Gregory let out an annoyed sigh. “It’s a wonder I haven’t starved,” he grumbled, “younger brother that I am.”
Colin shrugged. “You’ve got to be quick if you want to eat.”
Anthony looked at the two of them with disgust. “Did the two of you grow up in an orphanage?” he asked.
Phillip bit his lip to contain his smile.
“Are we going to shoot?” Eloise demanded.
“You certainly are,” Gregory said, slumping against a tree. “I’m leaving to eat.”
He stayed, though, watching his sister with a bored expression as she lifted her arm and, without even appearing to aim, fired.
Phillip blinked in surprise as the footman brought forth the target.
“Where did you learn to do that?” he asked, trying not to gape.
She shrugged. “I couldn’t tell you. I’ve always been able to do it.”
“Freak of nature,” Colin muttered. “Clearly.”
“I think it’s splendid,” Phillip said.
Eloise looked at him with glowing eyes. “Do you really?”
“Of course. Should I ever need to defend my home, I shall know who to send out to the front line.”
She beamed. “Where’s the next target?”
Gregory threw his arms up in disgust. “I forfeit. I’m getting something to eat.”
“Get something for me, too,” Colin called out.
“Of course,” Gregory muttered.
Eloise turned to Anthony. “Is it your turn now?”
He took the gun from her hands and set it on the table to be reloaded. “As if it matters.”
“We have to do all five rounds,” she said officiously. “You were the one who made the rules.”
“I know,” he said glumly. He lifted his arm and fired off a shot, but his heart clearly was not into it, and he was off by five inches.
“You’re not even trying!” Eloise accused.
Anthony just turned to Benedict and said, “I hate shooting with her.”
“Your turn,” Eloise said to Benedict.
He took his turn, as did Colin, both men putting in a bit more effort than Anthony had, but still coming up off the mark.
Phillip stepped up to the chalk line, pausing only to listen as Eloise said, “Don’t you decide to give up.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he murmured.
“Good. It’s no fun to play with bad sports.” She directed the last two words quite vehemently toward her brothers.
“That’s the point,” Benedict said.
“They do this every time,” Eloise said to Phillip. “They shoot badly until I decide the match isn’t worth it, and then they all have fun.”
“Be quiet,” Phillip told her, lips twitching. “I’m aiming.”
“Oh.” She shut her mouth with alacrity, watching with interest as he focused on the target.
Phillip took his shot, allowing himself a slow, satisfied smile as the target was brought forward.
“Perfect!” Eloise exclaimed, clapping her hands together. “Oh, Phillip, that was wonderful!”
Anthony muttered something under his breath that he probably ought not to have said in his sister’s presence, then added, directing his words to Phillip, “You are going to marry her, aren’t you? Because frankly, if you get her off of our hands and allow her to shoot with you so that she doesn’t pester us, I’ll gladly double her dowry.”
Phillip was quite certain at that point that he’d wed her for nothing, but he just grinned and said, “It’s a deal.”
. . . and as I’m sure you can imagine, they were all possessed of a most foul temper. Is it my fault I am so superior? I think not. No more, I suppose, than it is their fault they were born men and thus without the barest hint of common sense or innate good manners.
—from Eloise Bridgerton
to Penelope Featherington,
after trouncing six men (three not
related to her) in a shooting match
The following day Eloise traveled to Romney Hall for lunch, along with Anthony, Benedict, and Sophie. Colin and Gregory had declared that the rest of the family had the situation well enough in hand and decided to return to London, Colin back to his new wife, and Gregory back to whatever it was the young unmarried men of the ton did to fill their daily lives.
Eloise was happy to see them go; she loved her brothers, but truly, the four of them at once was more than any woman ought to be expected to bear.
She was feeling optimistic as she stepped down from the carriage; the previous day had gone far better than she could ever have hoped. Even if Phillip hadn’t taken her into Sophie’s office to prove to her that they “would suit” (Eloise could now think of those words only as if they were in quotations), the day would have been a success. Phillip had more than held his own against the collective force of the Bridgerton brothers, which had left her feeling quite pleased and more than a little proud.
Funny how it hadn’t occurred to her until then that she could never marry a man who couldn’t square off with each and any of her brothers and emerge unscathed.
And in Phillip’s case, he’d taken on all four at once. Most impressive.
Eloise still had reservations about the marriage, of course. How could she not? She and Phillip had developed a sense of mutual respect and hopefully even affection, but they were not in love, and Eloise had no way of knowing if they ever would be.
Still, she was convinced that she was doing the right thing by marrying him. She had little choice in the matter, of course; it was either marry Phillip or face complete ruin and a life alone. But even so, she thought he would make a fine husband. He was honest and honorable, and if he was at times too quiet, at least he seemed to have a sense of humor, which Eloise felt was essential for any prospective spouse.