Gentlemen Prefer Spinsters

By: Samantha Holt


Lulworth, Dorset 1817

“I always thought you far too logical to believe in curses.” Arabella leaned over to snatch up a slice of shortbread, popped it into her mouth, then declared, “I am giving up all things sweet, I swear. They are going straight to my hips.”

Merry shook her head with a smile. Arabella had been saying that for the past decade, since she realized she had hips. The curvy figure of her friend had them all quite envious and Merry recalled the time they had all stuffed themselves for at least a week to try to emulate Arabella’s hips and breasts. Merry had finally grown into her body only a few years ago but she never garnered any attention from menfolk—unlike Arabella.

“Why have I never heard of this curse?” Sophia asked, drifting over from the bookcase and coming to sit on the chaise longue opposite Merry.

Merry eyed her two friends. Sophia was the opposite of Arabella, despite being her older sister. Short and delicate, her dark hair contrasted with Arabella’s honey tones and her features were stronger.

“Because it is nonsense,” Merry answered, lifting her chin.

Sophia frowned at her. “And yet, you still fear for Daniel’s marriage?”

Merry sighed. It sounded ridiculous. Even she questioned herself whenever the thought popped into her mind—what if all the terrible marriages in her family were due to the family curse?

“I just wish to give Daniel and Isabel a little space.”

Arabella shook her head. “By moving into the old dower house?” She wrinkled her nose. “No one has set foot in it for a good twenty years.”

“I know.” Merry traced the lace edging of her sleeve with one finger. “If not longer. But I cannot stay here while my brother and his new wife try to adjust to married life. Father is never around, and it shall just be me.” She looked up at her friends. “Can you imagine it? Me sitting at the large dining table whilst they are looking lovingly at each other? I should rather take up residence in the dower house than be the awkward relative no one wants around.”

“I very much doubt your brother would not want you around,” Sophia said. “He loves you dearly. Besides, what does your father have to say about you moving into the dower house? He cannot like the idea, surely?”

Merry shrugged. “He does not care either way. You know what he is like.”

Her friends nodded sadly.

“What is this so-called curse anyway?” demanded Sophia.

Merry grimaced. She didn’t believe in curses, really she did not. But the story of the family curse had plagued their family for hundreds of years. She drew in a breath. “Apparently in the 16th Century, one of my ancestors seduced a gypsy. When he left her to marry a noblewoman, the gypsy cursed him and his family.”

“And?” Sophia pressed, a piece of shortbread lifted to her mouth.

“Our family and all our ancestors would never have a happy marriage,” Merry said simply.

“Goodness.” Sophia took a bite of shortbread and spoke through the mouthful. “So there was no way of lifting the curse?”

Merry sent her a look. “There is no curse.”

Sophie leaned forward. “But if there were, is there any way of lifting it?”

Shaking her head, Merry lifted the teapot and poured another cup of tea, dropping in two sugars and adding a dash of milk. All the while she could feel Sophia’s gaze on her. She met her friend’s eager gaze. “There is really no curse, Sophia.”

“So why do you feel the need to give Daniel and Isabel the best chance?” Arabella asked, folding her arms across her chest.

“It’s only fair.” Merry took a sip of tea and savored the sweet warmth. She should have never mentioned the curse. It was ridiculous. Curses were not real and even if they were, it was only a silly story, probably made up hundreds of years ago and passed down by each generation since. “But, you must admit, our family does not have a reputation for making the best matches.”

“So the curse is real,” Sophia said, awe tinging her voice.

“Of course it isn’t,” Merry snapped. “Unfortunately, us Bradfords just seem to make terrible husbands and wives. Remember my Aunt May. She got...” Merry lowered her voice and glanced around, “divorced.”