Hated the memories it brought back for him.
Miss Bridgerton. Damn, he’d almost forgotten she was there. He turned around. “Yes?” he asked, mortified that she’d witnessed his humiliation. Which of course made him irritated with her.
“Your butler brought the tea tray,” she said, motioning to the drawing room.
He gave her a curt nod. He needed to get outside. Away from his children, away from the woman who’d seen what a terrible father he was to them. It had started to rain, but he didn’t care.
“I hope you enjoy your breakfast,” he said. “I will see you after you have rested.”
And then he made haste out the door, making his way to his greenhouse, where he could be alone with his nonspeaking, nonmisbehaving, nonmeddlesome plants.
. . . you will see why I could not accept his suit. He was too churlish by half and positively possessed of a foul temper. I should like to marry someone gracious and considerate, who treats me like a queen. Or at the very least, a princess. Surely that is not too much to ask.
—from Eloise Bridgerton to her
dear friend Penelope Featherington,
sent by messenger after Eloise
received her first proposal of marriage
By afternoon, Eloise was almost convinced that she had made a terrible mistake.
And in truth, the sole reason she was only almost convinced was that the only thing she hated more than making mistakes was the admission thereof. So she was trying to maintain a proverbial stiff upper lip and forcing herself to pretend that this ghastly situation might all work itself out in the end.
She had been left stunned—openmouthed, even—when Sir Phillip had departed with barely more than an “Enjoy your food” and then stalked out the door. She had traveled halfway across England, answering his invitation to come and visit, and he left her alone in the drawing room a mere half hour after she arrived?
She hadn’t expected him to fall in love at first sight and drop to his knees, professing his undying devotion, but she’d hoped for a little bit more than a curt “Who are you?” and “Enjoy your food.”
Or maybe she had expected him to fall in love at the first sight of her. She’d built an elaborate dream around her image of this man—an image which she now knew to be untrue. She’d let herself mold him into the perfect man, and it hurt so much to learn that he wasn’t just imperfect, he was quite close to abysmal.
And the worst was—she had only herself to blame. Sir Phillip had never misrepresented himself in his letters (although she did think he ought to have mentioned that he was a father, especially before he’d proposed marriage).
Her dreams had been just that—dreams. Wishful illusions, all of her own making. If he wasn’t what she’d expected, that was her fault. She’d been expecting something that didn’t even exist.
And she should have known better.
What’s more, he didn’t seem to be a very good father, which was as black a mark as anyone could get in her book.
No, she wasn’t being fair. She shouldn’t judge him so quickly on that score. The children didn’t look ill-treated or malnourished or anything so dire, but Sir Phillip clearly had no idea how to manage them. He had handled them all wrong this morning, and it was clear from the way they behaved that his relationship with them was distant at best.
Good heavens, they had practically begged him to spend the day with them. Any child who actually received enough attention from his parents would never act in such a way. Eloise and her siblings had spent half their childhood trying to avoid their parents—lack of supervision being, of course, more conducive for mischief.
Her own father had been splendid. She had been only seven when he’d died, but she remembered him well, from the stories he wove at bedtime to the hikes they had taken across the fields of Kent, sometimes with all the Bridgertons in tow, sometimes just with one lucky child, chosen for some special alone time with Father.
It was clear to her that if she hadn’t suggested to Sir Phillip that he find out why his children were screaming and knocking over the furniture, he would have left them to their own devices. Or, more to the point, left them to be someone else’s problem. And by the end of their conversation, it was apparent that Sir Phillip’s main aim in life was to avoid his children.
Which Eloise did not approve of at all.
She pushed herself off of her bed, forcing herself upright even though she was bone-tired. But every time she laid down, something began to quicken in her lungs, and she felt herself gasping in that awful precursor to not just tears, but true, body-shaking sobs. If she didn’t get up and do something, she wasn’t going to be able to control herself.
And she didn’t think she could bear herself if she cried.
She wrenched the window open, even though it was still gray and drizzling outside. There was no wind, so the rain ought not to blow in, and what she really needed right now was a bit of fresh air. A slap of cold on her face might not make her feel better, but it certainly wasn’t going to make her feel worse.
From her window she could see Sir Phillip’s greenhouse. She assumed that was where he was, since she hadn’t heard him here in the house, stomping about and bellowing at his children. The glass was fogged up and the only thing she could see was a blurry curtain of green—his beloved plants, she supposed. What sort of man was he, that he preferred plants to people? Certainly not anyone who appreciated a fine conversation.
She felt her shoulders sag. Eloise had spent half her life in search of a fine conversation.