Oliver just looked up at him and asked, “Will you come with me, Father? Please.”
Phillip opened his mouth to reply, but then, inexplicably, had to stop. His eyes began to sting with unshed tears, and he realized that he was, quite simply, overcome.
It wasn’t just the moment, the fact that his son wanted his company for a male rite of passage. Oliver had begged his company before.
But this was the first time that Phillip felt truly able to say yes, confident that if he went, he would do the right thing and say the right words.
And even if he didn’t, it wouldn’t matter. He wasn’t his father, would never be—could never be like him. He couldn’t afford to be a coward, to keep pushing his children toward other people, all because he was worried he’d make a mistake.
He would make mistakes. It was inevitable. But they wouldn’t be huge ones, and with Eloise at his side, he was quite confident he could do anything.
Even manage the twins.
He placed his hand on Oliver’s shoulder. “I would be delighted to accompany you, son.” He cleared his throat, which had gone hoarse on the final word. Then he bent down and whispered, “The last thing we want is women over on the men’s side.”
Oliver nodded his vigorous agreement.
Phillip straightened, preparing to follow his son back to Mr. Larkin’s side of the establishment. Then he heard Eloise, clearing her throat behind him. He turned, and she was gesturing with her head toward the back of the room.
Looking very grown up in her new lavender frock, showing just a hint of the woman she would one day become.
For the second time in as many minutes, Phillip’s eyes began to burn.
This was what he’d been missing. In his fear, in his self-doubt, he’d been missing this.
They’d been growing up without him.
Phillip patted his son on the shoulder to signal that he’d be right back, and then crossed the room to his daughter’s side. Without a word, he picked up her hand and kissed it. “You, Miss Amanda Crane,” he said, his heart in his eyes, his voice, his smile, “are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen.”
Her eyes grew wide and her lips formed a tiny little O of sheer delight. “What about Miss—Mother?” she whispered frantically.
Phillip looked over at his wife, who appeared close to tears herself, and then turned back to Amanda, leaning over to whisper in her ear, “Let’s make a deal, you and I. You can think your mother is the most beautiful woman alive. But I get to think it’s you.”
And later that night, after he’d tucked them into bed, kissed each on the forehead, and headed for the door, he heard his daughter whisper, “Father?”
He turned. “Amanda?”
“This was the best day ever, Father,” she whispered.
“Ever,” Oliver agreed.
Phillip nodded. “For me as well,” he said softly. “For me as well.”
* * *
It started with a note.
Later that night, as Eloise finished her supper and her plate was cleared away, she realized that there had been a piece of paper tucked underneath, folded twice until it formed a small rectangle.
Her husband had excused himself, claiming that he needed to find a book that contained a poem they had been discussing over pudding, and so, with no one watching her, not even the footman, who was busy transporting the dishes to the kitchen, Eloise unfolded the paper.
I have never been good with words,
it said, in Phillip’s unmistakable handwriting. And then, smaller, in the corner:
Proceed to your office.
Intrigued, she stood and exited the dining room. A minute later she entered her office.
And there, in the middle of her desk, was another piece of paper.
But it all started with a letter, did it not?
Followed by instructions to take herself to the sitting room. She did, this time having to concentrate quite hard on keeping her half walk, half skip from turning into a full-fledged run.
A small piece of paper, again folded twice, sat on a red cushion positioned at the very center of the sofa.
And so if it started with words, it ought to continue with them, too.
This time she was directed to the front hall.
But there are no words to thank you for all you have given me, so I will use the only ones at my disposal, and I will tell you the only way I know how.
And at the bottom corner of the note, she was directed to her bedroom.
Eloise headed up the stairs slowly, her heart beating with anticipation. This was her final destination, she was sure of it. Phillip would be waiting for her, waiting to take her hand, to lead her into their future together.
It had, she realized, all started with a note. Something so innocent, so innocuous, and it had grown into this, a love so full and rich she could barely contain it.
She reached the upstairs hall and on quiet feet made her way to the bedroom door. It was slightly ajar, just an inch or so, and with shaking hand she pushed it open, all the way—
And she gasped.
For there, on the bed, were flowers. Hundreds and hundred of blooms, some clearly out of season, picked from Phillip’s special collection in his greenhouse. And written in blossoms of red, against the backdrop of white and pink petals:
I LOVE YOU.
“Words aren’t enough,” Phillip said softly, stepping out of the shadows behind her.
She turned to him, barely cognizant of the tears trickling down her cheeks. “When did you do this?”
He smiled. “Surely you’ll allow me a few secrets.”
He took her hand, pulled her close. “Speechless?” he murmured. “You? I must be better at this than I thought.”