then the deal is struck, Your Highness. When do we begin?”

“Now is a good time. Are either of them looking this way?”

“No, they are merely talking to one an— Oh!” Emma turned her head slightly and said in a low voice, “Huntley just gestured toward his horse, so he’s facing this way.”

Wulf instantly captured her hand and lifted it to his lips, smiling as he kissed her fingers. “Do you know how to simper?”

“Oh, I’ve always wished to be an actress. How’s this?” She gave him such an odd simper that he laughed.

She joined him. “Was it that bad?”

“It was worse than bad. Is he still looking this way?”

From under her lashes, she looked toward the carriage. “He’s looking directly at us.”

“Excellent.” Wulf stepped closer and held her hand between his own hands. “Now you must pretend you think I am handsome and funny and know many, many interesting stories.”

She chuckled and sent him an arch look. “I think I like this game.” She glanced under her lashes toward the carriage. “He’s turned back to Lily, but his expression before he did was quite stern.”

“Excellent. We will make it more so as the day progresses.”

She slanted him a humorous look. “I must applaud your devious nature. I fear for your enemies.”

“You are a wise woman. Lily will be at the duchess’s house for less than three weeks, so I have precious little time to gain her interest.”

“That shouldn’t be too difficult.”

“But it is. I’ve told her how I feel, and she refuses to accept it and has forbidden me to discuss it with her ever again.”

“You told her? Just like that?”

“Da. Why?”

Emma hesitated. “I don’t mean to intrude, but while I’m sure that your declaration was quite touching, women like to be wooed.”

“Hmm. I shall think about that.”

“Good.” She glanced back at Huntley. “At least your beloved doesn’t think of you as a sort of sibling.”

Wulf winced. “Has he said so?”

“Many times. I was Huntley’s late wife’s best friend, almost like a sister-in-law, which was fine while she was alive. Now . . . now I see him as something far, far more, while he holds me firmly as ‘sister.’ ” Her color high, she added, “It’s difficult to change that vision once it’s established.”

Wulf caught sight of Huntley casting a concerned glance their way and pressed another kiss to Emma’s hand. “We will change how he sees you.”

She chuckled. “My dear Prince Wulfinski, if you think it might help either of our causes, please shower me with your attentions whenever you wish. I shall attempt to bear the burden with grace.”

He grinned. “I shall. Soon everyone will think we are the most intimate of friends—”

“No, no,” she said, suddenly flustered. “Not intimate, just close.”

“ ‘Intimate’ . . . that is a bad word?”

“It implies certain liberties.”

“Ah. Then with you, I will be close. With Miss Balfour, I will be intimate.”

Emma’s color deepened.

“What? I said it wrong?”

“Yes . . . and no.” She gave an uncertain laugh. “You speak very plainly, Your Highness. I can see you’re a pragmatic sort of man.”

“I’m a very determined man, and I will have Lily Balfour.”

Emma regarded him with fascination. “I think you could do anything you set your mind to.”

“So can you. I can tell you are a woman of strength. It is in your eyes.”

“Thank you, but I don’t feel very strong where Huntley is concerned.”

“But you are that strong, Miss Emma. And if you wish to win Huntley, you must remember that.”

Her expression turned wistful. “I wish I believed that, but I—” Her gaze went over Wulf’s shoulder.

He turned and saw that Huntley had mounted and ridden his horse to the side of Lily’s carriage. He was leaning down, speaking with her, and she, her bonnet now tied under her chin in a jaunty fashion, was laughing up at something he’d said. She isn’t discouraging him a bit, the little wretch. But then, I knew she would not. “At least they will not be riding together. Huntley is already on his horse and—” Wulf snapped his mouth closed as the duchess said something to Huntley. He seemed to argue, but after Lady Charlotte and then Lily joined in, the earl threw up a hand and—laughing—climbed down from his horse and tossed the reins to a groom standing nearby. Huntley then climbed into the carriage beside Lily and closed the door.

“Damn it!” Wulf growled.

Emma’s mouth tightened. “Huntley was to ride with me. It seems that I am forgotten again.”

Wulf caught the pain her voice. “Emma, if you want Huntley, then you must go get him. Just as I must go and get Lily.”

“Sadly, Huntley doesn’t wish me to ‘go get him.’ Men don’t like to be pursued.”

Wulf chuckled. “That is untrue.”

“Perhaps that’s how it is in Oxenburg, but not in Edinburgh. Besides, even if he did wish to be pursued, I wouldn’t know how to go about it.”

“Pah. Women pursue men all of the time, they just do it differently. They smile and send glances, drop their kerchiefs, show their ankles . . .” Wulf shrugged.

Emma’s gaze grew thoughtful. “They do, don’t they? Flirting is a form of pursuit, I suppose. Men flirt, too.”

“Yes, heavily, like big oxen. Women flitter here and there, featherlight in their touch. Sometimes it is easy to miss their intent.”

She tilted her head to one side and regarded him for a long moment. “So you think that I should pursue Huntley more openly.”

“Yes. Men like to know they are wanted, just as women do.”

“But . . . what if he doesn’t like it? What if he tells me no?”

Wulf’s lips quirked. “Ah, Emma, that is not the question to ask. The question to ask is, what if he tells you yes? What will you do then?”

Her eyes widened, but after an astonished moment, she laughed. “What indeed?” She tucked her hand in Wulf’s arm and they walked toward their horses. “Come! Tell me more.”

He did so, and yet he remained painfully aware of Lily now cozily tucked in the carriage beside Huntley. One day, Lily, you will ride with me and we will both be happier.

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