Then he turned. His eyes hit hers, and she realized she’d been staring at him, mesmerized by the planes of his face. Her lips parted with surprise, and she wanted to look away, felt as if she ought to blush and stammer at having been caught, but somehow she could not. She just stood there, transfixed, breathless, as a strange heat spread across her skin.

He was ten feet away, at the very least, and it felt as if they were touching.

“Eloise?” he whispered, or at least she thought he did. She saw his lips form the word more than she actually heard his voice.

And then somehow the moment was broken. Maybe it was his whisper, maybe the creak of a windblown tree outside. But Eloise was finally able to move—to think—and she quickly turned back to Marina’s portrait, firmly affixing her gaze on her late cousin’s serene face. “The children must miss her,” Eloise said, needing to say something, anything that would restart the conversation—and restore her composure.

For a moment Phillip said nothing. And then, finally: “Yes, they’ve missed her for a long time.”

It seemed to Eloise a rather odd way to phrase it. “I know how they feel,” she said. “I was quite young when my father died.”

He looked over at her. “I didn’t realize.”

She shrugged. “It’s not something I talk about a great deal. It was a long time ago.”

He crossed back to her side, his steps slow and methodical. “Did it take you very long to get over it?”

“I’m not certain it’s something you ever do get over,” she said. “Completely, that is. But no, I don’t think about him every day, if that’s what you want to know.”

She turned away from Marina’s portrait; she’d been focusing on it for too long and was beginning to feel oddly intrusive. “I think it was more difficult for my older brothers,” she said. “Anthony—he is the eldest and was already a young man when it happened—had a particularly difficult time with it. They were very close. And my mother, of course.” She looked over at him. “My parents loved each other very much.”


“How did she react to his passing?”

“Well, she cried a great deal at first,” Eloise said. “I’m sure we weren’t meant to know. She always did it in her room at night, after she thought we were all asleep. But she missed him dreadfully, and it couldn’t have been easy with seven children.”

“I thought there were eight of you.”

“Hyacinth was not yet born. I believe my mother was eight months along.”

“Good God,” she thought she heard him murmur.

Good God was right. Eloise had no idea how her mother had managed.

“It was unexpected,” she told him. “He was stung by a bee. A bee. Can you imagine that? He was stung by a bee, and then— Well, I don’t need to bore you with the details. Here,” she said briskly, “let us leave. It’s too dark in here to see the portraits properly, anyway.”

It was a lie, of course. It was too dark, but Eloise couldn’t have cared less about that. Talking about her father’s death always made her feel a bit strange, and she just didn’t feel like standing there surrounded by paintings of dead people.

“I should like to see your greenhouse,” she said.


Put that way, it did seem an odd request. “Tomorrow, then,” she said, “when it’s light.”

His lips curved into a hint of a smile. “We can go now.”

“But we won’t be able to see anything.”

“We won’t be able to see everything,” he corrected. “But the moon is out, and we’ll take a lantern.”

She glanced doubtfully out the window. “It’s cold.”

“You can take a coat.” He leaned down with a gleam in his eye. “You’re not afraid, are you?”

“Of course not!” she retorted, knowing he was baiting her but falling for it, anyway.

He quirked a brow in a most provoking manner.

“I’ll have you know I’m the least cowardly woman you’re ever likely to encounter.”

“I’m sure you are,” he murmured.

“Now you’re being patronizing.”

He did nothing but chuckle.

“Very well,” she said gamely, “lead the way.”

“It’s so warm!” Eloise exclaimed as Phillip shut the greenhouse door behind her.

“It’s actually usually warmer than this,” he told her. “The glass allows the sun to warm the air, but except for this morning, it’s been quite overcast for the past few days.”

Phillip often visited his greenhouse at night, toiling by the light of a lantern when he could not sleep. Or, before he’d been widowed, to keep him busy so that he would not consider entering Marina’s bedchamber.

But he had never asked anyone to accompany him in the dark; even during the day, he almost always worked alone. Now he was seeing it all through Eloise’s eyes—the magic in the way the pearlescent moonlight threw shadows across the leaves and fronds. During the day, a walk through the greenhouse wasn’t so very different from a walk through any wooded area in England, with the exception of the odd rare fern or imported bromeliad.

But now, with the cloak of night playing tricks on the eyes, it was as if they were in some secret, hidden jungle, with magic and surprise lurking around every corner.

“What is this?” Eloise asked, peering down at eight small clay pots, arranged in a line across his workbench.

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