LADY WHISTLEDOWN'S SOCIETY PAPERS, 24 MAY 1813

There was to be no wedding trip. There hadn't, after all, been any time to plan one. Instead, Simon had made arrangements for them to spend several weeks at Clyvedon Castle, the Bassets' ancestral seat. Daphne thought this a fine idea; she was eager to get away from London and the inquiring eyes and ears of the ton.

Besides, she was oddly eager to see the place where Simon had grown up.

She found herself imagining him as a young boy. Had he been as irrepressible as he now was with her? Or had he been a quiet child, with the reserved demeanor he showed to most of society?

The new couple left Bridgerton House amidst cheers and hugs, and Simon quickly bundled Daphne into his finest carriage. Although it was summer, there was a chill in the air, and he carefully tucked a blanket over her lap. Daphne laughed. “Isn't that a bit much?” she teased. “I'm unlikely to catch a chill on the few short blocks to your home.”

He regarded her quizzically. “We travel to Clyvedon.”

“Tonight?” She could not disguise her surprise. She had assumed they would embark on their journey the following day. The village of Clyvedon was located near Hastings, all the way down on England's southeastern coast. It was already late afternoon; by the time they reached the castle, it would be the middle of the night.

This was not the wedding night Daphne had envisioned.

“Wouldn't it make more sense to rest here in London for one night, and then travel on to Clyvedon?” she asked.

“The arrangements have already been made,” he grunted.

“I…see.” Daphne made a valiant attempt to hide her disappointment. She was silent for a full minute as the carriage lurched into motion, the well-sprung wheels unable to disguise the bumps from the uneven cobbles beneath them. As they swung around the corner to Park Lane, she asked, “Will we be stopping at an inn?”

“Of course,” Simon replied. “We need to eat supper. It wouldn't do for me to starve you on our first day of our marriage, would it?”

“Will we be spending the night at this inn?” Daphne persisted.

“No, we—” Simon's mouth clamped shut into a firm line, then inexplicably softened. He turned to her with an expression of heart-melting tenderness. “I've been a bear, haven't I?”

She blushed. She always blushed when he looked at her like that. “No, no, it's just that I was surprised that—”

“No, you're right. We will rest the night at an inn. I know of a good one halfway down to the coast. The Hare and Hounds. The food is hot, and the beds are clean.” He touched her on the chin. “I shan't abuse you by forcing you to make the entire trip to Clyvedon in one day.”

“It's not that I'm not hardy enough for the trip,” she said, her face coloring even further as she considered her next words. “It's just that we did get married today, and if we don't stop at an inn, we'll be here in the carriage when night falls, and—”

“Say no more,” he said, placing a finger to her lips.

Daphne nodded gratefully. She didn't really wish to discuss their wedding night like this. Besides, it seemed the sort of topic that the husband ought to bring up, not the wife. After all, Simon was certainly the more knowledgeable of the two on that subject.

He couldn't possibly be any less knowledgeable, she thought with a disgruntled grimace. Her mother, despite all her hemming and hawing, had managed to tell her absolutely nothing. Well, except for the bit about the creation of children, not that Daphne understood any of the particulars. But on the other hand, maybe—

Daphne's breath caught in her throat. What if Simon couldn't—Or what if he didn't want to—

No, she decided firmly, he definitely wanted to. Moreover, he definitely wanted her. She hadn't imagined the fire in his eyes or the fierce pounding of his heart that night in the gardens.

She glanced out the window, watching as London melted into the countryside. A woman could go mad obsessing over such things. She was going to put this from her mind. She was absolutely, positively, forever going to put this from her mind.

Well, at least until that night.

Her wedding night.

The thought made her shiver.

Simon glanced over at Daphne—his wife, he reminded himself, although it was still a bit difficult to believe. He'd never planned to have a wife. In fact, he'd planned quite specifically not to have one. And yet here he was, with Daphne Bridgerton—no, Daphne Basset. Hell, she was the Duchess of Hastings, that's what she was.

That was probably the strangest of all. His dukedom hadn't had a duchess in his lifetime. The title sounded odd, rusty.

Simon let out a long, calming exhale, letting his eyes rest on Daphne's profile. Then he frowned. “Are you cold?” he asked. She'd been shivering.

Her lips were slightly parted, so he saw her tongue press up against the roof of her mouth to make an N sound, then she moved ever so slightly and said, “Yes. Yes, but just a touch. You needn't—”

Simon tucked the blanket a bit more closely around her, wondering why on earth she would lie about such an innocuous fact. “It's been a long day,” he murmured, not because he felt it—although, when he did stop to think about it, it had been a long day—but because it seemed like the right type of soothing remark for the moment.

He'd been thinking a lot about soothing remarks and gentle consideration. He was going to try to be a good husband to her. She deserved at least that much. There were a lot of things he wasn't going to be able to give Daphne, true and complete happiness unfortunately among them, but he could do his best to keep her safe and protected and relatively content.



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