Accidentally in Love(6)

By: Claudia Dain


“And you’re offering her to me? I’m flattered, Culley. Most generous of you. But perhaps not entirely brotherly.”

Kit bit back a sharp retort and smiled instead. “Hardly that. I am merely speaking highly of a woman I admire greatly. Would you like an introduction?”

“I should be pleased to make her acquaintance. You will not be insulted if I do not make her an offer?”

“Don’t be absurd, Raithby,” Kit said, his tone sharp despite his best efforts. “It will please her mother to have the introduction made and therefore it will please Miss Harlow.”

“She sounds most . . . biddable.” It sounded almost like an insult.

“She is,” Kit said. It still sounded like an insult. It also sounded untrue. Emeline wasn’t what one would term biddable. She was fun.

Strange, but he would never have thought a woman could be fun, nor would he have thought it a desirable trait. Yet she was, and it was. In her, anyway. He wasn’t certain he wanted his wife to be fun.

“You seem eager to foist her off on someone,” Raithby said. “Is something wrong with the girl?”

“Not at all,” Kit said, sounding quite sharp, indeed. “Her mother and mine are close friends. We grew up side-by-side, as I explained. The introduction would please her mother, and hence, my mother.”

“And perhaps you shall enjoy a marriage reprieve if your mother is distracted by Mrs. Harlow’s happiness at her daughter’s successful Season?”

“A reasonable expectation, wouldn’t you say?”

He didn’t know why he said it. He wasn’t offering Emeline up for Raithby to run away with; no, he was merely making all the women in his Wiltshire circle happy. There was nothing amiss about that. Raithby was an honourable man, and in no hurry to marry. Emeline was safe enough.

“Women are not often reasonable,” Raithby said.

How true that was.

“She’s a very nice girl,” Kit said. Now she sounded dull.

“I would assume so,” Raithby said, a smile teasing a corner of his mouth. “One does not often enough meet truly nice girls Out in Society.”

As this was Kit’s first Season in Town, he wasn’t quite sure what that was supposed to mean. “She’s quite good-natured, too.” Like a well-heeled hound. He could not seem to put Emeline in the appropriate light. Nothing he said painted the true picture. He signalled for another brandy.

“Would you say she’s pretty?” Raithby asked, shaking his head in refusal of another brandy.

Emeline. Pretty. The words refused to bond. Kit was dumbfounded and dumb struck.

“Not pretty, then?” Raithby prodded. With a hot poker, he prodded. Emeline? Not pretty?

“She’s quite pretty,” he said. It was true, wasn’t it? She was truly quite pretty.

“Hair?”

“Light brown. Or perhaps golden brown. Dark blond?”

“Should I know?” Raithby said, smiling without remorse. Raithby had been a more congenial, placating fellow at Oxford.

“Light hair. Light eyes,” Kit said, grappling for hard reality, firm statistics. “Trim figure. Piquant features.”

“Piquant?”

“Piquant. Definitely,” Kit said. Her narrow chin, high cheekbones, tilted . . . gray eyes. Yes, gray eyes.

“Blue eyes?” Raithby said.

“No,” Kit said, memories knocking at his heart with such staccato determination that the door banged open and he was flooded.

Emeline chasing a barn cat into a deserted stall and coming out with a three long scratches on her face, grinning victoriously, the squirming cat in her arms.

Emeline astride her father’s oldest mount, her stockings stained, her smock stained, her hair ribbons mud-splattered, laughing as she attempted to run him from the ring. He grabbed the halter instead and she slipped off the horse’s rump, landed on her arse, and kept laughing.

Emeline, her hair piled high on her head for the first time, scratching at the pins holding it, biting her lip, looking miserable and mutinous and marvelous.

Emeline playing whist with the boys, cheating adroitly, displaying bland innocence when accused.

Emeline dressed in muslin with blue embroidery, a straw bonnet with blue ribbons trailing down her back, her hair gleaming gold, her skin shining, her eyes glowing . . . blue. Sitting in church, looking pure and impossible and so much like a strange and unknowable Emeline that he’d looked away and lost his place in the hymn.