Destined to Last(4)

By: Alissa Johnson

You’re too large. You’re too charming. You make my heart race. I’d wager a year’s allowance you were, at some point, a pirate.

She couldn’t tell him any of those things. Particularly the last, which she knew to be the influence of a long-standing weakness for torrid novels.

So she said instead, “You loom, Mr. Hunter.”

“I loom.”

“Yes.” She searched desperately for something to add to that. “It’s very ill-mannered of you.”

“I see.” His lips twitched. “You’re an honest creature, aren’t you?”

“I try to be.” She waited for him to step back, or look away, or give some indication that her honest, if not exactly complete, confession had made an impact on him. He remained utterly still. “Are you going to cease looming?”

“No.” He moved, finally, but to her shock, it was only to lift his hand and lightly brush a strand of hair away from her cheek. “I rather like ruffling your feathers.”

His hands were ungloved, and the warmth of his fingers was answered by a shiver along her skin. It was Kate who took a step back. “Your behavior is presumptuous.”

“Is it?” His lips curved up in a wicked smile. “I’d have asked first, but anyone with even the most basic powers of perception could see you’re curious—”

“Good day, Mr. Hunter.”

Hunter made no move to follow Lady Kate as she stormed toward the house, and not because he knew she wouldn’t welcome his company, nor because he felt ashamed for having been, in fact, very presumptuous. No, he stayed where he was because following Lady Kate now didn’t suit his purpose.

And everything Hunter did suited a purpose. In his opinion, anything less was a useless expenditure of time and energy.

Fortunately for his purposes, he didn’t consider it a waste of time to watch Lady Kate make her way toward the house. He didn’t consider it a waste of time to watch Lady Kate doing most anything. The woman was a vision.

A diamond of the first water, that’s what the ton called her. The very picture of fashionable beauty—pale blonde hair, ivory skin, wide blue eyes, thin blade of a nose and a perfect rosebud mouth. She was elegantly tall and slender, and yet possessed enough curves to catch, and hold, a man’s attention. She was exquisite, a testament to grace and beauty…provided she was standing utterly still. When she wasn’t, well…He thought her occasional missteps only added to her charm.

There were those who believed her lack of coordination was the reason she remained unmarried at three-and-twenty, but Hunter knew that to be a misconception. He’d heard members of her family grumble over Kate’s unwed state on more than one occasion, but a lack of suitors wasn’t the problem. She’d received well more than a handful of offers. The problem was that she’d turned down every one. It seemed the gentlemen weren’t offering anything she cared to accept.

In Hunter’s opinion, they were merely offering it too easily.

Confident that her lack of interest in other gentlemen afforded him the opportunity, he’d spent a bit of time studying Lady Kate. He’d approached her at balls and dinners from time to time, or simply caught her eye from across the room, but for the most part, he let her be in favor of watching, listening, and learning what he could about the woman.

And what he’d discovered was that Lady Kate Cole was a dreamer. She might appreciate the attention she received from her suitors, but she would never be captivated by their overt fawning. Because, like all dreamers, what she wanted most was that which was just out of reach.

Hunter had made a point of being just out of her reach. He’d made a point of being impossible for her to ignore as well, but anyone could manage that. It was the element of elusiveness, the piquing of curiosity that could capture Kate. And make no mistake, he would capture her.

No other woman would do for his wife. True, there were a few who were higher in rank, one or two with more generous dowries, and it was possible, though he rather doubted it, that there was a more attractive young woman somewhere in society he’d yet to meet. But only Lady Kate Cole had it all—rank, fortune, and beauty.

She was, in essence, the very finest young lady the ton had to offer. What was the phrase—the crème de la crème? For a man raised on bread and water, a woman like Kate was nothing less than the promise of ambrosia. She was the definitive luxury, the most extravagant acquisition, and perhaps most important, the perfect symbol of his rise from pauper to prince.

All of which, he could admit, he would have learned to do without, were Kate not also a woman whose company he could enjoy. Granted, he’d sampled that company in limited quantities, but it had been enough for him to decide that he genuinely liked the girl—her wit, her humor, her loyalty to those she loved, even her clumsiness and distracted nature was something he found appealing. And to top it all off, he desired her more than he could remember ever desiring a woman.

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