Destined to Last(10)

By: Alissa Johnson


He would be, Hunter mused. There was just one more acquisition to make.





Three


It came as a surprise to no one that the dowager Lady Thurston’s ball turned out to be an unqualified success. Particularly not to Kate, who’d been privy to the extensive preparations and attention to detail—or minutiae, to hear her brother tell it—the event had received. According to her mother, there were but three things a lady need worry herself over: the children she loved, the charities she supported, and the parties she threw. Kate had been tempted to ask where husbands fit in, but knew better. Her parents’ union     had not been a love match. It had been civil and grounded in some level of affection, but not a love match. In the end, that had probably been best, as her father had died some years ago in a duel over a woman who was not his wife.

Her mother’s ball, however, was not the time or place to dwell on unhappy memories. It was supposed to be the time and place a young unmarried lady paid attention to the young unmarried gentlemen in attendance. Particularly if they happened to be gathered about her chair in the corner of the ballroom.

“What say you, Lady Kate? Red or Green?”

She hadn’t been paying attention. “Er, green.”

Two of the young gentlemen said something akin to “ah-ha!” Another groaned in defeat, and the last gentleman, who really wasn’t all that young, chuckled and slapped the back of one of the victors.

“Um…” She rose from her chair. “Do excuse me. I…I need some refreshment.”

She walked away swiftly, wondering if she would ever learn what sort of opinion she’d just expressed by saying “green,” and made her way across the room. From the corner of her eye, she saw another gentleman start toward her, hesitate when he saw the direction she was headed, and then quickly back away when she reached her destination.

She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling and quietly hummed along to the tune the musicians were playing. Her little ruse never failed. Whenever she wished for a little peace from her suitors all she needed to do was stand next to the refreshment table.

She was not, it would seem, to be trusted with food.

Kate stifled a snort and reached for a glass of lemonade. No wonder she’d not fallen in love with any of the men who courted her. They would never risk their lives to save her from a runaway mount. They wouldn’t even risk their cravats to speak with her.

She might have thought on that a bit longer, but she was distracted by the rare sight of her cousin, Mrs. Evie McAlistair, engaged in a dance with her husband. Now there, Kate thought with a sigh, was a love match. The sort she dreamed of finding with her own handsome prince.

“Lady Kate, will you do me the honor of dancing with me?”

Kate jumped at the deep male voice, sloshing the lemonade in her glass onto the skirts of her blue silk gown. “Oh, bother.”

Mr. Hunter stepped around from behind her and produced a handkerchief from his pocket. She nearly told him she didn’t need it—she had enough sense to bring her own—but she bit back the sharp retort. Being rude to the man only seemed to encourage him. And reason dictated that if he pursued her merely for the fun of ruffling her feathers, she need only stop allowing her feathers to be ruffled and he would lose interest and let her alone.

She daintily accepted the square of linen. “Thank you.”

“The least I could do, after startling you.”

She rather thought it was. “It was my error. I was woolgathering.”

“We can debate the matter over our dance. You will dance?”

She’d rather not. “Yes, of course.”

“A waltz.”

A waltz? After he’d been so forward that morning? And when he’d never before asked her for so much as a reel? Suddenly the man expected nothing less than a waltz? Oh, she desperately wanted to make another comment on his arrogance.

“A waltz would be lovely.” She sincerely hoped the words didn’t sound quite as ground out as they felt. “How very kind of you to ask.”

“Not at all.”

The best she could manage in response was a tight smile. She assumed he would leave after that—she was more than a little surprised he’d braved her company at the refreshment table at all—and return for her when it was time for their waltz.

He didn’t. He just stood there, watching her in silence, his lips curved up in a half smile as if he knew full well what she was about.

Let him look, she thought, he’ll see no ruffled feathers. She turned away to watch the dancers, sip at the lemonade remaining in her glass, and even tap her foot in time to the music. She glanced at him, once…twice…

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