“Well,” Posy continued, “I must say, I was rather mature about the entire encounter. I let her say what she wished, and then I bid her goodbye. And then I had the most amazing realization.”
“What is that?”
Posy gave a smile. “I like myself.”
“Well, of course you do,” Sophie said, blinking with confusion.
“No, no, you don’t understand,” Posy said. It was strange, because Sophie ought to have understood perfectly. She was the only person in the world who knew what it meant to live as Araminta’s unfavored child. But there was something so sunny about Sophie. There always had been. Even when Araminta treated her as a virtual slave, Sophie had never seemed beaten. There had always been a singular spirit to her, a sparkle. It wasn’t defiance; Sophie was the least defiant person Posy knew, except perhaps for herself.
Not defiance . . . resilience. Yes, that was it exactly.
At any rate, Sophie ought to have understood what Posy had meant, but she didn’t, so Posy said, “I didn’t always like myself. And why should I have done? My own mother didn’t like me.”
“Oh, Posy,” Sophie said, her eyes brimming with tears, “you mustn’t—”
“No, no,” Posy said good-naturedly. “Don’t think anything of it. It doesn’t bother me.”
Sophie just looked at her.
“Well, not anymore,” Posy amended. She eyed the plate of biscuits sitting on the table between them. She really oughtn’t to eat one. She’d had three, and she wanted three more, so maybe that meant that if she had one, she was really abstaining from two . . .
She twiddled her fingers against her leg. Probably she shouldn’t have one. Probably she should leave them for Sophie, who had just had a baby and needed to regain her strength. Although Sophie did look perfectly recovered, and little Alexander was already four months old . . .
She looked up.
“Is something amiss?”
Posy gave a little shrug. “I can’t decide whether I wish to eat a biscuit.”
Sophie blinked. “A biscuit? Really?”
“There are at least two reasons why I should not, and probably more than that.” She paused, frowning.
“You looked quite serious,” Sophie remarked. “Almost as if you were conjugating Latin.”
“Oh, no, I should look far more at peace if I were conjugating Latin,” Posy declared. “That would be quite simple, as I know nothing about it. Biscuits, on the other hand, I ponder endlessly.” She sighed and looked down at her middle. “Much to my dismay.”
“Don’t be silly, Posy,” Sophie scolded. “You are the loveliest woman of my acquaintance.”
Posy smiled and took the biscuit. The marvelous thing about Sophie was that she wasn’t lying. Sophie really did think her the loveliest woman of her acquaintance. But then again, Sophie had always been that sort of person. She saw kindness where others saw . . . Well, where others didn’t even bother to look, to be frank.
Posy took a bite and chewed, deciding that it was absolutely worth it. Butter, sugar, and flour. What could be better?
“I received a letter from Lady Bridgerton today,” Sophie remarked.
Posy looked up in interest. Technically, Lady Bridgerton could mean Sophie’s sister-in-law, the wife of the current viscount. But they both knew she referred to Benedict’s mother. To them, she would always be Lady Bridgerton. The other one was Kate. Which was just as well, as that was Kate’s preference within the family.
“She said that Mr. Fibberly called.” When Posy did not comment, Sophie added, “He was looking for you.”
“Well, of course he was,” Posy said, deciding to have that fourth biscuit after all. “Hyacinth is too young and Eloise terrifies him.”
“Eloise terrifies me,” Sophie admitted. “Or at least she used to. Hyacinth I’m quite sure will terrify me to the grave.”
“You just need to know how to manage her,” Posy said with a wave. It was true, Hyacinth Bridgerton was terrifying, but the two of them had always got on quite well. It was probably due to Hyacinth’s firm (some might say unyielding) sense of justice. When she’d found out that Posy’s mother had never loved her as well as Rosamund . . .
Well, Posy had never told tales, and she wasn’t going to begin now, but let it be said that Araminta had never again eaten fish.
Posy had got this from the servants, and they always had the most accurate gossip.
“But you were about to tell me about Mr. Fibberly,” Sophie said, still sipping at her tea.
Posy shrugged, even though she hadn’t been about to do any such thing. “He’s so dull.”
Posy shrugged again. “I can’t tell.”
“One generally need only look at the face.”
“I can’t get past his dullness. I don’t think he laughs.”
“It can’t be that bad.”
“Oh, it can, I assure you.” She reached out and took another biscuit before she realized she hadn’t meant to. Oh well, it was already in her hand now, she couldn’t very well put it back. She waved it in the air as she spoke, trying to make her point. “He sometimes makes this dreadful noise like, ‘Ehrm ehrm ehrm,’ and I think he thinks he’s laughing, but he’s clearly not.”
Sophie giggled even though she looked as if she thought she shouldn’t.
“And he doesn’t even look at my bosom!”
“It’s my only good feature.”
“It is not!” Sophie glanced about the drawing room, even though there was precisely no one about. “I can’t believe you said that.”
Posy let out a frustrated exhale. “I can’t say bosom in London and now I can’t do so in Wiltshire, either?”
“Not when I’m expecting the new vicar,” Sophie said.
A chunk of Posy’s biscuit fell off and fell into her lap. “What?”
“I didn’t tell you?”
Posy eyed her suspiciously. Most people thought Sophie was a poor liar, but that was only because she had such an angelic look about her. And she rarely lied. So everyone assumed that if she did, she’d be dreadful at it.
Posy, however, knew better. “No,” she said, brushing off her skirts, “you did not tell me.”
“How very unlike me,” Sophie murmured. She picked up a biscuit and took a bite.
Posy stared at her. “Do you know what I’m not doing now?”
Sophie shook her head.
“I am not rolling my eyes, because I am trying to act in a fashion that befits my age and maturity.”
“You do look very grave.”
Posy stared her down a bit more. “He is unmarried, I assume.”
Posy lifted her left brow, the arch expression possibly the only useful gift she’d received from her mother. “How old is this vicar?”
“I do not know,” Sophie admitted, “but he has all of his hair.”
“And it has come to this,” Posy murmured.
“I thought of you when I met him,” Sophie said, “because he smiles.”
Because he smiled? Posy was beginning to think that Sophie was a bit cracked. “I beg your pardon?”
“He smiles so often. And so well.” At that Sophie smiled. “I couldn’t help but think of you.”
Posy did roll her eyes this time, then followed it with an immediate “I have decided to forsake maturity.”
“By all means.”
“I shall meet your vicar,” Posy said, “but you should know I have decided to aspire to eccentricity.”
“I wish you the best with that,” Sophie said, not without sarcasm.
“You don’t think I can?”
“You’re the least eccentric person I know.”
It was true, of course, but if Posy had to spend her life as an old maid, she wanted to be the eccentric one with the large hat, not the desperate one with the pinched mouth.
“What is his name?” she aske
But before Sophie could answer, they heard the front door opening, and then it was the butler giving her her answer as he announced, “Mr. Woodson is here to see you, Mrs. Bridgerton.”
Posy stashed her half-eaten biscuit under a serviette and folded her hands prettily in her lap. She was a little miffed with Sophie for inviting a bachelor for tea without warning her, but still, there seemed little reason not to make a good impression. She looked expectantly at the doorway, waiting patiently as Mr. Woodson’s footsteps drew near.
And then . . .
And then . . .
Honestly, it wouldn’t do to try to recount it, because she remembered almost nothing of what followed.
She saw him, and it was as if, after twenty-five years of life, her heart finally began to beat.
Hugh Woodson had never been the most admired boy at school. He had never been the most handsome, or the most athletic. He had never been the cleverest, or the snobbiest, or the most foolish. What he had been, and what he had been all of his life, was the most well liked.
People liked him. They always had. He supposed it was because he liked most everybody in return. His mother swore he’d emerged from the womb smiling. She said so with great frequency, although Hugh suspected she did so only to give her father the lead-in for: “Oh, Georgette, you know it was just gas.”