She gave him a look that was decidedly unamused.
“Right,” he said, in an attempt to fill the silence with something other than flour. He glanced up over the door, impressed with the twins’ handiwork, despite the unfortunate results. “I wonder how they did it,” he mused.
Her mouth fell open. “Does it matter?”
“Well,” he said, seeing from her face that this was not the most advisable avenue of conversation, but continuing nonetheless with, “I certainly can’t condone their actions, but it was obviously quite cleverly done. I don’t see where they attached the bucket, and—”
“They rested it on the top of the door.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I have seven brothers and sisters,” she said dismissively. “Do you think I’ve never seen this prank before? They opened the door—just a crack—and then carefully placed the bucket.”
“And you didn’t hear them?”
She glared at him.
“Right,” he said hastily. “You were in the bath.”
“I don’t suppose,” she said in a haughty voice, “that you intend to imply that this was my fault for not having heard them.”
“Of course not,” he said—very quickly. Judging from the murderous look in Miss Bridgerton’s eyes, he was fairly certain that his health and welfare were directly dependent upon the speed with which he agreed with her. “Why don’t I leave you to your . . .”
Was there really a good way to describe the process of cleaning several pounds of flour off one’s person?
“Will I see you at supper?” he asked, deciding that a change of subject was most definitely in order.
She nodded, once, briefly. There wasn’t a great deal of warmth in that nod, but Phillip reckoned he should be happy that she wasn’t planning to leave the county that night.
“I will instruct the cook to keep supper warm,” he said. “And I will see to punishing the twins.”
“No,” she said, halting him in his tracks. “Leave them to me.”
He turned around slowly, a bit unnerved by the tone of her voice. “What, precisely, do you plan to do with them?”
“With them, or to them?”
Phillip had never thought the day would come when he’d be frightened by a woman, but as God was his witness, Eloise Bridgerton scared the living wits out of him.
The look in her eyes was positively diabolical.
“Miss Bridgerton,” he said, crossing his arms, “I must ask. What do you intend to do to my children?”
“I’m pondering my options.”
He considered that. “May I depend upon their still being alive tomorrow morning?”
“Oh, yes,” she replied. “Alive, and with every limb intact, I assure you.”
Phillip stared at her for several moments, then let his lips spread into a slow, satisfied smile. He had a feeling that Eloise Bridgerton’s vengeance—whatever it might be—would be exactly what his children needed. Surely anyone with seven brothers and sisters would know how to wreak havoc in the most cunning, underhanded, and ingenious manner.
“Very well, Miss Bridgerton,” he said, almost glad they’d dumped a bucket of flour on her. “They are all yours.”
An hour later, just after he and Eloise sat down for supper, the screaming began.
Phillip actually dropped his spoon; Amanda’s shrieks had a more terrified tenor than usual.
Eloise didn’t even pause as she placed a spoonful of turtle soup between her lips. “She’s fine,” she murmured, delicately wiping her mouth with her serviette.
The rapid patter of little feet thundered overhead, signaling that Amanda was racing toward the steps.
Phillip half rose in his seat. “Perhaps I should—”
“I put a fish in her bed,” Miss Bridgerton said, not quite smiling, but nonetheless looking rather pleased with herself.
“A fish?” he echoed.
“Very well, it was a rather big fish.”
The tadpole in his mind quickly grew into a toothy shark, and he found himself choking on air. “Er,” he couldn’t help but ask, “where did you find a fish?”
“Mrs. Smith,” she said, as if his cook handed out large trout every day of the week.
He forced himself to sit back down. He wasn’t going to run to save Amanda. He wanted to; he did possess the odd paternal instinct, after all, and she was shrieking as if the fires of hell were licking at her toes.
But his daughter had made her bed; now it was time to lie in the one Miss Bridgerton had stunk up for her. He dipped his spoon in his soup, lifted it a few inches, then paused. “And what did you place in Oliver’s bed?”
He quirked a brow in question.
“It will keep him in suspense,” she explained coolly.
Phillip cocked his head toward her in salute. She was good. “They’ll retaliate, of course,” he felt honor-bound to warn her.
“I’ll be ready.” She sounded unconcerned. Then she looked up at him, straight in the eye, momentarily startling him with her direct gaze. “I suppose they know that you invited me here for the purpose of asking me to be your wife.”
“I never said anything to them.”
“No,” she murmured, “you wouldn’t.”
He looked over at her sharply, unable to discern if she meant that as an insult. “I don’t feel the need to keep my children apprised of my personal matters.”
She shrugged, a delicate little motion that he found infuriating.