The irony was well aimed, indeed. He’d told himself, over and over, that he’d married her to be a mother to his children, but just now, when she’d declared that she would never leave their marriage, that her commitment to the twins was too strong—

He’d felt jealous.

He’d actually felt jealous of his own children. He’d wanted her to mention the word wife, and all he’d heard was mother.

He wanted her to want him. Him. Not just because she’d made a vow in a church, but because she was quite convinced she could not live without him. Maybe even because she loved him.

Loved him.

Dear God, when had this happened? When had he come to want so much from marriage? He’d married her to mother his children; they both knew that.

And then there was the passion. He was a man, for God’s sake, and he’d not lain with a woman for eight years. How could he not be drunk on the feel of Eloise’s skin next to his, on the sound of her whimpers and moans when she exploded around him?

On the pure force of his own pleasure every time he entered her?

He’d found everything he’d ever wanted in a marriage. Eloise ran his life to perfection by day and warmed his bed with the skill of a courtesan by night. She fulfilled his every desire so well that he hadn’t noticed that she’d done something more.

She’d found his heart. She’d touched it, changed it. Changed him.

He loved her. He hadn’t been looking for love, hadn’t even given a thought to it, but there it was, and it was the most precious thing imaginable.


He was at the dawn of a new day, the first page of a new chapter of his life. It was thrilling. And terrifying. Because he did not want to fail. Not now, not when he’d finally found everything he needed. Eloise. His children. Himself.

It had been years since he’d felt comfortable in his own skin, since he’d trusted his instincts. Since he’d looked in the mirror without avoiding his own gaze.

He glanced out the window. The carriage was slowing down, pulling up alongside Romney Hall. Everything looked gray—the skies, the stone of the house, the windows, which reflected the clouds. Even the grass seemed a little less green without the sun to brighten its hue.

It suited his contemplative mood perfectly.

A footman appeared to help Eloise down, and once Phillip had hopped down beside her, she turned to him and said, “I’m exhausted, and you look the same. Shall we go take a nap?”

He was just about to agree, since he was exhausted, but then, just before the words could leave his lips, he shook his head and said, “You go along without me.”

She opened her mouth to question him, but he silenced her with a gentle squeeze on her shoulder. “I’ll be up shortly,” he said. “But right now, I think I want to hug my children.”

Chapter 18

. . . I do not tell you often enough, dear Mother, how very grateful I am that I am yours. It is a rare parent who would offer a child such latitude and understanding. It is an even rarer one who calls a daughter friend. I do love you, dear Mama.

—from Eloise Bridgerton to her mother,
upon refusing her sixth offer of marriage

When Eloise awoke from her nap, she was surprised to see that the sheets on the other side of the bed were neat and unrumpled. Phillip had been just as tired as she had been, probably more so, since he had ridden all the way to Benedict’s house the night before, in the wind and rain, no less.

After she’d tidied herself, she set about to locate him, but he was nowhere to be found. She told herself not to worry, that they’d had a difficult few days, that he probably just needed some time to himself, to think.

Just because she tended not to prefer solitude didn’t mean everyone else agreed with her.

She laughed humorlessly to herself. That was a lesson she’d been trying—unsuccessfully—to learn her entire life.

And so she forced herself to stop looking for him. She was married now, and suddenly she understood what it was her mother had been trying so hard to tell her on her wedding night. Marriage was about compromise, and she and Phillip were very different people. They might be perfect for one another, but that didn’t mean they were the same. And if she wanted him to change some of his ways for her, well then, she was going to have to do the same for him.

She didn’t see him for the rest of the day, not when she took tea in the afternoon, not when she bade the twins good night, and not at supper, which she was forced to take by herself, feeling very small and very alone at the large mahogany table. She dined in silence, ever aware of the watchful eyes of the footmen, both of whom smiled at her sympathetically as they brought forth her food.

Eloise smiled back, because she did believe in being polite in all things, but inside she was sighing with resignation. It was a sad state of affairs when the footmen (men, for goodness’ sakes, who were normally oblivious to another’s distress) felt sorry for you.

But then again, here she was, only one week into her marriage and dining alone. Who wouldn’t have pitied her?

Besides, the last the servants knew, Sir Phillip had raged out the door to fetch his wife, who had presumably fled to her brother’s house after a horrible row.

Put that way, Eloise thought with a sigh, it wasn’t quite so surprising that Phillip might have thought she’d left him.

She ate sparingly, not wanting to prolong the meal any longer than was necessary, and when she finished her obligatory two bites of pudding, she rose, fully intending to take herself off to bed, where, she presumed, she would pass her time as she had all day—alone.

But as she stepped into the hall, she found herself restless, not quite ready to retire. And so she began to walk, somewhat aimlessly, through the house. It was a chilly night for late May, and she was glad she’d brought a shawl. Eloise had spent time in many grand country homes, where all the fireplaces were lit at night, leaving the house in a blaze of light and warmth, but Romney Hall, while snug and comfortable, held no such delusions of self-importance, and so most of the rooms were kept closed off for the night, with the fireplaces only lit when needed.

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