“We’ll have to marry,” he said.
“They really will break my legs if I don’t.”
“That’s not all they would do,” she grumbled, “but even so, a lady might like to think she’s been chosen for a reason other than osteopathic health.”
He blinked at her in surprise.
“I’m not stupid,” she muttered. “I’ve studied Latin.”
“Right,” he said slowly, in that way men do when they are trying to cover up the fact that they’re not sure what to say.
“Or at least,” she tried desperately, searching for something that might be even loosely interpreted as a compliment, “if not a reason other, then perhaps a reason in addition.”
“Right,” he said, nodding, but still not saying anything more.
Her eyes narrowed. “How much wine have you drunk?”
“Only three.” He stopped, considered that. “Maybe four.”
“Glasses or bottles?”
He didn’t seem to know the answer to that.
Eloise looked over at the table. There were four bottles of wine littered among the remains of supper. Three were empty.
“I wasn’t gone that long,” she said.
He shrugged. “It was either drink with them or let them break my legs. It seemed a fairly straightforward decision.”
“Anthony!” she called out. She’d had enough of Phillip. She’d had enough of them all, of everything, of men, of marriage, of broken legs and empty wine bottles. But most of all, she’d had enough of herself, of feeling so out of control, so helpless against the tides of her life.
“I want to go,” she said.
Anthony nodded and grunted, still chewing the solitary piece of chicken that Colin had missed.
And he must have heard the crack in her voice, the hollow note that choked on the syllables, because he stood immediately and said, “Of course.”
Eloise had never been so glad to see the inside of a carriage in all her life.
. . . cannot abide a man who drinks to excess. Which is why I’m sure you will understand why I could not accept Lord Wescott’s offer.
—from Eloise Bridgerton to her brother Benedict,
upon refusing her second proposal of marriage
“No!” gushed Sophie Bridgerton, Benedict’s petite and almost ethereal-looking wife. “They didn’t!”
“They did,” Eloise said grimly, as she sat back in her lawn chair and sipped a cup of lemonade. “And then they all got drunk!”
“Fiends,” Sophie muttered, leading Eloise to realize that what she’d really been sick of the night before was that horribly chummish and collegial manner of men. Clearly, all she’d needed was one sensible female with whom she might disparage the lot of them.
Sophie scowled. “Don’t tell me they were talking about that poor Lucy woman again.”
Eloise gasped. “You know about her?”
“Everyone knows about her. Heaven knows, one can’t miss her if you pass in the street.”
Eloise stopped, thought, tried to imagine. She couldn’t.
“Truth be told,” Sophie said, whispering under her breath even though there wasn’t a soul nearby who might hear, “I feel sorry for the woman. All that unwanted attention, and, well, it can’t be good for her back.”
Eloise tried to stifle her laugh, but a little snort made it through.
“Posy once even asked her about it!”
Eloise’s mouth fell open. Posy was Sophie’s stepsister, who had lived for several years with the Bridgertons before marrying the rather jolly vicar who lived just five miles from Benedict and Sophie. She was also, quite honestly, the friendliest person of Eloise’s acquaintance, and if anyone was going to befriend a married serving wench with large bosoms, it would have been her.
“She’s in Hugh’s parish,” Sophie explained, referring to Posy’s husband. “So of course they would have met.”
“What did she say?” Eloise asked.
“Oh. I don’t know.” Sophie pulled a face. “Posy wouldn’t tell me. Can you believe that? I don’t think Posy has kept a secret from me in all her life. She said she couldn’t betray the confidence of a parishioner.”
Eloise thought that rather noble of Posy.
“It doesn’t concern me, of course,” Sophie said, with all the confidence of a woman who knows she is loved. “Benedict would never stray.”
“Of course not,” Eloise said quickly. Benedict and Sophie’s love story was legendary in their family. It had been one of the reasons Eloise had refused so many proposals of marriage. She’d wanted that kind of love and passion and drama. She’d wanted more than, “I have three homes, sixteen horses, and forty-two hounds,” which is what one of her suitors had informed her when he asked for her hand.
“But,” Sophie continued, “I don’t think it’s so much to ask that he manage to keep his mouth closed when she walks by.”
Eloise was about to offer her firm and vehement agreement when she saw Sir Phillip walking across the lawn in her direction.
“Is that him?” Sophie asked, smiling.
“He’s very handsome.”
“Yes, I suppose,” Eloise said slowly.
“You suppose?” Sophie snorted with impatience. “Don’t play coy with me, Eloise Bridgerton. I was once your lady’s maid, and I know you better than anyone ought.”