Authors: Claudia Dain
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Regency, #Romantic Comedy, #Historical Romance, #regency romance
“I know he is a peer. I know he has a marriageable daughter. I know that we shall never meet as we don’t travel in the same social set. What more is there for me to know?”
She sounded quite chilly. It was nothing to him. Mrs. Harlow sounding chilly was a veritable blizzard in comparison.
“I should think you might be concerned that Emeline, now that she has been taken under Lady Eleanor’s wing, as you imply, will be traveling in Melverley’s social set. I, for one, am alarmed by the prospect. You and I both know that Emeline is a country girl and no match for the sophisticated life Eleanor Kirkland has lived. How is Emeline to manage in such company?” he said, coming to stand next to his mother at the window, studying her profile in the waning light.
“That is for Mrs. Harlow to manage,” she said.
“Emeline is like a sister to me,” he said, meaning it and knowing he was lying as he said the words. “I feel as responsible for her as if I were a male relative.”
His mother turned to face him, the light from the street highlighting the faint lines around her eyes and down her throat. His mother was a fine looking woman of middle years, her hair not yet gone gray, her eyesight not yet dimmed by needlework. His mother detested needlework.
“I do not believe you have any cause for concern, Christopher,” she said. “I think it highly unlikely that Emeline will make a match this Season. I also think that Mrs. Harlow knows exactly what she’s about in encouraging the connection between Emeline and Lady Eleanor. The benefits to such a connection, however tenuous, simply must be pursued. As to connections, how did you find Lord Raithby?”
Kit responded to the question as if he’d been slapped. “You believe I think well of Raithby for the value of his exalted social connections?”
“I think no such thing,” she said, walking away from the window to take a seat upon the small sofa facing the fireplace. The sofa was done up in pale green brocade. The fireplace was done up in pale pink marble. “I think you too fine a man to foster friendships for such an obvious cause. I do, however, think that, as you and Lord Raithby are friends, that he may, in the course of your friendship, introduce you to a wider array of acquaintances.”
“You make it sound quite innocent.”
He did not sit. He stood over her, feeling quite adversarial.
“It is quite innocent. How else does one get about in the world except by social connections? Really, Kit, you would look for conspiracies under rainbows.”
“I do believe that Lady Eleanor and Raithby are acquainted,” he said, watching his mother’s face for clues. He didn’t see any, but that didn’t mean anything where women were concerned. “I suppose that, if I work the Raithby connection, I could find myself invited to events where Emeline has been invited due to her Kirkland connection. How tidy that would be, wouldn’t it? Both of us, working our London acquaintances for all they’re worth.”
“Kit, don’t be vulgar.”
“I thought I was being forthright.”
His mother did not respond. She took up her needlework basket and twitched her fingers through the mass of projects, all of them barely begun. She pulled out something that looked like it wanted to become a chair cover and began sticking a needle into it, rather violently, he thought.
“Do you want me to tighten the bond to Raithby or not?” he asked.
“Only if it suits you.” That meant yes.
“I suppose it would suit me. I have always been fond of Raithby,” he said.
“I never thought otherwise.”
If he did accept more invitations because of Raithby, and if Emeline accepted more invitations because of Eleanor Kirkland, then he would be able to make certain that Emeline was not in any danger from . . . well, he wasn’t sure what. Men, he supposed. Inappropriate, dangerous men. London men. Titled men. But he would be there, to protect her. That was only what a good elder brother would do, wasn’t it?
Of course it was.
“I shall be most pleased to accommodate you, Mother. As always,” he said, sounding very like the dutiful and devoted son he was.
Lady Jordan, widow, had never been blessed with children. She had, however, married for love, or that was the rumor, and consequently, she had not married as well as her two sisters. One had married the Duke of Aldreth, produced two children and promptly died, and the other had married the Marquis of Melverly, produced two children and subsequently died. Lady Jordan had, by virtue of surviving life, found herself in the position of maternal placeholder and sometime chaperone to the three daughters of her two sisters.
As it happened, Lady Jordan did not enjoy the dubious thrill of motherhood, even of the substitute sort; therefore, she was not a very eager chaperone. Also, she drank prodigiously.
In Eleanor’s opinion, that all combined to make Lady Jordan very nearly the perfect chaperone.
Emeline had got all this out of Eleanor in the first hour of their acquaintance. Eleanor Kirkland was quite forthcoming about nearly everything. She was, in a word, shameless. Or perhaps the word was courageous. Yet again, perhaps it was untouchable. No one in Society would ever look down upon Eleanor Kirkland. The same could not be said of Emeline Harlow.
“I can’t just walk up to Lord Raithby and talk to him. It’s too forward,” Emeline said.
“We’ll do it together. He won’t mind in the slightest. He’s a very even-tempered man,” Eleanor said.
“I thought you hardly knew him.”
“Everyone knows that about him. Everyone. He’s never even been in a duel, that’s how mild he is.”
“Then that is not a dueling scar upon his cheek?” Emeline asked.
They were at Lady Jordan’s musicale, the musicians still setting themselves up with their music sheets and chairs just so, finger limbering, or whatever it was they did before actually playing upon their instruments. Emeline had never been to a musicale before. She did not count the church Christmas play where the vicar and his wife played (violin and pianoforte, respectively) and Marquerite, the local soprano, sang (shrilly).
Lady Jordan was hosting the musicale in the Marquis of Melverley’s home on Brook Street. It was a colossal home of ancient and proud lines, though some of the upholstery looked a bit shabby around the edges. Mama had told her in somewhat self-satisfied tones that the shabbiness was the result of Lord Melverley’s lack of a wife, not a lack of funds. Emeline concluded that Mama was very pleased that their home in Wiltshire had faultless upholstery. They had reupholstered the small parlor furniture only last year.
Emeline and Mama had arrived a bit late, which Mama had said was perfectly acceptable, even preferable. Emeline had, upon arrival, done what she always did: she looked for Kit. She did not see him. It was as she was trying to make her way through the various, large rooms that comprised Melverley House that she was caught up, most congenially, by Eleanor Kirkland. If Emeline wasn’t so busy trying to find Kit, she could truly appreciate how fine a friend Eleanor was. However, she was trying to find Kit and Eleanor was hindering her.
Emeline, obviously, did not care about Lord Raithby or his scar. Well, perhaps she cared about his scar a little bit. It was rather intriguing and it was so prominently placed high on his cheekbone, just under his eye.
“No, it can’t be. It is well known he does not duel,” Eleanor said.
“Perhaps he fell out of a tree. Or a window,” Emeline said.
Eleanor laughed, a full throated affair that Mama had told Emeline repeatedly was not an acceptable laugh for a woman, in Town or out of it. It sounded wonderful on Eleanor.
“That’s not at all romantic enough a story for that scar,” Eleanor said. “I thought you had more adventure in you than that.”
“Are we back to that again?” Emeline said, grinning. Really, she ought to be searching for Kit, but Eleanor was such a fun, engaging girl. One couldn’t help but like her. “I am not going to compete with you to prove something which will only see me ruined.”
“You are too clever for me,” Eleanor said, smirking. Eleanor Kirkland smirking put one in mind of a naughty woodland elf, or perhaps a naughty marshland fairy, but most definitely something quite naughty. “I began this Season with the sole goal of leading some gentle girl from Wiltshire to complete and utter ruin. Since you refuse to cooperate, I shall have to find another likely girl.”
A gentle girl from Wiltshire? Is that how Emeline looked to the London girls?
It was not at all how she saw herself. A gentle country girl would find herself married to just anyone, if she found herself married at all.
“Oh, very well,” she said. “Let’s go trounce Lord Raithby. I’m certain that, however he achieved that romantic looking scar, he can handle himself with two girls just
“Emeline,” Eleanor said, “you never disappoint. Let’s go trounce Raithby. I’m certain that, given that he possesses such a dashing scar, he can handle whatever we decide to do to him.”
Which was not at all what Emeline meant or intended, but she held her tongue and her resolve. She was going to talk to Lord Raithby. She was not going to allow him to ruin her. She did not suppose he would dare try to ruin the Marquis of Melverley’s daughter.
Lord Raithby did not stand still and wait for them to approach, for which Emeline gave silent thanks. She and Eleanor were forced to bypass a slender, tallish woman with rather orange hair wearing a very superior expression, which Emeline considered a bit boorish as she was greeting Lady Jordan at the time.
“That’s my sister, Louisa,” Eleanor said. Emeline nearly gasped. “We should try and avoid her. She simply delights in telling people what to do.”
“She is your elder sister?” Emeline asked as they slipped through the crowd. It was not a particularly large gathering by the standards of the London Season, Mama had told her that, but it was as large a gathering in the largest room Emeline had ever experienced.
“I suppose she feels it is her duty to guide you and protect you,” Emeline said, thinking of her own three brothers and how often she had done the same.
“No,” Eleanor said, “it’s not that. She enjoys telling everyone what to do.”
“Oh.” That didn’t sound pleasant at all. Emeline hoped her brothers didn’t say similar things about her. Is that what Kit thought of her?
She wanted to groan and hide in a corner. How could he not? He was always among them, just like a brother, to hear him tell it. How could he not have determined that she was as bossy as an old cow and would make a most horrid wife?
“I don’t know how Blakes, that’s her husband, Lord Henry Blakesley, tolerates it, but he does. He’s mad for her.”
“He is?” Perhaps there was hope.
“Entirely mad for her. No one who knows her can quite comprehend it.”
“Oh,” she said, her voice, her shoulders, her spirits dropping to land with a nearly audible thump.
“Now,” Eleanor said, her high voice vibrating with excitement, “here is Lord Raithby, standing quite alone; obviously he would enjoy our conversation.”
“Oh, yes, obviously,” Emeline said. It was not obvious in the slightest, particularly since she very well might have a reputation as a scold, at least in Wiltshire, with Kit.
They were six feet from Lord Raithby, partially concealed behind a smallish chair, a smaller table, and two mature women and one elderly man, none of whom Emeline knew. Eleanor Kirkland might speak a bold game, but even she hesitated upon the final moment of accosting Lord Raithby. Into that female hesitation strode Kit. It was all quite thrilling.
Mrs. Culley was on Kit’s arm, which took the thrill off of it a bit. Quite a bit.
Kit had never looked more handsome to her. His coat was deepest blue, his cravat crisply white, his waistcoat aqua blue and jade green silk brocade. If he was a Greek god, he was the god of the sea and the waves. Poseidon, without the trident.
“Mrs. Culley,” Eleanor said, “your ostrich feathers are so very dashing. How I long for the day when my aunt will allow me to wear them.”
Emeline forced her gaze from Kit to his mother. She was wearing ostrich feathers. They looked perfectly fine on her. Dashing? She would not have said dashing.
“Thank you, Lady Eleanor,” Mrs. Culley said, her two ostrich feathers twitching at her every movement. “I think they are too fine for Wiltshire, but as I am in London now . . . ” her voice trailed off. She smiled almost apologetically.
Mrs. Culley often gave the appearance of a sort of general apology. Emeline suspected she was rarely ever truly sorry for anything.
“You must certainly adopt London standards and behaviors,” Eleanor said, finishing the thought for her. Eleanor sounded so enthusiastic. It did seem overmuch for a conversation about feathers. “In fact, I was just saying as much to Miss Harlow.” At this, Emeline pulled her gaze from staring at the strong line of Kit’s throat to attend Eleanor.
Eleanor was staring right back at her, her dark blue eyes compelling some sort of response. Emeline glanced at Kit and Mrs. Culley; they, too, were looking at her expectantly.
“Yes, we,” Emeline began, stumbling over her words, “were just about to ask Lord Raithby if . . . .” Kit looked at her with the most peculiar expression on his face. If she didn’t know him so very well she might actually be alarmed. “If he had ever dueled.”
There. That was throwing the cat into the pond with both hands. If Kit still clung to his mother’s arm after that bit of provocation . . . though, to be fair, it was Mrs. Culley clinging to him, not the other way round. Still. If he cared for her at all, even as a brother, he should do something, anything, to stop her from doing such a scandalous thing.
Dueling was not something women were ever supposed to know about. Naturally, women knew all about dueling, even in Wiltshire. But that was the least of it; a young woman was never to approach a man with whom she was not acquainted and to whom she had not been formally introduced. That was the true scandal. It was beyond forward; it was ill mannered, the most egregious sin of all.
“I was not aware you had been introduced to Lord Raithby,” Kit said.