“I seemed to have fared well by comparison, then,” Phillip said.

“Except for Colin,” Eloise told him. “He never feels the aftereffects of alcohol. And of course Anthony drank little last night.”

“Lucky man.”

“Would you care for something to drink, Sir Phillip?” Sophie asked, adjusting her bonnet so that it better shaded her eyes. “Of the benign, nonintoxicating variety, of course, given the circumstances. I would be happy to have someone bring you a glass of lemonade.”

“That would be most appreciated. Thank you.” He watched as she rose and walked up the slight incline to the house, then sat in her place across from Eloise.

“It is good to see you this morning,” he said, clearing his throat. He was never the most talkative of men, and he was clearly making no exceptions this morning, despite the rather extraordinary circumstances that had led to this moment.

“And you,” she murmured.

He shifted in his seat. It was too small for him; most chairs were. “I must apologize for my behavior last night,” he said stiffly.

She looked over at him, staring into his dark eyes for just a moment before her gaze slid down to a patch of grass beside him. He seemed sincere; he probably was. She didn’t know him well—certainly not well enough to marry, although it seemed that point was now moot—but he didn’t seem the sort to make false apologies. Still, she wasn’t quite ready to fall all over him with gratitude, so when she answered, she did so in a sparing fashion. “I have brothers,” she said. “I am used to it.”

“Perhaps, but I am not. I assure you I do not make a habit of overimbibing.”

She nodded, accepting his apology.


“I have been thinking,” he said.

“As have I.”

He cleared his throat, then tugged at his cravat, as if it had suddenly grown too tight. “We will, of course, have to marry.”

It was nothing more than she knew, but there was something awful in the way he said it. Maybe it was the lack of emotion in his voice, as if she were a problem he had to solve. Or maybe it was the way he said it so matter-of-factly, as if she had no choice (which, in truth, she did not, but she didn’t care to be reminded of that).

Whatever it was, it made her feel strange, and itchy, as if she needed to jump out of her skin.

She had spent her adult life making her own choices, had considered herself the luckiest of females because her family had allowed her to do so. Maybe that was why it now felt so unbearable to be forced onto a path before she was ready.

Or maybe it was unbearable because she was the one who had set this entire farce into motion. She was furious with herself, and it was making her snippy with everyone.

“I’ll do my best to make you happy,” he said gruffly. “And the children need a mother.”

She smiled weakly. She’d wanted her marriage to be about more than just children.

“I’m sure you’ll be a great help,” he said.

“A great help,” she echoed, hating the way it sounded.

“Wouldn’t you agree?”

She nodded, mostly because she was afraid that if she opened her mouth, she might scream.

“Good,” he said. “Then it’s all settled.”

It’s all settled. For the rest of her life, that would be her grand proposal of marriage. It’s all settled. And the worst part of it was—she had no right to complain. She was the one who’d run off without giving Phillip enough time to arrange for a chaperone. She was the one who’d been so eager to make her own destiny. She was the one who’d acted without thinking, and now all she had to show for it was—

It’s all settled.

She swallowed. “Wonderful.”

He looked at her, blinking in confusion. “Aren’t you happy?”

“Of course,” she said hollowly.

“You don’t sound happy.”

“I’m happy,” she snapped.

Phillip muttered something under his breath.

“What did you say?” she asked.


“You said something.”

He gave her an impatient look. “If I’d meant for you to hear it, I would have said it out loud.”

She sucked in her breath. “Then you shouldn’t have said it at all.”

“Some things,” Phillip muttered, “are impossible to keep inside.”

“What did you say?” she demanded.

Phillip raked his hand through his hair. “Eloise—”

“Did you insult me?”

“Do you really want to know?”

“Since it appears we are to be wed,” she bit off, “yes.”

“I don’t recall my exact words,” Phillip shot back, “but I believe I may have uttered the words women and lack of sense in the same breath.”

He shouldn’t have said it. He knew he shouldn’t have said it; it would have been rude under any circumstances, and it was especially wrong right now. But she had pushed and pushed and pushed and wouldn’t back down. It was like she’d sliced a needle under his skin, and then decided to jab just for the fun of it.

And besides, why was she in such a terrible mood, anyway? All he’d done was state the facts. They would have to marry, and frankly, she should have been glad that if she’d been compromised, at least it had been with a man who was willing to do the right thing and wed her.

He didn’t expect gratitude. Hell, this was as much his fault as it was hers; he was the one who’d issued the initial invitation, after all. But was it too much to expect a smile and a pleasant mood?

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