How to Pursue a Princess

By: Karen Hawkins

Chapter One

From the Diary of the Duchess of Roxburghe Since, while under my roof, my goddaughter Miss Rose Balfour met and married my great-nephew the Earl of Sinclair, people have been whispering that I am the first word in matchmaking—the Perfectress of Romance, the Grand Curator of Courtship, and (my favorite) the Duchess of Hearts. Naturally, I’m well aware that these titles are ridiculous, for I had little to do with Rose and Sin’s romance; it happened on its own with very little assistance from me.

Except when needed, of course.

Those who know me best realize that I never interfere in the lives of others. Not unless they need it and are crying out for help in such a way that one cannot ignore their desperate pleas.

For example, take Rose’s sister, the lovely Miss Lily Balfour. If ever a young woman was in need of a husband, it is she, and I’m certain she’s begging for help, but is just too proud to do it aloud. Fortunately, I am not deaf to her silent pleas and am determined that she will accept one of the many invitations I’ve sent to her. So far, though, all of them have been politely refused.

However, I shall not despair, for I’m sure there must be a way to help the poor, desperate lass.

Caith Manor, Scotland

May 2, 1813

Lily Balfour blinked, but the words on the paper still swam before her eyes, numbers and words merging into a befuddled mess. “I don’t understand. How did this happen?”

Pacing before the fire, Papa shook his head, his white hair standing on end where he’d run his hands through it. “Och, I don’t know. I just don’t know.” He was showing his age more than usual this evening, worry etching deep lines on his face. “I didn’t realize the terms were so dire. Lord Kirk said—”

“What?” Dahlia, who’d been sitting quietly to one side of the fireplace, stared at their Papa. “You borrowed funds from Lord Kirk?”

Lord Kirk was their neighbor, a wealthy, grumpy, taciturn widower who’d been horribly scarred across one side of his face by an accident of some sort—Lily wasn’t sure how, for he never spoke of it. In fact, he rarely spoke about anything or to anyone . . . except to her sister Dahlia.

Some months ago, Lily had discovered that somehow Dahlia had been lured into speaking with Lord Kirk, even visiting his library and talking for hours about books they’d read. Neither Lily nor her oldest sister, Rose, had been happy about the relationship; warm, friendly, lovely Dahlia could do far, far better than such a grumpy, taciturn man. Fortunately, before many weeks had passed, Lord Kirk had said something insulting about Papa, and the always-loyal Dahlia had broken off all contact with the man, which had relieved everyone.

“How could you?” Dahlia demanded now, her eyes blazing.

Papa winced. “Now don’t look like that. I planned on paying back the funds. If things had gone well, you’d never even have known that I’d borrowed them.”

Lily waved the loan papers. “Apparently ‘things’ didn’t go as planned, and now you owe the funds and the interest, and a penalty, and—oh, Papa!”

He rubbed a hand over his face. “What have I done? I should have paid more attention, but—Lily, I don’t know how it is, but I could have sworn the percent was far less than what it is.”

“You didn’t read the terms?”

He flushed. “Of course I did. I just don’t remember them.”

Lily dropped the papers on the table and exchanged a worried glance with her sister, who looked as bemused as Lily felt.

Dahlia, always the pragmatist, folded her hands in her lap, her brow furrowed. “Papa, why did you take out this note? However did you spend three thousand pounds?”

He wrung his hands. “Oh, that. Well. I—I wanted you both to have a season in London, as your sister once had.”

Lily shook her head. “Nonsense. We’ve never asked for such a thing.”

“Besides,” Dahlia added, “Rose promised to take us into society when she returns from her honeymoon in three months.”

“Yes, but that’s so far away,” he said, looking a bit desperate. “You both should have your season now, so I borrowed some funds and invested them, knowing that if all turned out well, then I could surprise you.”

“Humph,” Lily said.

Dahlia lifted her brows in disbelief. “What did you invest in?”

He gulped, but said in a defiant tone, “Flowers.” A known horticulturalist, his undying passion was his pursuit of the perfect rose—one he intended on calling the Balfour Rich Red.

“You didn’t!” Lily said.

Dahlia’s brows snapped down. “This loan had nothing to do with paying for us to have a season, did it? You just wanted the funds for your flowers.”

Papa didn’t reply.

Lily took a steadying breath. “How did you convince Lord Kirk to loan you such an amount for something as far-fetched as rose development?”

“I told Kirk it was for a personal matter. Being a gentleman, he didn’t ask for more.”

“So he made you this large loan for an unknown reason?” Dahlia asked, suspicion still bright on her face.

“Well . . . yes.” Papa raked a hand through his hair. “It was a gentleman’s agreement, so I thought that if I couldn’t pay, he’d simply renegotiate the note. But instead . . .”

Dahlia’s eyes sparkled with anger as she turned to Lily. “I think less of Lord Kirk for agreeing to such a ludicrous arrangement. He had to know Papa’d never be able to repay such a sum.”

“One would think,” Lily agreed. “Papa, you’ve said time and again that the man’s the devil.”

Papa held out his hands in a supplicating manner. “He’s the only wealthy man I know.”

“And so you knowingly entered a devil’s arrangement.” Dahlia’s voice shook. “All to order yet more flowers.”

“And build a new hothouse and repair the others.” When his daughters continued to glower at him, he added rather lamely, “Which I only did so that I could send both of you to London for a season, of course.”

“Balderdash!” Dahlia said.

Lily pinched the bridge of her nose. “I cannot believe this.”

His shoulders slumped. “I know, it was madness. But I had good intentions.”

“Good intentions won’t repay a loan,” Lily returned sharply. “If you owed those funds to anyone else, I’d say we should throw ourselves on their mercy and ask for more time, but since it’s Lord Kirk—” She shook her head.

“He’d refuse,” Dahlia finished in a stiff tone.

“It’s all my fault.” Papa clasped his hands behind his back and dipped his head, his pacing feverish. “I’ve made such a mull of things. Now that I’ve read the papers, I can see that the terms of the loan weren’t what I’d hoped, but—”

“Not what you’d hoped?” Lily said, unable to help herself. “Papa, I don’t know how you planned to repay the interest, much less the principal. The terms are outrageous. In order to meet this loan, we have to find three thousand pounds in one month!”

“Lily, please, you must understand; I thought that with a new greenhouse, and more funds to invest in buds, I could finally afford to have the exotics shipped from China that I need to develop the Balfour Rich Red. Once that was done, we’d be able to sell the roses for a phenomenal profit. Why, just look at how well the Balfour rose has been selling.”

“Well?” Lily almost choked. “Over the last three years, you’ve made a total of”—she picked up the ledger and flipped to the last ink-spattered page—“three hundred pounds and six shillings.”

Papa looked startled. “Is that all? Good God. That’s—” Papa raked a hand through his white hair, mussing it even more. “Oh dear.”

Lily closed the ledger. “Perhaps if we gave some of the funds back, then Lord Kirk would find it in his heart to—”

“It’s gone,” Papa said sadly.

“All three thousand pounds?”

He nodded miserably. “It seemed so much at first, but then one of the greenhouses sprang a leak, which cost much more than I expected, and then there were issues with the water pipes we had installed for the mister, which cost—” He shuddered. “And all of that meant weeks of delay. By that time, your sister Rose had gotten engaged and then married, and that took yet more time from my work and—” He spread his hands helplessly. “Time passed and then . . .”

“The note came due,” Dahlia finished.

“It’s past due.” Lily tapped her finger on the paper. “Two months ago.”

Dahlia blinked. “Then why are we just now finding out about this?”

Papa sighed. “I was hoping Lord Kirk would forget about it.”

“You hoped he’d forget a loan for three thousand pounds?”

“Well, yes,” Papa said defensively. “Since I accepted the loan, he’s never said a word. Not once. But then—” Papa sighed. “This morning, he visited after breakfast.”

“Kirk was here?” Dahlia’s voice cracked on the last word.

“Yes, while you were still abed. I had just finished breakfast and had come out into the foyer, and he arrived as I was gathering my coat and hat. He was very polite in his request—uneasy, even, as if he didn’t wish to ask for the funds at all.”

“He must need the money,” Dahlia said. “Odd, because he certainly seems well-heeled. His house is of the first stare, and he has so many horses and carriages.”

“I wondered that myself.”

“So Kirk asked for repayment,” Lily said impatiently. “What did you tell him?”

“That I could pay it, of course, just not right away. He said that so long as I repaid him within the next month or so, all would be well. He actually seemed a bit embarrassed about the whole thing.”

“He should be,” Dahlia said sharply. “Especially after charging such an exorbitant amount of interest.”

“But it’s worse than mere interest.” Lily tapped the note again with one finger. “Not only has Papa made a loan he can’t repay, but he used Caith Manor as collateral.”

“What?” Eyes wide, Dahlia turned to Papa. “It’s not yours! There’s an entail on the house and land.”

Papa brightened. “Then the note won’t stand?”

Lily grimaced. “Papa, it means that not only do you owe the funds, but if Lord Kirk sets forth a complaint, you could end up in gaol for using something that’s not yours as collateral.”

“Prison?” Papa looked as if someone had just hit him in the stomach. “Good God.”

Dahlia pressed a hand to her temple. “Oh no!”

Silence filled the room, broken only by the crackling fire. Lily wished Rose were home; as the oldest sister, she had always been the one to solve their problems. But now that Rose was on the Continent with her new husband, Lily was left to handle the problems that beset their little family—a task she wasn’t certain she was ready for, especially now that Papa had thrown them into such a fix.

Lily’s gaze flickered to her sewing basket at her feet, and she had to curl her fingers into her palms to keep from reaching for it. Just this morning she’d taken the bodice from an old gown made of pink jaconet and, turning it inside out so that it could serve as a lining, was fitting it inside a shell of brown kerseymere. Once she’d added long sleeves and trimmings, it would be a fashionable spencer.

Nothing gave Lily more pleasure—or peace—than sewing. She was good at it, too; her sisters were forever telling her that she was better than any Edinburgh modiste.

It was a pity she couldn’t just set up a modiste’s shop and earn the funds to pay Papa’s loans. Sadly, though she’d enjoy it very, very much, it would take years to gain enough clientele to pay back such a huge amount.

Papa sighed. “I’d thought to ask Rose’s new husband for enough money to cover the loan, but they left for their honeymoon before I could think of a way to do so.”

“I’m glad you didn’t,” Lily said sharply. “Lord Sinclair and Rose are deeply in love. It would have been awkward if you’d asked for money the second she wed him.”

“I know, I know.” A hint of wistfulness colored Papa’s voice. “Although I doubt Sinclair would have thought it so much. Three thousand pounds is but a pittance to a man like him.”

“But not to Rose.”

“Yes, yes. You’re right, of course.” Papa sank into a chair across from them, his shoulders sagging. “I wish I’d never borrowed those funds.”

Dahlia took a deep breath. “As do we all. I suppose . . . I suppose I could talk to Lord Kirk.”

“No,” Lily said.

“Now wait a moment.” Papa eyed Dahlia thoughtfully. “Kirk is fond of Dahlia. Perhaps she can—”

“He was fond of her,” Lily corrected. “They had a falling out.”

Dahlia’s face was bright pink. “I don’t mind speaking to him again if I must.”

“There!” Papa interjected, looking hopeful.

“No, no, and no.” Lily sent Papa a stern look. “I won’t have it.”

Papa read her meaning in her gaze. “Yes,” he said abruptly. “You’re right. I was just thinking— But it’s best if we find another way.” He looked at his daughters regretfully. “I should have never involved the two of you; this is my fault. I must find the answer somehow. And if it comes to prison, then that’s where I’ll go and—”

“No,” Dahlia said. “I will talk to Lord Kirk. It’s the only way.” When Lily started to speak, Dahlia added, “It won’t be a sacrifice. He’s a little gruff, but he has a surprising sense of humor and”—Dahlia fidgeted with a button on her pocket—“he wishes to marry me.”

Lily’s heart sank. Oh no. “You never said a word.”

“Because I refused him, so there was no need. Perhaps if I agree, then he will see his way to forgive the note and—”

“No,” Papa said. “Good God, Dahlia, he’s twice your age!”

“No, he’s not. He’s only eight years older.”

“Eight?” Lily couldn’t keep the disbelief from her voice. “I find that hard to believe. But whatever his age, he’s too old for you. Besides, if anyone is to get us out of this predicament through an advantageous marriage, it should be me.”

“You?” Papa looked surprised. “But you’ve always said you’d never marry.”

“Because I’ve never met anyone who has sparked my interest, nor has anyone shown any interest in me, which is a perfect set of happenstances. But now that Rose is gone, I’m the oldest, so it’s up to me to resolve this issue.”

Dahlia looked troubled. “Lily, you can’t.”

“Why not?” Lily forced a smile. It’s not as if I would have ever opened a modiste’s shop, anyway. That is a mere dream. “I’ve been thinking lately that I’d like to taste a more fanciful way of life. Just think of the parties and gowns, amusements and luxurious apartments. And once I’m wed to a wealthy gentleman, Dahlia can come and stay with me.” The more Lily thought about it, the more certain she was that this was the way to proceed.

Besides, what other options were there?

Dahlia clasped her hands in her lap. “No, Lily. That sounds lovely, but who would you marry? There are no single gentlemen except Lord Kirk for miles and miles.”

“Our godmother is forever inviting me to her social events—she invited me to a house party which begins quite soon, in fact—so the means of meeting an eligible parti is readily available. I should respond to her invitation as soon as I can.” She frowned. “Where is it? I tucked it away somewhere.” Lily stood and crossed to the small tray that sat upon a side table. She pulled out a stack of correspondence and looked though it. “Here it is!” She waved a thick missive written on heavy pink paper.

“I don’t know about this.” Dahlia’s voice was tinged with concern. “While it sounds like a simple matter to find and marry a wealthy man, especially with the help of our godmother, I wonder if the thing can be accomplished in such a short time. We only have a month or so.”

“Which means that I cannot dawdle.”

“But, Lily, what if you don’t meet anyone worth falling in love with at the duchess’s house party? What then?”

“I shall leave the quality of available suitors to our godmother. She always promises a bevy of what she terms”—Lily opened the letter and read—“ ‘eligible and handsome young men of good fortune and family.’ When she puts it that way, how could I fail to fall in love with at least one of them?”

Papa was looking more hopeful by the minute. “Och, it’s a capital idea, Lily. It just might work.”

“Of course it will.” Lily resumed her seat and placed the letter into Dahlia’s waiting hand.

Her sister read through the missive. “The duchess is certainly bald in her purpose. I dislike that.”

Up until now, Lily hadn’t liked it either, which was why she hadn’t accepted any of her godmother’s invitations. But now, a growing sense of determination filled her. “She’s merely being kind. She knows our marriage prospects are quite dim here at Caith Manor.”

“I suppose so.”

“So it’s settled. I’ll go to the duchess’s house party, where I’ll meet a lovely, wealthy man and solve all of our problems.”

Papa brightened. “I daresay a house party will be quite fun, too. According to Rose, the duchess plans many amusements for her guests.”

“Exactly,” Lily said with a bravado she didn’t feel. “And I just made some new gowns for the coming year and was wondering where I’d ever find events formal enough to wear them.”

“Your gowns are without compare,” Dahlia complimented, obviously still troubled but trying to smile.

Lily pursed her lips, her mind moving rapidly over the items in her wardrobe. “I shall need some new shoes, and two pairs of long gloves, for mine are quite worn, but that should be enough for now.”

“You may borrow my gloves, which are like new, for I’ve used them only once. You may also borrow my blue half boots and both pairs of my ballroom slippers. Oh, and you must take the new red cape that you made me. It’s still chilly in the evenings.”

“Thank you, Dahlia. That should set me quite well.” She caught her father’s look, noting the sad turn of his mouth, and her irritation at him disappeared. He was a dear man, but scientific of mind, which left very little in the way of common sense. But despite his faults, she loved him dearly. “Papa, don’t look like that.” She went to stoop beside his chair, where she hugged him tightly. “We’ll find a way out of this mess. But you must promise that in the future you won’t take any more silly chances and put so much at risk.”

He hugged her back, smelling as he always did of mint, lavender, and potting dirt. “I will never again be so foolish. But”—he tilted her chin up so that her eyes met his—“are you certain you wish to do this? I won’t have you making an unnecessary sacrifice.”

Lily thought of Dahlia’s hesitant offer to talk to Kirk and, aware that her sister watched, forced a merry smile. “Yes, yes, a thousand yeses! I’ll enjoy the parties and rides while the duchess finds me a wealthy, handsome, generous husband whom I shall love forever.”

Lily planted a kiss on Papa’s forehead and then stood. “Come, Dahlia! You must help me pack. I’ve men to impress, and a future husband to find!”

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