Which never failed to set the both of them into fits of giggles.
It was a testament to Hugh’s love for them both, and his general ease with himself, that he usually laughed as well.
Nonetheless, for all his likeability, he’d never seemed to attract the females. They adored him, of course, and confided their most desperate secrets, but they always did so in a way that led Hugh to believe he was viewed as a jolly, dependable sort of creature.
The worst part of it was that every woman of his acquaintance was absolutely positive that she knew the perfect woman for him, or if not, then she was quite sure that a perfect woman did indeed exist.
That no woman ever thought herself the perfect woman had not gone unnoticed. Well, by Hugh, at least. Everyone else was oblivious.
But he carried on, because there could be no point in doing otherwise. And as he had always suspected that women were the cleverer sex, he still held out hope that the perfect woman was indeed out there.
After all, no fewer than four dozen women had said so. They couldn’t all be wrong.
But Hugh was nearing thirty, and Miss Perfection had not yet seen fit to reveal herself. Hugh was beginning to think that he should take matters into his own hands, except that he hadn’t the slightest idea how to do such a thing, especially as he’d just taken a living in a rather quiet corner of Wiltshire, and there didn’t seem to be a single appropriately-aged unmarried female in his parish.
Remarkable but true.
Maybe he should wander over to Gloucestershire Sunday next. There was a vacancy there, and he’d been asked to pitch in and deliver a sermon or two until they found a new vicar. There had to be at least one unattached female. The whole of the Cotswolds couldn’t be bereft.
But this wasn’t the time to dwell on such things. He was just arriving for tea with Mrs. Bridgerton, an invitation for which he was enormously grateful. He was still familiarizing himself with the area and its inhabitants, but it had taken but one church service to know that Mrs. Bridgerton was universally liked and admired. She seemed quite clever and kind as well.
He hoped she liked to gossip. He really needed someone to fill him in on the neighborhood lore. One really couldn’t tend to one’s flock without knowing its history.
He’d also heard that her cook laid a very fine tea. The biscuits had been mentioned in particular.
“Mr. Woodson to see you, Mrs. Bridgerton.”
Hugh stepped into the drawing room as the butler stated his name. He was rather glad he’d forgotten to eat lunch, because the house smelled heavenly and—
And then he quite forgot everything.
Why he’d come.
Who he was.
The color of the sky, even, and the smell of the grass.
Indeed, as he stood there in the arched doorway of the Bridgertons’ drawing room, he knew one thing, and one thing only.
The woman on the sofa, the one with the extraordinary eyes who was not Mrs. Bridgerton, was Miss Perfection.
Sophie Bridgerton knew a thing or two about love at first sight. She had, once upon a time, been hit by its proverbial lightning bolt, struck dumb with breathless passion, heady bliss, and an odd tingling sensation across her entire body.
Or at least, that was how she remembered it.
She also remembered that while Cupid’s arrow had, in her case, proven remarkably accurate, it had taken quite a while for her and Benedict to reach their happily ever after. So even though she wanted to bounce in her seat with glee as she watched Posy and Mr. Woodson stare at each other like a pair of lovesick puppies, another part of her—the ex
tremely practical, born-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-blanket,
rainbows-and-angels part of her—was trying to hold back
But the thing about Sophie was, no matter how awful her childhood had been (and parts of it had been quite dreadfully awful), no matter what cruelties and indignities she’d faced in her life (and there, too, she’d not been fortunate), she was, at heart, an incurable romantic.
Which brought her to Posy.
It was true that Posy visited several times each year, and it was also true that one of those visits almost always coincided with the end of the season, but Sophie might have added a little extra entreaty to her recently tendered invitation. She might have exaggerated a bit when describing how quickly the children were growing, and there was a chance that she had actually lied when she said that she was feeling poorly.
But in this case, the ends absolutely justified the means. Oh, Posy had told her that she would be perfectly content to remain unmarried, but Sophie did not believe her for a second. Or to be more precise, Sophie believed that Posy believed that she would be perfectly content. But one had only to look at Posy snuggling little William and Alexander to know that she was a born mother, and that the world would be a much poorer place if Posy did not have a passel of children to call her own.
It was true that Sophie had, one time or twelve, made a point of introducing Posy to whichever unattached gentleman was to be found at the moment in Wiltshire, but this time . . .
This time Sophie knew.
This time it was love.
“Mr. Woodson,” she said, trying not to grin like a madwoman, “may I introduce you to my dear sister, Miss Posy Reiling?”
Mr. Woodson looked as if he thought he was saying something, but the truth was, he was staring at Posy as if he’d just met Aphrodite.
“Posy,” Sophie continued, “this is Mr. Woodson, our new vicar. He is only recently arrived, what was it, three weeks ago?”
He had been in residence for nearly two months. Sophie knew this perfectly well, but she was eager to see if he’d been listening well enough to correct her.
He just nodded, never taking his eyes off Posy.
“Please, Mr. Woodson,” Sophie murmured, “do sit down.”
He managed to understand her meaning, and he lowered himself into a chair.
“Tea, Mr. Woodson?” Sophie inquired.
“Posy, will you pour?”
Sophie waited, and then when it became apparent that Posy wasn’t going to do much of anything besides smile at Mr. Woodson, she said, “Posy.”
Posy turned to look at her, but her head moved so slowly and with such reluctance, it was as if a giant magnet had turned its force onto her.
“Will you pour Mr. Woodson’s tea?” Sophie murmured, trying to restrict her smile to her eyes.
“Oh. Of course.” Posy turned back to the vicar, that silly smile returning to h
er face. “Would you like some tea?”
Normally Sophie might have mentioned that she had already asked Mr. Woodson if he wanted tea, but there was nothing normal about this encounter, so she decided to simply sit back and observe.
“I would love some,” Mr. Woodson said to Posy. “Above all else.”
Really, Sophie thought, it was as if she weren’t even there.
“How do you take it?” Posy asked.
“However you wish.”
Oh now, this was too much. No man fell so blindingly into love that he no longer held a preference for his tea. This was England, for heaven’s sake. More to the point, this was tea.
“We have both milk and sugar,” Sophie said, unable to help herself. She’d intended to sit and watch, but really, even the most hopeless romantic couldn’t have remained silent.
Mr. Woodson didn’t hear her.
“Either of them would be appropriate in your cup,” she added.
“You have the most extraordinary eyes,” he said, and his voice was full of wonder, as if he couldn’t quite believe that he was right there in this room, with Posy.
“Your smile,” Posy said in return. “It’s . . . lovely.”
He leaned forward. “Do you like roses, Miss Reiling?”
“I must bring you some.”
Sophie gave up trying to appear serene and finally let herself grin. It wasn’t as if either of them was looking at her, anyway. “We have roses,” she said.
“In the back garden.”
“Where the two of you might go for a stroll.”
It was as if someone had just stuck a pin in both of them.
“Oh, shall we?”
“I would be delighted.”
“Please, allow me to—”
“Take my arm.”
By the time Posy and Mr. Woodson were at the door, Sophie could hardly tell who was saying what. And not a drop of tea had entered Mr. Woodson’s cup.
Sophie waited for a full minute, and then burst out laughing, clapping her hand over her mouth to stifle the sound, although she wasn’t sure why she needed to. It was a laugh of pure delight. Pride, too, at having orchestrated the whole thing.