And then he did.

All words were lost as they moved. They weren’t graceful, and they didn’t move as one. Their bodies weren’t in tune, and the sounds they made were not musical or lovely.

They just moved, with need and fire and total abandon, reaching for each other, reaching for the summit. The wait was not long. Eloise tried to make it last, tried to hold out, but there was no way. With every stroke, Phillip unleashed a fire within her that could not be denied. And then finally, when she couldn’t contain herself one moment longer, Eloise cried out and arched beneath him, lifting them both from the bed with the force of her fulfillment. Her body quivered and shook, and she gasped for breath, and all she could do was clutch his back, her fingers surely leaving bruises on his skin as she clung to him.

And then, before she could even fall back down to earth, Phillip cried out, and he slammed forward over and over again, emptying himself within her until he collapsed, the full weight of him pinning her into the mattress.

But she didn’t mind. She loved the feel of him atop her, loved the heaviness, loved the smell and the taste of the sweat on his skin.

She loved him.

It was that simple.

She loved him, and he loved her, and if there was anything more, anything else important in her world, it just didn’t matter. Not right there, not right then.

“I love you,” he whispered, finally rolling off of her and allowing her lungs to fill with air.

I love you.

It was all she needed.


Chapter 19

. . . days are filled with endless amusements. I shop and attend luncheons and pay calls (and have calls paid upon me). In the evenings I usually attend a ball or musicale, or perhaps a smaller party. Sometimes I remain at home with my own company and read a book. Truly, it is a full and lively existence; I have no cause for complaint. What more, I often ask, could a lady want?

—from Eloise Bridgerton to Sir Phillip Crane,
six months into their unusual correspondence

For the rest of her days, Eloise would remember the following week as one of the most magical of her life. There were no stupendous events, no bursts of fine weather, no birthdays, no extravagant gifts or unexpected visitors.

But still, even though it all seemed, on the outside at least, very ordinary . . .

Everything changed.

It wasn’t the sort of thing that hit one like a thunderbolt, or even, Eloise thought with a wry smile, like a slammed door or high C at the opera. It was a slow, creeping kind of change, the sort of thing that begins without one realizing it, and ends before one even knows it has begun.

It started a few mornings after she’d come across Phillip in the portrait gallery. When she woke, he was sitting fully dressed at the foot of the bed, staring at her with an indulgent smile on his face.

“What are you doing there?” Eloise asked, tucking the sheets under her arms as she scooted into a sitting position.

“Watching you.”

Her lips parted with surprise, and then she couldn’t help but smile. “It can’t be very interesting.”

“To the contrary. I can’t think of anything that could keep my attention for so long.”

She blushed, mumbling something about his being silly, but in truth, his words made her want to yank him right back into bed. She had a feeling he wouldn’t resist—he never did—but she put a hold on her desire, since he had, after all, got himself completely dressed, and she rather thought he’d done so for a reason.

“I brought you a muffin,” he said, holding out a plate.

Eloise thanked him and took his proffered dish. While she was munching away (and wishing he’d thought to bring something to drink as well), he said, “I thought we might go on an outing today.”

“You and I?”

“Actually,” he said, “I thought the four of us might go.”

Eloise froze, her teeth lodged in the muffin, and looked at him. This was, she realized, the first time he’d suggested such a thing. The first time, to her knowledge, at least, that he’d reached out to his children rather than setting them aside, hoping that someone else would see to them.

“I think that’s a fine idea,” she said softly.

“Good,” he said, rising to his feet. “I’ll leave you to your morning routine and inform that poor housemaid you bullied into acting as their nurse that we will be taking them for the day.”

“I’m sure she’ll be relieved,” Eloise said. Mary hadn’t really wanted to take the position as nursemaid, even on a temporary basis. None of the servants had; they all knew the twins too well. And poor long-haired Mary vividly recalled having to burn the bedsheets after they’d been unable to remove the last governess’s glued-on hair.

But there was nothing else to be done, and Eloise had extracted a promise from both children that they would treat Mary with the respect due to, say, the queen, and so far they had been living up to their word. Eloise even had her fingers crossed that Mary might relent and agree to the position on a permanent basis. It did pay better than cleaning, after all.

Eloise looked over at the door and was surprised to see Phillip standing quite still, frowning. “What is wrong?” she asked.

He blinked, then looked in her direction, his brows still pulled down in thought. “I’m not sure what to do.”

“I believe the doorknob will turn in either direction,” she teased.

He shot her a look, then said, “There are no fairs or events occurring in the village. What should we do with them?”

“Anything,” Eloise said, smiling at him with all the love in her heart. “Or nothing at all. It doesn’t matter, really. All they want is you, Phillip. All they want is you.”

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