He crawled back into bed beside her. She was remarkably adorable when she was being sarcastic. He couldn’t think of another soul who could carry that off. “As whenever it suits me,” he amended.
“Your mother, then,” Penelope said, plucking one of the letters off the sheet. She broke open the seal and carefully unfolded the paper.
Colin watched as she read. Her eyes widened, then her brows rose, then her lips pinched slightly at the corners, as if she were smiling despite herself. “What does she have to say?” he asked.
“She forgives us.”
“I don’t suppose it would make any sense for me to ask for what.”
Penelope gave him a stern look. “For leaving the wedding early.”
“You told me Eloise wouldn’t mind.”
“And I’m sure she did not. But this is your mother.”
“Write back and assure her that should she ever remarry, I will stay to the bitter end.”
“I will do no such thing,” Penelope replied, rolling her eyes. “I don’t think she expects a reply, in any case.”
“Really?” Now he was curious, because his mother always expected replies. “What did we do to earn her forgiveness, then?”
“Er, she mentioned something about the timely delivery of grandchildren.”
Colin grinned. “Are you blushing?”
She elbowed him in the ribs. “I’m not. Here, read it yourself if you are so inclined. I shall read Hyacinth’s.”
“I don’t suppose she returned my ten pounds,” Colin grumbled.
Penelope unfolded the paper and shook it out. Nothing fluttered down.
“That minx is lucky she’s my sister,” he muttered.
“What a bad sport you are,” Penelope chided. “She bested you, and rather brilliantly, too.”
“Oh, please,” he scoffed. “I did not see you praising her cunning yesterday afternoon.”
She waved off his protests. “Yes, well, some things are more easily seen in hindsight.”
“What does she have to say?” Colin asked, leaning over her shoulder. Knowing Hyacinth, it was probably some scheme to extort more money from his pockets.
“It’s rather sweet, actually,” Penelope said. “Nothing nefarious at all.”
“Did you read both sides?” Colin asked dubiously.
“She only wrote on one side.”
“Uncharacteristically uneconomical of her,” he added, with suspicion.
“Oh, heavens, Colin, it is just an account of the wedding after we left. And I must say, she has a superior eye for humor and detail. She would have made a fine Whistledown.”
“God help us all.”
The last letter was from Eloise, and unlike the other two, it was addressed to Penelope alone. Colin was curious, of course—who wouldn’t be? But he moved away to allow Penelope her privacy. Her friendship with his sister was something he held in both awe and respect. He was close to his brothers—extremely so. But he had never seen a bond of friendship quite so deep as that between Penelope and Eloise.
“Oh!” Penelope let out, as she turned a page. Eloise’s missive was a good deal longer than the previous two, and she’d managed to fill two sheets, front and back. “That minx.”
“What did she do?” Colin asked.
“Oh, it was nothing,” Penelope replied, even though her expression was rather peeved. “You weren’t there, but the morning of the wedding she kept apologizing for keeping secrets, and it never even occurred to me that she was trying to get me to admit to keeping secrets of my own. Made me feel wretched, she did.”
Her voice trailed off as she read through another page. Colin leaned back against the fluffy pillows, his eyes resting on his wife’s face. He liked watching her eyes move from left to right, following the words. He liked watching her lips move as she smiled or frowned. It was rather amazing, actually, how contented he felt, simply watching his wife read.
Until she gasped, that was, and turned utterly white.
He shoved himself up on his elbows. “What is it?”
Penelope shook her head and groaned. “Oh, she is devious.”
Privacy be damned. He grabbed the letter. “What did she say?”
“Down there,” Penelope said, pointing miserably at the bottom. “At the end.”
Colin brushed her finger away and began to read. “Good Lord, she’s wordy,” he muttered. “I can’t make heads or tails of it.”
“Revenge,” Penelope said. “She says my secret was bigger than hers.”
“She says she’s owed a boon.”
Colin pondered that. “She probably is.”
“To even the score.”
He patted her hand. “I’m afraid that’s how we Bridgertons think. You’ve never played a sporting game with us, have you?”
Penelope moaned. “She said she is going to consult Hyacinth.”
Colin felt the blood leave his face.
“I know,” Penelope said, shaking her head. “We’ll never be safe again.”
Colin slid his arm around her and pulled her close. “Didn’t we say we wanted to visit Italy?”
He smiled and kissed her on the nose. “Or we could just stay here.”
“At the Rose and Bramble?”
“We’re supposed to depart tomorrow morning. It’s the last place Hyacinth would look.”
Penelope glanced up at him, her eyes growing warm and perhaps just a little bit mischievous. “I have no pressing engagements in London for at least a fortnight.”
He rolled atop her, tugging her down until she was flat on her back. “My mother did say she would not forgive us unless we produced a grandchild.”
“She did not put it in quite so uncompromising terms.”
He kissed her, right on the sensitive spot behind her earlobe that always made her squirm. “Pretend she did.”
“Well, in that case—oh!”
His lips slid down her belly. “Oh?” he murmured.
“We had best get to—oh!”
He looked up. “You were saying?”
“To work,” she just barely managed to get out.
He smiled against her skin. “Your servant, Mrs. Bridgerton. Always.”
To Sir Phillip, With Love
Rarely have I written such meddlesome children as Amanda and Oliver Crane, the lonely twin children of Sir Phillip Crane. It seemed impossible they could grow into well-adjusted, reasonable adults, but I figured if anyone could whip them into shape, it would be their new stepmother, Eloise (née Bridgerton) Crane. I had long wanted to try my hand at writing in the first person, so I decided to see the world through the eyes of a grown-up Amanda. She was going to fall in love, and Phillip and Eloise were going to have to watch it happen.
To Sir Phillip, With Love:
The 2nd Epilogue
I am not the most patient of individuals. And I have almost no tolerance for stupidity. Which was why I was proud of myself for holding my tongue this afternoon, while having tea with the Brougham family.
The Broughams are our neighbors, and have been for the past six years, since Mr. Brougham inherited the property from his uncle, also named Mr. Brougham. They have four daughters and one extremely spoiled son. Luckily for me the son is five years younger than I am, which means I shall not have to entertain notions of marrying him. (Although my sisters Penelope and Georgiana, nine and ten years my junior, will not be so lucky.) The Brougham daughters are all one year apart, beginning two years ahead of me and ending two behind. They are perfectly pleasant, if perhaps a touch too sweet and gentle for my taste. But lately they have been too much to bear.