Accidentally in Love(7)

By: Claudia Dain

Emeline. Pretty. Yes, she was pretty.

No, she was not pretty. She was so much more than pretty. So far beyond prettiness.

“Yes,” Kit said. “Blue eyes. I think.” He took another deep swallow of brandy.

“You’ve known her all your life, but not long enough to be certain of the color of her eyes,” Raithby said.

“They’re difficult to describe,” Kit said.

“They must be. I suppose I shall have to see for myself. When shall you make the introduction?”

Kit jerked his head up to look at Raithby, truly looking at him. Raithby, Lord Raithby, heir to an earldom as Lord Quinton’s only son, was lean, dark-haired, blue-eyed and eminently eligible. Mrs. Harlow would likely faint at his feet.

But, no, Mrs. Harlow was not a woman to faint. She was more likely to throw Raithby over her shoulder, cart him off, and drop him at Emeline’s feet. A titled, eligible man was exactly the sort of husband that would suit Mrs. Harlow for Emeline.

Would Raithby suit Emeline?

Well, and why not? Did not every young chit want a man exactly like Raithby?

Would Raithby want Emeline?

If he had any sense at all, he would. He’d be a damned fool if he didn’t.

“Whenever,” Kit said. He sounded abrupt to his own ears. He took another swallow of brandy and tried to amend his tone. He should sound pleased, perhaps even grateful.

No, he could not possibly attempt sounding grateful. Pleased was going to be quite enough of a challenge.

“As I am not privy to their social schedule, I’m afraid I can’t be much help at the moment,” Kit said. “Perhaps we’ll be fortunate enough to be in attendance at the same event. Sometime.”

“Perhaps we shall,” Raithby said, standing. Kit stood as well, abandoning his glass. It wasn’t even half empty. “I am eager to meet Miss Harlow. I will look for you both. Good to see you, Culley.”

“And you, Raithby,” Kit said.

Raithby left. Kit stayed. His glass wasn’t even half empty, after all. And he had no where else to be until . . . what was on for tonight? Oh, yes, a musicale at the home of . . . damned if he could remember whose home.

That damned door of memory, still open, still flooding his thoughts.

Emeline tumbling off the second branch of the oak next to the pond, his frantic run, her landing in his outstretched arms, the breath rushing out of them both, her eyes so pale a blue that they looked like rain clouds, her cheeks pink, her mouth pink, her tongue pink, and the shiver that ran through her, a shiver he caught and felt in the center of his bones . . . that day, that moment, that instant . . . Emeline in his arms. Emeline in his bones. Emeline in his life.

Emeline, who was like a sister. Yet who was not his sister.

This was why he avoided brandy. This was the instant that he had been determined to forget, to deny, to destroy.

Kit pushed his glass across the table and stood, following in Raithby’s footsteps, out into the afternoon light of a soft London day.

“Don’t you think we should go home?” Emeline said. “We have to dress for our evening at Lady Jordan’s.” It was just four o’clock. They were expected at Lady Jordan’s at nine. Dressing, even in one’s finest, did not require five hours.

“We simply must find the perfect hat for that new cotton gown,” Mama said. “Perfection cannot be rushed. What do you think of this shape, Mrs. Culley? Is it too severe for Emeline’s profile?”

Mama made a rippling motion with her fingers, Emeline turned to present her profile to Mrs. Culley, and the milliner, and the milliner’s assistant. They studied her face with all the solemnity one gives to translating a difficult Latin text, and then, without a word, the hat was set down. Apparently it was too severe for her profile.

Mama had never said a word against Emeline’s appearance. She did not pounce when Emeline requested a second portion. She did not scowl over Emeline’s figure. She did not even shake her head when Emeline’s hair had darkened to an unremarkable shade of not-quite-blond and not-quite-brown. Emeline knew that she was fortunate in having a mother who did not fault her for, well, for anything. She knew there were many upon many mothers who made a study of fault-finding.