“Why certainly.” Violet shot an arch look at Gregory. “Notice how the duke is eating his peas.”

Gregory ate his peas.

Simon smiled to himself as he spooned another portion of peas onto his plate, thankful that Lady Bridgerton had not decided to serve dinner à la russe. It would have been difficult to stave off Gregory's certain accusation of Hyacinth as a pea-tosser if he'd had to summon a footman to serve him.

Simon busied himself with his peas, since he really had no choice but to finish off every last one. He stole a glance at Daphne, however, who was wearing a secret little smile. Her eyes were brimming with infectious good humor, and Simon soon felt the corners of his mouth turning up as well.

“Anthony, why are you scowling?” asked one of the other Bridgerton girls—Simon thought it might be Francesca, but it was hard to say. The two middle ones looked amazingly alike, right down to their blue eyes, so like their mother's.

“I'm not scowling,” Anthony snapped, but Simon, having been on the receiving end of those scowls for the better part of an hour, rather thought he was lying.

“You are, too,” either Francesca or Eloise said.

Anthony's tone of reply was condescending in the extreme. “If you think I am going to say, ‘Am not,’ you are sadly mistaken.”

Daphne laughed into her napkin again.

Simon decided life was more amusing than it had been in ages.

“Do you know,” Violet suddenly announced, “that I think this might be one of the most pleasant evenings of the year. Even”—she sent a knowing glance down the table at Hyacinth—“if my youngest is tossing peas down the table.”

Simon looked up just as Hyacinth cried out, “How did you know?”

Violet shook her head as she rolled her eyes. “My dear children,” she said, “when will you learn that I know everything?”

Simon decided he had a great deal of respect for Violet Bridgerton.

But even still, she managed to completely confuse him with a question and a smile. “Tell me, your grace,” she said, “are you busy tomorrow?”

Despite her blond and blue-eyed coloring, she looked so like Daphne as she asked him this question that he was momentarily befuddled. Which had to be the only reason he didn't bother to think before he stammered, “N-no. Not that I recall.”

“Excellent!” Violet exclaimed, beaming. “Then you must join us on our outing to Greenwich.”

“Greenwich?” Simon echoed.

“Yes, we've been planning a family outing for several weeks now. We thought we'd take a boat, then perhaps have a picnic on the shores of the Thames.” Violet smiled at him confidently. “You'll come, won't you?”

“Mother,” Daphne interjected, “I'm certain the duke has any number of commitments.”

Violet gave Daphne a look so frigid Simon was surprised that neither one of them turned to ice. “Nonsense,” Violet replied. “He just said himself that he wasn't busy.” She turned back to Simon. “And we shall be visiting the Royal Observatory as well, so you needn't worry that this will be a mindless jaunt. It's not open to the public, of course, but my late husband was a great patron, so we are assured entry.”

Simon looked at Daphne. She just shrugged and apologized with her eyes.

He turned back to Violet. “I'd be delighted.”

Violet beamed and patted him on the arm.

And Simon had the sinking sensation that his fate had just been sealed.

Chapter 8

It has reached This Author's ears that the entire Bridgerton family (plus one duke!) embarked upon a journey to Greenwich on Saturday.

It has also reached This Author's ears that the aforementioned duke, along with a certain member of the Bridgerton family, returned to London very wet indeed.

LADY WHISTLEDOWN'S SOCIETY PAPERS, 3 MAY 1813

“If you apologize to me one more time,” Simon said, leaning his head back against his hands, “I may have to kill you.”

Daphne shot him an irritated look from her position in her deck chair on the small yacht her mother had commissioned to take the entire family—and the duke, of course—to Greenwich. “Pardon me,” she said, “if I am polite enough to apologize for my mother's quite obvious manipulations. I thought that the purpose of our little charade was to shield you from the tender mercies of matchmaking mothers.”

Simon waved off her comment, as he settled deeper into his own chair. “It would only be a problem if I were not enjoying myself.”

Daphne's chin lurched backward slightly in surprise. “Oh,” she said (stupidly, in her opinion). “That's nice.”

He laughed. “I am inordinately fond of boat travel, even if it is just down to Greenwich, and besides, after spending so much time at sea, I rather fancy a visit to the Royal Observatory to see the Greenwich Meridian.” He cocked his head in her direction. “Do you know much about navigation and longitude?”

She shook her head. “Very little, I'm afraid. I must confess I'm not even certain what this meridian here at Greenwich is.”

“It's the point from which all longitude is measured. It used to be that sailors and navigators measured longitudinal distance from their point of departure, but in the last century, the astronomer royal decided to make Greenwich the starting point.”

Daphne raised her brows. “That seems rather self-important of us, don't you think, positioning ourselves at the center of the world?”

“Actually, it's quite convenient to have a universal reference point when one is attempting to navigate the high seas.”



----