“I’m glad we had this conversation,” Eloise said quite suddenly. “This has been good.”

He looked up, instantly suspicious. “I beg your pardon.”

“Very beneficial,” she said. “One should always understand one’s spouse before one marries, and—”

He groaned. This was not going to end well.

“And,” she added sharply, glaring at his groan, “it is certainly provident that I now know how you feel about my gender.”

He was the sort who usually walked away from conflict, but really, this was too much. “If I recall correctly,” he shot back, “I never did tell you exactly what I thought of women.”

“I inferred it,” she retorted. “The phrase ‘lack of sense’ pointed me in the correct direction.”

“Did it?” he drawled. “Well, I’m thinking differently now.”

Her eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that I’ve changed my mind. I’ve decided I don’t have difficulties with women in general, after all. It’s you I find insufferable.”

She drew back, clearly affronted.


“Has no one called you insufferable before?” He found that difficult to believe.

“No one who wasn’t related to me,” she grumbled.

“You must live in a very polite society.” He squirmed in his seat again; really, did no one make chairs for large men anymore? “Either that,” he muttered, “or you’ve simply terrified everyone into bending to your every whim.”

She flushed, and he couldn’t tell if it was because she was embarrassed by his spot-on assessment of her personality or just because she was angry beyond words.

Probably both.

“I’m sorry,” she muttered.

He turned to her in surprise. “I beg your pardon?” He couldn’t have heard correctly.

“I said I’m sorry,” she repeated, making it clear that she was not going to say the words a third time, so he’d better be listening well.

“Oh,” he said, too stunned to say much of anything else. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Her tone was less than gracious, but she seemed to be trying hard, nonetheless.

For a moment he said nothing. Then he had to ask. “What for?”

She looked up, obviously irritated that that hadn’t been the end of it. “Did you have to ask?” she grumbled.

“Well, yes.”

“I am sorry,” she ground out, “because I am in a horrid mood and have been behaving badly. And if you ask how I have been behaving badly, I swear I will get up and walk away and you will never see me again, because I assure you, this apology is difficult enough without my having to explain it further.”

Phillip decided he couldn’t possibly hope for more. “Thank you,” he said softly. He held his tongue for a minute, quite possibly the longest minute of his life, then he decided he might as well just go ahead and say it.

“If it makes you feel any better,” he told her, “I had decided we would suit before your brothers arrived. I was already planning to ask you to be my wife. Properly, with a ring and whatever else it is I’m supposed to do. I don’t know. It’s been a long while since I’ve proposed marriage to anyone, and last time wasn’t under normal circumstances in any case.”

She looked up at him, surprise in her eyes . . . and perhaps a little bit of gratitude as well.

“I’m sorry that your brothers came along and made it all happen faster than you are ready for,” he added, “but I’m not sorry that it’s happening.”

“You’re not?” she whispered. “Really?”

“I’ll give you as long as you need,” he said, “within reason, of course. But I cannot—” He glanced up the hill; Anthony and Colin were ambling down toward them, followed by a footman carrying a tray of food. “I cannot speak for your brothers. I daresay they won’t care to wait as long you might prefer. And quite frankly, if you were my sister, I’d have marched you to a church last night.”

She looked up the hill at her brothers; they were still at least a half a minute away. She opened her mouth, then closed it in obvious thought. Finally, after several seconds, during which he could practically see the wheels of her mind churning and turning, she blurted out, “Why did you decide we would suit?”

“I beg your pardon?” It was a stalling tactic, of course. He hadn’t expected such a direct question.

Although heaven knew why not. This was Eloise, after all.

“Why did you decide we would suit?” she repeated, her voice pointed and undeniable.

But of course that would be how she would ask it. There was nothing subtle or deniable about Eloise Bridgerton. She would never skirt around an issue when she could just walk right in and stick her nose directly into the heart of the matter.

“I . . . ah . . .” He coughed, cleared his throat.

“You don’t know,” she stated, sounding disappointed.

“Of course I know,” he protested. No man liked to be told he didn’t know his own mind.

“No, you don’t. If you did, you wouldn’t be sitting there choking on air.”

“Good God, woman, do you have a charitable bone in your body? A man needs time to formulate an answer.”

“Ah,” came Colin Bridgerton’s ever-genial voice. “Here’s the happy couple.”

Phillip had never been so glad to see another human being in all his life. “Good morning,” he said to the two Bridgerton men, inordinately pleased to have escaped Eloise’s interrogation.

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