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The Difference a Wife Makes

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1805

Anthony stood in the corridor outside the Viscount’s chambers at Bridgerton House, his chambers in name but not practicality, as the doctors tended to his mother. Violet Bridgerton had never fully recovered from Hyacinth’s birth two years prior, the complicated and drawn-out labour occurring as soon as it did after the death of her husband and had spent the last two years alternating between spending long periods of time in her bed and emerging to try and hold sway over her children who over the last two years had both grown used to her absences and in the case of the youngest two Bridgertons, outright forgotten who she was. 

 

“My Lord,” the doctor said, emerging from the chamber, his head bowed, “I am sorry My Lord but I am afraid we have been unable to stop the progress of the fever, your mother has passed.”

 

Anthony closed his eyes and leaned on the wall heavily, “Thank you for your efforts,” he said faintly as the man filed out of the house.

 

“Anth?” Benedict asked as he watched the doctor leave, “What have they said?”

 

“She’s gone,” Anthony replied, “They couldn’t do anything this time ... I need to speak to someone about getting her back to Aubrey Hall.”

 

“Shit,” Benedict breathed as he sagged against the wall for a moment before straightening and looking directly at Anthony, “What do you need me to do?”

 

“Send letters to the Rokesbys and Aunt Winnie,” Anthony replied, “By express messenger, tell them to meet us at Aubrey Hall. I’ll contact the undertakers and the solicitors,” he continued, “Then we need to tell the children.”

 

Benedict nodded before stepping forward and embracing his brother, the two men silent for a moment in their grief.

 


Two days later Anthony dropped into a chair next to his friend, Simon Bassett, at their usual table in Whites. Simon had already obtained a carafe of whisky and two glasses, “Bridgerton,” Simon greeted as the other man sat, nodding as Anthony drained his glass quickly.

 

“I’m leaving,” Simon announced as Anthony poured another glass, “I’ve bought passage on a boat to the Indies and I’m sailing on Wednesday. There’s room, you could come too.”

 

“My mother died two days ago,” Anthony replied blankly, “I can’t do anything ever again. I’ve got seven children to raise now.”

 

Simon stared at his oldest friend in shock, he remembered the terrified look on Anthony's face when his father had died the summer before they took up at Oxford and the frantic man that finally arrived during their second term but this Anthony, this man, looked broken. 

 

“So what’s your plan?” he asked quietly.

 

“Get Mother back to Aubrey Hall and buried,” Anthony replied, his tone still flat, “Then pay out my degree early, get Ben back to his, Colin back to Eton and sort out the rest of them somehow. I suppose at some point I’ll also find a wife,” Anthony knocked back his second whisky and stared blankly at the table before pouring a third. 

 

“Do you remember those last few weeks at Eton?” he asked with a hollow laugh, “When we planned our world tour? I’m never going to do that,” he continued, “Never going to see the world; my life is over now.”

 

Simon looked at Anthony, “I’ll keep in touch,” he said quietly, “But you know I can’t stay. Don’t let yourself drown Ant, and invite me to the wedding when you find your wife.”

 

1807

 

Anthony stood at the edge of the ballroom watching the festivities; this was his second season since the family had emerged from their mourning period and he was determined to make this the season that he procured a wife. He was the only Bridgerton present, the children were too young to attend any events and Benedict had decided to stay with them in the country for a few more weeks following his return from Oxford at the start of the season. 

 

Anthony sighed, he felt older than his 23 years and when talking with his old Eton and Oxford friends, he felt even older; he had the responsibilities of the estate, the title and his younger siblings to contend with; he would need a wife who could help him with all of them, not a silly chit just out of the schoolroom who would only add to his load.

 

“Lord Bridgerton,” Lady Danbury greeted from his side, “All alone tonight, I thought there was another one of you old enough to attend these events.”

 

“Lady Danbury,” Anthony returned with a small bow, “Yes, my brother Benedict but he is back in the country with the children for a few more weeks.”

 

“And you are continuing your hunt for the Viscountess,” Lady Danbury concluded, “Any prospects so far?”

 

“None that I can imagine putting up with my siblings,” Anthony replied, honestly, “Plenty that would like the title and prestige but I can’t abandon my responsibilities.”

 

“Of course not,” Lady Danbury agreed, “I am not sure if you are aware but I am helping a dear friend this season. Her step-daughter is in town and I am sponsoring her debut. She is older than most debutantes and will understand some of your responsibilities.”

 

“And it would help your dear friend if this girl was married off to a Viscount?” Anthony asked, looking over at his mother’s old friend with a wry smile.

 

Lady Danbury tapped the floor with her cane, “I always said you were bright Lord Bridgerton!” she laughed, “Here she comes now, Lord Bridgerton, may I introduce Miss Katherine Sheffield; my ward for the season.”

 

Anthony bowed slightly, “Miss Sheffield,” he murmured, “How are you finding London?”

 

“Well so far, my Lord,” Kate replied, “But I must confess I am missing my younger sister.”

 

“Is she not yet out?” Anthony asked as they took a turn around the ballroom, “I have several younger sisters that are still in the country.”

 

“Edwina is eleven,” Kate replied, “So she has time yet. How old are your sisters, my Lord?”

 

“Daphne is fifteen,” he replied, “Eloise is also eleven, Francesca is ten and Hyacinth is four.”

 

Kate’s eyes widened slightly, “Several sisters indeed,” she murmured, “I dare not ask but do you have any brothers?”

 

Anthony grinned, “You mean you have not been told of us?” he teased, “I have three brothers, Benedict is twenty-one; he should be here but has decided to stay in the country for a few weeks. Colin is sixteen and Gregory is six.”

 

“My goodness,” Kate gasped, “Lady Danbury did mention that you were the head of your family but she didn’t tell me the extent of it! It is simply myself, Edwina and our mother at home.”

 

“Can I call on you in the morning?” Anthony asked as he deposited Kate back with Lady Danbury. The older woman looked over their interaction with a smug half-smile on her lips and a knowing glint in her eye.

 

Kate smiled, “Of course,” she replied, blushing slightly, “I look forward to it.”


It was soon accepted around the Ton that Viscount Bridgerton had found his wife; he was regularly seen calling on Miss Kate Sheffield and escorting her around various Mayfair ballrooms. Six weeks before the end of the season, Anthony arrived at Lady Danbury’s house with the family betrothal ring safely tucked in his pocket. He emerged an hour later with a fiancee and strict instructions from the formidable Lady Danbury to have the marriage licence sorted and the church booked before the end of the season. 

 

“My siblings are all coming up to town for the wedding,” Anthony said when they were promenading around Hyde Park, “I would like for you to meet them, they can be a little much altogether but I do want you to meet them.”

 

“I would love to,” Kate smiled, “I feel like I know them already, with all your stories. My mother and sister are coming to town in the next few days as well, maybe we could all meet then?”

 

“That sounds perfect,” Anthony replied, “I’m sure Lady Danbury will arrange something.”

 

Just as they rounded onto Grosvenor Square, one of the two Bridgerton carriages slowed to a halt outside of Bridgerton House. A footman helped Daphne from the carriage and then reached in to lower the two youngest Bridgertons to the floor.

 

“Anthony!” Hyacinth shouted as she saw him, “Anthony!” Hyacinth took off at a run towards her oldest brother. Anthony smiled at Kate and mouthed an apology as he squatted down onto his haunches and gathered the small girl into his arms as she squealed in delight. 

 

“Ben said you are getting married,” Hyacinth said as Anthony stood, “Are you getting married?”

 

“I am,” Anthony replied, “To Miss Sheffield,” he turned Hyacinth slightly so she could see Kate, “Run back to Ben and I’ll be back when I’ve taken Miss Sheffield home.”

 

Hyacinth nodded and clambered down before running back towards Benedict, her hair ribbons flying out behind her, “So that was Hyacinth,” Anthony smiled as he took Kate’s arm and they continued towards Lady Danbury’s house. 

 

“She seems sweet,” Kate smiled, “And she clearly loves you. I can’t wait to get to know them all properly, I think my Mama wants to promenade tomorrow, maybe we could have a picnic?”

 

“I’m sure I’ll be able to get them all into the park,” Anthony confirmed, kissing her hand as he left her at the bottom of the steps of Danbury House, “I shall see you tomorrow.”


A few hours later Anthony sat in the nursery at Bridgerton House with Hyacinth on his lap and Gregory sitting on his feet, Eloise and Francesca had stopped their complaints at being too old for the nursery and were sitting quietly on one of the day beds, “So will she be like a new Mama?” Gregory asked as he looked at Anthony.

 

“No she won’t!” Eloise protested, “We don’t need a new Mama!”

 

“El,” Anthony sighed, before looking at Gregory, “She won’t be a new Mama,” he answered softly, “But she will be my wife and she will help to look after you all; do the kinds of things that I sometimes forget.”

 

Hyacinth frowned and tried to burrow her way further into Anthony’s chest, “So she won’t be like another sister?” she asked, “Would she be like El and Frannie’s governess?”

 

“No,” Anthony answered, “It’s hard to explain,” he sighed, and looked at his other younger sisters, “She won’t be replacing anyone,” he stressed, “She won’t be trying to be a new Mama for you all but she will help me, help you all. Do you remember when Daphne moved out of the nursery?” he asked, seizing on something that the girls had experienced a few years earlier, “And you all thought that she was really sick?”

 

Eloise and Francesca nodded, remembering the terror they had felt seeing the blood on Daphne’s night clothes and bedding, “Well, Kate will be able to help you all with things like that,” Anthony continued, “Things that I don’t know about; and Greg,” he smiled thinking of his own conversations with their mother as he went off to school, “She’ll be able to help you when you go off to school in a few years.”

 

The four youngest children all sat quietly, Eloise and Francesca with mutinous expressions. Anthony sighed, “I will still be here,” he promised, “I do believe that this will be a good thing; she isn’t replacing anyone and she isn’t stealing me either.”

 

Eloise and Francesca looked at each other and frowned, having one of their silent conversations, “We reserve judgement until we have met her,” Eloise stated, “But, we concede that you having a wife might be a good thing for us.”

 

Anthony smiled, “Thank you,” he replied, matching the serious tone in which Eloise had made her announcement, “She will be coming for dinner tomorrow evening with her mother so you will meet her then. Now go on, run downstairs and see what the cook has made, I’ll be down soon.”

 

The two girls ran out of the nursery and Anthony could hear them chatting as they ran down the staircase. He moved Hyacinth slightly and pulled Gregory onto his other knee, “Do you two understand now?” he said softly, “I’m still going to be around and I’ll still be here for you both.”

 

Gregory nodded, “I want to meet her first like El and Frannie,” he declared, “But if you think she is nice, I think she will be nice too.” With his statement made, Gregory jumped from Anthony’s lap and moved over to his toy soldiers.

 

“Hy,” Anthony said softly, running his hand through his sister's curls, “Are you OK?”

 

“You’re not leaving us too?” she eventually whispered, “Do you promise?”

 

“I promise,” Anthony said, “I promise that I will not be leaving you.”

 

Hyacinth nodded and reached up to whisper in Anthony’s ear, “I would like a Mama,” she said softly, “I love you Anthony.”

 

“Love you too,” Anthony said, pressing a kiss to the top of her head, “Now I’m going downstairs but if you need me, tell Nanny to come get me.”


 

Anthony entered his study after his four youngest siblings were all safely in the nursery. He hoped that he was doing the right thing in marrying Kate and that his siblings were not all totally set against the idea. A soft knock on the door brought him out of his musings and after calling for whomever was there to come in, he was not surprised to see Colin and Daphne’s heads peeking around the door.

 

“Come in you two,” he smiled, “I’m guessing you have some questions?”

 

“Only a few,” Colin nodded, “We understand why you would want to take a wife, brother, but we want to know what it means for us.”

 

Daphne nodded from her position next to Colin, “Will we be sent to live somewhere else?” she asked, “And if we are, what can we keep?”

 

“And,” Colin added before Anthony could reply, “Will your marriage impact our prospects? Not mine, but the girls, will the girls all still be fine?”

 

“Stop!” Anthony exclaimed, “You will continue to live here or at Aubrey Hall as you have always done,” Anthony looked them both in the eyes, “Nothing about your residence, your possessions or your prospects will change. For any of you.”

 

“And she will be kind to us?” Daphne pressed, “She won’t lock us away and favour your own children?”

 

“Heavens Daphne!” Anthony exclaimed, “What have you been reading? Miss Sheffield will be my wife, she is not looking to take Mama’s place in your lives. She will be able to help you with ... more female issues, than I have been able to but it is my hope that you become friends.”

 

“But what if we don’t,” Daphne pressed, “What happens if she is horrid?”

 

“She won’t be,” Colin said suddenly, “Daph, can you imagine Anthony with someone horrid?”

 

Daphne frowned but then shook her head, “Is she truly very nice?” she asked softly.

 

“She is,” Anthony assured them both, “I know you both don’t like to be treated like you are still in leading strings but I will make you the same promise I made the babies, I promise that I will still be around for you, that I will still be here for you and that I will not be leaving you. No one is being replaced and no one is stealing anyone or anything from anyone else.” 

 

Daphne burst into tears and rushed around the desk to Anthony, “I know things will change regardless and those changes won’t necessarily be bad ones,” she said between her sobs, “But I just miss them both so much.”

 

Anthony brought her into his arms, “I know,” he replied, “I do too,” he reached out his arm and Colin stepped into the embrace.

 

“Love you Ant,” Daphne said softly, pressing a kiss to his cheek, “Congratulations on your marriage brother.”

 

Anthony kissed Daphne’s forehead softly, “Miss Sheffield will be here tomorrow for dinner to meet you,” he replied, “Now, go on up. I’ll be here all evening so if you need me, come back down.”

 

Colin stepped away at the same time as Daphne but let his sister leave the room before turning to Anthony, “I trust you, and I know that you need to do this and you need a wife” he said quietly, “But if this goes wrong and the girls are damaged by this, I will blame you forever.” Colin nodded and left the room, leaving Anthony to his thoughts.


Benedict was the next visitor, he appeared at the study door with a grin and a bottle of brandy, “Thought you might need a drink,” he grinned, “Are they all alright?”

 

“I think so,” Anthony sighed as he accepted a glass, “Remind me to check what the hell Daphne has been reading, she had some fantastical ideas of what would happen now I am getting married.”

 

“They’ve talked of nothing else all season,” Benedict stated, “They have been worried that your new wife would banish them to some outlying estate and make you forget about them.”

 

“And you?” Anthony asked, “Are you concerned?”

 

“Not in the slightest,” Benedict grinned, “I have my own money, I can easily get lodgings in town and I can make my own career if necessary. I’m not in the same position as the children,” Benedict paused, taking a drink, “And I understand that you need to do this, I can see what the last few years have done to you and I know that you need someone to help take some of your load.”

 

Anthony nodded, “I think El and Frannie will be the worst,” he said, thinking about their reactions, “Colin and Daphne seem willing to give it a chance at least.”

 

“They are,” Benedict replied, “Daphne was concerned that she would have to leave for some neglected cottage but understands why you need a wife, that it is right for you to be looking for a wife at least,” he paused, “I suppose now you have reassured her she will be better about things. What about the babies?”

 

“They seem fine,” Anthony replied, “But I’m not sure if they understand fully.”

 

“So we just need to make sure El and Frannie don’t say anything to make them worried about everything,” Benedict concluded, “Are you bringing her to meet them all before the wedding?”

 

“She is coming for dinner tomorrow with her mother,” Anthony replied, “And then we thought we would have a picnic in the park, she has a sister who is Eloise’s age and we thought it would be nice for them all to meet.”


Kate took a deep breath as she walked up the steps to Bridgerton House with Mary; she knew it was silly but she was a little scared about meeting Anthony’s younger siblings and what that meeting could do for her and Anthony’s marriage.

 

“It will all be fine,” Mary reassured her, squeezing her hand lightly, “Oh Kate, I’m so proud of you. A Viscountess! He seems like a fine man too; he will look after you, that is clear.”

 

Kate smiled, “I know,” she replied, just as the door opened and Anthony stood there with a big smile on his face.

 

Soon the two Sheffield women were swept into the loving chaos of Bridgerton House. Benedict was sat on one of the sofas in the drawing room with Eloise and Francesca piled on top of him, reading to him from their books. Colin was on the opposite sofa with Daphne, both entertaining the youngest siblings who were excited to be in the room so late in the day. 

 

Benedict was the first to notice the new arrivals and pushed Eloise and Francesca off his lap and stood to greet the women, his action getting the attention of the other children. 

 

“Which one is she?” Eloise half-whispered to Daphne, “I don’t think any of them will be like Mama.”

 

“Shh,” Colin hissed. 

 

Anthony turned to Kate and smiled, mouthing an apology before he turned to the siblings, “This is Miss Katherine Sheffield,” he introduced, “The lady who has agreed to be my wife.”

 

“You’re so pretty,” Daphne smiled, “I love your dress.”

 

“No Daphne,” Eloise cried, “We’re not going to like her, remember!” 

 

“Eloise!” Benedict snapped, “We spoke about this!”

 

“Thank you,” Kate smiled at Daphne as Eloise and Benedict conducted a whispered conversation in the back of the room, “I like your dress too; that colour is very nice on you.”

 

Daphne smiled and preened slightly under the attention, something Kate noticed and quickly drew the girl into a conversation about fabrics and colours. “I never get to speak about things like this with Anthony,” Daphne said softly, “Boys just simply don’t understand!”

 

Kate smiled, “I know,” she agreed, “Maybe, we could go to the modiste together?”

 

Daphne smiled brighter and Kate realised that the eldest Bridgerton girl had been left to flounder slightly without their mother and therefore, may be the easiest of the girls to win over. Suddenly a small hand hit her skirts, “Hi!” Hyacinth chirped from her side.

 

“Hello,” Kate smiled, reaching down for the small girl, “You must be Miss Hyacinth. I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”

 

Hyacinth grinned and started to play with the bracelet Kate wore on her wrist, “What about me!” Gregory demanded as he moved over to the group, “Did  you want to meet me too?”

 

“Greg!” Anthony sighed, “Manners!”

 

Kate laughed, “I did indeed,” she agreed, “It is very nice to meet you. And you,” she smiled at Francesca who had slipped into the seat next to Daphne without a word.

 

Francesca smiled and leaned back into Anthony who moved her slightly so that he could join the group, “I’m sorry about Eloise,” he said softly, “I’ll talk to her again. How was your music lesson today Frannie?”

 

“Quite well,” Francesca smiled, her whole face lighting up, “I learned a whole new piece.”

 

Anthony smiled down at her, “You’ll have to play it for me tomorrow,” he said, tugging on her curls softly, “Now go on up, and take the babies with you. I’ll be up in a little while.”

 

Francesca smiled and kissed Anthony’s cheek before holding her hands out for Hyacinth and Gregory; leading them out of the room.

 

“So,” Anthony smiled after they had finished dinner, “Have they scared you off?”

 

“Not at all,” Kate smiled in reply, “They are all delightful.”

 

Anthony snorted in laughter, “No they aren’t,” he grinned, “But thank you for lying about it. Shall we try for a picnic tomorrow? Maybe you could bring your sister, then the children could all get to know each other?”

 

“I would like that,” Kate smiled, “I will see you tomorrow.”

 

Chapter Text

1807

 

Kate smiled to herself as she woke the morning following her wedding, she was now Lady Katherine Bridgerton, Viscountess Bridgerton. She shook her head slightly to clear the giddy thoughts that gathered whenever she heard her new title. She had arrived in London earlier that season somewhat under protest, her father had died a year previously and she knew from the panicked conversations she had overheard between her step-mother and the family’s solicitor that the family funds were scarce. Kate had tried to protest that she didn’t need a London season, she would be perfectly happy continuing to attend the same balls she had been attending in Somerset for the last few years and would find a perfectly respectable husband there but Mary Sheffield had other ideas. 

 

Kate did not really see the point in her doing the London season, she was the eldest daughter of the second son of a Baron with next to no dowry to speak of and really, what kind of man would marry the secondary branch of a family when the main line had the money? She hadn’t counted on Lady Danbury and Lord Bridgerton. 

 

The formidable Lady had welcomed Kate into her home and set about teaching the girl all she needed to know about that season’s most eligible bachelors; one name Lady Danbury seemed to stress above all others was that of Viscount Bridgerton. Lady Danbury had stressed the long friendship between herself and the late Viscountess and the current Viscount’s long friendship with Lady Danbury’s godson who was currently off exploring the world and Kate was intrigued by her stories of the man. She was even more intrigued when she met him and realised just how handsome he really was. 

 

She had spent the first few weeks of their courtship interrogating the staff at Danbury House for any gossip they could share about the Viscount, any tales of rakish behaviour or bad debts but the staff had nothing to say. It seemed that Anthony Bridgerton had gone from carousing around Oxford with a group of friends from Eton to sitting in Parliament with the same men’s fathers within the space of several months and no one around London had heard anything regarding any gambling debts, mistresses on the side or a longing for strong drink in the years since. 

 

Kate frowned and looked over at her husband who was still sleeping peacefully. She didn’t love this man, not yet, but she could see how she could come to do so. She was shaken from her musings when Anthony stirred, “What are you thinking about Wife?” he asked with a lazy smile.

 

“Nothing really,” Kate replied, “Just how much things have changed in the last few weeks. I still can’t quite believe all of this.”

 

“Good changes though?” Anthony asked as he leaned over her slightly and kissed her softly, “And we better start getting dressed, Gregory has a habit of coming in first thing in the morning.”

 

Kate chuckled, “Very good changes,” she smiled as she stood and rang for her maid, “When do we leave for Kent?”

 

“After breakfast,” Anthony replied as he moved towards his dressing room, “I thought we could have breakfast with them all before we set off and then we have a week at Aubrey Hall just to ourselves before they descend.”

 

Kate smiled, “A week alone,” she sighed, “That sounds perfect.”

 


During the following week at Aubrey Hall, the newly-weds took the time to really get to know each other. Anthony learned of Kate’s absolute terror of thunderstorms during one night when thunder crashed around them and she clung to him in their bed, shaking and crying and Kate learned of Anthony’s mortal terror of bees following an ... incident ... in the flower garden when he attempted to remove the venom from a sting on her chest. 

 

“It is a good job we are already married,” she laughed when his panic had subsided, “Otherwise we would be in front of the Archbishop with a special licence!” 

 

Anthony had laughed and taken her hand before walking them both to the memorial for his parents and talking to her softly about his father and the ways in which the late Viscount had shaped the man she had married.

 

“What about your mother?” Kate asked softly as they made their way back to the house, “You rarely speak of her and, well, if she is the Viscountess that people remember I think I would like to know more about her; if only so I can live up to her standard.”

 

Anthony paused before answering, “I find it difficult to speak of my mother,” he replied, “The mother she was before my father died and the mother she was afterwards are two very different people and I find it hard to separate the two.”

 

Kate said nothing and simply squeezed his hand a little tighter in reassurance, “Before my father died,” Anthony continued, “She was the best mother I could imagine; despite having so many of us she always made time for us individually, she was always interested in what we had to say. That woman died with my father.”

 

“I don’t know if you have realised,” Anthony said, “But Hyacinth was born after our father died; it was a very difficult birth and we nearly lost our mother then. She never recovered.”

 

“Benedict said it was a fever that took her,” Kate said softly, “Was it childbed fever?”

 

Anthony shook his head, “It was lung fever that caught her in the end,” he replied, “But for the last two years of her life she was either in bed with a fever or melancholy or she was raging at me over something I wasn’t doing or as was more often the case, something I was doing.”

 

“What do you mean?” Kate asked, as the couple stopped at the folly in the middle of the lawn.

 

“She was most angry when I had to do things for the younger children that our father would have done,” Anthony said eventually, “She would scream at me when she found out that I had taken Eloise and Francesca out on their ponies as that was not my job, it was the job of a father. When she found out that I would sit with Greg and read the newspaper, like our father had done with the rest of us, she was so angry. There were times I honestly thought that she would seriously hurt the children if she was left with them. That woman is still so present when I think of my mother that I struggle to speak of the good times.”

 

Kate sat and thought about all Anthony had shared, it explained so much about how he interacted with the youngest children; his insistence that they refer to him as their brother despite the clear indications that he was a father figure to the youngest siblings and his reluctance to speak about the late Viscountess, even with his siblings.

 

“I hope to be as she was before then,” Kate said softly, “I think I would have succeeded if our children remember me as the best mother they could have wished for.”

 

Anthony smiled softly at her, “If you truly want to know more,” he said taking her hand gently, “Then Benedict will be able to provide you with any number of stories; he will be more than happy to tell you tales of our errant youth.”

 

Kate laughed, “I can imagine you both,” she grinned, “Charging around these grounds with some poor nursemaid trailing behind you!” 

 

Anthony laughed, “I’ll show you how we used to escape from our tutors later,” he replied, “If only so you can remind me to block them up so Gregory doesn’t do the same!”

 


 

After a wonderful week of alone time, the rest of the Bridgerton family descended on Aubrey Hall all determined to have their own time with Anthony, sometimes with and other times without Kate. Over the next few weeks, the family fell into a kind of pattern and rhythm in their interactions with each other but the tensions bubbled underneath the surface and Kate spent half the time waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

 

Benedict was the simplest to deal with, the man was happy that his brother had found a wife and tended to spend time with Anthony after dinner, discussing their siblings and other business over brandy and cigars before coming through to the drawing room to chat with Anthony and Kate together before retiring to bed. Kate could see herself getting along with her oldest brother-in-law, especially as he was also somewhat of an artist and seemed quite happy to spend time with Kate as she worked on her watercolours in the gardens. 

 

Colin seemed to be somewhat of an enigma to Kate, on the one hand the teenager seemed happy to spend time with her and treated her with the same detached politeness he treated family friends and guests but on occasion, he would treat her as a favoured sister and sit and talk to her about his desire to travel when his studies were completed. Anthony did not seem concerned with Colin’s behaviour and so Kate decided to continue as she had been with the third Bridgerton and see how things turned out. 

 

Her instincts regarding Daphne were correct, the eldest Bridgerton girl soon latched onto Kate as though the girls had been friends forever. Daphne was happy to spend hours at Kate’s side as the woman planned dinners and parties and got to work re-decorating parts of both Aubrey Hall and Bridgerton House, chattering away about the latest fashions at the modiste and gossip she had heard from the servants. It soon became a common sight to see the Viscountess and the eldest Miss Bridgerton walking around the property together chatting and giggling away. It shocked Kate therefore, when Daphne sided with Eloise during one particular seismic fight. 

 

The day had started fairly normally, Kate was sitting in the parlour reading when Hyacinth skipped into the room. The four year old had taken to spending part of her morning with Kate whilst the woman read to her and Hyacinth would regularly seek out Kate if she did not enter the nursery immediately after breakfast. 

 

Kate smiled and pulled Hyacinth onto the sofa next to her, allowing the small girl to lean into her side. They remained that way, with Kate reading to her for some time before the other girls all slipped into the room, taking their own seats on the various chairs and sofas listening to the story. Kate smiled to herself, this is how she had imagined spending her time when Anthony talked about his siblings; sitting with the girls and providing the female presence they all clearly needed. 

 

She had stopped reading for a second when Hyacinth’s impatient hand landed on the book, “You’ve not finished Mama,” she said, her bottom lip sticking out in a pout.

 

The atmosphere immediately changed in the room, Kate froze unsure how to address Hyacinth’s declaration. “She is not your Mama,” Eloise said firmly, grabbing Hyacinth’s arm and pulling her from Kate’s side, “She will never be our Mama, you are not to say that again!”

 

Hyacinth started to cry as Eloise’s furious face glowered down at her, “Eloise!” Kate snapped, “Stop that at once! You are hurting Hyacinth!”

 

“You can’t tell me what to do!” Eloise shouted, “You are not our Mama! You are nothing to us!”

 

Francesca frowned and nodded along to Eloise’s words, letting the older girl take the lead in this particular argument. Daphne soon stepped in between Eloise and Hyacinth, “It isn’t Hyacinth’s fault,” she said softly, “And you are hurting her El.”

 

“I knew you would take her side,” Eloise spat, tears coming to her eyes, “You don’t care about Mama anymore!”

 

“That’s not true,” Daphne replied, her own eyes shining with tears, “I know Kate isn’t Mama and Hyacinth, you can’t call her that, it is wrong. But El, Hyacinth was scared of you and that’s not right.”

 

Eloise muttered an apology to Hyacinth before the three older sisters all turned to Kate, “You are not our Mama,” Daphne said firmly, “And we will not call you Mama. Hyacinth will be told that she was wrong and you will let us tell her that.”

 

Kate sat frozen, unsure of her place in addressing the situation. Daphne and Eloise started to try and explain to Hyacinth why the small girl was incorrect but a confused and scared Hyacinth continued to cry and the noise soon brought Anthony to the parlour.

 

“What is going on?” he asked as he entered, picking up Hyacinth in an attempt to calm her.

 

“It’s her!” Eloise shouted, pointing at Kate before the other sisters had a chance to say anything, “She is trying to take over! Anthony, you need to stop this and send her back!”

 

“That isn’t how this works Eloise,” Anthony said, taking a seat next to Kate and allowing Hyacinth to crawl onto her lap, “Now, can someone tell me what has happened?”

 

“Mama sad,” Hyacinth said softly, wiping her hands over Kate’s face where tears had fallen. 

 

Anthony deflated and let out a soft ‘Oh’ as he sank onto the sofa cushions, “Girls, go upstairs,” he said softly, “I’ll come up in a minute, just let me talk to Hyacinth, please.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Kate said softly as the three older girls stormed out of the room, “I was just so shocked that she said it, I froze.”

 

“It’s not your fault,” Anthony soothed, “I should have thought of saying something earlier; I’ll talk to them, tell them that they can’t speak to you like that.”

 

Kate nodded and kissed Hyacinth’s hands as the small girl continued to wipe at her tears, “Thank you darling,” she said softly, “Go and sit with Anthony for a minute whilst I call for tea.”

 

Hyacinth moved back across to Anthony and settled against her brother’s chest, toying with his signet ring as she did so, “Hy,” Anthony said softly, “Do you understand why everyone is so upset?”

 

“No,” Hyacinth replied, “I just wanted Mama to keep reading. I don’t think El liked the story.”

 

“Darling,” Anthony said softly, turning Hyacinth to look at her directly, “Kate isn’t your Mama, she is my wife. We spoke about this, do you remember?”

 

“But,” Hyacinth replied, “In my stories a Mama and Papa look after the children and that’s what you do. So, you are Mama and Papa.”

 

“No darling,” Anthony sighed, “Mama and Papa died, I’m not your Papa, not really. You’re our sister, our most darling sister. But you can’t call us Mama and Papa, it makes everyone upset. Do you understand?”

 

“So you are secret Mama and Papa,” Hyacinth concluded, “I have to call you Anthony and Kate because everyone else gets upset; I’ll go tell Greg. Love you!”

 

Anthony blinked as the now cheerful four-year old skipped out of the room. Kate looked at him from her place near the fireplace, “I never asked her to do it,” she said softly, “I never wanted to come in and take anyone’s place.”

 

Anthony stood and moved over to her, “I know,” he said softly, bringing her into his arms, “She doesn’t remember either of them so I suppose it makes sense in her head. I’m sorry they all screamed at you like that, I will speak to them about it. Are you alright?”

 

“Of course,” Kate smiled, “Don’t be too harsh on them, it was a shock to us all.”

 

Anthony nodded and left the room, heading to the nursery to speak with his sisters. Kate never found out what was said that day but it took a few months before the tensions between the female occupants of the house subsided. 

 

It was also a few months later that Anthony and Kate discovered that the two youngest Bridgertons had taken to blending their names into PapaAnt and MamaKate when talking about the two surrogate parents between themselves. 

 

1808

 

Kate screamed as she laboured to bring their first child into the world and Anthony was plunged back to the night five years earlier when his mother made the same screams bringing Hyacinth into the world. Just as the doctors were discussing cutting the baby out, a small weak cry was heard. Kate had been suffering from a summer cold for the last few weeks and both Anthony and the doctors were concerned that the slight fever would cause problems for both mother and child. 

 

Anthony sat with the small girl cradled in his arms as the doctors tended to Kate, their little girl was so small it was a miracle she had survived the birth. In the end their daughter lived for two hours; and spent her whole life in her father’s arms. Kate had slept fitfully, weakened from the labour and did not know that the baby had died. They had not even had a chance to name their daughter; she had not been baptised and so Anthony did not know what was going to happen to the child. 

 

“We could put her in with Mama and Papa,” Ben said softly from the doorway, “She doesn’t need to go into any kind of dismal plot somewhere.”

 

“I can’t think of it now,” Anthony said, his eyes avoiding the baby in her bassinet as he sat with Kate, “Ben ... what if Kate ends up like she did.”

 

“She won’t,” Ben said quietly, “It’s not the same at all.”

 

“When I told her about Mother,” Anthony said quietly, “She said that giving birth can do things to a woman’s mind; that all the things Mother said, back then, that they were probably due to some imbalance that was caused by Hyacinth’s birth.”

 

“Mother was grieving,” Benedict replied, “She wasn’t herself back then ...”

 

“Don’t,” Anthony said sharply, “Don’t continue to stick up for her; not to me. Sing her praises to the children but do not dare do the same to me.”

 

Ben slumped, “Fine,” he huffed, “What do you want me to tell the children?”

 

“Hyacinth’s was a difficult birth,” Anthony continued as though Benedict had not spoken, “Kate suffered through this one; I can’t do it again Ben,” he broke, “I can’t take all that again.”

 

Benedict moved into the room and sat next to Anthony, “You won’t have to,” he promised, “You won’t have to because you won’t keep it all from me this time. There’ll be no hiding away in some hidden corner of the house this time Ant; if Kate ends up like that then I’ll take it too. We’ll take it so the children don’t have to.”

 

Anthony nodded, “Thanks,” he said softly, “And I’ll speak to the vicar about interning the baby with Mother and Papa. Can you ... just can ...”

 

“I'll send word down to the vicar,” Benedict said, “And I’ll keep the children out of the way for now.”

 

Anthony smiled and turned his attention back to his wife. He hadn’t said it to her, but Anthony had fallen in love with his wife and now, the thought of losing her was crippling him, he grasped her hand and pressed a kiss to the back of it, willing her to wake as he did so. 

 

1809

 

“What if this one dies too?” Kate asked softly, almost not daring to say the words aloud, as she and Anthony sat on their bed; both of their hands on her prominent baby bump, “What if I don’t make it through this time?”

 

“Don’t say that,” Anthony said, kissing her softly, “It will all be fine; the doctors are confident.”

 

“But what if it is me?” Kate pleaded, “What if I’m defective, what if I’m barren?!”

 

“You’re not,” Anthony soothed, “The doctors think it was the fever that caused ... that was the reason last time.”

 

“But what happens if it does happen again?” Kate pressed, “What happens if I can’t give you a child? If there is no heir?”

 

“You seem to be forgetting my three brothers,” Anthony said dryly, “We can always marry Benedict off and a nephew can take the title instead. I don’t care Kate,” he said softly, kissing her lightly, “I just want you to be safe; if we have a tribe of girls then we have girls. Stop fretting.”

 

Kate smiled and relaxed back into the pillows, “I do feel a bit better this time around,” she admitted, “And I think being in London is better, the doctors here are a little more experienced I think, don’t you?”

 

“They are,” Anthony smiled, “I’m going to go and do some work in the study but send for me if you need me.”

 

Pressing a kiss to Kate’s cheek, Anthony smiled and made his way back down to his study. As he passed the nursery playroom he decided to check on his youngest siblings and maybe enjoy a game or two with them, his papers could wait for an hour or so. 

 

“Hello,” he smiled as he pushed open the door, “Room for one more?”

 

“PapaAnt!” Gregory cheered as he saw his older brother, “I’m playing soldiers, you can be Wellington and I’ll be Napoleon!”

 

Anthony smiled and sat on the floor with his youngest brother, “What great battle are we fighting today?” he asked as he set up the tin soldiers. Gregory frowned as he tried to remember the latest lessons he had received from his tutors, “Wagram,” he said finally with a triumphant grin, “Oh, Wellington wasn’t at that one was he?”

 

Anthony shook his head, “Do you remember who was?” he asked, watching the young boy’s face screw up in concentration once again. 

 

“Austria!” Gregory cheered, “Oh, but I can’t remember who leads their army. My tutor thinks I’m stupid you know,” Gregory added conversationally, “I can never remember these things.”

 

Anthony frowned, “Your tutor has not said anything of the sort to me,” he said, “It’s Archduke Charles, the leader of the Austrian army. We can read the reports in the newspaper tomorrow if you like, then you can set this up for that.”

 

“We won’t be able to do this soon,” Gregory said softly, moving to lean against Anthony, “When you have your new baby; you won’t be able to come and see me and Hyacinth like you do now.”

 

“Why not?” Anthony asked.

 

“Because you’ll have your own baby,” Gregory pressed, “And, well, me and Hy; we’re only your practice go. When you have your own children you’ll have to spend all your time with them. It’s fine, we’ve talked about it and we have agreed that as long as we still get to see you at least once a week, we’ll be fine.”

 

Anthony frowned, “How long have you both been thinking that?” he asked softly, sitting more comfortably on the floor and pulling Gregory onto his lap, “And why have you been thinking that?”

 

“We first thought about it last year,” Greg admitted, “But now we’ve started thinking about it again and the night nurse said that she’d soon be looking after your real children and not your orphaned siblings. She doesn’t know that we heard her,” Gregory said quickly, “But it’s true; the baby will be your real children, not your pretend ones like me and Hy.”

 

Anthony pulled Gregory into his chest, “Don’t you ever think that again,” he said fiercely, “You will not be being pushed aside for anyone. You are mine and don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise. And when you and Hyacinth talk about this again, you can tell her the same. Do you understand me Greg?”

 

Gregory nodded and threw his arms around Anthony, hugging him tightly, “My PapaAnt,” he said, “I love you.”

 

Anthony dropped a kiss to the top of the boy’s head, “Love you too Greg,” he said softly.

 


 

“So, I heard you shouted at the servants today brother,” Benedict teased as the two brothers sat having a drink after dinner, “Did someone not buff your boots correctly?”

 

“I fired one of the night nurses,” Anthony replied sharply, “For speaking out of turn.”

 

Benedict frowned, “What do you mean?” he asked

 

“I popped into the nursery this afternoon,” Anthony replied, “And Greg told me that he had overheard one of the nurses saying that she wouldn’t have to bother looking after them both when Kate gives birth and they have both been worried about it.”

 

“What!” Benedict gasped, “Why would the nurse even think that you would allow it?”

 

Anthony shrugged, “I can only assume that they believed I wouldn’t know,” he replied, “That I would put any differences between the two of them and the baby would be due to Greg and Hy acting up and not think anything of it. I don’t want to know how long they have been gossiping about this where the children could hear.”

 

“Now I want to go down and shout at them,” Benedict grumbled, “Are the children alright?”

 

“I think so,” Anthony sighed, “Kate and I have spent time with them today and told them nothing will change but, can you keep an eye on them too? Things will change when the baby is born,” Anthony confessed, “The nurses will spend more time with the baby, it is only natural, but I hope it would be more how we were all treated with the next new arrival.”

 

“But if the baby is a boy, it will be treated differently,” Benedict frowned, “You were always treated differently to me and Colin; that would be difficult to explain to Greg.”

 

“We can have that conversation later, I just need them to know they won’t be abandoned.” Anthony stressed.

 

“OK,” Benedict agreed, “I’ll keep an eye on them. Don’t beat yourself up about this though; the staff gossip you know that and we can’t shield them from everything.”

 

“They would have done though,” Anthony muttered, “They would have shielded them.”

 

“No, they wouldn’t,” Benedict replied sharply, “It is not possible to do so; you need to stop comparing yourself to them. Ignore everything she said; she was wrong Ant. You know it and I know it.”

 

Edmund Anthony Bridgerton was born on 17 September 1809 to much celebration in Bridgerton House, he was installed in the nursery and had two devoted attendants in his youngest Uncle and Aunt. He was followed in 1811 by Miss Charlotte Mary Bridgerton and she soon became the most beloved member of the large and slightly chaotic family.

Chapter Text

1813

 

It had started as a rumour, a low murmuring amongst the men in Whites and a high tittering giggle amongst the Mama’s of Mayfair’s ballrooms but Anthony refused to listen and believe it until now.

 

“You must have heard Lord Bridgerton,” Lady Danbury greeted, tapping her cane on the floor as Anthony stopped following Daphne with his eyes, “I think everyone in town has asked me to confirm, everyone that is, apart from you.”

 

“Ah Lady Danbury,” Anthony smiled, “If I believed that particular rumour everytime I heard it, I would still be waiting to wed. I take it that this time it is actually true?”

 

“As true as I am standing here,” she grinned, “I’m expecting him at my table for breakfast tomorrow, the old bastard was finally put in the ground last week.”

 

Anthony smiled, his first true smile in many years, “Send him my way for lunch will you?” he asked, “He has a godson to meet.”

 


 

Simon Bassett, Duke of Hastings, stepped out of his carriage outside his best and oldest friend’s house; it had been nearly ten years since he had last seen his friend and had missed a wedding and the birth of at least one child in those years. He frowned as he took sight of the small line of gentlemen with courting gifts on the steps, surely he hadn’t been gone so long that one of the children was now old enough to do the season?

 

Ignoring the shouts, Simon bounded up the steps and presented his card to the butler, “I’m here to see Lord Bridgerton,” he announced, loud enough for the line of suitors to hear, “I believe I am expected.”

 

“You’ve been expected for the last eight years, Bassett,” Anthony laughed from the door of his study, “Or sorry, is it Hastings now?”

 

“You can keep to Bassett,” Simon replied, before grinning as the two old friends embraced, “How are things?”

 

Anthony frowned, “What is all this Humboldt?” he asked, gesturing to the suitors.

 

“For Miss Daphne,” Humboldt replied quietly, “Lady Bridgerton has not indicated that they are ready to receive callers, my Lord.”

 

“Oh for heaven’s sake,” Anthony sighed, “Give me a minute will you Bassett?”

 

A few minutes later, the line of suitors were being entertained by Kate and Daphne and Simon and Anthony were in his study. 

 

“Little Daphne is old enough to court?” Simon said, the shock clear on his face, “When did that happen?”

 

“Two years ago,” Anthony sighed, “Eloise is out next year and Frannie the one after that.”

 

“Bloody hell,” Simon huffed, “And Daphne’s had no offers?”

 

“Oh she’s had plenty,” Anthony replied, “None of which I deemed acceptable. It seems that every man who has asked wants her dowry to cover off gambling debts; I’m not sending my sister to live in some kind of genteel poverty with a man who can’t control his habits.”

 

“You surely  can’t want to keep her at home forever though,” Simon commented, “And every man has his vices, you know that.”

 

“I have a wife who is more than happy to keep up with some of those habits,” Anthony replied with a grin, “Who you actually need to meet, by the way.”

 

“And I understand I have a godson to spoil too,” Simon retorted, “A very poorly disguised ploy of you and Aunt Agatha to get me home.”

 

“Had to try,” Anthony laughed, “Your steward was a fine stand-in by the way, didn’t drop my son or anything.”

 

“Has it really been eight years?” Simon sighed, looking around the room, noting the changes that had been made, “How have things been?”

 

“It definitely has been eight years,” Anthony replied with an eye roll, “And things have been difficult; I’m raising eight children, it wasn’t going to be easy.”

 

Simon simply nodded and the two old friends sank into their chairs, enjoying the brandy Anthony had provided.

 

“You seem a lot more comfortable with it,” Simon commented suddenly, “Than you did when I left. You’ve grown into it.”

 

“Doesn’t feel like it,” Anthony grumbled, “But I suppose I must have done. Come on, I’ll introduce you to Kate; the children will be in the nursery but they’ll be down at some point.”

 


 

“Anthony!” Hyacinth cheered as he entered the parlour, making a run for her brother who caught her with the ease of someone with years of practice, “I’ve finally completed my sums, can we please go for an ice now?”

 

“Not yet,” Anthony replied, “We have a guest.”

 

“Those silly men who have come to see Daph?” Hyacinth asked, dismissal clear in her tone, “One of them played marbles with Greg.”

 

As the young girl continued to list the faults of the men who had paid Daphne calls that day, Simon stood choking on his laughter until Hyacinth noticed him, “Oh,” she said, mid-word, “Who are you?”

 

“Hyacinth!” Kate snapped, “Manners!”

 

Hyacinth had the grace to blush as Simon smiled easily, “Hello Miss Hyacinth,” he greeted, “I’m Simon, I’ve not seen you since you were in the cradle.”

 

“Did you know us then?” Gregory exclaimed, “Did you know Anthony too?”

 

“Your brother is my best and oldest friend,” Simon replied honestly, “But I’ve been away for a very long time.”

 

Anthony moved over to Kate, “Yes he is who you think,” he whispered in her ear, before gesturing for Simon to come over, “Bassett, can I introduce you to my lovely Lady wife, Katherine.”

 

“Lady Bridgerton,” Simon smiled, taking her hand and kissing her knuckles, “A pleasure. And please accept my apologies for missing the wedding.”

 

“Your Grace,” Kate curtsied slightly, “All is forgiven, it is nice to finally meet you.”

 

“And I’m sure you remember the rest of them,” Anthony commented, “Eloise is  the one with her nose in a book, Francesca is on the pianoforte and this is Daphne. Ben and Colin are out somewhere but I’m sure they’ll be back soon.”

 

Eloise waved absently whilst Francesca and Daphne made small curtseys. Kate slipped out of the room to retrieve their own children from the nursery.

 

“Did someone really start playing marbles with Greg?” Anthony asked as he inspected the cards left by Daphne’s suitors that morning, “And I thought I sent this one packing last season.” He threw the card into the fire in disgust.

 

“Yes,” Daphne smiled slightly, “Mr Finch, I think it was. He didn’t have much to say and then next thing he was on the floor with Greg.”

 

Simon, who had been trying to control his laughter up to that point burst into peals of laughter, “Oh that is priceless!” he stated, “Did he mistake Greg for the Viscount?” 

 

“I do not know Your Grace,” Daphne replied, before giving into her own giggles, “I didn’t know where to look or what to say! Kate got rid of him, thankfully.”

 

“It’s Simon,” Simon replied with an eye-roll, “You called me Simon when I used to visit as a boy so I think you can call me Simon now.”

 

Daphne smiled and blushed, Anthony rolled his eyes and shook his head before catching Simon’s eye with a warning glare.

 

“Papa! Papa!” Any tension was saved by four year old Edmund running into the room and straight for Anthony. 

 

Anthony swung his son on to his hip, “I want you to meet your godfather,” he turned so that the young boy could see Simon, “He has been away for a long time but he’s come to meet you today.”

 

Edmund frowned and looked at Simon, “He's been away?” he asked, with a frown, “Why?”

 

“To see the world,” Simon replied, standing to greet the small boy, “I have got some gifts for you.”

 

Edmund’s eyes grew large, in the only way a small child’s can when promised gifts, “I don’t have them with me today,” Simon continued, “But maybe I could come again tomorrow?”

 

Edmund grinned and nodded before wriggling back down to the floor and scampering off again towards his mother and sister.

 

Simon looked at his old friend and chuckled before taking his leave with promises to visit again. 

 


 

“Anthony’s friend is very handsome,” Daphne commented as she and Kate prepared for that evening’s ball, “Did you think so?”

 

“I didn’t notice,” Kate replied, “But I understand a lot of women do think that, yes.”

 

“I bet he is very interesting to talk to,” Daphne continued, “Do you think he will be at Lady Danbury’s ball tonight?”

 

“I think he will be,” Kate replied, “She is his godmother after all. Why do you ask?”

 

“He just seems to be the most interesting man I have met in a while,” Daphne replied, “After the marble incident, it would be nice to speak with a man who knows the world.”

 

Kate simply nodded, she could see this going very badly. Anthony was fiercely protective of his siblings, particularly his sisters, and she was well aware of the reputation the new Duke of Hastings had left behind in London before he embarked on his tour of the world and she could only imagine how that same reputation was probably now in every country he had visited. Anthony might like Simon, consider the other man one of his closest friends who had been witness to the lowest times of Anthony’s life but Anthony would not trust a rake such as Simon Bassett anywhere near his sister. 

 

Kate looked at Daphne and thought about the relationship she had with the young woman, it hadn’t been as simple as her relationship with the younger children or even with her older brothers, Colin and especially Benedict had easily welcomed her to the family; happy that Anthony finally had someone to lean on, someone to help raise the rest of the children. 

 

Gregory and Hyacinth had simply accepted her and loved her equally as fiercely as they loved Anthony, they were after all the only parents the two youngest Bridgertons could remember but the three middle girls, they had all been so determined to cling to the memory of their mother and so against Kate taking her place that they had actively fought her about everything. It was a hard six months of tears, tantrums and fights before they settled into an easy rhythm of friendship.

 

“Anthony will be furious,” Kate commented casually, “You do realise that he has known the Duke of Hastings from school?”

 

“I know,” Daphne replied with a smile, “But if we get along, I don’t think he would have too many objections, do you?”

 

“I think you should see if His Grace speaks with you tonight,” Kate warned, “And how well you actually get along. If you are serious, and he returns the sentiment, then I will speak with Anthony and try to calm him.”

 

“Thank you Kate!” Daphne gushed, giving her sister-in-law a rare hug, “Thank you!”

 


 

Anthony frowned as he watched Simon leading Daphne around the dance floor in a waltz, “Remind me again why you insisted she have permission to waltz?” he asked Kate as she also watched the couple

 

“Because you do actually want her to be married,” Kate reminded him, “You do actually want her settled and happy. And can I remind you that you clearly trust him enough to be the godfather to our son so surely you can trust him to dance with your sister?”

 

Anthony frowned, “You are forgetting that I know exactly what he will be thinking whilst he is dancing with her,” he replied quietly, “And that is not something I want him thinking about my sister.”

 

Kate rolled her eyes, “I’m sure it is something similar to what you thought the first time we danced in this ballroom,” she replied, “I am not naive enough to believe that your first thought was of love and marriage.”

 

“Well actually ...” Anthony hedged

 

“Marriage I will grant you,” Kate replied quickly, “That was clearly what you wanted, no, what you needed, but when we first danced and talked, I was just another debutante with a nice dress and an ability to dance a quadrille; I was as faceless to you then as the rest of the room. And don’t deny it.”

 

Anthony smiled and kissed Kate’s hand softly, “But that soon changed,” he smiled.

 

“And it could happen for Daphne,” Kate pressed, “She is intrigued by him at the moment, let them talk at least before you go over.”

 

“Fine,” Anthony sighed, “Benedict is on his way over anyway.”

 

Kate rolled her eyes, “I’m at my wits end with the pair of you,” she said, indulgently, “I’m going to go and pay our respects to the hostess, please try and not kill your oldest friend in the middle of Lady Danbury’s ballroom. And, if you see Colin send him my way.”

 


 

“Hastings!” Benedict greeted Simon with a grin, “The long lost traveller returns! Does Anthony know you are back?”

 

“I had luncheon with him this morning,” Simon replied with his own grin

 

“Daph,” Benedict said, suddenly noticing his sister, “What are you doing here?”

 

“It’s a ball Ben,” Daphne replied, as though he was a particularly slow child, “His Grace and I have just danced, we are now getting refreshments and then he is escorting me back to Kate. What else would I be doing here?”

 

Benedict frowned, “And Anthony knows?” he clarified, “Or is he not here?”

 

“No, I’m here,” Anthony replied, from behind Benedict, “Where have you been and where is Colin?”

 

“I’ve been around,” Benedict hedged, “And Colin is ... actually, you know I’m not entirely sure. I can tell you that he is in London though.”

 

“Helpful,” Anthony replied with an eyeroll, “Come on Daph, I’ll dance the next with you.”

 

Daphne smiled at Simon before placing her hand in Anthony’s and let him lead her to the dance floor.

 

“He seems calmer,” Simon commented as he and Benedict stood together, watching the proceedings, “More settled with all of it.”

 

Benedict took a drink, “He is, I think,” he replied after a few seconds, “Kate helped; she helped a lot. The youngest two, I don’t think they remember anything other than Anthony and Kate so it was easy for them. The girls, well, everything is settled now; unless one of them gets in a temper about something.”

 

“So, where is Colin?” Simon asked with a grin, “And does it have something to do with your disappearance all day?”

 

Benedict laughed, “Colin is at home sleeping things off,” he replied, “We’ve been in Whites most of the day and then took a trip out to the boxing. He’s a little worse for wear so I thought it best he went home instead of coming here. Anthony will not be happy though, so I’m hoping he can only find out in the morning.”

 

“Secret is safe with me,” Simon promised, “But  you might want to take a couple of glasses of lemonade before you have any more otherwise you’ll give the game away.” Benedict laughed but picked up a glass of lemonade nonetheless. 

 

“Are you planning on avoiding me all evening?” Lady Danbury asked with a tap of her cane as she reached the pair.

 

“Aunt Agatha,” Simon smiled, placing a kiss on the older lady’s cheek, “Of course not, but I have been catching up with old friends.”

 

“And making new ones from what I could see,” Agatha commented, “Mr Bridgerton, this is your sister’s second season is it not?”

 

“It is,” Benedict replied

 

“Hmmm,” Lady Danbury sighed, “Nice girl, I’m surprised she’s not been wed already.”

 

“That is a conversation you need to have with my brother,” Benedict replied, “Nothing to do with me.”

 

“Hmmm” Lady Danbury sighed again, “Interesting.”

 

“Don’t think I don’t know what you are doing,” Simon stated, “And it won’t work, I’ll sort myself in my own time.”

 


 

“How was the dance with Hastings?” Anthony asked as he and Daphne danced, “Was he respectful?”

 

“Of course he was!” Daphne replied, slightly scandalised, “And it was nice, we talked about his travels a little. And he asked about my interests, what I have been reading and the like.”

 

“And did you like him?” Anthony asked

 

“I think I did,” Daphne replied with a smile, “Did you know he has been to the Americas?”

 

“I did,” Anthony replied with a small, sad smile, “I expect he has been to most corners of the globe.”

 

“Brother?” Daphne asked, “Are you not happy that I find him interesting?”

 

“Ah,” Anthony sighed, “It’s not that, did I ever tell you I had plans to travel a little after I had finished Eton?”

 

Daphne smiled sadly, “You didn’t,” she replied, knowing the reason as to why Anthony had not left the country with his friend. 

 

Anthony smiled and as the dance finished, led Daphne back to Kate before taking his leave from the ball.

 


 

The following morning Simon sat in his Aunt’s parlour, reading the newspaper, “Are you staying here?” she asked as she sat opposite him, “Or are you actually going to open your own house?”

 

“Are you genuinely curious or are you telling me to move out?” Simon replied, not moving the paper from his face.

 

“Simon,” Agatha sighed, “You know I will never ask you to leave my house but you do have responsibilities now. A house to run, staff to employ; it is your house now, your title, not his, not ever again.”

 

“I know,” Simon snapped, closing the paper and running his hand over his eyes, “I hate that house,” he muttered, “I’ve always hated that house. I’ve no problem going and re-opening Clyveden but there’s something about that house. Can we just leave it for now?”

 

“Of course,” Agatha replied brightly, “Did any young Misses catch your eye last night? Young Miss Bridgerton is a catch, is she not?”

 

Simon groaned, “Do we have to?” he complained, “And to answer your question, no, none of the girls in that ballroom last night caught my eye.”

 

“And Miss Bridgerton?” Agatha pressed, “She would be a fine match you know, and her brother is your closest friend.”

 

“And that is precisely the reason I’m not having this conversation,” Simon replied hotly, “I’m going to be spending a bit of time with them all, so I’ll see how things go. I’ll admit to a passing interest,” he said eventually, “But unless she thinks the same and I’m convinced she’ll be the new Duchess then I’m not acting on it. I can’t risk my friendship with Anthony, the man’s lost enough.”

 

Lady Danbury nodded, “She would make a fine Duchess,” she said softly, “But I will leave you alone for now. Come, let us go on a promenade; I can fill you in on all you have missed these last eight years.”

 

Simon sighed but stood and offered his arm to his aunt as they left Danbury House for their promenade.

 


 

Anthony and Kate walked behind their younger sisters as the four girls chatted and walked with the family’s pet dogs, enjoying the time they had before they too took their places in society.  

 

“We really need to try and get Daphne fixed this year,” Kate commented as they walked, “Otherwise we will have three of them to sort next year.”

 

“I know,” Anthony replied, “But no one suitable has shown any interest and she hasn’t shown any interest in anyone either. I’m not going to force her down the aisle for the first fortune that comes calling.”

 

“I know,” Kate soothed, “She does seem quite interested in the Duke, maybe you could speak with him?”

 

“I’m not sure I would consider Hastings to be suitable,” Anthony grumbled, “And he has always said that he would not marry.”

 

“And I’m sure you said the same when you were carousing around Oxford,” Kate shot back, “He is your oldest friend, in possession of a handsome fortune and will be able to keep Daphne in the finest conditions for the rest of her days. On paper he is more than a perfect match for her, and more to the point she is interested. This is the first man she has shown more than a passing interest in for the last two seasons. Anthony, I know of his reputation and I understand your concerns but, if he wishes to set his cap at her then can we not just see how it goes? I would rather not have to try and get Daphne settled at the same time I am wrestling Eloise into a ball gown.”

 

Anthony snorted a laugh at the image, “We are going to have more than our hands full with Eloise next season,” he agreed, “And Edwina will need to be settled; although I can imagine that being a little easier to contend with.”

 

Kate laughed, “Edwina is looking forward to the season,” she agreed, “I think Eloise would delay if we would let her.”

 

“We can’t,” Anthony replied, “We would have her and Fran to deal with the year after if we allowed her to delay.”

 

“I know,” Kate smiled, “I did wonder if we could allow Eloise to attend a few concerts and such to ease her in. She seems to have built the season into something it is not in her head and maybe if she could see parts it might ease her, and in turn make our lives easier next year.”

 

“Of course,” Anthony agreed, “I think it will help that Miss Featherington is out this year; maybe seeing a friendly face will sooth her nerves.”

 

“Yes,” Kate agreed, “And maybe you can talk to Colin about Miss Featherington, he does seem to be taken with her.”

 

“He wants to take a Grand Tour,” Anthony replied, “I don’t think he will be sticking around at the end of the season, it seems cruel to build the young lady’s hopes like that.”

 

Kate nodded in agreement, “Has he asked you to fund that yet? Or is he still working up the courage?”

 

“I keep over hearing plans he is discussing with Ben,” Anthony replied, “I’m tempted to just leave the banker’s draft on his bed and be done with it.”

 

Kate laughed loudly, “Oh that will break his heart!” she exclaimed.

 


 

A few days later the whole Bridgerton family were having a picnic in Hyde Park, Eloise was complaining about Kate’s efforts to get her and Edwina to the modiste to lower their hems now they were due out and Francesca was complaining that she had to wait a further 12 months to have her own hems lowered. Anthony heard snippets of the conversation, the words ‘not fair’ were being repeated a lot. He sighed and shook his head, it seemed that their struggle with Eloise had already begun.

 

Anthony sat on the blanket, holding the hands of his daughter as the toddler attempted some kind of dance of her own making whilst Hyacinth and Gregory entertained Edmund. Benedict and Colin were stretched out on the blanket behind Anthony, having a whispered conversation about Colin’s tour that Anthony was choosing to ignore. He looked up and saw Daphne sat with Kate and smiled softly, his family, his messy, complicated family all in one place being relatively harmonious; it was something that still surprised him.

 

“Isn’t this the picture of domestic bliss,” Simon laughed as he jumped from his horse, “Can I tempt anyone on a ride?”

 

Daphne straightened slightly and smiled, Anthony sighed, “Come on Daph, I’ll take Ben’s horse and accompany you both.”

 

Daphne smiled brightly and kissed Anthony’s cheek, “Thank you!” she grinned, before moving over to her horse and with the help of a footman, mounted the saddle. 

 

The three had been riding for around ten minutes before Anthony spoke, “I know you told Colin,” he said to Daphne, “About my plans for after Eton.”

 

“Should I not have done so?” Daphne asked softly, “I didn’t realise it was a secret, I assumed Colin would have known at the time.”

 

“It’s never been a secret,” Anthony replied, “But he’s now plotting some elaborate way of asking me to fund his Grand Tour instead of just coming out and asking. It’s getting a little tiring to pretend I don’t know what he is up to.”

 

Simon laughed, “Tell him to come to me for some tips,” he offered, “When you’ve put him out of his misery.”

 

“You will regret that offer,” Anthony replied, “I haven’t heard his plans fully as yet but they have changed a number of times in the last few weeks.”

 

“All good plans do,” Simon said thoughtfully, casting a glance over at Daphne.

 

Anthony rolled his eyes, “Are you staying in London for the rest of the season, your Grace?” Daphne asked with a smile. 

 

“I had not planned on it,” Simon replied, “But I think I could be tempted to do so. Will you be in attendance at Vauxhall this evening?”

 

“I think so,” Daphne replied, “We are  still going to Vauxhall, Anthony?”

 

“We are,” Anthony replied, before looking at Simon, “I’ll take you back to Kate and then the Duke and I can have a conversation.”

 


 

An hour or so later, Anthony and Simon were sitting at one of the tables in Whites sharing a few drinks, “I’m not going to compromise your sister Bridgerton,” Simon said with an eye roll, “There will be no need to call me out on the duelling field.”

 

“She is innocent,” Anthony said quietly, “You are a Duke and you have turned her head; if you are simply being polite because she is my sister then let me know and I can talk to her.”

 

Simon set down his glass and tapped his fingers along the top of it, “I ... am not yet certain,” he said after a while, “I would like the chance to get to know her but if you have objections then I will retire to the country and let Miss Daphne find her match elsewhere.”

 

Anthony frowned and raised his own glass for a refill before answering, “I have no objections,” he said slowly, “But if you are not serious then please do not let anything go on for too long.”

 

Simon nodded and the pair toasted each other before turning the conversation to more lighthearted topics.

 

That evening at Vauxhall, Simon and Daphne shared a dance and the rest of the Ton in attendance noted how attentive the recently returned Duke was to the young debutante; the marriage-minded Mamas of the Ton all cursed their delays in placing their own debutantes in front of the Duke before the Viscount had the chance to introduce his sister to his old friend. 

 

“Our little Daphne a Duchess,” Kate whispered in Anthony’s ear as they stood at the side of the dancefloor watching Daphne laugh at something Simon had said.

 

Anthony rolled his eyes, “Not yet,” he cautioned, “I wouldn’t go putting in an order for her Trousseau at the modiste just  yet. Let’s see how things go. She does look happy though,” he added softly.

 

Kate smiled and let her hand slip into his, giving a small squeeze as she did so. He brought her hand to his lips and placed a soft kiss on her knuckles, “One down,” he smiled, “Far too many to go.”

 

Chapter Text

“I really do think the Duke will propose soon,” Daphne smiled as she sat with Kate and Edwina one morning, a month into the season, “Do you think so? Lady Whistledown keeps saying that he is on the brink of a proposal.”

 

“He has been very diligent in courting you,” Edwina added, “I only hope I can find such a suitor next season.”

 

“Has he mentioned anything to you?” Kate asked, “I know he hasn’t spoken with Anthony about anything yet. And I’m not sure if an anonymous gossip column is the best source of news for something such as this.”

 

Daphne frowned slightly, “He hasn’t,” she admitted quietly, “I thought he might have mentioned something to Anthony though. What do you think Kate?”

 

“I think that he has been a very diligent suitor,” Kate said softly, “And that I will ask Anthony to speak with him shortly. We need to know for certain what the Duke’s intentions are so that we can ensure other suitors come back if necessary. Don’t fret Daphne,” she smiled, “All is not lost, trust me.”

 

Daphne nodded and turned her attention back to her book, missing the concerned look that crossed Kate’s features. 

 


 

“I need you to speak with the Duke,” Kate said as she let herself into Anthony’s study a few hours later, “If he is not going to propose to Daphne then we need to know, there is still time for her to find another match but not if we leave it much later waiting for the Duke.”

 

“I’ll speak to him,” Anthony promised, “I think he has returned to the country for a week, something about his tenants, but I will speak to him when he returns. Has he truly not said anything to Daphne?”

 

“She says not,” Kate replied, “And is he really in the country? A bouquet of flowers arrived with his card this morning.”

 

Anthony sighed deeply, “I told him to retire to the country if he wasn’t certain and to leave us be for a while,” he admitted, “But I expected him to have made his decision earlier than this and if he is still sending flowers then I don’t understand what he is up to. I will get to the bottom of it though.”

 

“Thank you,” Kate smiled, “I just want to make sure that Daphne is settled and he does seem very serious in some respects, but I would have expected a proposal before now. Oh, by the way has Colin spoken with you yet? He was looking for you earlier.”

 

“Honestly,” Anthony huffed, “Am I that much of an ogre that he thinks I will not sponsor his tour? This is just getting ridiculous now.”

 

“He must think so,” Kate giggled, “Shall I tell him you are here if I see him?”

 

Anthony nodded but reached out his arm for Kate and pulled her onto his lap with a soft smile, “Maybe leave it a little while,” he whispered, pulling her into a kiss, his hand running up her back to toy with the top of her dress, “Let us have a minute or two first.”

 


 

Later that evening, Colin slipped into Anthony’s study, “Can we talk Anth?” he asked, hovering in the doorway.

 

Anthony smiled to himself slightly, “Is this where you ask me to fund your tour?” he asked, “I’ve had the banker’s draft drawn up for weeks. I was getting ready to drop it on your bed if you didn’t come and speak to me soon.”

 

Colin entered the room and flopped into the chair opposite Anthony’s desk, “I don’t know if I want to go anymore,” he said quietly.

 

Anthony frowned and leaned forward to look at his younger brother, “Why not?” he asked softly, “It’s all you’ve spoken of for years. I was always going to fund it Colin, I just wanted you to finish Oxford before I did so.”

 

“I know,” Colin replied, giving Anthony a small smile, “Ben said as much it’s just ... I think I ...” Colin frowned and moved over to the decanter of brandy Anthony kept in his office pouring himself a glass, “I like Pen, Penelope Featherington, and I don’t know if I should go on my tour or make myself known to her.”

 

“Ah,” Anthony sighed, “Pour me one will you, it’s the least you can do if you’re going to come in here and steal my brandy.”

 

Colin snorted a laugh and poured his older brother his own glass before retaking his seat. Anthony sat for a moment considering his words before he addressed his brother, “I think you will regret it if you do not take this opportunity to travel,” he said carefully, “And I think you could end up resenting Miss Featherington if you do not take this opportunity.”

 

“We could make it a Honeymoon trip,” Colin argued, “What happens if I travel and someone else courts her?”

 

“It wouldn’t be proper to take this tour as a honeymoon trip,” Anthony replied, “The type of tour you are planning, is not something that you take ladies such as Miss Featherington on. Colin, you have been planning some variation of this tour since you were sixteen, you will regret it if you do not leave.”

 

Colin frowned as he considered Anthony’s comments, “And, I do mean this in the nicest way,” Anthony continued, “But I do not think it likely that Miss Featherington will be courted by another in the off-season if you do leave.”

 

“What do you mean by that?” Colin demanded.

 

“Nothing,” Anthony replied, “You know I like Miss Featherington, she is very good friends with at least two of our sisters and she is good company but Colin, she is not what the rest of the Ton consider a great beauty and her father is a notorious gambler, to say nothing of her insufferable mother. Most men will not consider the wallflower with a questionable dowry when they have the rest of the season’s debutantes parading in front of them.”

 

“There’s nothing wrong with Pen,” Colin grumbled into his glass.

 

“There isn’t,” Anthony agreed with a small laugh, “But just because we have had the opportunity to get to know her over the last few years does not mean that the rest of the Ton will do so.”

 

“So if I decided not to go on my tour and court Miss Featherington what would you do?” Colin asked, “Is this a tour or nothing situation?”

 

“Of course not,” Anthony replied, “If you honestly do not wish to take the trip you have been planning for the last six years and you want to marry then I will happily sort out your settlement and wish you both well. I just honestly do think you will regret not going.”

 

“Do you?” Colin asked after a short pause, “Do you regret not going on your tour and having to put up with us all?”

 

“Not at all,” Anthony said quickly, “I’ve never regretted my life Colin but, I won’t deny that I am a little envious that you will get to see all the things I can only ever read about.”

 

“Well maybe I won’t regret my life either if I stay,” Colin argued.

 

“I think you will,” Anthony replied, “Colin, I’m not saying this because I don’t want you to settle or because I don’t want you to marry Miss Featherington. I’m actually quite happy that you have realised you do like her.” Anthony paused, “But I do know what it feels like to have your choices removed; if you stay and marry Miss Featherington with the intention of reinventing your tour into a honeymoon trip and she falls pregnant then you will never get to go.”

 

Colin frowned, he knew that Anthony was correct but in his heart he just knew that someone else would eventually realise just how amazing Penelope was and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to miss his chance.

 

Anthony sighed as he read the warring emotions on his brother’s face, “If it helps,” he said softly, “I think Miss Featherington feels the same about you. Perhaps you need to have a conversation, I am sure that Daphne or Eloise can invite her for tea at some point and then you can have a conversation. Kate or I can chaperone it discreetly and we can talk again after that.”

 

Colin nodded, “Col,” Anthony said quietly as the younger man stood, “You do know I’m not stopping you from doing anything? I just want you to be certain about what you want before you do.”

 

Colin nodded and smiled at his older brother, “Thank you Anth,” he said gruffly, pulling the older man into a rare hug, “And not just for this.”

 


 

“What did Anthony say?” Benedict asked later that evening as he and Colin sat in the hallway waiting for the rest of their party to leave, “You have spoken with him?”

 

“To think about it,” Colin replied, “He thinks I will end up regretting it if I don’t take my tour as planned.”

 

“I’ve told you the same thing,” Benedict replied, “Penelope Featherington will still be here next season. And if you are late back, I’ll dance with her for you.”

 

“Ant said the same thing,” Colin laughed, “Are you sure you two don’t share a brain?”

 

“No,” Benedict replied, “You are just too obvious most of the time.” Colin’s shouts and Benedict’s laughter rang through the house as Anthony, Kate and Daphne all came down the stairs and the party all set out for the Smythe-Smith Musicale. 

 


 

“Why do we sit through this every year?” Kate whispered in Anthony’s ear as they stood at the back of the room, “It’s not like any of these girls can actually play their instruments.”

 

“Because you feel sorry for them,” Anthony replied, “And Lady Danbury bullies you into it every year and you drag me along to keep you company in your torture.”

 

“You are such good company,” Kate teased, “Anyway, you can help me look out for another potential suitor for Daphne, just in case the Duke doesn’t make his proposal.”

 

“Fine,” Anthony replied with an eye-roll, “Or ... we could leave the chaperone duties to Ben and we could go enjoy some time alone.”

 

Kate smirked, “Let me go and say hello to Lady Danbury,” she said, “And tell her about my terrible headache, it is so bad that my dear husband is taking me home for the evening.”

 

Anthony grinned, “I’ll wait by the door,” he promised, “Let me just grab either Ben or Colin and tell them to keep an eye on Daphne.”

 

Ten minutes later Kate and Anthony were giggling to each other in their carriage as they travelled back to Bridgerton House; the footmen opened the carriage door and the pair half-ran up the steps and stairs to their bedchamber like young newlyweds. 

 


 

A week later Simon had returned to London and was sitting at his usual table in Whites nursing a drink when Anthony dropped into the seat next to him, “What are your intentions with my sister?” he asked bluntly, taking a drink of his own from the carafe on the table.

 

“I think she would make a perfect duchess,” Simon replied flatly, “But I can’t marry her.”

 

“What?” Anthony replied, looking at Simon in shock before his eyes hardened in anger, “So you have been leading her on for weeks. She’s had Kate turn suitors away; they were so certain that you were going to propose. You promised me at the start of the season that you would end it before it got to this stage if you weren’t serious. We sat here and you told me that you would retire to the country if you weren’t going to marry her and leave her to make another match; why didn’t you do that?”

 

“I did retire to the country,” Simon protested

 

“And arranged for at least two bouquets of flowers to be sent to the house in your absence,” Anthony shot back, “Not the actions of a man who doesn’t want to marry.”

 

“I can’t do it,” Simon sighed, “I can’t be the Duke of Hastings. I can’t be him.”

 

“You already are the Duke of Hastings,” Anthony stated, “Just like I became the Viscount when my father died. There’s nothing we can do about it, it’s just a fact of life. What is your actual reason?”

 

Simon sighed and had another drink, “I can’t continue his line,” he said eventually, “Don’t all heirs eventually turn into their fathers? I will eventually become that bastard of a man and I can’t do that to Daphne, I can’t do that to anyone.”

 

“You wouldn’t,” Anthony replied, his anger fading slightly, “You’re nothing like him and that is the worst excuse I’ve ever heard. If you are not going to propose to Daphne then tell me so I can talk to her and then leave and do not come back. I never thought you would toy with my sister in this way, I thought we were better friends than that.”

 

Simon nodded and watched blankly as Anthony left the table and walked out of the club. He signalled for the waiter to bring him more whisky and sat, drinking for a few more hours thinking about what to do next.

 

Simon eventually left the club and spent the rest of the night at Hastings House, drinking whisky and staring into the fire. The portrait of his father still hung over the fireplace and Simon contemplated taking it down and burning it in the grate. 

 

“I hate you,” he whispered, staring directly at the portrait, “I hate you so much, it consumes me. But, I love her too.”

 

Simon finished his drink and called for his valet to draw up a bath and pull together his clothes, “I’ll be a better man than you,” he spat, “And my wife will know how much I love her. Maybe I’ll only have daughters, but any son I have will know they are loved for who they are, not just an extension of this accursed line. I will be a better man than you.”

 

As he bathed and dressed Simon thought of the vow he had made his father on his deathbed, when he promised to never marry and never to sire an heir so that the Hastings line would die with him and the vow he had just made to his father’s portrait, to love his wife and be a better man and father. After seeing how fatherhood and married life had calmed his oldest friend, Simon knew that he had to let go of his vow made out of hatred and work to build a life with a wife, and he wanted that wife to be Daphne.

 


 

Simon found his opportunity to speak with Daphne at the ball held by Lady Trowbridge to mark the end of her mourning period. Simon held back a laugh as he overheard Colin Bridgerton make a quip about their young host to the small red-headed girl he seemed very fond of and made his way past Benedict towards Daphne who stood at the edge of the ballroom, looking out over the dancing couples.

 

“May I?” Simon asked as he reached her side.

 

Daphne smiled and held out her wrist so that Simon could claim her next dance, “It is good to see you again Your Grace,” she greeted him with a small curtsey, “I trust your business in the country was profitable.”

 

“It was,” Simon replied as he led her onto the floor, “I think we need to have a conversation, after this set can you meet me on the terrace?”

 

Daphne’s breath caught as she nodded, “Should I let Anthony know?” she asked quietly

 

“I think I would prefer not to see your brother just now,” Simon replied, “I promise, all I want to do is talk.”

 

Daphne nodded and as the dance ended, the couple made their way to the refreshment table before taking their separate ways to the terrace.

 


 

Daphne stood with her back to the ballroom, leaning on the terrace balustrade when Simon approached her from behind, she inhaled sharply when she felt his arms running down her own.

 

“I needed a week in the country to think,” Simon said softly, “When I am around you, I find it difficult to get my thoughts in any order.”

 

“And what did you need to think about?” Daphne asked, not daring to turn her head and look at him.

 

“A lot of things,” Simon replied, “Come, there is a bench just below us we can sit there and talk.”

 

Daphne nodded, “And you are certain I do not need to call for Anthony or Kate?”

 

“I am certain that I wish to have a conversation with you in private,” Simon replied, before taking her hand and leading her away from the terrace.

 

Daphne sat on the bench as Simon stood, pacing in front of her, “What did you need to think of?” she asked again, feeling the tears pooling in her eyes.

 

“About you,” Simon replied, “About marriage and about my father.”

 

Daphne frowned but did not speak as Simon continued, “I’m not sure if Anthony will have said anything, I’m not sure how much he actually knows but I did not get along with my father.” 

 

Daphne nodded, “My mother died giving birth to me,” Simon continued, “After he had pushed her to have another child, he longed for an heir; so much so that he wanted an heir over a son. When I was born, I had a st ... st...  tt...trouble ... sp... speaking. I still do when I am flustered.” 

 

Daphne stood and took Simon’s hand in her own to try and stop his pacing, “I still do not understand what we need to discuss?” she asked softly.

 

“Aunt Agatha removed me from Hastings House when I was seven,” Simon continued, as though Daphne had not spoken, “My father had told his servants and his acquaintances that I had died, he did not want to know me and told me every time I had the misfortune of seeing him. He decided he wanted to know me when he received reports from Oxford that I was on track to obtain a first class degree but it was too late by then. When I received word that he was dying I returned to London,” Simon turned and looked Daphne directly in the eye, “I swore to him, on his deathbed, that I would never marry, never sire an heir and the Hastings line would end with me.”

 

Daphne gasped and ripped her hand from Simon’s, “So what has this been then?” she asked, “Everyone has seen, everyone has commented about how besotted we look, about how you must be on the brink of a proposal. You are my brother’s oldest friend, have you simply been pretending all season?”

 

Simon swallowed at the raw emotion in Daphne’s face, “Do you remember at the start of the season, when we were riding in the Park and Anthony was laughing about Colin’s tour plans?” Daphne nodded, still frowning, unsure of where the conversation was headed, “And I replied that all good plans change?”

 

Simon ran his hand along Daphne’s jaw, “My plans changed,” he whispered, “I never planned on taking a wife, never planned on falling in love and then I met you,” Simon wrapped his other arm around Daphne’s back, drawing her into him, “I made another vow to my father last night, I swore that I would never become him and that any children I had with my wife would be cherished for who they are. I also promised that I would love my wife.”

 

Daphne almost cried as one of Simon’s hands ran across her back and the other cradled her jaw softly, “In the morning,” he continued, “I am going to come and speak with Anthony and then we can have another conversation, I hope that after that conversation, you will agree to becoming my wife.”

 

“I would agree,” Daphne whispered before reaching up to meet Simon’s lips in a passionate kiss. Simon’s hand found its way from her face to the front of her dress and Daphne felt her leg moving to wrap around Simon’s without her even thinking of it. 

 


 

In the ballroom, Kate noticed Daphne and then Simon leaving for the relative privacy of the terrace and debated if she should let Anthony know what she had seen. She still did not know if the two men had managed to speak, Anthony had gone out to the club the previous evening and returned home in a foul mood but he had refused to speak of it when she pressed and experience taught her to leave him when he was in a temper; Anthony would always tell her what had troubled him eventually.

 

A few moments later, Anthony returned from the opposite corner of the room where he had been speaking with his brothers, “Have you seen Daphne?” he asked, scanning the dancefloor for his sister, “Ben and Colin haven’t seen her in a while.”

 

Kate nodded, “She went onto the terrace,” she replied, “I saw her leave but I have not seen her return. Maybe she is speaking with some of the other ladies.”

 

Anthony nodded, “I’ll go take a look, should we take some air wife?”

 

Kate smiled and slipped her arm through Anthony’s, “It is a little warm in there,” she said as they left the room, “It wouldn’t surprise me if Daphne is still here, trying to catch her breath.”

 

“I managed to speak with Simon,” Anthony offered as they walked along the terrace looking for Daphne, “Told him that he has to make up his mind and tell Daphne. Is he here tonight, do you know?”

 

“I think he is still here,” Kate replied, “He did lead Daphne in a dance earlier, that must be a good sign?”

 

“Hmmm,” Anthony agreed, “She isn’t here, can you go and check if our carriage is still here? She may have slipped off home without letting us know.”

 

“I doubt that,” Kate laughed, “That will be Eloise’s trick next season, Daphne would have at least let Ben or Colin know if she couldn’t find one of us.”

 

“I’ll go check if she isn’t down in the garden,” Anthony nodded, “Make your way to the front and I’ll meet you there.”

 

Kate nodded, and the couple went their separate ways.

 

Anthony walked down the steps into the Trowbridge garden, he knew from previous experience that there was a small clearing set a little way back from the terrace with some benches overlooking a water feature and thought that his sister may be sitting there.  He rounded a corner and came into the clearing to find Simon with his hand making its way down Daphne’s dress as they kissed and she wrapped her leg around his. 

 

Anthony didn’t hesitate, he pulled Simon away from Daphne and punched him square in the face sending the other man sprawling to the ground.

 

“If you are not in the parlour of Bridgerton House tomorrow morning with your family betrothal ring, I will end the Hastings line,” he snarled, “Do you understand me?”

 

Simon nodded, wisely choosing to stay silent and away from the siblings as Anthony wrapped his coat around Daphne and guided her out of the gardens towards the carriages.

 

Daphne sat in the carriage, still wrapped in Anthony’s coat as Kate stared at her from the opposite bench in concern, “What happened?” she asked, “Are you alright Daphne?”

 

Daphne shook her head and Anthony’s furious face prevented Kate from pushing him further.

 

“You can’t mean to duel though?” Daphne said suddenly, as the carriage pulled to a stop outside of Bridgerton House, “You didn’t hear what he said to me before you arrived.”

 

“I didn’t need to,” Anthony replied, practically spitting in his fury, “Go upstairs Daphne and leave this to me.”

 


 

“Anthony, what happened?” Kate asked as Anthony stormed around his study, “You aren’t actually going to duel the Duke are you?”

 

“I might have to,” Anthony replied, finally stopping and dropping against his desk, “You didn’t see what he was doing to her.”

 

Kate frowned, “Anthony, what did you see?” she pressed, “What did he do to her?”

 

“I don’t know how long they had been there,” Anthony said eventually, “But he had his hands down the front of her dress and she wasn’t pushing him away.”

 

“Is he going to propose?” Kate pressed.

 

“I told him to be here in the morning with his ring,” Anthony replied, “If he isn’t, then I’ll call him out and ...”

 

“Edmund is still a child,” Kate whispered, closing her eyes and wrapping her arms around her middle, “Benedict would have to oversee everything, could he do that? Could Ben do all of this? And what of me, what of Charlotte?”

 

“It won’t come to that,” Anthony soothed, pulling her into his arms, “He didn’t seem opposed when I found them. Maybe it is time for you to go to the modiste and start ordering her Trousseau.”

 

Kate kissed Anthony softly, “Let’s go to bed,” she whispered, “Tomorrow everything will sort itself out.”

 


 

Daphne collapsed onto her bed in tears when she reached her room, thankful that her younger sisters seemed to be asleep and she could be left undisturbed. What had been the most romantic moment of her young life had been ruined by Anthony and his temper.

 

She ran her hands over her lips, thinking of the kisses she had shared with Simon and his promises to love and cherish her as his wife. She smiled to herself, tomorrow Simon would be arriving and she would be on her way to being a Duchess. 

 

Suddenly, an awful thought gripped her, what if Anthony’s display or her own wantonness had scared Simon away. What if he did not arrive tomorrow with his family’s ring as promised and instead fled London or worse, the country, to get away from Anthony and from her. She gasped at the pain such thought caused her, Simon had sounded so sincere in his words when they had been alone in the garden but what if he had just said what he thought she wanted to hear. Daphne dissolved into another round of tears, clutching at her pillow to muffle her sobs.

 

Eventually, Daphne fell into a fitful sleep, her mind warring between her elation at finally finding her husband and knowing that he loves her too and her worry that she had somehow managed to ruin it all in one unguarded moment. 

 


 

Simon approached Bridgerton House and was not surprised when the door was opened before his foot hit the bottom step, “Get in,” Anthony snarled from the door, “You better be here to ask for her hand.”

 

“I am,” Simon replied, pulling the ring from his inner pocket, “Complete with family ring so you can put your pistols away now.”

 

Anthony rolled his eyes, and pushed the other man into the study, “I can assure you that Daphne’s dowry is quite substantial; I will contact my solicitor to arrange for the transfer of funds to you.”

 

“Stop,” Simon said, “I don’t need Daphne’s dowry. Keep it, you’ve a tribe of sisters to marry off or place it in trust for her directly, I will not be accepting a dowry to marry her. I was going to do this anyway, you know,” Simon added, “When you saw us last night, I was telling her about my reasons for being so reluctant but that I was going to marry her.”

 

“You were not doing any talking when I found you,” Anthony grumbled, “Imagine if someone else had seen you.”

 

“We would be in the same position we are in now,” Simon replied, “Only one of us would be writing to the Archbishop for a special licence. At least this way, everything will be done to a proper timescale.”

 

“Fine,” Anthony relented, “Daphne is in the parlour taking tea with Kate. I’ve asked the others to stay upstairs for now so go and ask and then we can get back to normal.”

 

Simon left Bridgerton House an hour later with plans to speak with the Archbishop about reading their banns as he and Miss Daphne Bridgerton were now engaged to be wed. 

Chapter Text

Over the next few weeks, Bridgerton House turned into a hive of activity as preparations for Daphne and Simon’s wedding got underway. Daphne spent many hours at the modiste being fitted for her bridal gown, trousseau and going away outfits. 

 

“Are you really going to go and live with the Duke?” Hyacinth asked, as she skipped into Daphne’s room with several servants carrying boxes of dresses trailing behind her, “Will he not come and live here?”

 

“No,” Daphne laughed, “I will go and live with the Duke at his house. But I am sure he will let you come and visit.”

 

“But ... Kate came to live with us when she married Anthony,” Hyacinth protested, “So why wouldn’t the Duke come and live here now you are getting married?”

 

“That isn’t how it works,” Daphne replied, sitting on the edge of her bed and pulling her youngest sister next to her, “When a lady gets married, she goes to live with her husband and his family. When you marry, you will go and live with your husband, you wouldn’t stay here with Anthony and Kate.”

 

Hyacinth frowned, “I don’t think I would like to leave PapaAnt,” she muttered, “I won’t get married and then I won’t have to leave.”

 

Daphne laughed slightly and pulled Hyacinth into a hug, “I think you will change your mind,” she said softly, “And I’m sure Anthony won’t mind if you did go and live with your husband eventually.”

 


 

Daphne sat at her dresser on the morning of her wedding, watching Rose pin up her hair. The ladies maid was coming with Daphne to Hastings House and then onto Clyveden and Daphne was glad that some aspect of her old life was coming with her into her new one. 

 

Anthony slipped into the room as Rose was putting the final touches to Daphne’s hair and placing her veil in place, “Are you ready?” he asked softly.

 

Daphne beamed at him, “I am,” she said, “What do you think?”

 

“Beautiful,” Anthony smiled, “Come on, everyone else has already left for the church.”

 

The siblings made their way down the staircase and Anthony helped Daphne into their best carriage, “I’m sure Papa would have had something to say if he were still the one here doing this,” Anthony said softly as they rode to the church, “But in his place, I want to say that I am so proud of you Daph; and they would be too.”

 

Daphne reached for Anthony’s hand and squeezed it softly, “Do you think they would have liked him?” she asked, with a watery smile.

 

“I do,” Anthony replied, “Papa met him a few times when we were both at Eton and he did always like him then. I think if anything, Papa would have sorted all this out earlier for you.”

 

Daphne smiled, “But it all worked out so I’m not too bothered,” she assured him, “I love you Anth, I know I don’t call you the same name as the babies but you have been a very good father.”

 

The carriage stopped and the pair exited, Anthony giving Daphne a firm hug as they entered the church. 

 


 

If she was asked later, Daphne would tell you that she could not remember any of her wedding ceremony. She remembered Anthony walking her down the aisle and giving her a soft kiss on her forehead as he handed her over to the Duke and she remembered Simon standing at the altar, in his new suit with a cravat to match the tiny details of her dress but she could not remember reciting her wedding vows to the Archbishop or him declaring them the Duke and Duchess of Hastings, she felt as though she floated back down the aisle holding onto Simon’s arm.

 

“How do you feel, wife?” Simon asked her with a grin as he seated himself opposite her in the Hastings carriage, “Are you ready to face the Ton?”

 

“I’m so wonderfully happy,” Daphne smiled, “And as long as you promise to stand with me, I’m sure we’ll get through the wedding breakfast.”

 

Three hours later, after greeting what seemed like the entirety of Mayfair, Daphne was back in her childhood bedroom getting ready to leave for her honeymoon. She had sat on the end of her bed for a moment to catch her breath when Kate entered.

 

“I think we need to have a conversation,” Kate said as she sat next to Daphne, “About what the Duke will be expecting tonight.”

 

“The wedding night,” Daphne clarified, “I know I will be expected to sleep in the same bed as the Duke.”

 

Kate nodded, “It is a little more than that,” she continued, “You will share a bed with the Duke, yes, but there is more to the wedding night. There is an act, the marital act, that you will be expected to perform.”

 

“The marital act,” Daphne repeated, “Is this what brings about children?”

 

“It is,” Kate smiled, “And it can be glorious! The Duke will know what to do but I did not want you to leave without us speaking of it.”

 

Daphne nodded, “Does it hurt?” she asked, “I remember when Hyacinth was born and Mama was in so much pain. And when Anne was born, you screamed for hours. Does the marital act hurt like that too?”

 

“It doesn’t,” Kate replied, “The marital act is different from childbirth. I am not certain exactly what transpired between you and the Duke in the Trowbridge Garden,” Kate began, “And I do not need to know but do you remember how you felt when you and the Duke were in the garden?”

 

Daphne blushed slightly and nodded, “Was that the marital act?” she gasped, “Oh! No wonder Anthony was so angry!”

 

“It isn’t,” Kate assured her quickly, “But the kind of things you and the Duke were doing in those gardens can lead to the marital act. That feeling you had, the one where you just want to be closer to the Duke, that is what you will feel when you come to perform the marital act.” Kate paused, feeling her own intense embarrassment at talking about such things with her sister-in-law, “The man will feel the same way but his body reacts differently, his length will become hard, you will notice this and the Duke seems like the kind of man who will definitely tell you when he is feeling that way.”

 

Daphne frowned, “What length?” she asked, “And how will I know?”

 

“Just trust me,” Kate replied, blushing furiously, “You will know. When you are both ready to perform the act, the Duke will insert his length into your ... the part of you in between your legs and this is how a child can be made. The Duke will release his seed and this seed quickens into a child.”

 

“And this happens everytime?” Daphne asked, “Everytime the act is performed a child is made?”

 

“No,” Kate replied, “It is simply a chance that it will happen when the act is performed. You will know you are with a child when your courses do not come that month. Your maid will know when they are due and I am sure she will inform you.”

 

Daphne nodded, “And this act, the Duke will be expecting us to perform it tonight?” she clarified, still unsure if she had fully understood Kate’s explanations.

 

“He will,” Kate replied, “He seems like an honourable man and he will at least wait until you are in bed but some men enjoy performing the act in a carriage or a study chair or ...”

 

“Stop please!” Daphne laughed, “I take it this is something you and my brother enjoy; well you have had three children, so you must do so.”

 

Kate laughed, “I will leave it there,” she promised, giving Daphne a strong hug, “Now come, I’m sure everyone will want to see you off.”

 


 

Simon turned to Daphne as their carriage rolled away from Bridgerton House, “It is too far for us to journey to Clyveden in one day,” he said, “So I have arranged for us to stay at an inn just outside of Tonbridge for the night. It is a perfectly pleasant place to stay ...”

 

“An Inn,” Daphne repeated faintly, “Well, I suppose there will be a bed in an inn,” she said, almost to herself.

 

Simon frowned, “Of course there will be,” he replied, “Have you never had to ... You’ve never had to stay in an Inn before have you?”

 

Daphne shook her head, “We can travel to Aubrey Hall in an afternoon,” she replied, “And I’ve never visited anywhere else.”

 

“It is a perfectly pleasant place,” Simon assured her, taking her hands in his own, “I have stayed there a number of times and I have ensured we have been given their best room.”

 

Daphne nodded, “And so it is at this Inn that we will perform the marital act?” she asked, “Or, well ... Kate did tell me that some men like to perform it in a carriage ...”

 

Simon looked at her with a look that was torn somewhere between disgust and amusement, “I think that is more than I ever needed to know about the activities your brother and his wife partake in,” he snorted, “And if you wish to wait until we reach Clyveden then I am perfectly content to simply sleep in the same bed as you tonight. Just please, no more talk of your brother and his wife!”

 

Daphne giggled and Simon reached across her to close the curtains of the carriage window, “We do have several hours to fill though,” he muttered, pulling her into a kiss, “And no one can stop us from doing this now.”

 

Daphne sighed happily and reached up her hands to run through Simon’s hair, pulling him deeper into the kiss.

 


 

Daphne stood behind the changing screen in the Inn room and heard Rose the Duke as the maid left the room. She smoothed her hands along the front of her nightgown and took a deep breath. She had half understood Kate’s explanations about what she would be expected to do this evening but Simon’s comments in the carriage had also confused her, she wasn’t aware that the marital act could be postponed in the way he had suggested. 

 

She took one last glance at herself in the mirror before moving the screen to the side and facing her husband. She had chosen to wear one of the nightgowns that had formed part of her trousseau, it was made of a lot more lace than her usual nightgowns and was cut quite low around her chest. Simon sat on a chair by the fire in his breeches and shirt, he did not want to be fully ready for bed when Daphne emerged as he did not want to rush his new bride, especially as they were spending their wedding night at a coaching inn and not one of their properties.

 

“Goddess,” Simon breathed when he caught sight of her, “You are so beautiful.”

 

He crossed the room to her in three strides and wrapped her into his arms, “Do you want to go to bed, Wife?” he asked softly, kissing along her jaw and down her neck. Daphne nodded and Simon guided her over to lie on the bed whilst he removed his braces and untucked his shirt.

 

Simon moved to hover over Daphne as she ran her hands over his arms and along his chest, “I’m not sure what to do,” Daphne said softly, ducking her head to avoid his eyes, “Is this OK?”

 

“More than OK,” Simon replied, lifting her head so they were looking in each other’s eyes, “You can touch me wherever you wish, would you like me to remove my shirt?”

 

Daphne nodded and Simon raised himself up slightly to tug his shirt over his head, smirking slightly at Daphne’s gasp when she first caught sight of his well-muscled chest. Her small hands crept along his chest and lower towards the edge of his breeches.

 

“If you want us to wait until Clyveden to consummate this marriage,” Simon whispered, “You need to stop, otherwise we will have our true wedding night here in this bed.”

 

“Can I see?” Daphne asked, “I ... Kate explained some but ... I have never seen and I ...”

 

Simon closed his eyes and kissed Daphne deeply, running his hands up her legs to bunch her nightgown around her hips, his fingers running along the tops of her thighs, “Daphne,” he groaned, “I need you.”

 

Daphne nodded faintly and untied the ribbons at her shoulders, allowing the top of the nightgown to fall. Simon stood and removed his breeches before coming back to hover over her body again. 

 

The couple kissed deeply and Daphne finally understood what Kate’s embarrassed explanations meant.

 


 

Back in London, Benedict sat at a corner table in Whites, running his finger along the edge of his glass. He had been in an odd mood ever since Daphne’s engagement and he was struggling to explain his mood to his brothers who had noticed his melancholy. 

 

He hadn’t told Anthony but he had returned home from the Trowbridge Ball not long after Anthony and Kate had and he overheard the end of their conversation. Kate asking if he could step up and take Anthony’s place in the family and the slight scoff in her tone as she said it had hurt more than he realised at the time. 

 

Benedict knew he wasn’t as responsible as his older brother, and he was grateful that the responsibility of their family hadn’t fallen on his shoulders all those years ago but he thought he was useful to Anthony, that Kate enjoyed his company to hear them both dismissing him in that way had cut him deeply but he was struggling to work out how he could confront them without explaining that he had been listening into their conversation.

 

"Mr Bridgerton," a voice greeted him warmly, "Come, tell me what you think of these paintings."

 

Benedict smiled ruefully, he had been a bit of a fool the last time he had met Henry Granville, and it seemed that the other man would not be letting him forget that anytime soon.

 

“Do you do any painting of your own?” Granville asked as Benedict joined him, “Or do you spend your time critiquing others?”

 

Benedict blushed slightly, “I dabble,” he admitted, “But nothing I have produced is worthy of being put on someone’s wall. Let alone Somerset House.”

 

Granville smiled, “Us second sons have all the luck you know,” he said, “We get to party whilst our brothers shoulder the responsibilities,” he handed Benedict a card, “I hold a salon every Thursday for other artists and like minded fellows, come along tomorrow; let me introduce you to everyone.”

 

Benedict nodded and left the club feeling lighter than he had for some time. 

 


 

Daphne couldn’t control her reaction when the carriage came up the drive towards Clyveden, she would now be mistress of this house! Simon smiled slightly at her side, reaching over for her hand, “It’s not as awful as Hastings House,” he muttered, “But I can’t wait to make our mark on this place.”

 

“I will need to make friends with your housekeeper, Mrs Colson, you said?” Daphne determined, “Kate said that Mrs Wilson was so helpful to her when she and Anthony first married.”

 

“I’m sure Mrs Colson will help you,” Simon replied, “But I don’t plan on us leaving our bed chamber for a few days first.”

 

Daphne giggled and clapped a hand over her mouth to stop the sound as the carriage rolled to a stop and a footman jumped down to open the door.

 

Daphne’s first introduction to the formidable housekeeper did not go the way she wished with the older woman looking down her nose at Daphne as though she believed the daughter of a Viscount was not suitable to be the new Duchess but before she could think on it any further, Simon swept her into his arms and practically ran to their chamber, the newly-wed pair giggling all the way.

 


 

Two days later their honeymoon bliss had to come to an end with the intrusion of Simon’s duties, “What are your plans for the day?” Simon asked as he pulled on his jacket.

 

“I thought of taking up Mrs Colson’s offer of a tour,” Daphne replied, “I would like to know more about the place now I am mistress.”

 

“Take notes of what you wish to redecorate,” Simon replied, “I have no attachment to anything here, you can rip it all out and start again for me so do not hold back.”

 

Daphne smiled, “I will inform you later,” she promised, “Maybe we could take tea?”

 

Simon nodded and kissed her softly before heading for his study. 

 

Daphne walked alongside the housekeeper as the older woman kept up a steam of information about Clyveden and the late Duchess. It was still clear to Daphne from her comments that Mrs Colson did not believe Daphne would live up to the legacy of her previous mistress. 

 

“The Duke and I would like to redecorate some rooms,” Daphne offered as she took in the dark austere dining room, “Mainly to put our own stamp on things, fashions have changed slightly since the late Duke last decorated I think.”

 

Mrs Colson sniffed, “If Your Grace thinks it is appropriate,” she muttered, “Now, come, this is the nursery.”

 

Daphne smiled softly as she entered the room, knowing that the last child to have taken residence here was her husband. She ran her hand over the crib, imagining a small baby with a perfect blend of hers and Simon’s features laying in it, “Hopefully we will soon add to this room,” she said softly.

 

Mrs Colson gave Daphne a smile, the kindest reaction the housekeeper had had to the new Duchess all week. 

 

“The Duke mentioned that there will be a fayre in the village in a few days,” Daphne offered, “I thought that it would be nice to allow the staff some time off to attend; I know the staff at my brother’s country residence always enjoyed the fayres in our own village.”

 

“I expect they will have too much to do,” Mrs Colson replied, “Now Your Graces are in residence. I doubt they will have the time.”

 

“That is a shame,” Daphne commiserated, “Maybe we could look at something to allow them to attend in groups? I wouldn’t like anyone to miss out on the fun whilst we are here.”

 

Mrs Colson sniffed and moved the conversation on again, pointing out portraits of Simon’s ancestors along with favourite things of the late Duke and Duchess.

 


 

Simon found Daphne curled in a corner of the library when he finished his work, “My love,” he said, noticing that she seemed upset, “What is wrong? Have you had some distressing news from London?”

 

“I am being silly,” Daphne replied, wiping her face and straightening to face Simon, “Ignore me.”

 

“Something has upset you,” Simon frowned, kneeling in front of her and taking her hand, “What is wrong?”

 

“I suppose I’m a little homesick,” Daphne replied with a small laugh, “I’m used to the staff at home and how they act, things are different here and I’m just feeling a little overwhelmed.”

 

Simon sighed and moved onto the sofa next to Daphne, pulling her into his arms, “All of the staff here, apart from Jeffries, were my father’s servants,” he said softly, “They do not like how I want to change everything; I am sorry that they are taking that out on you too.”

 

“I thought that Mrs Colson would like my idea of giving the staff time off to attend the fayre,” Daphne replied, “But she dismissed it immediately. I just wanted the staff to have the time to enjoy themselves too.”

 

“I know,” Simon assured her, “And they will. The time off they have will be staggered and they will all attend anyway. I’m not sure why Mrs Colson wouldn’t have just told you that. Did she tell you about the livestock prizes?”

 

Daphne frowned and shook her head, “As Duchess they will ask you to judge the livestock competitions,” Simon explained, “The winner of each category wins the contract to supply the house with meat and other goods for the year. It is very important to the village and it will help you to get along well with them if you take the time to judge.”

 

“I will,” Daphne promised, “Do the same farmers enter each year? I wouldn’t want to cause friction by picking the same man who wins every year.”

 

“I’m not certain,” Simon replied, “But I will check the ledgers, the last winner has just had his last payment so we can at least ensure that another man wins this year.”

 

“Kate advised me to make baskets with herbs and other things we grow here to send down to the village,” Daphne commented, “Would that be welcomed here? I think Kate’s duties as a Viscountess and mine as a Duchess will be slightly different.”

 

“I think the housewives in the village will welcome a basket from the house,” Simon replied, “And I don’t think the duties of the house towards the village change all that much based on your rank. We can make our own traditions, I don’t have any memories of a Duchess of Hastings so you can do what you like as far as I am concerned.”

 

“Mrs Colson did show me the nursery,” Daphne offered after the couple had sat silently for a while, “It struck me then, that you were the last person to live in those rooms.”

 

“I was here until I was five,” Simon replied, “When it was obvious that I had issues with my speech, my father removed me from the nursery and sent me to London. He did not spend much time in London in those days, and when he came up for Parliamentary business he would stay at his club. Aunt Agatha took me in when I was seven and I didn’t come back to this house until I had word he was dying. I reopened Hastings House under protest at the start of the season, I would have been perfectly happy staying at Danbury House as I always have done but Aunt Agatha had other ideas”

 

Daphne turned slightly so that she could wrap her arms around Simon, “I do have a few ideas about redecorating,” she said, “I thought we could start with the formal dining room, we don’t need it just for the two of us and that way we can entertain Anthony and Kate when the season ends.”

 

Simon smiled, “We could make the arrangements to start on all the formal entertaining rooms,” he replied, “Then we could host your family and Aunt Agatha for Christmas. Do the Sheffields spend Christmas with you too?”

 

“Always,” Daphne replied, “Well, Edwina always does. Mary sometimes spends the time with her parents but I think she would attend if we hosted.”

 

“I will ask Jeffries to make enquiries with some decorators and other trades,” Simon promised, “We can make the arrangements whilst we are here and then have them start in a few weeks, we will have to head back to London for the Royal Garden Party so we may as well stay from then until the end of the season. It will give them enough time to sort out things here and then we can hire some more trades to start on Hastings House when we leave London.”

 


 

After six glorious weeks in the country, it was time for the new Duke and Duchess of Hastings to return to London, as two of the highest ranking members of society; they had to be present at the Royal Garden Party.

 

“We will stop in the same Inn on the way back into town,” Simon stated as they rode away from Clyveden, “Although at least you will know that there will be beds this time!”

 

“Oh hush!” Daphne laughed, swatting his chest lightly, “Kate confused me so much with her explanations of the wedding night I didn’t know what to think!”

 

“The lack of information you ladies are given about your own bodies is shameful,” Simon grumbled, “But I have to say, I have enjoyed teaching you.”

 

Daphne blushed, thinking of the secret she was currently keeping. Her courses had been due the previous week and they had still not made an appearance. Rose, her ladies maid, had advised her to keep the news to herself until she missed a second course but Daphne was sure all the servants were gossiping about things in the kitchens. 

 


 

Eloise sat on the swing in the gardens of Bridgerton House, thinking about how her life would change next year. She had watched Daphne prepare for her debut and saw how excited Edwina seemed to be about their own debuts next season and could not bring herself to feel the same way. 

 

Eloise saw nothing but a boring life of duty and calls in her future if she did debut; she had tried appealing to Kate and Anthony both together and separately to let her delay her debut for a year but Anthony had told her in no uncertain terms that she had to debut at 18 and so she had no choice but to do so next year.

 

She was sitting, rubbing her shoe in the dirt underneath the swing when her friend, Penelope, entered the garden, “El,” Penelope said softly, “Are you well?”

 

“You’ll tell me the truth Pen, won’t you?” Eloise asked, looking at her friend desperately, “Promise me you will.”

 

“Of course,” Penelope agreed, taking her own seat on the neighbouring swing, “The truth about what?”

 

“All of it,” Eloise replied, her voice cracking with misery, “The balls, the performances, being presented. Anthony has told me I have no choice, I have to do it next year and I can’t imagine it being anything other than absolute misery. Is it?”

 

“Not all the time,” Penelope replied, honestly, “But the balls are nice, there is always at least one or two interesting people to talk with and it is nice to dance. And I enjoy the performances, watching the opera or an orchestra perform is wonderful.”

 

“You’ve never said,” Eloise said softly, watching her friend’s face light up when describing the events of the season, “I always thought you went along with it because your Mama made you. Not because you enjoy it yourself.”

 

“I don’t enjoy my Mama’s fashion choices,” Penelope replied, “You will have the better deal there, Kate at least understands fashion, but I do enjoy being out.”

 

“I’m scared,” Eloise said eventually, “What happens if I meet someone and they make me leave?”

 

“Leave what?” Penelope asked, confused by her friend’s line of thought.

 

“London, Bridgerton House, all of you,” Eloise replied, “What happens if I marry and have a child? My Mama died after she had Hyacinth. Kate screamed for hours when she had all three of her children; I can still hear the screams when it is quiet.”

 

Penelope stood and wrapped her friend in a fierce hug, “But if you do marry, you will have met the man you wish to spend the rest of your life with,” she said softly, “Look at your brother and Kate, they are so happy together; and Daphne and the Duke, they are so in love. Do you not want that?”

 

“Maybe,” Eloise shrugged, “I’m just not sure I want all the frippery and feathers that come with it.”

 

Penelope laughed, “The feathers do leave a lot to be desired,” she agreed, “But honestly El, it is magical. And when you come out, we can watch it all together.”

 

Eloise smiled, “You are truly my best friend,” she said, giving Penelope a hug of her own.

 


 

Two weeks after their return to London, Simon and Daphne found themselves at the opera. Anthony and Kate had agreed to allow Eloise and Edwina to accompany them to get the two girls used to society events; Eloise was standing at Kate’s side, visibly uncomfortable whilst Edwina stood with Benedict, her eyes wide in delight. 

 

“You look well Daph,” Anthony said, greeting his sister with a kiss to her cheek, “I trust Clyveden lived up to expectations?”

 

“It did,” Daphne replied, “I can’t wait to tell you all about it, are you looking forward to the concert Eloise?”

 

“No,” Eloise replied, “But I have been dragged here so I suppose I should at least try.”

 

Kate rolled her eyes but otherwise ignored the younger girl, “You will have to update me on your renovations,” she offered, “Are you planning on the same here in London?”

 

The two women then began their own discussion, moving away from the main group, towards the refreshment tables. 

 

“How long will this concert last?” Eloise asked as she moved over towards Benedict and Edwina, “I feel like we have been here for hours already.”

 

“At least three hours,” Benedict replied, sneaking a drink from his flask as he did so, “Why sister, you can’t possibly be thinking of leaving already?”

 

“If only I could,” Eloise retorted, “But you know Anthony will not let me.”

 

“Not alone,” Benedict replied, “But I happen to have a prior engagement tonight that our dear brother is not aware of; I would be happy to take you home on my way.”

 

“You are my most favourite brother!” Eloise exclaimed, clinging to Benedict’s arm as they left the show.

 


 

 

Daphne and Simon sat in their own box, opposite her brother’s and settled into their chairs. Simon let his hand rest over Daphne’s leg slightly, giving them both some comfort for the long show ahead of them.

 

Half way through the first act, Daphne inhaled sharply after feeling a sharp pain across her abdomen. She tapped Simon’s hand lightly and moved it from her knee before slipping out of the box. She entered the ladies receiving room and pulling up her skirts before feeling and seeing the blood coming down her legs. 

 

Before she could stop it, she began to sob, her body shaking with the force of her cries as she pressed the provided linen in between her legs.

 

In their own box, Kate and Anthony saw Daphne slip out of the box followed by Simon’s concerned face, watching her leave, “I’ll go over,” Kate whispered to Anthony, slipping out of her own box and rushing around to Daphne.

 

Kate entered the receiving room and immediately knew what had happened, “Oh Daph,” she said softly, drawing the younger woman into her arms, rocking her slightly, “Shh, come on; we’ll go back to Bridgerton House and all will be well.”

 

“I really thought,” Daphne cried into Kate’s shoulder, “I had missed two ... and I really thought ...”

 

Kate closed her eyes, she knew that this wasn’t something as easily dealt with as a slightly late course, Daphne probably was experiencing some kind of miscarriage, “Come on,” she said, helping the younger woman stand, “I’ll leave word for the Duke and we’ll take our carriage back to Bridgerton House.”

 

Daphne swayed slightly as she stood, leaning heavily on Kate as the two women made their way towards the rear exit of the theatre. Kate left a note for Simon so that the man would know that the two women had left and waited for a Bridgerton footman to arrive to help them both into the carriage.

 

“I asked for my carriage,” Kate stated in confusion as one of the Hastings men appeared in front of them, “The Duke is still here.”

 

“The Bridgerton carriage is not here my lady,” the man replied, “Mr Benedict Bridgerton took it earlier; we can take Her Grace back now.”

 

“Her Grace is unwell,” Kate replied, “We are going to Bridgerton House so I can care for her until the Duke returns.”

 

The two women sat in the carriage on their way back to Mayfair, Daphne’s head resting on Kate’s shoulder as the younger woman cried silently, “Kate,” Daphne said quietly, “Can I just go to sleep? I’m very tired.”

 

“Not until we get inside,” Kate replied, “Tell me more about the plans you have for Clyveden. And Hastings House; I might see if I can talk Anthony into redecorating some of our rooms and I would like some ideas.”

 


 

“Where did our wives go?” Anthony asked Simon with a frown at the interval, “Do you suppose there is a married women's club they can run off to now?”

 

Simon laughed, “I’m not sure,” he said, looking around in concern for his own wife, “Daphne seemed unwell when she left our box but I’m sure they would have left word if they had returned home.”

 

“Your Grace!” one of the theatre employees ran up to Simon, slightly out of breath, “I have a message for you from Lady Bridgerton.”

 

Simon took the note from the man and read the same with wide eyes before pushing it towards Anthony and taking his leave from the room.

 

Simon

 

Daphne has taken ill, we have returned to Bridgerton House. Please tell Anthony when you can and return home. 

 

Kate

 

PS - It appears Benedict has taken our carriage, I will send your own back for you when we have been delivered home.

 

Anthony joined Simon at the theatre door, “I need to collect Edwina,” he said softly, “She is talking with the Featherington girls but then we will join you and go back. Has your carriage returned?”

 

Simon shook his head and Anthony set off to retrieve his sister-in-law.

 


 

Simon entered Bridgerton House just as the doctor was leaving, “Doctor?” he asked, “My wife?”

 

“Her Grace is sleeping now,” the doctor replied, “She will be well enough to return home in the morning and I would recommend that you allow her a week before resuming your marital relations. This should have no impact on Her Grace’s ability to bear further children.”

 

Simon faltered, “Thank you doctor,” Anthony replied for him, pushing Simon further into the house.

 

Edwina smiled and slipped upstairs, wisely choosing to leave the two men and retire for the evening.

 

“I didn’t know,” Simon said as Anthony guided him into the study and put him in a chair, “I didn’t know.”

 

“Daphne might not have known,” Anthony replied, taking his own seat, “This has happened to Kate ... it is too early to know for certain but ...”

 

“There was still a child,” Simon finished quietly, “Can I go up to see her?”

 

Anthony nodded, “I’ll go and see what room she is in,” he replied, “I think her old one but Kate might have put her in a guest room so the girls don’t disturb her.”

 


 

“How are you?” Anthony asked Kate as they lay in bed.

 

Kate stifled a sob, “It hasn’t been that long since it last happened to me,” she whispered, “And I do not wish to say anything too soon but ...”

 

Anthony’s hand moved to rest lightly on Kate’s stomach, “Then we won’t say anything,” he said softly, “I love you.”

 

Kate kissed him softly, “I love you too,” she smiled. 

Chapter Text

It was wonderful to convalesce with a loving husband at your side, Daphne thought as she woke wrapped in Simon’s arms in their bed. She had returned from Bridgerton House following that awful night at the opera a week ago and Simon had hardly left her side, she sighed happily and sank into his embrace feeling his arms tightening slightly as she did so.

 

“Good morning,” Simon said softly, dropping a kiss to her hair, “What are your plans for today?”

 

“I thought I would start to plan our ball,” Daphne replied, “If we are going to host the entirety of Mayfair in a few weeks then I need to go to the modiste and I need to plan the decor and menus.”

 

Simon nodded, “And you are well enough to travel to the modiste?” he asked, concern clear in his face, “Could the modiste come here?”

 

“I am going with Kate,” Daphne replied, “We are getting Edwina and Eloise new gowns too so I will be well looked after, I promise.”

 

Simon gave her a soft kiss, “I will see you at dinner this evening then,” he joked, “I am sure it will take you all day to get Eloise fitted.”

 


 

Whilst Daphne was at the modiste, Simon took the opportunity to attend the club with his brothers-in-law.

 

“How is Daph?” Anthony asked as the four men sat at a table, “Has she gone shopping with Kate?”

 

“Better,” Simon replied, “She has; we’re going to be holding the closing ball of the season so she has thrown herself into the planning.”

 

The group made their way over to the gambling tables, joining a group of other men who were already embroiled in a game of cards. Baron Featherington was already at the table and from the look of things was already losing heavily. 

 

The embattled Baron tried to engage his neighbours in conversation, in the hopes that one of the Bridgerton men would take pity on his state and stand him some coin. The three resolutely ignored the man and soon Baron Featherington left the club.

 

“His poor wife,” one of the older men sighed, “Does he not have three unmarried girls at home too?”

 

“He does,” Anthony confirmed, “And they might be there for some time if he keeps this up.”

 

Colin frowned and Benedict leaned over to whisper in his ear, “Just because Anthony won’t insist on you taking a dowry from Miss Featherington does not mean that other men would be so kind,” he said, “You know how this works Colin, calm down.”

 

Colin nodded and turned his attention back to the table.

 


 

A few days later both the Bridgerton and Featherington families were taking a promenade in Hyde Park, their staff setting up picnics as they did so. 

 

“Pen,” Colin said softly, catching up with her as she walked with Eloise and Edwina, “Can we talk?”

 

Penelope smiled and took Colin’s arm as the pair moved slightly ahead of the other two girls, “Is everything OK Colin?” Penelope asked.

 

“I have been trying to find the words to speak to you for weeks,” Colin said, “It has taken me some time to sort out my thoughts in this matter.”

 

Penelope frowned as Colin pulled them to the side of the path, “You are one of my dearest friends, Pen,” he began, “And, I would like to deepen our friendship but I also long to travel.”

 

Penelope felt as though she had stopped breathing as Colin took her hands softly, “I don’t understand,” Penelope said softly, “What are you trying to say?”

 

“I have decided to go on my tour when the season ends,” Colin replied, “But I want to write to you whilst I am away and when I come back, I want to court you Pen; properly. If you would be amenable to that?”

 

Penelope smiled, “I would be,” she confirmed, “You are my dearest friend Colin and I look forward to hearing many tales of your travels.”

 

Colin kissed her hand softly and led her back towards their families. 

 

“What did Colin want?” Eloise demanded as Penelope reached them, “He has been very odd these last few weeks.”

 

“He is going on his tour at the end of the season,” Penelope began, smiling as Eloise waved her hand to hurry along the tale, “But he wants to write to me whilst he is away and when he returns, he wants to court me.”

 

Edwina almost squealed, “Oh how romantic!” she sighed, “Tell me you agreed?”

 

“I did!” Penelope replied, with a small giggle, “He told me that I am his dearest friend.”

 

Eloise frowned slightly, before schooling her features into a smile, “You do realise he is my most stupid brother?” she asked, “But I suppose if he does court you, then you will be my sister truly.”

 

The three young women linked arms and made their way to the Bridgerton tent, talking about various things all the while.

 


 

Anthony pulled Colin to the side of their tent when he returned from speaking with Penelope, “Have you come to your decision brother?” he asked

 

Colin nodded, “I have told her that I am going on my tour but I want to write to her and then court her when I get back,” he replied, “So, I guess I need to start planning a tour.”

 

Anthony grinned, “Like you haven’t got ten different versions of this tour planned out already,” he laughed, “When we get back to the house, I’ll sort the banker’s draft for you and we can see about getting you booked on a ship.”

 

Colin nodded, “I think I’ll speak with Hastings for some ideas too,” he commented, “And I can check on Daph whilst I’m there.”

 

“I think you have made the right decision Colin,” Anthony said, “Just let me know your final itinerary before you leave.”

 

Just as Colin and Anthony were having their conversation, Lady Featherington pulled Penelope to the side in their own tent, “What did Colin Bridgerton want with you?” she asked her youngest daughter

 

“He wanted to tell me that he is going on his tour at the end of the season Mama,” Penelope replied with a brilliant smile, “And that when he comes back, he wants to court me.”

 

“Oh Penelope!” Portia grinned, “I told you that yellow was a happy colour did I not? Oh, I think you shall have a new dress for the Hastings Ball, he will surely want to dance with you before he leaves. A Bridgerton, well done Penelope.”

 

“What is wrong with Mama?” Prudence asked as Penelope sat next to her, “She is very giddy. Is this anything to do with you speaking with Colin Bridgerton?” Philippa soon joined them, her own question clear on her face.

 

Penelope nodded, her smile still in place, “He has made his intentions clear,” she said softly to her sisters, “He will be courting me next season. Mama says I am to have a new dress for the Hastings Ball.”

 

The three sisters all smiled and clasped each other’s hands, “I think I may have a suitor too,” Philippa said quietly, “Mr Albion Finch, we have danced at every ball this season and he has sent flowers. I think he is speaking with Papa soon.”

 

“So I am the only one left out this season,” Prudence sulked, “You will both have to help me next season,” she declared, “I will not be the spinster aunt to your children.”

 

The three girls laughed as Portia looked over indulgently. 

 


 

The Featheringtons returned home in good spirits, Portia feeling very successful; Mr Finch was on the brink of a proposal to Philippa and Colin Bridgerton had declared his intentions to court Penelope, they would surely be married by the end of the next season which left Portia plenty of time to fix Prudence. Three daughters married in two seasons would be quite the accomplishment. 

 

One of the footmen passed Philippa a note as they entered and after looking at the handwriting, she clutched it to her chest and ran up to her room. 

 

“What did you say!” Philippa shouted from further into the house, “What did you say to him?!”

 

“Philippa!” Portia exclaimed as the other three women made their way to Philippa who was standing in the hallway with tears streaming down her face, “What is the matter?”

 

“Mr Finch has written,” she sobbed, “Saying he spoke with Papa and Papa wouldn’t give his blessing for us to marry.”

 

Portia rounded on her husband, who was sat reading the paper as though his eldest daughter’s heart was not breaking in front of him, “I would like to know that too,” she said, “Girls, take Philippa upstairs, I will talk with your Papa and we will get to the bottom of this.”

 

Prudence and Penelope helped their sister up the stairs to her room and all three girls sat together whilst the eldest cried.

 

“Archibald,” Portia said, her tone dangerous, “I know Mr Finch is not the most illustrious man in town but he is a good match for Philippa. Why would you not want her to be married, she would be perfectly happy with him.”

 

“There is no dowry,” Archibald said softly, “And Mr Finch’s father would need her dowry to agree to the match. None of them have dowries.”

 

“What!” Portia gasped, “How could you?! I don’t care that you are the most notorious gambler in town and that our credit is not always extended in certain shops but I held onto the fact that our girls would be safe; that our girls and their five figure dowries would be well matched and well looked after. You have ruined them all!”

 

“I just needed one more win,” Archibald pleaded, “I was at the club the other day and I was on the brink of asking the Bridgertons for a loan to help but Lord Bridgerton is far too shrewd.”

 

“And his brother has just declared his intentions to Penelope,” Portia spat, “You have broken two of your daughter’s hearts now. Well done. I took you for a lot of things Archibald but you have never been a cruel father before.”

 

With her parting shot, Portia stalked out of the drawing room to find her girls.

 


 

Colin made his way over to Hastings House to talk with his brother-in-law about plans for his tour, he was also eager to see Daphne. 

 

It was odd knowing that she did not live in Bridgerton House anymore, for as long as Colin could remember Daphne had been there, next to him, experiencing life at the same time. Things had shifted slightly when Colin left home to attend school but Daphne was a diligent correspondent, keeping him updated with all that was happening with their siblings and the nephew and niece that followed. Now Daphne was a wife and would soon be a mother herself, his other half had sprinted ahead of him in life and Colin found it decidedly odd.

 

“Colin!” Daphne cheered when one of the footmen ushered him into the drawing room, “I have ordered extra biscuits, how are you?”

 

“I should be asking you, Daph,” Colin said, taking a seat next to his sister and turning her to face him, “You do look better than you did,” he said seriously looking directly at her, “Is all well now?”

 

“As well as it can be in the circumstances,” Daphne replied, patting Colin’s hand and turning his attention to the tea that had been brought up, “Honestly Col, I’m fine. Now, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

 

“I wanted to speak with the Duke about my tour,” Colin replied, helping himself to the biscuits provided, “He did offer to provide some assistance and now I have decided to go ...”

 

“You were considering not going?” Daphne asked in shock, “It is all you have spoken about for years, why would you not go? Did Anthony have something to do with it?”

 

“No,” Colin laughed, “I had some things I needed to sort in my head before I committed one way or another,” seeing Daphne’s frown he elaborated, telling her of his conversation with Penelope earlier that day.

 

“Oh Colin,” Daphne sighed, “I have always liked Penelope, it would be lovely to call her my sister.”

 

The two siblings spent a pleasant hour gossiping about their family before Simon returned and he and Colin retired to the study to discuss his tour at length.

 


 

In a shadowy corner of London, not one usually frequented by the Lords and Ladies of Mayfair Baron Featherington stood with two men trying to extend his line of credit in order to place a significant wager on a boxing fight in the hope that it would win back his daughter’s dowries. Producing the deeds to his Mayfair mansion, the Baron managed to succeed in his endeavours and settled into the corner of the boxing gym to watch the fight unfold.

 


 

The four Featherington women were preparing for the Hastings Ball in Portia’s dressing room, “Do you think you will dance with Mr Bridgerton tonight?” Prudence asked Penelope as the maid applied a face mask to both girls, “Or has he left for his tour already?”

 

“He will be at the ball,” Penelope replied, “And he has asked if I would save him space on my dance card.”

 

Prudence squealed, “I’m so excited for you Pellope,” she said, using the nickname the girls had for Penelope when they were all in the nursery, “Mrs Penelope Bridgerton, I think it sounds very proper.”

 

“Only if Papa doesn’t say no to Mr Bridgerton too,” Philippa muttered from her own chaise, “I should be getting ready to be Mrs Finch right now. I still don’t understand why Papa was so cruel.”

 

“Oh Pippa,” Penelope sighed, “Maybe Papa heard something at the club about Mr Finch; the men know things that we don’t. Maybe he was being kind.”

 

“But why wouldn’t he say anything,” Philipa protested, “What could be so bad about Mr Finch?”

 

“Girls,” Portia said before the girls could speculate any further on Archibald’s reasons for denying Mr Finch, “The modiste has sent over our new gowns for tonight. We are going to need you all looking your best tonight.”

 

“Why?” Philippa sulked, “I think I would just like to stay home Mama, Mr Finch would have told everyone now that Papa told him no.”

 

“But I think that says more about Mr Finch than you,” Penelope protested, “For Papa to deny him something must be wrong.”

 

“Girls stop,” Portia stated, her hand coming to rub in between her eyes, “Philippa you are coming tonight and that is final. Now, go, get ready.”

 

The three girls dispersed to their own rooms to continue getting ready for the ball.

 


 

Across Grosvenor Square, in Bridgerton House, similar preparations were being made. “Are you certain you are well enough to attend tonight?” Anthony asked as Kate moved towards her dressing room, “I’m sure Daphne will understand if you stay home.”

 

“Anthony,” Kate sighed, “I’m pregnant, not dying; and this is Daphne’s first ball as Duchess, we need to go and support her. I promise not to over exert myself if that will make you happy.”

 

“You know it will,” Anthony said, giving Kate a soft kiss. 

 

“Do I really have to go,” Eloise complained as she and Edwina made themselves ready for the ball, “I would be perfectly happy staying here.”

 

“But it is Daphne’s first ball as Duchess,” Edwina replied, “And she has agreed to let us come, even though we are not yet out. You must be a little excited to see what it is all like?”

 

“Not at all,” Eloise grumbled, “You know how I feel about this Eddie.”

 

“I would love to go,” Francesca stated from her position on Edwina’s bed, “I really don’t think it is fair that I have to wait another year.”

 

“You could take my place,” Eloise offered, “I’m sure my dress would fit you and who is going to know the difference between two Bridgertons when we haven’t even been presented yet.”

 

“Daphne, the Duke, Anthony,” Francesca replied, “And do you really think Anthony would let me in the carriage when I am supposed to be staying at home, doing my translations and you are the one who is supposed to be going to the ball.”

 

“He might,” Eloise countered, “We all know he likes you better anyway.”

 

“And Hyacinth is the favourite,” Francesca laughed, “No matter Anthony’s feelings or preferences where we are concerned, we are not switching places so you get out of going to this ball. It’s not the same as when we used to switch seats or beds in the nursery to confuse the nannies.”

 

“I wish it was,” Eloise muttered, “I really don’t want to do this.”

 

Francesca rolled her eyes and turned to Edwina, engaging the other girl in a conversation about her own dress and jewellery choices for the evening.

 


 

The Hastings Ball was a success, everyone who attended was in awe of the decorations and the young couple at the centre of it all. 

 

“I think we have been a triumph, wife,” Simon said softly as they led the party in a waltz, “Even Lady Cowper is enraptured.”

 

“I know,” Daphne smiled, with a slight giggle, “I think we have managed this quite well.”

 

“Very well,” Simon countered, “How are you feeling?”

 

“Better,” Daphne replied, “In fact, the best I have felt in some time.”

 

Simon smiled and dipped his head slightly to her ear, “In that case, should we hurry the party out of the house?”

 

Daphne giggled and rolled her eyes at Simon, “Stop it,” she chided, “We will have the house to ourselves soon enough.”

 

As the dance ended, Simon and Daphne moved to the side of the room to stand with Kate and Anthony. “How are you?” Anthony asked as he greeted his sister, “You do look better.”

 

“I’m fine, Anth,” Daphne answered with an eye-roll, “Stop fussing.”

 

“He is a fussy sort,” Kate laughed from Anthony’s side, “Maybe you can go and fuss around Eloise before she offends every man in the room.”

 

Daphne snorted a laugh, “You are going to have so much fun with her next season,” she grinned, “Maybe I’ll go and let her take refuge in the library before she really does cause a scene.”

 


 

Colin smiled as he greeted the Featherington women as they looked around the ballroom, “Can I have the pleasure of  a dance?” he asked Penelope with a winning smile.

 

Penelope smiled in return and placed her small hand in Colin’s own and let him lead her to the floor. “Is everything OK Pen?” Colin asked as they took their positions, “You seem a little quiet tonight?”

 

“Do you know anything about Mr Finch?” Penelope asked, “Philippa thought he would be declaring his intentions but Papa put him off and we don’t understand why.”

 

Colin frowned, “I haven’t heard anything but I can ask Anthony if you would like?” he offered, “He does seem like an amiable sort though, if a little dull.”

 

“Oh I think he is very dull,” Penelope replied, “But he and Philippa seemed to get along rather well and she is upset by the whole thing.”

 

“I’ll see what I can find out,” Colin promised as the dance ended, “And I’ll let you know. Pen,” he said softly, “I’m leaving tomorrow morning, for my tour. I am booked on a boat from St. Catherine’s dock at noon; will you come across to see me off?”

 

Penelope smiled, “I will,” she promised, “And you promise to write?”

 

“I will,” Colin smiled, “And I’ll see what I can find out about Mr Finch for you too.”

 


 

Colin stood at the side of the ballroom with his older brothers and his brother-in-law, “Have you told Miss Featherington that you are leaving in the morning?” Simon asked, as the four men helped themselves to brandy.

 

“I have,” Colin nodded, “Hastings, what do you know of Mr Albion Finch?”

 

Simon frowned, “I don’t think I have met the man,” he replied, “Why? Who is he?”

 

Colin sighed, “It seems that Miss Philippa Featherington was under the impression that he was on the brink of a proposal,” he explained, “But Lord Featherington has put him off. The ladies don’t understand why and Pen asked me to see if there is something about his character that Lord Featherington would have objected to.”

 

“Anthony might know,” Simon commented, beckoning the eldest Bridgerton with a tilt of his head, “What do you know about Albion Finch and why would Featherington reject his suit of one of the girls?”

 

“Finch?” Anthony frowned, “A bit dim, he didn’t bother with university as far as I can tell but heir to a reasonable fortune. The only reason I can think that Featherington would say no, is the dowry; he is drowning in debts. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Featherington has used the dowries to cover some of it.”

 

“I can’t tell them that!” Colin whispered, “I don’t think the ladies will know. Pen thinks that Lord Featherington unearthed some dark secret about Finch and wouldn’t allow Philippa to protect her.”

 

“Then let them continue to think that,” Simon counselled, “It will make things easier eventually, just tell her that you couldn’t find out anything about him tonight and then you’re leaving anyway.”

 


 

Several hours later, carriages started rolling away from Hastings House ferrying their passengers all over Mayfair. The footman opened the door of the Featherington carriage and helped all four ladies down before they made their way into their house.

 

“My Lady,” Mrs Varley stated as the women entered, “These men are here from the Bow Street Runners, it is about his Lordship.”

 

One of the uniformed men removed his hat and turned to Portia, without knowing exactly what was happening the three Featherington girls grasped each other's hands, “Mama,” Prudence asked, a tremor in her voice, “What has happened to Papa?”

 

Portia turned to the girls with sympathy in her eyes, “Girls,” she said quietly, “Come, let’s sit in the parlour; I have news about your Papa.”

 

The three Featherington girls held each other that evening as they cried for their Papa, they all curled on Prudence’s bed and eventually fell asleep as dawn broke.

 


 

At nine am, the Bridgerton family gathered outside of Bridgerton House as Colin fixed the saddle of his horse, “Your trunk has been sent ahead,” Anthony stated as he stood at his brother’s side, “It should be in your cabin when you board. Send word as soon as you reach the continent and send at least one letter a week so we know where you are.”

 

Colin rolled his eyes, “I know,” he sighed, “Can you pass this over to Pen?” he asked Anthony, handing him a letter, “She said she would be here but ...”

 

Anthony nodded, and both brothers turned to look at Featherington House only to see the butler hanging a mourning wreath on the front door, “Oh,” Anthony sighed, “I’ll get this to her in a few weeks,” he promised, “Go on. We’ll see you next spring.”

 

The two brothers embraced before the rest of the family crowded around all wishing Colin good luck on his travels.

 

Penelope watched from her sister’s bedroom window as Colin rode off down the square, heading towards the docks and his tour.

 

That evening Penelope slipped out of her house and into the gardens of Bridgerton House where she knew Eloise would be sat for her nightly smoke on the swing. Eloise smiled sadly as she caught sight of Penelope and opened her arms for the smaller girl who fell into her embrace, sobbing for her lost father.

 

“All will be well eventually,” Eloise soothed, “Trust me, it will take time but all will be well.”

 


 

Two days later, the lords and ladies of Mayfair and their families packed up their London houses and rolled out of town to their country estates ready for the season of hunting, shooting and gaming before returning the following year to take part in the season once again. 

 

Chapter Text

1814

 

The year of 1814 started off with celebrations for the Bridgerton family with Mr Miles Thomas Bridgerton making his way into the world one early February morning, the new addition was followed a few months later by Lady Amelia Violet Bassett and the nurseries at both Aubrey Hall and Clyveden became hubs of activity looking after their new charges.

 


 

“Surely if the babies are staying here then it is too much for us to be presented this year,” Eloise argued as the household prepared for their return to London for the start of the season, “I am only thinking of your wife, brother.”

 

“Eloise,” Anthony sighed, “I don’t know how many more times we need to go over this; you are now 18 and you are being presented at Court. There is no getting out of this, please stop trying.”

 

“But surely, a delay of a year ...” Eloise began

 

“Eloise!” Anthony exclaimed, “Stop. Be grateful I did not make you debut at 16 like some girls do. You have been awarded as much time as possible for this, you will be presented, you will attend balls and I hold out hope that someone, somewhere will find your obstinance charming and will propose to you. I am not having this conversation with you again.”

 

Eloise frowned but seeing that Anthony was being firm on the matter, turned and stormed out of the study. 

 

“Frannie, please don’t start,” Anthony sighed, as he caught sight of Francesca hovering in the doorway, “You get your turn next year.”

 

“Oh I know,” Francesca smiled, “I just heard shouting.”

 

“Something that I fear will become far more common,” Anthony sighed, “Have all your things been packed?”

 

“They have,” Francesca smiled, “I just need to decide which music to bring with me; do you think we can buy some more when we are in town?”

 

“Of course we can,” Anthony agreed easily, “And I think Kate has some trips to the modiste in mind to get you prepared for next season.”

 

“I can’t wait,” Francesca grinned, “Daphne made it sound so much fun; could I attend some of the family balls like Eloise and Edwina did last year?” 

 

Anthony nodded and Francesca squealed, rushing over to give him a tight hug, “You’re the best PapaAnt,” she cheered, “See you at dinner!”

 

Anthony shook his head fondly as Francesca bounced out of the room, he knew that he shouldn’t have favourites but if asked he would easily say that Fran was his favourite sister. She didn’t always acknowledge the odd relationship between them, somewhere between brother and father, but when she did it always fell on the father side of the question. 

 

Francesca was six when Edmund died and had said frequently that she had very few memories of the man, all the memories she had of someone performing the function of a father were of Anthony. Whilst only twelve months older than her sister, Eloise had firm memories of Edmund and still, eleven years later, fought Anthony’s role in her life; it did make for a very fraught relationship. 

 

“Frannie seems happy,” Kate commented later that evening as they sat in the parlour after dinner.

 

“I told her we would allow her to attend the family parties this season,” Anthony replied, “And the theatre with us. She is at least looking forward to her season.”

 

“Ah, Eloise did come and complain to me earlier,” Benedict added with a laugh, “Something about you telling her she has no choice but to debut this year.”

 

“She is 18,” Anthony replied, “We can’t delay it again.”

 

“I was 21 when I debuted,” Kate commented, “It isn’t wholly unheard of.”

 

“Your father died when you were 18,” Anthony replied, “Your situation was different. She has no excuse not to do it this year. She is overreacting as usual, when she gets in a ballroom with Eddie and Miss Featherington she will think differently.”

 

“You hope anyway,” Benedict laughed, “At least this season will be entertaining.”

 


 

A few weeks later, Mayfair was once again filled with the bustle and activities that accompanied the Ton back for the season. Anthony stood with his hand extended outside the Bridgerton carriage as he helped his sisters and wife down.

 

Kate looked over at Featherington House when she descended, “I should go and call on Lady Featherington now we are back,” she muttered, “Do you know if the new Lord Featherington has arrived yet?”

 

“I hadn’t heard anything when I was here last,” Anthony replied, “There was some rumour that he was coming from the Americas so he might not have arrived yet.”

 

“I’ll send my card over in the morning,” Kate nodded, “I know he wasn’t your favourite person but Lady Featherington must be so worried about what will happen now.”

 


 

The following morning, Kate sat in the parlour of Featherington House as Lady Featherington called for tea, “It is so kind of you to call Lady Bridgerton,” Portia smiled, “And I must thank you again for the lovely bouquet of flowers and your kind words. It was nice to know our neighbours had not forgotten us in our time of grief.”

 

“Of course Lady Featherington,” Kate smiled, “It was the least we could do. How are you and the girls?”

 

“We are getting by,” Portia replied, “But it is distressing, we still do not know who the new Lord Featherington is or what he will want to do with us when he arrives. He is not a direct relation you see, so he has no connection or residual feeling of obligation to us like a brother or son would do.”

 

Kate nodded, “I remember feeling the same when my own father died,” she confided, “Not knowing if his uncle would care for us or if any husband either myself or my sister would marry would assist our mother. It is not easy.”

 

“It isn’t,” Portia nodded, “And I am trying to shield my ladies from it all; they are so young, it is not their burden. We must all hope that the new Baron is a kindly man.”

 

“Do you not know anything about him?” Kate asked

 

“I knew his father,” Portia nodded, “And he was a cruel, horrid man. I just hope the apple has fallen very far from that particular tree!”

 

Kate laughed slightly and the two women began discussing the upcoming season and potential matches for the girls they were chaperoning that year.

 


 

Before anyone realised it was time for Eloise and Edwina to be presented at Court, Bridgerton House was a flurry of activity getting both girls ready in their white gowns and feather headdresses before they returned to Bridgerton House for the lavish ball which was being held in their honour. 

 

“Don’t worry,” Kate soothed as they sat in the carriage on the way to Court, “Just remember to curtsey correctly and back out of the room and it is done. If their Majesties do not speak to you then you won’t even have to say anything. It will all be over in five minutes.”

 

“Eloise you will go first with Kate,” Anthony said, “Then Kate will leave you with me and the other presented debutantes whilst she goes back and presents Eddie.”

 

“So we won’t go together?” Edwina asked faintly, “I thought we would with Kate presenting us both.”

 

Anthony shook his head, “It is arranged by your family rank,” he explained, “Eloise is the daughter of a Viscount so she will be presented before you I’m afraid. Don’t worry though El, I’m sure there are a few daughters of Earls and Dukes being presented this year so you won’t be first.”

 

“Don’t even joke about that,” Eloise grumbled, “What happens if the Queen speaks to me?”

 

“Then for the love of all that is holy be polite,” Anthony replied, “And do not go on like you usually do.”

 

“Helpful,” Eloise replied with an eye-roll, “So insightful brother.”

 

“Well, I’ve never had a conversation with the Queen because I have never been a debutante. That is what father told me when I was introduced to the King so I thought you would appreciate the same advice.”

 

Eloise smiled slightly, mollified by the knowledge that her father was indirectly giving her advice through Anthony, “When we return home for the ball, can I hide in the library?”

 

“No,” Kate replied, “Or at least, not immediately, you will need to be available for all the young men who will wish to dance with you.”

 

“I am excited for that part,” Edwina added, “I do enjoy dancing; do you think I might find a suitor tonight?”

 

Kate frowned, “I think we shouldn’t expect too much,” she cautioned, “We have an entire season to enjoy after all.”

 


 

A few hours later, the newly presented debutantes returned to Bridgerton House and the ball held in their honour. Kate announced them as they descended the staircase into the ballroom and Edwina was soon inundated with dance requests, Eloise schooled her face into a scowl so that only the bravest members of society dared approach her.

 

“Eloise,” Kate smiled, “Lord Fife was just saying he wishes to dance. You will oblige, won’t you?”

 

Eloise rolled her eyes but knowing her dance card was empty and could easily be seen, she had no choice but to agree. Kate beamed at her and moved away to stand with Anthony at the side of the floor.

 

“Fife?” Anthony questioned as she reached him, “Really?”

 

“Isn’t he a friend of Colin’s from Oxford?” Kate asked with a frown, “I thought they would at least have something in common to start with.”

 

“He is,” Anthony confirmed, “I just can’t imagine Eloise enjoying his company.”

 

“Stranger things have happened,” Kate replied, “And if Colin is still wishing to court Miss Featherington when he returns, one of his friends courting Eloise might make a nice little party.”

 

Anthony rolled his eyes, “You are turning into one of those Mama’s men run away from,” he stated with a laugh, “Who have you got Edwina dancing with?”

 

Kate frowned slightly at her husband, “Lord Mortimor,” she replied, “I understand he is in possession of quite a fortune.”

 

“And is set to lose most of it at the gambling tables,” Anthony replied shortly before softening slightly, “I know you have lists, at least let me look at them before you start setting them both at every eligible man with a title in the room.”

 


 

The following morning the parlour of Bridgerton House was filled with flowers and suitors vying for Edwina’s attention. Kate was trying her best to field the line of gentlemen and push them to entertain both Eloise and Edwina but Eloise’s attitude made this a difficult task. 

 

After a trying morning of calls, the room breathed a sigh of relief when Humboldt announced that Penelope had arrived for tea.

 

“Pen!” Eloise cheered, jumping from her place on the chaise to greet her friend, “How are you?”

 

“Better,” Penelope smiled faintly, “It has been an odd winter but I think things will be better now we are back in town.”

 

“It will be,” Kate nodded, “And, if I may speak from experience, it does get better the more you have to do.”

 

Penelope smiled and soon was drawn into a conversation with Eloise about the trials of the morning. 

 

“Did anyone else know that Colin has added Albania to his ever growing tour?” Anthony announced as he walked into the room, “Should I be worried he is ever coming back?”

 

Penelope giggled slightly, “He said in his last letter to me, Lord Bridgerton,” she said, “That he had met some travelling companions who were returning home via Albania and he is joining them. He will be back only a week later than planned, I think.”

 

“Well I’m glad he had the thought to let at least one of us know what he is up to!” Anthony exclaimed, “How has your morning been?” he asked Kate as he took his own tea.

 

“Well,” Kate replied, “But I think we may need to review my lists sooner than we thought.”

 

Anthony nodded and Eloise rolled her eyes, turning once again to Penelope and their discussion about the latest novel they had been reading, Mansfield Park.

 


 

A few days later, the Featherington women returned from their promenade to find boxes and trunks all over their hall. Portia frowned as she took in the scene, “Varley, what is going on?” she frowned.

 

“The new Lord Featherington is here,” the housekeeper replied, “Upstairs, moving things around.”

 

“Moving things?” Penelope repeated, her eyes wide, “Our things?”

 

“Of course not,” a jovial voice sounded from the stairs, “Well, not your things. I’ve simply taken possession of the Baron’s suite, as I believe is my right.”

 

Penelope blushed, embarrassed at her outburst in front of the new head of their family. 

 

“So, let me see if I can figure this out,” the man continued, “You are Lady Featherington,” he pointed at Portia, “And this must be Prudence, Philippa and Penelope,” he pointed at each girl in turn, “I’m the new Baron, you can call me Cousin Jack.”

 

The three girls dipped into a small curtsey and smiled at their cousin. “It is late,” Portia smiled, “Let the young ladies go and prepare themselves for the event they are attending this evening and we can all get to know each other tomorrow."

 


 

The following morning, Jack found himself seated with his new-found female relations at their breakfast table. “So, is there anything I need to know?” he asked Portia as the girls left to pursue their own amusements for the morning.

 

“Philippa received a proposal last season,” Portia immediately replied, “My late husband had been profligate with our funds and he refused the match as he worries he would not be able to meet her dowry. The man, Mr Finch, is a good match for Philippa; if you could ...”

 

“Establish a relationship and see if the young man is still interested?” Jack confirmed, “Of course. I will have to ask you for an introduction but I am led to understand that these kinds of discussions between gentlemen happen in the club so I am sure we can come to some arrangement.”

 

Portia smiled, “What about the other girls?” Jack asked, “Are they both out?”

 

“They are,” Portia replied, “And Penelope was given promises by Mr Colin Bridgerton last season before he left for his tour. He hasn’t arrived back yet but he has been corresponding with her for his entire trip so I think a proposal will be coming from there shortly.”

 

Jack nodded, “And that is a good match?” he asked, “I’m led to believe he is only a third son.”

 

“But a very wealthy one,” Portia replied, “The Viscount has been married for years, the second son is a complete rake; Colin Bridgerton is a very good match for my Penelope. You’ll see.”

 

Jack nodded, “And Prudence?” he asked, “What of her prospects? Are you expecting all three of them to be married this season?”

 

Portia smiled and raised her cup slightly to toast the idea. Jack nodded, mentally running over his plans for his time in London. 

 


 

Colin returned to England a week later, as Penelope had predicted, and the following day was swept out of Bridgerton House with the rest of the family to join them at Ascot for a day at the races. Edwina had secured an invitation from Lord Lumley and Kate was chaperoning their afternoon with the Dowager Lady Lumley whilst Anthony and Benedict went to the stables to discuss their prospects with the trainer of Anthony’s race horse. Colin took the opportunity of his first event back in London to catch-up with some of his old Oxford friends whilst Eloise pondered the stalls set up by local traders, noticing with glee that a pamphlet stall was one of them and decided to spend most of her pin money there.

 

Penelope found her a few moments later, as she read over the four pamphlets she had purchased.

 

“But look at the letters Pen,” Eloise urged, thrusting a pamphlet in Penelope’s face, “These two are from the same printer and look at this one. I think this will be very informative.”

 

Penelope frowned as Eloise waved another pamphlet in her face, “Commentary on Thomas Spence,” Penelope read, “Eloise! You shouldn’t have this, isn’t he some kind of radical?”

 

“I don’t think so,” Eloise dismissed, “But, anyway, as I was saying this pamphlet must be printed at the same place as this pamphlet on flower arranging.”

 

“And?” Penelope asked, frowning as she struggled to follow Eloise’s thoughts.

 

“And, if I find this interesting, which I do think I will,” Eloise elaborated, “Then I can find more pamphlets just like this one.”

 

“Eloise you cannot!” Penelope protested, “You cannot be thinking of going to a printer’s shop, it is dangerous.”

 

“I think it would be a grand adventure,” Eloise grinned, “Colin cannot be the only explorer in the family.”

 

Penelope sighed and tried to turn Eloise to other topics with no success.

 

“Hello,” Colin smiled as he came up to the two ladies, “Are you enjoying the day Pen?”

 

“Oh Colin,” Eloise sighed, “We don’t wish to hear any more tales of Greece or Verona or is it Prussia now?”

 

Colin rolled his eyes, “I wasn’t speaking to you Eloise,” he retorted, “What are you doing anyway?”

 

“We have just been discussing some pamphlets,” Penelope replied, “Eloise has found some about, what was it again El? Flower arranging and dog grooming?”

 

“Dog grooming?” Colin repeated, “But you don’t like Newton, now you are interested in grooming him?”

 

“I might give that one to Hyacinth,” Eloise stated with an eye-roll, “Now, what do you want?”

 

“Pen, can I escort you back to your party?” Colin asked, smiling as he extended his arm to Penelope, “Your Mama was looking for you.”

 

Penelope smiled and placed her arm on Colin’s, “How is the new Lord Featherington?” he asked as they walked away from Eloise.

 

“He seems interesting,” Penelope replied, “And he doesn’t find Mr Finch as objectionable as Papa did so he has approved Philippa’s match. Did you ever find out what Papa could have discovered?”

 

“I didn’t,” Colin lied smoothly, “I asked Anthony and Hastings and they hadn’t heard anything. The worst thing Anthony could think was that he is a bit dim and hadn’t bothered with university.”

 

Penelope giggled, “Maybe that was it,” she said, “Papa wouldn’t have wanted Philippa with a silly man.”

 

Colin smiled, “Well you don’t have to worry about that,” he joked lightly, “Even if Eloise calls me her most stupid brother.”

 

Penelope giggled, “I don’t think you are stupid,” she said softly, “And I would like to hear more about your tour. You haven’t told me anything about Prussia yet.”

 

After a short walk, Colin and Penelope arrived back with her party, “Lady Featherington,” Colin greeted Portia with a small bow, “Are you enjoying your day?”

 

“Mr Bridgerton,” Portia smiled, “Thank you for returning my Penelope. It is a lovely day, is it not? Have you met our cousin, the new Lord Featherington?”

 

“I haven’t yet had the pleasure,” Colin smiled, turning to Jack, “How are you finding England?”

 

“It is treating me well so far,” Jack smiled, “I believe we should get to know each other Mr Bridgerton, if you are going to be part of the family.”

 

“I think we should,” Colin replied smoothly, “Tell me, what do you favour today? My money is on Neptune.”

 

Prudence turned to Penelope, “Oh! Do you think Mr Bridgerton is going to propose?” she squealed, “How exciting!”

 

“We could have our dresses fitted at the modiste together,” Philippa added, bouncing slightly in excitement, “Mama, wouldn’t that be fun?”

 

“I think we should wait for Mr Bridgerton to actually propose,” she warned, “And I thought you wanted to become Mrs Finch earlier in the season.”

 


 

Anthony smiled as Colin let himself into his study a few days after their day at Ascot, “How was Greece brother?” he asked, looking at his younger brother’s tanned face with a wry smile, “And the rest of the continent? I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to speak properly before the Danbury Ball.”

 

“Excellent,” Colin smiled, “And it’s fine, I want to speak to you about something anyway.”

 

Anthony frowned and put down the bill he was reading, “About what?” he asked, looking over at Colin in concern, “Is everything alright?”

 

“Perfectly,” Colin grinned, “I wanted to speak to you about how to properly court a woman.”

 

Anthony swallowed his instinct to laugh and stood to pour himself and Colin a glass of whisky, “Is this about Miss Featherington?” Anthony asked, “Are you still set on courting her?”

 

Colin nodded, “I’ve always got on well with her,” he replied, “And I told her that I wanted to court her before I left at the end of last season. I just ... I know I would really get on with her Anth; and well, I don’t know how I go about courting her and letting her know that properly.”

 

“I’m happy for you,” Anthony smiled, “I would send your card in the morning and some flowers and then see about taking her on a promenade. If you don’t want her insufferable Mama to accompany you, I’m sure Kate would be happy to do so. Then just see how things go, but Colin, remember she is a dear friend to your sisters and they will no doubt still wish to be her friend if your courtship does not work out as planned.”

 

Colin nodded, “It’s that how things worked out with you and Kate?” he asked, “I never asked, I just knew that you had met her at a ball and had courted her and then you married. I didn’t bother figuring out how you did it.”

 

Anthony laughed, “From what I recall, you had plenty to do with Ben trying to keep the girls in line about it all,” he snorted, getting them both another whisky, “But yes, that is what happened. Lady Danbury introduced us in her usual way and we had a few dances, we talked and I paid a call. We courted for a number of weeks, practically the whole season, I had to be sure that she would fit,” Anthony paused, “It will be different for you and Miss Featherington, you already know each other and, well ... Kate wasn’t just marrying me, I needed to be sure that she would get on with all of you, that I wouldn’t be bringing someone into the family that would happily neglect you all. You won’t have that concern.”

 

Colin nodded, “I remember it being very odd, that year,” he said after a while, “The girls were terrified and the babies didn’t know what was going on. It all worked out though,” he smiled, “And I’m sure it will for me too.”

 

“I’m sure it will,” Anthony smiled, “Just don’t forget to play nice with the new Lord Featherington too; he has the power to stop everything if he wants to.”

 

“And I’m just a third son,” Colin replied, looking down at the floor, “If some first son comes along, he will make Pen throw me over for him.”

 

“A third son with more money due to him than many first sons in town,” Anthony countered, “Don’t be down on yourself before you’ve started anything. The new Baron doesn’t know anyone in town, be his friend and all will be fine.”

 


 

As Colin and Anthony were talking in the study, Eloise took the opportunity to slip out of the house. She had devoured the pamphlet she had purchased at Ascot several times in the last few days and was desperate to know more. 

 

She had some idea that Anthony would not approve of her new reading material but she believed Anthony to Anthony being far too stuffy for his own good and despite how exacerbated he often was with Eloise, she knew that Anthony was far too indulgent to be truly angry with her for too long.

 

She paid the footman the last of her week’s pin money and instructed him to take her to the printer’s shop on Fleet Street so that she could find out more.

 

Eloise smiled as she found the printer’s shop and stumbled into a radical meeting, this was exactly the type of thing she was looking for to provide her some entertainment during the season. She stood at the back of the room, next to a young man who looked about her age, “Theo Sharpe,” the man nodded, “If you don’t mind me saying Miss, you’re a long way from Mayfair right now.”

 

Eloise smiled and the two began talking, commenting on the topics being discussed by the speakers. She left a few hours later with an arm full of more pamphlets and books that Theo had provided to further her education in the matter, hopeful that she had made a new friend.



Chapter Text

After his talk with Anthony, Colin set out to the florist to select a bouquet for Penelope. He knew that she enjoyed sunflowers, despite her distaste for the yellow dresses her mother insisted that she wore, and that her favourite flowers were peonies. The florist made up a bouquet of pink peonies tied with a blue ribbon and Colin smiled as he carried the same towards Featherington House. 

 

The butler, Briarly, announced him and he was met in the parlour by a smiling Lady Featherington, Prudence and Philippa.

 

“What beautiful flowers, Mr Bridgerton,” Portia smiled, “Are they for Penelope?”

 

“They are,” Colin replied, “Is she not taking calls this morning?”

 

“She’s upstairs,” Prudence replied, “I’ll go and call her. Should I call for tea as well Mama?”

 

Portia nodded and Prudence left the room to find her sister. “Now, Mr Bridgerton,” Portia smiled, turning to Colin, “You must tell me about your tour? We have been receiving letters from all over the continent all winter, I must hear some of your stories in person.”

 

Colin smiled, “I have been told they are quite boring,” he blushed, “But I loved Greece, the sun, the beaches, the sea it was all so much more than I can explain.”

 

Colin stood as Penelope entered the room and paused near the bouquet he had brought for her, “These are beautiful,” she smiled, “Thank you Colin.”

 

“Mr Bridgerton was just telling me about Greece,” Portia smiled, patting the seat next to her on the chaise, “Please, Mr Bridgerton, continue.”

 

Colin spent a pleasant hour with the Featherington women, talking about his travels to their delight. He left with a promise to escort Penelope on a promenade later that week and a meeting with the new Lord Featherington in Whites later that evening. 

 


 

“How was your morning?” Eloise asked as she and Penelope browsed the shops that afternoon, “Edwina had a room full of suitors again and Kate insisted on me staying to entertain them all too.”

 

“Colin called,” Penelope replied with a smile, “Oh, El, he brought me the most beautiful bouquet of peonies. And he stayed most of the morning telling Mama and I all about his travels. I think he really means to court me properly, he’s meeting Cousin Jack this evening too.”

 

Eloise rolled her eyes, “I’m glad you are happy,” she said evenly, “But Colin really is my most stupid brother. I’m sure you could do better.”

 

“Have you not had any suitors?” Penelope asked, looping her arm through her friends, “I’m sure not all the men attending your house are for Edwina.”

 

“They are and I do not wish for a suitor,” Eloise replied stubbornly, “Surely there is more to life for us than this? You are destined to be far more than my brother’s wife, Pen, do you not want to travel? To learn more?”

 

“But I would be able to do that as someone’s wife,” Penelope replied, “Being married would afford me more freedom than living under my Mama’s rules does. And if you found the right man, you would be afforded the same.”

 

“I think I have more freedom than you anyway,” Eloise replied absently, “Anthony really does let me read whatever I like and he never tries to stop me just because I am a girl. The only thing he has been very harsh about is this whole presentation business this season, and he isn’t stopping Kate trying to make me dance with every man she sees.”

 

Penelope rolled her eyes, “But you might meet someone you really like, Eloise,” she protested again, “And the balls are not as bad as you make out.”

 

Eloise grumbled but dropped the topic as the girls turned into Grosvenor Square, “Oh!” Eloise suddenly exclaimed, “I forgot to pick up a new quill! I’ll run back for it, you go home and I’ll see you at the Fife ball tonight?”

 

Penelope frowned, “I don’t mind coming back to the stall with you,” she offered, turning as she did so.

 

“No, no,” Eloise protested, “You know how your Mama gets if we are late shopping. Go on, I’ll see you later tonight.”

 

Penelope frowned but continued walking back towards her house with her maid following as Eloise somehow managed to slip past her own maid and escaped the market-place and finding her way back to Fleet Street and the political meeting she wanted to attend.

 


 

Eloise managed to keep her subterfuge for the first six weeks of the season, Bridgerton House was always full of activity as Kate and Edwina discussed her suitors and Colin spent his time courting Penelope and speaking with Anthony about the estate due to him on his marriage. Benedict was rarely seen as he spent more and more time with his artist friends, enjoying the debauched and rakish lifestyle of a bohemian, much to Anthony’s dismay. Eloise found it easy to slip out of the house and make her way to Fleet Street and the radical meetings she was coming to enjoy very much. 

 

She was intrigued by Theo, he was nothing like the gentlemen Kate kept insisting that she danced with or the gentlemen who paid calls on Edwina. He was a little rougher than any other man she knew but as fiercely intelligent as her brothers who had all benefited from a university education, they had been corresponding for weeks and Eloise devoured every pamphlet she could get her hands on regarding the reforms the group spoke of so that she could discuss the same with Theo. 

 

The pamphlets and letters she exchanged with Theo were some of her most treasured possessions and she kept them in the lacquered wooden box she had inherited from her mother which lived on her desk. She had taken to slipping a pamphlet into her copy of Mansfield Park so that she could read them in front of her family, even if Benedict kept laughing at the number of times she had read the novel.

 

She was so used to her deception that she forgot to remove the pamphlet from her novel when she left the book in the parlour one evening whilst she attended an event with Colin, Benedict and Edwina.

 

Anthony was sitting in the parlour listening to Francesca practise the pianoforte, Hyacinth was sitting on a chair next to Anthony reading a book that had been discarded by Eloise earlier that day and Gregory was sitting with Kate whilst she helped him with a French translation. Anthony was enjoying the relative peace of his three youngest siblings and surrogate children before the rest of the family returned home.

 

“PapaAnt,” Hyacinth asked suddenly, “What does this mean?” she passed Anthony the pamphlet she had found in Eloise’s book, her finger pointing at the paragraph she was struggling with. 

 

Anthony took the pamphlet and frowned, “Where did you find this?” he asked sharply

 

“It’s Eloise’s, she had it slipped in the middle of her novel,” Hyacinth replied, “She left it here before she went out for the evening, she has been reading the book for days and I wanted to see what was so fascinating,” seeing Anthony’s furious face, Hyacinth’s lip wobbled, “I only wanted to read the novel,” she said softly, “I didn’t know that was there.”

 

“I know,” Anthony soothed, “This pamphlet, it is not something that you should be concerning yourself with,” he continued, “Go on upstairs, all of you, I need to speak with Kate.”

 

Kate frowned but ushered her three young in-laws out of the room, “What on earth has gotten into you?” she asked and gasped when Anthony showed her the pamphlet that Eloise had been reading, “How did she get this?!”

 

“I have no idea,” Anthony said through gritted teeth, “But I will find out. What else has she been reading?”

 

“I’ll go check her room,” Kate offered, “She will not be due back from the musicale for a few hours so we have time.”

 

Kate wordlessly handed Anthony a stack of letters and pamphlets that she had found in Eloise’s writing desk and her favoured wooden box, “She hadn’t tried to hide them,” Kate said softly, “Anthony, what should we do?”

 

Anthony read the letters that his sister had been exchanging with Theo, “This could be seen as treasonous,” he said faintly, “She could ruin us all with this; how have we missed this?” 

 

Kate stood by the doorway of Anthony’s study as he read the letters, her hands were shaking, “Edwina is with her,” she said softly, “Oh! I’m going to check Edwina’s things. Anthony, what are we going to do?!”

 

“Leave it with me,” Anthony stated, his eyes betraying his fury, “I’ll deal with her when she gets back. Tell Humboldt to send in her maid.”

 


 

Two hours later, Eloise returned home with Edwina and Colin. Anthony sent Edwina and Colin upstairs and requested that Eloise join him in his study. Edwina smiled and continued upstairs, talking to Kate about her evening whilst Colin rolled his eyes and entered the drawing room to get a drink.

 

Eloise smiled brightly and sat herself in the chair opposite Anthony’s desk, “Do you have anything you wish to tell me, Eloise?” Anthony said seriously, looking his sister directly in the eye.

 

“The Smythe-Smith Musicale was as dreadful as you said it would be brother,” Eloise joked, “Why, do you wish you had attended?”

 

“That is not what I meant,” Anthony replied before throwing a letter onto Eloise’s lap, “I had an interesting read earlier, and a very interesting conversation with your maid.”

 

Eloise paled, “It isn’t what you think,” she started

 

“You don’t know what I think,” Anthony replied, “But what I know is that you are so close to ruin Eloise! What has possessed you!” 

 

“Anthony!” Eloise protested

 

“No!” Anthony raged, “It is bad enough that you are entertaining these dangerous ideas but you leave them lying around for your younger siblings to find! And not only that but you are carrying on some kind of affair with this ... this ... degenerate printer. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t drag you down to the stables and horsewhip you right this instant!”

 

“Because you are not my Father!” Eloise raged back.

 

Anthony saw red and pulled Eloise from her chair, shaking her by her arm, “I am the closest thing you have had since you were seven years old Eloise!” he spat back, “Get out of my sight! Go upstairs and we will discuss this tomorrow, you will not be going anywhere for the next few days at the very least.”

 

Eloise shrugged off Anthony’s arm and stormed out of the room, pushing past Kate who hovered in the hallway.

 

Anthony sank into his chair and Kate entered the room, dropping to her knees at his side, “I would have done it,” he whispered brokenly, “I have never hit any of them, not even when they were torturing each other as children but I could have easily dragged her down to the stables. What kind of man does that make me? She’s a child!” 

 

“Anthony Bridgerton,” Kate said softly but firmly, “You have been the best father to these children since you were no more than a child yourself, she has pushed you too far. Let’s leave her to stew in her room tonight and discuss things when we are all more calm tomorrow.”

 

“I need to speak with Ben and Colin,” Anthony stated, “We need to contain this somehow.”

 

“I know,” Kate replied, “But you can’t fix everything tonight. Come, the children have sent a letter from the country, we can go into the parlour and I’ll read it to you.”

 

Just as the couple stood, Eloise pushed back into the room, dressed only in her nightgown, Colin rushing behind her trying to pull her back, “Where are all my things?” Eloise demanded, “My books and papers, what have you done with them!”

 

“I am keeping them for now,” Anthony replied, his eyes flashing in warning, “Do you really think that I will let you simply keep all your papers with what we have discovered tonight? Go upstairs Eloise. I am warning you.”

 

“Oh what exactly are you going to do brother?” Eloise taunted him, ignoring Colin who was now pulling on her arm to try and diffuse the situation, “Should I go fetch the whip myself?”

 

Colin gasped and looked at Kate, his eyes wide. Kate simply shook her head, indicating that they would discuss matters later.

 

Anthony’s fine grasp on his temper finally snapped in the face of Eloise’s taunts and he pulled her from Colin’s grasp.

 

“Anthony!” Kate gasped before Colin grabbed her hand and led his sister-in-law out of the room.

 

Anthony dragged Eloise out of the room and pulled her upstairs before slamming her bedroom door shut and locking it himself, leaving her in there whilst she raged.

 


 

“What on earth has happened?” Colin demanded as Anthony returned to the parlour, “I know Eloise has been exceptionally wilful this season but what was that?!”

 

Anthony dropped the incriminating letters on Colin’s lap before helping himself to a very large brandy, “Tell me you had no idea,” he said softly, “Tell me that she has been running around behind all our backs and that you haven’t been helping her.”

 

“Why would I help her do this!” Colin retorted, “I have hidden her from Kate at a few balls when she doesn’t wish to dance and I have kept her talking with Penelope when I know she would rather run but she has not left my sight, I’ve just kept her out of yours.”

 

Anthony nodded and let out a sigh, “I will need to ask Benedict the same question,” he confirmed, “But she cannot go out alone again. I’ve fired her maid, she has been getting out somehow.”

 

“How far has this gone?” Colin asked quietly, “Has she admitted anything?”

 

“We don’t know,” Kate replied, “The letters I found go back weeks but other than that...”

 

“Good evening family!” Benedict greeted with a grin as he entered the parlour before frowning when he noticed the tension in the room, “What’s wrong? Is it the children?”

 

Colin handed Benedict the letters he was still reading and Anthony passed him a drink, “What is this,” Benedict said faintly, “Is this a joke?”

 

“Unfortunately not,” Anthony replied, “Did you know? Have you been helping her do this?”

 

“Do you really think I would!” Benedict demanded, “Do you honestly think that I would take our sister to this part of town and help her ruin herself!”

 

“So how has she been getting there?” Anthony pressed, “This can not have all been happening when she is supposed to have been shopping.”

 

“I have sneaked her out of a few balls,” Benedict admitted, “And put her in our carriage alone whilst I have gone on elsewhere. But I put her in our carriage with our staff and gave them direct instructions to take her straight home.”

 

“So, it looks as though I need to question the footmen,” Anthony concluded, “Her maid admitted that she has turned the other way when Eloise has been running off to these people.”

 

Benedict sank against the cushions with an audible sigh, “What has Eloise said?” he asked.

 

“She hasn’t admitted anything so we have no idea how far her ruin goes,” Anthony sighed, “The only way I can think of stopping this is to lock her in her room for a month, at the very least, and screen all her correspondence.”

 

“We could put out that she has caught some kind of fever,” Benedict offered, “Send the others back to Aubrey Hall and limit ourselves to only the essential functions. I’m assuming that if she bleeds on time we will let her back out of her room?”

 

Anthony nodded, “It’s the only way,” he repeated, “This cannot get out, we will all suffer if it does.”

 

The two brothers nodded, “I need to send a note,” Colin announced, “I was going to call on Penelope in the morning but if we are saying fever is in the house I cannot be seen escorting her around the Row.”

 

“There’s no need for  you to put that on hold,” Anthony sighed, “I’m sure we can think of something else if necessary.”

 


 

A few days later Penelope skipped up the steps to Bridgerton House, it was her usual Wednesday date with Eloise when they strolled through the shops and caught each other up on their gossip. 

 

“Good morning,” she greeted Humboldt, “Is Miss Eloise ready?”

 

Humboldt gestured for Penelope to enter the hallway and disappeared, the next thing Penelope knew Anthony was coming out of his study and striding towards her.

 

“Lord Bridgerton,” she smiled, dropping into a small curtsey, “Is Eloise ready? We have a standing appointment with the modiste.”

 

Anthony  bowed his head slightly, “Eloise is unwell,” he said shortly, “Humboldt really shouldn’t have let you in; there is fever in the house Miss Featherington, let me walk you back to your own house.”

 

“Oh!” Penelope gasped, “Thank you Lord Bridgerton, please pass my best wishes onto Eloise for her speedy recovery.”

 

Later that afternoon Humboldt entered Anthony’s study, “A letter for Miss Eloise my Lord,” he said, handing Anthony the letter.

 

Dear Eloise

 

I hope that you are well, your brother, Lord Bridgerton, informed me that there is fever in your house and you are currently bedridden; I did wonder why you were not at the Cowper Ball but this explains it! Part of me wishes I also had a fever so I could have avoided Miss Cressida and her gaggle, I do not know what I have done to that woman but she seems to hate me. 

 

In other news, I know you do not like to hear of it, but Colin has escorted me on a promenade again this week! Eloise, you would tell me if he was also courting others, wouldn’t you? You know how I feel about him and I keep letting myself believe that he also feels the same; he sent the most lovely bouquet for me and one for my Mama last week. Mama says this means he is serious but I’m not so sure. 

 

I’ve enclosed the latest copy of Whistledown as I’m not sure if you will have been able to send out for it. I can’t wait to discuss it all with you again in person!

 

I hope you are well and back with us soon.

 

Love

 

Pen. 

 

“Nothing but the ramblings of a giddy girl,” Kate sighed as she read the letter Penelope sent to Eloise, “I don’t suppose Miss Featherington is expecting a response but we could give this to Eloise; I can’t imagine there is any code in this.”

 

“We don’t know though,” Anthony replied, “And I clearly need to talk to Colin about making his intentions clear.”

 

“That is a separate issue,” Kate counselled, “And Penelope isn’t the most confident of girls, it’s not unusual that she is second guessing things. Anthony, if you really think they have made a code from gossip about Cressida Cowper and Colin’s courtship then keep this letter to yourself but I honestly think this is just one girl writing to her sick friend to keep her updated.”

 

Anthony sighed, “I know,” he replied, “But I just know she’s had some kind of help outside of the servants, she has to have done.”

 

“But until she wants to talk to us there is nothing we can do,” Kate said softly, “She is locked in her room with the windows nailed shut, she isn’t leaving this house again without your permission or knowledge; she is as safe as she can be right now.”

 


 

Daphne closed her eyes and leaned on Simon’s shoulder as their carriage trundled along the roads between Tonbridge and London, they had spent the night in the same inn they always stopped at between London and Hastings before continuing their journey back to Hastings House.

 

Simon wrapped his arm around her and dropped a kiss to the top of her head, “How are you?” he asked softly, “The journey isn’t too much?”

 

“Do you think Amelia will be fine at Clyveden?” Daphne asked in reply, “The nursemaids will look after her?”

 

“She will be fine,” Simon soothed, “And if the nursemaids value their lives she will be fine. Jeffries will ensure it, he has promised.”

 

“I do wish the new housekeeper had started before we left,” Daphne sighed, “I think I would feel more at peace if I knew her.”

 

“Mrs Colson was wrong to leave us so suddenly like that,” Simon agreed, “But the new housekeeper couldn’t get to us before now. And we have to be in London for Queen Charlotte’s Ball; Jeffries will come to London when she is settled and give us a full report.”

 

“I know,” Daphne nodded, her eyes drooping as the carriage lulled her to sleep, “I just miss Amelia, that’s all.”

 

“Me too,” Simon sighed, “But this journey would have been too much for her; she is only three months old. Let her enjoy the country and we will be back with her before you know it.”

 


 

The following morning, Simon and Daphne paid a visit to Bridgerton House to catch-up with the family and receive the latest gossip from the season that hadn’t found its way into Lady Whistledown’s pamphlets. Daphne stopped as she entered the house, hearing Eloise’s cries for Anthony from upstairs as soon as she crossed the threshold.

 

“What is going on?” she asked as she entered the parlour, “Is that Eloise? Is she in some kind of delirium?”

 

“If only it were that simple,” Anthony replied, “I don’t think I have the words to explain what she has done.”

 

“I swear Anthony, if you don’t shut her up soon then I will,” Colin fumed as he entered the parlour, “She’s being ridiculous about the whole thing! I’m going to the club, at least I will get some sleep there!”

 

“Will one of you explain!” Daphne demanded, staring at her older brothers as she used to when they were all still children.

 

Anthony wordlessly handed her a copy of the letter he had shown Benedict and Colin, “That isn’t the worst of them,” he said, “It’s been going on for weeks, Kate found letters going back to the start of the season.”

 

Daphne brought her hand to her mouth, “What possessed her?” she gasped, “Has she said anything?”

 

“Nothing apart from what you can currently hear,” Anthony replied, “I’ve had her locked in her room since Monday evening and she’s not stopped.”

 

“Can I try talking to her?” Daphne asked, “I haven’t been here, she might actually talk to me.”

 

“That’s not my decision,” Anthony stated, “If Hastings is happy for you to get yourself mixed up in this then go on up, see if you can talk some sense into her thick head.”

 

Simon frowned as he read the letter before nodding to Daphne that she could go and attend her sister. The two men then left the parlour and made their way to Anthony’s study.

 


 

“Eloise,” Daphne called, knocking on the door, “Anthony has said that I can come in, are you near the door?”

 

“I am honoured,” Eloise rolled her eyes as Daphne entered, “The Duchess of Hastings has come to visit her poor imprisoned sister. Did he tell you that he keeps threatening to horse whip me?”

 

“He has,” Daphne replied, taking a seat on the chair, “And do you understand why he is doing so?”

 

“It’s not his business!” Eloise raged, “He is not my parent, he is my brother! It is none of his business how I conduct myself!”

 

“Eloise!” Daphne scolded, “Anthony is the head of the family, everything you do is his business. You know that! Now, sit and tell me what has been happening?”

 

“I didn’t mean for it to get this far,” Eloise admitted as she leaned into Daphne’s legs, “I was just interested in some of the things they were saying and, well, Theo seemed nice.”

 

“But how did you end up there in the first place?” Daphne pressed, “I just can not understand how you came across these people.”

 

“I found a pamphlet,” Eloise admitted, “At the races, I thought it seemed interesting and after I read it, I found details of the publisher so I went there.”

 

“Eloise!” Daphne gasped, “Anything could have happened to you in that part of London, it is not safe!”

 

“But I was fine!” Eloise protested, “And I stumbled on a meeting, I liked some of the things they were saying about votes and reform and I stayed. Theo started writing to me soon after that,” she admitted quietly, “We have only corresponded, we haven’t even kissed or anything like that but Anthony seems determined to lock me away so he won’t believe me.”

 

“Eloise,” Daphne sighed, “I don’t know what is worse, you potentially ruining yourself with a printer’s boy or the fact that you have been attending treasonous meetings! Do you understand what would have happened if you had been discovered?”

 

“Could it be worse than this?” Eloise scoffed.

 

“Yes!” Daphne insisted, “They would have thrown you in prison, an actual prison, not just your room and they really would have whipped you. Those meetings, those people are dangerous Eloise; especially for people like us! Promise me that it is all over. Promise on Mama and Papa’s graves that you will not go there and you will not seek out these people ever again!”

 

Eloise nodded her promise through her tears as she sobbed into Daphne’s skirts, her eldest sister’s hand running over her head to sooth her as she cried.

 


 

“What the hell has she gotten herself mixed up in?” Simon asked as he and Anthony nursed brandies in the study, “And how the hell has she managed it?”

 

“I honestly don’t know,” Anthony replied, “I nearly hit her,” he said quietly after a while, “I was so angry that I could have easily dragged her down to the stables and lashed her. I’ve never done anything like that before.”

 

“They’ve never done anything like this before!” Simon replied, “I’m not going to castigate you for that Bridgerton! From what you have shown me she deserves it and more. What are you going to do, if she is with child?”

 

“I have no idea,” Anthony sighed, “I can’t see having any other choice than to send her to some long neglected estate somewhere. But I can’t imagine actually putting her in the carriage and doing it.”

 

“You’ll have to,” Simon warned, “If this gets out or if she is with child you can’t risk the other girls like that. Not to mention your own children, people have lost their heads for less.” 

 

“I know I’ll have to do it,” Anthony bit back, “But it doesn’t make it any less difficult.”

 

“She isn’t going to be with child,” Daphne announced as she entered the study, “The relationship, or whatever you want to call it with the printer’s boy, didn’t move past letters and few longing looks. She has just sworn to me that they have not had relations, that they have not even kissed. She was enamoured by the subject matter and found it all very interesting.”

 

“I’m not sure that’s any better,” Simon commented as he wrapped his arm around her waist pulling her to sit on his lap, “How do you know she’s not just saying that to get you to talk Anthony into releasing her.”

 

“I made her swear,” Daphne repeated, “I made her swear on Mama and Papa’s graves.”

 

Anthony closed his eyes, “Did she tell you how she came across these people?” he asked eventually.

 

“She said that she picked up a pamphlet at the races. She was intrigued by the contents of the pamphlet and so she took herself off to the printer’s shop to find out more.” 

 

“I knew I should have had that boy arrested,” Anthony muttered darkly, “I found out which of the footmen took her there. She paid him her pin money to do it.”

 

“How has she been managing to disappear so often though?” Daphne asked, “She is always with someone, how have we not noticed her absences?”

 

“She has been getting Ben to sneak her out of balls early,” Anthony admitted, “He has owned up to putting her in one of our carriages, most of the time alone, with the strict instruction to come home. Clearly, she and the footman worked around that. And her maid admitted to looking the other way when she would sneak off from shopping to attend these things.”

 

"There is something that we could do," Simon said after the three had sat silently for a little while, "Daphne, go through the pile and find the pamphlet that started all this."

 

Daphne frowned but stood and moved to the corner of the desk quickly filing through the papers until she came across the offending pamphlet. 

 

Simon quickly read over it, "This is the least offensive of the lot, which is probably why it was distributed publicly. Take this to a magistrate; say that you have found it amongst your sister's possessions, emphasise her youth and innocence, you have chastised her for having it in her possession but you are concerned about what this print shop is putting out. The runners or soldiers will go in and the boy is arrested; depending on his involvement he will either be executed or transported but either way he will not bother Eloise again."

 

"And burn the rest of it," Daphne added, "Maybe this fever that Eloise has is stronger than first thought and she has to leave town. Send her back to Aubrey Hall, let her know this isn't to be tolerated. Maybe let her write to Edwina and Penelope but get the staff to send it here first, that way you get to see everything she is sending out."

 

"It would work," Simon nodded, "An upstanding member of society finds something scandalous when packing up his sister's papers when sending her to convalesce in the country and is shocked. Asks a few questions and finds out that she found this on a stall at Ascot. Said upstanding member of society is now very concerned about other young women and the dangerous things this print shop is putting out."

 

"And if it doesn't work?" Anthony asked, "If the magistrate doesn't take the bait?"

 

"Then you look like a concerned, if slightly overprotective, older brother. You come out of this fine and your house still stands. But, I agree with my wife, Eloise leaves London this week. And if those hysterics continue then take her in hand, no one will disagree with you if you did take the whip to her."

 

"Our parents would never..."

 

“That’s a lie and you know it Anth,” Daphne countered, “Papa took the whip to both Ben and Colin when they did far less than this and you know he did. Not to mention Mama’s behaviour before she died. Eloise has been pushing your boundaries for years and you have let her do it out of some stupid misplaced guilt.”

 

“That’s not ...” Anthony started to argue.

 

“It is,” Daphne finished, “She would never have dared do this if Mama and Papa were still here. She has always been wilful Anth and these people have encouraged it. She needs to know that she can’t act like this, she will never find a husband if she continues and then what will you do?”

 


 

The following morning Anthony and Eloise sat in their carriage as it returned to Aubrey Hall. Eloise was sulking, slumped against the seat as Anthony read the paper.

 

“Can I read that when you are done?” she asked, “Or is your plan to keep me as ignorant as the rest of the empty-headed debutantes in Mayfair?”

 

“You can read the paper El,” Anthony sighed, passing it over to her, “And I’m not trying to keep you ignorant. Just safe.”

 

Eloise rolled her eyes but accepted the paper without further comment, using it to ignore her brother for the rest of the carriage ride.

 

Anthony left her in the parlour at Aubrey Hall as he spoke with the staff, she was curled on her favourite chair when he re-entered the room, “I’ve told the staff that you have been suffering with a fever and that is why you are here,” he said, taking his own seat, “They have been told to leave you alone to give you time to recover. The nursemaids may ask you to stay away from the nursery for a few days but you have the run of the place.”

 

“Keeping me from corrupting your children brother?” Eloise said sarcastically.

 

“Not at all,” Anthony replied, evenly, “But I have just told you that the staff believe you have a fever; the nursemaids will want to keep you from the children to prevent them becoming sick. All I ask is that you play along with the ruse.”

 

“Fine,” Eloise spat, “I accept my banishment with good grace. You can return to London now.”

 

“I did think that we could have tea together,” Anthony stated, “And talk, like we used to when you had finished reading the paper.”

 

Eloise stared at him, “You expect me to talk to you like I used to after how you have treated me this last week?” she asked incredulously, “Like nothing has occurred at all.”

 

“Eloise,” Anthony sighed, “I have done everything this week to protect you. I only hope that eventually you will see that.”

 

Eloise scoffed, “Punish me more like,” she muttered.

 

Anthony stood and made to leave the room, “Eloise, everything I do is always to protect you all. I’ll go and have tea with the children but I’ll look in before I leave.” He paused behind her chair, his hand hovering over her head as he stopped himself running his hand along her hair as he did when she was a child, “I love you, El, just remember that. Please.”

 

Eloise waited until she heard Anthony's carriage pulling away from the house before she buried her face in her knees and cried, Anthony's soft and earnest words echoing in her head as she did so.



Chapter Text

Penelope stood by the wall of the ballroom at the Queen Charlotte Ball, this was the event of the season and everyone was in attendance. Eloise was now back in the country, still recovering from the fever that she had been suffering with for the last week and so Penelope occupied their usual spot alone. 

 

“Oh there you are,” Cressida Cowper simpered from Penelope’s side, “All alone tonight? Well, I suppose even Colin Bridgerton’s sympathies only extend so far.”

 

Penelope rolled her eyes slightly before turning to face Cressida, “I do not know what you are talking about,” she replied, “Mr Bridgerton was just bringing me a glass of lemonade, here he is now.”

 

Cressida smiled and batted her fan as Colin approached with two glasses of lemonade, “Miss Cowper,” he greeted, before passing one of the glasses to Penelope, “Can I claim a dance whilst I’m here Pen?” he asked, taking her dance card in his hand.

 

“I would like to dance,” Cressida smiled, waving her dance card towards Colin, “Perhaps ...”

 

“The waltz,” Colin smiled as he placed his name on Penelope’s card, “And a country dance?”

 

Penelope smiled and flushed slightly, two dances with the same man was inviting gossip. It was tantamount to Colin declaring his intentions in the middle of the ballroom. 

 

“Two dances!” Cressida exclaimed, “Really, Mr Bridgerton?”

 

“Of course,” Colin replied, still holding Penelope’s hand, “Why wouldn’t I have two dances with the woman I am courting?”

 

Cressida snorted a laugh, “Well, thank you for the entertaining joke Mr Bridgerton,” she simpered, “I’m sure I will enjoy the show!”

 

“I can’t stand that woman,” Colin breathed as Cressida walked away, “Are you alright Pen?”

 

“I am now,” Penelope replied, “You do realise that you have declared your intentions now and everyone will know?”

 

“I thought I had done so last season,” Colin replied easily, “When I told you I was coming back to court you this year. I wasn’t joking Pen, I don’t care that the rest of town might be gossiping about this, I’m serious.”

 

Penelope blushed but smiled brightly at Colin, “I am glad,” she smiled, “Now, have you seen Lord Goring’s waistcoat? I think he has been taking fashion tips from my Mama.”

 

Colin snorted a laugh as he and Penelope spent their time spotting people in the ballroom and commenting on their fashion choices.

 


 

Portia stood off to the side of the ballroom with some of the other mothers as Colin and Penelope laughed through their dance. 

 

"Are you expecting a proposal soon?" Lady Goring asked, "Bridgerton Number 3 seems very taken with your youngest."

 

"He has been most diligent in courting her since he returned from the continent," Portia replied, "It wouldn't surprise me if I manage to get another of my ladies married off by the end of the season."

 

"My Cressida has always been quite taken by that particular Mr Bridgerton," Lady Cowper sighed, "It is such a shame she has missed out. I was always certain she would manage to land a Bridgerton boy. How did your little Penelope manage it?"

 

"There is always the second one," Lady Goring commented, "He is still unattached."

 

Lady Cowper rolled her eyes, "Penelope was his friend," Portia replied, realising that the women were waiting on her answer, "They have known each other for a long time, things developed quite naturally. And my Penelope has always been herself, unlike some others I can mention." 

 

With her parting shot, Portia moved away from the women towards Kate who was also watching the young couple's dance.

 

"Anthony has taken the family rings from the bank," Kate said softly as they both followed the dance with their eyes, "He is expecting a conversation with Colin very soon."

 

Portia's eyes gleamed, "I won't say anything," she promised, "I don't want to get Penelope's hopes up for nothing, not just yet."

 

“But just imagine her hair and his eyes,” Portia sighed, “I would have beautiful grandchildren from them.”

 

Kate smiled and the two women toasted their glasses slightly in triumph. 

 


 

As things at Bridgerton House started to calm down following the discovery of Eloise’s adventures, Edwina started to receive suitors again. She found herself bored with the line of heirs to peerages that tried to woo her with bad recitals of Byron’s poetry and Shakespearean sonnets, she had been talking to a very interesting young man at a few balls but he had not yet paid a call and Edwina found herself wanting him to call so that she could spend more time in his company. 

 

“Kate,” Edwina began as the last of the day’s suitors finally left, “Would you or Anthony be angry if I didn’t marry someone who is in line for a title?”

 

Kate frowned, “What do you mean Eddie?” she asked, “We just want you to be happy and properly secured."

 

"I have been talking with Mr Bagwell at a number of balls," Edwina admitted, "He is the younger son of a Baron and a scholar. He is most interesting Kate."

 

"Why has he not come calling if you have been talking so much?" Kate asked, "I have never even seen his card."

 

"I wasn't sure if you would allow him admittance," Edwina admitted softly, "Every man you have introduced me to is either already a Lord or will become one. I thought you only wanted me to marry someone with a title."

 

"Oh Eddie," Kate sighed, dropping into the seat next to Edwina and wrapping her arm around the younger woman's shoulders, "I have been introducing you to those men because I knew that they would keep you in the way Anthony has ensured you are used to. Life can be a lot more precarious for second sons and I didn't want to risk your happiness. But, you clearly like this man; tell me more about him and I will ask Anthony to provide him with an invitation."

 


 

“What do you know about Mr Nicholas Bagwell?” Kate asked as she and Anthony were getting ready for the evening.

 

“Bagwell?” Anthony frowned, “Lord Astley’s son?”

 

“I think so,” Kate replied, “He is some kind of scholar, a second son.”

 

“Why?” Anthony asked as he stood behind her helping her with her necklace

 

“It appears that Edwina has become quite taken with him,” Kate replied, taking her gloves from the maid, “They have been having many conversations in ballrooms but he is yet to pay a call.”

 

Anthony nodded, “And, do you want him to pay a call?” he asked, “Or do you want me to find something to put Eddie off him?”

 

“I’m not sure,” Kate replied, after a short pause, “I think I want to meet the man before I decide if he is good enough for Eddie.”

 

“I’ll see what I can do,” Anthony promised, “But I do  think Edwina would suit being a scholar’s wife.”

 


 

“It definitely does sound interesting,” Colin commented as he and Lord Featherington left the study at Featherington House, “Let me think on it, I’m not one to start throwing money around if I haven’t done any thinking.”

 

“A smart move,” Jack smiled, “But think seriously, the money in these mines would stay in the family if you did come in as we discussed.”

 

“It does make it more appealing,” Colin agreed, “And it would be nice for whatever children Penelope and I do have will be provided for.”

 

“Like I said,” Jack smiled as Colin left the house, “Think about it; you’ve seen the necklace that Penelope was wearing at Queen Charlotte’s ball, you could gift her so many more of them.”

 

Colin smiled and made his way back to Bridgerton House.

 


 

Colin sat in the parlour at Bridgerton House reviewing the notes that Jack Featherington had provided him with along side his own financial documents. 

 

“Is everything alright Colin?” Anthony asked, taking his own seat opposite his brother.

 

“Did you see the necklace Pen was wearing at the Queen Charlotte ball?” Colin asked in reply.

 

Anthony frowned, “I can’t say I spend that much time looking at what she is wearing,” he laughed, “You’re the one courting her, not me.”

 

Colin rolled his eyes, “She was wearing a large ruby necklace,” he replied, “The stones came from the gem mines that the new Lord Featherington owns in the Americas. He has invited me to invest.”

 

Anthony frowned, “Have you seen anything other than that necklace?” he pressed, “And how much is he asking for?”

 

“As much as I would like to put in,” Colin replied, “He gave me some figures earlier and Prudence has been sporting an emerald necklace that he claims comes from the same mines.”

 

“Why would you want to invest in some random mines in the Americas?” Anthony asked, “I know we haven’t spoken of it much but the estate you are due on your marriage will provide substantial enough living for you and Penelope and whatever children you have.”

 

“Based on the state of her father’s debts, I doubt Pen has a dowry,” Colin replied, “We haven’t spoken of it; so I don’t know but I thought, if I invested in these mines; whatever profit comes from it would come to my children so they would benefit, indirectly, from the Featherington money.”

 

Anthony nodded, “That makes sense,” he agreed, “But we are sending word to these mines for a full appraisal before you put any money into them. We know nothing about Lord Featherington, I’m not letting you pour money into this without something more to go on.”

 

Colin nodded, “I wouldn’t even know where to start,” he admitted, “All I have is an idea where these mines are and what Lord Featherington has told me.”

 

“I’ll speak with Hastings,” Anthony promised, “He has been to the Americas so he might be able to assist.”

 


 

Eloise spent the first few days of her time at Aubrey Hall wondering the halls like some kind of spectre, the staff believing she had been struck down by some kind of fever were giving her a wide berth and she found herself spending a lot of time in her room, going through the papers and such that she kept in Kent. 

 

Eloise had kept a diary for years, using the pages to note down her activities of the day or her thoughts on momentous events. Anthony had gifted her the first one at Christmas 1804, telling her to write down all she had done each day so when he returned from Oxford each term they would have a whole book of things to discuss. Eloise took these instructions to heart and spent many hours with Anthony when he returned, leaning against his chest as she half-read and half-remembered everything she wanted her eldest brother to know. 

 

She flipped through the pages of 1805, knowing that the most important thing that happened to all of them that year was the death of her beloved Mama. That was the year that everything changed, the year they all became orphans and most importantly to Eloise, the year Anthony seemed to change. Something about the entry she had paused on caught her eye, and Eloise stopped to read. 

 

20 June 1805

 

Mama shouted at me this morning, I’m not sure why. Anthony took me out on my pony this morning and we were talking about it when Mama heard us and shouted. She told me that Anthony is not my Papa, but I know that. Papa died and it is still very sad but Anthony promised to help me and Anthony can fix everything. 

 

Anthony let me sit with him in the study this afternoon, he never normally lets us do that. He said that he was sorry Mama shouted and that she isn’t angry with me but she’s angry with him. I don’t understand that; I don’t think Anthony was happy when Papa died, he still seems very sad. I don’t understand why Mama would be shouting at him, Papa always let Anthony take us out on our ponies. 

 

Anthony says Mama doesn’t hate me, but I don’t believe him. Mama thinks it is my fault that Papa died because I was the one who wanted to go for a walk when he died. She shouts at me more than she shouts at Daphne and Frannie so that must be the reason. Anthony promises me that he doesn’t hate me and he lets me spend a lot of time with him so I think he is telling the truth. Sometimes.

 

Eloise sat quietly as she read and re-read her childish scribblings in the journals. Every single entry had some mention of Anthony, her entire world revolved around her eldest brother when she was a child; she wanted nothing more than to please him, for Anthony to tell her that he was proud of her when she completed her work in the school room. She wasn’t sure when she started referring to Benedict as her favourite brother, when clearly Anthony was the one who was the centre of her childhood. 

 

She had forgotten the feeling of loneliness that she had in the first few years after their father’s death. She had been the one out on a hike with him when he had been felled by that bee sting, the one who had run back to the house screaming for help. She had forgotten a lot of what had happened in the immediate aftermath in the intervening years, she had just remembered Anthony, picking her up and carrying her back to the nursery; holding her tightly as she screamed.

 

Re-reading her journal from 1805 brought the feelings of loneliness rushing back to Eloise, she had been convinced for years that the whole family hated her because she hadn’t stopped the bee stinging her father and thinking back now, it had changed the way she acted with them. The only person who had told her directly that things were not her fault was Anthony; and her eldest brother with all of his faults was the only one who had ever told her that he loved her after that day.

 

As she continued to read her childhood scribbles, Eloise thought about Anthony’s parting words when he left her at Aubrey Hall. She felt white hot shame flood over her, he was right. Anthony had stopped his entire life to make sure they were all safe, he protected them when their mother was in one of her rages. Even now, Eloise associated safety with her eldest brother, the world seemed a safer place knowing that he was there with a quick remark or a comforting hug. 

 

She realised now that she hadn’t gone about this whole situation in the best way and after finding a blank journal she started to write, as she used to as a child, notes and comments to entertain her family when they were all back together again.

 


 

Benedict slipped into Anthony’s study one afternoon, a few days after Eloise had been sent back to the country. He knew that he needed to speak with his elder brother but the words just wouldn’t come. 

 

“Ben,” Anthony said as Benedict slumped in the chair opposite his desk, “Is everything alright? You seem ... I’m not sure but not yourself.”

 

“I heard you, last season,” Benedict said softly, “You and Kate.”

 

Anthony frowned, “Heard what?” he asked, “Kate and I have many conversations every day, if this is about one of her many plans regarding marrying you off I do try and talk her out of it.”

 

Benedict shook his head, “The night before Daphne got engaged,” he clarified, “I came home from the Trowbridge Ball not long after you did. I don’t know exactly what you were talking about but Kate was trying to talk you out of doing something stupid. And do you know what made you stop?” 

 

Anthony frowned, “The children,” he replied, “Kate asked what would happen to her and to Charlotte. Edmund would have been fine, eventually.”

 

“Because Ben couldn’t do all of this,” Benedict replied, his tone flat, “That is what she said, she practically laughed as she said it.”

 

“Ben,” Anthony sighed, “That night ... everything was so tense. I never had a problem with that, Kate asking about Charlotte is what made me stop, I had no concerns about leaving Edmund in your care.”

 

Benedict shook his head, “I’ve been thinking about it alot,” he admitted, “And I think I need to step away from being Bridgerton number two for a while. That estate, the one I am supposed to take over when I am ready to marry. Could I have it early? Maybe I need something to occupy my mind for a while.”

 

“Of course,” Anthony agreed, “The documents are with my solicitor, it will take a few days to get them all in order but as soon as I have done that we can go over everything and you can take charge. It’ll be nice to have a bit more time, if you take that and Colin takes his this season, it’s a lot less for me to oversee.”

 

Benedict nodded and smiled, “She was right by the way, Kate,” Benedict stated as he stood to leave the room, “I couldn’t do all of this. I couldn’t have handled Eloise like you have done this week; I would have had her hands tied to the stable hook the minute I found those letters. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t have done it.”

 

“I hardly think I have handled Eloise,” Anthony scoffed, “I’ve removed the problem to try and think about what to do.”

 

“More than I would have done,” Benedict countered, “More than Papa would have done.”

 

“It wouldn’t have happened if Papa was still here,” Anthony replied quietly, “We both know I’m a poor imitation.”

 

“Of a grieving widow’s fantasy,” Benedict finished firmly, “You’re holding yourself to a standard that he never reached. He was a great man, the best father to us both and to Colin but you have been a better father to the girls and Greg. How long are you going to continue holding yourself to the standard set by a grieving woman who was half-mad by the end?”

 

Anthony shook his head as tears leaked from his eye, “Stop it,” he whispered, “Just please, Ben, stop.”

 

1804

 

Anthony had been in the study, trying to work his way through a ledger that his father had never really taken in hand when he heard screaming. He entered the hallway and saw Colin and Daphne practically wrestling as they argued.

 

“Colin Bridgerton!” he shouted, pulling the teenager from his sister, “What do you think you are doing?!”

 

“She started it!” Colin spat, pointing at Daphne, “She ...”

 

“I don’t care!” Anthony replied, holding Daphne off with his other hand, “You do not hit your sister, or any other young lady. Now, stand up and apologise to Daphne, properly!”

 

Daphne stood, straightening her dress as Anthony hauled Colin to his feet, “I’m sorry Daph,” Colin muttered, bowing slightly, “I shouldn’t have hit  you, or taken your ribbons.”

 

Daphne nodded and Anthony turned to her, “Are you hurt Daph?” he asked softly, taking her chin in his hand to look at her face directly.

 

“I’m fine,” Daphne muttered, “I’m sorry too Col,” she continued, “I shouldn’t have ripped your letter.”

 

Anthony rolled his eyes, “I thought you two had grown past all of this,” he stated, “Colin, you are off to Eton in a few weeks, the masters will not tolerate behaviour like this. And Daphne, you need to set an example for the youngers, stop antagonising each other.”

 

“I’m sorry,” both children muttered together before turning and running back towards the staircase. Colin stopped dead at the sight of Violet on the stairs, her eyes glinting in fury.

 

“Mama,” Colin started, pushing Daphne behind him slightly, “We were only ...”

 

“Oh I know my darling boy,” Violet smiled, “You two run on now. I need to speak with Anthony.”

 

Colin frowned, and silently urged Daphne upstairs as he crouched half-way up to spy on his mother and brother.

 

Violet continued down the staircase and stalked towards Anthony, “You had no right,” she hissed, “You had no right to talk to them in that way. You are not their father Anthony,” she reached for his face as Anthony had turned from her, digging her nails into his cheek, “You are a poor imitation of their father. Stop trying, you will never live up to him.”

 

Anthony slumped against the wall as Violet continued walking past him and out into the gardens. Colin sank onto the stair; he didn’t understand his Mama anymore but he knew that she was being mean to Anthony and he didn’t like that. 

 

Colin rushed back down the stairs before Anthony disappeared into the study again, “I’m sorry Anthony,” he said softly, throwing his arms around his brother’s middle, “I didn’t mean to fight with Daph like that. It won’t happen again.”

 

“I know Col,” Anthony replied, “You’ve already apologised, it’s forgotten.”

 

Colin hugged Anthony fiercely, “I think you’re doing fine,” he muttered quickly before running back up the stairs, leaving Anthony standing in the hallway with a bewildered look on his face.

 

Kate slipped into the study after Benedict found her and sank to her knees at Anthony’s side, taking his head in her hands and wiping his tears, “Shh,” she said softly, “I’m here, she’s long gone. It’s just you and me, no one else.”

 

Anthony grasped one of her hands with his own, “I know,” he said softly, “Ben just reminded me of a few things.”

 

“He said as much,” Kate replied, “And he is right, you are one of the best men I know Anthony. And I will keep telling you that every day for the rest of our lives.”

 

Anthony smiled softly and kissed Kate, “Give me a few minutes will you?” he asked, “I love you.”

 


 

Around a week later, Anthony found his way to the local magistrate’s office, “Thank you for agreeing to speak with me,” he said respectfully, “I think I may be overreacting but I wished to discuss this.” Anthony placed the pamphlet Eloise had picked up at the races onto the desk.

 

“I am not certain if you are aware Sir,” Anthony continued, “But I have four younger sisters; three of them are still at home. My wife was sorting through one of their belongings and came across that; my sister has confirmed that she purchased it during a trip to Ascot earlier in the season. I’m slightly concerned at what else this printer has been putting about, if they feel bold enough to push this on young debutantes at Ascot.”

 

The magistrate read over the front of the pamphlet in shock, “Thank you for bringing this to my attention My Lord,” he said, “I must say, I agree with your concerns. To be passing this dangerous nonsense onto young impressionable ladies is unconscionable. I trust that your sister has not been adversely affected by what she has read?”

 

“She has not,” Anthony smiled, “I am just thankful that we discovered this before any of my other sisters found it; they are still in the school room and I dread to think what such writings would do to them.”

 

“Quite right My Lord,” the magistrate agreed, “Leave this with me; we have been looking for these kinds of printers. I will update you when I have the degenerates in custody.”

 

Anthony stood and shook the man’s hand, “Thank you Sir,” he smiled, “I look forward to hearing from you.”

 

Two weeks later, Anthony found himself in the magistrate’s office once more, “Our expedition was more fruitful than I could have imagined,” the magistrate smiled, “We came across one of their meetings; the ring leaders will be in front of my bench tomorrow morning if you wish to be present. I will inform the Lord Chancellor of your diligence in bringing this matter to my attention, my Lord, if only all brothers were as watchful as you.”

 

The following morning, Anthony stood at the back of the courtroom just out of sight as the magistrate’s bench sentenced Theo Sharpe, the man who very nearly ruined his sister and whole family, to twenty years' transportation. Anthony slipped out of the court as the guards dragged Theo out in chains, ready to be boarded onto the penal ship which waited out in the Thames. 

 


 

“It is done,” Anthony announced as he entered the parlour following his journey back from the Law Courts, “He is being transported, if he survives the journey.”

 

Kate sighed in relief, “And Eloise?”

 

“Is an unnamed innocent debutante who stumbled across the literature and brought it to the attention of her head of family,” Anthony answered, “Even when this is reported there is no way to link it back to us. The magistrate ordered a raid of the premises and came across one of their meetings; the soldiers have been breaking them up for weeks so there is nothing odd in that.”

 

“So, it is over,” Kate said faintly.

 

“It is,” Anthony agreed, “I think I will have a busy afternoon. I've put a few things off to sort out this business so I won’t be able to join you and the children for tea.”

 

Kate nodded, “Colin is in your study by the way,” she added, “I’m not sure what he wants but he’s been there most of the morning.”

 

Anthony frowned but kissed Kate softly and made his way to the study.

 

“Brother?” he asked when he noticed Colin pacing the room, “Is everything well?”

 

“Perfectly so,” Colin grinned, “I have come to speak with you about my settlement, when I marry, and to see if I can have one of the family rings.”

 

Anthony grinned and pulled his younger brother into a hug, “Congratulations!” he exclaimed, “I pulled some of the rings from the bank when I realised you were seriously courting Miss Featherington. Kate assures me that any of these will match her colouring perfectly.”

 

“Now, your settlement,” Anthony continued as the two sat, each nursing a glass of brandy, “As you know, Benedict receives a larger sum than either you or Gregory and he has an estate in Wiltshire that he has recently taken over. There are two other estates that are left for either you or Greg; both are a reasonable size with around fifty acres of land which is quite profitable and a small number of tenants to assist with further income. One is in Surrey and the other is in Hertfordshire; it is up to you which you would like.”

 

Colin blinked, “That is more than I expected,” he said after a while, “I think the one in Surrey; it is close to town and not too far a ride to Aubrey Hall.”

 

“And the Featheringtons?” Anthony asked, “Will Penelope not wish to be near her mother and sisters?”

 

“Lady Featherington spends most of the year in town,” Colin replied, “And their country seat is out in Norfolk anyway so no matter where Pen and I live, we would be around a week away from them. Would you be able to help me find somewhere in town as well? I had been looking at bachelor lodgings but none would be suitable now.”

 

“Of course I can,” Anthony grinned, “I’ve had to move all my appointments this morning so I will speak with the solicitor tomorrow and let you know what he finds. When are you going to ask?”

 

“I’m not sure,” Colin admitted, “I’m not sure how to do it ... Ant, when you asked Kate; what did you think about? How did you ask her? How were you sure she would say yes?”

 

It was Anthony’s turn to blink at that, “You know that I had different considerations when I courted Kate,” he said finally, “I needed a wife; I needed someone to help me with everything. You and Penelope, it’s different, you have been friends for a long time Colin, she will say yes.”

 

“But how do I ask?” Colin pleaded, “How did you ask Kate?”

 

Anthony smiled in spite of himself, “I turned up at Lady Danbury’s with the family ring and asked,” he said simply, “We had spoken of it; I had told her about all of you and she had told me of her family. It was a foregone conclusion and everyone knew what was expected. Have you not spoken to Penelope of your intentions?”

 

“I have,” Colin admitted, “But things have been difficult the last few weeks, I don’t like that I have had to lie to her about Eloise. We are going promenading later, Daphne has agreed to chaperone, I think I will ask then.”

 

“Not in the park!” Anthony advised quickly, “Go on your promenade and then when you return her home, ask to speak with her mother and ask her then.”

 

Colin smiled and nodded and on impulse moved behind his brother’s desk and pulled the older man into an embrace “Thanks Anth,” he said softly, “Do you think they would have liked her?”

 

Anthony tightened his grip on the younger man, “They would have loved her,” he replied, “Go, ask your question. I’ll be expecting you for dinner tonight!”

 


 

After his promenade, Colin found himself in the study of Featherington House sharing a drink with Jack Featherington. 

 

“I am happy for you to marry Penelope,” Jack stated, “But you must know, my cousin was not the most  financially prudent gentleman and there is no dowry.”

 

“And I am sure you must know that my family does not need Penelope’s dowry,” Colin replied, “I have a modest sized estate in Surrey and I will be looking to obtain a house in town for the season. Penelope will be well provided for.”

 

“There may be a dowry,” Jack offered, “If you decide to invest in the mines.”

 

“I have told you,” Colin replied, “I am waiting for confirmation of some things before I decide how much money I wish to invest. Are you holding my investment as collateral over my marriage?”

 

“Not at all,” Jack rushed to placate Colin, whose eyes were showing his anger, “Merely pointing out the benefits of the investment, for the entire family.”

 

“And I will inform you when I am ready to make such an investment,” Colin replied, “Now, if you are happy then I will go and speak with Penelope.”

 

Jack smiled and ushered Colin out of the study, and making sure the younger man was safely in the parlour, threw his papers across the room in anger. 

 


 

Colin sat on the chaise with Penelope, Portia had discreetly slipped out of the room to afford them some privacy.

 

“Pen,” Colin said softly, turning to face her, “You do know that you are my dearest friend?”

 

Penelope smiled and nodded, flushing slightly as he took her hands, “I think that we have grown closer this season and I can’t imagine my life without you in it. Pen,” Colin reached into his pocket for the delicate posey ring he had chosen from the family collection, “Will you do me the most absolute honour of being my wife?”

 

Penelope gasped as Colin placed the ring on her finger, turning her hand to watch the stone catch the light, “Yes,” she cried, “Oh Colin!” They kissed briefly before Portia made an unnecessarily loud entrance back into the room.

 

Upon catching sight of the ring now adorning Penelope’s finger, Portia let out a loud excited squeal causing Penelope to chuckle in embarrassment as Portia welcomed Colin to the family.

 


 

Colin practically bounced into the entrance hall at Bridgerton House when he returned from the Featheringtons, “I take it you have had a successful afternoon,” Anthony laughed from the door of his study.

 

Colin grinned, “She said yes Ant!” he laughed, grabbing his older brother into a hug, “She really said yes!”

 

Anthony laughed and returned Colin’s hug, “I’m happy for you brother,” he smiled, “Go find Kate and tell her; we’ll have a dinner with the Featheringtons in a few days to celebrate.”

 

“What can I tell her about Eloise?” Colin asked as he sat in the parlour with Kate, “I really don’t like lying to her about it and she will be family soon.”

 

“It’s not up to me,” Kate sighed, “I think you do need to say something; if only to stop things coming back and biting you when Eloise talks to her about it. But you need to speak with Anthony. The printer’s boy is being transported, Anthony saw him being sentenced a few days ago so that’s one danger passed.”

 

“That’s good,” he replied, “I’ll speak to Ant later; we’re going to look at some smaller properties in town for Pen and I.”

 

“I really like Penelope,” Kate smiled, “I’m glad you’re both settled. I just hope that Eloise comes back from the country next season with a better attitude.”

 

Colin snorted a laugh, “Oh Kate!” he grinned, “I don’t think El will ever change!”

 


 

Back at Aubrey Hall, Eloise read the news from London with a mixture of delight and sadness. She was truly happy for her brother and best friend but she knew that things would never be the same when she returned to London and she wasn’t sure how she would manage the season without Penelope by her side.

 

She turned away from her letter as she heard Edmund calling her name, she picked up her skirts slightly and started to chase the small boy, his delightful shrieks of laughter ringing out across the grounds as Eloise caught him and span him around.

Chapter Text

A few days later, Colin and Penelope were sitting in the parlour at Bridgerton House as Kate and Lady Featherington discussed wedding plans and their planned engagement ball on the other side of the room. 

 

“I need to talk to you,” Colin said softly, “About Eloise.”

 

Penelope gasped lightly, “Is her fever so bad?” she asked fearfully, her eyes wide in concern for her friend.

 

Colin took a deep breath, “This cannot leave this room,” he said quickly, “But she isn’t unwell,” Penelope frowned and tilted her head slightly to indicate that Colin should continue, “Do you remember those pamphlets she purchased at Ascot at the start of the season?”

 

“The ones about dog grooming?” Penelope asked with a frown, “Or was it flower arranging?”

 

“Neither,” Colin replied, “Or at least, not just those.” Seeing Penelope’s frown again, he pushed on, “She also picked up something quite political; and found the printer’s shop.”

 

Penelope’s eyes grew large again, “She didn’t say anything,” she replied, “Colin, is she ... has she ...” Penelope blushed and then practically squeaked, “Has she been compromised?”

 

“No!” Colin replied quietly, casting a look over at Kate and Lady Featherington who were thankfully still discussing the wedding plans, “She managed to sneak out to a few meetings and had some awful literature from them in her room. Anthony sent her back to Aubrey Hall for the rest of the season to keep her out of more trouble.”

 

“I promise you, she did not say anything to me,” Penelope swore, “I would have stopped her if I had known.”

 

Colin smiled and kissed Penelope’s hand quickly, “I know you would,” he replied, “It’s just, she will be at the wedding and the last I heard, she’s still really angry with Anthony and things may get worse when she gets back here.”

 

“Why?” Penelope asked, “I’m assuming Lord Bridgerton is reviewing all her post and she is in the country all alone, how can things get worse when she gets back to town?”

 

“The printer’s boy,” Colin sighed, “She had been corresponding with him; and Anthony may have had him arrested and sentenced to transportation.”

 

“But she is still coming back for the wedding?” she asked, “I think I would like to talk to her about all of this if she is. I don’t understand why she wouldn’t say anything; I have been telling her everything about our courtship.” Penelope flushed, “Oh, has Lord Bridgerton been reviewing all of her letters?”

 

“You can call him Anthony,” Colin laughed, “And yes, he has read everything that has been sent to Eloise. The staff at Aubrey Hall sent it all to him and then he sent it back to El. Why?”

 

“Some things are private,” Penelope whispered, “Oh, I’ll never be able to look Lord Bridgerton in the face again.”

 

“He won’t think anything of it,” Colin soothed, “To be honest, he probably wouldn’t have read your letters in detail; just scanned them to make sure you weren’t aware of the problems.”

 

Penelope nodded, too embarrassed to say anything further. “Pen,” Colin said softly, “Even if he has read things you have said to Eloise, Anthony will not say anything about it. I promise, he is far too honourable to do so.”

 

“Promise?” Penelope whispered, still running over the things she had said to Eloise in her mind.

 

“I promise,” Colin said softly, “But I will speak with him if it will make you feel better.”

 

Penelope nodded and the young couple turned towards Kate and Lady Featherington to join in the discussions regarding their marriage.

 


 

After the Featheringtons left, Colin sat in the parlour taking tea with Kate and Anthony.

 

“Did you have a productive morning?” Anthony asked Kate, “Lady Featherington seemed pleased when they left.”

 

“We did,” Kate smiled, “Lady Featherington has agreed to hold an engagement ball in the next week, I think she is making up for the fact that Mr and Mrs Finch married so quickly at the start of the season but it gets us out of hosting.”

 

Anthony nodded, “The house on Bruton Street is ready for the decorators,” he added, “Colin, do you and Miss Featherington want to tour the place before they go in?”

 

Colin nodded around the biscuit he was eating, “I didn’t think it would be ready so soon,” he commented, “Is Farnley Lodge ready for us to move in at the end of the season?”

 

“It should be,” Anthony commented, “We could take a ride out there this week if you want to check on things though.”

 

“Did you speak about Eloise earlier?” Kate asked, “I noticed that you were both being very quiet.”

 

“We did,” Colin confirmed, “Pen didn’t know anything, if Eloise told her about that original pamphlet at Ascot, she has forgotten all about it.”

 

“I didn’t ever think Miss Featherington would have known about the whole thing,” Anthony added, “Eloise seemed to realise on some level that it was wrong and hid it from all of us. Did she seem alright about it all?”

 

“She was more concerned about the fact you had been reading her letters to Eloise,” Colin replied, “Apparently she has been keeping El well apprised of our courtship and is a little embarrassed that you are now privy to her thoughts on the matter.”

 

“I didn’t read her correspondence in that much detail,” Anthony grumbled, “Not when it was obvious that she was just gossiping.”

 

“And I told you that is all it was,” Kate interjected, “Colin, tell Penelope not to worry. Her correspondence was passed on without being read; she is practically family and her letters were treated as such.”

 

Colin smiled that, happy that his family had recognised the seriousness of his relationship with Penelope before he had made it officially so. 

 


 

“What were you and Mr Bridgerton speaking about?” Portia asked, as the two Featherington women crossed the square to return to their own house, “You were whispering away to each other in there.”

 

“Colin was telling me all about the house he has taken for us on Bruton Street,” Penelope lied easily, “And the estate that Lord Bridgerton has gifted him for a wedding present.”

 

“Bruton Street?” Portia repeated faintly, “That is only ...”

 

“I know Mama,” Penelope smiled, “I think I may need some assistance in setting up a household though, I truly did not expect to be living in such a house in town.”

 

Portia grasped Penelope’s hand, “My darling girl,” she said softly, “We will speak with Lady Bridgerton and get it all sorted out; your maid will come with you of course and I’m sure that Mr Bridgerton has a valet that will accompany him. You will then need a butler and a housekeeper but they should be easily found, it will all be well.

 


 

The following day, Colin and Penelope along with Kate and Portia, took a tour of their new house on Bruton Street. Penelope beamed as they reviewed the rooms and determined a colour scheme, she would very soon be mistress of all of this and hopefully they would soon add to the bright, airy room upstairs that had been designated as the nursery. 

 

“I think you will both be very happy here,” Portia smiled, “And it will be nice to be so close to my grandchildren.”

 

“Dunwoody will be coming with you Colin,” Kate added, “And we can advertise for a housekeeper, kitchen staff and some footmen, Dunwoody can double up as valet and butler for now.”

 

“Maria will be able to act as housekeeper if needed,” Portia added, “But I should think you will soon find staff. Will you need staff for Farnley Lodge too?”

 

“It has a basic staff,” Colin advised, “Some footmen and kitchen staff, but we can find more later. There is enough to keep us going when we first get there and it will be easy to add when needed.”

 

“And will it all be ready in three weeks?” Portia asked, “Or are you planning on going to the country after the wedding?”

 

“Anthony and I are going to Farnley Lodge in a few days,” Colin replied, “It hasn’t been occupied in some time so we’re not entirely sure what work will be needed. We’ll know more by the end of the week.”

 

“That is a fine house Penelope,” Portia smiled as they walked back to Featherington House, “For a third son, Mr Bridgerton has done very well for himself. You will be happy there, I can see it.”

 

“I think we will be Mama,” Penelope smiled, “And I’ll still be in town near everyone and everything.”

 

Portia patted Penelope’s arm, “And when you eventually have children, they will be close to both me and the Bridgertons. Isn’t Lord Bridgerton’s youngest boy only just one?”

 

“Not even that,” Penelope replied, “I think Miles is five months old at most.”

 

“Your own little family, but still in the orbit of the wider family,” Portia said softly, “It is more than I could have hoped for you darling; you will be so well looked after.”

 


 

Eloise scowled as the carriage pulled to a stop outside of Bridgerton House, she had been summoned back from the country for her brother’s wedding; her brother’s wedding to her best friend and she still wasn’t sure how she felt about the situation. She stormed into the house towards Anthony’s study, ignoring Humboldt who stood in his usual spot by the door.

 

“You didn’t have to have him transported,” Eloise protested as Anthony sat behind his desk, face impassive, “He could die on the journey, you have practically killed him.”

 

“And I have saved you,” Anthony replied evenly, “Do you have any idea what would have happened if you had been at that meeting when the soldiers arrived?”

 

“I’m sure it would have been fine,” Eloise dismissed, “You would have fixed it.” she continued with all the confidence of a spoiled child.

 

“I wouldn’t have been able to do so,” Anthony stated softly, “Eloise, if you had been caught they would have made an example of you. You would have been tortured in prison and then you would have been up in that court room and there would have been nothing I could have done to stop it.”

 

“Anthony,” Eloise protested, “You always fix everything, you would have done so.”

 

“We would have lost everything,” Anthony replied, “The Prince Regent would probably have stripped me of my title, the family of our lands and we would be left with nothing, in complete disgrace. They would have used you as an example of what happens to people who step out of line; what happens to their families. Do you think that Lady Featherington would let Colin continue to court and marry Penelope if that happened? Fran and Hyacinth would never debut; Eddie would not be able to continue the season. My boys would never go to Eton, they would not be accepted at Oxford. Charlotte would never be welcome in anyone’s home.”

 

“That wouldn’t have ...” Eloise protested.

 

“It could have done,” Anthony stated firmly, “I did what I had to do to protect us all, to protect you. So I turned in one printer’s apprentice who would probably have found his way to either a noose or a penal ship regardless of my involvement. Don’t expect me to care about some boy from Cheapside when our whole family’s welfare was on the line, Eloise, because I do not and I will not. And if I am forced to choose between you and someone like that again I will always choose to protect you Eloise. Always.”

 

“But I cared about him,” Eloise whispered, “He was my friend.”

 

“No he wasn’t,” Anthony said softly, “You were a curiosity to him; Eloise, do you really think you could have left all of this and gone to live in one of those tenements you see along the river? In some ramshackle house along Fleet Street? You can’t even dress without assistance Eloise, let alone make your own clothes, work for your money or make meagre rations last until you can afford meat and bread. His people would not have accepted you, just like we wouldn’t have accepted him. It is best for all concerned that you put these ridiculous notions out of your mind and move on.”

 

Eloise slumped in the chair as Anthony’s words hit home, she had been denying the truth about her friendship with Theo and part of her still believed that Anthony was overreacting but her brother’s soft earnest words rang around her head until she started to cry.

 

“El,” Anthony sighed as he rounded the desk and pulled her into his arms, “Shh, it’s alright. Everything is fine; I’ve fixed it, you’ll be fine.”

 

“Do you promise?” Eloise asked, her face squashed against Anthony’s vest as her arms tightened around his back, “Anthony, do you promise?”

 

“I promise,” Anthony replied, dropping a soft kiss to Eloise’s head, his own arms tightening slightly around her small frame, “Now come on, dry your face and go upstairs. Penelope will be over for tea and I’m sure she will be keen to see you.”

 

Eloise accepted Anthony’s handkerchief and wiped her face, sniffing slightly as she did so, “Does she know?” she asked quietly.

 

“Colin has told her,” Anthony replied, “He didn’t want to lie to her.”

 

Eloise nodded and her lip wobbled with the effort of trying to hold back further tears, Anthony exhaled deeply and pulled her into his arms again as she cried against his chest, her brother rocking her slightly as he had always done when she cried as a child. 

 

The two siblings stood in that same position whilst Eloise sobbed until she sagged slightly, “I’m sorry,” she whispered eventually, “I’m so sorry, Anth.”

 

“I know,” Anthony replied, “It’s all alright now El; I promise.”

 

Eloise took her brother’s handkerchief and dried her face before letting Anthony guide her out of the room, his arm wrapped around her shoulders as they walked into the parlour.

 


 

“How was Eloise?” Kate asked that evening as she and Anthony relaxed in their bed, “She seemed a bit upset when she arrived.”

 

“We had a chat in my study before she came into the parlour,” Anthony admitted, “She believed that boy to be her friend.”

 

Kate sighed, “You didn’t argue again did you?” she asked

 

“No,” Anthony replied, “We just talked; she gave me one of her journals, said that I should read it.”

 

Kate frowned, “Is she still writing those?” she asked, “Or is it one of her childhood ones?”

 

“A new one I think,” Anthony replied, “She said that she had been reading some of her old ones and it made her think. She always managed to get her thoughts straight if she wrote them down.”

 

“She has sent lovely letters about the children all season,” Kate commented, “Maybe time away was what she needed. If we can get Eddie sorted this season, things might be better for her next year. She and Fran have always shared everything; maybe we could have done this slightly differently.”

 

“That is true,” Anthony sighed, “Frannie would have enjoyed coming out this year; I guess I just didn’t want her to run the risk of her getting married this year.”

 

“You’re far too sentimental for your own good,” Kate chuckled, leaning her head on his chest, “Read her journal and then we’ll sort everything out in the off season. Next year will be a different beast altogether.”

 

Anthony kissed her softly, “Where would I be without you?” he smiled

 

“Completely and utterly lost,” Kate replied, reaching up to kiss him deeply, “You know I just like reminding you every now and again.”

 


 

Penelope was stood at the edge of the dancefloor watching the other couples dancing and trying to avoid some of the more vicious members of the party when Colin sidled up next to her, taking her hand, “I need to talk to you,” he said softly, “Come with me?”

 

Penelope nodded and let him lead her out of the ballroom towards the small library, “Colin,” she said softly as he closed the door, “What are you doing? We shouldn’t be alone like this, my Mama ...”

 

“What are they going to do?” Colin asked with a laugh, “Make us marry? Pen, I need to speak with you about your cousin and his mines.”

 

Penelope frowned, “Is this because my necklace broke the other day?” she asked with a frown.

 

“Kind of,” Colin replied, “I took it to our jewellers, to get the clasp repaired like we spoke of, but he asked why I was bothering.” Seeing Penelope’s frown, Colin took her hand and ran his thumb over her knuckles in comfort, “It turns out that the rubies were nothing but polished glass; the necklace was worthless.”

 

“But ...” Penelope said softly, “Why would ...?”

 

“I’m not sure,” Colin continued, “But I spoke with Mr Finch a few days ago, we were having a drink in the club and he has not been asked to invest. I asked around, discreetly, and it turns out only the more advantageous amongst us have been invited to put money into the scheme.”

 

“What does that mean for us?” Penelope asked, “Colin, do you still ...”

 

“We’re getting married,” Colin stated, “But, I am going to say something to your cousin and I’m concerned that he may cause some problems for your mother and sister. When we marry we will have both the room and resources to house them both, if you want to.”

 

Penelope looked at the man she had loved for nearly half her life in adoration, he wanted to make sure that her mother and sister were looked after but he cared enough about her to ask first, “If we have to then I’m sure we could give them houseroom,” she agreed, “But hopefully it will not come to that.”

 

Colin smiled and taking advantage of the fact that they were alone, stepped forward to kiss Penelope softly. Just as the kiss started to deepen, the door opened and Portia and Jack Featherington entered. 

 

“What is going on?” Portia demanded, “Penelope, come here.”

 

Penelope blushed and stepped out of Colin’s embrace making her way to her mother’s side. 

 

Colin looked at Jack Featherington with loathing as he placed the fake ruby necklace on a table and brought a paperweight down on top of it, “I think it is safe to say that I will not be investing in your scheme, Featherington.”

 

Portia gasped and grasped Penelope’s hand, her eyes wide, darting between the two men. 

 

“Well, I think I may need to reconsider your marriage,” Jack replied, “You are after all only a third son; I think my cousin deserves someone with a better position.”

 

Penelope clutched her mother’s hand tighter as tears came to her eyes. She hadn’t thought of this outcome when Colin outlined his plan, “Too late,” Colin replied, “The first banns were read this morning; you can’t reverse it now without looking even more of a fool.”

 

“How?” Jack spat, “The marriage contract was only signed two days ago.”

 

“It is very helpful to have the Duke of Hastings as a brother-in-law,” Colin replied, “Now, as I was saying; I will not be investing in your scheme and if I am asked I will explain that I have not done so as you have greatly exaggerated the profitability of the mines and I was not willing to take the risk. But I sincerely hope that I will not be asked by anyone else.”

 

Jack frowned, the young man in front of him had ruined all of his plans, “Well,” Jack smiled, “I suppose, it is with great regret that I must sell Featherington House and return to my estates in America. It is such a shame that Lady Featherington and Miss Prudence will be left destitute but I fail to see how I can be left responsible for the actions of my cousin, my very distant cousin, who I barely knew but I understand was a notorious gambler.”

 

“So you would threaten innocent ladies because you have failed to get your own way?” Colin asked, “What a poor excuse for a man you are Featherington. In any event, I cannot stop you from selling this house, it is yours but if you think Lady Featherington and Miss Prudence would be left destitute you would be wrong.”

 

“Oh, why would you take them in?” Jack laughed.

 

“I would,” Colin replied, “Our new house on Bruton Street is more than sufficient to house my in-laws should it prove to be necessary.”

 

“I think this ball is over,” Jack spat, storming out of the library, “I trust  you will see everyone out.”

 

“I’m sorry Lady Featherington,” Colin said softly as the two women still stood in the doorway, “I did not think he would do that.”

 

Portia shook her head, “It is hardly your fault,” she replied faintly, “I think I need to go and see our guests out, and perhaps ensure that I have a small bag packed.”

 

“Have the banns been read?” Penelope asked softly as she lingered in the doorway, “I thought we would have to attend church for that?”

 

“I may have made that bit up,” Colin grinned, “But he doesn’t need to know that. And if we need to move things up a little, having Hastings on side really helps.”

 

Penelope giggled before rushing out of the room to catch up with her mother.

 


 

“Mama,” Penelope said softly that evening as the women were getting ready for bed, “Will cousin Jack really sell the house?”

 

“I don’t know,” Portia replied, rubbing her forehead with her fingers, “I’m only glad that you and Philippa will be married by the end of the season, it will be much easier to find somewhere for just Prudence and I if needed.”

 

“Colin meant it Mama,” Penelope urged, “There will always be room with us. I haven’t seen Farnley Lodge yet but he has described it to me and there will be enough room for you and Pru to live with us. And you have seen Bruton Street, there is enough room for you there if needed.”

 

“I know my dear,” Portia smiled, “But you and Mr Bridgerton will not want Prudence and I intruding on your newly-wed bliss.”

 

“But I don’t think I will be very blissful if you and Prudence are turned out on the street,” Penelope protested, “Just please, Mama, don’t dismiss it completely.”

 

“I won’t,” Portia promised, “Now, I think we need to have a conversation about what may happen if you keep stealing off into quiet rooms with Mr Bridgerton unchaperoned.”

 

Penelope blushed as Portia launched into an explanation of what Colin would be expecting on their wedding night, or perhaps earlier, if Penelope had understood things correctly. 

 


 

Jack Featherington left town in the immediate aftermath of Colin and Penelope’s engagement ball, with his threats to sell Featherington House from underneath the ladies still fresh in everyone’s mind, Simon and Anthony pulled several strings to get Colin and Penelope’s wedding moved up as quickly as possible. 

 

So, a week after the engagement ball and three weeks earlier than originally planned, Penelope walked down the aisle at Grosvenor Chapel as Miss Featherington and walked back up it as Mrs Colin Bridgerton, both Colin and Penelope were beaming as they were pronounced man and wife. 

 

Portia breathed a sigh of relief as Penelope was pronounced Mrs Colin Bridgerton, she had been trying to keep a brave face in front of her youngest daughter all week but there was still a very real possibility that she and Prudence would find themselves homeless very soon and knowing that her youngest daughter had the weight of the Bridgerton family behind her helped to ease her worries significantly.

 

The family all fluttered around Colin and Penelope as they prepared to leave for Farnley Lodge at the end of their wedding breakfast. The newlyweds had planned on leaving London for the country a few weeks before the end of the season to enjoy their honeymoon in peace before spending the off-season getting to know their new estate and tenants at leisure.

 

Penelope stood with her mother and sisters as they wished her well, “Please tell me if anything happens Mama,” Penelope said softly to Portia, “The house on Bruton Street will be ready in a week or so and Lord Bridgerton has a key. If anything does happen the house will be open for you.”

 

“Do not fret my dear,” Portia soothed, “All will be well. Go and enjoy your honeymoon, I will see you during advent.”

 

Penelope smiled and accepting her sister’s best wishes, moved towards Colin who had been standing with his brothers. “Are we ready, wife?” he asked, smiling down at her. 

 

“We are,” Penelope replied, “Lord Bridgerton,” she addressed Anthony, “Can you please make sure that my Mama is fine whilst we are away? I fear that she will be too proud to come and tell you if Cousin Jack does try and sell the house.”

 

“I promise,” Anthony replied, “We will see you both soon.”

 

With promises made, Colin and Penelope entered their carriage and departed London. 

 

A few weeks later, the rest of the Bridgerton family departed London for Aubrey Hall. The Featherington women remained at Featherington House as Lord Featherington’s belongings were removed slowly, heading back to America with their owner, the agents of sale did not descend as threatened and Portia started breathing slightly easier. 

Chapter Text

The last few weeks of March were always busy for the Bridgerton family, as the family and staff prepared to leave the peace of the country for the bustle of the city and the season. 

 

Eloise curled herself into a chair in the library, this season would be very different than the last and she was not looking forward to it. She had not been looking forward to her debut season in the first place and with all that had occurred last year, she was not looking forward to being back in London. 

 

Aubrey Hall - 20 March 1815

 

Dearest Pen

 

How are your preparations for the move back to London coming along? I really hope that you and Colin will be arriving at the same time we are; maybe we can go to Hatchards when we are back in town. There must be many new novels and interesting books for us to purchase after nearly a  year since my last visit! 

 

Francesca is very excited about her debut, a lot more excited than I was most definitely. Kate and Anthony have told me that I need to make an effort this year, so that everyone remembers me and the fact that I did debut last year. I know now that I was foolish, rushing off to the print shop in the way that I did but it did seem easier than spending time in a ballroom. 

 

I just don’t think I wish to be married; I know that you and Colin are very happy and I love you both but I can not imagine being married or being with child. The very thought of that terrifies me and the only way I can think of it not happening to me is by refusing to marry. I suppose you think me very foolish Pen but I do not want that life for myself; I sometimes wonder if Anthony will let me remain unmarried. 

 

How is Farnley Lodge? I do wish I could have been to visit but I will content myself with spending time with you in Bruton Street instead when we return to town. 

 

I look forward to seeing you soon Pen!

 

Love

 

Eloise

 

Penelope was relaxing on a chaise in the sunroom at Farnley Lodge when Dunwoody brought her Eloise’s letter. She sighed slightly, all the off-season Eloise had been sending letters requesting to visit the newly-weds and did not seem to understand why Colin and Penelope would want some time alone. 

 

They had managed to keep the entire off-season to themselves, Jack Featherington had not followed through with his threat to sell Featherington House and so Portia and Prudence had remained in London with Penelope secretly using some of her Whistledown money to keep them afloat. 

 

“How is Eloise?” Colin asked as he returned from his walk, “And how are you and baby?”

 

“We’re fine,” Penelope smiled as Colin’s hand ghosted over her now visible bump, “And Eloise is the same, only instead of wishing for an invite here she would like to spend time with us in Bruton Street instead.”

 

Colin rolled his eyes, “I look forward to having that argument with her in London then,” he stated, “Have they started getting everything ready for the move back?”

 

“All ready to leave in a week as planned,” Penelope replied, “Hopefully I’ll have a bit more energy by then too.”

 

“Has Cook given you some of her broth?” Colin asked in concern, “You are looking a little brighter than you have for the last few days.”

 

“They have just removed the tray,” Penelope smiled, “And I suppose we won’t have to attend every event this season, so that will make things easier in town.”

 

Colin shifted Penelope slightly on the chaise to sit behind her, wrapping his arm around her as he too read Eloise’s letter, “Have you told her you are pregnant?” he asked softly. 

 

“I have mentioned it,” Penelope replied, “I think that is why she is talking about how much she doesn’t want this.”

 

Colin sighed and leaned his head on top of Penelope’s, “I don’t actually know what we’re going to do with her this season,” he said, “Anthony is not going to let her go anywhere without someone from the family, she’s not going to have as much freedom this year.”

 

“I don’t blame him,” Penelope commented, “But it might make things better if I could be the family member that goes around with her, that would make her feel normal.”

 

“But I don’t want you to do too much,” Colin replied, “Not when you have been feeling so unwell.”

 

Penelope smiled slightly and leaned back into Colin’s chest as the couple discussed their plans for the move back to London.

 


 

Within no time at all Francesca was on her way to Court to curtsy to the monarch. 

 

“You seem very relaxed,” Anthony commented as their carriage travelled towards Kensington Palace.

 

“Do you want me to start creating a scene like Eloise?” Francesca quipped, “I would have thought you preferred it this way.”

 

Anthony rolled his eyes, “Not what I meant,” he replied, “But even Edwina was nervous last year and she was looking forward to it.”

 

“I spoke with Daphne,” Francesca smiled, “And she told me that it isn’t as big a thing as Eloise built it up in her mind and it is all over in five minutes.”

 

Anthony nodded, “And,” Francesca continued, “She reminded me that  you would be waiting for me when I’m done; and it didn’t seem so scary then.”

 

Anthony smiled, “And then we can open your ball with a dance,” he commented, Francesca beamed back at him.

 

A few hours later, the party arrived back at Bridgerton House for Francesca’s debut ball. 

 

“So, who do you have Frannie dancing with?” Anthony teased as he and Kate watched the proceedings from the edge of the ballroom, “I’m sure you have prepared a list.”

 

“She is with Lord Strange at present,” Kate replied, “And we can discuss my list later, there are a few new faces I would want you to advise on.”

 

“Is that Mr Bagwell?” Mary asked from behind them, “Dancing with Eddie?”

 

Anthony looked out over the dancefloor, “It is,” he replied, “Are you well rested after your journey into town?”

 

“I am,” Mary smiled, “Francesca looks delightful, doesn’t she? Kate, you must be so proud.”

 

Kate smiled, “I am,” she replied, “Mr Bagwell is a good match for Eddie, they are very well matched. We can content ourselves with fixing Eloise and Francesca this year.”

 

“One will be easier than the other,” Anthony muttered.

 

Kate rolled her eyes slightly at his comment before turning to Mary, “Are you sure you are well, Mama. You have been so ill.” 

 

“I am fine,” Mary smiled, “Do not fret, and I long to see my grandchildren, Edmund will have forgotten what I look like. And we may have a wedding to oversee.”

 

Across the ballroom, Francesca was enjoying her first ever ball. After Lord Strange, she had danced with Lord Goring and Lord Young before Colin stole a dance to give her a chance to get her bearings again. 

 

“Having fun Frannie?” Colin asked as they spun around the room, “I don’t think I’ve seen a card so full since Daph’s first season.”

 

Francesca beamed, “I am,” she admitted, “But how do you know if the man you are dancing with wishes to court you?”

 

“They will turn up in the morning with their card and some flowers,” Colin replied, “Don’t worry, I’m sure Kate has a list somewhere. And Anth won’t let  you be courted by just anyone.”

 

“Are you not dancing with Penelope tonight?” Francesca asked as she saw her new sister-in-law sitting at one of the small tables dotted around the ballroom.

 

“No,” Colin replied, “She has been very unwell with the baby, so we’ve decided not to this evening.”

 

As she and Colin finished their dance, she found her next being claimed by Lord John Stirling, Earl of Kilmartin. The young Scottish Earl, despite his own shyness, made the quietest Bridgerton laugh as they danced.

 


 

The following morning, the parlour at Bridgerton House was filled with callers for the three young ladies; Mr Bagwell for Edwina, Lord Fife for Eloise and a line of young men for Francesca. 

 

Edwina and Mr Bagwell sat on one of the couches dotted around the parlour as they debated the philosophies of Hobbes and Locke much to the aggravation of those sat closest to them. 

 

“Miss Sheffield,” Nicholas said after they had finished their discussion, “I do hope that we have become friends over the off-season.”

 

“I think we have,” Edwina smiled, “I have enjoyed your letters and our discussions.”

 

“If I was to speak with Lord Bridgerton,” Nicholas ventured, “Would you be amenable to that?”

 

Edwina’s breath caught, “I think you would need to meet my Mama too,” she said quietly, “But if you speak with Anthony, I am sure a dinner will be arranged.”

 

“And you will need to meet my parents and brother,” Nicholas added, “I will try and arrange a time to speak with Lord Bridgerton this week.”

 

Edwina beamed and Nicholas took his leave with a soft kiss to her hand.

 


 

Across the room, Lord Fife sat with Eloise. He had enjoyed the few dances they had shared at the start of the previous season and knew from speaking with both Colin and his new wife that Miss Eloise Bridgerton was quick witted and an avid reader. 

 

“I do hope that you are feeling better this season, Miss Eloise,” he smiled, “I was disappointed that we could not continue our conversations last season.”

 

Eloise frowned slightly before schooling her face into a slight smile, “I am surprised you remembered me,” she stated, “I was here for such a short time last season.”

 

“I was surprised to hear you had returned to the country,” Fife commented.

 

“I was unwell,” Eloise replied, giving out the lie that Anthony had concocted last season, “The country air is so much cleaner and I managed to spend a lot of time reading whilst I was in Kent. Tell me, Lord Fife, have you read Waverley?”

 

As Lord Fife started talking about his thoughts of Walter Scott’s novel, Eloise ran over her memories of the other man from her last season. Kate had made them dance at her coming out ball and he had called on her a few times, she knew that he was a friend of Colin’s from Oxford and she supposed that he was nice, in an abstract kind of way but she didn’t understand why he was so insistent on spending time with her.

 

“I did manage to pick up a copy of Ms Edgworth’s latest novel earlier this week,” Fife stated, “Have you yet had chance to read it?”

 

“I have not,” Eloise replied, “Do you recommend it?”

 

“I have not yet finished it,” Fife replied, “But maybe I could bring it when I have done so and then we could look to discuss it?”

 

“I suppose we could do so,” Eloise nodded, before turning back to her book effectively ended the conversation.

 


 

Across the room, closest to Kate, Francesca sat entertaining her suitors. Whilst Francesca seemed shy to most people, she was simply the type of person who observed a room before making her opinions known; something which sometimes set her out as a peacemaker in her large and boisterous family. 

 

Most of the young men she had danced with the previous evening had paid a call and the parlour was full of flowers addressed to her. She smiled and straightened her posture slightly as Humboldt announced Lord Kilmartin and the nice man she had danced with the previous evening entered the room with a bouquet of tulips for her and a smaller one for Kate. 

 

“Miss Bridgerton,” John smiled, after they had been talking for a few minutes, “Would you like to accompany me on a promenade tomorrow? My mother and aunt have arrived from Scotland and they will be more than happy to chaperone.”

 

“That would be wonderful,” Kate interjected, “We will be in the park for a family picnic tomorrow, if you come by our tent I am sure we can find any number of chaperones for you both.”

 

Francesca smiled at John as he kissed her hand and bowed to Kate before taking his leave. 

 


 

As the women entertained suitors in the parlour, Hyacinth roamed the halls of Bridgerton House looking for something to do. She was a little lost without Gregory by her side but her brother had started at Eton the previous September and she was now too old for playing with dolls in the nursery with Charlotte. 

 

She skipped downstairs and slipped into Anthony’s study, “Hyacinth?” Anthony frowned as she entered, “Is everything alright?”

 

“Can we go for an ice?” Hyacinth asked, “Or take Newton for a walk in the park?”

 

“Can it wait until after lunch?” Anthony asked, “We could all go then?”

 

“I just want to go with you PapaAnt,” Hyacinth sulked, “I never see you anymore.”

 

Anthony frowned slightly but gestured for Hyacinth to come around the desk and stand with him, “I need to finish this,” he said softly, looking down at his account ledger, “But, we can go when I’m done.”

 

Hyacinth reached up and kissed Anthony’s cheek, “How long will you be?” she asked, looking at the book herself.

 

“Not long,” Anthony replied, “Do you want to pass me that stack of bills so I can get this done quicker?”

 

Hyacinth beamed as she perched on the edge of Anthony’s desk and handed him the bills as requested as Anthony settled the family books. Around half an hour later, Hyacinth skipped down the steps at the front of Bridgerton House, her hand securely in Anthony’s as they walked across Grosvenor Square towards the tea shop.

 

“Did you know that I’m learning Italian,” Hyacinth stated as they sat in the shop, “And my governess thinks that I should be able to learn German too.”

 

Anthony nodded, “I know,” he smiled, “Do you want to learn German? Your governess is able to teach you, if that is what you want.”

 

“I would be able to speak four languages then,” Hyacinth smiled, “That is more than Gregory will be able to do.”

 

Anthony smothered a laugh, even when the youngest Bridgerton brother was not present, the two siblings were competing, “I will speak to your governess tomorrow then,” he agreed, “And we can stop into Hatchards for a German primer on the way home.”

 

As the two made their way back to Bridgerton House they saw several young men leaving, all discussing the three young women as they did so.

 

“Miss Sheffield is so set on Bagwell it seems pointless even trying,” one of them commented to his companions, “But I must say, Fife, you are brave taking on Miss Eloise. Didn’t she spend most of the last season in the country?”

 

“Yes,” Fife replied, not noticing the two Bridgertons walking towards them, “Mr Colin Bridgerton said she had caught a fever and they sent her back to the country so she didn’t get worse in the city. I must admit, I would rather be down in Kent than here if I was unwell.”

 

“PapaAnt,” Hyacinth whispered, “Does that mean Eddie and El will be getting married soon?”

 

“I think we have more chance for Edwina,” Anthony replied, “But I’m sure we will find out more if we go inside.”

 

Hyacinth grinned and clutching her new books, bounded up the steps and into the parlour. 

 


 

“Successful morning then?” Anthony asked as he sat with Kate.

 

“I think so,” Kate replied, “Mr Bagwell still seems set on Eddie, I would expect him to request a meeting with you before the end of the week and Lord Fife seemed to enjoy his conversation with Eloise, even if I’m not certain she felt the same way.”

 

“And Frannie?” Anthony asked, “I noticed the stack of cards on the side table, do you need me to go through them?”

 

“I think that would be best,” Kate replied, “But she has accepted an invitation from Lord Kilmartin to promenade tomorrow.”

 

Anthony frowned but nodded, “I don’t know much about him,” he admitted, “But from what I have seen he is quiet and I know that he came into his Earldom young.”

 

“And we both know that makes even the most outgoing man serious before his time,” Kate added softly, taking Anthony’s hand, “Frannie wouldn’t suit someone loud; she has always been our little peacemaker.”

 

“I don’t think I’d go that far,” Anthony replied, watching as Francesca and Eloise argued over something in the corner, “But I know what you mean. Let’s see how it goes, but I can’t think of any objections to Kilmartin, other than the fact he would take her to Scotland.”

 

Kate laughed, “Stop sulking,” she chided, “See how it goes and if you do find something, we can stop things before they go too far.”

 


 

That evening, Anthony was sat at his usual table in Whites waiting for one of his brothers to join him when the empty seat next to him was taken by Nicholas Bagwell. 

 

“I apologise for the ambush Lord Bridgerton,” Nicholas began, “But I was wondering if I could have a minute of your time to talk about Miss Sheffield?”

 

Anthony turned to face Bagwell slightly and nodded, “I am sure that you are aware, I have been corresponding with Miss Sheffield now for several months and I would like to marry her. She is agreeable but I understand you are the person to speak to about this.”

 

Anthony nodded again, “And what can you provide my sister?” he asked, “I understand that you are a second son and that you are a scholar. What kind of life can you provide my sister when she is used to a certain level of standards.”

 

“I might only be a second son, Lord Bridgerton,” Bagwell responded, “But I have a more than generous settlement from my father. I have managed to support myself as a scholar as opposed to having to make a living. Miss Sheffield will be well provided for, I have a town house in Oxford where we will live for most of the year and I have the resources to ensure that we are able to take rooms in London for the season each year. I will not be able to provide her with a title but she will not want for anything else.”

 

“And you say that Edwina is agreeable to this, that she wishes to become your wife?” Anthony pressed.

 

“She is,” Bagwell smiled, “I told her that I would be speaking with you and her only condition was that I also had to speak with her mother.”

 

“I see no objections then,” Anthony smiled, “My wife will send a dinner invitation around in the next few days and you can meet the rest of the family, you can see exactly what you are getting yourself into.”

 

The two men laughed slightly and toasted the arrangement as Colin and Simon both joined them.

 

A slightly inebriated Anthony slipped into bed next to Kate that evening, “You’re later than normal,” she mumbled, rolling into his chest, “Is everything alright?”

 

“We need to host a dinner in the next few days,” Anthony replied, “Bagwell will be proposing to Eddie. We have had a discussion.”

 

Kate grinned, “I knew it!” she cheered, “Eddie will be so happy!”

 

Within days, Edwina was being fitted for her trousseau at the modiste, sporting a modest emerald ring whilst Kate and Mary planned an engagement dinner for the young couple.

Chapter Text

Simon sat on the end of his and Daphne’s bed as he prepared himself for the day, Daphne was sleeping with her arm cradled around her prominent stomach which housed their second child, she was approaching her due date and Simon was very reluctant to leave her. He leaned over and kissed her softly, “I need to go to Parliament,” he said as she stirred, “Sleep, I’ll be back as soon as I can be. Send Jeffries if anything happens.”

 

Daphne sighed and settled back into the blankets, her second pregnancy had taken more of her energy than her first and she was finding that she spent longer in bed than she had done previously. It was unusual for Simon to attend Parliament but with the news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba in March, he had taken to attending more than he usually would to be kept abreast of the latest war news. 

 

“Your Grace, are you wanting some breakfast?” Rose asked as she entered the chamber, opening the curtains as she did so, “I can have a tray brought up.”

 

“Maybe a little,” Daphne agreed as she held out her hand for Rose’s assistance in sitting against the headboard, “Only some toast and tea though, I feel a little sick this morning.”

 

“Do you want me to send for Lady Bridgerton?” Rose asked, “It is nearly your time.”

 

“Maybe in a little while,” Daphne agreed, “Let them break their fast at Bridgerton House first.”

 

Rose nodded and bustled out of the room to set about her tasks.

 


 

Over at Bridgerton House, Kate sat with Anthony and the girls as they all had their breakfast. Edwina was chatting happily about her plans for the day which included the latest fittings for her wedding gown and Francesca hoped to tag along to the modiste to acquire some new dresses herself. Eloise was hoping to spend the day with Penelope and was planning to take Hyacinth with her to visit. 

 

Kate took the letter from Humboldt with a smile, “Oh!” she gasped, “I must go to Hastings House! Edwina, ask Mama to accompany you and Francesca to the modiste when she comes down. Walk me out husband?”

 

Anthony stood and walked around the table to Kate, “Daphne?” he asked softly as they walked towards the door.

 

“Her maid has sent word,” Kate replied, equally as softly, “Simon is in Parliament and they think her time is close. I will go over now and send word when we know what is going on. Are you heading to Parliament?”

 

“I hadn’t planned,” Anthony replied, “But I can do, do you want me to tell Hastings the news?”

 

“I will ask Daphne, I’m sure he has set up some system for this. But you could go and keep him calm; and you have been talking about wanting to know about what is happening on the continent. I will let you know as soon as I know what is happening.”

 

Anthony nodded and kissed her softly, “Let Daphne know I’m thinking of her,” he said.

 


 

Kate arrived at Hastings House and was ushered up to the bedchamber by Mrs O’Carroll, the housekeeper, who left Kate at the doorway as she hurried back down to the kitchens to prepare warm linen should they become necessary.

 

“How are you Daph?” Kate asked as she perched at the edge of the bed, “Have they sent for a midwife?”

 

“Not yet,” Daphne replied, “I don’t think I am there yet but I couldn’t get out of bed this morning and I feel so sick. I just didn’t want to be alone, have I ruined your day?”

 

“Not at all,” Kate assured her, “You have saved me from spending the day in the modiste whilst Eddie is fitted for her bridal gown.”

 

Daphne smiled and settled back against the pillows of her bed before talking with Kate about Edwina’s upcoming wedding and the burgeoning courtship between Francesca and the Earl of Kilmartin.

 


 

A few streets away in the town house in Bruton Street, Penelope was also entertaining her family. Portia had taken to visiting Penelope most mornings now they were all back in town and Penelope was starting to regret writing to her mother about her morning sickness and how ill she had been with it. 

 

“Did they give you some broth as I suggested?” Portia fussed as she fluttered around Penelope, fixing cushions around her daughter, “And did that ginger tea help?”

 

“It did Mama,” Penelope replied, “And the broth seems to be working, I have more energy now and I am not as sick.”

 

“You do have more colour than you did when we first got back to town,” Portia agreed, “But I would keep taking a nap in the afternoons, you are glowing now my dear; that new Mr Bridgerton you are carrying is certainly making himself known.”

 

Penelope smiled and ran her hands over her stomach, she was now six months along and very obviously pregnant, “Colin wants a little girl first,” she said softly, “He dotes on Charlotte and Amelia and wants one of his own too.”

 

“A boy first would be better,” Portia warned, “More secure. You don’t want to risk ending up at the whim of one of his brothers if anything goes wrong, like we had to be.”

 

“Mama,” Penelope sighed, “Lord Bridgerton wouldn’t let anything like that happen; I just want the baby to be healthy when they arrive and for us both to be safe.”

 

“Of course!” Portia exclaimed, “I will be here when it is your time dearest, all will be well.”

 

“How are you both this morning?” Colin smiled as he entered the room, pausing to give Penelope a kiss to her cheek, “Are you well?” he asked her softly.

 

“I am fine,” Penelope smiled, “Mama has been making sure I do not overtax myself.”

 

Colin smiled at his mother-in-law, “How are you Lady Featherington?” he asked, “Is everything alright at Featherington House?”

 

“It is fine,” Portia smiled, “Prudence and I do not need as much as we would have done the four of us girls together and hopefully Prudence will be settled this season and I can manage just fine with Mrs Varley and Briarly.”

 

Penelope smiled, “I think I’m going to have a nap,” she announced, “Eloise has said that she may come by for tea so I will need to be well rested.”

 

Colin smiled and helped Penelope out of her seat as she left the room. 

 

“How are things really?” Colin asked Portia as Penelope left the room.

 

“It is a struggle,” Portia admitted, “And I am afraid that I am not very good with the ledgers. I was going to ask Mr Finch if he could ...”

 

“I can come around tomorrow morning,” Colin offered, “Before calling hours, see what I can do.”

 

Portia smiled gratefully, “Now, go and look after my grandchild, Mr Bridgerton!” she ordered, as Colin helped her into her carriage.

 


 

Simon rushed back into Hastings House after a long day in Parliament where much had been debated but nothing had been settled. 

 

“Kate?” he frowned, seeing his sister-in-law taking tea in the parlour, “Where’s Daph? Is everything alright?”

 

“Everything is fine,” Kate soothed, “Daphne is asleep, she felt a little sick this morning so sent for me. I thought it best that I stay until you returned, just in case anything happened.”

 

Simon smiled and sank onto the sofa opposite Kate, “I’m not bothering tomorrow,” he grumbled, “It was a complete waste of time today.”

 

“My Lady!” Mrs O’Carroll shouted as she burst into the room, “Oh! Your Grace!”

 

“Mrs O’Carroll?” Simon frowned already on his feet and moving towards the older woman, “What is it?”

 

“It’s Her Grace,” the woman continued, “The baby is coming.”

 

Kate jumped from her seat and rushed out of the room behind the housekeeper towards Daphne’s bedchamber. “Simon,” Kate called, “Send word to Lady Danbury, and then take yourself to Bridgerton House. It will be a long night, we will send word when you’re needed.”

 


 

In the early hours of the following morning, Lady Belinda Agatha Bassett made her way into the world. Daphne sank against her pillows, exhausted as Kate passed her newborn daughter to her. 

 

“I’ll send word to Simon,” Kate promised as she smiled at her new niece, “I sent him to Bridgerton House last night to keep him out of the way.”

 

Lady Danbury sat on the edge of the bed on her other side, smiling at the baby she considered her newest grandchild, “Give her to me,” she grinned, “Your Papa is not going to know what to do with himself when he sees you!” she cooed as Kate and the midwife fussed around Daphne making sure that she was comfortable. 

 


 

Simon had spent the night at Bridgerton House with Anthony and Benedict as the three men worked their way through a decanter of brandy. The three had intimate knowledge of the dangers of childbirth and knew that they would not rest until word of Daphne reached them, just as the household was waking for the day a Hastings footman ran up the stairs of Bridgerton House.  

 

Simon practically tore the note from the man’s hand before sinking back onto a chair in relief, “Another daughter,” he grinned, “Daphne and baby are both fine. Belinda,” he smiled, “Lady Belinda Bassett.”

 

“Congratulations Hastings!” Benedict grinned, “Another niece, I can’t wait to spoil her too!” 

 

Anthony smiled at his best friend, “Congratulations,” he said softly, “Now, get out of here and send word when we can all descend.”

 

Simon crossed Grosvenor Square in no time at all before striding through Hastings House towards the Duchess’ rooms. He smiled as he saw his godmother with his newborn daughter, “Can I?” he asked softly, trying not to disturb the now sleeping Daphne.

 

“Of course,” Agatha smiled, passing the baby into his waiting arms, “And then you can go and have a bath, have you spent the entire evening in a bar?”

 

Simon grinned, “Bridgerton House with Anthony and Benedict,” he replied before lowering his head to Belinda, giving her a soft kiss, “My darling girl,” he whispered, “Papa will give you the world.”

 

After being ushered out of the room by his godmother who happily reclaimed her grandchild, Simon returned to his own chambers and changed his clothes before deciding to spend the morning in the nursery with his older daughter. 

 


 

A few days after welcoming baby Belinda into the family, Benedict walked into the studio at the Royal Academy of Arts; he had been developing his art for several years and after everything that had happened the previous season, with Eloise and her foray into politics he had decided to pursue the craft seriously and finally do something just for himself instead of spending his time partying and playing support to Anthony and Kate. 

 

As he entered the studio, Benedict smiled at one of his many acquaintances from Granville’s salons and happily accepted the offered glass of wine as he set up his easel and started to sketch the tableau in front of him. 

 

“I would have thought you would have been here last year, Bridgerton,” the other man, Briarly, Benedict recalled,  commented as they worked, “I was sure I had heard you got the place last season.”

 

“I did,” Benedict replied, “But my sister caught a nasty fever and we had to send her back to the country. I needed to help with the others to make sure they didn’t catch it too.”

 

“The perils of having such a large family,” Briarly laughed, “You miss all the fun! Will you be coming back to the salons this year too?”

 

“Hopefully,” Benedict smiled, as he turned back to his work. 

 

Soon enough, Benedict was immersed in the hedonistic, rakish lifestyle of the art scene once again. 

 


 

As Benedict enjoyed himself in the art world again, Francesca was enjoying her first season and courtship. Lord Kilmartin had paid another call and they had enjoyed several promenades. They were currently taking a walk through Hyde Park with Kate acting as chaperone walking a few steps behind them.

 

“Are you feeling well my Lord?” Francesca asked, as John was quieter than usual.

 

“I am,” John smiled, “Just thinking a little, have I ever spoken with you about my cousin, Michael?”

 

“No,” Francesca replied, “Is he in town? I don’t think I have been introduced.”

 

“He is with the Duke of Wellington,” John replied, “In Flanders at the moment. With all the news coming from France and the rest of the continent I can’t help but worry about him.”

 

“Of course!” Francesca gasped, “Has he been fighting with Wellington for some time?”

 

“The last three years,” John replied, “He joined the army immediately after we left school and has been part of Wellington’s camp ever since. I can’t keep myself from pouring over the news reports and every scrap of information that comes through the House. I am sorry it is eating into our time.”

 

“Please don’t be,” Francesca smiled, “I will pray that your cousin is safe. I will not pretend to fully understand everything that is happening but I do read the newspaper and from what I read, Wellington is in control of the situation. I am sure that his men will be safe.”

 

John smiled and took Francesca’s arm into the crook of his elbow, “Thank you,” he said softly, “I am sure that I am worrying over nothing but we are as close as brothers and I can’t help it.”

 

“I understand completely,” Francesca replied, “Last season, my sister Eloise was very unwell and Anthony sent her back to Aubrey Hall. I was so worried I hardly slept for weeks. I think it is something about siblings, you will always worry about them no matter what is going on.”

 

“That is very true Miss Bridgerton,” John smiled before they turned the conversation to lighter topics.

 


 

“Do you think Lord Kilmartin will propose?” Hyacinth asked as Francesca and Kate returned to Bridgerton House later that afternoon, “I think another wedding would be fun.”

 

“I don’t know,” Francesca replied, “And let Edwina have her wedding before you start talking about anyone else getting married.”

 

“If Lord Kilmartin did propose,” Hyacinth persisted, “Would that mean you would have to go and live in Scotland?”

 

Anthony straightened out his paper aggressively at Hyacinth’s comment, huffing slightly as the two girls continued speaking. Francesca looked over at Anthony, who was hiding his face behind the paper he was clutching in a death grip.

 

“He hasn’t said anything yet,” Francesca replied, “And like I said, Edwina’s wedding is happening very soon. Are you not excited about that?”

 

Hyacinth happily chatted about Edwina’s wedding for a while longer before tiring of the subject and skipping out of the room. 

 

Seeing that they were alone, Francesca turned to Anthony, “PapaAnt, I do like Lord Kilmartin," she said softly, "If he came and spoke with you, would you let him marry me?"

 

"You'll be going to live in Scotland though," Anthony pointed out with a slight frown as he lowered his paper, "Are you sure that is what you want?"

 

"I thought all that business with the Scots was sorted now?" Francesca commented, "And anyway, Kilmartin isn't in the Highlands proper, so it's not like there's some warring clans outside the gates."

 

Anthony smiled, "That's not what I meant," he replied, "It's just, you will be so far away Frannie. We all live within a few days of each other at most and you’ll be weeks away. What if something happens or you need one of us?”

 

“PapaAnt,” Francesca sighed, “You’re being silly. Lord Kilmartin spends a lot of time in Parliament so he spends a lot of time in London; I would simply join him here.”

 

“And when Parliament isn’t in session you will be in Scotland,” Anthony concluded, “And it is so far away.”

 

Francesca rolled her eyes, “But if he came and had a conversation with you,” she pressed, “Would you turn him away or not?”

 

“Will you be happy with him?” Anthony asked seriously.

 

“I will,” Francesca smiled.

 

“Then how could I turn him away,” Anthony replied, “If he asks then I will not refuse him. Even if it does mean losing you to the wilds of Scotland.”

 

Francesca laughed, “I’ll miss you too PapaAnt,” she said softly, “But he has not asked yet.”

 

Anthony stood and pulled Francesca into a hug, “I’m sure he will,” he said softly, “And I’ll stop sulking about it, I promise.”

 

Francesca beamed up at the man she considered her father, “Love you PapaAnt,” she smiled before slipping out of the room to prepare for the evening’s ball.

 


 

“I’ve told Frannie I will accept Kilmartin if he asks for her hand,” Anthony stated as he joined Kate in her sitting room, “She confronted me about him earlier.”

 

Kate resisted the urge to laugh, “I thought she might do soon enough,” she replied, “Does that mean you are going to stop sulking about her potential move to Scotland?”

 

“I told her I would,” Anthony replied, “It feels different than when Hastings married Daphne,” he admitted after a while.

 

“Daphne was older,” Kate pointed out, “Frannie is in her first season but she is ready for this. I have been sat with them during every call and she lights up when she sees him and he isn’t much better. I can’t say I’m too happy about sending her off to Scotland but she is so happy with him Ant,” Kate paused, “And I don’t think she would ever forgive us if the only reason you objected was because she would be going to Scotland.”

 

“I know she wouldn’t,” Anthony replied, “But, she did point out that he is quite active in Parliament so they would be here for six months of the year at least.”

 

“And Kilmartin House is only around the corner,” Kate stated, “And we hardly see Daphne in the off season now she is married; I know Clyveden is a lot closer than Scotland but we don’t see her and Simon from one season to the next.”

 

“And are you ready to say the same about Eddie?” Anthony asked.

 

“I’ll have to be,” Kate replied, “She does get married in three days after all.”

 

“And then will only be moving to Oxford,” Anthony sulked, “Not bloody Scotland.”

 

“But still will not be under our roof,” Kate retorted, “Or with Mama. And Oxford is still the best part of a day away.”

 

Anthony sighed, knowing that Kate was correct and he was being ridiculous. Kate smiled as she noticed Anthony deflate and knew that between her and Francesca they had won him around to Fran becoming the next Countess of Kilmartin.

 


 

The following day, Anthony left Bridgerton House early in the morning and returned just before tea with Gregory, fresh from his first year at Eton. 

 

“Gregory!” Kate exclaimed as the gangly fourteen year old entered the house, “Oh come here! You have gotten so big!”

 

“MamaKate,” Gregory smiled, hugging his pseudo-mother tightly, “I’ve missed you.”

 

“I’ve missed you too, my darling boy,” Kate said softly, kissing the top of his head, “Come on, let’s take tea and you can tell me everything about school.”

 

“Gregory!” Eloise and Francesca cheered as he entered the room, the young boy soon was swept up in the loving mothering of the women of the house. 

 

Hyacinth came running down the stairs as she heard the commotion, before bounding into the drawing room to reunite with her partner in chaos. Soon the two youngest Bridgerton siblings were sitting on one of the couches, plotting together to the slight concern of everyone else in the room. 

 

“I’ve missed you,” Hyacinth said softly, “But if you tell anyone I’ll deny it.”

 

“Missed you too,” Gregory replied with a grin before nudging Hyacinth so that she would drop her biscuit causing them to fight over the last remaining few on the plate.

 


 

“Your father would be so proud,” Mary smiled as she and Kate helped Edwina prepare for her wedding, “Mr Bagwell is a lovely young man and you will be very happy as a scholar’s wife.”

 

“I will be,” Edwina smiled, “Nicholas is already talking about a new project that I can help him with; I will be able to spend my time reading all my favourite philosophers, it is all so exciting.”

 

Kate chuckled, “Well, rather you than me,” she smiled, “But I’m sure you will enjoy it.”

 

Edwina smiled as she smoothed down the front of her gown, “Is the carriage ready?” she asked, “It is nearly time to leave.”

 

Mary and Kate walked Edwina down the stairs to the waiting Anthony who held out his arm for his sister and walked her out of Bridgerton House for the last time as Miss Sheffield.

 

Two hours later, the wedding party returned to Bridgerton House to celebrate the marriage of Mr and Mrs Bagwell. Edwina shone as she danced with her new husband and soon the newlyweds were leaving for their honeymoon, a few weeks at Lord Astley’s country estate in Hertfordshire before returning to their Oxford townhouse to start their new life. 

Chapter Text

Penelope was sitting in her bed, rubbing her large stomach as Kate and her mother prepared the room for the birth. She had been experiencing pains for a few days but had been assured by the older two women that she was not yet in childbirth and the pains she had been experiencing were normal. 

 

“Can I come in?” Colin asked, sticking his head around the partially open door, “Or is this ladies only from now on?”

 

“You can come in,” Kate replied, “We’ll be downstairs, you know when to call for us Penelope.”

 

Colin slipped onto the bed next to Penelope, “How are you?” he asked softly, his own hand joining hers on her stomach, “Do you need anything?”

 

“I’m fine,” Penelope replied with a smile, “But I do need to tell you something.”

 

Colin nodded, “Do you know the money, the inheritance that  you found in Mama’s books,” she began, “It wasn’t really an inheritance.”

 

Colin frowned, “What do you mean?” he asked, “And should you be worrying about this right now?”

 

“It is my money,” Penelope said quickly, “And my dowry, that was my money too.”

 

Colin frowned again, “What do you mean?” he asked.

 

“Lady Whistledown,” Penelope said quietly, “That’s where the money came from.”

 

“Wait, Pen!” Colin laughed, “How did I not guess that? Of course it was you!”

 

“You’re not angry?” Penelope asked softly, “About all the things I have said about people and the lies about the money?”

 

“Why would I be angry?” Colin asked, “I don’t like some of the things you’ve said about yourself but you’ve never lied about anyone. How much money are we talking about?”

 

Penelope smiled faintly, “Well, you’ve seen how much Mama inherited and you know the amount of my dowry but left over from that there is still several thousand pounds. My Papa’s solicitor has it, he helped me set everything up and he has been keeping the money until I knew what I wanted to do with it.”

 

“So why are you telling me now?” Colin asked, “I don’t care about it, you can keep it with the solicitor or you can start to spend it as you like. Be the best dressed woman in the Ton if you like, buy all of Hatchards to fill our library. I honestly don’t care.”

 

“I’m telling you because childbirth is dangerous,” Penelope replied seriously, “You need to know about it because it will become yours, I think it probably already is yours, but Papa’s solicitor knows to grant you access if anything were to happen to me.”

 

Colin paled, “Don’t say that,” he said seriously, “You will be fine. Do not wish that on yourself.”

 

Penelope nodded, Colin kissed her softly before easing himself off the bed, “I’ll go back down,” he said as he stood, “Get your rest, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 


 

The following day Colin found himself in Whites with his brothers and Simon as Penelope laboured to bring their first child into the world. 

 

“Have another,” Simon said softly, pushing a glass of whisky in front of the younger man, “Kate or Lady Featherington will send word when you are needed. I’m not going to lie, it doesn’t get any easier.”

 

Colin smiled slightly, “Pen was so unwell at the start,” he confided, “I’m worried it will make the birth difficult.”

 

“She will be fine,” Anthony added from his other side, “She has been fine the last few weeks so it should all be well.”

 

Colin raised his glass in a toast before knocking back the amber liquid, “I have money on having another niece,” Benedict grinned as he downed his own drink, “I don’t think we need yet another Mr Bridgerton running around just yet.”

 

Simon laughed, “There’s more than enough of you thank you very much,” he agreed.

 

A few hours later a messenger arrived for Colin, summoning him back to Bruton Street to meet his son. 

 

“We have a nephew,” Kate smiled as Anthony and Benedict returned to Bridgerton House, “George Anthony Bridgerton. Both mother and baby are fine and Colin is besotted; give it a few days and then we should go and visit.”

 

Over in the house on Bruton Street, Colin sat next to a dozing Penelope with his newborn son cradled in his arms, “I love you both,” he whispered, “And you,” he directed to his son, “Had better inherit your Mama’s brain, she’s brilliant you know.”

 


 

A few days later Anthony was in his study reviewing the ledgers whilst Kate entertained callers in the parlour. He was brought out of his musings by a knock on the study door, calling for the person to enter. Anthony stood to greet his guest.

 

“Lord Bridgerton,” John greeted the older man warily, “Could I beg for a moment of your time?”

 

Anthony stood and gestured for the other man to take a seat, “How can I help you Lord Kilmartin?” he smiled.

 

“I think you may know,” John offered, “But, I have been courting Miss Francesca all season and I would like to offer for her hand in marriage.”

 

Anthony nodded, “I thought this was coming,” he admitted, “I will not insult you and ask if you are able to keep Francesca in the way she is used to but you must understand that I have some reservations about her moving so far away.”

 

John nodded, “I am committed to various commitments in Parliament,” he replied, “I will be spending a lot of time in town to deal with that and I had hoped that Francesca would be here with me.”

 

Anthony nodded, “I have no real objections,” he offered, “But I do not presume to know my sister’s mind. If you wish to speak with her then know you do so with my blessing.”

 

John smiled and exhaled, “I thought that was going to be much more difficult,” the younger man confessed with a laugh, “My mother and Aunt would like to host you and Lady Bridgerton and Miss Francesca, of course, at Kilmartin House for dinner to celebrate the engagement.”

 

“We would be delighted to accept,” Anthony replied, “Have your mother send the details to Lady Bridgerton when all is sorted with Francesca.”

 


 

Four days later at Lady Norbury’s ball there was an atmosphere of unrestrained excitement, the news had been received that the Duke of Wellington and his army had finally defeated Napoleon and the champagne was flowing liberally as the Ton celebrated the end of a very long running war. 

 

“Isn’t it such good news?” Francesca grinned as she stood with John by the refreshments.

 

“It is,” John replied with a small smile.

 

“Have you heard of your cousin?” Francesca asked, sensing John’s worries.

 

“Not yet,” he replied, “And I have heard that casualties are high. I am glad that it is all over but I don’t think I will be truly happy until Michael is home.” 

 

“Does he live at Kilmartin too?” Francesca asked

 

“He has his own establishment but it is on the grounds,” John replied, “I really do think you will get along with him but he will not be living with us.”

 

Francesca giggled, “That isn’t why I was asking,” she clarified, “I just wondered if I would get to know him in the off season, when we retire to Scotland.”

 

John smiled and held out his hand to escort Francesca to the floor as the band struck up a waltz. 

 

Two days later, John and Francesca were promenading in Hyde Park when Helen Stirling came rushing up to them holding her skirts as she almost ran to the young couple, “John!” she grinned, “I’ve had news, Michael is coming home!”

 

John grinned and grabbed his aunt’s hands, “And he is well?” he pressed.

 

“He says so,” Helen replied, “Oh! He will be here in time for your wedding, how lovely is that? I must go and sort his rooms.”

 

John smiled and laughed as Helen turned and walked back towards Kilmartin House at a much more sedate pace.

 

“You must be so happy now,” Francesca commented, “And I am looking forward to meeting him, he must have some very interesting stories.”

 


 

Two weeks later a battle-worn but alive Michael Stirling arrived at Kilmartin House, he had not received many letters from his cousin in the last few months but a combination of the war and John finally deciding to take up the duties of his position meant that the time for correspondence was scarce. 

 

Helen looked up as the butler announced their visitor and flew out of her chair into her son’s arms, her embroidery fluttering to the floor behind her, “Michael!” she exclaimed, “Oh, you are back in time!”

 

“In time for what?” Michael asked with a frown.

 

“John’s wedding of course,” Helen replied, “Did you not receive my letter? I wrote a few weeks ago to tell you; the wedding is tomorrow. John will be so happy that you have made it back on time.”

 

“John is getting married?” Michael repeated, “Who is the lucky lady?”

 

“Miss Francesca Bridgerton,” Helen replied as she guided Michael over to the sofa, “One of Viscount Bridgerton’s sisters. I think you will know one of her other brothers.”

 

Michael nodded as he helped himself to the tea which had just been provided by the footmen. Helen smiled at her son, “I am so happy you are home,” she said softly, “What are your plans now? Do you have to go back to the army?”

 

“I’m not sure,” Michael replied, “I will need to speak with John, but I could pay out my commission easily. I just need to decide what to do.”

 

“You’ll figure it out,” Helen soothed, smiling at her boy.

 


 

“Finally!” Eloise exclaimed as the butler ushered her into the parlour of Colin’s house on Bruton Street, “It has been too long since I have seen you Pen!” 

 

Penelope smiled, “How are you El?” she asked, “Tell me, what have I missed?”

 

“Just a lot of boring parties,” Eloise grumbled, “And Lord Fife keeps coming to call on me in the mornings; Kate thinks that it means something but I don’t.”

 

“It might do,” Penelope replied, “You would be Lady Fife, I hear that he has a handsome living each year and Fife House is quite grand.”

 

“You know I don’t want that though,” Eloise grumbled, “I can think of nothing worse than spending my day planning balls and having babies. Do you not get bored?”

 

“No!” Penelope laughed, “George keeps me entertained and Colin and I spend a lot of time together. Like I told you last season El; I have a lot more time and freedom now I am Mrs Penelope Bridgerton than I ever did as Miss Penelope Featherington. You would be awarded the same freedoms if you became Lady Fife.”

 

“Has he asked yet, or spoken with Anthony?” Penelope asked, “He must be thinking of it, he has been courting you all season.”

 

“I won’t be accepting him if he does,” Eloise retorted, “And Anthony better not give his permission, he made such a show of rejecting everyone but Simon for Daphne and then he goes and accepts the first person who asks for Frannie and I bet he does the same for me.”

 

Penelope sighed, “But Francesca loves Lord Kilmartin and really wants to marry him. I doubt Anthony will make you marry Lord Fife if you truly do not wish to do so; but think on it Eloise, it would be a good match.”

 

Eloise rolled her eyes but brightened slightly as the nursemaid brought baby George down to his mother, “How is my favourite nephew?” Eloise cooed as George reached for her nose.

 

“He is fine,” Penelope smiled, reaching across for her son, “Aren’t you my darling boy? I think he looks like Colin, don’t you?”

 

“I suppose,” Eloise replied, “I should go home, will you be at the Mottram ball tonight?”

 

“No,” Penelope shook her head, “I will be at Frannie’s wedding but I won’t be attending anything else for at least another month.”

 

“So I will be alone at all the upcoming balls?” Eloise groaned, “Is this what happens when you marry? You abandon all your friends?”

 

“I’m not abandoning you El,” Penelope sighed, “But I am still recovering from having George and it is not proper for me to be out again just yet.”

 

Eloise rolled her eyes again and left the house muttering all the time about her abandonment.

 


 

“How was Eloise?” Colin asked as he and Penelope ate their dinner that evening, “Did she stay long?”

 

“Only an hour,” Penelope replied, “She thinks that Lord Fife might propose before the end of the season.”

 

“I think he might,” Colin agreed, “He has admitted to being intrigued by El; and he wouldn’t still be paying calls every other morning if he wasn’t interested. Anthony would see it as a good match, there’s nothing I can think of that would stop her from accepting him.”

 

“She doesn’t want to,” Penelope said quickly, “I still don’t think she realises that she has been being courted all season.”

 

Colin rolled his eyes, “And what was her reason for not wanting to accept him?” he asked.

 

“She doesn’t want this,” Penelope replied, gesturing around them, “She doesn’t want to be tied down to being a wife and mother; she likes the freedom she has now. She can’t see that things would be better for her if she did become Lady Fife. I know Anthony is generous and her life doing the season is a lot better than mine was, especially with my Mama and all the problems we had after Papa died but she is still constrained as a single woman.”

 

Colin nodded, “Anthony is only generous up to a point,” he said, “He won’t force her to marry Fife if she truly doesn’t wish to do so but she is going to have to marry at some point.”

 


 

Francesca descended the stairs at Bridgerton House with a large smile on her face, Anthony was standing at the bottom with a proud look on his face.

 

“Are you ready?” he asked softly, escorting her to the waiting carriage.

 

“Yes,” Francesca beamed, before giving Anthony a sly look, “Are you?”

 

Anthony rolled his eyes, “As I’ll ever be,” he replied, “Come on, let’s get you married off.”

 

The two made the journey to St. George’s chapel in comfortable silence, as the carriage stopped outside the chapel, Francesca turned to Anthony, “Love you PapaAnt,” she said softly.

 

“Love you too Frannie,” Anthony replied, kissing her forehead softly, “Now come on, let’s get you married.”

 

An hour later, the family exited the chapel with the new Earl and Countess Kilmartin smiling brightly at the front of the party.

 


 

“Fran,” John smiled as he wrapped his arm around his new wife, “Come meet my cousin, Michael, he made it back from Flanders yesterday.”

 

“A pleasure to meet you Mr Stirling,” Francesca smiled, “I am glad that you have returned to us safe and well.”

 

Michael smiled at the beautiful woman he had just seen marry his cousin, “The pleasure is all mine, Lady Kilmartin,” he replied, kissing her hand softly, “I am only sorry it has taken me so long to meet you.”

 

“Well, I’m sure we have plenty of time to get to know each other,” Francesca smiled, “After the season ends we will all be in Scotland, no?”

 

“We will,” John agreed, “Now, Michael, go regale someone else with your stories of war.” Turning to Francesca John continued, “And we can go make our rounds before stealing away for our honeymoon.”

 

Francesca grinned, “I am so glad Anthony agreed to let us use Aubrey Hall,” she commented, “A week in the country will be perfect before the end of the season.”

 

“And then we can travel up to Scotland from there,” John smiled, “Michael and the Mothers will follow us from here.”

 


 

A few days following Francesca’s wedding, Anthony was enjoying a glass of brandy in Whites when Lord Fife approached him, “Lord Bridgerton, may I have a moment of your time?” the man asked, visibly nervous.

 

Anthony nodded and gestured to the open seat at his table, “How can I help Fife?” he asked, pouring the other man a brandy.

 

Fife took a deep breath, “I wanted to speak to you about Miss Eloise,” he replied, “As you know I have been getting to know her this season and I would like to offer for her hand in marriage.”

 

Anthony nodded, “And if I agree, would you be able to care for my sister in a way she is used to?” he asked, “Eloise is used to a certain standard of living Fife, would you be able to keep her in the  same fashion?”

 

“I would,” Fife replied, “I know my barony is not as old as some but I have a living of £4500 a year, I have no debts and no other dependants. Miss Eloise would be kept in the finest conditions and any children we may have would be well looked after and educated as befits gentlemen.”

 

Anthony nodded again, “I have no objections,” he replied after a short pause, “But I know my sister well enough to know that she makes her own decisions. If Eloise accepts then know you have my blessing but if not, then there is nothing I can do to make her.”

 

Fife nodded, “I understand,” he replied before standing to take his leave.

 


 

“I have enjoyed our discussions this season, Lord Fife,” Eloise said quietly, a few days later, as the man sat on the opposite sofa from her own, “But I think we have been at cross purposes. I thought that we were friends, that you were enjoying our conversations but knew I did not wish to marry.”

 

Fife nodded, “I do not wish to make you uncomfortable, Miss Bridgerton,” he replied, “But I could not return to the country without making myself known to you. If this is not what you want, I will take my leave now and we will not speak of this again.” 

 

“It is not what I want,” Eloise repeated, firmly, “Thank you for your time this season Lord Fife but I think it is best we part as friends now.”

 

Fife stood and bowed slightly to Eloise before leaving Bridgerton House for the last time. 

 


 

“Talk to her,” Kate hissed as the family prepared for their return to the country at the end of the season, “She told Lord Fife that she does not want to marry, did she mean just him or in general?”

 

“How should I know that?” Anthony replied, “She won’t talk to me anyway, you try when we get back to Aubrey Hall. Or maybe Penelope can get to the bottom of it when they come to visit at Christmas.”

 

Kate rolled her eyes but settled for ushering the children into the carriages, “PapaAnt,” Hyacinth chirped from his side, “Can I start riding out with you and MamaKate in the mornings when we go back to Aubrey Hall? I have gotten so much better now, and I have left the nursery now.”

 

“I’ll speak to the grooms,” Anthony promised, “But only if they say you are good enough.”

 

Hyacinth beamed and skipped over to the carriage to join her niece and nephews, Gregory following as the two would use the journey to plot something or other to entertain the rest of the family when they all arrived. 

 

“It is odd,” Kate commented, “We only need the two carriages to go back now, we had all three bringing us here at the start of the season.”

 

“I know,” Anthony smiled, “But Ben has decided to go straight to Wiltshire and everyone else is settled elsewhere. Come on, we can enjoy the relative peace and quiet before they all descend for Christmas.”

 

Kate smiled and leaned into Anthony slightly as they watched their eldest children clamber over one another to be closest to the carriage window, “One of us better break that up before they start a war,” Kate sighed, “Should we let Gregory ride with us?”

 

“That will start a war!” Anthony laughed, “Leave it to me, we’ll be ready to leave soon enough.”

 

Ten minutes later, the carriages pulled out of Grosvenor Square, joining the throng of others making their way out of Mayfair for the country for the winter. 

Chapter Text

Benedict smiled to himself as he reviewed the canvas he had been painting, the orchard at the end of his manicured lawns at My Cottage provided the perfect landscape for him to practice his craft. He had taken possession of the oddly named property a few years previously but hadn’t spent too much time there since starting at the Royal Academy. 

 

After spending so many years in the chaos of Bridgerton House and Aubrey Hall, the peace and quiet of My Cottage was very refreshing. Just as he was about to dive back into his painting, Mrs Crabtree, the housekeeper came onto the patio, “You asked me to remind you when it was tea time, Mr Bridgerton,” she said, “You need to get ready for dinner at Romney Hall.”

 

Benedict sighed, he had forgotten about the dinner his distant cousin had invited him to. He had forgotten about the relationship before he had moved to Wiltshire but it seemed that the woman’s father had remembered their kinship with the Ledger family and an invitation had been issued by Lady Crane to introduce her distant cousin to the notable families in the area. 

 

A few hours later, Benedict was exiting his curricle outside of Romney Hall; the home of the Crane family was relatively large and Benedict’s was not the only carriage pulling up in the large driveway. 

 

“Cousin Benedict,” Marina Crane smiled as he entered, “Welcome to Romney Hall; how are you finding the country?”

 

“Cousin Marina,” Benedict smiled, happy he could now place the woman he had met a handful of times as a child, “It is a lot quieter than London it has to be said but I am enjoying the peace. It is giving me plenty of time to concentrate on my art.”

 

“Oh an artist!” Marina exclaimed, “You will come as an excellent addition to our little set here. Now come, I must introduce you to our nearest neighbours, the Earl of Penwood and his family.”

 

Benedict soon found himself brought over to a middle-aged couple and a young girl who looked to be around Daphne’s age, “Lord Penwood,” Marina smiled, “Let me introduce my cousin, Mr Benedict Bridgerton, he has just taken over the estate at Purton and I’m introducing him to everyone in the local area.”

 

Benedict smiled at Lord and Lady Penwood, “Mr Bridgerton,” Lord Penwood nodded, “And this is my ward, Miss Sophia Beckett.”

 

Benedict smiled at the petite blonde woman who seemed very stiff sat next to the older couple. She blushed and looked down at her hands which were placed in her lap.

 

By luck, or Marina’s design, Benedict found himself sat with Sophia at dinner, “Lady Crane said that you were an artist,” Sophia offered, “What kind of art do you paint?”

 

“A little bit of everything,” Benedict replied, “I am still studying at the royal academy at the moment, working on different things. What about you, Miss Beckett, do you get up to anything interesting here in the country?”

 

“Oh not really,” Sophie blushed, “Just the usual, my cousins have a large parkland and I do enjoy riding.”

 

“Are you ever in London?” Benedict asked, “I feel like we would have been introduced but I do not think we ever have been.”

 

“I do not go to London,” Sophie replied, “My cousins do not travel to town and I am content here in the country. Do you spend much time in London?”

 

“Most of the season,” Benedict replied, “The Royal Academy is in London and my family enjoy the season.” 

 

“I have never experienced the season,” Sophie admitted, “What is it like?”

 

“Well, my sisters tell me it is very different for young ladies,” Benedict smiled, “But I enjoy it.” The two then passed the rest of their turn talking about the season and its benefits. 

 


 

On their journey home Sophie sat in the Penwood carriage as her cousins chatted about the dinner party they had just left.

 

“Mr Bridgerton seemed interesting,” Lady Penwood commented, “Didn’t you think so Sophia?”

 

“He did,” Sophie replied, “But he spends a lot of time in London so it is silly even thinking about him.”

 

“There is nothing to stop you having a season,” Lady Penwood pointed out, “You are a ward of the Earls of Penwood, it wouldn’t be too untoward.”

 

“Araminta will be in London,” Sophie said quietly, “She would make a scene.”

 

Lady Penwood scoffed, “Let her try,” she muttered, “That woman needs to remember her place.”

 

“Leave it,” Lord Penwood stated firmly, “And Mr Bridgerton is a second son, I’m sure we can aim a little higher. You are a ward of the Earl of Penwood, a cousin of the line, if you are going up to London then we will look for you a first son.”

 


 

Benedict returned to My Cottage that evening thinking about the intriguing young woman he had met that evening. For all he hadn’t been looking forward to the evening, it had been an interesting dinner party and Benedict was thinking of reasons to meet Miss Beckett again.

 

She had been introduced as a ward of the Earl but Benedict had not spent his entire life in society to not realise how things were coded for polite company. She was clearly either the current or late Earl’s by-blow who was being raised as a distant relative to spare the Countess’ blushes; he decided to see what else he could find out about the Penwoods before making any decisions.

 


 

Hyacinth grinned as Anthony led her out of the stables on her brand new horse, Diamond. Anthony had purchased the horse whilst the family had been in London for the season and tasked the grooms to train her for Hyacinth’s thirteenth birthday. 

 

“Come on,” Anthony smiled, “We’ll go over to the low ridge and back so you can see how you handle the horse.”

 

“This is the best present ever PapaAnt!” Hyacinth cheered, “I didn’t think I could ever have my own horse. Do I look like a proper lady?”

 

“You do,” Anthony laughed, “If you manage well enough you can start coming out with Kate and I in the mornings.”

 

Hyacinth’s eyes grew large, “Really!” she exclaimed, “I will be the best horsewoman ever!”

 

Anthony laughed again and the pair took off at a slow trot out across the vast estate. 

 

Two hours later, the pair returned to the house and Hyacinth was bouncing with excitement, “MamaKate!” she announced, bouncing into the parlour where Kate was sitting with Eloise, “PapaAnt says that I can come riding with you in the mornings!”

 

Eloise scoffed and stood before leaving the room, she still was not comfortable with the casual way Hyacinth referred to Anthony and Kate as parents but had learned over the years to ignore the nicknames as she seemed to be the only sibling who felt that way.

 

“We went all the way to the low ridge,” Hyacinth continued, “And PapaAnt said I looked like a proper lady on my horse. Did you know I have my own horse now? She is called Diamond and she is beautiful!”

 

Kate smiled indulgently, “I did,” she replied, “I’m glad you like her. Now go on up and change out of your riding clothes and then your governess is waiting.”

 

Hyacinth rolled her eyes but skipped out of the room, still floating with happiness at the morning she had spent with her parents. 

 


 

“So, is Hyacinth really joining us in the morning?” Kate asked that evening as the couple relaxed after dinner, “Or has she done her usual trick of presenting it as a done deal before we can object?”

 

Anthony laughed into his glass of whisky, “A bit of both,” he admitted, “If we only have a short ride she will be fine with us. I can’t see it lasting longer than a week or so anyway, she won’t enjoy the time we go out.”

 

Kate laughed then, “That worked for Frannie,” she agreed, “Did you see the letter from her that arrived today?”

 

“I did,” Anthony smiled, “It is a shame she will not be joining us all for Christmas but it is quite a distance to travel, especially at this time of year. Did you speak with Eloise?”

 

“I don’t know how to go about approaching it,” Kate admitted, “If it was just Lord Fife she was opposed to it might be easier but I honestly don’t think she wishes to marry at all; this last season she hardly participated at all.”

 

Anthony sighed, “I suppose if she truly does not wish to marry it would be possible,” he admitted, “Her dowry would be sufficient to live on and we have a number of cottages that she could take over when she is a little older. I would make sure she is taken care of and I know Ben and Colin would do the same.”

 

“It just feels like she is giving up if she announces herself as a spinster now,” he continued after a short pause, “She is only twenty; she is hardly the eldest girl in town and she has a lot going for her. I did hope that seeing Daph, Penelope and Frannie marry it might help change her mind.”

 

“I don’t know if it had the opposite effect,” Kate pondered, “She has always set herself as Daphne’s opposite; seeing her flourishing as a Duchess might have hardened her position. I might talk with Penelope when she and Colin arrive for Christmas, see if Eloise has said anything to her.”

 

Anthony nodded, “Colin has written, they will be here from the first week of December so maybe we wait until they arrive.”

 


 

Kate frowned as she entered Anthony’s study a few weeks later, “Do you know where Hyacinth is?” she asked as Anthony looked up from his desk, “We were meant to be having tea with Eloise and she isn’t here.”

 

“I think I heard her mention something about going riding earlier,” Anthony replied, “Check with the stables, one of the grooms should be with her and there will be some kind of note of where they planned to go. They can’t have gone too far, she’s not that confident yet and at this time of year it is too wet to travel too far.”

 

Half an hour later Kate flew into the study again, “There are no grooms out on a ride,” she cried, “But Diamond is missing and the stable boys said that they saw Hyacinth taking her out this morning but she hasn’t come back. They thought one of us was meeting her and so didn’t think of saying anything to us. Looking at the time she took Diamond it is when I usually go on a morning ride but I decided it was too wet this morning.”

 

Anthony swore and stood, “I’ll saddle Thunder and start to check, the south side of the house would be a slightly better ride at this time of year so I’ll go that way first. If she comes back before I do then ride out that way and find me.”

 

Kate nodded and the two rushed down to the stables.

 


 

It was an hour later when Anthony caught a glimpse of Diamond, he tied the horse to a tree and started his search on foot. He soon came across the crumpled form of his youngest sister and ran to her side. The young girl was shivering and was half-conscious; her left arm at an odd angle to the rest of her body.

 

“Hy!” Anthony cried as he gathered her into his arms, “It’s OK, I’ve got you. PapaAnt’s here now, it’s all going to be fine.”

 

He managed to haul Hyacinth onto his horse and climbed up behind her, wrapping his arm around her waist as he pushed the horse the quickest way he could back to the house. 

 


 

Anthony sat at the side of Hyacinth’s bed as they waited for the doctor to arrive, the young girl had woken when Kate and a maid had taken her out of her riding habit and wrapped her in warmed linens and was now whimpering in pain as she sat in the bed with pillows propped around her.

 

“That arm is broken,” the doctor announced as he examined Hyacinth, “I will need to set the bones, Lord Bridgerton, can you?”

 

Anthony nodded and handed Hyacinth a leather strap, “Bite down on this,” he instructed as he turned her head towards him, “And keep your eyes on me. Do not look anywhere else but at my face. Do you understand Hy?”

 

Hyacinth nodded and clung to Anthony’s hand with her good hand, biting strongly on the strap as Anthony used his free hand to tilt her head and cover her eyes. He nodded at the doctor and leaned over towards Hyacinth to shield her from the sight.

 

Hyacinth screamed as the doctor manipulated her arm, she clung to Anthony’s hand as he ran his thumb along her forehead to sooth her. 

 

“Keep her warm to reduce the possibility of fever,” the doctor instructed, “And I have left some laudanum for her to take for the pain.”

 

“Laudanum,” Anthony repeated, “She is a child, is that safe?”

 

“In small doses yes,” the doctor replied, “I will be back in three days to check on the arm. If her fever spikes in the meantime, send for me.”

 


 

“I’ll sleep on the chair in her room tonight,” Anthony said as he and Kate had tea, “The doctor prescribed laudanum and I don’t want her to be on her own when she first takes it.”

 

Kate nodded, “I’ll send up two trays with dinner,” she promised, “And then we’ll sort out a rota to keep her entertained. Eloise is here so that helps and Colin and Penelope will be joining us in the next few days.”

 

“Penelope can’t go in until we are certain there is no fever,” Anthony stated, “I’ll speak to Colin when they arrive.”

 

Kate nodded, knowing it would be pointless to argue with Anthony about the pregnant Penelope entering Hyacinth’s room until they were certain the danger of a fever had passed. The spectre of their own dead baby, Anne, still hung over them when any fever was mentioned.

 


 

Colin ushered Penelope into the drawing room the following morning, “Where is everyone?” he asked Eloise who was sat frowning at her book.

 

“Hyacinth’s room,” Eloise replied, turning to her friend with a grin, “Anthony wants to speak to Colin so we can catch up, Pen!”

 

Penelope smiled and helped herself to the tea brought in by the butler, “George has started walking now,” she grinned, gushing to her friend about their son, “And he can say Mama and Papa.”

 

Colin slipped out of the room as the two women gushed over his son and made his way to Hyacinth’s room, frowning at the fact his brother was clearly camped out there, “Anth,” he said softly, standing at the open door not wishing to disturb the small girl who looked to be asleep, “Eloise said you wanted to speak when I arrived?”

 

Anthony nodded and waved Colin into the room, “She fell from a horse yesterday,” he offered by way of explanation, “It was hours before we realised she was out, her arm is broken and we’re watching for a fever.”

 

“So you want me to keep Pen out of the way,” Colin concluded, “At least until you know if she has a fever.”

 

Anthony nodded, “The doctor will be back in a few days and if he gives the all clear then Pen can come in but I don’t want to risk it before then.”

 

Colin nodded, “I know,” he smiled, “So, how bored is Hyacinth?”

 

Anthony laughed, “Not too much at the moment,” he replied, “She has been sleeping most of the time but give it a week and we’ll all be going mad!”

 


 

Penelope sat with Kate in the sun room of Aubrey Hall, her hand absently rubbing her now six-month baby bump. 

 

“You look well Penelope,” Kate smiled, “A lot better than last time around.”

 

“I feel it this time,” Penelope smiled, “You said that you wanted to speak with me about something? Is it about Hyacinth?”

 

“No,” Kate replied, easing Penelope’s worries, “It is about Eloise though.”

 

Penelope frowned and gestured for Kate to continue, “She has said a few things, about her wishes to never marry and after she rejected Lord Fife last season I just want to understand what she is thinking.”

 

Penelope nodded, “I can’t pretend to understand her fully but she has mentioned in several letters to me that she believes marriage will constrict her freedom and she worries that if she did marry, her husband would remove her from London and she would never see all of us again. She has complained several times that she does not see me as much as she would like now Colin and I have our own establishment.”

 

Kate sighed, “So it is marriage in general she is opposed to and not just Lord Fife,” she surmised, “Have you said anything to her?”

 

“Oh plenty,” Penelope nodded, “I have explained to her how I have so much more freedom now I am Mrs Bridgerton and how it would be the same for her but she has told me that Anthony allows her a lot of freedom and she would lose some rather than the other way around. I know my Mama is very particular and she forced my sisters and I to dance with every eligible man she could find but even Anthony puts limits on Eloise, I just don’t think she realises.”

 

“I would think the events of the last few years would show her how strict Anthony can be,” Kate commented drily, “I don’t know what to do, she is declaring herself a spinster at 20 and I don’t know how we can change that.”

 

“But marrying in your first season like Fran did is so rare now,” Penelope replied, “I was 20 when I married Colin and in my second season, Daphne was in her third when she married Simon. If you really think about it, Eloise has only had two seasons and she was courted by Lord Fife for the majority of her first.”

 

“That is true,” Kate nodded, “I will speak to her later, there must be some other reason behind her decision not to marry.”

 


 

Eloise was in the nursery entertaining her niece and nephews when Kate found her, they had constructed some kind of fort and Edmund was playing the role of brave knight protecting his sister and aunt from the dragons, also known as a barely toddling Miles and George. 

 

“Mama! Mama!” Edmund shouted as Kate entered the nursery, “You must help! The dragons will set the princesses on fire!”

 

“Oh really!” Kate laughed, “Well we can’t have that can we?”

 

“You hold this,” Edmund directed, passing Kate a wooden sword, “And I will stand here to protect Princess Auntie Eloise and you can protect Princess Charlotte.”

 

Eloise smiled at Kate as the other woman took a seat close to her own position, “And just how did this happen?” Kate asked with a grin.

 

“Penelope is with Hyacinth, trying to get her to do some translations so I volunteered to keep the babies entertained. I planned on reading to them but we started building a fort to sit in and things escalated from there.”

 

Kate laughed, “Miles and George will need a nap shortly,” she commented, “And I think Charlotte could benefit from one too; we won’t be here much longer. Can we have a talk when we have worn them out?”

 

“Of course,” Eloise smiled, “I have written out a new schedule for entertaining Hyacinth with Benedict arriving in a few days and Daphne and Simon soon after that.”

 

“Hopefully, the doctors will let her move around a little from next week,” Kate commented, “Even if it is just to sit in the parlour or the library with us all, she will feel a bit better.”

 

As soon predicted, the young children wore themselves out with the rambunctious game they had been playing and Eloise and Kate slipped out of the nursery heading to the parlour. 

 

“What did you want to discuss?” Eloise asked as she passed Kate the small plate of biscuits that they had been provided.

 

“It is a little delicate,” Kate began, “But I wanted to talk about your prospects and why you are not wishing to marry. I do not want to judge you Eloise,” she rushed, “But I do want to understand, if I understand then I can help you plead your case to Anthony if it is needed.”

 

Eloise sighed and sank back against the cushions slightly, “Truthfully, I do not know,” she said eventually, “I worry that if I do marry then I will end up with someone who will take me far away and I will never see any of  you again. We hardly ever see Daphne since she married and Frannie is over a week away. Even when we are all in town it isn’t the same. Penelope keeps telling me that it isn’t as bad as I am making out but I have not met anyone that I could imagine leaving you all for.”

 

“Eloise,” Kate sighed, “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I married Anthony, not really. I had some grand ideas of spending time with all of you and being your friend and getting to know Anthony better but I’m sure you remember how difficult those first few years were.”

 

Eloise smiled ruefully, “We really were horrors, weren’t we?” she laughed.

 

“You were grieving children,” Kate replied, “But what I was trying to say is not all of us have a great love story when we dance with a man in a ballroom and promenade with him around Hyde Park. You use the time to see if you get along, then you spend time together and things develop. I did not love Anthony when I married him and he will tell you the same; that came later. We developed a friendship, we had similar goals for our marriage and that was enough. I’m sure Daphne, Fran and Penelope will tell you the same thing.”

 

“But what about babies?” Eloise said in a small voice, “I can still hear the screams from when Mama had Hyacinth and when you had all of your babies. It sounds so scary, Mama died after she had Hyacinth; she was never the same after that. It is all well and good saying that you become friends with a man and then love might develop but I am terrified of what comes with having babies.”

 

Kate grasped Eloise’s hand, “I won’t lie to you,” she said softly, “Childbirth is not without its dangers but whomever you do marry will have sufficient funds to ensure you have the best medical care to prevent anything from going wrong. Anthony will make sure that whomever asks for your hand will have sufficient coin to keep you in the way you are used to and I will be with you when that time comes.”

 

The two women sat quietly for some time before Kate continued, “I am not telling you to run away with the first man who shows you any attention next season, I am just asking that you give it a chance. You are only 20 Eloise, you are hardly a spinster yet; do not write yourself off so soon.”

 

Eloise nodded, sniffing slightly, “Thank you Kate,” she whispered, “For actually listening to me. If I don’t find anyone, will you truly help me with Anthony?”

 

“Of course,” Kate promised, “I’ll always be on your side in this.”

 


 

In no time at all the Hastings carriage pulled up outside of Aubrey Hall, Simon exited first and held out his hand to help Daphne down before reaching in and lifting their two small girls to the floor. Both girls stood on their wobbly toddler legs before a nurse appeared to whisk them away to the nursery and their cousins. 

 

A few hours after the Hastings arrival, Benedict jumped from his curricle and before anyone could blink, Edwina, Nicholas and Mary arrived as well, completing the party for the Christmas season. 

 

At dinner that evening, the extended family planned the numerous activities they could now partake in, now that they were together. 

 

“I vote for Pall Mall,” Eloise stated, “Penelope, Nicholas and Simon still haven’t experienced it yet.”

 

“It is too wet for Pall Mall,” Anthony replied, “We would spend half the time underneath the trees for cover. It would need to be something inside, and something that Hyacinth can enjoy too.”

 

Eloise rolled her eyes, “Urgh, fine,” she grumbled, “Then Wit and Charades. And Snapdragon, obviously.”

 

Kate smothered her laugh as the siblings all shouted over one another to decide teams for charades, Edwina joining in as always. The Christmas season and its emphasis on family truly brought out both the best and worst in the siblings and Kate was always thrown back into the first Christmases she spent with Anthony and the family when she had first been married, a houseful of excited and competitive children all vying for Anthony’s attention and by the noises coming from the proper, grown and married voices around the table, this had not changed in the nine years since she had first encountered a Bridgerton Christmas. 

 

The next few weeks passed in a blur of visits, parlour games and feasts culminating in a ball for the family and tenants on twelfth night. 

 

“I have missed this,” Kate said to Anthony as they danced, “It is such a shame that Fran and John could not make the journey and Gregory is stuck at school”

 

“I know,” Anthony replied, “But they will have some merriment at school, and I trust that even in Scotland they celebrate Christmas.”

 

“Anthony,” Kate laughed, “You know full well that they do, stop acting like she has gone to some unknown land. We are going up to visit before the season starts, hopefully you will stop fussing then.”

 

Anthony simply rolled his eyes as he spun Kate in the dance, “You know I can’t help it,” he said as they returned to their positions.

 

Kate laughed, “And we will have two new babies to celebrate in the new year,” she added, “Our little family keeps growing.”

 

Later in the evening, the Bridgerton brothers, Simon and Nicholas found themselves in the smoking room, “Edwina is with child,” Nicholas grinned as the men all sat, “She is telling Kate tonight, I see that our child will be in good company in the nursery Colin.”

 

Colin grinned, “Daphne is with child too,” Simon added, “It looks as though we will all be in for a busy few months.”

 

“Penelope is due by March at the latest,” Colin commented, “I think we will have to leave for Farnley Lodge in the next few days if we are to beat the worst of this weather.”

 

“Don’t be so ridiculous,” Anthony commented, “You and Penelope will just stay here until after the birth. The roads back to Farnley Lodge will be simply impassable at present, it is safer if you both stay here and return to Farnley when the babe is a few months old.”

 

Colin took a large gulp of his brandy, “Thank you,” he whispered, “I will talk with Pen, but she will more than likely want her mother here when the time comes.”

 

Anthony visibly grimaced when thinking of his brother’s mother-in-law, “I’m sure I can cope,” he muttered, “For a short period of time.”

 

Benedict and Simon both swallowed laughs, knowing Portia Featherington’s character, “Daphne is due just before the start of the season,” Simon added, “I’m not sure if we will be participating this year.”

 

“Edwina is due around the same time,” Nicholas confirmed, “We will be in Oxford but I assume she will want Lady Bridgerton present.”

 

The men spent the rest of the evening talking about their various business interests and the recent Parliamentary session before rejoining the ladies. Anthony caught Colin’s arm as they exited the smoking room, “I meant it,” he said seriously, “You and Penelope should stay here until she has the baby. It is no trouble for us and you have mentioned that you wanted to carry out some maintenance at Farnley; take advantage and stay here.”

 

Colin nodded, “I think we will,” he nodded, “The roads getting here were bad enough, with the amount of rain we have had since they will be terrible. Are you sure we will not be imposing?”

 

“You will not be,” Anthony assured him, “Stay here, get your maintenance done before everyone returns to town and when Kate and I travel up to see Fran, you and Pen can either head back to Farnley or head to town.”

 

“Thank you Anth,” Colin smiled, “I’ll send for some extra trunks in the next few days and we will stay.”

 

A few days into the start of 1817, the majority of the guests left Aubrey Hall for their own establishments leaving behind promises of correspondences and visits when they all returned to London in a few months for the start of the next season. 

 

Chapter Text

Penelope screamed as she pushed her baby into the world, she had been struggling with labour for almost a day and she felt her energy draining out of her. Her mother and Kate had been at her side, urging her to push for hours. 

 

Suddenly with one last scream Penelope fell back against the pillows, exhausted and drifted into sleep. The midwife handed her baby daughter to Portia before looking back at the bed, “My Lady,” the woman said softly, “There is blood. Too much blood.”

 

Kate and Portia looked at each other in terror, “I will go and find Colin,” Kate said quickly before rushing out of the room. 

 

Portia nodded and held her newborn granddaughter closer, “Your Mama will be fine,” she whispered, “And your Papa will love you as soon as he sets his eyes on you.”

 

Colin burst into the room seconds later, “Pen!” he gasped, seeing the blood on the bed and his wife’s pale and exhausted face, “No,” he whimpered, “Pen ...”

 

“You have a daughter Colin,” Portia said softly, passing Colin the baby, “She’s perfect.”

 

Colin sank onto the edge of the bed, taking the bundle from Portia, “She is,” he smiled faintly, dropping a kiss on the baby’s forehead, “Just like her Mama.” He grabbed Penelope’s hand and balancing the baby carefully he kissed Penelope’s hand, “She just needs to wake up now,” he cried, “Please, Pen, please just wake up.”

 

Portia and Kate lifted the baby from Colin’s arms and passed her over to the waiting wet-nurse. Anthony stood behind Colin and helped him stand from the bed, “Come on,” he said softly, “Let them change the bed; we can wait outside.”

 

Colin let his brother lead him out of the room and heard the door close behind them when he broke, “Anth,” he sobbed, “Anth, she ... I ... I can’t ...”

 

Anthony grabbed Colin and pulled him into a strong hug, wrapping his arms around the younger man as Colin sobbed into his shoulder, “She’ll be fine,” he soothed, “You’ll see, she’ll be fine. And you’re both staying here until she is.”

 


 

Kate curled into Anthony’s chest as they lay in bed that evening, sobbing as he held her tightly, his own tears pooling in his eyes.

 

“I told Colin she would be fine,” Anthony whispered, “But I can’t promise that, can I?”

 

Kate sobbed harder as she shook her head, “The doctor seemed optimistic though,” she finally managed to reply, “I’ve never been so scared Anthony.”

 

“I know,” Anthony replied, “We need to keep things together for everyone though, Colin can’t see us like this.”

 

Kate took a deep breath and nodded, “Just like when we first married,” she said softly, “Promise me you won’t hide it all from me?”

 

“I promise,” he said softly, kissing the top of her head, “We’ll be fine; we’ll get through it.”

 

Kate burrowed herself into Anthony’s chest, screwing her eyes shut as she clung to him. Anthony’s arms tightened around her as his own tears fell. 

 


 

The following morning Anthony sent notes off to the rest of the siblings, urging them to return to Aubrey Hall as soon as possible and met Portia Featherington in the hallway instructing her own note to her daughters who were staying together at Philippa’s house in Brighton. 

 

“How is Penelope?” Anthony asked, “Has there been any change overnight?”

 

“No,” Portia replied faintly, “The doctor doesn’t think there will be any change for a while.”

 

Anthony nodded, “Have you seen Colin?” he asked.

 

“He went into the breakfast room,” Portia replied, “Lord Bridgerton, would it be too much trouble to have a tray? I don’t want to leave Penelope on her own for too long.”

 

“I’ll get them to send one up to you,” Anthony promised, heading towards the breakfast room. 

 


 

“You have killed my best friend,” Eloise said quietly, as she sat in the parlour with her brothers later that morning, “If you hadn’t married her and made her have a child, she would be fine.”

 

“Eloise,” Anthony said, the warning clear in his voice, “Stop talking about things you do not understand.”

 

“No!” Eloise shouted, “She is dying and it is all his fault!”

 

Colin sat on the sofa, staring blankly into the middle distance, “She’s not dead,” he said quietly, “She is not dead so stop willing her there.”

 

“Whatever you did to her, you made her have a child and now she’s dying,” Eloise spat, “I hate you.”

 

“That is enough!” Anthony thundered, “Stop acting like a child Eloise. What has happened to Penelope is a tragedy but it is not anyone’s fault. Colin is right, she is not yet dead so stop acting as though she is and stop acting like you are the only person in this house who cares for Penelope. You are not.”

 

Eloise flopped back onto her own sofa and huffed, “If you can’t behave like a civilised adult then remove yourself from the room,” Anthony said, “You are not helping this situation at all.”

 

“She’s my best friend,” Eloise repeated, “I should be here.”

 

“And she’s my wife!” Colin exploded, “She is my wife and that is my daughter! Just stop Eloise, please!” Colin turned his head and Anthony moved to his side, placing a strong hand on his younger brother’s shoulder half in support and half to prevent Colin’s temper from erupting. 

 

“Please just at least go for a walk Eloise,” Anthony said quietly, “We’re all overwrought and I think some space would be best.”

 

Eloise huffed again but stood and left the room, taking care to slam the door behind her.

 

“You really need to marry her off,” Colin said with a watery chuckle, “If only so she understands how this all came to be.”

 

Anthony snorted a small laugh, “If only she would consent to it,” he sighed as he dropped into a chair opposite Colin, “I’ve written to everyone by the way,” he offered, “I’d expect Ben within the next day or so and it wouldn’t surprise me if Daphne took the quickest carriage she could from Clyveden to get here.”

 

“Lady Featherington has sent for Prudence and Phillipa,” Colin replied, “Have you sent word to Fran?”

 

“I have,” Anthony confirmed, “But I wouldn’t expect her back if the worst does happen. I’ll only contact Greg when we know more too, there is nothing he can do from school; I’ve told Hyacinth to leave this out of any letters she sends in the next few days.”

 

Colin nodded, “Sorry we’re still here,” he mumbled, “We should have headed back to Surrey weeks ago, at the end of the Christmas season.”

 

“Don’t be so ridiculous,” Anthony scoffed, “I offered you the room until the birth, you couldn’t have taken the carriage back to Surrey in this weather anyway.” Anthony paused, “I’m glad you’re here and not stuck in Surrey on your own,” he said softly, “At least this way we’ll all be here if you need us.”

 

Colin nodded and sank back into the cushions, exhaling shakily, “El is right though,” he said softly, “If we hadn’t had Agatha then she wouldn’t be in this condition.”

 

“Don’t think like that,” Anthony replied softly, “You couldn’t know this would happen.”

 


 

Two days after the birth, a weakened Penelope woke and the house breathed a collective sigh of relief. 

 

Just as Anthony predicted, Benedict arrived the same morning. He had taken the swiftest horse he owned from Wiltshire and jumped from its back before practically running into the hallway. He entered the parlour and found Anthony reading the paper whilst Eloise sulked on one of the sofas. 

 

“Where’s Colin?” Benedict asked, “And how’s Penelope?”

 

“The doctor is here,” Anthony replied, “Colin’s upstairs with him and Penelope woke up this morning but she still seems weak.”

 

“Because Colin nearly killed her,” Eloise spat, “This is all his fault.”

 

Benedict frowned at Anthony in question and the older man shook his head, “And the baby?” Benedict asked.

 

“Another niece,” Anthony grinned, “She’s in the nursery, come, I’ll introduce you.”

 

“And that baby nearly killed Pen,” Eloise grumbled, as her brothers left the room.

 

Anthony rolled his eyes as the two left the parlour, “She’s been like that for the last two days,” Anthony stated as they climbed the stairs, “It’s easier to ignore her than engage. We’re just trying to keep her away from Colin and Lady Featherington.”

 

“She’s not said that to Colin?” Benedict gasped in shock, “Do you want me to take her back to My Cottage with me?”

 

“She did,” Anthony sighed, “She doesn’t understand, she can’t understand but she’s acting like Colin had control over all of this. I’ll see how things are in a few days, but she might be better going back with you; Colin and Penelope will be staying here for a while, she’s not going to be well enough to travel back to Farnley Lodge for a long time.”

 

Benedict shook his head, “You’ll have to get Kate to double down on marrying her off this season,” he joked.

 

“I know,” Anthony sighed, “But she’s fighting it all the time. And I don’t think this will have endeared her to marriage and childbirth.”

 

“Lord Bridgerton,” Portia smiled as Anthony and Benedict entered the nursery, “And Mr Bridgerton, have you come to meet Baby Agatha?”

 

Benedict smiled and moved over to the cradle which held his newest niece, “Hello Agatha, I’m Uncle Ben,” he smiled, picking up the baby, “I’m so very glad to meet you.”

 

“How’s Penelope?” Anthony asked Porta, as they moved to the other side of the nursery, “Is the doctor still with her?”

 

“He has just left,” Portia replied, “He seems to think that the worst is over but she will be weak for some time. She’s sleeping again now but the doctor seems to think that is fine.”

 

“I’ve told Colin they are welcome to stay as long as needed,” Anthony said, “The invitation is also open to you.”

 

“Thank you,” Portia smiled, “I think I may avail of your hospitality for a little while longer, at least until Penelope is out of immediate danger.”

 

Anthony nodded, “Are Mr and Mrs Finch and Miss Prudence coming?” he asked, “I know you wrote to them.”

 

“I think so,” Portia nodded, “I sent the letters when we thought the worst so I can imagine Phillipa and Prudence have insisted on coming as soon as they can. It is about a day’s carriage journey from the coast so they will probably arrive later today.”

 

“I will arrange for some rooms,” Anthony promised, “And Lady Featherington, I mean it, all of you are welcome for as long as you wish to stay.”

 


 

The Hastings carriage arrived a few hours after Benedict, Simon exited first as usual before helping Daphne from the carriage. Daphne rushed into the house as quickly as her own pregnancy would allow with Simon striding quickly behind her. 

 

Colin was coming down the stairs as Daphne entered and upon seeing his sister, rushed down the rest of the stairs. “Oh Colin,” Daphne sighed, pulling him into her arms, “How is Penelope?”

 

“She woke up this morning,” Colin replied, “Daph, I’ve been so scared.”

 

“I know,” Daphne replied, hugging her brother tighter, “But if she has awakened then that must be a good thing. Now, where is my newest niece?”

 

“Should you not sit down?” Colin asked, “You shouldn’t have rushed here.”

 

“Stop it,” Daphne scolded, “Simon has been bad enough, I’m not having you and Anthony start as soon as I arrive too. I will have some tea and then you can show me to the nursery.”

 

Simon rolled his eyes fondly at Colin from behind Daphne’s back and with years of practice, Colin hid his own smirk, “Come on then Your Grace,” he replied, leading the newest arrivals into the parlour.

 

Simon left the siblings in the parlour after a short while to find Anthony and as he left the room, Daphne turned to Colin, “How are you really?” she asked.

 

“I’m terrified,” Colin admitted quietly, “She has woken up now but she is still very weak; she has only been awake for an hour since the birth. I’m scared she will end up like Mama; do you remember the rages she used to have?”

 

Daphne nodded, “I’m scared what that will mean for George,” Colin continued, “I don’t know if I could watch Pen go through all that, like we had to with Mama.”

 

“And it must have been so much worse for Anth,” Daphne said softly, before looking at Colin directly, “Penelope will not end up like Mama but if she does then we will all help you. You will not be on your own Colin, I promise you.”

 

Colin grasped her hand in thanks, “Come on, I’ll introduce you to Agatha.” The two siblings stood and made their way to the nursery.

 


 

“Mama, where is Pellope?” Philippa Finch asked as Portia ushered her daughters and son-in-law into the parlour, “Is she...”

 

“She is upstairs, asleep,” Portia replied, “The doctor believes that the worst is over but she will probably be weak for some time.”

 

Both Philippa and Prudence sank back against cushions of the sofas they had been sitting on in relief, “Oh Mama, I have been so scared,” Prudence replied, grasping Philippa’s hand, “Can we see her?”

 

The sisters entered Penelope’s bedroom to relieve Kate who had been sitting with her for the morning, “Lady Bridgerton,” they greeted, “Can we ...”

 

“Of course,” Kate smiled, “I will check that your rooms are arranged. If she does wake, please ring the bell. She needs to take some broth when she can.”

 

The girls nodded and took their positions in vigil at the side of their sister’s bed, keeping close watch as the younger woman slept. 

 


 

Eloise was wandering around the gardens when Benedict found her, “El,” he called, “Come back inside will you, it is starting to rain.”

 

“Anthony told me I had to go for a walk,” she sulked, “So I am going for a walk.”

 

Benedict sighed, “He didn’t mean for you to walk the entire grounds in the rain for days on end,” he argued, “He just needed you and Colin to have some space.”

 

“She’s my friend,” Eloise sobbed as Benedict wrapped her in his arms, “I know she is Colin’s wife and they love each other but she was my friend first.”

 

“I know,” Benedict soothed, “But Colin is hurting as much, if not more than you are right now. You need to think before you say things like you have been doing. Have you seen baby Agatha yet?”

 

“I don’t want to,” Eloise replied, “I don’t want to see the baby because she might look like Pen and ...”

 

“Oh El,” Benedict sighed, “Agatha is a beautiful baby and Penelope has woken up.”

 

“So she is fine now then,” Eloise asked, “I can go and see her?”

 

“She is sleeping and is still very unwell,” Benedict replied, “It might be best if you can wait until she is a little stronger.”

 

“Why do I have to keep waiting?” Eloise grumbled, “Colin will have seen her.”

 

“Eloise,” Benedict chided, “Colin has seen her because he is her husband. Only her mother and sisters have been in otherwise, it is not your place, El. Come on, come back to the house and please try and keep calm.” 

 

“Do you think Colin will let me see Pen?” Eloise asked, as she walked with Benedict back towards the house.

 

“I’m not sure,” Benedict replied, “You can’t today, her sisters are sat with her now and three of you will be too much. Speak with Kate after dinner and see if they will let you go in tomorrow. But El, if Colin doesn’t want you there, or Anthony and Kate say you can not be there you have to accept it.”

 


 

As Benedict was talking to Eloise, Simon found Anthony and Colin in Anthony’s study. 

 

“How are you?” Simon asked as he accepted a glass of whisky from Anthony.

 

Colin took a shaky breath, “Things have been better,” Anthony replied for them both, “Penelope is awake now which makes things better.”

 

“That’s good then isn’t it?” Simon asked, trying to get Colin to engage in the conversation. Anthony and Simon looked at each other in concern, “How’s the baby?” Simon continued.

 

“She’s perfect,” Colin finally replied, “Agatha Emma Bridgerton; for Pen’s aunt and some book she enjoys. She still might not be alright,” Colin closed his eyes and exhaled shakily, “There was so much blood.”

 

“Col,” Anthony sighed, “You need to stop thinking like that, Penelope is fine.”

 

“I’m going up.” Colin stated, “Going to try and get some sleep, make sure they wake me if anything happens?”

 

Anthony nodded before slumping in his chair and turning to Simon, “How’s Daphne?” he asked.

 

“Fine,” Simon replied, “I would have liked to take an extra day, travel a little slower to get here but she wasn’t having any of it. How bad is it, really?”

 

“Bad,” Anthony replied, “Colin is right, she might be awake but she isn’t over the worst of it. And now I have a house full of Featheringtons.”

 

Simon snorted a laugh into his glass, “Daphne and I will stay for a week,” he offered, “But I want us in London after that, I’m not risking Daphne or the baby by travelling any later than that.”

 

Anthony nodded, “Edwina sent word back, she is staying in Oxford as she is due any day,” he added, “I need to find the words to tell Greg but ...”

 

“The Masters won’t let him home unless there is a funeral,” Simon finished, “There’s no point worrying him, send word when you know more.”

 


 

By the end of the week, Penelope had managed to stay awake for several hours a day and had some colour back in her face. The doctors still recommended that she stayed in bed until she was feeling a little stronger but they were now convinced that she would survive.

 

Penelope grasped Colin’s hand as he sat at her bedside, “How is the baby?” she asked, “I think someone told me, but I can’t remember.”

 

“She’s perfect,” Colin smiled, “I’ll bring her in tomorrow so you can meet her. Anth and Ben are already laughing at me, Anth swears I will end up spoiling her rotten.”

 

Penelope smiled, “We will have to sort things, we will need to head back to Farnley Lodge soon.”

 

“No, we won’t,” Colin replied, “Anthony has said we are to stay until you are well enough to cope with the journey. If that takes until the end of the season then so be it.” He leaned across to kiss Penelope softly, “I nearly lost you Pen, I’m not going to let that happen again so we will be staying here until you are fully recovered.”

 

Penelope smiled as Colin kissed her again before leaning his forehead on hers, “I love you Pen,” he whispered.

 

“I love you too Col,” she smiled back.

 

The rest of the household seemed lighter with the news of Penelope’s recovery and the visitors started making plans to return to their own properties before all meeting again in London for the season in a few weeks time, leaving Penelope to her convalescence in peace.

Chapter Text

Francesca read and re-read the letter she had just received from her brother, she had been summoning and cancelling the carriage south for the last few weeks as the weather prevented travel down to Aubrey Hall to join the rest of the family. 

 

“I hope that one brings good news,” Janet said softly, seeing Francesca pouring over her letter, “I’m sure the weather will clear now to get a good run down south.”

 

“It is good news,” Francesca smiled, “Penelope is on the mend but Anthony and Kate will not be coming up before the season starts. I think if the weather stays this clear for the next few days, I will ask John if we can go down early. I don’t think I will rest properly until I have seen them all with my own eyes.”

 

“Of course you will not,” Helen agreed, “But it is good news that Mrs Bridgerton is recovering.”

 

Two days later, the coachmen declared the weather clear enough and the Kilmartin carriage started the week-long journey south towards Aubrey Hall. 

 

“Fran!” Colin exclaimed a week later as she and John entered Aubrey Hall, “What are you doing here?”

 

“Did you really think that I would stay away?” Francesca replied with a scoff, “This is just the earliest the coachmen would risk the journey. How is Penelope?”

 

“Better,” Colin smiled, “But we’re staying here for a while longer. How are you? How is Scotland?”

 

Francesca looped her arm in Colin’s and the pair set off for the parlour, Francesca telling him all about her new home whilst John headed off in search of Anthony. 

 


 

In the suite of rooms that Colin and Penelope had taken over, Penelope sat wrapped in blankets and furs on the chaise reading some letters that had arrived from her sisters and sisters-in-law. Daphne and Edwina’s letters were full of their own experiences of pregnancy and their excitement for their babies who were due at any moment. Both Philippa and Prudence sent their own letters full of gossip with Philippa adding her own comments about her longing for a child and Prudence setting out her hopes for some of the bachelors she knew would be returning to London that season. 

 

It was Eloise, as usual, whose correspondence struck a different tone. She had returned to Wiltshire with Benedict when it was obvious that Penelope was out of danger and had been writing letters to Penelope ever since. 

 

Dear Pen

 

I have been spending a lot of time walking around Benedict’s gardens, they are quite pretty and I can see why he keeps painting them. When you are recovered, you should join me here and we can promenade as we used to before you married Colin. 

 

Will you be joining us for the season? Benedict doesn’t think you will be doing so but how else will you see everyone? Anthony and Kate leave the babies in the nursery for the season all the time so surely you could leave George and Agatha there and spend some time in London with us? 

 

Benedict has introduced me to some of his neighbours who seem interesting and manage to live a full life without bothering with the Season, I wonder if I could ask Anthony to leave me in Kent next year and then I wouldn’t have to bother either. 

 

I have sent a copy of Northanger Abbey which I have just completed, Pen, it is a wonder! Let me know what you think when you have finished it. I have not yet heard your thoughts on Glenarvon; perhaps our letters have crossed. 

 

Please write back soon!

 

Lots of Love

 

El

 

Colin slipped into the room just as she finished reading Eloise’s letter, “You look like the Penny Post,” he laughed, “When did all of these arrive?”

 

“Over the last few days,” Penelope replied with a small smile, “Today is just the first day I’ve felt up to dealing with them all.”

 

“Francesca and John have just arrived,” Colin stated, “Are you feeling well enough to see them? Or should I ask Fran to come here?”

 

Penelope sighed, “I think it would be best if Fran came here,” she replied, “I’m not sure if I could get myself down to the parlour.”

 

Colin smiled and kissed her softly, “I’ll go tell her,” he promised, “Or do you want me to tell her that you’re asleep? You do look a little pale.”

 

“No, I think I will be fine if I stay here,” Penelope replied after a moment, “But when Fran leaves, could you help me back to bed?”

 

Colin sat on the chaise next to Penelope, allowing her to lean into him slightly, “I don’t want you to overdo it,” he said softly, “I can just tell Fran that you are tired and we will see her tomorrow. I’ll get them to send us up a tray and we can stay here for the evening.”

 

Penelope sank back into Colin’s embrace, “That does sound wonderful,” she sighed, “And you don’t think Fran will mind?”

 

“I know she won’t,” Colin assured her, “Give me five minutes and then we can spend the evening together.”

 


 

Gregory sat on the bench of the carriage opposite Anthony, sulking. He was finally on his journey home from Eton and had just found out how unwell his sister-in-law had been when she gave birth three months earlier. 

 

“Why didn’t you tell me anything?” he asked again, “I’m sixteen now, I should be told things.”

 

“Greg,” Anthony sighed, “There was nothing you could have done from school, we didn’t want to worry you.”

 

“But you did anyway,” Gregory protested, “When I got all of your letters later, telling me how lucky Penelope had been, how sick she was. I’m not a child anymore Anthony; you can tell me these things.”

 

“But you still would have been here,” Anthony replied, “We didn’t tell you at the time because there was nothing you could have done. Everyone else could come home to help but the Masters would not have allowed it. I didn’t see the need to worry you about it when you could not have done anything to help.”

 

“So, when we get back to Aubrey Hall and Colin needs something, will I be able to help?” Gregory clarified, “I know you kept Hyacinth in the nursery with the babies, you won’t do the same to me?”

 

“If Colin needs you to do something then you will be able to assist,” Anthony replied, “Benedict will be joining us in a few weeks and I thought the four of us could go hunting.”

 

Gregory nodded, pacified with the thought of finally being able to join his older brothers in their pursuits, “And I will speak to Colin myself to see if I can be of any help,” he added, not willing to fully let the subject drop.

 

A few hours later, Anthony and Gregory arrived at Aubrey Hall with Gregory immediately heading for his room to change whilst Anthony headed further into the house.

 

“You’re back,” Hyacinth beamed as she stood in the doorway of Gregory’s room, “How were your exams?”

 

“Fine,” Gregory replied, as he dropped onto the edge of his bed, “How have things been here?”

 

“Odd,” Hyacinth grumbled, “Colin and Penelope are staying for now; she is still very unwell but they won’t tell me anything.”

 

“I shouted at Anth,” Gregory admitted, “On the way home; I told him that he couldn’t keep these things from me anymore. I’ve told him that he can’t keep treating me like one of the babies anymore.”

 

“Which is all well and good for you,” Hyacinth complained, “But it didn’t stop them hiding me in the nursery for weeks. I love Ned and Lottie but do you know how boring it is to be stuck with them for days on end whilst everyone else is somewhere else in the house?”

 

“So we both have not had the best few months,” Gregory agreed, “When you broke your arm, didn’t Penelope sit with you?”

 

“Yes,” Hyacinth frowned, “But what has that got to do with anything?”

 

“So,” Gregory continued, “Offer to sit with her, read to her or something. I’ve told Anth that I will help Colin and they can’t stop me so you do the same. I’m sure Anth didn’t treat Colin like a child when he was my age so he shouldn’t do the same to me.”

 

“I don’t remember,” Hyacinth admitted, “Was Mama, our first Mama, still alive then? I think that’s the difference.”

 

Gregory frowned as he thought, “I think so,” he concluded, “But anyway, we’ll make them take notice of us this season, make them realise we are old enough now.”

 

Hyacinth grinned and the two nodded before dispersing to enact their plans.

 


 

After dinner that evening, Gregory sat with his brothers and John making sure he copied Anthony’s relaxed posture as he sat in the dining room with a heavily watered whisky as the men all talked about business. 

 

“Finch has written,” Colin said during a lapse in conversation, “He has offered to help Lady Featherington and Prudence this season so Pen and I can stay here.”

 

“I’m always surprised that he can write,” Anthony commented and Colin snorted a laugh, “But that will help, the investments you set up last season will still be in place and he clearly manages his own fortune well enough.”

 

“I could help,” Gregory added, “Did Anthony tell you about the prize I won in mathematics this term?”

 

Colin frowned and looked at Anthony who subtly shook his head, “I’ll keep it in mind Greg,” Colin replied, “But if Finch wants to take it over, all the books will be in London. Unless you want to go to Featherington House to sort it?”

 

Gregory shook his head quickly, he had seen enough of Portia Featherington to not voluntarily spend time in her house. 

 

In the parlour, Kate, Francesca and Hyacinth sat playing cards whilst they waited for the men to come through. 

 

“MamaKate,” Hyacinth started as she placed down her cards, “Do you think Colin would let me sit with Penelope during the day? After my lessons have finished, of course, but she must be bored sitting on her own all day; I thought I could read with her or something.”

 

“I think that is a marvellous idea,” Kate smiled, “But if Colin says no, you can’t force your way in.”

 

Hyacinth nodded, smiling to herself as she enacted her part of the plan her and Gregory had concocted earlier that day.

 


 

“Gregory and Hyacinth are up to something,” Kate announced as she and Anthony readied themselves for bed that evening, “They are being too accommodating.”

 

“I thought that too,” Anthony smiled, “Greg shouted at me on the way back from Eton, I think they are both going to try and prove that they are old enough to help.”

 

“Well I suppose Colin and Daphne were helping you when they were the same age,” Kate sighed, “And Penelope is patient enough to put up with Hyacinth reading to her most days. You might have to speak to Colin about Greg though.”

 

Anthony nodded, reaching out his arm for Kate as she slipped into their bed, “They will be staying here for the start of the season at least,” he said as Kate settled herself against his chest, “Penelope still isn’t strong enough for the journey to Farnley Lodge.”

 

“I thought as much,” Kate agreed, “I think I might head off to Oxford to Eddie in the next few days though, she is nearly due and I want to be there.”

 


 

“Fran is back at Aubrey Hall,” Eloise grinned as she read the letter her sister had sent, “Can we go back now?”

 

Benedict looked up from his own letter and frowned, he had agreed to bring Eloise back to My Cottage with him to try and put some space between her and Colin as they both worried about Penelope but Eloise still didn’t seem to grasp how much things had changed. She spent a long time writing letters to Penelope and grumbling to Benedict when the other woman did not respond quickly or sometimes, at all. 

 

“I told Anthony we would go back in another week,” he replied, “He is going to have a small family party before we all head back to London for the season.”

 

“I am looking forward to being in London this season,” Eloise commented, “Penelope and I can spend all our time shopping again like we used to. I am sure we will have many new books and things to browse in Hatchards.”

 

“El,” Benedict said softly, “Colin and Penelope are not joining us in London this season. They will be staying at Aubrey Hall, that is why Anthony is hosting a party.”

 

Eloise frowned and slumped in her seat, “But I thought ... I thought that Colin would ...”

 

“Colin would what?” Benedict asked with a frown, “Penelope is better but she isn’t strong enough for the journey anywhere yet.”

 

“But I overheard Kate and Anthony saying that Pen probably wouldn’t have any more children so I thought that Colin wouldn’t really care if we went back to how things were before they married,” Eloise explained, slightly tearfully, “That Pen could just be my friend again and not Colin’s wife.”

 

Benedict sighed as Eloise finally explained her thought process, “That isn’t how these things work, El,” he replied, “Colin and Penelope are still husband and wife, just because they probably won’t have any more children does not mean that things will go back to how they were when you and Pen were debutantes.”

 

Benedict took a large gulp of his tea, “They are still married,” he continued, “They still love each other, you saw how much Colin suffered before it became clear that Penelope would be well; there is more to marriage than having children. And Penelope will be weak for some time, even if they did come back to London she probably wouldn’t have the strength or energy to trail around Mayfair with you as you both used to.”

 

Eloise’s face crumpled, “I will be so alone this season,” she cried, “Everyone is married and I do not want to be. And now my friend will not even be with me.”

 

Benedict rounded the table and pulled Eloise into his arms, “It won’t be as bad as you think,” he said softly, “I’m sure there will be other ladies you are friends with that will be around this season. And Frannie will be around.”

 

Eloise shrugged slightly as she tightened her arms around Benedict, “Do your neighbours ever do the season?” she asked, “I liked Lady Crane and Miss Beckett.”

 


 

A week later, Benedict and Eloise had rejoined the family at Aubrey Hall and the four Bridgerton brothers had made plans to go hunting whilst the women relaxed in the gardens. John Stirling had begged off from the hunt as he had some Parliamentary correspondence to review in time for the start of the new session in a few weeks and set up a workstation in the library. 

 

Penelope sat in the gazebo set up by the footmen with Prudence, Philippa and Francesca, Colin was sat on his haunches in front of her, holding her hands gently, “I don’t have to join them,” he said softly, “I could stay here and make sure that you are well.”

 

“Go Colin!” Penelope laughed, kissing him lightly, “My sisters are here and my Mama; they will not let me overexert myself or do anything that will cause harm. Go, please, enjoy your hunt and I will see you at dinner.”

 

Colin sighed, “Are you certain?” he pressed, his concern clear, “I don’t wish to ...”

 

“Colin!” Penelope exclaimed with a laugh, “Please go and join your brothers, I will be fine.”

 

Colin nodded and giving Penelope a soft kiss, stood and left the gazebo making his way to the stables to join the men for their small hunting party.

 

“He worries so much,” Francesca commented, “But I suppose we will all do so for a while.”

 

“It is sweet,” Prudence commented, “But you are looking more like yourself than you did a few months ago sister.”

 

“I am feeling more myself,” Penelope agreed, “I still seem to tire quickly though, and I can sometimes feel faint but it is just so nice to be able to get out again.”

 

Prudence reached across the small table and gripped Penelope’s hand, “It was so frightening,” she whispered, “I am so glad that you are well again sister.”

 

Penelope squeezed her sister’s hand in response before taking a sip of her tea and blinking back the tears that had formed at her sister’s words.

 


 

Eloise had joined the small group an hour or so later and sat chattering about the latest novel she was reading and some pamphlet that she had somehow managed to sneak past Anthony. Penelope could feel herself becoming lightheaded and simply smiled at her friend as she talked.

 

“Pellope,” Prudence said softly, “Do you want me to take you back indoors?”

 

“Oh she doesn’t need to go indoors,” Eloise laughed, “She’s been very boring since she married my brother, I hardly see you these days, Pen!”

 

“I think I should like to lie down,” Penelope said softly, “The heat is getting to me a little.” Before any of the women could stand, Penelope slumped in her chair, upsetting the tea service set on the table next to her elbow.

 

Eloise gasped and set off running towards the house, shouting for a footman to assist getting Penelope back to the house.

 

“What is all this?” John asked with an easy smile as he rounded a corner from the library, “Eloise, what’s the matter?”

 

“Penelope!” Eloise gasped as John held her upright, “Come, help, please!”

 

John frowned and picked up his pace, rushing out to the gazebo. He didn’t hesitate as soon as he saw Penelope he swept her into his arms and turned for the house, ordering the staff to send for a doctor immediately. He carefully placed Penelope on her bed and left her in the care of her sisters, sisters-in-law and mother before running down to the stables, calling for his horse.

 


 

As the women chatted, the Bridgerton brothers were in the woods surrounding the grounds, hunting for deer. Gregory was grinning as he held his gun, it was the first hunt he had been allowed to take part in and was enjoying his time with his brothers. 

 

Gregory stopped at the felled tree and tried to copy Benedict as the older man set up his gun against the large trunk. He struggled to balance the gun and seeing this, Anthony came behind his youngest brother and helped him steady his shot. 

 

“Now,” he said softly, “You need to hold it just so, and if you look along there ...”

 

“A stag,” Gregory breathed in awe, “Could I hit it from here PapaAnt?” 

 

Anthony took a moment to respond as Gregory surprised him with the term of address, the young man had not referred to Anthony as Papa since he had started Eton three years earlier and Anthony had come to terms with the fact that he would not hear the nickname from his surrogate son again. 

 

“Not with Anthony directing your shot,” Colin smirked from their other side, as Benedict chuckled.

 

Anthony swore at his brothers before turning his attention back to Gregory, “You need to take your time,” he counselled, “And only take your shot when you can get a clean hit.”

 

Gregory nodded and Anthony stepped back, watching the young man line up his shot with a look of utmost concentration on his face. “Come here,” Colin muttered after a while, “You need to shift this way a little and then breathe.”

 

Gregory allowed Colin to move him slightly to the left and took a deep breath before squeezing the trigger of the gun.

 

“Yes Greg!” Benedict cheered as the shot felled the stag, “How does it feel knowing that all your younger brothers are better shots than you Anth?”

 

Anthony swore at Benedict as Colin and Gregory laughed, Colin handed Gregory his flask with a wink, “Only a sip,” he cautioned, “But your first kill deserves a taste of the proper stuff.”

 

Gregory grinned, taking the flask from Colin and hid his grimace as the strong whisky hit the back of his throat. Before he could speak to Colin, John arrived and summoned Colin back to the house.

 

The mood amongst the three other brothers changed immediately as they set off back towards the house, “Is Penelope still very sick?” Gregory asked Benedict as they walked, “I thought everyone said she was getting better.”

 

“She is,” Benedict sighed, “But she is still weak. Don’t worry, the doctor will be there when we get back to the house and he will ensure she is well.”

 

“I’m not a child Ben,” Gregory grumbled, “You don’t need to lie to me.”

 

“We’re not lying to you Greg,” Anthony replied, “Penelope is a lot better than she was but she is still unwell; we will know more when we get back to the house.”

 


 

Portia Featherington sat in her chambers at Aubrey Hall looking over the documents she had discovered in her late husband’s study. She knew that she needed to speak with various Bridgertons about the documents but she had at least wanted to speak to Penelope and Colin but the events of the afternoon had overtaken them slightly. 

 

She swallowed and took a deep breath before knocking on the door of Lord Bridgerton’s study.

 

“Lady Featherington,” Anthony smiled as he ushered her into the room, “Is everything alright? Is it Penelope?”

 

“Penelope is sleeping,” Portia replied, “It is something else that I would appreciate some advice with my Lord.”

 

Anthony frowned and Portia continued, “I’m not sure how much Colin or Penelope would have told you about our cousin, Lord Featherington, who has returned to America?”

 

“Not much,” Anthony replied, “But I understand there was some financial mis-management?”

 

“The gemstones he spoke of, were not quite what he stated,” Portia stated, “I had no idea until he left but I was in my late husband’s study a few weeks ago; and I came across this document,” Portia handed over the signed document, “I have looked at it but I think I am confused by what it means. I had wanted to speak with Penelope before anyone else but in the circumstances, I don’t want to cause her any other stress.”

 

“Of course not,” Anthony muttered as he reviewed the document, “Lady Featherington!” he gasped, “Are you sure that this document is accurate? With your permission, I would ask my solicitor to look over this but; my understanding of this is that George would ...”

 

“Inherit the entirety of the Featherington estate,” Portia finished, “That is why I wished to speak with you my Lord, it is a lot to put on Penelope, especially now. I need to be certain.”

 

Anthony nodded, “When we go back to London, I will ask my solicitor to take a look at this and test its veracity,” he promised, “I will also speak with Colin.”

 

“Thank you,” Portia smiled, “If this document does hold to be true, could I ask for another favour?”

 

“You can ask for the favour without this being true,” Anthony smiled, “You are family now, and we Bridgertons take family very seriously.”

 

Portia visibly relaxed, “As you know, I am a widow with an unmarried daughter still at home,” she said quickly, “Lord Featherington’s scheme has left us in a precarious position and I am uncertain how to manage things. Both Colin and Mr Finch have been very helpful in managing the day to day expenses and bringing a little more money in.” Portia closed her eyes for a moment to collect herself, “But, I would appreciate some help in reviewing our financial position and maybe some help in more investments to help increase the family coffers. If that document is true then it will all help George in the end.”

 

Anthony nodded, “Leave this with me Lady Featherington,” he smiled, “I will set up an appointment when we return to London to start helping you with the accounts and some investments.”

 

Portia smiled and let herself out of the office, “I will be sitting with Penelope tonight,” she said as she left, “The doctors have said that it is likely a combination of the sun and her coming downstairs caused her episode but I don’t want to leave her alone and Colin will need to eat at some point.”

 


 

Penelope spent the next few days in her rooms with Hyacinth as her constant companion. The younger girl appeared the morning after her episode armed with a copy of Northanger Abbey and declared that she would be reading to Penelope so they could both finally discuss the novel with Eloise. 

 

Colin simply laughed when Penelope told him of Hyacinth’s actions and agreed that Penelope was the only family member patient enough to allow Hyacinth to sit and read to her all day. 

 

A few days before the start of the season letters arrived from London and Oxford bearing news of even more family members, Daphne had safely delivered yet another girl for the Hastings nursery, Lady Camilla Sarah Bassett, who was according to her father the most beautiful baby in the city and Edwina had also safely delivered her first child, Mr Matthew Bagwell, a strong little baby who was quickly taking over Edwina’s world. 

 

“It will be you next,” Eloise grumbled to Francesca, “I’m going to lose track of all of these nieces and nephews the way you are all going on.”

 

Francesca laughed, “I can only hope I am next,” she muttered, running her hands across her stomach. She had not mentioned to any of the family how much she and John were longing for a child of their own nor how much time she had spent in the Kilmartin chapel praying for the same. 

 

“Perhaps I can see if Anthony will let you stay with John and I for a while during the season,” Francesca added, looping her arm through Eloise’s as they walked across the gardens, “It has been very odd, not having you in the next room. With Penelope staying here and Daphne just having delivered her baby, we should stick together. I could even help you try and find a suitor this season.”

 

Eloise leaned into her sister, “I would like to stay,” she said softly, “And I did promise Kate I would try this season but none of the men I have met so far are very interesting at all.”

 

“I will see if John or Michael have any friends to introduce you to,” Francesca promised, “I will make sure that they are interesting enough for you.”

 

Eloise smiled, “Do you think Anthony would let me stay with you?” she asked quietly, “He always seems to want me with him in London.”

 

“I think if I ask you will be at Kilmartin House as soon as the maids can pack your things,” Francesca replied, “We both know he never says no to anything.”

 

Eloise laughed as the sisters reminisced about the many times they had forced Anthony to bend to their will as children by a combination of Eloise’s persistence and Francesca’s ability to wrap their eldest brother around her little finger. 

 


 

A few days later, the carriages pulled out of the driveway of Aubrey Hall conveying all the Bridgertons except Colin and his small family towards London for the amusements of the season. 

 

As the last carriage pulled away, Colin returned to his rooms and found Penelope dozing on top of their bed. He slipped out of his boots and lay on the bed pulling her into his arms as he did so.

 

Penelope relaxed as she felt Colin’s arms around her, “They’ve all gone back to London now,” he said softly, “So you just need to concentrate on recovering.”

 

Colin dropped a kiss to the top of Penelope’s head, “I have sent instructions to start the renovations at Farnley,” he commented as Penelope stirred, “When we get back, we will have all the modern conveniences like we discussed.”

 

Penelope sighed happily and sank into Colin’s embrace, “It will be a while,” she commented, “I’m still so tired all the time.”

 

“We have weeks of peace now,” Colin soothed, “So you can sleep as much as you need to and no one will be around to disturb us. Anthony will not turn us out so take as long as you need; I have no need to be in London this year so we can stay.”

 

Penelope smiled as she curled into Colin’s side, her head resting on his chest as his arms held her tightly. As she started to fall asleep she had the fleeting thought that an entire season wrapped in her husband’s arms would be a very nice place to be indeed. 

 

Chapter Text

Francesca sat in the parlour of Kilmartin House with Michael, her husband’s cousin had arrived just after breakfast from his bachelor lodgings and was soon entertaining Francesca with his tales of debauchery. 

 

“Oh Michael!” she giggled, “You are wicked!”

 

Michael laughed, “Oh you wish!” he teased, “Do you have anything exciting to tell me?”

 

“My sister Eloise is coming to stay,” she replied, “I need you to help me introduce her to some of your friends.”

 

“Do you really want your sister to meet my friends?” Michael laughed, “After all the stories I have just told you?”

 

Francesca laughed, “I think they might be just what my sister needs,” she replied with a grin.

 


 

Eloise stood in her room at Bridgerton House directing the servants who were packing her trunks for her extended stay at Kilmartin House. 

 

“Do you think Francesca would let me stay too?” Hyacinth asked from the door, “It will be very quiet here this season, everyone is still in the country and I’m too old to stay in the nursery with Lottie now.”

 

Eloise rolled her eyes, “I don’t think so,” she replied, “Francesca is a married lady now, she doesn’t want you cluttering up her house, you will just have to stay here like you are told.”

 

“But you will be cluttering up her house,” Hyacinth pointed out, “Why are you allowed to go and I am not?”

 

“Because Francesca invited me,” Eloise replied, “Not you; now run along, won’t your governess be looking for you.”

 

Hyacinth frowned but turned and left Eloise’s room heading towards the schoolroom and her waiting governess. 

 


 

Anthony was sitting at his desk with Charlotte on his knee when Eloise entered the office. Charlotte was busy drawing on some spare parchment as Anthony read, Eloise smiled softly at the scene; it was one she knew well, Anthony had done the same with all of his sisters when they were similar ages.

 

“Are you all packed?” Anthony asked when he caught sight of Eloise in the doorway, “Humboldt has called for the carriage. Do you want me to accompany you to Kilmartin House?”

 

“I am going across the square brother,” Eloise replied with an eye-roll, “To stay with Frannie, I will be fine. I just wanted to let you know that I am leaving.”

 

Charlotte slid off Anthony’s knee and ran towards Eloise, “Bye-bye Auntie Eloise,” she grinned, “Tell Auntie Frannie hello from me!”

 

Eloise hugged her niece, “I will,” she promised.

 

“Come on El,” Anthony smiled, “I’ll walk you out. I’m glad Frannie offered for you to stay,” he added, “Things might be a bit more lively at Kilmartin House this season for you; we’re going to be a quiet house this year I think.”

 

“I do wish that I could have stayed at Aubrey Hall,” Eloise added, “That way I could help Penelope. I still think she will be bored with only Colin for company.”

 

Anthony smiled, “One day El, you will understand that sometimes a husband and wife just wish to be alone,” he replied, “And Penelope needs the peace to help her recovery; I know you have been worried about her but Colin is looking after her.”

 

Eloise nodded, “I know,” she replied finally as Anthony helped her into the carriage.

 

“Enjoy yourself,” Anthony smiled as he closed the carriage door, “And you know where we are if you need anything or Frannie and John bore you.”

 

Eloise grinned as Anthony nodded to the drivers to drive on, waving to him from the carriage window.

 


 

Francesca beamed as Eloise stepped from the carriage with the help of one of the Kilmartin footmen, “Oh El!” she cheered, “I have so many things planned for us, John’s cousin Michael is here. I think you will find him very interesting.”

 

Eloise grinned at her sister and allowed her to lead them both into the house, “Colin wrote,” Francesca continued, “To both of us here, Penelope is getting better; they have been able to sit downstairs for the last few days but she is still not fully herself. I’ve left the letter out for you, I thought we could send a letter back when we have something to say.”

 

Soon enough, Eloise was sitting in Francesca’s drawing room as Michael Stirling regaled them both with tales from his time in the army, giving them both an impression of the war as a grand time of parties and gambling with a few skirmishes to break things up a little. 

 

“You’ll have them both running off to the army,” John laughed as the sisters disappeared upstairs to change for dinner.

 

“Would you rather me tell your wife how it feels to kill a man John?” Michael asked, “Or how to exactly hold a bayonet to cause the most possible damage? I was with Wellington at Waterloo, we really did ride out in our dress shoes; there are certain things that do not change even in the middle of a war.”

 

“I think I understand why they call Mr Stirling the Merry Rake,” Eloise stated as she and Francesca climbed the stairs, “He is very witty.”

 

Suddenly, a terrifying thought struck Eloise, “Fran,” she said softly, “You haven’t brought me here for any particular reason in regards to Mr Stirling have you?”

 

Francesca laughed, “Oh goodness no!” she replied, “I just thought you would appreciate being out of Bridgerton House for a while, especially with everyone else being away this season. Michael is fun, but he is not ready to marry and even if he was, I do not think you would suit; you need someone a bit more bookish, someone who would happily stay in the country for most of the season and Michael enjoys London far too much for that.”

 

Eloise almost collapsed in relief, “I have decided to introduce you to some of John’s friends though,” Francesca continued, “Not today, I was thinking of holding a small party in a few days and inviting some slightly different people. Obviously, Anthony and Kate will be invited and Simon and Daphne but I don’t think they will attend. My new neighbours will be invited too; I haven’t met them but I understand they live near Benedict in the country. You may have met them when you stayed with him earlier this year, the Earl of Penwood?”

 

“Oh I did,” Eloise smiled, “Their ward, Miss Beckett, is about our age; I didn’t think they did the season though.”

 


 

A few days later, Francesca stood at the side of the ballroom of Kilmartin House with a small smile, “Congratulations Frannie,” Kate smiled, “A successful event indeed.”

 

Francesca beamed, “I have invited a few of John’s friends, I mean to introduce them to Eloise,” she confided, “They don’t always do the season but I think Eloise would prefer that in the end.”

 

Kate grasped Francesca’s hand, “When did you become so grown up?” she asked softly, “I would not have thought of that but you are right, Eloise hates the season. A match with someone who spends more time in the country would be perfect for her.”

 

“I will, of course, run any potential suitors past you and PapaAnt,” Francesca promised.

 


 

“Ah, Weston,” John greeted his friend, “Can I introduce you to my sister, Miss Eloise Bridgerton. Eloise, this is Sir Robert Weston, he is working with me in Parliament on the anti-slavery legislation we were speaking of a few evenings ago.”

 

Eloise smiled as the young man bowed to her and invited her to the floor for a dance. Eloise grinned as the pair engaged in a spirited conversation.

 

“Have I had a little too much whisky or is Eloise laughing with a gentleman on the dancefloor?” Anthony whispered in Kate’s ear

 

“Hush!” Kate giggled as she turned and shot him a reproachful look, “According to Frannie, he is a colleague of John’s; he has been discussing the work he is doing in Parliament and Eloise has seemed interested.”

 

“That would be a good match for El,” Anthony mused, “I would never have thought of a Parliamentary man for her.”

 

“All it needed was a fresh set of eyes,” Kate smiled, “I will ask Fran to provide all the details so you can properly vet him.”

 

Eloise was still smiling when she joined Kate and Anthony at the edge of the dance floor, “Kate,” she grinned, “I have just had the most wonderful conversation with someone. I think I understand what you were talking about when you spoke of finding friendship with someone.”

 

Kate smiled, “I am happy Eloise,” she replied, “You must tell me more about him, come over for tea tomorrow morning.”

 

“You look happy,” Anthony said softly, bringing them both a glass of lemonade, “Are you enjoying your time with Fran?”

 

“I am,” Eloise grinned, “Thank you for letting me stay.”

 

“Of course,” Anthony smiled, “Come on, I’ll dance the next with you.”

 

Kate smiled as Anthony and Eloise took to the floor, the pairing was unusual but both Bridgerton siblings were exceptional dancers and Anthony soon had Eloise grinning and laughing as he had always seemed to do when she was a child. 

 


 

“Mr Bridgerton,” Lord Penwood smiled when he caught sight of his neighbour, “I did not know we would see you tonight.”

 

“The Countess is one of my younger sisters,” Benedict replied, “It is nice to see you in town; is Lady Penwood with you?”

 

“Yes,” the Earl replied, “She is just with Miss Beckett, I believe she is looking to introduce her to some people. It has been many years since we were last in town, I had forgotten how tedious these things can be.”

 

Benedict gave his neighbour a look, “Not that this is any reflection on your sister,” the other man hurried to clarify.

 

“Oh, I know,” Benedict laughed, “Honestly, if this wasn’t Francesca’s event then I wouldn’t be here either.”

 

The Earl laughed, “You prefer the country too then?” he asked, “I know I would much rather be leading a shooting party at this moment.”

 

“I do enjoy the pursuits that city living affords,” Benedict grinned, “But I must confess, a shooting party in the country does sound more entertaining than being paraded around yet another ballroom.”

 

“Even though my ballroom is very lovely, yes Benedict?” Francesca added from his side, “You would not possibly be dismissing my event?”

 

“Frannie darling, how could I?” Benedict replied with an easy smile, “Let me introduce you to my neighbour, Lord Penwood. We were just commenting on the delights of country living.”

 

Francesca rolled her eyes, “I wanted to introduce you to my neighbours but I see you have already met,” Francesca smiled at Lord Penwood, “It is nice to see you again Lord Penwood, I was just speaking with your wards; perhaps they would like to join my sister and I for tea in the next few days?”

 

“I am sure they would be delighted,” Lord Penwood smiled, “Please send the details when you have made the arrangements.”

 

Francesca smiled and looped her arm through Benedict’s, “Come brother, you can escort me to the refreshment table.”

 


 

“Eloise told me about Miss Beckett,” Francesca said softly as the siblings circled the room, “About how you seem to get along well in the country when she visited. I have just been speaking with her and she seems delightful.”

 

“Frannie,” Benedict said with warning in his voice, “Leave it alone, I already have Kate on at me there is no need for you to start too.”

 

“Fine,” Francesca sighed, “I’ll leave it alone but I will be making friends with Miss Beckett and you cannot stop me.”

 

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Benedict replied with a laugh.

 


 

Francesca smiled as she slipped into bed that evening, her very first event had been a success.

 

"Congratulations darling,' John smiled as he held out his arm for her to slip into his embrace, "Everyone looked to be having fun."

 

"It was fun, wasn't it?" She replied, "And Eloise seemed to be having fun with Sir Robert."

 

"He seemed to find her quite entertaining too," John confirmed, "But I am not sure if your brother would find him all that acceptable.”

 

Francesca deflated slightly, “He is from trade,” John continued, “His father made his money in the North and Weston has been knighted for his work over the Regency Acts. He has money, but would your brother allow him to marry Eloise?”

 

Francesca frowned, “I honestly do not know,” she finally replied, “Anthony just wants us all to be happy but I’m not sure how far that extends.”

 

“And as much as I like his company, I do not think Weston has the backbone to stare down Anthony Bridgerton!” John laughed, “Your brother can be quite terrifying when he wants to be.”

 

Francesca shook her head, “He is no such thing,” she chided, before leaning into John’s side and settling into sleep; thinking all the while about Eloise and Sir Robert.

 


 

Six weeks into the season, Anthony walked into the drawing room at Aubrey Hall, surprising Colin and Penelope who were relaxing on one of the sofas, Penelope looking slightly brighter than she had in some time. 

 

“Has something happened?” Colin asked with a frown, “Do we need to go back to London?”

 

Anthony shook his head, “Sorry for startling you,” he apologised, “I just had some news that I needed to discuss with you in person. It doesn’t need you to travel to London, you can stay here until you are well enough for the journey.”

 

Penelope smiled and with Colin’s help eased herself into a sitting position, “Is everyone alright?” she asked softly as Colin helped settle her against the bolster cushions with a throw over her shoulders.

 

“When we were here a few weeks ago,” Anthony started, “Lady Featherington brought an extraordinary document to my attention. I’m not sure if you were both aware of the extent of the current Lord Featherington’s deception but before he left for America he left behind a document which Lady Featherington asked me to investigate and confirm if it is correct and proper.”

 

“What kind of document?” Colin asked, “If this is about those investments, he conned half the Ton; surely someone hasn’t decided to stick their head above the parapet and cause problems?”

 

“No,” Anthony replied, “But we will be speaking further of that. Your cousin left a document,” he turned to Penelope, “Stating that he will resign the title from his line and the title and estate will pass to the first born grandson of the Late Lord Featherington.”

 

Penelope gasped, “Georgie?” she breathed, “It all goes to our Georgie?”

 

Anthony nodded, “I have had the document investigated and it bears true. George will eventually become the next Baron Featherington. Colin, we need to look over the accounts properly with Lady Featherington shortly,” he continued, “We need to help build back up the coffers if George is to inherit a title worth anything.”

 

The three sat comfortably chatting for an hour or so until Colin noticed Penelope’s energy flagging, “Come on, I’ll take you up,” he said softly, he helped her from the sofa and Anthony stood as the young couple made their way out of the room. 

 


 

“She’s looking better,” Anthony said as he handed Colin a glass of whisky as they sat in his office, “Are things getting better?”

 

“A little bit,” Colin nodded, “She manages most of the day downstairs now but I still don’t want to risk a carriage journey; it just seems to be inviting trouble.”

 

“I’m not going to throw you both out,” Anthony assured Colin, “Stay as long as you need; don’t rush these things.”

 

Colin nodded, “I just sometimes think that we are on borrowed time,” he said softly, “I know I was off at school and I don’t remember much of what happened back then, but I do remember being told that Hyacinth’s was a difficult birth and Mama never recovered from it. I don’t really remember seeing her out of bed again after that; and she was dead within two years. What happens if that happens to Pen?”

 

Anthony closed his eyes and took a large gulp of his drink, trying to put his thoughts into words. 

 

“I didn’t mean to upset you,” Colin said softly, “It’s just been on my mind and well, I thought you would understand. Especially after Kate ... and Baby Anne.”

 

Anthony let out a deep sigh, “You didn’t upset me,” he replied, “I just ... I don’t like thinking of things from back then. It was difficult and I’ve never wanted to talk about it with you ... not just you ... all of you.”

 

“Because Mama was horrid before she died,” Colin stated, “I might have been at Eton for most of those two years but Daphne did write and I do remember certain things. We don’t have to speak of it, if you don’t want to.”

 

“It’s fine,” Anthony replied, “I don’t believe Penelope will go the same way Mother did,” he said quickly, “Because Penelope has you. Kate didn’t go that way after the little girl and Penelope won’t either.”

 

“Mother was grieving Father,” Anthony continued, “I sometimes speak with Kate about it all and she thinks that the grief damaged her in some way; that is what changed her. Penelope has you, she has you to look after her and she only needs to concentrate on herself. She will not go in the same way Mother did because you will not let her.”

 

“And if she does?” Colin whispered.

 

“Then we will all help you,” Anthony replied, “You will not have to deal with it all on your own. But she seems well, or at least well enough; she will be fine.”

 

Colin nodded, the topic finished as he began informing Anthony of the details of the maintenance he was undertaking at Farnley Lodge.

 


 

Lord Nigel Berbrooke sat in a quiet corner of the smoking room at Whites, he was hoping that his secluded position would allow him to hear anything which could help his current predicament. For all he put about that he was very comfortable, with a 200 year old barony and an estate to match, he was in dire financial straits. His estate was lying fallow, the crops had failed for too many years in a row to sustain anything and he had never been able to wrap his head around the complex financial dealings that many of his peers had engaged in with the emerging industrial discoveries. 

 

However, he did understand gem stones and so he had been more than happy to invest the last of his liquid capital into the mines that Lord Featherington had spoken of the previous season. That one decision had proven to be his undoing; within weeks of Nigel handing over the funds, Jack Featherington had left town with all the money he had accumulated and leaving the Featherington ladies practically destitute. 

 

He spotted the Bridgertons and their various in-laws entering the room, he had been a schoolmate of Lord Bridgerton but the other man had been too clever, too popular to ever really consider Nigel a friend. Nigel had hoped to use that old connection to obtain a marriage with Daphne Bridgerton but somehow his old school-friend had thwarted every effort he had made and then married his eldest sister to the Duke of Hastings. Nigel felt his old schoolroom envy and bitterness swell everytime he saw the two men, laughing and joking and commanding the attention of whichever room they entered as they had always done at school. 

 

“Did you go out to Aubrey Hall last week?” Benedict asked Anthony, “How is Penelope?”

 

“I did,” Anthony replied, “She seems better, but she’s still quite weak. I had some news for them that could not wait.”

 

Simon frowned, “What could not possibly wait a few weeks?” he asked, “Are we not all going out for the week at the end of July?”

 

“This can go no further,” Anthony cautioned, looking around the room and missing Nigel who was now hiding in his shadowy seat, “It is about the Featheringtons.”

 

“That man hasn’t decided to sell the house has he?” Benedict asked in disgust. 

 

“He left a letter in the study and Lady Featherington found it,” Anthony replied quietly, “In the letter, Lord Featherington states that he will resign the title from his line and on his death it will pass to the first born grandson of the late Lord Featherington.”

 

Simon and Benedict both gasped as John frowned, “Mrs Finch does not have any children as yet, does she?” John asked, “Colin’s children are currently the only Featherington grandchildren are they not?”

 

Anthony nodded, “I have spoken with our solicitors and the Lord Chancellor,” he confided, “The document bears true. Georgie will be the next Baron Featherington. Now do you see why I needed to speak with Colin and Penelope.”

 

Nigel’s own eyes grew wide at the information, this could be his ticket to getting some of his fortune back. With the Bridgertons now in charge of the Featherington finances, they would only grow, Nigel just needed to find a way of getting leverage on the family. 

 

The four men soon left the smoking room for the gambling rooms of the club and Nigel also made to leave the room. 

 


 

“How is Mrs Bridgerton?” Mr Finch was asking Benedict as Nigel entered the gambling room, “My wife does not really say much beyond that she is getting a little better; I do not wish to disturb them but if you speak with Mr Bridgerton please tell him that I am more than happy to assist in any way they need.”

 

Benedict nodded, “I am sure they would appreciate correspondence,” he replied, “Anthony was only at Aubrey Hall last week, she is looking brighter but we think they will be seeing out the season there.”

 

Albion Finch nodded, “I do need to update Colin about the work I have been doing with Lady Featherington,” he added, “Lord Featherington is a villain of a man that is for certain; leaving the ladies in such a state. I think Lord Bridgerton has also been helping in that regard.”

 

Benedict nodded, “I think if you sought an appointment with my brother in the next few days it would be beneficial for you,” he replied, “There are too many ears around now to discuss things fully but there are things you need to know.”

 

Nigel smiled, so Mr and Mrs Colin Bridgerton were hiding out in the country for the season; perhaps that new arrival they had welcomed was not as healthy as the family had made out. Or perhaps, Mr Bridgerton was hiding in bachelor lodgings somewhere and keeping his wife hidden in the country; Nigel had always found it an odd match, the plump little Featherington girl and a Bridgerton, maybe the young Mr Bridgerton had opened his eyes to exactly what was in front of him. Nigel smirked to himself and left the club, thoughts swirling in his mind. 

 


 

A few weeks later, Simon and John were sitting in Whites discussing some recent Parliamentary business they had both engaged in when the chatter of the other men invaded their discussion.

 

“Wait a moment, Kilmartin, you will likely know!” Lord Fife exclaimed, “What is going on with Colin Bridgerton this season? Are the rumours true?”

 

Simon frowned, “What rumours are these?” he asked, “Has fatherhood made me so far removed?”

 

Fife had the grace to blush, “That he is keeping a mistress on the other side of town and has thrown over his wife for her.”

 

John couldn’t help the laugh that came out at that statement, “Sorry Fife,” he spluttered, “But that is so wrong. Mrs Bridgerton is unwell and they have decided to stay in the country with their children. Nothing too exciting in that.”

 

Fife frowned, “So he isn’t keeping lodgings near the Strand?” he pressed, “I have heard that Mr Bridgerton has lodgings just off the Strand and his mistress is in permanent residence there.”

 

“Mr Colin Bridgerton doesn’t have lodgings in town other than the house he maintains on Bruton Street,” Simon replied, his tone offering no room for argument, “But as you know, there is another Mr Bridgerton in town. Perhaps you are simply confused.”

 

Fife nodded, seeing that the two men were not willing to entertain his gossip. That did not stop the rumour flying through the clubs, ballrooms and drawing rooms of Mayfair over the next few weeks as the rumour put about by Nigel Berbrooke took hold amongst the bored Lords and Ladies of London.