Destined to Last(7)

By: Alissa Johnson

Already, the prince had plucked his true love from the back of a runaway horse, rescued her from a band of highwaymen, and fought a duel to defend her honor. And the book wasn’t yet halfway over.

Kate fiddled with the binding. Is that what she wanted, she wondered, a prince to ride to her rescue? That didn’t seem quite right. She longed for adventure and romance, without question, but she didn’t feel an overpowering desire to be rescued. She snorted a little at the idea of any of her well-intentioned suitors ever having the chance to play knight-errant. As the only daughter and youngest member of the Cole family, she was, to put it lightly, exceptionally well looked after. Particularly by her brother, Whit.

There were worse things than being well looked after, she reminded herself, and turned the book over in her hand. Perhaps it was the sentiment of what was to be found between the pages that she wished for—the certainty that her suitor loved her with such ardor that he would be willing to ride to her rescue.

And if that suitor happened to look anything like the handsome, fair-haired prince from her book, well—

“Was there a mishap, Lady Kate?”

Kate looked up at the sound of Lizzy’s voice at the connecting door to their rooms. “Beg your pardon?”

Lizzy gestured at her. “You’re standing in your undergarments.”

“I…” She glanced down at herself, then lifted her head to give Lizzy a sheepish smile. “I’m terribly sorry. I fell in the pond.”

“Off the dock?”

“Not this time.” She sighed heavily. “I was on the shore.”

Lizzy wrinkled her nose and stuck out her tongue. “Muddier on the shore.”

“I know,” Kate replied, laughing a little at Lizzy’s comical expression. “I am sorry. I’ll brush out the gown if—”

“You’ll not.” Lizzy crossed the room to Kate’s armoire. “I only mentioned the mud because it’d be an unpleasant bit of nastiness to fall in.”

“It was, rather.”

While Kate removed her stockings, Lizzy rummaged about for a clean dress. She was a young woman of average height and build, with dark blonde hair, soft brown eyes, and a round face. A nose that was just a little too long, a mouth that was just a hair too wide, and a chin that was notably pointed kept Lizzy from being a true beauty. But her extraordinary use of those somewhat ordinary features had made her a favorite among staff and family alike at Haldon Hall. Kate had never met a woman with such a remarkable assortment of facial expressions.

“I can’t fathom why you wouldn’t let your mother talk you out of this green gown,” Lizzy commented from somewhere inside the armoire. “The color makes you look as if you escaped from the undertaker.”

Kate rolled her eyes. Lizzy also had a remarkable amount of cheek—not a distinction most ladies of the ton would countenance from their abigail, but Kate wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lizzy stepped back from the armoire. “This should do, I think.”

Kate took one look at the peach gown her friend held out for her, and sighed yet again. “It’s a shame dark colors aren’t fashionable for young ladies. We’d have a much easier time of it.”

“But fewer excuses to go shopping,” Lizzy replied with a grin as she took the stockings from Kate’s hand and stuffed them in a pocket of her apron.

“That’s true.” She accepted the gown and pulled it over her head. Lizzy worked the buttons up the back.

“Was there anyone else about?” Lizzy inquired after a moment.

“At the pond, you mean? Yes, unfortunately.” Kate winced. “I came across Mr. Hunter on my return.”

“Mr. Hunter,” Lizzy repeated thoughtfully. “I do wish I could put my finger on why he seems so familiar.”

“As do I, but like as not, he simply resembles someone we’ve both met in passing—a shopkeeper in London, perhaps.”

“Perhaps. I suspect it’ll come to you first.” Lizzy fastened the last button to step around and give Kate a decidedly cheeky smile. “You spend more time looking at him than I do.”

“I do nothing of the—”

“And he spends considerable time looking at you.”

“I…” Well, yes, there was no arguing that.

“You may as well admit you’re curious,” Lizzy commented with a shrug. “There’s no harm in it.”

Without thought, Kate lifted a hand to her cheek. She swore she could still feel the lingering warmth where Mr. Hunter’s fingers had brushed along her skin. Perhaps she was a little curious about him. And Lizzy was right, what harm was there in that? Then again, if memory served, she’d been curious at the age of six as to what would happen if she tried to keep a grasshopper as a pet.

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