Kathryn Caskie sifts equal measures of subtle
wit and sexy romance into How to Propose
to a Prince,
her latest superb Regency historical.”
A Royle Wedding
It was raining...a bit.
Only a bit, her sister had said.
Elizabeth Royle looked down at the dripping embroidered skirt of her
jacconet muslin walking frock, and became instantly nauseous. It was
She and Anne had only been walking for two minutes and already she
was soaked to her knees. The umbrella they shared had done nothing
to protect her dress or azure crape mantle from the white sheets of
rain sweeping down Pall Mall.
Her Bourbon walking ensemble would never be the same.
Had her sister Anne not been leaving for her honeymoon in Brighton
on the morrow, Elizabeth would have never agreed to shop with her for
a few sartorial essentials on such a horrid day as this.
But she well understood her sister’s need for the proper traveling
attire. Elizabeth had long ago learned the great importance of appearing
impeccably groomed and clothed at all times.
Why, a carefully chosen bonnet, for instance, could not only camouflage
a mass of less than fashionable red hair, but protect bone-white skin
from the sun and the sprinkling of freckles across the nose and cheeks
that would inevitably follow any accidental pinking of the skin.
So, who better than she could appreciate the value of a wardrobe specifically
selected to highlight physical attributes while distracting the eye
from other less than desirable features?
At least the outing this day had afforded her the opportunity, before
Anne left on her journey, to begin to tell her sister about the man
she intended to marry.
After all, it was possible that Anne would wish to delay her honeymoon
in order to attend the nuptials. Though, Anne’s postponing her
journey would probably be more likely if Elizabeth had a date for the
Or, at least, her fiancé’s name.
“Oh, heavens, Lizzy, that means nothing. It was just a dream,” Anne
said, rolling her amber eyes.
“No it wasn’t. It was far more.” Elizabeth stopped
abruptly, causing an annoyed couple to unexpectedly veer off the damp
pavers into the squishy mud edging the street.
“How so?” Anne’s tone lifted with false interest,
and she seemed to be trying ever so hard to extend the limits of her
Elizabeth shoved a loose copper lock that dangled before her eye over
her ear. “I swear to you, Anne, last night I wrapped a sliver
of your wedding cake and put it under my pillow, exactly as Mrs. Polkshank
had advised, and it worked—I dreamed of him, the man I would
Frustrated, Anne peeled a mist-dampened curl of her golden hair from
her brow, then grabbed her sister’s arm and started her down
Pall Mall again. “And he was a...prince?”
Heat surged into Elizabeth’s cheeks. “Well...yes.”
“Do you not see how preposterous this notion is? How are you
so sure he is royalty?” What did you see in your dream?” Anne
raised a cynical eyebrow at her as they walked, but she only waited
a moment for a reply before chattering on. “And, I must remind
you, it was just a dream—a dream, Lizzy.”
“I—I did not see anything to indicate his royal standing.
I just...felt it,” Elizabeth tried to explain. How could she
make Anne understand when she herself did not? She just knew.
“What did you see, then? It is entirely possible you are only
misinterpreting what you saw you know.” Anne had obviously noted
Elizabeth’s embarrassment and sought to placate her.
“That he is gloriously handsome, though there is an air of controlled
strength about him. I could see it in the purposeful way he moved.
The way others moved about him, deferred to him.” A smile touched
“What about his hair, his face? Has he got a long nose, a mole
with a hair jutting from it, or a weak chin—some feature that
might help you identify him in a crowd?” Anne grinned impishly.
“His face is beautiful. Perfect.” She
scowled at Anne. “And I would recognize him anywhere. His eyes are so
unusual.” Elizabeth bent and glanced upward, past the dripping brim of
the umbrella. “They are as leaden gray as this sky, but a thin ring of
summer blue surrounds them. I have never seen eyes like that—except in
Elizabeth drifted off, lost in the memory of those haunting eyes.
Instinctively, she turned to the sound of a team of horses clopping
past. She strained her eyes, but in the rain and the thick fog rising
up from the street, she could see nothing but a huge shadow slowly
passing them by.
“Lizzy! Keep walking. We’re nearly to the draper’s
shop.” Anne squeezed Elizabeth’s arm and urged her along,
chattering as they walked. “Tell me more about your gentleman.”
“If you insist.” She grinned. “His hair is thick,
dark and wavy, and his skin is almost golden, as though he’d
spent a goodly amount of time out-of-doors.”
“Well, it’s clear then.” Anne laughed teasingly. “You
are to marry a farmer.” She paused for a moment, then fashioned
an expression of mock concern. “Oh, dear, Lizzy. Your guardian
won’t much like that.”
“Anne—” This was not amusing to Elizabeth at all.
“Gallantine and the Old Rakes of Marylebone will accept nothing
less than a peer of the realm for the only unwed secret daughter of
the Prince of Wales.” She feigned a mournful sigh. “But...if
you dreamed of marrying a farmer, I suppose it must be true.” This
earned Anne’s arm a hard pinch from Elizabeth.
“Please do not tease me about this. And, I told you, he is a
prince, so I will be a princess. I am quite sure of it. All my grandest
wishes are about to come true.”
A barely concealed smirk twitched at Anne’s lips. “A princess,
hmm? Be careful what you wish for, Lizzy. I daresay, a princess’s
life is not all balls and baubles.”
“I am not taking this premonition lightly, sister.”
“Oh, it’s a premonition now, is it?” Anne chuckled,
obviously not understanding how vivid this presentiment had been to
Elizabeth. “Please, promise you will not place all your hopes
on this one dream.”
“Why not? My dreams do come to pass...frequently too.” Elizabeth
flicked an eyebrow upward in annoyance.
“Yes, they do, but only half of the time. And even then, you
usually get half of what you see wrong. You’d do as well
flipping a penny to determine your future.”
“Well, continue to doubt me if you must. But won’t you
be a plucked goose when an offer is made and I marry before the summer
“Before the summer...this summer? Oh, Elizabeth, you haven’t
even met your husband-to-be yet. There is no possible way you will
find a wedding ring on your finger in just two months.”
“Why not? You did, and Mary as well, and now she and the duke
already have had a baby.”
“Oh, sweeting, please do not set you heart on this course,” Anne
pleaded. “You will only be disappointed.”
Elizabeth suddenly stopped, yanking her sister to a halt along with
her. “Gorblimey. Anne, it’s...him. Right there.”
She raised her reticule before her to conceal the finger she poked
in the direction of a fog-draped gentleman stepping down from the grandest
carriage Elizabeth had ever seen.
But he looked even finer than the gilt carriage. Braided gold epaulets
adorned the shoulders of his kerseymere coat. Several military medals
were pinned to a red satin sash that swept dashingly across his broad
chest to his lean hip. Two regimental-straight lines of gleaming buttons,
too brilliant to be mere brass, ran down his dark blue coat.
“Surely you do not mean that nobleman?” Anne blinked the
rain from her eyes and then stared as if assessing him. Clearly, she
disbelieved that this man was the one Elizabeth would marry.
“Surely, I do. I am certain of it.” Elizabeth tipped her
head in his direction. “He is my future husband.”
“Well, his skin is rather sun-kissed, I’ll give you that
much, but he is clearly not a farmer.” A breathy chuckle slipped
out from between Anne’s lips.
Elizabeth glowered at her sister. “You said he was a farmer,
“I vow, I think we need a closer look to verify his identity
as your future husband.” Anne was making a game of this. “Come
on, Lizzy, let’s follow him.”
“Yes, let’s.” Her sister’s true motivation
for following the gentleman did not matter a bit to Elizabeth. She
knew for certain that if she could only observe him more closely, she
could be completely sure and could convince Anne of the validity of
When Elizabeth turned to peer at him again, he was gone. “Oh,
lud! Now we’ve lost him.”
“No, we haven’t.” Anne inclined her head to the
shop just four doors down Pall Mall. “He went into Hamilton and
Company, just there.”
Elizabeth widened her eyes to see through the fog and rain, and just
glimpsed two liveried footmen entering a shop.
“Ah, jeweler to the Crown by Royal Appointment,” Anne
added, her eyes gleaming mischievously. “He is definitely not
Elizabeth paid Anne’s ribbing no mind. She hastened her step,
hauling her sister along with her. “Mayhap he has gone inside
to choose a ring for me.” She gave her sister a playful wink. “Have
you considered that, Anne?”
The brightness in Anne’s eyes dulled quite suddenly and her
countenance became sober. “Not at all—and you should not
either.” Anne exhaled as her frustration with Elizabeth grew. “Nonetheless,
I should like to take shelter from the rain, so let us go inside.”
But Elizabeth paused before the shop door. A steady stream of water
poured from the Hamilton and Company sign above, pounding the umbrella
she and Anne huddled beneath like a roaring waterfall.
Anne tugged at her arm. “Elizabeth, we are being drenched. Why
do you delay? He is right inside. Come along.”
Elizabeth trembled. If her premonition was true, her future lay just
beyond, and yet, she could not seem to step over the threshold.
What if, like Anne claimed, it was only a dream—a vision she
only had half right?
Before she could worry over it a moment longer, her sister pressed
down the brass latch and the shop door opened. A bell sounded overhead
as Anne dragged her through the door, noisily heralding their entrance
to the startled shopkeeper.
The ebony-haired gentleman they pursued looked up from the glittering
piece of jewelry he was holding in his hand and whirled around as well.
His gray eyes instantly locked with Elizabeth’s.
Anne leaned close and whispered. “Pity, it’s a diamond
and ruby brooch he’s considering, Lizzy, not a ring for you.” Anne
exhaled. “Do you know, I can’t recall if you liked rubies
or emeralds. Which do you prefer?”
Elizabeth didn’t answer. Didn’t say a word. She could
not. It was he.
The shopkeeper smiled up at Anne. “Good afternoon, Lady MacLaren,
“Good afternoon, sir,” Anne replied distractedly. “I
see you are occupied, but worry not. My sister and I are in no hurry
to be served. In truth, we would be most content browsing your cases
“Absolutely, Lady MacLaren.” The shopkeeper bobbed a quick
bow. “But I shall have my son Bertrum attend to your needs presently.”
Elizabeth wrenched her gaze from her intended, and stared blindly
into the glass case at a pair of amber drop earbobs, but she could
feel the heat of his eyes still upon her.
“Come, Lizzy. Look at these tiaras. Why they are fit for a princess.
Stunning, simply stunning.”
Tiaras? Her cheeks were blazing now and she hurried to catch up her
sister, who had wandered across the deep, narrow shop and was nearly
pressing her nose against the glass for a better look.
“End these games at once, Anne,” Elizabeth whispered hotly
into her sister’s ear. “You are not the least amusing and
your antics are embarrassing me.”
“I am only jesting, Lizzy.” Anne grinned up at her, but
when her gaze met Elizabeth’s fretful eyes, Anne realized the
extent of her unease.
“Please, cease.” Elizabeth’s chest tightened like
corset crossed bindings as her nerves frayed further.
“I apologize. Really, I do. Though...these tiaras are lovely
aren’t they?” She turned and glanced over her shoulder
momentarily, then smiled brightly, and spoke quietly through her teeth. “Is
Elizabeth sucked her lips into her mouth and gave her head a nod.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” She clasped her sister’s wrist and drew her
closer. “Oh, God. What shall I do?”
Anne glanced at the gentleman again, and Elizabeth hesitantly followed
her gaze. Now he was examining a necklace dripping with graduated droplets
of verdant emeralds and snowy pearls.
“First, remove your wilted hat.” Anne whisked the soggy
Bourbon bonnet, with its dripping white feather, from Elizabeth’s
head and shoved it under her own arm.
“Anne, you’re crushing it,” Elizabeth ground out
between her teeth. And he’ll see my awful hair.
Anne didn’t reply. Her eyes momentarily shot in the handsome
gentleman’s direction again, and then she quickly plucked four
hairpins from Elizabeth’s hair, sending a cascade of red curls
tumbling down her back.
Before Elizabeth could protest, Anne had shoved her fingers through
the bonnet-matted hair at her crown to restore the fullness of her
bright curly hair. “Well now, much better.”
Elizabeth pushed her sister’s hands away and reached for her
soaked hat, but Anne turned so that she could not retrieve it.
“I am only trying to help. You want to present well, Lizzy,
do you not?”
A twittering male voice suddenly called out from the rear of the shop. “Oh,
dear Lady MacLaren and Miss Royle. How lovely you came to our humble
establishment this day.”
Startled by the intrusion, Elizabeth snapped her head around to see
a young man in a close-fitting blue coat and tighter-still charcoal-hued
pantaloons, hurrying toward them, waving his hands excitedly in the
air. “I am coming to your service, my good ladies. Do not fret!”
Elizabeth angled her head toward her sister. “How do the shopkeepers
know our names?”
“They probably read them in The Times,” replied a rich,
resonant male voice coming from directly behind her.
Elizabeth’s eyes widened. Gorblimey. She knew who was standing
there, so close that she could feel the heat radiating from his body.
Anne covertly sunk an elbow into Elizabeth’s side. “Turn
around,” she whispered almost undetectably.
Slowly, Elizabeth swiveled her head in his direction, following its
momentum with her body a scant second later, until she faced him fully
and met his piercing gaze.
She could not help but stare.
Lud, from such close proximity she could see a ring of clear blue
edging the silvery gray of his eyes. She gasped and a shudder shook
through her. Any doubt as to his identity evaporated in that instant.
This man standing before her had been plucked directly from her dream.
There was no question. He was the gentleman she would one day marry.
Anne whirled about, likely having heard Elizabeth’s surprised
reaction to the man. Her sister blinked with astonishment when she
too discerned to the unusual color of his eyes—exactly as Elizabeth
had described. Anne clapped a hand to her chest. “I-I beg your
pardon, sir, it seems neither of us had been aware of your approach.”
“I do apologize, Lady MacLaren. I did not mean to startle you...or
Miss Royle.” He exhaled a ragged breath as though somewhat embarrassed. “Miss
Royle had asked...and, well, I only meant to explain to her that your
wedding, Lady MacLaren, was reported in The Times.”
“And every other newspaper in the realm,” the young shop
clerk blurted. “I saw at least four caricatures of you both.
It would be hard to mistake your faces. Why, Lady MacLaren, your betrothal
ball at Almack’s is still the talk of London.”
“Bertrum!” Mr. Hamilton hissed and poked a finger toward
the storeroom. “There is a shipment to be inventoried. Please
see to it at once.” Hamilton, the elder, looked to his customers. “I
beg your pardon. Do forgive my son.”
Bertrum Hamilton, realizing he had forgotten his place, turned dejectedly
on his heel and slowly started for the back of the shop, when Elizabeth’s
would-be fiancé unexpectedly called out. “Young man.”
Bertrum turned and met his father’s reproachful gaze. Receiving
a hesitant nod of consent, he approached them again, his head hanging
low. “I beg your forgiveness, Your Royal Highness. How may I
Your Royal Highness? Elizabeth gasped again, and looked immediately
to Anne, whose golden eyes had gone wide.
“Your Royal Highness? No, no, you mistake me for another.” A
distinct ruddiness swept the gentleman’s cheekbones.
“Have I?” Bertram’s brows migrated toward the bridge
of his narrow nose. “I do beg your pardon...s-sir.”
Elizabeth’s prince turned from the clerk, straightened his back
and his chest expanded as he prepared to address the women. “Please
excuse me, Lady MacLaren, Miss Royle, but your comment about the tiaras
being fit for a princess caught my attention. And I believe you were
correct in your assessment. The tiaras are beautiful.”
“Yes, they are.” Elizabeth beamed at the prince. A bead
of water dripped from a tendril of hair and into her lashes, making
them flutter madly. Gads, she must appear the veriest of ridiculously
His eyebrows lifted slightly, and returned a bemused smile. “When
I approached, my dear ladies, I had only thought to request a small
favor. I should not have even thought it, or spoken to you, but now
that I have, I am duty-compelled to make myself known to you both.
I am Lansdowne, Marquess of Whitevale.” He bowed deeply. “I
do hope you will forgive my earlier impertinence.”
From the periphery of her vision, Elizabeth saw the young clerk roll
his eyes disbelievingly.
Within a clutch of moments, Anne had politely introduced them both. “My
Lord, what favor did you wish to ask of us? It would be an honor to
assist you in any way possible.”
“I-I...” He gestured for the clerk. “That tiara,
there. The one the ladies were viewing.”
Young Bertrum Hamilton reached into the jewel case and lifted a glittering
diamond tiara from a tuft of black velvet. “This one, my lord?”
“Yes.” He took the jewel-encrusted tiara from the clerk,
and then held it out to Elizabeth. “Might you try this one on
for me...for just a moment or two? Please.”
Elizabeth nervously forced a polite smile and nodded. She reached
for the tiara, but Lord Whitevale suddenly waved her hand away.
“Would you allow me, Miss Royle?” he asked.
Once more, Elizabeth nodded mutely. Her hands were trembling so fiercely
that she probably would not be able to position it upon her head properly
She did not say a word. La, she barely breathed, for fear she would
shriek with excitement. Her heart pounded as he raised the glittering
tiara and eased it into the curls of her red hair as he settled it
atop her head.
Her dream was coming true. She knew it!
Well, half true at least. So, Lord Whitevale was not a prince. But
that was of no consequence. Here she stood with a sparkling diamond
tiara on her head placed there by the man of her dreams.
Who would have ever thought such a wretchedly miserable day would
become so brilliant? She lifted her lips at the thought, earning a
reciprocal smile from Lord Whitevale—one that warmed her chilled
body from within from the tips of her damp toes to the crown of her
Then, without warning, he gently plucked the tiara from her head and
turned to the clerk. “Yes, this is it. Will you have this sent
to Cranbourne Lodge this very day? And enclose this, will you?” He
withdrew a letter from inside his coat and it to handed young Hamilton.
The clerk bowed. “Yes, Your Royal Highness—I mean, yes,
“My thanks, Miss Royle. You have made my decision for me,” Lord
Whitevale said. “I have no doubt this will suit...her...perfectly.”
Her? It will suit her? Just who is he speaking of?
Utterly confused, Elizabeth peered up at him, waiting for an explanation,
but he did not condescend to supply one. Instead he bid her and Anne
good afternoon, then abruptly quit the shop and followed his footmen
into the dense rain.
“Bertrum,” Hamilton, the elder, whispered rather loudly. “Why
did you insist on referring to Lord Whitevale as His Royal Highness?”
Bertrum did not bother lowering his voice. His tone told Elizabeth
he meant for them to hear his words. “Because that is who he
is. I saw his procession arrive two days ago. I was in the front of
the crowd that had gathered for the spectacle and I saw him clearly.
And here, look at the signet in the wax sealing his letter.”
Suddenly, Bertrum pressed the letter flat to the glass case and held
a small lamp to it before his father could snatch the missive away. “I
knew it. Look at it closely. His signature is visible through the foolscap.”
“I do apologize, ladies,” Hamilton stammered. “I
assure you, this is not the way I conduct business. Every purchase
is entirely confidential.”
Elizabeth didn’t care a fig about that. She pinned her new friend
Bertrum with the gravest of gazes. “Who is he...really? Please
tell me. I must know.”
Appearing most proud of his deductive abilities, Bertrum lifted his
chin. “That gentleman, Miss Royle, was none other than Leopold
Elizabeth’s legs wobbled as if to give out from beneath her,
forcing her to grapple for a nearby chair. “You do not mean...Prince
Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield?”
Bertrum grinned. “Indeed, I do.”
Anne paled and she redirected her gaze to Elizabeth. “Didn’t
we hear chatter, at the Kirk musicale I believe, that Princess Charlotte
has recently set her cap for Prince Leopold?”
“Oh, ‘tis not just chatter, Lady MacLaren,” Bertrum
interjected. “The Times reported that there have been secret
discussions in Parliament about just such a union between the families.
Though, not all members agree. I, for one, would choose Prince Leopold
for Princess Charlotte. Did you notice the size of him—why, he
is a born leader if I ever saw one.”
“Bertrum!” Hamilton, the elder snapped.
A throbbing began in Elizabeth’s head as she realized what this
revelation truly meant to her. She brought her fingertips to her temples,
hoping to rub away the ache. But she knew it was useless.
Her rival for her intended’s affection was none other than the
Princess of Wales.
Lord, help her now.