A humorous and romantic twist on Little Red Riding Hood, Lily and Wulf must decide which is more important, power and money . . . or love everlasting?
Lily Balfour swore she’d never marry, but when her father’s unforgiving debts leave her no choice, she finds herself caught between a handsome, wealthy suitor and an irresistible, indigent rogue.
An innocent lost in the woods . . .
The sensible solution to her family’s financial woes is for Lily to bestow her affections upon the Earl of Huntley, an alluring, well-to-do widower handpicked by her matchmaking godmother, the Duchess of Roxburghe. Huntley is pleasant and attractive with plenty of money, the perfect candidate in every way. But Lily knows she’s in big trouble as soon as sexy, unprincipled, and passionate Prince Wulfinski sweeps a hot, possessive glance over her.
Powerful and sexy, Prince Wulfinski declares he will make Lily his, no matter the cost . . .
By his own account, Wulf is a pauper, barely able to afford his own cottage. Yet nothing will stop him from pursuing the strawberry-haired beauty with every cunning trick he can muster. To make the right choice, Lily must trust her heart and not just her head to lead her to the riches—and romance—she desires.
"Once again, Karen Hawkins delivers a delightfully romantic, slightly comedic, historical romance. If you're in the mood for an entertaining romance that will make you giggle out loud...then this is the book for you. Highly recommended. Next up....Dahlia and Lord Kirk. I can't wait!"
~ Night Owl Reviews, Debra Taylor, REVIEWER TOP PICK!
"The latest addition to the delightful Duchess Diaries series incorporates sparkling, witty repartee and heart-tugging emotions. With a wonderfully romantic story, this book is pure, unadulterated Hawkins!"
~ Romantic Times Book Reviews – TOP PICK, Four and a half stars!
"There is nothing more irresistible than a Russian prince and Wulf more than fulfills the fantasy! Ms. Hawkins paints a sexy character with rough ways that make every other man seem like a pansy in comparison. Readers will cheer Lily on, as she struggles to reconcile happiness and duty to family. I highly recommend reading not just this, but also the previous book in the series, and cannot wait until we see what else Ms. Hawkins has planned for the remaining Balfour sister!"
~ Coffee Time Romance – Five Cup Review, TOP HONORS!
The maid helped Lily into her nightgown and then combed and braided her hair. Then Freya removed the bed warmer from the now-toasty sheets, helped Lily between the covers, and blew out the candles. Then, after stirring the fire, she bade Lily a cheerful goodnight before tip-toeing out, closing the door behind her. Nothing was left but the sound of the rain still pit-patting against the windows, lighter then before, but still present.
A few moments later, there was a scrambling noise as the roly poly pug clawed her way out from her hiding spot.
"Ah, finally coming out of your hiding place, are you?"
The pug snuffed the stepstool to the bed, before she climbed up it and onto the thick coverlet. She made her way to Lily’s feet, walked three times in a circle and then settled, with a sigh, into the impression she’d made.
It was rather comforting having the dog there. But though the bed was warm, the dog cozy, and the house grown silent, Lily was too fraught with her own thoughts to sleep and instead lay away, staring at the ceiling. Why had the duchess banned Wulf? It hardly seemed fair; how could he be responsible for his grandmother’s behavior?
Lily sighed and stared at the ceiling. And why, oh why, do I care so much about seeing him?
After a half hour of useless fretting, she turned onto her other side, tugging the heavy sheets and blankets closer. The dog grunted, but didn’t awake. Lily tucked her toes under it’s warm body and sighed at the softness of the sheets. She was completely spoiled, living in the duchess’s household among such luxuries and with her own personal maid.
Things at Caith Manor were far simpler than here at Floors Castle. She had Cook, of course, and a manservant who served as butler and groom who’d been at Caith for longer than Lily could remember. Both servants were elderly and Lily tried to lighten their loads as often as she could. Other than those two, they hired a lady to come from the village once a week to help with the laundry, while Lily and Dahlia did most of the cleaning, doing dusting on Thursday, and polishing silver every Friday. Linens were washed and repaired on Saturdays while floors were scrubbed each Monday. It was very difficult work, and used to be done by a small army of servants, but that was long ago, months before Father had spent their funds on his greenhouses and horticulture experiments.
Lily flopped onto her back and stared at the ceiling, noting that the rain had finally stopped.
The dog, who’d been snoring softly, snuffled awake and, after giving a disgusted grunt, got up, turned in a few circles, and then plopped back into the same place on the heavy coverlet. Within seconds, it was once again snoring.
Lily listened to the dog’s snores, her mind still locked on her predicament. Surely, if I try, I can be happy with a man as kind as Huntley. He truly was a good person; but why didn’t he make her feel breathless the way Wulf did? And why didn’t his smile give her a fluttery feeling? Was she wrong in that she was beginning to wish for more than simple, calm affection? To hope that he actually come to care for her and—
Meenie grunted in her sleep as Lily looked toward the window. That sounded like a pebble—
Plink! Plink! Plink!
Meenie jumped to his feet, a low growl in her throat.
“Hush,” Lily said softly. She threw back the covers and slipped from the bed, her feet hitting the hard, cold floor. She shivered and rubbed her arms beneath the thin night rail and tiptoed to the window. She’s just reached it when—SMACK! Something hit the window with a decided crack.
Meenie, who’d walked to the edge of the bed, hopped back to the middle with a yelp.
“Some brave protector, eh?” Lily said. She pushed back the curtains and threw open the shutters. A pebble rolled to the floor as the shutter swung open, while above a spider web of cracks surrounded a small hole in the glass.
Outside the window came a low string of foreign curses uttered by a familiar deep voice.
Her heart thudding, she peered outside. The rain had cleared and now the bright moon shone upon the courtyard below, making the wet flagstones look like a shimmery pool. And right in the center of it stood the prince, a flowing black cloak flung back from his shoulders, his booted feet planted firmly on the flagstone while his loose white shirt hung open at the neck. His arm was cocked back as if to throw another pebble, but at the sight of her, he dropped the rock and cupped his mouth. “Moya, open your window.”
His voice was low but Lily still winced. She held her breath and listened for the unmistakable sounds of other shutters being thrown back, but nothing happened.
She breathed a sigh of relief. If the duchess realizes the prince is outside in the courtyard at this time of night, she’ll call for her footmen to remove him. A flicker of anger at the unfairness of such a thing stiffened Lily’s resolve. He wasn’t like the rest of them, trained in how to move through the complicated circles of their society, and it was frustrating to watch the duchess and others judge him for it.
Well, she wasn’t so closed minded. There was something touching about his sheer enthusiasm and lack of care for the rules. I feel bad for him, she told herself. He cares and is passionate, as his culture and heart dictate. What’s wrong with that? It was a relief to realize that what she felt for him was pure sympathy and nothing else.
Lily unlatched the window and pushed it open. Instantly a swirl of damp night air curled grabbed it. She gripped it tighter and leaned out, shivering as she did so.
The prince took an eager step forward, the wind tugging his cloak and ruffling his shirt. “Moya!” he said in a low voice.
“Why are you here?” she whispered as loudly as she dared. She glanced to either side and was glad to see that all windows were tightly closed and shuttered.
“Why am I here?” Even from two stories up, she saw him smile. “I would talk to you. Alone. This is the only way I thought to do it.”
It was a highly improper answer, as was her instant reaction, a flush of warmth that started at her core and flared through her. “You shouldn’t be here.“
His smile dimmed. “I am here and that is enough.”
“Come back in the morning and I—” She frowned. “How did you know this was my window?”
He shrugged. “When I wish to know something, I know it.”
“You bribed one of the servants.”
“Perhaps. Or perhaps I have been watching your window and have seen you.”
“That doesn’t make me feel any better.”
“It matters now. Come down and speak to me. There are things we must discuss.”
“No. Come back tomorrow.” She leaned further out the window and whispered a bit louder, “The duchess has arranged a visit to the folly on the island, but not until noon or later. Call for me in the morning at eight; no one but the servants will be up that early. I will make sure I’m available.”
“The duchess’s butler will just say you are not available.”
“MacDougal wouldn’t dare.”
“Nyet?” Wulf’s brows lifted in disbelief, the wind tugging at his shirt and pressing it against his broad chest. “That is what he said this morning when I came to call. He did not even pretend to see if you wished to see me.”
So Wulf had visited her, after all. “No one told me.”
“I came more than once.” His brow lowered. “I left you a card and flowers, too. Did you not get them?”
She turned to look at the vase on her dresser, the wind whipping her sleeves and making her hug herself. I knew it! Her irritation with the duchess about her treatment of Wulf had been simmering, and now it grew full score.
And yet – deep in her heart – Lily wondered if perhaps she was to blame for her grace’s mechanisms. Lily had asked the duchess to assist her in securing a good marriage; had her grace sense Lily’s hesitations about Huntley and noted her equally inappropriate attraction to Wulf? Perhaps her grace thought that it was necessary for her to keep Lily and Wulf apart. “I’m so sorry you’ve been banished.”
“Do not fear, Moya.” Wulf’s grinned. “I’m too resourceful to be so easily thwarted.”
Lily had to fight an answering smile, her hands chilled where they rested on the windowsill. It was tempting to think of slipping downstairs to see him, but the thought of getting caught stopped her. She didn’t dare; such a scandal would ruin any chance she had of ever getting a good marriage. Still, she wanted to talk to Wulf, to discuss the reasons why the duchess was being so determined in separating them. Can she tell that I’m attracted to the prince? Is that the real reason her grace is keeping him away? Lily sighed.” Emma told me that you’d been denied an invitation to the duchess’s events, but not that you weren’t allowed to visit.”
“Emma may not know. She has been a good friend to us.”
So now Wulf considered Emma a ‘good friend?’ An odd flicker of irritation traced through Lily. “Come back tomorrow,” she said, suddenly cross. “If you can’t speak to me, at least you can talk to your ‘good friend, Emma.’”
“No! I came to see you, Moya. Not Emma.”
Her irritation didn’t subside. “You’ve seen me, and you’ve broken my window, which I’ll have to explain in some way.”
“I just wanted your attention and I tried to call, but you were sleeping very hard.”
She hadn’t been sleeping at all. In fact, she’d been thinking about him, blast it all. The wind must have kept his voice from carrying.
She pressed her lips together. “Wulf, you must go now. This is madness.”
She’d leaned out as she spoke, lowering her voice to keep anyone but him from hearing her. From where he stood below, Wulf noticed that the damp night wind had caused the delicate fabric of her night rail to cling to her rounded bosom in a very interesting fashion, her nipples peaked and eager. His cock stiffened at the sight and he had to force his gaze back to her face. “I must see you.” If he did not, he would explode in flames.
She hesitated. “I’ll send a note to your cottage. We will arrange a meeting.”
“No. Wait for my note.” And with that, she refastened the window, and softly closed the shutters.
Wulf stared up at the window, his jaw tightening, the wind seeming to mock him as it tugged his cloak. After two days of trying to visit Moya, he’d been beyond happy to see her leaning out the window. But now, staring at the empty spot where she’d just been, he wanted more. Much more, damn it.
This was the duchess’s fault. She was actively curtailing his access to Lily and, because of the old woman’s devious nature, she was succeeding. It was obvious, too, from Lily’s expression that she hadn’t received either his notes or the flowers, so the duchess’s servants were in on the scheme, as well, which was daunting. He could fight an old woman, but not an old woman and an army of eyes and ears, all willing to do her bidding.
His hands curled into fists. He’d wager his last ruble that Huntley’s missives had been delivered, and that he’d been encouraged to spend time with her, too, damn the man. Things were at an even worse impasse than Wulf realized.
Wulf’s jaw tightened and he eyed Lily’s closed window with renewed determination. He could not wait to make his case for tomorrow, she’d be off spending yet more time with Huntley. Wulf had to see her now. He scanned the front of the castle and noted that there was a trellis two windows over. He could climb that and then use the ledge beneath the windows to reach her room.
Lily had closed the shutters almost immediately, so he didn’t think she’d taken the time to latch them. Good. That will help.
He glanced about the silent courtyard. It was empty, no light shining in any room. This would be risky, yes, but necessary, too.
Now, if only the vines were strong enough to hold his weight. There was really only one way to find out. He undid his cloak and tossed it over the shrubs, and then rolled up his sleeves . . .