Accidentally in Love

By: Claudia Dain

London 1804

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.