Authors: Claudia Dain
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Regency, #Romantic Comedy, #Historical Romance, #regency romance
Miss Emeline Harlow had loved Christopher Culley all her life and was going to marry him. Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to know that.
Emeline had fallen in love with Kit Culley when she was only a child; she was not certain if she was five or six at the time, but she had fallen in love. One might have argued that a six year old could not possibly know what romantic love was. She might have made the argument herself because it seemed extremely obvious on its face. Yet she could not make the argument.
She had not fallen out of love in the intervening years, though Kit did absolutely nothing to help her fall out of love with him. He also did nothing to keep her in love with him. None of that seemed to matter. She was in love. It was decided. She could do nothing about it.
To be honest, she did not wish to do anything about it. Except marry Kit Culley. He was not cooperating at all.
No one knew of her abiding and irreversible love for him. Not her mother. Not his mother. Not her three younger brothers. Certainly not Kit.
Her mother, Hannah Harlow, a nearly rhythmic name, was the granddaughter of the 3rd Earl of Dinsdale, extinct. It had been Hannah’s grandfather’s great misfortune to marry a most appropriate woman except for the fact that she could not produce sons. The Earl was dead. His appropriate wife was also dead. Hannah’s mother, Emeline’s grandmother, had died when Emeline was four and her maternal grandfather, a man who was untitled, had died when she was five. Hannah, with very little to aid her beyond a pair of pale blue grey eyes, had married Horace Harlow. Mr. Horace Harlow. Untitled.
As Hannah had explained to Emeline, it was very much an uphill run when a woman had only lovely eyes to aid her climb into a good and advantageous marriage. As Emeline had pale blue grey eyes, and a head of golden brown hair, and a neck like a swan, she was expected to right the wrong done to the family when her female relation of three generations past had failed to do her duty to the Earl and produce a son to inherit the title. They were all untitled, thanks to one woman’s lack of proper effort.
Her mother’s words, not hers. Still, she had heard the words all her life and was expected to make a proper marriage, which meant advantageous, of course, which meant into the peerage, obviously.
Christopher Culley, of a fine old house in Wiltshire, was not a peer. He was a gentleman, but not a peer.
Emeline could not help disappointing her mother. She loved Kit and she fully intended to marry him. If only he would realize she was right in front of him for the taking.
One did not like to think one’s future husband was as stupid as Kit gave every appearance of being. He had to know she was in love with him. She had once tripped on the corner of a rug and landed in his very lap. He had such a nice lap, so firm and muscled.
He was very tall, her Kit, with the physique of a born horseman and the face of a Greek god. Which Greek god she had not settled upon, but definitely a god. Most definitely. He had brown hair that was swept back from his noble brow with a casually negligent and elegant air, prominent cheekbones, an arrogant prow of a nose, and a jawline as sharp as a sword. His eyes were pale grey. Emeline was quite certain that Greek gods had pale eyes as often as dark ones. It was a simple matter of mathematical probability.
Emeline did not know anything about mathematics, but Pip did and he had explained it all quite seriously to her. She had listened and heard one thing: Kit looked like a Greek god.
“Are you going to see Kit today?”
Emeline jerked, a bit of egg flying from her fork to land on the tablecloth. Pip laughed, Sig kept his head in his Latin grammar, and Harry snorted on a piece of muffin and ended up coughing, his eyes red and watering. Mama calmly reached over and slapped him on the back a few times, her eyes never leaving the letter lying next to her dish of tea.
“Whilst we are in Town, you must call him Mr. Culley,” Mama said. “We do not want to look the rustic, do we?” Before anyone could answer that clearly rhetorical question, Mama continued, “Mrs. Culley and I will be going to the shops this afternoon, Emeline. I do think you should accompany us. You are too much in Mr. Culley’s company.”
“Mr. Culley,” Harry said, chortling.
“Don’t be vulgar, Horace,” Mama said.
“Is it vulgar for Kit to call me Harry?” Harry asked.
“Mr. Culley, as a gentleman with whom we are warmly acquainted,” Mama said, “may call you what he chooses. You, as a child of eleven, must address him as he deserves.”
“I’ve been calling him Kit since I was a baby,” Harry mumbled, his mouth full of muffin liberally coated with butter. “He’s been calling me Harry for just as long.”
“That was in Wiltshire,” Mama said. “We are in Town now. Certain adaptations must be made.”
“I don’t see why I have to be the one to make all the adaptations,” Harry said.
Harry, or Horace, his proper name, was not one to go down without a tussle. Emeline sometimes wondered if Harry was the reason Mama had closed the door to Papa at four children. Papa had taken his banishment in apparent good will. Of course Emeline was hardly pressing her ear to Mama’s bedchamber door so perhaps she did not have all the facts. She was quite certain that she did not want all the facts, not about that.
“That is quite enough, Horace,” Mama said. She used almost the exact same tone and phrasing when speaking to her husband. “Emeline? The shops?”
“What are we shopping for today?” Emeline said. She did not have anything against shopping, in fact, she quite enjoyed it. But not everyday. And not when Kit was living a mere three doors down the street.
The Culleys, Kit and his widowed mother and his younger brother, George, were leasing a house on Dover Street for the Season. The Harlows were borrowing a house from Mama’s second cousin for the Season. It was an act of divine mercy that Kit’s house was just steps from hers. Surely God must sanction her heart’s desire. Every day, when she made it a point to walk past the bright red door of the Culley house, she felt her heart leap and her blood race.
Blood red. Heart red. His door.
It was a sign. It had to be.
Kit would awaken from his torpor and realize that she was the woman of his heart and blood, the woman who would make passion race all the days of their lives.
She had no actual experience of passion, racing or otherwise, but she had read Moliere and she put her trust in that. If only she knew how to awaken his passion for her. Even Moliere had his limitations.
“We are visiting the shops, Emeline,” Mama said. “One needn’t be so militarily precise about it. We shall look about and, perhaps, you shall attract the gaze of a likely gentleman of good family. That is why we are in Town for the Season, is it not?” Another rhetorical question. Mama excelled at posing rhetorical questions.
“Will Mr. Culley accompany us?” Emeline said.
Kit’s mother was a widow, perpetually without escort. Kit was a good son and escorted his mother without complaint, even cheerfully. Kit, aside from his Greek god looks, would make a wonderful husband, she was certain of it.
“I shouldn’t think he would,” Mama said. “Mrs. Culley informed me yesterday at tea that her son had an appointment to meet with Lord Raithby today.”
“Lord Raithby?” Emeline asked. “Does Kit know Lord Raithby?”
“Mr. Culley,” Mama corrected, “knows Lord Raithby, slightly, I believe. Some sort of school connection. I am unaware of the details. I shouldn’t think it any of our concern, Emeline.”
Not her concern? Anything pertaining to Kit, however casually, was her concern. How to get him to marry her otherwise? She might be militarily precise, as Mama put it, but she did not think it a bad trait at all. Not when dealing with the elusive, dim-witted Kit. Oh, he was wonderful, Greek god wonderful, but he had to be dim in the extreme. Was he not aware that he loved her to distraction?
No reference to Greek gods had ever made mention of their brilliant intelligence. She could forgive Kit his blindness where she was concerned, as long as it was corrected. By a marriage proposal.
“Where are they meeting?” Emeline asked.
Pip, her eldest brother, chortled.
Mama eyed Pip. Pip’s chortle died in his throat.
“Emeline,” Mama said, “I suspect that it will be, perhaps, a difficult adjustment for you to treat Mr. Culley in the correct manner after the unusual intimacy that our family has enjoyed with his. Yet that is what we must all do.” Mama eyed Harry. Harry took another huge bite of his muffin and chewed with obvious gusto. Mama had met her match in Harry. “Of course, we must never refer to him as Kit. That is most inappropriate. He is Mr. Christopher Culley. You, Phillip, are no longer Pip.” Pip, fifteen and beginning to squirm under Mama’s tight rein, made a mutinous movement of his mouth but refrained from uttering a mutinous word. “Seymour,” Sig, thirteen years old, kept his eyes upon the pages of his Latin grammar. “Seymour!” Mama repeated. Sig kept reading.
“Sig. Mama is calling,” Harry said, brushing his hands together, the crumbs flying.
Sig looked up, gave Mama a cool, bland stare and waited. Sig was, perhaps, the child most like Papa.
“You must remember that your name is Seymour, not Sig,” Mama said.
“I know my name, Mama,” he said.
“I sometimes wonder,” Mama muttered.
“I know I’m Horace, Mama,” Harry said. “I simply prefer to be Harry. Pip has been calling me Harry, and Seymour Sig, and Philip Pip for years and years. He likes us to call him Kit. He’s the one who gave us these pet names, Mama. He couldn’t possibly find it offensive.”
“I should think he’d find it offensive if we stopped using them. Something of an insult, isn’t it?” Pip said.
Emeline kept her own counsel. Kit had never, ever given her a pet name. It was most unfriendly of him. As the two most illustrious families in Wiltshire, a designation of questionable status, Wiltshire being Wiltshire, the Culleys and the Harlows had been in each other’s pockets from Emeline’s earliest memories. As the eldest, Emeline had the longest memories of them all. Kit had brought his younger brother, George, round to their house nearly every day once his father had died.
The quiet of the Culley house had worn him down, pressed down upon him, made each day hours longer than it should have been. This is what he had told his mother, who had repeated it to Mama, who had not repeated it to Emeline but she, from the age of four to the age of seven had fit quite neatly under the round table in the corner of the west drawing room and had made it her own private domain. It had been a fort in the pine-scented forests of New York, a tent in the shimmering heat of Madras, a medieval keep on the heathered edge of the Scottish highlands. From her secret fort, she had learned much about Kit. As she was already half in love with him, listening to his mother pour out her heart to her mother had made her love for him all the more poignant. This boy, this boy only three years older than herself, needed someone to love him.
loved him. He
Kit, the dolt, had never seemed to realize that.
“You were children. He is a child no longer,” Mama said. “He is in Town for the Season looking for his own bride, most certainly. He will likely take a few years to make his choice from amongst the many fine girls who will catch his interest, but that is not our concern. He must be free of the encumbrances of old relationships as he devotes all his energy to making new connections.”
There was not a single syllable of that proclamation to which Emeline was not in violent opposition.
He would not take years and years. He would not look about. He would not have his interest caught by anyone other than herself. It was most definitely her concern and he was not going to cut himself free of his old relationship with her. True, he had never cared enough to give her a pet name. She was always and eternally Emeline. Not Emmy. Not Lina. Not anything connoting intimacy and familiarity.
It was the most insulting thing he had done to her, and she had a list of insults to ascribe to him.
“He must have some energy left over to spare for old family friends,” Emeline said. “He is not as cold-hearted as you make him sound.”
Though, perhaps he was. He was not quick to declare himself, that was certain.
“I think that if Kit wanted us to call him something else, he would say so,” Pip said.
“I think so, too,” Harry said. “Sig?”
“I agree,” Sig said, staring with unblinking eyes into Mama’s face.
“So do I,” Emeline said, though no one had asked her.
“To do otherwise might insult him,” Pip said.
“That’s what I’d think. If it were I. Me,” Harry said, finally settling upon the correct pronoun. “I.”
“Yes, Mama,” Emeline said. “I think we can trust Kit to do the right thing.”
“The right thing?” Mama said. Mama, formidable, was slightly outclassed when her four children faced her down in a united front.
“That which suits him best,” Emeline said.
That seemed to be an end to it, though that was completely ridiculous, of course. If there was anything that was immutable it was that Kit could not and did not do the right thing, such as propose, or the thing which would suit him best, such as marry her.