“Sir Phillip,” she said, nodding at him.

“You don’t have to eat in the kitchen,” he said, scowling at her for no reason other than that she was not where he’d expected her to be.

That and the fact that he’d actually intended to change his clothes for lunch—something with which he did not ordinarily bother—for her benefit, and here she’d caught him a mess, anyway.

“I know,” she replied, cocking her head and blinking those devastating gray eyes at him. “But I was looking for food and company, and this seemed the best place to find both.”

Was that an insult? He couldn’t be certain, and her eyes looked innocent, so he decided to ignore it and said, “I was just on my way to change into cleaner attire and invite you to share my lunch with me.”

“I would be happy to remove myself to the breakfast room and finish my sandwich there, if you wish to join me,” Eloise said. “I’m sure Mrs. Smith wouldn’t mind making another sandwich for you. This one is delicious.” She looked over at the cook. “Mrs. Smith?”

“It’s no trouble at all, Miss Bridgerton,” the cook said, leaving Phillip nearly gaping at her. It was quite the friendliest tone of voice he had ever heard emerge from her lips.

Eloise edged herself off of her stool and picked up her plate. “Shall we?” she said to Phillip. “I have no objection to your attire.”

Before he even realized that he had not agreed to her plan, Phillip found himself in the breakfast room, seated across from her at the small round table he used far more often than the long, lonely one in the formal dining room. A maid had carried Miss Bridgerton’s tea service, and after inquiring if he wanted some, Miss Bridgerton herself had expertly prepared him a cup.

It was an unsettling feeling, this. She had maneuvered him quite neatly to serve her purposes, and somehow it didn’t quite matter that he’d intended to ask her to lunch with him in this very manner. He liked to think he was at least nominally in charge in his own home.

“I met your children earlier,” Miss Bridgerton said, lifting her teacup to her lips.


“Yes, I was there,” he replied, pleased that she had initiated the conversation. Now he didn’t have to.

“No,” she corrected, “after that.”

He looked up in question.

“They were waiting for me,” she explained, “outside my bedchamber door.”

An awful feeling began to churn and roll in his stomach. Waiting for her with what? A bag of live frogs? A bag of dead frogs? His children had not been kind to their governesses, and he did not imagine they’d be much more charitable to a female guest who was obviously there in the role of prospective stepmother.

He coughed. “I trust you survived the encounter?”

“Oh, yes,” she said. “We have reached an understanding of sorts.”

“An understanding?” He eyed her warily. “Of sorts?”

She waved away his question as she chewed on her food. “You needn’t worry about me.”

“Need I worry about my children?”

She looked up at him with an inscrutable smile. “Of course not.”

“Very well.” He looked down at the sandwich that had been placed in front of him and took a healthy bite. Once he’d swallowed, he looked her straight in the eye and said, “I must apologize for my greeting this morning. I was less than gracious.”

She nodded regally. “And I apologize for arriving unheralded. It was quite ill-bred of me.”

He nodded back. “You, however, apologized for that this morning, while I did not.”

She offered him a smile, a genuine one, and he felt his heart lurch. Good God, when she smiled it transformed her entire face. In all the time he’d been corresponding with her, he’d never dreamed that she would take his breath away.

“Thank you,” she murmured, her cheeks flushing with the barest hint of pink. “That was very gracious of you.”

Phillip cleared his throat and shifted uneasily in his seat. What was wrong with him, that he was less comfortable with her smiles than he was with her frowns? “Right,” he said, coughing one more time to cover the gruffness in his voice. “Now that we have that out of the way, perhaps we should address your reason for being here.”

Eloise set her sandwich down and regarded him with obvious surprise. Clearly, she hadn’t expected him to be so direct. “You were interested in marriage,” she said.

“Are you?” he countered.

“I’m here,” she said simply.

He looked at her assessingly, his eyes searching hers until she squirmed in her seat. “You are not what I expected, Miss Bridgerton.”

“Under the circumstances, I would not think it inappropriate for you to use my given name,” she said, “and you are not what I expected, either.”

He sat back in his seat, looking at her with the vaguest hint of a smile. “And what did you expect?”

“What did you expect?” Eloise countered.

He gave her a look that told her he’d noticed she’d avoided his question, then said, quite bluntly, “I didn’t expect you to be so pretty.”

Eloise felt herself lurch back slightly at the unexpected compliment. She hadn’t been looking her best that morning, and even if she had—well, she’d never been considered one of the beauties of the ton. Bridgerton women were generally thought to be attractive, vivacious, and personable. She and her sisters were popular, and they’d all received more than one offer of marriage, but men seemed to like them because they liked them, not because they were struck dumb by their beauty.

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