Destined to Last(8)

By: Alissa Johnson

She dropped her hand. “Curiosity killed the cat.”

It had certainly killed the poor grasshopper.

“Satisfaction brought it back,” Lizzy countered. “But they do have nine lives.”

A soft knock on the door kept Kate from responding. A young maid entered, carrying a letter in her hands. “A missive for you, Lady Kate.”

Kate crossed the room in several quick strides, excitement and nerves fighting for control of her system. She’d been expecting a letter from a London publisher for some time. “Thank you, Alice.”

Alice handed her the letter, bobbed a curtsy, and left.

“Which one was this?” Lizzy asked, stepping up to peer over Kate’s shoulder.

Kate stared at the sealed paper, biting her lip. “The waltz I composed last summer.”

Lizzy bounced on her toes. “Well, go on, then. Open it.”

“Right.” Marshalling her courage, Kate broke the seal and unfolded the letter. She read the first line and the excitement and nerves quickly turned into the familiar weight of disappointment. “I don’t know why I let myself become hopeful,” she grumbled, refolding the letter. “It’s always no.”

“They’ve no sense,” Lizzy said loyally. “They’ll never make a go of their business with poor judgment such as that.”

They’d been making a go of their business for nearly a half century, but Kate couldn’t see the good in pointing that out. “Thank you, Lizzy.”

“You’d not have such trouble, if you led them to believe you’re a man,” Lizzy commented. “Or if you let Lord Thurston put a word in for you. Or you could pay them—”

“I could do all those things,” Kate agreed and crossed the room to place the letter in a drawer of her desk, on top of a stack of similarly worded rejections. “But I won’t. I want my work to be accepted on its own merit. And I want credit for that success.” She scowled at the stack of letters for a moment before turning to Lizzy. “Does that make me dreadfully vain?”

“Not dreadfully,” Lizzy hedged. “A mite stubborn, though.”

Kate reached back to close the desk drawer. “If being a mite stubborn is what it takes, so be it. I’ll send out another inquiry tomorrow.”

And she would send another inquiry after that, and another after that, and however many it took after that until she received a satisfactory answer. Seeing her music published and hearing it played in a public venue wasn’t her only dream, but it was the only one hard work and perseverance would make come true.

As the sun set, Hunter settled on a stone bench in a secluded section of Haldon Hall’s vast garden. He gave the man sitting on the bench across from him a hard look. “Was it really necessary for me to come here on the last day of a house party?”

He didn’t mind visiting Haldon Hall, of course. He just preferred those visits occur in the time and manner of his choosing.

“It was necessary,” William Fletcher informed him. “I’ve a mission for you.”

“Why couldn’t you give me my orders in London?”

William smiled at him pleasantly. “Because that would have required I go to London when I’d rather stay here.”

Hunter snorted and leaned back against the bench. “What’s the mission, then?”

“Right.” William nodded once. “Lord Brentworth is holding his own house party next week at Pallton House on the coast. I want you to attend.”

“To what end?”

“To keep an eye on Lady Kate.”

Hunter straightened up. He couldn’t have heard that correctly. “I beg your pardon?”

“Interested now, are we?” William chuckled, then wisely continued on in a businesslike manner before Hunter could respond. “It has come to my attention that Brentworth’s son, Lord Martin, has decided to try his hand at smuggling. I’m afraid the information my source was able to acquire is rather vague, but there exists the possibility of young Lord Martin using his father’s estate as a base of operations. And it is well known that young Lord Martin has a tendre for Lady Kate.”

“You can’t possibly be serious. Lady Kate embroiled in a smuggling operation?” The idea of Kate being connected to a criminal operation was absurd under any circumstances, but that she would be involved with the foppish Lord Martin was nearly laughable.

“She’s not embroiled at present,” William explained. “Your job is to make certain she stays that way.”

“Wouldn’t it make more sense to have Whit or Alex see to her safety?”

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