But Phillip understood. He had children, too.

“Very well,” Benedict said. “Let’s go.”

And as Phillip hurried out of the house, all he could do was pray that Benedict Bridgerton’s trust in him had not been misplaced.

In the end it was difficult to say whether it was the willow bark or Eloise’s whispered prayers or just dumb luck, but by the following morning Charles’s fever had broken, and although the boy was still weak and listless, he was indubitably on the mend. By noontime, it was clear that Eloise and Phillip were no longer needed and in fact were getting in the way, and so they climbed into their carriage and headed home, both eager to collapse into their large, sturdy bed and, for once, do nothing but sleep.

The first ten minutes of the ride home were spent in silence. Eloise, astonishingly, found herself too tired to speak. But even in her exhaustion, she was too restless, too tightly wound from the stress and worry of the previous night to sleep. And so she contented herself with staring out the window at the dampened countryside. It had stopped raining right about the time Charles’s fever broke, suggesting a divine intervention that might have pointed to Eloise’s prayers as the young boy’s savior, but as Eloise stole a glance at her husband, sitting beside her in the carriage with his eyes closed (although not, she was quite certain, asleep), she knew it was the willow bark.

She didn’t know how she knew, and she was quite cognizant of the fact that she could never prove it, but her nephew’s life had been saved by a cup of tea.

And to think how unlikely it was that Phillip had even been at her brother’s house that evening. It had been quite a singular chain of events. If she hadn’t gone in to see the twins, if she hadn’t gone to tell Phillip that she didn’t like their nurse, if they hadn’t quarreled . . .

Put that way, little Charles Bridgerton was quite the luckiest little boy in Britain.

“Thank you,” she said, not realizing that she’d intended to speak until the words left her lips.

“For what?” Phillip murmured sleepily, without opening his eyes.

“Charles,” she said simply.


Phillip did open his eyes at that, and he turned to her. “It might not have been my doing. We’ll never know if it was the willow bark.”

“I know,” she said firmly.

His lips curved into the barest of smiles. “You always do.”

And she thought to herself— Was this what she’d been waiting for her entire life? Not the passion, not the gasps of pleasure she felt when he joined her in bed, but this.

This sense of comfort, of easy companionship, of sitting next to someone in a carriage and knowing with every fiber of your being that it was where you belonged.

She placed her hand on his. “It was so awful,” she said, surprised that she had tears in her eyes. “I don’t think I have ever been so scared in my life. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Benedict and Sophie.”

“Nor I,” Phillip said softly.

“If it had been one of our children . . .” she said, and she realized it was the first time she’d said that. Our children.

Phillip was silent for a long time. When he spoke, he was looking out the window. “The entire time I was watching Charles,” he said, his voice suspiciously hoarse, “all I kept thinking was, thank God it’s not Oliver or Amanda.” And then he turned back to her, his face pinched with guilt. “But it shouldn’t be anyone’s child.”

Eloise squeezed his hand. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with such feelings. You’re not a saint, you know. You’re just a father. A very good one, I think.”

He looked at her with an odd expression, and then he shook his head. “No,” he said gravely, “I’m not. But I hope to be.”

She cocked her head. “Phillip?”

“You were right,” he said, his mouth tightening into a grim line. “About their nurse. I didn’t want anything to be wrong, and so I paid no attention, but you were right. She was beating them.”


“With a book,” he continued, his voice almost dispassionate, as if he’d already used up all of his emotions. “I walked in and she was beating Amanda with a book. She had already finished with Oliver.”

“Oh, no,” Eloise said, as tears—of sorrow and anger—filled her eyes. “I never dreamed. I didn’t like her, of course. And she’d rapped them on the knuckles, but . . . I’ve been rapped on the knuckles. Everyone has been rapped on the knuckles.” She slumped in her seat, guilt weighing her shoulders down. “I should have realized. I should have seen.”

Phillip snorted. “You’ve barely been in residence a fortnight. I’ve been living with that bloody woman for months. If I didn’t see, why should you have done?”

Eloise had nothing to say to this, nothing at least that would not make her already guilt-ridden husband feel worse. “I assume you dismissed her,” she finally said.

He nodded. “I told the children you would help to find a replacement.”

“Of course,” she said quickly.

“And I—” He stopped, cleared his throat, and looked out the window before continuing. “I—”

“What is it, Phillip?” she asked softly.

He didn’t turn back to her when he said, “I’m going to be a better father. I’ve pushed them away for too long. I was so afraid of becoming my father, of being like him, that I—”

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