“But not blind,” Colin said with a grin.

“You’re married, too!” she accused.

“But not blind,” he said again.

“Eloise,” Gregory said with what was quite possibly the most annoying use of condescension she’d ever had cause to hear, “there are some things that are impossible not to see. Especially,” he added, “when you’re a man.”

“It’s true,” admitted Anthony. “I saw it myself.”

Eloise gasped as she looked from brother to brother, looking for some sane spot in this cesspool of madness. Her eyes fell on Phillip, who, by the looks of him, not to mention his slightly inebriated state, had formed a lifelong bond with her brothers during the short time she’d been closeted away with Anthony.

“Sir Phillip?” she asked, waiting for him to say something acceptable.

But he just offered her a loopy grin. “I know who they’re talking about,” he said. “Been to that inn any number of times. Lucy’s quite famous in these parts.”

“Even I’ve heard of her,” Benedict said, with a knowing nod. “I’m only an hour away on horseback. Less, if you push hard.”

Gregory leaned toward Phillip, his blue eyes gleaming with interest as he asked, “So, did you? Ever?”

“Gregory!” Eloise practically yelled. This was really too much. Her brothers should never have been talking about such things in front of her, but even more, the last thing she wanted to know was whether Sir Phillip had tupped a tavern wench with bosoms the size of soup tureens.


But Phillip just shook his head. “She’s married,” he said. “As was I.”

Anthony turned to Eloise and whispered in her ear, “He’ll do.”

“I’m glad you have such high standards for your beloved sister,” she muttered.

“I told you,” Anthony remarked, “I’ve seen Lucy. This is a man with restraint.”

She planted her hands on her hips and looked her older brother squarely in the eye. “Were you tempted?”

“Of course not! Kate would slit my throat.”

“I’m not talking about what Kate would do to you if you strayed, although I’m of the opinion that she would not start at your throat—”

Anthony winced. He knew it was true.

“—I want to know if you were tempted.”

“No,” he admitted, shaking his head. “But don’t tell anyone. I used to be considered something of a rake, after all. Wouldn’t want people to think I was completely tamed.”

“You’re appalling.”

He grinned. “And yet, my wife still loves me to distraction, which is all that really matters, isn’t it?”

Eloise supposed he was right. She sighed. “What are we going to do about them?” She motioned to the quartet of men sitting around the dining room table, which was littered with empty dishes. Phillip, Benedict, and Gregory were sitting back and relaxing, looking quite sated. Colin was still eating.

Anthony shrugged. “I don’t know what you want to do, but I’m going to join them.”

Eloise just stood in the doorway, watching as he sat down and poured himself a glass of wine. The conversation had thankfully moved on from Lucy and her tremendous bosoms, and now they were talking about boxing. Or at least that’s what she assumed they were talking about. Phillip was demonstrating some sort of hand maneuver to Gregory.

Then he punched him in the face.

“So sorry,” Phillip said, patting Gregory on the back. But Eloise noticed that the right corner of his mouth was curving ever so slightly into a smile. “Won’t hurt for long, I’m sure. My chin’s feeling better already.”

Gregory grunted something that was clearly meant to mean that it didn’t hurt, but he rubbed his chin nonetheless.

“Sir Phillip?” Eloise said loudly. “Might I have a word?”

“Of course,” he said, standing up immediately, although in all truth, all of the men should have been standing, since she’d never vacated her position in the doorway.

Phillip walked to her side. “Is something amiss?”

“I was worried they were going to kill you,” she hissed.

“Oh.” He smiled, that lopsided, three-glasses-of-wine sort of smile. “They didn’t.”

“I see that,” she ground out. “What happened?”

He looked back over at the table. Anthony was eating the meager scraps that Colin had left behind (almost certainly only because he hadn’t realized they were there), and Benedict was tipping back in his chair, trying to balance it on two legs. Gregory was humming to himself, his eyes closed as he smiled beatifically, presumably thinking of Lucy, or, more likely, certain large and squishy parts of Lucy.

Phillip turned back to her and shrugged.

“When,” Eloise said with exaggerated patience, “did you all become the best of friends?”

“Oh,” he said, nodding. “Funny thing, actually. I asked them to break my legs.”

Eloise just stared at him. As long as she lived, she’d never understand men. She had four brothers, and quite frankly should have understood them better than most women, and maybe it had taken all of her twenty-eight years to come to this realization, but men were, quite simply, freaks.

Phillip shrugged again. “It seemed to break the ice.”


She stared at him, and he stared at her, and all the while she could see Anthony staring at them both, and then suddenly Phillip seemed to sober.

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