“I didn’t see it,” she said, even though that was quite obvious.

Phillip didn’t take his eyes off of hers, but his fingers kept twisting the string until it tautened and snapped.

Eloise sucked in her breath. There was something almost terrifying in the moment. Phillip didn’t seem aware that he’d broken the string, barely cognizant of his strength.

Or the strength of his anger.

“Sir Phillip,” she whispered, but he never heard her.

“Oliver!” he bellowed. “Amanda!”

“I’m sure they didn’t mean to injure me,” Eloise began, not certain why she was defending them. They’d hurt her, that was true, but she had a feeling her punishment would be considerably less painful than anything coming from their father.

“I don’t care what they meant,” Phillip snapped. “Look how close you landed to the stairs. What if you’d fallen?”

Eloise eyed the stairs. They were close, but not close enough for her to have taken a tumble. “I don’t think . . .”

“They must answer for this,” he said, his voice deadly low and shaking with rage.

“I’ll be fine,” Eloise said. Already the stinging pain was giving way to a duller ache. But it still hurt, enough so that when Sir Phillip lifted her into his arms, she let out a little cry.


And his fury grew.

“I’m putting you in bed,” he said, his voice rough and curt.

Eloise offered no disagreement.

A maid appeared on the landing, gasping when she saw the darkening bruise on Eloise’s face.

“Get me something for this,” Sir Phillip ordered. “A piece of meat. Anything.”

The maid nodded and ran off as Phillip carried Eloise into her room. “Are you hurt anywhere else?” he asked.

“My hip,” Eloise admitted as he settled her on top of her covers. “And my elbow.”

He nodded grimly. “Do you think you’ve broken anything?”

“No!” she said quickly. “No, I—”

“I’ll need to check, anyway,” he said, brushing aside her protests as he lightly examined her arm.

“Sir Phillip, I—”

“My children just nearly killed you,” he said, without a trace of humor in his eyes. “I should think you could dispense with the sir.”

Eloise swallowed as she watched him cross the room to the door, his strides long and powerful. “Get me the twins immediately,” he said, presumably to some servant hovering outside in the hall. Eloise couldn’t imagine that the children hadn’t heard his earlier bellow, but she also couldn’t blame them for attempting to delay judgment day at the hands of their father.

“Phillip,” she said, trying to coax him back into the room with the sound of her voice, “leave them to me. I was the injured party, and—”

“They are my children,” he said, his voice harsh, “and I will punish them. God knows it’s long past due.”

Eloise stared at him with growing horror. He was nearly shaking with rage, and while she could have happily swatted the children on their bottoms herself, she didn’t think he ought to be meting out punishment in his state.

“They hurt you,” Phillip said in a low voice. “That is not acceptable.”

“I’ll be fine,” she assured him again. “In a few days I won’t even—”

“That is not the point,” he said sharply. “If I had . . .” He stopped, tried again with, “If I hadn’t . . .” He stopped, beyond words, and leaned against the wall, his head hanging back as his eyes searched the ceiling—for what, she didn’t know. Answers, she supposed. As if one could find answers with the simple upward sweep of the eyes.

He turned, looked at her, his eyes grim, and Eloise saw something on his face she hadn’t expected to see there.

And that was when she realized it—all that rage in his voice, in the shaking of his body—it wasn’t directed at the children. Not really, and certainly not entirely.

The look on his face, the bleakness in his eyes—it was self-loathing.

He didn’t blame his children.

He blamed himself.

Chapter 6

. . . should not have let him kiss you. Who knows what liberties he will attempt to take the next time you meet? But what’s done is done, I suppose, so all there is left is to ask: Was it lovely?

—from Eloise Bridgerton to her sister Francesca,
slid under the door of her bedroom
the night Francesca met the Earl of Kilmartin,
whom she would marry two months later

When the children entered the room, half dragged and half pushed by their nursemaid, Phillip forced himself to remain rigidly in his position against the wall, afraid that if he went to them he’d beat them both within an inch of their lives.

And even more afraid that when he was through, he wouldn’t regret his actions.

So instead he just crossed his arms and stared, letting them squirm under the heat of his fury, while he tried to figure out what the hell he meant to say.

Finally, Oliver spoke up, his voice trembling as he said, “Father?”

Phillip said the only thing that came to mind, the only thing that seemed to matter. “Do you see Miss Bridgerton?”

The twins nodded, but they didn’t quite look at her. At least not at her face, which was beginning to purple around the eye.

“Do you notice anything amiss about her?”

They said nothing, forcing a silence until a maid appeared in the doorway with a “Sir?”

Phillip acknowledged her arrival with a nod, then strode to take hold of the piece of meat she’d brought for Eloise’s eye.

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