“I left a note,” she interrupted.

“Yes, of course, the note.”

Her mouth fell open. “Don’t you believe me?”

He nodded. “I do, actually. You’re much too organized and officious to leave without making sure all of your loose ends were tied up.”

“It’s not my fault it got shuffled into Mother’s invitations,” she muttered.

“The note is not the issue,” he stated, crossing his arms.

Crossing his arms? She clenched her teeth together. It made her feel a child, and there was nothing she could do or say about it, because she had a feeling that whatever he was about to say concerning her recent behavior, he was right.

Much as it pained her to admit it.

“The fact of the matter,” he continued, “is that you fled London like a criminal in the middle of the night. It simply occurred to me that something might have happened to . . . ah . . . stain your reputation.” At her peevish expression, he added, “It’s not an unreasonable conclusion to reach.”

He was right, of course. Not about her reputation—that was still as pure and clean as snow. But it did look odd, and frankly, it was a wonder he hadn’t inquired after it already.

“If you had a lover,” he said quietly, “it won’t change my intentions.”


“It’s not that at all,” she said quickly, mostly just to make him stop talking about it. “It was . . .” Her voice trailed off, and she sighed. “It was . . .”

And then she told him everything. All about the marriage proposals she’d received, and the ones Penelope hadn’t, and the plans they’d jokingly made to grow old and spinsterish together. And she told him how guilty she’d felt when Penelope and Colin had married, and she couldn’t stop thinking about herself and how alone she was.

She told him all that and more. She told him what was in her mind and what was in her heart, and she told him things she’d never told another soul. And it occurred to her that for a woman who opened her mouth every other second, there was an awful lot inside of her that she’d never shared.

And then, when she was done (and, in truth, she didn’t even realize she’d finished; she just kind of ran out of energy and dwindled off into silence), he reached out and took her hand.

“It’s all right,” he said.

And it was, she realized. It actually was.

Chapter 14

. . . I grant that Mr. Wilson’s face does have a certain amphibious quality, but I do wish you would learn to be a bit more circumspect in your speech. While I would never consider him an acceptable candidate for marriage, he is certainly not a toad, and it ill-behooved me to have my younger sister call him thus, and in his presence.

—from Eloise Bridgerton to her sister Hyacinth,
upon refusing her fourth offer of marriage

Four days later, they were married. Phillip had no idea how Anthony Bridgerton had managed it, but he’d procured a special license, allowing them to be wed without banns and on a Monday, which, Eloise assured him, was no worse than Tuesday or Wednesday, just that it wasn’t Saturday, as was proper.

Eloise’s entire family, minus her widowed sister in Scotland, who hadn’t had time to make the journey, had trooped out to the country for the wedding. Normally, the ceremony would have taken place in Kent, at the Bridgerton family seat, or at the very least in London, where the family attended church regularly at St. George’s in Hanover Square, but such arrangements were not possible on such a hastened schedule, and this wasn’t an ordinary sort of wedding in any case. Benedict and Sophie had offered their home for the reception, but Eloise had felt that the twins would be more comfortable at Romney Hall, so they’d held the ceremony at the parish church down the lane, followed by a small, intimate reception on the lawn outside Phillip’s greenhouse.

Later in the day, just as the sun was beginning to dip in the sky, Eloise found herself in her new bedchamber with her mother, who was busying herself by pretending to tuck away items in Eloise’s hastily gathered trousseau. It all, of course, had been taken care of by Eloise’s lady’s maid (brought up from London with the family) earlier that morning, but Eloise didn’t comment upon her mother’s idle busywork. It seemed like Violet Bridgerton simply needed something to do while she talked.

Eloise, of all people, understood that need perfectly.

“I should complain that I’m being denied my proper moment of glory as the mother of the bride,” Violet said to her daughter as she folded her lacy veil and placed it gently on top of a bureau, “but in truth I’m just happy to see you a bride.”

Eloise smiled gently at her mother. “You’d quite despaired of it, hadn’t you?”

“Quite.” But then she cocked her head to the side and added, “Actually, no. I always thought you might surprise us in the end. You frequently do.”

Eloise thought of all those years since her debut, all those rejected marriage proposals. All those weddings they’d attended, with Violet watching another of her friends marrying off another of their daughters to another fabulously eligible gentleman.

Another gentleman, of course, who could now no longer marry Eloise, Lady Bridgerton’s famously on-the-shelf spinster daughter.

“I’m sorry if I’ve disappointed you,” Eloise whispered.

Violet gazed at her with a wise expression. “My children never disappoint me,” she said softly. “They merely . . . astonish me. I believe I like it that way.”

Eloise found herself lurching forward to hug her mother. She felt awkward doing so; she didn’t know why, since hers was a family that had never discouraged such displays of affection in the privacy of their own home. Maybe it was because she was so perilously close to tears; maybe it was because she sensed her mother was the same. But she felt an awkward girl again, all gangly arms and legs and bony elbows and a mouth that always opened when it should be closed.

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