“None,” Amanda said quickly, her chin bobbing in an earnest nod. “I promise.”

“Oliver,” Phillip growled, when his son did not speak quickly enough.

“There will be no pranks that afternoon,” Oliver muttered.

Phillip strode across the room and grabbed his son by the collar.

“Ever!” Oliver said in a strangled voice. “I promise! We shall leave Miss Bridgerton completely alone.”

“Not completely, I hope,” Eloise said, glancing up at Phillip and hoping he correctly interpreted that to mean, You may now put down the child. “After all, you do owe me an afternoon.”

Amanda offered her a tentative smile, but Oliver’s scowl remained firmly in place.

“You may leave now,” Phillip said, and the children fled through the open doorway.

The two adults remained in silence for a full minute after they left, both staring at the door with hollow, weary expressions. Eloise felt drained, and wary, almost as if she’d been dropped into a situation she didn’t quite understand.

A burst of nervous laughter almost escaped her lips. What was she thinking? Of course she had been dropped into a situation she didn’t understand, and she was lying to herself if she thought she knew what to do.

Phillip walked over to the bed, but when he got there, he stood rather stiffly. “How are you?” he asked Eloise.


“If I don’t remove this meat soon,” she said quite frankly, “I think I might be sick.”

He picked up the platter the meat had arrived upon and held it out. Eloise put the steak down, grimacing at the wet, slopping sound it made. “I believe I would like to wash my face,” she said. “The smell is rather overwhelming.”

He nodded. “First let me look at your eye.”

“Do you have very much experience with this sort of thing?” she asked, glancing at the ceiling when he asked her to look up.

“A bit.” He pressed gently against the ridge of her cheekbone with his thumb. “Look right.”

She did. “A bit?”

“I boxed at university.”

“Were you good?”

He turned her head to the side. “Look left. Good enough.”

“What does that mean?”

“Close your eye.”

“What does that mean?” she persisted.

“You’re not closing your eye.”

She did, shutting them both, because whenever she winked only one eye she ended up squeezing it far too tightly. “What does it mean?”

She couldn’t see him, but she could feel him pause. “Has anyone ever told you you can be a bit stubborn?”

“All the time. It’s my only flaw.”

She heard his smile in the tenor of his breath. “The only one, eh?”

“The only one worth commenting upon.”

She opened her eyes. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“I’ve quite forgotten what it was.”

She opened her mouth to repeat it, then realized he was teasing her, so she scowled instead.

“Close your eye again,” he said. “I’m not yet finished.” When she obeyed his command, he added, “Good enough meant I never had to fight if I didn’t want to.”

“But you weren’t the champion,” she surmised.

“You can open your eye now.”

She did, then blinked when she realized how close he still was.

He stepped back. “I wasn’t the champion.”

“Why not?”

He shrugged. “I didn’t care about it enough.”

“How does it look?” she asked.

“Your eye?”

She nodded.

“I don’t think there is anything to be done to stop the bruising.”

“I didn’t think I hit my eye,” she said, letting out a frustrated sigh. “When I fell. I thought I hit my cheek.”

“You don’t have to hit your eye to bruise there. I can see from your face that you landed right here”—he touched her cheekbone, right where she’d hit, but he was so gentle that she felt no pain—“and that’s close enough for the bleeding to spread to the eye area.”

She groaned. “I’m going to look a fright for weeks.”

“It might not take weeks.”

“I have brothers,” she said, giving him a look that said she knew what she was talking about. “I’ve seen blackened eyes. Benedict had one that didn’t completely fade away for two months.”

“What happened to him?” Phillip asked.

“My other brother,” she said wryly.

“Say no more,” he said. “I had a brother of my own.”

“Beastly creatures,” she muttered, “the lot of them.” But there was love in her voice as she said it.

“Yours probably won’t take that long,” he said, helping her to stand so that she could make her way to the washbasin.

“But it might.”

Phillip nodded, then, once she was splashing the smell of the meat off her skin, said, “We need to get you a chaperone.”

She froze. “I’d quite forgotten.”

He let several seconds go by before replying, “I hadn’t.”

She picked up a towel and patted herself dry. “I’m sorry. It’s my fault, of course. You had written that you would arrange for a chaperone. In my haste to leave London, I quite forgot that you would need time to make the arrangements.”

Phillip watched her closely, wondering if she realized that she had slipped and said more than she’d probably meant to. It was difficult to imagine a woman such as Eloise—open, bright, and extremely talkative—as having secrets, but she had been quite close-lipped about her reasons for coming to Gloucestershire.

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