Authors: Claudia Dain
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Regency, #Romantic Comedy, #Historical Romance, #regency romance
“I have not been,” Emeline answered, staring him down. “Yet.”
“I was about to,” Eleanor said. “Shall I introduce you both?”
“Lord Raithby and my son are well acquainted,” Mrs. Culley said, preening a bit. The feathers at her crown only added to the impression. “They were at school together.”
“Is that so?” Emeline said. “Then I would dearly love to be introduced to Lord Raithby, Mr. Culley. Would you be so kind?”
He did it. He did not look pleased to do it, but he did it. Emeline almost laughed to see him so discomposed. Anything was better than the cool and distant composure he always displayed around her.
Lord Raithby did have quite an elegant looking scar. Emeline would not have thought that she would ever have found a facial scar to be even remotely attractive, yet it was and he was. Very attractive. She must be becoming more the Town sophisticate by the minute.
Lord Raithby had very dark hair and very dark blue eyes; he was lean and very manly in appearance, very much like Kit, yet they did not look similar in any real measure of the word. Lord Raithby, even as the introductions were being made, gave her the immediate impression of a predatory cat, coiled and still and watchful. Kit was a Greek god and Greek gods, of the sea or of the sky were never still and never watchfully coiled. Greek gods burst upon the scene and caused havoc, which is exactly what Kit had done in her life.
It was most inconvenient that she loved him for it.
“You are very prompt upon your word, Culley,” Lord Raithby said, pulling Emeline’s wandering thoughts back to the present conversation.
“I must ask,” Eleanor said, “what word and upon what topic, Lord Raithby?”
“Nothing of interest,” Kit said, which was so very impolite of him. His Town polish certainly appeared to need work.
“I’m sure that, if Lord Raithby thought it worth mentioning,” Mrs. Culley said, interfering so gloriously, “it would be of great interest to all of us.”
Eleanor looked expectantly at Raithby. Raithby looked at Kit. Kit looked at the floor.
“It was only that Culley spoke so highly you, Miss Harlow, that I begged an introduction just this afternoon,” Raithby said.
A wild mix of emotions assaulted Emeline in a confusing swirl of energy. Kit had spoken well of her? Lovely. Kit had spoken well of her to Raithby? Why? In an attempt to hand her off to him? Was he playing at matchmaking? Was he, he who spoke so highly of her, ready to throw her into Raithby’s outstretched hands?
Emeline looked at Raithby. He did not look back at her with anything she recognized as being avid interest, or even mild interest. His hands did not appear to be outstretched.
“I hope I do not disappoint, Lord Raithby,” she said.
“Hardly that. The opposite, in fact,” he said.
“Lord Raithby, you are too kind,” Emeline said.
Kit fidgeted. Mrs. Culley looked pleased. Eleanor grinned.
Emeline was not at all sure she what she was doing, but she certainly seemed to be doing it well.
“I’m afraid that you have me at a disadvantage, Lord Raithby,” Emeline said, “in that Mr. Culley has told me nothing of you. Then again, he has never spoken at length about his time at school. Was he very studious?”
“I was not sent down,” Kit said, looking quite thunderously at her.
“He was as studious as the rest of us,” Raithby said.
“Not at all, then?” Emeline said with an understanding and sympathetic smile.
“Christopher has never given either me or his instructors any cause for concern,” Mrs. Culley said.
“But of course,” Emeline said. “He would hardly do that, would he?”
Emeline tried to school her features to polite solicitude. She was not at all certain she succeeded.
“You sound a far better son than I have been a daughter,” Eleanor said. “Both my father and my tutors are exasperated with me.”
Eleanor did not sound the least bit concerned about it. Eleanor Kirkland, as far as Emeline could tell, was an example worthy of emulation. To live free of all doubt and caution, to be able to say and do what one wished. If only Emeline had a marquis for a father, she would have turned out just the same. As things stood, she was at a severe disadvantage. It was most unfair. She did not know if she could bear it a moment longer.
No, in fact, she could not.
“Shall I guess at whether you are a disappointment to your father, Lord Raithby?” Emeline asked.
Mrs. Culley gasped. Eleanor made a noise in her throat that had an amused flavor to it. Kit crossed his arms against his chest. Lord Raithby looked intrigued.
That was something, wasn’t it?
“You may,” Raithby said.
“I should say,” Emeline said, casting her eye over Raithby’s form, and he truly was a remarkable looking man, though not quite a Greek god, “that you are a delight to everyone who knows you, your father, Lord Quinton, included.”
Raithby grinned, his eyes shining like a cat’s. “Miss Harlow, shall we sit together for the performance? I do think they are about to begin.”
“Lord Raithby, I would be . . . delighted,” she said, laying her hand upon his arm.
She did not know what Eleanor or Mrs. Culley or Kit did in response to that. She kept her hand upon Raithby’s arm and her eyes upon Raithby’s face and let herself be led across the room to a seat, directly in front of the violinist and with a clear view of the pianist’s face.
Let Kit swallow that down without choking. If he could.
If Kit could have shaken her to pieces, shaken her until her hair fell from its too sophisticated upsweep, shaken her until her seams split, shaken her until her teeth rattled, he would have.
Unfortunately, such things were frowned upon in polite company. If he had been in the midst of her brothers, in the fields of Wiltshire, far from the eyes of her parents or his, he could have accomplished it without interference. He could have done anything to her that needed to be done, anything at all that he wanted to do.
Which was to shake some sense into her, some sense of decorum and caution and discretion. Only that. Nothing more than that.
While he thought of all the things that he didn’t want to do to her, Lady Eleanor wandered off to another conversation, and his mother clutched his arm and held him fast. It seemed to him, suddenly, that his mother was always clutching at him. He resisted the urge to throw her hand back into her own keeping and looked down at her.
“It is a fine thing you’ve done,” she said, “creating a connection between Lord Raithby and Emeline. It is up to her now, to see if she can hold his attention and win his regard.” Is that what he’d done? Is that what everyone wanted? “But you must now follow through on your introduction to Lady Eleanor,” she said. “Emeline has done you a good turn there. You must not let her efforts go for naught.”
Is that what Emeline had done? Opened the door for him to pursue Eleanor Kirkland?
It was most assuredly not. He knew that without thought, without deliberation, without logic. He simply
that Emeline had not been throwing Eleanor Kirkland at his feet. Emeline might throw stones at him, but never another woman.
“And now you are eager for me to marry?”
“A woman as lovely as Lady Eleanor?” his mother said. “Of course I am, if you both suit.”
“You believe that the daughter of a marquis is mine for the asking?” he said softly. The orchestra was about to begin, the large and well-appointed room in Melverley House dwarfing the occupants, and Emeline and Raithby were talking comfortably together. What could they have to talk about? And when had Raithby become so adept with women? “How can you think that Lady Eleanor would contemplate giving all this up to live in Wiltshire?”
“She has to live somewhere, and why not in Wiltshire?” his mother said, smiling at some woman across the room as she spoke the words. “She can’t stay in her father’s house forever. You know that full well. As does she.”
He was being far too subtle for his mother. Blunt speaking was his only recourse.
“There is no attraction between us.”
“You’ve but barely met. Attraction can grow over time.”
“Can, perhaps, but it will not. Not between us,” he said. “Set not your heart upon that woman for me. It will never be.”
How well he knew it. Speaking the words, how true he felt them to be. Not Eleanor Kirkland. She was not the woman for him. His gaze strayed again to Emeline, Raithby at her side. He felt jarred by the aspect of them. They did not look well together. They looked completely wrong, at odds, an imperfect pairing. Surely everyone could see that. Surely everyone in the room could feel how wrong they were together.
Raithby chose that moment to smile at something Emeline said, and Emeline laughed lightly in response to that smile, and the jarring became a hammer blow and the sounds of chatter and the first swell of the music was like a thunder clap. Everything was discordant, even his mother’s voice. On and on she went, Eleanor this and Eleanor that, and how fine their home in Wiltshire was and how Eleanor could never find fault with it . . . and something inside him clicked. Snapped. Broke.
“Enough, Mother,” he said. Two ladies to their right turned to look at him. His mother gasped. “Perhaps you will enjoy sitting next to . . .,” and he could not think of a name, of any name to throw at her, and so he gestured to the room at large and walked away from her.
He walked across that wide, grand room to stand next to a massive chest of burled walnut and he stared at the violinist and the pianist and the cellist and the harpist and paid not a bit of attention to anyone other than Emeline, who sat in easy comfort with Raithby. Emeline, who ignored him. Emeline, who kept her back turned to him.
Kit leaned against the wall, crossed his arms, and kept his face impassive, pretending to watch the players, but seeing only Emeline.
“I suppose he can’t find a seat,” Emeline said.
“There are seats in the rear,” Raithby said. “I think it is that he cannot find a seat where he wants one.”
“How very like him. I don’t know what Mr. Culley was like up at school, my lord, but the Mr. Culley I am familiar with does very much like to have things his own way.”
“Don’t we all,” Raithby said.
To that, Emeline had no polite reply.
“You two are well acquainted,” Raithby said. Lord Raithby had the unusual habit of asking questions that were not actually questions.
“We are. In a sibling sort of fashion,” she said.
“A sibling sort of fashion,” he said, making it sound almost like a question, but not quite. “You think of him as a brother.” Since he had not actually
, she held her tongue. It was an effort. “And Culley sees you as a sister.”
“Most definitely,” she said. It was well known, at least in Wiltshire, that she could not hold her tongue for very long.
The violinist was having trouble with his bow. The playing was delayed. Therefore, Lord Raithby kept talking.
“I have no siblings,” Raithby said. “I, of course, have many friends who have siblings, of both sexes.”
“Naturally,” she said. What an odd conversation. Could Kit see that she was conversing pleasantly with Lord Raithby? She did hope so.
“It has been pointed out to me that having a sister is a most weighty responsibility for a brother.”
“Oh, yes. It is a universally agreed upon truth.”
“I’m sure my brothers, and I have three, do not think of me at all, and least of all as a responsibility.”
“They are how old?”
“Pip is fifteen, Sig is thirteen, and Harry is eleven.”
“Perhaps they are a bit young for the full weight of responsibility to be felt,” Raithby said. “Though, perhaps not. Have you seen any indications that Pip is trying to protect you from men who are disposed to marry?”
“Certainly not.” This was, by any measure, the most peculiar conversation she’d ever endured.
“Not even from Culley,” he said.
In truth, Kit was the only man of her acquaintance who was of an age to marry. He was not of the disposition to marry, at least not her.
“They look upon Kit as an elder brother,” she said. “It was Kit who gave them their pet names, in fact.”
“No pet name for you, Miss Harlow?” Raithby looked at her fully, his dark blue eyes glinting.
“No. Not for me,” she said. She sounded annoyed. She was annoyed. No pet name for her. No. Not for boring, old sisterly Emeline.
“Ah,” he said, turning to face the orchestra. The violinist had another bow and was running it across the strings. No one seemed to mind the delay as the room was awash in conversation. “Then, Miss Harlow, I must inform you that Culley does not think of you as a sister.”
“I beg your pardon?” she said, turning in her seat to face him more fully. She caught a glance at Kit, lounging on the side of the room, leaning against the wallpaper. He looked cooly disinterested in everything and everyone. Including his mother. His mother, rather wonderfully, was nowhere in sight.
“Pet names for your brothers,” Raithby said. “No pet name for you, Miss Harlow. Does that not you tell all?”
“I’m afraid not. Please explain, Lord Raithby, if you would.”
“As I said, I have no sister, yet I have made something of a study of the subject.”
“The subject being sisters?”
“Men who have sisters, rather. They behave, Miss Harlow, in predictable ways, and Kit does not fit the pattern in relation to you.”
“Doesn’t he?” she said, a smile blooming across her face. She could feel it and she could not help it.
Raithby smiled back at her. “Not at all.”
“How would you say he does behave towards me? Since you’ve made a study of it.”
“I think, Miss Harlow, that is a private matter between the two of you. As you are old friends, I think that you should not have much trouble in bringing that particular horse to water.”
“But will I be able to make him drink, my lord?”
“Miss Harlow,” Raithby said, smiling fully, “I have complete faith in you.”
And then she laughed. And then the orchestra started. And then Kit got into a fight with a footman.
In watching Emeline flirt with appalling obviousness with Raithby, Kit edged forward along the wall. He maintained his negligent air of disinterest, he was quite sure of that, as he inched forward to see things better.
being Raithy and Emeline. He did not care a whit about the orchestra.