Penelope shuddered. Colin might be looking forward to the moment—he was positively devilish in his glee—but she felt rather ill, quite frankly. She hadn’t eaten all day, and she was not the sort to skip breakfast.
She wrung her hands, craned her neck to get a better view out the window—she thought they might have turned onto the drive for Romney Hall, but she wasn’t precisely certain—then looked back to Colin.
He was still asleep.
She kicked him. Gently, of course, because she did not think herself overly violent, but really, it wasn’t fair that he had slept like a baby from the moment the carriage had started rolling. He had settled into his seat, inquired after her comfort, and then, before she’d even managed the you in “Very well, thank you,” his eyes were closed.
Thirty seconds later he was snoring.
It really wasn’t fair. He always fell asleep before she did at night as well.
She kicked him again, harder this time.
He mumbled something in his sleep, shifted positions ever so slightly, and slumped into the corner.
Penelope scooted over. Closer, closer . . .
Then she organized her elbow in a sharp point and jabbed him in the ribs.
“Wha . . . ?” Colin shot straight awake, blinking and coughing. “What? What? What?”
“I think we’re here,” Penelope said.
He looked out the window, then back at her. “And you needed to inform of this by taking a weapon to my body?”
“It was my elbow.”
He glanced down at her arm. “You, my dear, are in possession of exceedingly bony elbows.”
Penelope was quite sure her elbows—or any part of her, for that matter—were not the least bit bony, but there seemed little to gain by contradicting him, so she said, again, “I think we’re here.”
Colin leaned toward the glass with a couple of sleepy blinks. “I think you’re right.”
“It’s lovely,” Penelope said, taking in the exquisitely maintained grounds. “Why did you tell me it was run-down?”
“It is,” Colin replied, handing her her shawl. “Here,” he said with a gruff smile, as if he weren’t yet used to caring for another person’s welfare in quite the way he did hers. “It will be chilly yet.”
It was still fairly early in the morning; the inn at which they had slept was only an hour’s ride away. Most of the family had stayed with Benedict and Sophie, but their home was not large enough to accommodate all of the Bridgertons. Besides, Colin had explained, they were newlyweds. They needed their privacy.
Penelope hugged the soft wool to her body and leaned against him to get a better look out the window. And, to be honest, just because she liked to lean against him. “I think it looks lovely,” she said. “I have never seen such roses.”
“It’s nicer on the outside than in,” Colin explained as the carriage drew to a halt. “But I expect Eloise will change that.”
He opened the door himself and hopped out, then offered his arm to assist her down. “Come along, Lady Whistledown—”
“Mrs. Bridgerton,” she corrected.
“Whatever you wish to call yourself,” he said with a grand smile, “you’re still mine. And this is your swan song.”
As Colin stepped across the threshold of what was to be his sister’s new home, he was struck by an unexpected sense of relief. For all his irritation with her, he loved his sister. They had not been particularly intimate while growing up; he had been much closer in age to Daphne, and Eloise had often seemed nothing so much as a pesky afterthought. But the previous year had brought them closer, and if it hadn’t been for Eloise, he might never have discovered Penelope.
And without Penelope, he’d be . . .
It was funny. He couldn’t imagine what he’d be without her.
He looked down at his new wife. She was glancing around the entry hall, trying not to be too obvious about it. Her face was impassive, but he knew she was taking everything in. And tomorrow, when they were musing about the events of the day, she would have remembered every last detail.
Mind like an elephant, she had. He loved it.
“Mr. Bridgerton,” the butler said, greeting them with a little nod of his head. “Welcome back to Romney Hall.”
“A pleasure, Gunning,” Colin murmured. “So sorry about the last time.”
Penelope looked to him in askance.
“We entered rather . . . suddenly,” Colin explained.
The butler must have seen Penelope’s expression of alarm, because he quickly added, “I stepped out of the way.”
“Oh,” she started to say, “I’m so—”
“Sir Phillip did not,” Gunning cut in.
“Oh.” Penelope coughed awkwardly. “Is he going to be all right?”
“Bit of swelling around the throat,” Colin said, unconcerned. “I expect he’s improved by now.” He caught her glancing down at his hands and let out a chuckle. “Oh, it wasn’t me,” he said, taking her arm to lead her down the hall. “I just watched.”
She grimaced. “I think that might be worse.”
“Quite possibly,” he said with great cheer. “But it all turned out well in the end. I quite like the fellow now, and I rather—Ah, Mother, there you are.”
And sure enough, Violet Bridgerton was bustling down the hall. “You’re late,” she said, even though Colin was fairly certain they were not. He bent down to kiss her proffered cheek, then stepped to the side as his mother came forward to take both of Penelope’s hands in hers. “My dear, we need you in back. You are the matron of honor, after all.”
Colin had a sudden vision of the scene—a gaggle of chatty females, all talking over one another about minutiae he couldn’t begin to care about, much less understand. They told each other everything, and—
He turned sharply. “Don’t,” he warned, “say a word.”
“I beg your pardon.” Penelope let out a little huff of righteous indignation. “I’m the one who said we couldn’t tell her on her wedding day.”
“I was talking to my mother,” he said.
Violet shook her head. “Eloise is going to kill us.”
“She nearly killed us already, running off like an idiot,” Colin said, with uncharacteristic shortness of temper. “I’ve already instructed the others to keep their mouths shut.”
“Even Hyacinth?” Penelope asked doubtfully.
“Did you bribe her?” Violet asked. “Because it won’t work unless you bribe her.”
“Good Lord,” Colin muttered. “One would think I’d joined this family yesterday. Of course I bribed her.” He turned to Penelope. “No offense to recent additions.”
“Oh, none taken,” she said. “What did you give her?”
He thought about his bargaining session with his youngest sister and nearly shuddered. “Twenty pounds.”
“Twenty pounds!” Violet exclaimed. “Are you mad?”
“I suppose you could have done better,” he retorted. “And I’ve only given her half. I wouldn’t trust that girl as far as I could throw her. But if she keeps her mouth shut, I’ll be another ten pounds poorer.”
“I wonder how far you could throw her,” Penelope mused.
Colin turned to his mother. “I tried for ten, but she wouldn’t budge.” And then to Penelope: “Not nearly far enough.”
Violet sighed. “I ought to scold you for that.”
“But you won’t.” Colin flashed her a grin.
“Heaven help me,” was her only reply.
“Heaven help whatever chap is mad enough to marry her,” he remarked.
“I think there is more to Hyacinth than the two of you allow,” Penelope put in. “You ought not to under-
“Good Lord,” Colin replied, “we don’t do that.”
“You’re so sweet,” Violet said, leaning forward to give Penelope an impromptu hug.
“It’s only through sheer force of luck she hasn’t tak
en over the world,” Colin muttered.
“Ignore him,” Violet said to Penelope. “And you,” she added, turning to Colin, “must head immediately to the church. The rest of the men have already gone down. It’s only a five-minute walk.”
“You’re planning to walk?” he asked doubtfully.
“Of course not,” his mother replied dismissively. “And we certainly cannot spare a carriage for you.”
“I wouldn’t dream of asking for one,” Colin replied, deciding that a solitary stroll through the fresh morning air was decidedly preferable to a closed carriage with his female relations.
He leaned down to kiss his wife’s cheek. Right near her ear. “Remember,” he whispered, “no telling.”
“I can keep a secret,” she replied.
“It’s far easier to keep a secret from a thousand people than it is from just one,” he said. “Far less guilt involved.”
Her cheeks flushed, and he kissed her again near her ear. “I know you so well,” he murmured.