It’s In His Kiss
Meet Our Hero…
Gareth St. Clair is in a bind. His father, who detests him, is determined to beggar the St. Clair estates and ruin his inheritance. Gareth’s sole bequest is an old family diary, which may or may not contain the secrets of his past… and the key to his future. The problem is—it’s written in Italian, of which Gareth speaks not a word.
Meet Our Heroine…
All the ton agreed: there was no one quite like Hyacinth Bridgerton. She’s fiendishly smart, devilishly outspoken and according to Gareth, probably best in small doses. But there’s something about her—something charming and vexing—that grabs him and won’t quite let go…
Meet Poor Mr. Mozart…
Or don’t. But rest assured, he’s spinning in his grave when Gareth and Hyacinth cross paths at the annual--an annually discordant—Smythe-Smith musicale. To Hyacinth, Gareth’s every word seems a dare, and she offers to translate his diary, even though her Italian is slightly less than perfect. But as they delve into the mysterious text, they discover that the answers they seek lie not in the diary, but in each other… and that there is nothing as simple—or as complicated—as a single, perfect kiss.
"It would be rather easy to love Hyacinth Bridgerton. He didn't know where that thought had come from, or what strange corner of his brain had come to that conclusion, because he was quite certain it would be nearly impossible to LIVE with her, but somehow he knew that it wouldn't be at all difficult to love her."
Inside the Story
This was actually the second version of the story. Originally, I had been aiming for a romantic adventure, and so I had Hyacinth get (reluctantly) kidnapped by privateers. After sixty pages, however, I realized that the story wasn't working, and I set it aside. Gareth was always Lady Danbury's grandson, though--I knew from the outset that I wanted Lady D in the story!
Eloisa James provided much needed help with Italian. Initially, she was just translating a few passages for me, but then I realized that what I really needed was to give her a passage in English, have her translate it into Italian and then back into English. Hyacinth isn't idiomatically fluent in Italian, so when she translates, the sentence structure would end up somewhat awkward. And the double translation was the only way to get the full effect. For a more in-depth view of the translation process, visit Eloisa's review of It's in His Kiss on her website.
Did you see Jane Hotchkiss, from How to Marry a Marquis? Once I realized that she was about the same age as Hyacinth, and that she was related to Gareth by marriage, I knew I had to find a spot for her.
I had to research Little Bo Peep to make sure it was okay to mention the character in a book set in the 1820s. It turns out that the earliest mention (that I could find, at least) was in Shakespeare. Okay, okay, it was actually my dad who did the research. I was writing in a Starbucks, with no internet access, so I called him on my cell, and he did a web search for me. I told him I should put him on retainer, and he said, "Honey, I've been working for you since 1970."
Click this image to download and share!
See all eight Bridgerton images here.
Awards & Achievements
It's In His Kiss spent four weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, making its debut at #7.
Five weeks as USA Today bestseller and four weeks as a Publishers Weekly bestseller, peaking at #6 on both lists.
Starred review, Publishers Weekly: "the most entertaining romance so far this year!"
Selected by Amazon.com as one of the ten best romance novels of 2005.
A Main Selection of the Rhapsody Book Club, and a Featured Alternate Selection of the Doubleday Book Club.
Start Reading This Book
1815, ten years before our story begins in earnest…
There were four principles governing Gareth St. Clair's relationship with his father that he relied upon to maintain his good humor and general sanity.
One: They did not converse unless absolutely necessary.
Two: All absolutely necessary conversations were to be kept as brief as possible.
Three: In the event that more than the simplest of salutations were to be spoken, it was always best to have a third party present.
And finally, Four: For the purpose of achieving points One, Two, and Three, Gareth was to conduct himself in a manner so as to garner as many invitations as possible to spend school holidays with friends.
In other words, not at home.
In more precise words, away from his father.
All in all, Gareth thought, when he bothered to think about it, which wasn't often now that he had his avoidance tactics down to a science, these principles served him well.
And they served his father just as well, since Richard St. Clair liked his younger son about as much as his younger son liked him. Which was why, Gareth thought with a frown, he'd been so surprised to be summoned home from school.
And with such force.
His father's missive had held little ambiguity. Gareth was to report to Clair Hall immediately.
It was dashed irritating, this. With only two months left at Eton, his life was in full swing at school, a heady mix of games and studies, and of course the occasional surreptitious foray to the local public house, always late at night, and always involving wine and women.
Gareth's life was exactly as a young man of eighteen years would wish it. And he'd been under the assumption that, as long as he managed to remain out of his father's line of sight, his life at nineteen would be similarly blessed. He was to attend Cambridge in the fall, along with all of his closest friends, where he had every intention of pursuing his studies and social life with equal fervor.
As he glanced around the foyer of Clair Hall, he let out a long sigh that was meant to sound impatient but came out more nervous than anything else. What on earth could the baron —as he had taken to calling his father— want with him? His father had long since announced that he had washed his hands of his younger son, and that he was only paying for his education because it was expected of him.
Which everyone knew really meant: It would look bad to their friends and neighbors if Gareth wasn't sent to a proper school.
When Gareth and his father did cross paths, the baron usually spent the entire time going on about what a disappointment the boy was.
Which only made Gareth wish to upset his father even more. Nothing like living down to expectations, after all.
Gareth tapped his foot, feeling rather like a stranger in his own home as he waited for the butler to alert his father as to his arrival. He'd spent so little time here in the last nine years it was difficult to feel much in the way of attachment. To him, it was nothing but a pile of stones that belonged to his father and would eventually go to his elder brother, George. Nothing of the house, and nothing of the St. Clair fortunes would come to Gareth, and he knew that his lot was to make his own way in the world. He supposed he would enter the military after Cambridge; the only other acceptable avenue of vocation was the clergy, and heaven knew he wasn't suited for that.
Gareth had few memories of his mother, who had died in an accident when he was five, but even he could recall her tousling his hair and laughing about how he was never serious.
"My little imp, you are," she used to say, followed by a whispered, "Don't lose that. Whatever you do, don't lose it."
He hadn't. And he rather doubted the Church of England would wish to welcome him into their ranks.
Gareth looked up at the sound of the butler's voice. As always, Guilfoyle spoke in flat sentences, never queries.
"Your father will see you now," Guilfoyle intoned. "He is in his study."
Gareth nodded at the aging butler and made his way down the hall toward his father's study, always his least favorite room in the house. It was where his father delivered his lectures, where his father told him he would never amount to anything, where his father icily speculated that he should never have had a second son, that Gareth was nothing but a drain on the family finances and a stain on their honor.
No, Gareth thought as he knocked on the door, no happy memories here.
Gareth pushed open the heavy oak door and stepped inside. His father was seated behind his desk, scribbling something on a sheet of paper. He looked well, Gareth thought idly. His father always looked well. It would have been easier had he turned into a ruddy caricature of a man, but no, Lord St. Clair was fit and strong and gave the appearance of a man two decades younger than his fifty-odd years.
He looked like the sort of man a boy like Gareth ought to respect.
And it made the pain of rejection all the more cruel.
Gareth waited patiently for his father to look up. When he didn't, he cleared his throat.
Gareth felt his teeth grinding. This was his father's routine—ignoring him for just long enough to act as a reminder that he found him beneath notice.
Gareth considered saying, "Sir." He considered saying, "My lord." He even considered uttering the word, "Father," but in the end he just slouched against the doorjamb and started to whistle.
His father looked up immediately. "Cease," he snapped.
Gareth quirked a brow and silenced himself.
"And stand up straight. Good God," the baron said testily, "how many times have I told you that whistling is ill-bred?"
Gareth waited a second, then asked, "Am I meant to answer that or was it a rhetorical question?"
His father's skin reddened.
Gareth swallowed. He shouldn't have said that. He'd known that his deliberately jocular tone would infuriate the baron, but sometimes it was so damned hard to keep his mouth shut. He'd spent years trying to win his father's favor, and he'd finally given in and given up.
And if he took some satisfaction in making the old man as miserable as the old man made him, well, so be it. One had to take one's pleasures where one could.
"I am surprised you're here," his father said.
Gareth blinked in confusion. "You asked me to come," he said. And the miserable truth was—he'd never defied his father. Not really. He poked, he prodded, he added a touch of insolence to his every statement and action, but he had never behaved with out and out defiance.
Miserable coward that he was.
In his dreams, he fought back. In his dreams, he told his father exactly what he thought of him, but in reality, his defiance was limited to whistles and sullen looks.
"So I did," his father said, leaning back slightly in his chair. "Nonetheless, I never issue an order with the expectation that you will follow it correctly. You so rarely do."
Gareth said nothing.
His father stood and walked to a nearby table where he kept a decanter of whisky. "I imagine you're wondering what this is all about," he said.
Gareth nodded, but his father didn't bother to look at him, so he added, "Yes, sir."
The baron took an appreciative sip of his whisky, leaving Gareth waiting while he visibly savored the amber liquid. Finally, he turned, and with a coolly assessing stare, said, "I have finally discovered a way for you to be useful to the St. Clair family."
Gareth's head jerked in surprise. "You have? Sir?"
His father took another drink, then set his glass down. "Indeed." He turned to his son and looked at him directly for the first time during the interview. "You will be getting married."
"Sir?" Gareth said, nearly gagging on the word.
"This summer," Lord St. Clair confirmed.
Gareth grabbed the back of a chair to keep from swerving. He was eighteen, for God's sake. Far too young to marry. And what about Cambridge? Could he even attend as a married man? And where would he put his wife?
And, Good God above, who was he supposed to marry?
"It's an excellent match," the baron continued. "The dowry will restore our finances."
"Our finances, sir?" Gareth whispered.
Lord St. Clair's eyes clamped down on his son's. "We're mortgaged to the hilt," he said sharply. "Another year and we will lose everything that isn't entailed."
"Eton doesn't come cheap," the baron snapped.
No, but surely it wasn't enough to beggar the family, Gareth thought desperately. This couldn't be all his fault.
"Disappointment you may be," his father said, "but I have not shirked my responsibilities to you. You have been educated as a gentleman. You have been given a horse, clothing, and a roof over your head. Now it is time you behaved like a man."
"Who?" Gareth whispered.
"Who," he said a little louder. Who was he meant to marry?
"Mary Winthrop," his father said in a matter-of-fact voice.
Gareth felt the blood leave his body. "Mary…"
"Wrotham's daughter," his father added.
As if Gareth didn't know that. "But Mary…"
"Will be an excellent wife," the baron continued. "Biddable, and you can dump her in the country should you wish to gad about town with your foolish friends."
"But Father, Mary–"
"I accepted on your behalf," his father stated. "It's done. The agreements have been signed."
Gareth fought for air. This couldn't be happening. Surely a man could not be forced into marriage. Not in this day and age.
"Wrotham would like to see it done in July," his father added. "I told him we have no objections."
"But… Mary…" Gareth gasped. "I can't marry Mary!"
One of his father's bushy brows inched toward his hairline. "You can, and you will."
"But Father, she's… she's…"
"Simple?" the baron finished for him. He chuckled. "Won't make a difference when she's under you in bed. And you don't have to have anything to do with her otherwise." He walked toward his son until they were uncomfortably close. "All you need to do is show up at the church. Do you understand?"
Gareth said nothing. He didn't do much of anything, either. It was all he could manage just to breathe.
He'd known Mary Winthrop his entire life. She was a year his elder, and their families' estates had bordered on one another's for over a century. They'd been playmates as young children, but it soon became apparent that Mary wasn't quite right in the head. Gareth had remained her champion whenever he was in the district; he'd bloodied more than one bully who had thought to call her names or take advantage of her sweet and unassuming nature.
But he couldn't marry her. She was like a child. It had to be a sin. And even if it wasn't, he could never stomach it. How could she possibly understand what was meant to transpire between them as man and wife?
He could never bed her. Never.
Gareth just stared at his father, words failing him. For the first time in his life, he had no easy reply, no flip retort.
There were no words. Simply no words for such a moment.
"I see we understand each other," the baron said, smiling at his son's silence.
"No!" Gareth burst out, the single syllable ripping itself from his throat. "No! I can't!"
His father's eyes narrowed. "You'll be there if I have to tie you up."
"No!" He felt like he was choking, but somehow he got the words out. "Father, Mary is… Well, she's a child. She'll never be more than a child. You know that. I can't marry her. It would be a sin."
The baron chuckled, breaking the tension as he turned swiftly away. "Are you trying to convince me that you, of all people, have suddenly found religion?"
"There is nothing to discuss," his father cut in. "Wrotham has been extremely generous with the dowry. God knows he has to be, trying to unload an idiot."
"Don't speak of her that way," Gareth whispered. He might not want to marry Mary Winthrop, but he'd known her all his life, and she did not deserve such talk.
"It is the best you will ever do," Lord St. Clair said. "The best you will ever have. Wrotham's settlement is extraordinarily generous, and I will arrange for an allowance that will keep you comfortable for life."
"An allowance," Gareth echoed dully.
His father let out one short chuckle. "Don't think I would trust you with a lump sum," he said. "You?"
Gareth swallowed uncomfortably. "What about school?" he whispered.
"You can still attend," his father said. "In fact, you have your new bride to thank for that. Wouldn't have had the blunt to send you without the marriage settlement."
Gareth stood there, trying to force his breathing into something that felt remotely even and normal. His father knew how much it meant to him to attend Cambridge. It was the one thing upon which the two of them agreed: a gentleman needed a gentleman's education. It didn't matter that Gareth craved the entire experience, both social and academic, whereas Lord St. Clair saw it merely as something a man had to do to keep up appearances. It had been decided upon for years—Gareth would attend and receive his degree.
But now it seemed that Lord St. Clair had known that he could not pay for his younger son's education. When had he planned to tell him? As Gareth was packing his bags?
"It's done, Gareth," his father said sharply. "And it has to be you. George is the heir, and I can't have him sullying the bloodlines. Besides," he added with pursed lips, "I wouldn't subject him to this, anyway."
"But you would me?" Gareth whispered. Was this how much his father hated him? How little he thought of him? He looked up at his father, at the face that had brought him so much unhappiness. There had never been a smile, never an encouraging word. Never a—
"Why?" Gareth heard himself saying, the word sounding like a wounded animal, pathetic and plaintive. "Why?" he said again.
His father said nothing, just stood there, gripping the edge of his desk until his knuckles grew white. And Gareth could do nothing but stare, somehow transfixed by the ordinary sight of his father's hands. "I'm your son," he whispered, still unable to move his gaze from his father's hands to his face. "Your son. How could you do this to your own son?"
And then his father, who was the master of the cutting retort, whose anger always came dressed in ice rather than fire, exploded. His hands flew from the table, and his voice roared through the room like a demon.
"By God, how could you not have figured it out by now? You are not my son! You have never been my son! You are nothing but a by-blow, some mangy whelp your mother got off another man while I was away."
Rage poured forth from like some hot, desperate thing, too long held captive and repressed. It hit Gareth like a wave, swirling around him, squeezing and choking until he could barely breathe. "No," he said, desperately shaking his head. It was nothing he hadn't considered, nothing he hadn't even hoped for, but it couldn't be true. He looked like his father. They had the same nose, didn't they? And—
"I have fed you," the baron said, his voice low and hard. "I have clothed you and presented you to the world as my son. I have supported you when another man would have tossed you into the street, and it is well past time that you returned the favor."
"No," Gareth said again. "It can't be. I look like you. I—"
For a moment Lord St. Clair remained silent. Then he said, bitterly, "An unhappy coincidence, I assure you."
"I could have turned you out at your birth," Lord St. Clair cut in, "sent your mother packing, tossed you both into the street. But I did not." He closed the distance between them and put his face very close to Gareth's. "You have been acknowledged, and you are legitimate." And then, in a voice furious and low: "You owe me."
"No," Gareth said, his voice finally finding the conviction he was going to need to last him through the rest of his days. "No. I won't do it."
"I will cut you off," the baron warned. "You won't see another penny from me. You can forget your dreams of Cambridge, your—"
"No," Gareth said again, and he sounded different. He felt changed. This was the end, he realized. The end of his childhood, the end of his innocence, and the beginning of—
God only knew what it was the beginning of.
"I am through with you," his father —no, not his father— hissed. "Through."
"So be it," Gareth said.
And he walked away.
Ten years have passed and we meet our heroine, who, it must be said, has never been known as a shy and retiring flower. The scene is the annual Smythe-Smith musicale, about ten minutes before Mr. Mozart begins to rotate in his grave.
Why do we do this to ourselves?" Hyacinth Bridgerton wondered aloud.
"Because we are good, kind people," her sister-in-law replied, sitting in --God help them-- a front-row seat.
"One would think," Hyacinth persisted, regarding the empty chair next to Penelope with the same excitement she might show a sea urchin, "that we would have learned our lesson last year. Or perhaps the year before that. Or maybe even--"
"Hyacinth?" Penelope said.
Hyacinth swung her gaze to Penelope, lifting one brow in question.
Hyacinth sighed. But she sat.
The Smythe-Smith musicale. Thankfully, it came around just once per year, because Hyacinth was quite certain it would take a full twelve months for her ears to recover.
Hyacinth let out another sigh, this one louder than the last. "I'm not entirely certain that I'm either good or kind."
"I'm not certain, either," Penelope said, "but I have decided to have faith in you nevertheless."
"Rather sporting of you," Hyacinth said.
"I thought so."
Hyacinth glanced at her sideways. "Of course you did not have any choice in the matter."
Penelope turned in her seat, her eyes narrowing. "Meaning?"
"Colin refused to accompany you, didn't he?" Hyacinth said with a sly look. Colin was Hyacinth's brother, and he'd married Penelope a year earlier.
Penelope clamped her mouth into a firm line.
"I do love it when I am right," Hyacinth said triumphantly. "Which is fortunate, since I so often am."
Penelope just looked at her. "You do know that you are insufferable."
"Of course." Hyacinth leaned toward Penelope with a devilish smile. "But you love me, anyway, admit it."
"I admit nothing until the end of the evening."
"After we have both gone deaf?"
"After we see if you behave yourself."
Hyacinth laughed. "You married into the family. You have to love me. It's a contractual obligation."
"Funny how I don't recall that in the wedding vows."
"Funny," Hyacinth returned, "I remember it perfectly."
Penelope looked at her and then laughed. "I don't know how you do it, Hyacinth," she said, "but exasperating as you are, you somehow always manage to be charming."
"It's my greatest gift," Hyacinth said demurely.
"Well, you do receive extra points for coming with me tonight," Penelope said, patting her on the hand.
"Of course," Hyacinth replied. "For all my insufferable ways, I am in truth the soul of kindness and amiability." And she'd have to be, she thought, as she watched the scene unfolding on the small, makeshift stage. Another year, another Smythe-Smith musicale. Another opportunity to learn just how many ways one could ruin a perfectly good piece of music. Every year Hyacinth swore she wouldn't attend, and then every year she somehow found herself at the event, smiling encouragingly at the four girls on stage.
"At least last year I got to sit in the back," Hyacinth said.
"Yes, you did," Penelope replied, turning on her with suspicious eyes. "How did you manage that? Felicity, Eloise, and I were all up front."
Hyacinth shrugged. "A well-timed visit to the ladies' retiring room. In fact--"
"Don't you dare try that tonight," Penelope warned. "If you leave me up here by myself..."
"Don't worry," Hyacinth said with a sigh. "I am here for the duration. But," she added, pointing her finger in what her mother would surely have termed a most unladylike manner, "I want my devotion to you to be duly noted."
"Why is it," Penelope asked, "that I am left with the feeling that you are keeping score of something, and when I least expect it, you will jump out in front of me, demanding a favor?"
Hyacinth looked at her and blinked. "Why would I need to jump?"
"Ah, look," Penelope said, after staring at her sister-in-law as if she were a lunatic, "here comes Lady Danbury."
"Mrs. Bridgerton," Lady Danbury said, or rather barked. "Miss Bridgerton."
"Good evening, Lady Danbury," Penelope said to the elderly countess. "We saved you a seat right in front."
Lady D narrowed her eyes and poked Penelope lightly in the ankle with her cane. "Always thinking of others, aren't you?"
"Of course," Penelope demurred. "I wouldn't dream of--"
"Ha," Lady Danbury said.
It was, Hyacinth reflected, the countess's favorite syllable. That and hmmmph.
"Move over, Hyacinth," Lady D ordered. "I'll sit between you."
Hyacinth obediently moved one chair to the left. "We were just pondering our reasons for attending," she said as Lady Danbury settled into her seat. "I for one have come up blank."
"I can't speak for you," Lady D said to Hyacinth, "but she" --at this she jerked her head toward Penelope-- "is here for the same reason I am."
"For the music?" Hyacinth queried, perhaps a little too politely.
Lady Danbury turned back to Hyacinth, her face creasing into what might have been a smile. "I've always liked you, Hyacinth Bridgerton."
"I've always liked you, too," Hyacinth replied.
"I expect it is because you come and read to me from time to time," Lady Danbury said.
"Every week," Hyacinth reminded her.
"Time to time, every week... pfft." Lady Danbury's hand cut a dismissive wave through the air. "It's all the same if you're not making it a daily endeavor."
Hyacinth judged it best not to speak. Lady D would surely find some way to twist her words into a promise to visit every afternoon.
"And I might add," Lady D said with a sniff, "that you were most unkind last week, leaving off with poor Priscilla hanging from a cliff."
"What are you reading?" Penelope asked.
"Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron," Hyacinth replied. "And she wasn't hanging. Yet."
"Did you read ahead?" Lady D demanded.
"No," Hyacinth said with a roll of her eyes. "But it's not difficult to forecast. Miss Butterworth has already hung from a building and a tree."
"And she's still living?" Penelope asked.
"I said hung, not hanged," Hyacinth muttered. "More's the pity."
"Regardless," Lady Danbury cut in, "it was most unkind of you to leave me hanging."
"It's where the author ended the chapter," Hyacinth said unrepentantly, "and besides, isn't patience a virtue?"
"Absolutely not," Lady Danbury said emphatically, "and if you think so, you're less of a woman than I thought."
No one understood why Hyacinth visited Lady Danbury every Tuesday and read to her, but she enjoyed her afternoons with the countess. Lady Danbury was crotchety and honest to a fault, and Hyacinth adored her.
"The two of you together are a menace," Penelope remarked.
"My aim in life," Lady Danbury announced, "is to be a menace to as great a number of people as possible, so I shall take that as the highest of compliments, Mrs. Bridgerton."
"Why is it," Penelope wondered, "that you only call me Mrs. Bridgerton when you are opining in a grand fashion?"
"Sounds better that way," Lady D said, punctuating her remark with a loud thump of her cane.
Hyacinth grinned. When she was old, she wanted to be exactly like Lady Danbury. Truth be told, she liked the elderly countess better than most of the people she knew her own age. After three seasons on the marriage mart, Hyacinth was growing just a little bit weary of the same people day after day. What had once been exhilarating--the balls, the parties, the suitors--well, it was still enjoyable--that much she had to concede. Hyacinth certainly wasn't one of those girls who complained about all of the wealth and privilege she was forced to endure.
But it wasn't the same. She no longer held her breath each time she entered a ballroom. And a dance was now simply a dance, no longer the magical swirl of movement it had been in years gone past.
The excitement, she realized, was gone.
Unfortunately, every time she mentioned this to her mother, the reply was simply to find herself a husband. That, Violet Bridgerton took great pains to point out, would change everything.
Hyacinth's mother had long since given up any pretense of subtlety when it came the unmarried state of her fourth and final daughter. It had, Hyacinth thought grimly, turned into a personal crusade.
Forget Joan of Arc. Her mother was Violet of Mayfair, and neither plague nor pestilence nor perfidious paramour would stop her in her quest to see all eight of her children happily married. There were only two remaining, Gregory and Hyacinth, but Gregory was still just twenty-four, which was (rather unfairly, in Hyacinth's opinion) considered a perfectly acceptable age for a gentleman to remain a bachelor.
But Hyacinth at twenty-two? The only thing staving off her mother's complete collapse was the fact that her elder sister Eloise had waited until the grand old age of twenty-eight before finally becoming a bride. By comparison, Hyacinth was practically in leading strings.
No one could say that Hyacinth was hopelessly on the shelf, but even she had to admit that she was edging toward that position. She had received a few proposals since her debut three years earlier, but not as many as one would think, given her looks --not the prettiest girl in town but certainly better than at least half-- and her fortune --again, not the largest dowry on the market, but certainly enough to make a fortune hunter look twice.
And her connections were, of course, nothing short of impeccable. Her brother was, as their father had been before him, the Viscount Bridgerton, and while theirs might not have been the loftiest title in the land, the family was immensely popular and influential. And if that weren't enough, her sister Daphne was the Duchess of Hastings, and her sister Francesca was the Countess of Kilmartin.
If a man wanted to align himself with the most powerful families in Britain, he could do a lot worse than Hyacinth Bridgerton.
But if one took the time to reflect upon the timing of the proposals she had received, which Hyacinth didn't care to admit that she had, it was starting to look damning indeed.
Three proposals her first season.
Two her second.
One last year.
And none thus far this time around.
It could only be argued that she was growing less popular. Unless, of course, someone was foolish enough to actually make the argument, in which case Hyacinth would have to take the other side, facts and logic notwithstanding.
And she'd probably win the point, too. It was a rare man --or woman-- who could outwit, outspeak, or outdebate Hyacinth Bridgerton.
This might, she'd thought in a rare moment of self-reflection, have something to do with why her rate of proposals was declining at such an alarming pace.
No matter, she thought, watching the Smythe-Smith girls mill about on the small dais that had been erected at the front of the room. It wasn't as if she should have accepted any of her six proposals. Three had been fortune hunters, two had been fools, and one had been quite terminally boring.
Better to remain unmarried than shackle herself to someone who'd bore her to tears. Even her mother, inveterate matchmaker that she was, couldn't argue that point.
And as for her current proposal-free season-- well, if the gentlemen of Britain couldn't appreciate the inherent value of an intelligent female who knew her own mind, that was their problem, not hers.
Lady Danbury thumped her cane against the floor, narrowly missing Hyacinth's right foot. "I say," she said, "have either of you caught sight of my grandson?"
"Which grandson?" Hyacinth asked.
"Which grandson," Lady D echoed impatiently. "Which grandson? The only one I like, that's which."
Hyacinth didn't even bother to hide her shock. "Mr. St. Clair is coming tonight?"
"I know, I know," Lady D cackled. "I can hardly believe it myself. I keep waiting for a shaft of heavenly light to burst through the ceiling."
Penelope's nose crinkled. "I think that might be blasphemous, but I'm not sure."
"It's not," Hyacinth said, without even looking at her. "And why is he coming?"
Lady Danbury smiled slowly. Like a snake. "Why are you so interested?"
"I'm always interested in gossip," Hyacinth said quite candidly. "About anyone. You should know that already."
"Very well," Lady D said, somewhat grumpily at having been thwarted, "he's coming because I blackmailed him."
Hyacinth and Penelope regarded her with identically arched brows.
"Very well," Lady Danbury conceded, "if not blackmail, then a heavy dose of guilt."
"Of course," Penelope murmured, at the exact time Hyacinth said, "That makes much more sense."
Lady D sighed. "I might have told him I wasn't feeling well."
Hyacinth was dubious. "Might have?"
"Did," Lady D admitted.
"You must have done a very good job of it to get him to come tonight," Hyacinth said admiringly. One had to appreciate Lady Danbury's sense of the dramatic, especially when it resulted in such impressive manipulation of the people around her. It was a talent Hyacinth cultivated as well.
"I don't think I have ever seen him at a musicale before," Penelope remarked.
"Hmmmph," Lady D grunted. "Not enough loose women for him, I'm sure."
From anyone else, it would have been a shocking statement. But this was Lady Danbury, and Hyacinth (and the rest of the ton for that matter) had long since grown used to her rather startling turns of phrase.
And besides, one did have to consider the man in question.
Lady Danbury's grandson was none other than the notorious Gareth St. Clair. Although it probably wasn't entirely his fault that he had gained such a wicked reputation, Hyacinth reflected. There were plenty of other men who behaved with equal lack of propriety, and more than a few who were handsome as sin, but Gareth St. Clair was the only one who managed to combine the two to such success.
But his reputation was abominable.
He was certainly of marriageable age, but he'd never, not even once, called upon a proper young lady at her home. Hyacinth was quite sure of that; if he'd ever even hinted at courting someone, the rumor mills would have run rampant. And furthermore, Hyacinth would have heard it from Lady Danbury, who loved gossip even more than she did.
And then, of course, there was the matter of his father, Lord St. Clair. They were rather famously estranged, although no one knew why. Hyacinth personally thought it spoke well of Gareth that he did not air his familial travails in public --especially since she'd met his father and thought him a boor, which led her to believe that whatever the matter was, the younger St. Clair was not at fault.
But the entire affair lent an air of mystery to the already charismatic man, and in Hyacinth's opinion made him a bit of a challenge to the ladies of the ton. No one seemed quite certain how to view him. On the one hand, the matrons steered their daughters away; surely a connection with Gareth St. Clair could not enhance a girl's reputation. On the other hand, his brother had died tragically young, almost a year earlier, and now he was the heir to the barony. Which had only served to make him a more romantic --and eligible-- figure. Last month Hyacinth had seen a girl swoon --or at least pretend to-- when he had deigned to attend the Bevelstoke Ball.
It had been appalling.
Hyacinth had tried to tell the foolish chit that he was only there because his grandmother had forced him into it, and of course because his father was out of town. After all, everyone knew that he only consorted with opera singers and actresses, and certainly not any of the ladies he might meet at the Bevelstoke Ball. But the girl would not be swayed from her overemotional state, and eventually she had collapsed onto a nearby settee in a suspiciously graceful heap.
Hyacinth had been the first to locate a vinaigrette and shove it under her nose. Really, some behavior just couldn't be tolerated.
But as she stood there, reviving the foolish chit with the noxious fumes, she had caught sight of him staring at her in that vaguely mocking way of his, and she couldn't shake the feeling that he found her amusing.
Much in the same way she found small children and large dogs amusing.
Needless to say, she hadn't felt particularly complimented by his attention, fleeting though it was.
Hyacinth turned to face Lady Danbury, who was still searching the room for her grandson. "I don't think he's here yet," Hyacinth said, then added under her breath, "No one's fainted."
"Enh? What was that?"
"I said I don't think he's here yet."
Lady D narrowed her eyes. "I heard that part."
"It's all I said," Hyacinth fibbed.
Hyacinth looked past her to Penelope. "She treats me quite abominably, did you know that?"
Penelope shrugged. "Someone has to."
Lady Danbury's face broke out into a wide grin, and she turned to Penelope and said, "Now then, I must ask--" She looked over at the stage, craning her neck as she squinted at the quartet. "Is it the same girl on cello this year?"
Penelope nodded sadly.
Hyacinth looked at them. "What are you talking about?"
"If you don't know," Lady Danbury said loftily, "then you haven't been paying attention, and shame on you for that."
Hyacinth's mouth fell open. "Well," she said, since the alternative was to say nothing, and she never liked to do that. There was nothing more irritating than being left out of a joke. Except, perhaps, being scolded for something one didn't even understand. She turned back to the stage, watching the cellist more closely. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, she twisted again to face her companions and opened her mouth to speak, but they were already deep in a conversation that did not include her.
She hated when that happened.
"Hmmmph." Hyacinth sat back in her chair and did it again. "Hmmmph."
"You sound," came an amused voice from over her shoulder, "exactly like my grandmother."
Hyacinth looked up. There he was, Gareth St. Clair, inevitably at the moment of her greatest discomfiture. And of course, the only empty seat was next to her.
"Doesn't she, though?" Lady Danbury asked, looking up at her grandson as she thumped her cane against the floor. "She's quickly replacing you as my pride and joy."
"Tell me, Miss Bridgerton," Mr. St. Clair asked, one corner of his lips curving into a mocking half-smile, "is my grandmother remaking you in her image?"
Hyacinth had no ready retort, which she found profoundly irritating.
"Move over again, Hyacinth," Lady D barked. "I need to sit next to Gareth."
Hyacinth turned to say something, but Lady Danbury cut in with, "Someone needs to make sure he behaves."
Hyacinth let out a noisy exhale and moved over another seat.
"There you go, my boy," Lady D said, patting the empty chair with obvious glee. "Sit and enjoy."
He looked at her for a long moment before finally saying, "You owe me for this, Grandmother."
"Ha!" was her response. "Without me, you wouldn't exist."
"A difficult point to refute," Hyacinth murmured.
Mr. St. Clair turned to look at her, probably only because it enabled him to turn away from his grandmother. Hyacinth smiled at him blandly, pleased with herself for showing no reaction.
He'd always reminded her of a lion, fierce and predatory, filled with restless energy. His hair, too, was tawny, hovering in that curious state between light brown and dark blond, and he wore it rakishly, defying convention by keeping it just long enough to tie in a short queue at the back of his neck. He was tall, although not overly so, with an athlete's grace and strength, and a face that was just imperfect enough to be handsome, rather than pretty.
And his eyes were blue. Really blue. Uncomfortably blue.
Uncomfortably blue? She gave her head a little shake. That had to be quite the most asinine thought that had ever entered her head. Her own eyes were blue, and there was certainly nothing uncomfortable about that.
"And what brings you here, Miss Bridgerton?" he asked. "I hadn't realized you were such a lover of music."
"If she loved music," Lady D said from behind him, "she'd have already fled to France."
"She does hate to be left out of a conversation, doesn't she?" he murmured, without turning around. "Ow!"
"Cane?" Hyacinth asked sweetly.
"She's a threat to society," he muttered.
Hyacinth watched with interest as he reached behind him, and without even turning his head, wrapped his hand around the cane and wrenched it from his grandmother's grasp. "Here," he said, handing it to her, "you will look after this, won't you? She won't need it while she's sitting down."
Hyacinth's mouth fell open. Even she had never dared to interfere with Lady Danbury's cane.
"I see that I have finally impressed you," he said, sitting back in his chair with the expression of one who is quite pleased with himself.
"Yes," Hyacinth said before she could stop herself. "I mean, no. I mean, don't be silly. I certainly haven't been not impressed by you."
"How gratifying," he murmured.
"What I meant," she said, grinding her teeth together, "was that I haven't really thought about it one way or the other."
He tapped his heart with his hand. "Wounded," he said flippantly. "And right through the heart."
Hyacinth gritted her teeth. The only thing worse than being made fun of was not being sure if one was being made fun of. Everyone else in London she could read like a book. But with Gareth St. Clair, she simply never knew. She glanced past him to see if Penelope was listening --not that she was sure why that mattered one way or another-- but Pen was busy placating Lady Danbury, who was still smarting over the loss of her cane.
Hyacinth fidgeted in her seat, feeling uncommonly closed-in. Lord Somershall --never the slenderest man in the room-- was on her left, spilling onto her chair. Which only forced her to scoot a little to the right, which of course put her in even closer proximity to Gareth St. Clair, who was positively radiating heat.
Good God, had the man smothered himself in hot-water bottles before setting out for the evening?
Hyacinth picked up her program as discreetly as she was able and used it to fan herself.
"Is something amiss, Miss Bridgerton?" he inquired, tilting his head as he regarded her with curious amusement.
"Of course not," she answered. "It's merely a touch warm in here, don't you think?"
He eyed her for one second longer than she would have liked, then turned to Lady Danbury. "Are you overheated, Grandmother?" he asked solicitously.
"Not at all," came the brisk reply.
He turned back to Hyacinth with a tiny shrug. "It must be you," he murmured.
"It must," she ground out, facing determinedly forward. Maybe there still was time to escape to the ladies' retiring room. Penelope would want to have her drawn and quartered, but did it really count as abandonment when there were two people seated between them? Besides, she could surely use Lord Somershall as an excuse. Even now he was shifting in his seat, bumping up against her in a way that Hyacinth wasn't entirely certain was accidental.
It's In His Kiss is Book 7 in the Bridgerton Series. The rest are as follows:
Book 1: The Duke and I
Book 2: The Viscount Who Loved Me
Book 3: An Offer from a Gentleman
Book 4: Romancing Mr. Bridgerton
Book 5: To Sir Phillip, With Love
Book 6: When He Was Wicked
Book 8: On the Way to the Wedding
Find out more about the Bridgerton Series.
The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After is a collection of 2nd Epilogues to the Bridgerton novels, plus a bonus novella about Violet Bridgerton.
Lady Whistledown, the gossip columnist featured in the Bridgerton Series, "narrates" her own anthologies in The Further Observations Of Lady Whistledown and Lady Whistledown Strikes Back. However, these books are not technically part of the Bridgerton series.