“Yes, it is,” Eloise agreed, thinking that quite obvious.

He shrugged. “I imagine it will still rain by nightfall.”

She wasn’t quite certain how to respond to that, so she just nodded, surreptitiously studying him while his gaze was still fixed on the window. He was bigger than she’d imagined him, rougher-looking, less urbane. His letters had been so charming and well written; she’d pictured him to be more . . . smooth. More slender, perhaps, certainly not given to fat, but still, less muscled. He looked as if he worked outside like a laborer, especially in those rough trousers and shirt with no cravat. And even though he’d written that his hair was brown, she’d always imagined him as a dark blond, looking rather like a poet (why she always pictured poets with blond hair she did not know). But his hair was exactly as he’d described it—brown, a rather dark shade, actually, bordering on black, with an unruly wave to it. His eyes were brown, much the same shade as his hair, so dark they were utterly unreadable.

She frowned. She hated people she couldn’t figure out in a heartbeat.

“Did you travel all night?” he inquired politely.

“I did.”

“You must be tired.”

She nodded. “I am, quite.”

He stood, motioning gallantly to the door. “Would you prefer to rest? I don’t wish to keep you here if you’d rather sleep.”

Eloise was exhausted, but she was also ferociously hungry. “I’ll have just a bite to eat first,” she said, “and then I would be grateful to accept your hospitality and rest.”

He nodded and started to sit down, trying to fold himself back into the ridiculously small chair, then finally muttering something under his breath, turning to her with a slightly more intelligible, “Excuse me,” and moving to another, larger chair.


“I beg your pardon,” he said, once he was settled.

Eloise just nodded at him, wondering when she had ever found herself in a more awkward situation.

He cleared his throat. “Er, was your journey a pleasant one?”

“Indeed,” she replied, mentally giving him credit for at least trying to keep up a conversation. One good turn deserved another, so she made her contribution with, “You have a lovely home.”

He raised a brow at that, giving her a look that said he didn’t believe her false flattery for a second.

“The grounds are magnificent,” she added hastily. Who would have thought that he’d actually know his furnishings were faded? Men never noticed such things.

“Thank you,” he said. “I am a botanist, as you know, and so I spend a great deal of my time out-of-doors.”

“Were you planning to work outside today?”

He answered in the affirmative.

Eloise offered him a tentative smile. “I’m sorry to have disrupted your schedule.”

“It is nothing, I assure you.”


“You really needn’t apologize again,” he cut in. “For anything.”

And then there was that awful silence again, with both of them looking longingly at the door, waiting for Gunning to return with salvation in the form of a tea tray.

Eloise tapped her hands against the cushion of the sofa in a manner that her mother would have deemed horribly ill-bred. She looked over at Sir Phillip and was somewhat gratified to see that he was doing the same. Then he caught her looking and quirked an irritating half-smile as his gaze dropped down to her restless hand.

She stilled herself immediately.

She looked over at him, silently daring—imploring?—him to say something. Anything.

He didn’t.

This was killing her. She had to break the silence. This was not natural. It was too awful. People were meant to talk. This was—

She opened her mouth, driven by a desperation she didn’t quite understand. “I—”

But before she could continue on with a sentence she fully intended to make up as she went along, a bloodcurdling scream ripped through the air.

Eloise jumped to her feet. “What was—”

“My children,” Sir Phillip said, letting out a haggard sigh.

“You have children?”

He noticed that she was standing and rose wearily to his feet. “Of course.”

She gaped at him. “You never said you had children.”

His eyes narrowed. “Is that a problem?” he asked, quite sharply.

“Of course it isn’t!” she said, bristling. “I adore children. I have more nieces and nephews than I can count, and I can assure you that I am their favorite aunt. But that does not excuse the fact that you did not mention their existence.”

“That is impossible,” he said, shaking his head. “You must have overlooked it.”

Her chin jerked back so suddenly it was a wonder she didn’t snap her neck. “That is not,” she said haughtily, “the sort of thing I would overlook.”

He shrugged, clearly dismissing her protest.

“You never mentioned them,” she said, “and I can prove it.”

He crossed his arms, giving her a patently disbelieving look.

She marched to the door. “Where is my valise?”

“Right where you left it, I imagine,” he said, watching her with a condescending expression. “Or more likely already up in your room. My servants are not that inattentive.”

She turned to him with a scowl. “I have every single one of your letters with me, and I can assure you, not one of them contains the words, ‘my children.’ “

Phillip’s lips parted in surprise. “You saved my letters?”

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