Accidentally in Love(9)

By: Claudia Dain

“Christopher,” Mrs. Culley said, casting a melting gaze upon her eldest.

“Mother. Emeline said you were shopping for a new hat?”

“With ostrich feathers,” Emeline said.

“Good day, Mrs. Harlow,” Kit said.

“Mr. Culley,” Mama said, dipping her chin.

It was all very tedious. They had seen each other nearly every day for more than a decade. This Town formality could hardly be necessary, no matter what Mama said.

“Kit is so very eager to help you choose a bonnet, Mrs. Culley,” Emeline said. When Mama gave her a stern look, Emeline smiled and looked at Kit. “We are in the midst of a dilemma, Mr. Culley,” she said. “Mama is of the belief that it is of the utmost necessity that you be referred to as Mr. Culley whist in Town. I am of the belief, the most resolute belief, that, given our years of intimate contact, such a change in terminology is not only unnecessary but ridiculous. What is your decision on the matter, Mr. Culley? We will abide by your judgement.”

Kit had, by turns, looked startled, confused, and amused.

“I am to be given such complete control? That will be a new experience.”

“When one goes up to Town, one is assured of new experiences,” Emeline said.

“That is not quite what I said, Emeline,” Mama said.

“Wasn’t it?” Emeline said, staring at Kit. “Something very like it, as I recall.”

Kit twitched his lips against a smile and Emeline’s heart leapt within her bodice. He was not a congenial looking man; he was too Greek godlike for that. Kit had a stern face of sharp lines and angles. His thick curling hair was the only soft part of him. Now, in his coat of blue wool with a military cast to the lamb’s wool collar, he looked quite unbending indeed. But she knew him better than that. Kit had a gift for joy and play that his looks belied.

Would she have loved him if she met him now for the first time, at some formal event of her first Season?

What did it matter? She loved him, had loved him, and would always love him.

She had known and loved the lanky Kit who cuddled puppies and teased Pip at the dining table and carried Harry on his shoulders across the hay fields. She loved the Kit who ignored her, laughed at her, talked with her, and stood in silence beside her. He had to love her in return. He simply must.

“Certainly, when we are alone together, as we are now, we should and must continue on as we have done,” Mrs. Culley said.

“How like you, Mrs. Culley,” Mama said, giving Emeline a hard look. “You may always be relied upon for the gracious gesture.”

“It’s decided then,” Kit said. “Things shall go on as they have done.”

Things were most definitely not going to continue on as they had done. She would make Kit realize that he loved her, somehow. The how of it would come to her. Somehow. It had to. She would not consider a life as anyone other than Kit’s wife.

The problem, and how simple life would have been if there had been only one problem to solve, was that Mrs. Culley had higher aspirations for Kit’s wife than the girl who lived across the village. In everything he did, Kit bowed to his mother’s wish. Yes, of course, Mama wanted a titled gentleman for her, but she, unlike Kit, had the resolve to not bend to every word out of Mama’s mouth. Not every word.

“We were considering the ostrich feathers, Mr. Culley,” Mama said. “Perhaps they would suit for Lady Jordan’s this evening?”

“They may be too bold for me,” Mrs. Culley said.

“Hardly that,” Kit said.

The two older women moved off to discuss ostrich feathers with Madame Lacroix. Emeline snagged Kit by the wool at his wrist and whispered, “How like you to let your mother make all your decisions for you.”

Kit looked down at her, his blue eyes coolly bewildered. “I agree with her. Of course you must continue to call me Kit. Anything else would result in both of us feeling ill at ease.”

“I did not give you permission to speak for me or my feelings,” she said. “I don’t see any indication that you know what I think or what I feel.”

“Certainly, if you don’t want to call me Kit you may call me whatever suits you best.”