He shuddered at the memory. It was after the glue incident, and they’d had to cut away Miss Lockhart’s hair just to free her, and he’d been so angry—so unbelievably, overpoweringly angry. His vision had gone red, and all he’d wanted to do was punish them, and make them behave, and teach them how to be good people, and he’d snatched the whip . . .
But it had burned in his hands, and he’d dropped it in horror, afraid of what he would become if he actually used it.
The children had gone unpunished for an entire day. Phillip had fled to his greenhouse, shaking with disgust, hating himself for what he’d almost done.
And for what he was unable to do.
Make his children better people.
He didn’t know how to be a father to them. That much was clear. He didn’t know how, and maybe he simply wasn’t suited to the task. Maybe some men were born knowing what to say and how to act, and some of them simply couldn’t do a good job of it no matter how hard they tried.
Maybe one needed a good father oneself to know how to be the same.
Which had left him doomed from birth.
And now here he was, trying to make up for his deficiencies with Eloise Bridgerton. Perhaps he could finally stop feeling so guilty about being such a bad father if he could only provide them with a good mother.
But nothing was ever as simple as one wanted it to be, and Eloise, in the single day she’d been in residence, had managed to turn his life upside down. He’d never expected to want her, at least not with the intensity he felt every time he stole a glance at her. And when he’d seen her on the floor—why was it that his first thought had been terror?
Terror for her well-being, and, if he was honest, terror that the twins might have convinced her to leave.
When poor Miss Lockhart had been glued to the bed, Phillip’s first emotion had been rage at his children. With Eloise, he’d spared only the merest of thoughts for them until he’d assured himself that she was not seriously injured.
He hadn’t wanted to care about her, hadn’t wanted anything other than a good mother for his children. And now he didn’t know what to do about it.
And so even though a morning in the garden with Miss Bridgerton sounded like heaven, somehow he couldn’t quite allow himself the pleasure.
He needed some time alone. He needed to think. Or rather, to not think, since the thinking just left him angry and confused. He needed to bury his hands in some dirt and prune some plants, and shut himself away until his mind was no longer screaming with all of his problems.
He needed to escape.
And if he was a coward, so be it.
. . . have never been so bored in all of my life. Colin, you must come home. It is interminably boring without you, and I don’t think I can bear such boredom another moment. Please do return, for I have clearly begun to repeat myself, and nothing could be more of a bore.
—from Eloise Bridgerton to her brother Colin, during her fifth season as a debutante,
sent (but never received)
while Colin was traveling in Denmark
Eloise spent the entire day in the garden, lounging on an exceedingly comfortable chaise that she was quite convinced had been imported from Italy, since it was her experience that neither the English nor the French had any clue as to how to fashion comfortable furniture.
Not that she normally spent a great deal of time pondering the construction of chairs and sofas, but stuck outside by herself in the Romney Hall garden, it wasn’t as if she had anything else to ponder.
No, not a thing. Not a single thing to think about other than the comfortable chaise beneath her, and maybe the fact that Sir Phillip was an ill-mannered beast for leaving her alone for the entire day after his two little monsters—whose existence, she added into her thoughts with a mental flourish, he had never seen fit to reveal in his correspondence—had given her a blackened eye.
It was a perfect day, with a blue sky and a light breeze, and Eloise didn’t have a single thing in the world to think about.
She had never been so bored in her life.
It wasn’t in her nature to sit still and watch the clouds float by. She would much rather be out doing something—taking a walk, inspecting a hedgerow, anything other than just sitting like a lump on the chaise, staring aimlessly at the horizon.
Or if she had to sit here, at least she could have done so in the company of another person. She supposed the clouds might have been more interesting if she weren’t quite so alone, if someone were here to whom she might say, Goodness, but that one looks rather like a rabbit, don’t you think?
But no, she’d been left quite on her own. Sir Phillip was off in his greenhouse—she could see it from here, even see him moving about from time to time—and while she really wanted to get up and join him, if for no other reason than the fact that his plants had to be more interesting than the blasted clouds, she wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction of seeking him out.
Not after he’d rejected her so abruptly this afternoon. Good heavens, the man had practically fled from her company. It had been the oddest thing. She’d thought they were dealing with each other rather well, and then he’d grown quite abrupt, making up some sort of excuse about how he needed to work and fleeing the room as if she were plagued.
She picked up the book she’d selected from the library and held it resolutely in front of her face. She was going to read the blasted thing this time if it killed her.
Of course, that was what she’d told herself the last four times she’d picked it up. She never managed to get past a single sentence—a paragraph if she was really disciplined—before her mind wandered and the text on the page grew unfocused and, it went without saying, unread.