Destined to Last(6)

By: Alissa Johnson


“Bah.” William waved that away, his confidence clearly unscathed. “She merely gives herself ample opportunity to ignore it by avoiding him.”

Lady Thurston thought about that as she crossed the room to take a seat on a settee. “Kate has never before shied away from matters of the heart. Rather she has been quite diligent in seeking them out.”

“It seems this time they shall have to be brought to her.”

She smoothed the skirts of her bronze gown and thought of her soft, romantic daughter, and the cunning and ambitious Mr. Hunter. “No.”

“No? What the blazes do you mean, no?”

“Do watch your language, William. And I mean, no. Regardless of my gratitude toward, and personal affection for, Mr. Hunter, I do not believe him the best match for Kate.”

“He is.”

“He is not.”

“He…” William straightened his shoulders. “Mrs. Summers is in agreement with me.”

“Mrs. Summers is in the unenviable position of having to choose between me, her friend, and the man with whom she has formed an attachment. Naturally, she would agree with you.”

He ran a hand through what remained of his hair. “That is not—”

“And Mirabelle agrees with me.”

William took a seat across from her, sitting down with a huff. “Your daughter-in-law is nearly always in agreement with you. You’ve raised an outspoken group of young women.”

She smiled at what she considered a compliment. “Indeed, I have.”

“Two for Mr. Hunter, and two against. We are at an impasse.”

“I am Kate’s mother,” she said and gave a small sniff. “My choice takes precedence.”

He gave her a bland look. “I am the man with a deathbed promise to the late Duke of Rockeforte to fulfill.”

“Matches for five children,” she remarked with an amused shake of her head.

“Love matches for five children,” William corrected with just enough derision in his voice to make perfectly clear his opinion of the endeavor. “Which is why it must be Mr. Hunter.”

“Mr. Laury is a far more suitable candidate. He is a charming but earnest young man, and his romantic nature will appeal to Kate. They even share the common interest of music.”

“It’s Mr. Laury you want, is it?” William fell silent for a moment, and tapped his finger on the arm of the chair. “I suggest a compromise,” he eventually announced. “We try them both. See which of the two fits.”

Lady Thurston rather thought that plan made the gentlemen sound like bonnets, but she couldn’t argue with its practicality. “How?”

“I believe your Mr. Laury has made mention of attending Lord Brentworth’s house party next week?”

“He has, yes.”

“I’d planned to send Hunter on a mission to Cornwall, but upon further reflection, I’ve decided his services would be put to better use at Brentworth’s.”

Lady Thurston nodded in understanding. “I shall see to it Kate attends.”

“Well, then.” William’s smug smile returned. “May the best match prevail.”





Two


Kate closed the door to her room with a heavy sigh of relief. By virtue of sneaking up a back staircase and quietly ducking into an empty room or two, she’d made it all the way through Haldon Hall without being spotted by a guest. Even better, she’d managed to avoid her closest friends and family, who were more apt to see she was troubled by something other than the sorry state of her gown, hair, and the nearly unrecognizable pair of half boots in her hand.

“I am not troubled,” she muttered to herself. “I’m annoyed.”

And, in truth, she was bothered by the mess she’d made of her gown. The damage could be repaired, but it would require a great deal of effort on the part of her lady’s maid, Lizzy. Kate would just as soon see to the chore herself, as she’d been the one who created the mess, but she knew full well Lizzy wouldn’t hear of it.

Feeling guilty, she decided the least she could do was change on her own, instead of interrupting whatever Lizzy was doing at present to help her undress. It took several long minutes of contorting into a series of uncomfortable positions, but eventually she succeeded in struggling out of her gown. After noting with considerable relief that her chemise was still clean and dry, she carefully folded the wet and dirty material and searched for a spot in the room where she could set it down for a moment without damaging anything else while she removed her damp stockings.

The deep windowsill seemed her safest option, though it required she move a small pile of novels stacked there. She set the dress down with one hand, and with the other, picked up the book she was currently reading. It was a fairy tale in essence, the adventures of a beautiful maiden and her valiant prince. It was tremendously far-fetched, undeniably melodramatic, and not the least bit educational. She thought it quite delightful.

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