My Dearest Josephine,
I sit here today contemplating the hardest of goodbyes, and you have yet to say your first word. The thought of not getting to watch you grow and not be able to watch that sparkle in your eye, that same sparkle you got from your beautiful mother, my precious angel girl. You came into our lives at a time when all was dark, and you were light, and sent from God above. I wish I could have been a father to you, my angel. I wish I would have held on a little tighter.
My hope for you is that you grow, and you become as strong-willed and beautiful as your dear mother. I hope you live and have all of your heart's true desires. And I hope you remember me exactly as I am in this letter, not the monster I have become. I wish I could say that I did my best, my precious girl, but truthfully, I know I did not. I know I could have done more.
I hope if there is an afterlife, I hope there are windows, so I get to see you grow, my love. Even now as I watch you sleep, I am reminded of my failings, and I hope one day I can earn your forgiveness for all that I wanted to give you but could not.
My darling girl, I love you with all my heart. And know that you saved my life.
Henry had the same letter, but his was more apologetic. And truthfully, he deserved it. She'd read through the letter three times now and tried to feel, something. She tried to remember her father, but she couldn't. Her papa was Anthony Bridgerton, and she'd not known it any other way.
Henry had though, and it wasn't surprising that after reading the letters gifted to them from their father's solicitor, that he tossed his own into the fire.
But here she sat, in her father's study, at Aubrey Hall. He had left because he had wanted to give her privacy, but she would allow him to read it, because she knew in her heart, he always wanted what was best for her.
A soft knock on the door and her youngest sister India popped her head in, if there was one thing all the sisters in the family had in common it was that they all looked like their beloved mother. Every single one of them. "Josey, have you seen Alex?"
"I have not, Indi," she smiled softly. "Perhaps she's with Lily?"
"Perhaps," she smiled and turned to leave, but stopped. "And papa and mama?"
Josey grinned. "Out walking Milo," she laughed as India wrinkled her nose. When their parents walked their beloved dog, it was full of kisses, and touches, and looks that the youngest of the children all thought were gross. But she didn't. If she was going to marry, it would have to be to a man like her father. Their father treated their mother like she was a priceless jewel, and perhaps to him, she was. The children had all been told the story of their parent's epic love story, the angst, the passion, the drama, and how they made it through even through the toughest of times. She wanted that.
Perhaps a few less children, though.
There were eight in total. She and Henry were the first two. Followed by twins Edmond and Lily. Then there was Charlotte and Briar. And then another set of twins Alexandra and India. Every time their father bemoaned all of his girls; mother would shoot him a triumphant look. She had yet to figure what that was about, but she was sure it was another competition between the two. She was sure it was more, but she was only sixteen and figured it could wait.
Not that that had ever stopped her before.
If there was a hierarchy of stubbornness among her and all of her siblings, she and Edmond would be tied at the top. Their mother blamed their father, and their father blamed their mother and round and round it went. Lily and India were the sweetest, and the rest all fell in-between. Of course, she and Edmond refused to tie, and spent every day in competition to see who could outdo the other much to their parent's dismay.
That was a tie as well.
She looked back at her letter. She had no recollection about her father, the old duke, but he had spent time before he passed to write to her. That had to count for something, right?
But did it?
She almost felt guilty for even wanting to know what was in the letter when her father handed it to her. But he had reassured her that he wasn't offended, and that he would support her regardless. That was her father.
He taught her to ride and to love horses. He taught her to fish. He taught her to hunt. He taught her to fight for what she wanted. He taught her to fight and defend herself should the need arise. That was her father.
And he loved her unconditionally, and she would be the first to admit that she was a very complicated girl. But he loved her still. She wouldn't go as far to say she was a papa's girl, Lily and India had that competition in the bag, but she did spend a lot of time with him, more than other girls. Surely more than her cousin Melia spent with her own father.
He taught her how love should look, that was it. That was why she was having a hard time. Melia would be on the marriage mart next season, they had discussed it yesterday, and she had been so excited. And it only filled her with dread. If Amelia was up that meant she was next. And she wasn't sure she was ready to be next. Henry had told her not to worry about it, papa wouldn't make her do anything she wasn't ready for. But she couldn't lose to Amelia, could she? And what did Henry know? He wouldn't have to get married for years, but he was suffering through each season now that he was the Duke Lancaster in more than just theory, with Lady Danbury and Grammy Violet throwing women at him from every which way.
"Mama helped me escape tonight," he said, his eyes twinkling.
"Escape," she asked.
"There are just so many women. I do not think I'm ready for that yet."
"How will you know when you are?"
"Papa said it was like a jolt to the heart when he first saw mama."
"But looked how he messed that up," she laughed and so did he. "Perhaps be a little less like papa, and a little more like Grandpa Bridgerton?"
"Exactly," Henry chuckled and pulled her in for a side hug. "And what of you?"
"I want what mama and papa have. I do not wish to settle for less."
"I will not allow you to. Neither will mama and papa."
"Briar is so in love with Bennet Darcy, that she will probably be the first of us to marry."
"And he with her," Henry smirked. "I believe you may be right. Briar and Bennet. Can you believe it? But that is years away yet."
"And a lot of pressure."
"No pressure. With your dowry, you can marry who you wish. I will ensure it."
"Maybe a second son."
"Maybe," he laughed and then went quiet. "Or maybe a prince. Out of all of my sisters, you have the potential to be a queen."
"God forbid," she laughed, and pushed him gently.
Josephine smiled at the memory as she looked at her letter again with a sigh.
"With such heavy contemplation, I am afraid to come in," came her father's voice, teasing and comforting all at once. She smiled ruefully through her bangs that escaped her braid. "What is going on, my angel?"
Her father was a handsome man. He was tall, with a nice smile. And even as the hair at his temple turned silver, and the crinkles around his eyes became more pronounced, he was still the same as ever. And he still gave the best hugs. She stood from his chair and walked around the desk and into his arms. She was tall but he still had height on her. She inhaled as he wrapped his arms around her and rocked her slowly as they stood. "Papa, I never thanked you."
"You took in me and Henry as if we were your own. You never treat us any differently than Lily or Edmond, or Briar, or whoever. I never felt left out. I never felt unwanted."
"You were never unwanted," he said gently. "And you were always mine. I may not have been there for your births, but the moment I met the both of you, I knew that I would do everything in my power to ensure you were mine. Never doubt that you are as dear to me as any of your younger siblings. You, my firstborn daughter, when I met you, it was like you wrapped that tiny fist of yours around my heart and you have not let go ever since."
She sniffed into his jacket. "Even when I am stubborn and moody."
"Even then," he chuckled. "You are so much like your mother, how could I not."
"I would like to think that I am not as stubborn as mama," she sniffed, and he let out a laugh.
"Just like your mother," he pulled back and ran his thumb over the tears that fell down her cheek. "Now tell me what else is bothering you."
"I read the letter and felt nothing," she held up the letter to him. "I did not know him. I was hoping to feel something. Anger. Hatred. Love even. But all I feel is indifference."
"And that is ok, my darling. You were a baby. At the time the only people you really could identify were your mama and Henry. I do not think you would have known him had we put him in front of you."
"If he wasn't around then why did he write this," she waved the letter. "Why put us through this? Why put Henry through this?"
"He wrote one to your mother as well, angel," he said softly, and she knew he was attempting to calm her down. He was effective. "We read it years ago. It was confusing, but it offered her some closure."
"Why would I need closure?"
"We all need closure, angel," he said. "Believe me. I know better than most. I did not get it, and I ended up hurting the one person I loved most in the world."
They knew the story. Father married their Aunt Edwina before he married mother. And while the whole thing was quite shocking, father and Aunt Edwina had barely anything in common.
"All I can feel when reading it is relief. We are all much happier now, yes?"
"I think so," he smiled and then pulled her back into his embrace. The best of embraces. "Now tell me what else is on your mind?"
"I do not wish to get married without love," she blurted out and he pulled back startled.
"Is there something you wish to tell me?"
"Amelia is debuting this season," she said softly.
"Ah," he said. "And you believe your mother and I will make you debut next season?"
"Angel," he laughed. "You may not be allowed to debut until I am ready. Which will be never."
"Never. But when you are ready to marry. Know that I will not force you. You will marry for the deepest of affection only. Understood."
She nodded and reached to hug her father again, when her mother poked her head in the door.
"Everything alright," she asked quietly.
"It is now," Josephine smiled.
Four Years Later; Royal Wedding of Prince Sebastian of Spain to Lady Josephine Bridgerton of Kent, England.
She wouldn't be a queen, like her brother predicted, not that she wished to be one. But she would be a princess. And she was marrying a man who looked at her like her father looked at her mother. She loved him passionately. And what's more, they would be able to stay in England at her own estate, close to her beloved family.
Her father walked her proudly down the aisle as people stood and stared. She was proud of him. He barely shed a tear. Barely. And when he lifted her veil, she gifted him the most radiant of smiles.
"I am so proud of you angel," he whispered.
"Thank you, papa," she said.
"I love you."
"I love you too, papa. Always."
He kissed her cheek and then placed her hand in Sebastian's who led her the rest of the way up the stairs to the archbishop. Her father returned to her mother who was holding the last of the Bridgertons. Number nine, and a happy surprise. Another girl, Surrey. A surprise from her parent's second honeymoon, two years ago, and now that she knew what that actually meant, it was kind of gross. But they all loved her all the same. The whole Bridgerton family took up a large amount of the left side of the ancient church.
And as she vowed to love her new husband for all eternity, she was thinking nine children would not be so bad. After all she was a Bridgerton, her father's daughter, and she had a legacy to carry on, didn't she? It was tradition.
Which is why she had asked the Spanish Royal Family to keep her maiden name in her title. A name never meant so much to her as her maiden name did.
Which is why from that moment on, she would become known as Lady Josephine Bridgerton, Princessa de Espana.