“Hungry?” Colin inquired as he sat in the chair next to Phillip. “I took the liberty of having the kitchen prepare breakfast alfresco.”
Phillip looked over at the footman and wondered if he ought to offer to help. The poor man looked nearly ready to collapse under the weight of the food.
“How are you this morning?” Anthony asked as he sat down on the cushioned bench next to Eloise.
“Fine,” she replied.
“Not for you.”
Anthony turned to Phillip. “She’s usually more conversational.”
Phillip wondered if Eloise would hit him. It wouldn’t be more than he deserved.
The tray of food came down on the table with a loud clatter, followed by the footman’s abject apology for being so clumsy, followed by Anthony’s assurance that it was no trouble at all, that Hercules himself could not carry enough food to suit Colin.
The two Bridgerton brothers served themselves, then Anthony turned to Eloise and Phillip and said, “The two of you certainly seem well suited this morning.”
Eloise looked at him with open hostility. “When did you reach that conclusion?”
“It only took a moment,” he said with a shrug. He looked at Phillip. “It was the bickering, actually. All the best couples do it.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Phillip murmured.
“My wife and I often have similar conversations before she comes around to my way of thinking,” Anthony said affably.
Eloise shot him a peevish expression.
“Of course, my wife might offer a different interpretation,” he added with a shrug. “I allow her to think that I’m coming ’round to her way of thinking.” He turned back to Phillip and smiled. “It’s easier that way.”
Phillip stole a glance at Eloise. She appeared to be working very hard to hold her tongue.
“When did you arrive?” Anthony asked him.
“Just a few minutes ago,” he replied.
“Yes,” Eloise said. “He proposed marriage, I’m sure you’ll be happy to hear.”
Phillip coughed with surprise at her sudden announcement. “I beg your pardon?”
Eloise turned to Anthony. “He said, ‘We’ll have to marry.’ “
“Well, he’s right,” Anthony replied, settling a level stare directly on her face. “You do have to marry. And my compliments to him for not beating around the bush about it. I’d think you of all people would appreciate direct conversation.”
“Scone, anyone?” Colin asked. “No? More for me, then.”
Anthony turned to Phillip and said, “She’s just a bit irritated because she hates being ordered about. She’ll be fine in a few days.”
“I’m fine right now,” Eloise ground out.
“Yes,” Anthony murmured, “you look fine.”
“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” Eloise asked. Through her teeth.
“An interesting question,” her brother replied. “One might say that I ought to be in London, with my wife and children. In fact, if I did have somewhere else to be, I imagine that would be it. But strangely enough, I seem to be here. In Wiltshire. Where, when I woke in my comfortable bed in London three days ago, I would never have guessed I would be.” He smiled blandly. “Any other questions?”
She was quiet at that.
Anthony handed an envelope to Eloise. “This arrived for you.”
She looked down, and Phillip could see that she instantly recognized the handwriting.
“It’s from Mother,” Anthony said, even though it was clear she already knew that.
“Do you want to read it?” Phillip asked.
She shook her head. “Not now.”
Which meant, he realized, not in front of her brothers.
And then suddenly he knew what he had to do.
“Lord Bridgerton,” he said to Anthony, standing up, “might I request a moment alone with your sister?”
“You just had a moment alone with her,” Colin said between bites of bacon.
Phillip ignored him. “My lord?”
“Of course,” Anthony said, “if she’s agreeable.”
Phillip grabbed Eloise’s hand and yanked her to her feet. “She’s agreeable,” he said.
“Mmmm,” Colin remarked. “She looks very agreeable.”
Phillip decided then and there that all the Bridgertons ought to be fitted with muzzles. “Come with me,” he said to Eloise, before she had a chance to argue.
Which of course she would, since she was Eloise, and she would never smile politely and follow when an argument was a possibility.
“Where are we going?” she gasped, once he had pulled her away from her family and was striding across the lawn, unmindful of how she had to run to keep up.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
He stopped so quickly that she crashed into him. It was rather nice, actually. He could feel every last bit of her, from her breasts to her thighs, although she recovered all too quickly and stepped away before he could savor the moment.
“I’ve never been here before,” he said, explaining it to her as if she were a small child. “I’d have to be a bloody clairvoyant to know where I’m going.”
“Oh,” she said. “Well then, lead the way.”
He pulled her back to the house, making his way to a side door. “Where does this go?” he asked.
“Inside,” she replied.