And when he kissed her . . .

Well, it was quite obvious that he knew exactly how to turn her knees to butter.

And the rest of her as well.

Eloise was, of course, a pragmatic. She always had been, and she knew that passion was not enough to sustain a marriage.

But, she thought with a wicked smile, surely it couldn’t hurt.

Phillip checked the clock on the mantel for about the fifteenth time in as many minutes. The Bridgertons were due to arrive at half noon, and it was already thirty-five past the hour. Not that five minutes was anything to worry about when one had to travel over country roads, but still, it was deuced hard to keep Oliver and Amanda neat and tidy and, above all, well behaved as they waited with him in the drawing room.

“I hate this jacket,” Oliver said, tugging on his little coat.

“It’s too small,” Amanda told him.

“I know,” he replied, with clear disdain. “If it weren’t too small, I wouldn’t have complained.”

Phillip rather thought he’d have found something else to complain about, but there seemed little reason to express this opinion.

“And anyway,” Oliver continued, “your dress is too small, too. I can see your ankles.”


“You’re supposed to be able to see my ankles,” Amanda said, frowning down at her lower legs.

“Not so much of them.”

She looked down again, this time with an expression of alarm.

“You’re only eight years old,” Phillip said in a weary voice. “The dress is perfectly suitable.” Or at least he hoped it was, little that he knew of such things.

Eloise, he thought, her name echoing through his head like the answer to his prayers. Eloise would know these things. She would know if a child’s dress was too short and when a girl should start wearing her hair up and even whether a boy should attend Eton or Harrow.

Eloise would know all these things.

Thank God.

“I think they’re late,” Oliver announced.

“They’re not late,” Phillip said automatically.

“I think they are late,” Oliver said. “I can read the clock now, you know.”

Phillip didn’t know, which depressed him. It was rather like the swimming thing. Too much like it, really.

Eloise, he reminded himself. Whatever his failings as a father, he was making up for all of that by marrying the perfect mother for them. He was, for the first time since their birth, doing the exact right thing for his children, and the sense of relief was almost overwhelming.

Eloise. She couldn’t get here soon enough.

Hell, he couldn’t marry her soon enough. How did one procure a special license, anyway? It hadn’t been the sort of thing he’d ever thought he’d need to know, but the last thing he wanted to do was wait several weeks to have banns read.

Weren’t weddings meant to be held on Saturday mornings? Could they manage it by this Saturday? It was only two days away, but if they could get that special license . . .

Phillip caught Oliver by the collar as he tried to race out the door. “No,” he said firmly. “You will wait here for Miss Bridgerton. And you will do so quietly, without incident, and with a smile on your face.”

Oliver made at least some attempt to settle down at the mention of Eloise’s name, but his “smile” (performed obediently at his father’s order) was a ghastly stretch of the lips that left Phillip feeling like he’d just had an audience with an anemic gorgon.

“That wasn’t a smile,” Amanda immediately said.

“It was, too.”

“No. Your lips didn’t even curve up. . . .”

Phillip sighed as he attempted to block his ears from the inside out. He’d talk to Anthony Bridgerton about the special license this afternoon. It seemed like the sort of thing the viscount would know about.

Saturday couldn’t come soon enough. He could turn the twins over to Eloise during the day, and . . .

He smiled to himself. She could turn herself over to him at night.

“Why are you smiling?” Amanda demanded.

“I’m not smiling,” Phillip said, feeling himself begin to—dear God—blush.

“You are smiling,” she accused. “And now your cheeks are turning pink.”

“Don’t be silly,” he muttered.

“I’m not silly,” she insisted. “Oliver, look at Father. Don’t his cheeks look pink?”

“One more word about my cheeks,” Phillip threatened, “and I’m going to . . .”

Hell, he’d been about to say horsewhip, but they all knew he would never do that.

“. . . do something,” he finished, in a lame attempt at a threat.

Amazingly, it worked, and they held still and silent for a moment. Then Amanda swung her legs from her perch on the sofa and knocked over a footstool.

Phillip looked at the clock.

“Oops,” she said, jumping down and then bending over to right it. “Oliver!” she howled.

Phillip tore his eyes away from the minute hand, which was, inexplicably, not even to the eight. Amanda was sprawled on the floor, glaring at her brother.

“He pushed me,” Amanda said.

“Did not.”

“Did too.”


“Oliver,” Phillip cut in. “Someone pushed her, and I’m fairly certain it was not I.”

Oliver chewed on his lower lip, having forgotten to consider the fact that his culpability would be quite obvious. “Maybe she fell over on her own,” he suggested.

Phillip just stared at him, hoping that the ferocious expression would be enough to nip that idea in the bud.

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