Romancing Mister Bridgerton
Penelope Featherington has secretly adored her best friend's brother for... well, it feels like forever. After half a lifetime of watching Colin Bridgerton from afar, she thinks she knows everything about him, until she stumbles across his deepest secret... and fears she doesn't know him at all.
Colin Bridgerton is tired of being thought nothing but an empty-headed charmer, tired of the neverending sameness of his life, and, most of all, tired of everyone's preoccupation with the notorious gossip columnist Lady Whistledown, who can't seem to publish an edition without mentioning him in the first paragraph. But when Colin returns to London from a trip abroad, he discovers nothing in his life is quite the same—especially Penelope Featherington! The girl who was always simply... there is suddenly the girl haunting his dreams. But when he discovers that Penelope has secrets of her own, this elusive bachelor must decide... is she his biggest threat—or his promise of a happy ending?
"Colin decided then and there that the female mind was a strange and incomprehensible organ - one which no man should even attempt to understand. There wasn't a woman alive who could go from point A to B without stopping at C, D, X, and 12 along the way."
Inside the Story
Did you find mention of some of my "old" characters? In the Lady Whistledown columns you can find: Ned Blydon, Viscount Burwick (a secondary character in my first three novels and the hero of the novella "A Tale of Two Sisters"); his sister Belle (heroine of Dancing At Midnight, now Lady Blackwood); Lord and Lady Riverdale (hero and heroine of How To Marry A Marquis), Lucas and Jane Hotchkiss (also from How To Marry A Marquis). Not to mention Robert from Everything And The Moon, who hosts the Macclesfield ball--a very pivotal scene.
Speaking of old characters, I almost killed off Lady Danbury in this book. My editor said, "Noooooooooo!" and thank heavens I listened. Lady D has turned out to be one of my very favorite characters, and I can never resist including her in my books. She made her debut in How To Marry A Marquis, played a pivotal role in Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, and then came back in a big way in It's in His Kiss and Just Like Heaven. She has also made brief appearances in The Duke and I, The Viscount Who Loved Me, An Offer from a Gentleman, and When He Was Wicked.
Fans of Stephanie Laurens might have noticed a familiar name: Michael Anstruther-Wetherby, the hero of The Ideal Bride. But here's something fun: when Romancing Mr. Bridgerton was released, Michael hadn't yet got his own book; he was still known as the brother of Honoria, the heroine of Devil's Bride.
In the first chapter, Penelope is reading a book called Mathilda by S.R. Fielding. This is from Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas, one of my all-time favorite romance novels! The heroine is a novelist, and Mathilda was a huge bestseller.
The working title for this book was MR. BRIDGERTON, I PRESUME. Imagine my delight when I finally got to use a version of this title with Mr. Cavendish, I Presume! And to be honest, the title fits that book far better than it would have Romancing Mr. B.
One of my summer jobs in college was working as a travel writer for Let's Go: Greece & Turkey. I spent seven weeks on Crete, Cyprus, and a couple of islands in the Dodecanese. I drew upon my memories of Cyprus for Colin's writings. His descriptions of Scotland are mine as well, drawn from my visit in spring of 2001.
Romancing Mr. Bridgerton received a facelift in 2009. But while the cover may have changed, the words have not. The story is exactly the same as when it was originally released in 2002.
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Awards & Achievements
Romancing Mister Bridgerton spent four weeks on the NYT besteller list, peaking at #9.
Six weeks on the USA Today bestseller list and four weeks on the Publishers Weekly bestseller list.
Romancing Mr. Bridgerton was named one of the Ten Best Romances of 2002 by the editors at Amazon.com.
Romancing Mister Bridgerton is in fine company as one of the top ten Favorite Books of the year (annual poll by Romance Writers of America).
A Main Selection of the Rhapsody Book Club, and a Featured Alternate Selection of the Doubleday Book Club.
Start Reading This Book
On the sixth of April, in the year 1812 --precisely two days before her sixteenth birthday-- Penelope Featherington fell in love.
It was, in a word, thrilling. The world shook. Her heart leaped. The moment was breathtaking. And, she was able to tell herself with some satisfaction, the man in question --one Colin Bridgerton-- felt precisely the same way.
Oh, not the love part. He certainly didn't fall in love with her in 1812 (and not in 1813, 1814, 1815, or-- oh blast, not in all the years 1816-1822, either, and certainly not in 1823, when he was out of the country the whole time, anyway.) But his earth shook, his heart leaped, and Penelope knew without a shadow of a doubt that his breath was taken away as well. For a good ten seconds.
Falling off a horse tended to do that to a man.
It happened thus:
She'd been out for a walk in Hyde Park with her mother and two older sisters, when she felt a thunderous rumbling under her feet (see above: the bit about the earth shaking). Her mother wasn't paying much attention to her (her mother rarely did), so Penelope slipped away for a moment to see what was about. The rest of the Featheringtons were in rapt conversation with Viscountess Bridgerton and her daughter Daphne, who had just begun her second season in London, so they were pretending to ignore the rumbling. The Bridgertons were an important family indeed, and conversations with them were not to be ignored.
As Penelope skirted around the edge of a particularly fat-trunked tree, she saw two riders coming her way, galloping along hell-for-leather or whatever expression people liked to use for fools on horseback who care not for their safety and well-being. Penelope felt her heart quicken (it would have been difficult to maintain a sedate pulse as a witness to such excitement, and besides, this allowed her to say that her heart leaped when she fell in love).
Then, in one of those inexplicable quirks of fate, the wind picked up quite suddenly and lifted her bonnet (which she had not tied properly, much to her mother's chagrin, since the ribbon chafed under her chin) straight into the air and splat! right onto the face of one of the riders.
Penelope gasped (taking her breath away!) and then the man fell off his horse, landing most inelegantly in a nearby mud puddle.
She rushed forward, quite without thinking, squealing something that was meant to inquire after his welfare, but that she suspected came out as nothing more than a strangled shriek. He would, of course, be furious with her, since she'd effectively knocked him off his horse and covered him with mud-- two things guaranteed to put any gentleman in the foulest of moods. But when he finally rose to his feet, brushing off whatever mud could be dislodged from his clothing, he didn't lash out at her. He didn't give her a stinging set-down, he didn't yell, he didn't even glare.
Penelope hadn't much experience with the laughter of men, and what little she had known had not been kind. But this man's eyes --a rather intense shade of green-- were filled with mirth as he wiped a rather embarrassingly placed spot of mud off his cheek and said, "Well, that wasn't very well done of me, was it?"
And in that moment, Penelope fell in love.
When she found her voice (which, she was pained to note, was a good three seconds after a person of any intelligence would have replied) she said, "Oh, no, it is I who should apologize! My bonnet came right off my head, and..."
She stopped talking when she realized he hadn't actually apologized, so there was little point in contradicting him.
"It was no trouble," he said, giving her a somewhat amused smile. "I-- Oh, good day, Daphne! Didn't know you were in the park."
Penelope whirled around to find herself face-to-face with her mother, who promptly hissed, "What have you done, Penelope Featherington?" and Penelope couldn't even answer with her stock, Nothing, because in truth, the accident was completely her fault, and she'd just made a fool of herself in front of what was obviously --judging from the expression on her mother's face-- a very eligible bachelor indeed.
Not that her mother would have thought that she had a chance with him. But Mrs. Featherington held high matrimonial hopes for her older girls. Besides, Penelope wasn't even "out" in society yet.
But if Mrs. Featherington intended to scold her any further, she was unable to do so, because that would have required that she remove her attention from the all-important Bridgertons, whose ranks, Penelope was quickly figuring out, included the man presently covered in mud.
"I hope your son isn't injured," Mrs. Featherington said to Lady Bridgerton.
"Right as rain," Colin interjected, making an expert sidestep before Lady Bridgerton could maul him with motherly concern.
Introductions were made, but the rest of the conversation was unimportant, mostly because Colin quickly and accurately sized up Mrs. Featherington as a matchmaking mama. Penelope was not at all surprised when he beat a hasty retreat.
But the damage had already been done. Penelope had discovered a reason to dream.
Later that night, as she replayed the encounter for about the thousandth time in her mind, it occurred to her that it would have been nice if she could have said that she'd fallen in love with him as he kissed her hand before a dance, his green eyes twinkling devilishly while his fingers held hers just a little more tightly than was proper. Or maybe it could have happened as he rode boldly across a windswept moor, the (aforementioned) wind no deterrent as he (or rather, his horse) galloped ever closer, his (Colin's, not the horse's) only intention to reach her side.
But no, she had to go and fall in love with Colin Bridgerton when he fell off a horse and landed on his bottom in a mud puddle. It was highly irregular, and highly unromantic, but there was a certain poetic justice in that, since nothing was ever going to come of it.
Why waste romance on a love that would never be returned? Better to save the windswept-moor introductions for people who might actually have a future together.
And if there was one thing Penelope knew, even then, at the age of sixteen years minus three days, it was that her future did not feature Colin Bridgerton in the role of husband.
She simply wasn't the sort of girl who attracted a man like him, and she feared that she never would be.
On the tenth of April, in the year 1813-- precisely two days after her seventeenth birthday, Penelope Featherington made her debut into London society. She hadn't wanted to do it. She begged her mother to let her wait a year. She was at least two stone heavier than she ought to be, and her face still had an awful tendency to develop spots whenever she was nervous, which meant that she always had spots, since nothing in the world could made her as nervous as a London ball.
She tried to remind herself that beauty was only skin deep, but that didn't offer any helpful excuses when she was berating herself for never knowing what to say to people. There was nothing more depressing than an ugly girl with no personality. And in that first year on the marriage mart, that was exactly what Penelope was. An ugly girl with no --oh, very well, she had to give herself some credit-- with very little personality.
Deep inside, she knew who she was, and that person was smart and kind and often even funny, but somehow her personality always got lost somewhere between her heart and her mouth, and she found herself saying the wrong thing, or more often, nothing at all.
To make matters even less attractive, Penelope's mother refused to allow Penelope to choose her own clothing, and when she wasn't in the requisite white that most young ladies wore (and which of course didn't flatter her complexion one bit), she was forced to wear yellow and red and orange, all of which made her look perfectly wretched. The one time Penelope had suggested green, Mrs. Featherington had planted her hands on her more-than-ample hips and declared that green was too melancholy.
Yellow, Mrs. Featherington declared, was a happy color and a happy girl would snare a husband.
Penelope decided then and there that it was best not to try to understand the workings of her mother's mind.
So Penelope found herself outfitted in yellow and orange and the occasional red, even though such colors made her look decidedly unhappy, and in fact were positively ghastly with her brown eyes and red-tinged hair. There was nothing she could do about it, though, so she decided to grin and bear it, and if she couldn't manage a grin, at least she wouldn't cry in public.
Which, she took some pride in noting, she never did.
And if that weren't enough, 1813 was the year that the mysterious (and fictitious) Lady Whistledown began publishing her thrice-weekly Society Papers. The single-sheet newspaper became an instant sensation. No one knew who Lady Whistledown really was, but everyone seemed to have a theory. For weeks --no, months, really-- London could speak of nothing else. The paper had been delivered for free for two weeks --just long enough to addict the ton-- and then suddenly there was no delivery, just paperboys charging the outrageous price of five pennies a paper.
But by then, no one could live without the almost-daily dose of gossip, and everyone paid their pennies.
Somewhere some woman (or maybe, some people speculated, some man) was growing very rich indeed.
What set Lady Whistledown's Society Papers apart from any previous society news sheets was that the author actually listed her subjects' names in full. There was no hiding behind abbreviations such as Lord P-- or Lady B--. If Lady Whistledown wanted to write about someone she used his full name.
And when Lady Whistledown wanted to write about Penelope Featherington, she did. Penelope's first appearance in Lady Whistledown's Society Papers went as follows:
Miss Penelope Featherington's unfortunate gown left the unfortunate girl looking like nothing more than an overripe citrus fruit.
A rather stinging blow, to be sure, but nothing less than the truth.
Her second appearance in the column was no better.
Not a word was heard from Miss Penelope Featherington, and no wonder! The poor girl appeared to have drowned amidst the ruffles of her dress
Not, Penelope was afraid, anything that would enhance her popularity.
But the season wasn't a complete disaster. There were a few people with whom she seemed able to speak. Lady Bridgerton, of all people, took a liking to her, and Penelope found that she could often tell things to the lovely viscountess that she would never dream of saying to her own mother. It was through Lady Bridgerton that she met Eloise Bridgerton, the younger sister of her beloved Colin. Eloise was also just-turned seventeen, but her mother had wisely allowed her to delay her debut by a year, even though Eloise possessed the Bridgerton good looks and charm in abundance.
And while Penelope spent her afternoons in the green-and-cream drawing room at Bridgerton House (or, more often, up in Eloise's bedchamber where the two girls laughed and giggled and discussed everything under the sun with great earnestness) she found herself coming into occasional contact with Colin, who at two-and-twenty had not yet moved out of the family home and into bachelor lodgings.
If Penelope had thought she loved him before, that was nothing compared to what she felt after actually getting to know him. Colin Bridgerton was witty, he was dashing, he had a devil-may-care jokester quality to him that made women swoon, but most of all...
Colin Bridgerton was nice.
Nice. Such a silly little word. It should have been banal, but somehow it fit him to perfection. He always had something nice to say to Penelope, and when she finally worked up the courage to say something back (other than the very basic greetings and farewells) he actually listened. Which made it all the easier the next time around.
By the end of the season, Penelope judged that Colin Bridgerton was the only man with whom she'd managed an entire conversation.
This was love. Oh, this was love love love love love love. A silly repetition of words, perhaps, but that was precisely what Penelope doodled on a ridiculously expensive sheet of writing paper, along with the words, "Mrs. Colin Bridgerton," and "Penelope Bridgerton" and "Colin Colin Colin." (The paper went into the fire the moment Penelope heard footsteps in the hall.)
How wonderful it was to feel love --even the one-sided sort-- for a nice person. It made one feel so positively sensible. Of course, it didn't hurt that Colin possessed, as did all the Bridgerton men, fabulous good looks. There was that famous Bridgerton chestnut hair, the wide and smiling Bridgerton mouth, the broad shoulders, the six-foot height, and in Colin's case, the most devastating green eyes ever to grace a human face.
They were the sort of eyes that haunted a girl's dreams.
And Penelope dreamed and dreamed and dreamed.
April of 1814 found Penelope back in London for a second season, and even though she attracted the same number of suitors as the year before (zero), the season wasn't, in all honesty, quite so bad. It helped that she'd lost nearly two stone and could now call herself "pleasantly rounded" rather than "a hideous pudge." She was still nowhere near the slender ideal of womanhood that ruled the day, but at least she'd changed enough to warrant the purchase of a completely new wardrobe.
Unfortunately, her mother once again insisted on yellow, orange, and the occasional splash of red. And this time, Lady Whistledown wrote:
Miss Penelope Featherington (the least inane of the Featherington sisters) wore a gown of lemon yellow that left a sour taste in one's mouth.
Which at least seemed to imply that Penelope was the most intelligent member of her family, although the compliment was backhanded, indeed.
But Penelope wasn't the only one singled out by the acerbic gossip columnist. Dark-haired Kate Sheffield was likened to a singed daffodil in her yellow dress, and Kate went on to marry Anthony Bridgerton, Colin's older brother and a viscount to boot!
So Penelope held out hope.
Well, not really. She knew Colin wasn't going to marry her, but at least he danced with her at every ball, and he made her laugh, and every now and then she made him laugh, and she knew that that would have to be enough.
And so Penelope's life continued. She had her third season, then her fourth. Her two older sisters, Prudence and Philippa, finally found husbands of their own and moved away. Mrs. Featherington held out hope that Penelope might still make a match, since it had taken both Prudence and Philippa five seasons to snare husbands, but Penelope knew that she was destined to remain a spinster. It wouldn't be fair to marry someone when she was still so desperately in love with Colin. And maybe, in the far reaches of her mind --in the furthest back corner, tucked away behind the French verb conjugations she'd never mastered and the arithmetic she never used-- she still held out a tiny shred of hope.
Until that day.
Even now, seven years later, she still referred to it as that day.
She'd gone to the Bridgerton household, as she frequently did, to take tea with Eloise and her mother and sisters. It was right before Eloise's brother Benedict had married Sophie, only he didn't know who she really was, and-- well, that didn't signify, except that it may have been the one truly great secret in the last decade that Lady Whistledown had never managed to unearth.
Anyway, she was walking through the front hall, listening to her feet tap along the marble tile as she saw herself out. She was adjusting her pelisse and preparing to walk the short distance to her own home (just around the corner, really) when she heard voices. Male voices. Male Bridgerton voices.
It was the three elder Bridgerton brothers: Anthony, Benedict, and Colin. They were having one of those conversations that men have, the kind in which they grumble a lot and poke fun at each other. Penelope had always liked to watch the Bridgertons interact in this manner; they were such a family.
Penelope could see them through the open front door, but she couldn't hear what they were saying until she'd reached the threshold. And in a testament to the bad timing that had plagued her throughout her life, the first voice she heard was Colin's, and the words were not kind.
"...and I am certainly not going to marry Penelope Featherington!"
"Oh!" The word slipped over her lips before she could even think, the squeal of it piercing the air like an off-key whistle.
The three Bridgerton men turned to face her with identical horrified faces, and Penelope knew that she had just entered into what would certainly be the most awful five minutes of her life.
She said nothing for what seemed like an eternity, and then, finally, with a dignity she never dreamed she possessed, she looked straight at Colin and said, "I never asked you to marry me."
His cheeks went from pink to red. He opened his mouth, but not a sound came out. It was, Penelope thought with wry satisfaction, probably the only time in his life he'd ever been at a loss for words.
"And I never--" She swallowed convulsively. "I never said to anyone that I wanted you to ask me."
"Penelope," Colin finally managed, "I'm so sorry."
"You have nothing to apologize for," she said.
"No," he insisted, "I do. I hurt your feelings, and--"
"You didn't know I was there."
"You are not going to marry me," she said, her voice sounding very strange and hollow to her ears. "There is nothing wrong with that. I am not going to marry your brother Benedict."
Benedict had clearly been trying not to look, but he snapped to attention at that.
Penelope fisted her hands at her sides. "It doesn't hurt his feelings when I announce that I am not going to marry him." She turned to Benedict, forcing her eyes directly on his. "Does it, Mr. Bridgerton?"
"Of course not," Benedict answered quickly.
"It's settled, then," she said tightly, amazed that for once, exactly the right words were coming out of her mouth. "No feelings were hurt. Now then, if you will excuse me, gentlemen, I should like to go home."
The three gentlemen immediately stood back to let her pass, and she would have made a clean escape, except that Colin suddenly blurted out, "Don't you have a maid?"
She shook her head. "I live just around the corner."
"I know, but--"
"I'll escort you," Anthony said smoothly.
"That's really not necessary, my lord."
"Humor me," he said, in a tone that told her quite clearly she hadn't any choice in the matter.
She nodded, and the two of them took off down the street. After they had passed about three houses, Anthony said in a strangely respectful voice, "He didn't know you were there."
Penelope felt her lips tighten at the corners-- not out of anger, just out of a weary sense of resignation. "I know," she replied. "He's not the sort to be cruel. I expect your mother has been hounding him to get married."
Anthony nodded. Lady Bridgerton's intentions to see each and every one of her eight offspring happily married were legendary.
"She likes me," Penelope said. "Your mother, that is. She can't see beyond that, I'm afraid. But the truth is, it doesn't matter so much if she likes Colin's bride."
"Well, I wouldn't say that," Anthony mused, sounding not so much like a highly feared and respected viscount and rather more like a well-behaved son. "I shouldn't like to be married to someone my mother didn't like." He shook his head in a gesture of great awe and respect. "She's a force of nature."
"Your mother or your wife?"
He considered that for about half a second. "Both."
They walked for a few moments, and then Penelope blurted out, "Colin should go away." Anthony eyed her curiously. "I beg your pardon?" "He should go away. Travel. He's not ready to marry, and your mother won't be able to restrain herself from pressuring him. She means well..." Penelope bit her lip in horror. She hoped the viscount didn't think she was actually criticizing Lady Bridgerton. As far as she was concerned there was no greater lady in England.
"My mother always means well," Anthony said with an indulgent smile. "But maybe you're right. Perhaps he should get away. Colin does enjoy travel. Although he did just return from Wales."
"Did he?" Penelope murmured politely, as if she didn't know perfectly well that he'd been in Wales.
"Here we are," he said as he nodded his reply. "This is your house, is it not?"
"Yes. Thank you for accompanying me home."
"It was my pleasure, I assure you." Penelope watched as he left, then she went inside and cried.
The very next day, the following account appeared in Lady Whistledown's Society Papers:
La, but such excitement yesterday on the front steps of Lady Bridgerton's residence on Bruton Street! First, Penelope Featherington was seen in the company of not one, not two, but THREE Bridgerton brothers, surely a heretofore impossible feat for the poor girl, who is rather infamous for her wallflower ways. Sadly (but perhaps predictably) for Miss Featherington, when she finally departed, it was on the arm of the viscount, the only married man in the bunch. If Miss Featherington were to somehow manage to drag a Bridgerton brother to the altar, it would surely mean the end of the world as we know it, and This Author, who freely admits she would not know heads from tails in such a world, would be forced to resign her post on the spot.
It seemed even Lady Whistledown understood the futility of Penelope's feelings for Colin.
The years drifted by, and somehow, without realizing it, Penelope ceased to be a debutante and found herself sitting with the chaperones, watching her younger sister Felicity --surely the only Featherington sister blessed with both natural beauty and charm-- enjoying her own London seasons.
Colin developed a taste for travel and began to spend more and more time outside of London; it seemed that every few months he was off to some new destination. When he was in town, he always saved a dance and a smile for Penelope, and somehow she managed to pretend that nothing had ever happened, that he'd never declared his distaste for her on a public street, and her dreams had never been shattered.
And when he was in town, which wasn't often, they seemed to settle into an easy, if not terribly deep, friendship. Which was all a twenty-eight-year-old spinster could hope for, right?
Unrequited love was never easy, but at least Penelope Featherington was used to it.
Matchmaking mamas are united in their glee--Colin Bridgerton has returned from Greece!
For those gentle (and ignorant) readers who are new to town this year, Mr. Bridgerton is the third in the legendary string of eight Bridgerton siblings (hence the name Colin, beginning with C; he follows Anthony and Benedict, and precedes Daphne, Eloise, Francesca, Gregory, and Hyacinth.
Although Mr. Bridgerton holds no noble title and is unlikely ever to do so (he is seventh in line for the title of Viscount Bridgerton, behind the two sons of the current viscount, his elder brother Benedict, and his three sons) he is still considered one of the prime catches of the season, due to his fortune, his face, his form, and most of all, his charm. It is difficult, however, to predict whether Mr. Bridgerton will succumb to matrimonial bliss this season; he is certainly of an age to marry (three-and-thirty), but he has never shown a decided interest in any lady of proper parentage, and to make matters even more complicated, he has an appalling tendency to leave London at the drop of a hat, bound for some exotic destination.
Lady Whistledown's Society Papers,
2 April 1824
"Look at this!" Portia Featherington squealed. "Colin Bridgerton is back!"
Penelope looked up from her needlework. Her mother was clutching the latest edition of Lady Whistledown's Society Papers the way Penelope might clutch, say, a rope while hanging off a building. "I know," she murmured.
Portia frowned. She hated when someone --anyone-- was aware of gossip before she was. "How did you get to Whistledown before I did? I told Briarly to set it aside for me and not to let anyone touch--"
"I didn't see it in Whistledown," Penelope interrupted, before her mother went off to castigate the poor, beleaguered butler. "Felicity told me. Yesterday afternoon. Hyacinth Bridgerton told her."
"Your sister spends a great deal of time over at the Bridgerton household."
"As do I," Penelope pointed out, wondering where this was leading.
Portia tapped her finger against the side of her chin, as she always did when she was plotting or scheming. "Colin Bridgerton is of an age to be looking for a wife."
Penelope managed to blink just before her eyes bugged right out of her head. "Colin Bridgerton is not going to marry Felicity!"
Portia gave a little shrug. "Stranger things have happened."
"Not that I've ever seen," Penelope muttered.
"Anthony Bridgerton married that Kate Sheffield girl, and she was even less popular than you."
That wasn't exactly true; Penelope rather thought they'd been on equally low rungs of the social ladder. But there seemed little point in telling this to her mother, who probably thought she'd complimented her third daughter by saying she'd not been the least popular girl that season.
Penelope felt her lips tightening. Her mother's "compliments" had a habit of landing rather like wasps.
"Do not think I mean to criticize," Portia said, suddenly all concern. "In truth, I am glad for your spinsterhood. I am alone in this world save for my daughters, and it's comforting to know that one of you shall be able to care for me in my older years."
Penelope had a vision of the future --the future as described by her mother-- and she had a sudden urge to run out and marry the chimneysweep. She'd long since resigned herself to a life of eternal spinsterhood, but somehow she'd always pictured herself off in her own neat little townhouse. Or maybe a snug cottage by the sea.
But lately Portia had been peppering her conversations with references to her old age and how lucky she was that Penelope could care for her. Never mind that both Prudence and Philippa had married well-heeled men and possessed ample funds to see to their mother's every comfort. Or that Portia was moderately wealthy in her own right; when her family had settled money on her as a dowry, one-fourth of which had been set aside for her own personal account.
No, when Portia talked about being "cared for," she wasn't referring to money. What Portia wanted was a slave.
Penelope sighed. She was being overly harsh with her mother, if only in her own mind. She did that too often. Her mother loved her. She knew her mother loved her. And she loved her mother back.
It was just that sometimes she didn't much like her mother.
She hoped that didn't make her a bad person. But truly, her mother could try the patience of even the kindest, gentlest of daughters, and as Penelope was the first to admit, she could be a wee bit sarcastic at times.
"Why don't you think Colin would marry Felicity?" Portia asked.
Penelope looked up, startled. She'd thought they were done with that subject. She should have known better. Her mother was nothing if not tenacious. "Well," she said slowly, "to begin with, she's twelve years younger than he is."
"Pfft," Portia said, waving her hand dismissively. "That's nothing, and you know it."
Penelope frowned, then yelped as she accidentally stabbed her finger with her needle.
"Besides," Portia continued blithely, "he's" --she looked back down at Whistledown and scanned it for his exact age-- "three-and-thirty! How is he meant to avoid a twelve-year difference between him and his wife? Surely you don't expect him to marry someone your age."
Penelope sucked on her abused finger even though she knew it was hopelessly uncouth to do so. But she needed to put something in her mouth to keep her from saying something horrible and horribly spiteful.
Everything her mother said was true. Many ton weddings --maybe even most of them-- saw men marrying girls a dozen or more years their junior. But somehow the age gap between Colin and Felicity seemed even larger, perhaps because...
Penelope was unable to keep the disgust off her face. "She's like a sister to him. A little sister."
"Really, Penelope. I hardly think--"
"It's almost incestuous," Penelope muttered.
"What did you say?"
Penelope snatched up her needlework again. "Nothing."
"I'm sure you said something."
Penelope shook her head. "I did clear my throat. Perhaps you heard--"
"I heard you saying something. I'm sure of it!"
Penelope groaned. Her life loomed long and tedious ahead of her. "Mother," she said, with the patience of, if not a saint, at least a very devout nun, "Felicity is practically engaged to Mr. Albansdale."
Portia actually began rubbing her hands together. "She won't be engaged to him if she can catch Colin Bridgerton."
"Felicity would die before chasing after Colin."
"Of course not. She's a smart girl. Anyone can see that Colin Bridgerton is a better catch."
"But Felicity loves Mr. Albansdale!"
Portia deflated into her perfectly upholstered chair. "There is that."
"And," Penelope added with great feeling, "Mr. Albansdale is in possession of a perfectly respectable fortune."
Portia tapped her index finger against her cheek. "True. Not," she said sharply, "as respectable as a Bridgerton portion, but it's nothing to sneeze at, I suppose."
Penelope knew it was time to let it go, but she couldn't stop her mouth from opening one last time, "In all truth, Mother, he's a wonderful match for Felicity. We should be delighted for her."
"I know, I know," Portia grumbled. "It's just that I so wanted one of my daughters to marry a Bridgerton. What a coup! I would be the talk of London for weeks. Years, maybe."
Penelope stabbed her needle into the cushion beside her. It was a rather foolish way to vent her anger, but the alternative was to jump to her feet and yell, What about me? Portia seemed to think that once Felicity was wed, her hopes for a Bridgerton union were forever dashed. But Penelope was still unmarried--didn't that count for anything?
Was it so much to wish that her mother thought of her with the same pride she felt for her other three daughters? Penelope knew that Colin wasn't going to choose her as his bride, but shouldn't a mother be at least a little bit blind to her children's faults? It was obvious to Penelope that neither Prudence, Philippa, nor even Felicity had ever had a chance with a Bridgerton. Why did her mother seem to think their charms so exceeded Penelope's?
Very well, Penelope had to admit that Felicity enjoyed a popularity that exceeded that of her three older sisters combined. But Prudence and Philippa had never been Incomparables. They'd hovered on the perimeters of ballrooms just as much as Penelope had.
Except, of course, that they were married now. Penelope wouldn't have wanted to cleave herself onto either of their husbands, but at least they were wives.
Thankfully, however, Portia's mind had already moved on to greener pastures. "I must pay a call upon Violet," she was saying. "She'll be so relieved that Colin is back."
"I'm sure Lady Bridgerton will be delighted to see you," Penelope said.
"That poor woman," Portia said, her sigh dramatic. "She worries about him, you know--"
"Truly, I think it is more than a mother should be expected to bear. He goes gallivanting about, the good Lord only knows where, to countries that are positively unheathen--"
"I believe they practice Christianity in Greece," Penelope murmured, her eyes back down on her needlework.
"Don't be impertinent, Penelope Anne Featherington, and they're Catholics!" Portia shuddered on the word.
"They're not Catholics at all," Penelope replied, giving up on the needlework and setting it aside. "They're Greek Orthodox."
"Well, they're not Church of England," Portia said with a sniff.
"Seeing as how they're Greek, I don't think they're terribly worried about that."
Portia's eyes narrowed disapprovingly. "And how do you know about this Greek religion, anyway? No, don't tell me," she said with a dramatic flourish. "You read it somewhere."
Penelope just blinked as she tried to think of a suitable reply.
"I wish you wouldn't read so much," Portia sighed. "I probably could have married you off years ago if you had concentrated more on the social graces and less on... less on..."
Penelope had to ask. "Less on what?"
"I don't know. Whatever it is you do that has you staring into space and daydreaming so often."
"I'm just thinking," Penelope said quietly. "Sometimes I just like to stop and think."
"Stop what?" Portia wanted to know.
Penelope couldn't help but smile. Portia's query seemed to sum up all that was different between mother and daughter. "It's nothing, Mother," Penelope said. "Really."
Portia looked as if she wanted to say more, then thought the better of it. Or maybe she was just hungry. She did pluck a biscuit off the tea tray and pop it into her mouth.
Penelope started to reach out to take the last biscuit for herself, then decided to let her mother have it. She might as well keep her mother's mouth full. The last thing she wanted was to find herself in another conversation about Colin Bridgerton.
Penelope looked up from her book --A Brief History of Greece-- to see Eloise Bridgerton bursting into her room. As usual, Eloise had not been announced. The Featherington butler was so used to seeing her there that he treated her like a member of the family.
"Is he?" Penelope asked, managing to feign (in her opinion) rather realistic indifference. Of course she did set A Brief History of Greece down behind Mathilda, the novel by S.R. Fielding that had been all the rage a year earlier. Everyone had a copy of Mathilda on their bedstand. And it was thick enough to hide A Brief History of Greece.
Eloise sat down in Penelope's desk chair. "Indeed, and he's very tanned. All that time in the sun, I suppose."
"He went to Greece, didn't he?"
Eloise shook her head. "He said that the war there has worsened, and it was too dangerous. So he went to Cyprus instead."
"My, my," Penelope said with a smile. "Lady Whistledown got something wrong."
Eloise smiled that cheeky Bridgerton smile, and once again, Penelope realized how lucky she was to have her as her closest friend. She and Eloise had been inseparable since the age of seventeen. They'd had their London seasons together, reached adulthood together, and, much to their mothers' dismay, had become spinsters together.
Eloise claimed that she hadn't met the right person.
Penelope, of course, hadn't been asked.
"Did he enjoy Cyprus?" Penelope inquired.
Eloise sighed. "He said it was brilliant. How I should love to travel. It seems everyone has been somewhere but me."
"And me," Penelope reminded her.
"And you," Eloise agreed. "Thank goodness for you."
"Eloise!" Penelope exclaimed, throwing a pillow at her. But she thanked goodness for Eloise, too. Every day. Many women went through their entire lives without a close female friend, and here she had someone to whom she could tell anything. Well, almost anything. Penelope had never told her of her feelings for Colin, although she rather thought Eloise suspected the truth. Eloise was far too tactful to mention it, though, which only validated Penelope's certainty that Colin would never love her. If Eloise had thought, for even one moment, that Penelope actually had a chance at snaring Colin as a husband, she would have been plotting her matchmaking strategies with a ruthlessness that would have impressed any army general.
When it came right down to it, Eloise was a rather managing sort of person.
"...and then he said that the water was so choppy that he actually cast up his accounts over the side of the boat, and--" Eloise scowled. "You're not listening to me."
"No," Penelope admitted. "Well, yes, actually, parts of it. I cannot believe Colin actually told you he vomited."
"Well, I am his sister."
"He'd be furious with you if he knew you'd told me."
Eloise waved off her protest. "He won't mind. You're like another sister to him."
Penelope smiled, but she sighed at the same time.
"Mother asked him --of course-- whether he was planning to remain in town for the season," Eloise continued, "and --of course-- he was terribly evasive, but then I decided to interrogate him myself--"
"Terribly smart of you," Penelope murmured.
Eloise threw the pillow back at her. "And I finally got him to admit to me that yes, he thinks he will stay for at least a few months. But he made me promise not to tell Mother."
"Now, that's not" --Penelope cleared her throat-- "terribly intelligent of him. If your mother thinks his time here is limited, she will redouble her efforts to see him married. I should think that was what he wanted most to avoid."
"It does seem his usual aim in life," Eloise concurred.
"If he lulled her into thinking that there was no rush, perhaps she might not badger him quite so much."
"An interesting idea," Eloise said, "but probably more true in theory than in practice. My mother is so determined to see him wed that it matters not if she increases her efforts. Her regular efforts are enough to drive him mad as it is."
"Can one go doubly mad?" Penelope mused.
Eloise cocked her head. "I don't know," she said. "I don't think I should want to find out."
They both fell silent for a moment (a rare occurrence, indeed) and then Eloise quite suddenly jumped to her feet and said, "I must go."
Penelope smiled. People who didn't know Eloise very well thought she had a habit of changing the subject frequently (and abruptly) but Penelope knew that the truth was something else altogether. When Eloise had her mind set on something, she was completely unable to let it go. Which meant that if Eloise suddenly wanted to leave, it probably had to do with something they'd been talking about earlier in the afternoon, and--
"Colin is expected for tea," Eloise explained.
Penelope smiled. She loved being right.
"You should come," Eloise said.
Penelope shook her head. "He'll want it to be just family."
"You're probably right," Eloise said, nodding slightly. "Very well, then, I must be off. Terribly sorry to cut my visit so short, but I just wanted to be sure that you knew Colin was home."
"Whistledown," Penelope reminded her.
"Right. Where does that woman get her information?" Eloise said, shaking her head in wonder. "I vow sometimes she knows so much about my family I wonder if I ought to be frightened."
"She can't go on forever," Penelope commented, getting up to see her friend out. "Someone will eventually figure out who she is, don't you think?"
"I don't know." Eloise put her hand on the doorknob, twisted, and pulled. "I used to think so. But it's been ten years. More, actually. If she were going to be caught, I think it would have happened already."
Penelope followed Eloise down the stairs. "Eventually, she'll make a mistake. She has to. She's only human."
Eloise laughed. "And here I thought she was a minor god."
Penelope found herself grinning.
Eloise stopped and whirled around so suddenly that Penelope crashed right into her, nearly sending both of them tumbling down the last few steps on the staircase. "Do you know what?" Eloise demanded.
"I couldn't even begin to speculate."
Eloise didn't even bother to pull a face. "I'd wager that she has made a mistake," she said.
"I beg your pardon?"
"You said it yourself. She --or it could be he, I suppose-- has been writing the column for over a decade. No one could do that for so long without making a mistake. Do you know what I think?"
Penelope just spread her hands in an impatient gesture.
"I think the problem is that the rest of us are too stupid to notice her mistakes."
Penelope stared at her for a moment, then burst out laughing. "Oh, Eloise," she said, wiping tears from her eyes. "I do love you."
Eloise grinned. "And it's a good thing you do, spinster that I am. We shall have to set up a household together when we are thirty and truly crones."
Penelope caught hold of the idea like a lifeboat. "Do you think we could?" she exclaimed. And then, in a hushed voice, after looking furtively up and down the hall, "Mother has begun to speak of her old age with alarming frequency."
"What's so alarming about that?"
"I'm in all of her visions, waiting on her hand and foot."
"A milder expletive than had crossed my mind."
"Penelope!" But Eloise was grinning.
"I love my mother," Penelope said.
"I know you do," Eloise said, in a rather placating sort of voice.
"No, I really do."
The left corner of Eloise's mouth began to twitch. "I know you really do. Really."
"It's just that--"
Eloise put up a hand. "You don't need to say any more. I understand perfectly. I-- Oh! Good day, Mrs. Featherington!"
"Eloise," Portia said, bustling down the hall. "I didn't realize you were here."
"I'm sneaky as always," Eloise said. "Cheeky, even."
Portia gave her an indulgent smile. "I heard your brother is back in town."
"Yes, we are all overjoyed."
"I'm sure you must be, especially your mother."
"Indeed. She is beside herself. I believe she is drawing up a list right now."
Portia's entire aspect perked up, as it did at the mention of anything that might be construed as gossip. "A list? What sort of list?"
"Oh, you know, the same list she has made for all of her adult children. Prospective spouses and all that."
"It makes me wonder," Penelope said in a dry voice, "what constitutes 'all that.' "
"Sometimes she includes one or two people who are hopelessly unsuitable so as to highlight the qualities of the real possibilities."
Portia laughed. "Perhaps she'll put you on Colin's list, Penelope!"
Penelope didn't laugh. Neither did Eloise. Portia didn't seem to notice.
"Well, I'd best be off," Eloise said, clearing her throat to cover a moment that was awkward to two of the three people in the hall. "Colin is expected for tea. Mother wants the entire family in attendance."
"Will you all fit?" Penelope asked. Lady Bridgerton's home was large, but the Bridgerton children, spouses, and grandchildren numbered twenty-one. It was a large brood, indeed.
"We're going to Bridgerton House," Eloise explained. Her mother had moved out of the Bridgertons' official London residence after her eldest son had married. Anthony, who had been viscount since the age of eighteen, had told Violet that she needn't go, but she had insisted that he and his wife needed their privacy. As a result, Anthony and Kate lived with their three children in Bridgerton House, while Violet lived with her unmarried children (with the exception of Colin, who kept his own lodgings) just a few blocks away at 5 Bruton Street. After a year or so of unsuccessful attempts to name Lady Bridgerton's new home, the family had taken to calling it simply Number Five.
"Do enjoy yourself," Portia said. "I must go and find Felicity. We are late for an appointment at the modiste."
Eloise watched Portia disappear up the stairs, then said to Penelope, "Your sister seems to spend a great deal of time at the modiste."
Penelope shrugged. "Felicity is going mad with all the fittings, but she's Mother's only hope for a truly grand match. I'm afraid she's convinced that Felicity will catch a duke if she's wearing the right gown."
"Isn't she practically engaged to Mr. Albansdale?"
"I imagine he'll make a formal offer next week. But until then, Mother is keeping her eyes open." She rolled her eyes. "You'd best warn your brother to keep his distance."
"Gregory?" Eloise asked in disbelief. "He's not even out of university."
"Colin?" Eloise exploded with laughter. "Oh, that's rich."
"That's what I told her, but you know how she is once she gets an idea in her head."
Eloise chuckled. "Rather like me, I imagine."
"Tenacious to the end."
"Tenacity can be a very good thing," Eloise reminded her, "at the proper time."
"Right," Penelope returned with a sarcastic smile, "and at the improper time, it's an absolute nightmare."
Eloise laughed. "Cheer up, friend. At least she let you rid yourself of all those yellow frocks."
Penelope looked down at her morning dress, which was, if she did say so herself, a rather flattering shade of blue. "She stopped choosing my clothing once she finally realized I was officially on the shelf. A girl with no marriage prospects isn't worth the time and energy it takes her to offer fashion advice. She hasn't accompanied me to the modiste in over a year! Bliss!"
Eloise smiled at her friend, whose complexion turned the loveliest peaches and cream whenever she wore cooler hues. "It was apparent to all the moment you were allowed to choose your own clothing. Even Lady Whistledown commented upon it!"
"I hid that column from Mother," Penelope admitted. "I didn't want her feelings to be hurt."
Eloise blinked a few times before saying, "That was very kind of you, Penelope."
"I have my moments of charity and grace."
"One would think," Eloise said with a snort, "that a vital component of charity and grace is the ability not to draw attention to one's possession of them."
Penelope pursed her lips as she pushed Eloise toward the door. "Don't you need to go home?"
"I'm leaving! I'm leaving!"
And she left.
It was, Colin Bridgerton decided as he took a sip of some truly excellent brandy, rather nice to be back in England.
It was quite strange, actually, how he loved returning home just as much as he did the departure. The beauty of travel surely lay equally in the coming and the going. In another few months --six at the most-- he'd be itching to leave again, but for now, England in April was positively brilliant.
"It's good, isn't it?"
Colin looked up. His brother Anthony was leaning against the front of his massive mahogany desk, motioning to him with his own glass of brandy.
Colin nodded. "Hadn't realized how much I missed it until I returned. Ouzo has its charms, but this" --he lifted his glass-- "is heaven."
Anthony smiled wryly. "And how long do you plan to remain this time?"
Colin wandered over to the window and pretended to look out. His eldest brother made little attempt to disguise his impatience with Colin's wanderlust. In truth, Colin really couldn't blame him. It could be difficult to get letters home; he supposed that his family often had to wait a month or even two for word of his welfare. But while he knew that he would not relish being in their shoes --never knowing if a loved one was dead or alive, constantly waiting for the knock of the messenger at the front door-- that just wasn't enough to keep his feet firmly planted in England.
Every now and then, he simply had to get away. There was really no other way to describe it.
Away from the ton, who thought him a charming rogue and nothing else, away from England, which encouraged younger sons to enter the military or the clergy, neither of which suited his temperament. Even away from his family, who loved him unconditionally but had no clue that what he really wanted, deep down inside, was something to do.
His brother Anthony held the viscountcy, and with that came myriad responsibilities. He ran estates, managed the family's finances, and saw to the welfare of countless tenants and servants. Benedict, his elder by four years, had gained renown as an artist. He'd started with pencil and paper, but at the urging of his wife had moved on to oils. One of his landscapes now hung in the National Gallery.
Anthony would be forever remembered in family trees as the seventh Viscount Bridgerton. Benedict would live through his paintings, long after he left this earth.
But Colin had nothing. He managed the small property given to him by his family and he attended parties. He would never dream of claiming he didn't have fun, but sometimes he wanted something a little more than fun.
He wanted a purpose.
He wanted a legacy.
He wanted, if not to know then at least to hope, that when he was gone, he'd be memorialized in some manner other than in Lady Whistledown's Society Papers.
He sighed. No wonder he spent so much time traveling.
"Colin?" his brother prompted.
Colin turned to him and blinked. He was fairly certain Anthony had asked him a question, but somewhere in the meanderings of his mind, he'd forgotten what.
"Oh. Right." Colin cleared his throat. I'll be here for the rest of the season, at least."
Anthony said nothing, but Colin could well imagine the satisfied expression on his face.
"If nothing else," Colin added, turning around and affixing his legendary crooked grin on his face, "someone has to spoil your children. I don't think Charlotte has nearly enough dolls."
"Only fifty," Anthony agreed in a deadpan voice.
"The poor girl is horribly neglected."
"Her birthday is at the end of this month, is it not? I shall have to neglect her some more, I think."
"Speaking of birthdays," Anthony said, settling into the large chair behind his desk, "Mother's is a week from Sunday."
"Why do you think I hurried to return?"
Anthony raised a brow, and Colin had the distinct impression that he was trying to decide if Colin had truly rushed home for their mother's birthday, or if he were simply taking advantage of some very good timing.
"We're holding a party for her," Anthony said.
"She's letting you?" It was Colin's experience that women of a certain age did not enjoy birthday celebrations. And although his mother was still exceedingly lovely, she was definitely of a certain age.
"We were forced to resort to blackmail," Anthony admitted. "She agreed to the party or we revealed her true age."
Colin shouldn't have taken a sip of his brandy; he choked on it and just barely managed to avert spraying it all over his brother. "I should have liked to have seen that."
Anthony offered a rather satisfied smile. "It was a brilliant maneuver on my part."
Colin finished the rest of his drink. "What, do you think, are the chances she won't use the party as an opportunity to find me a wife?"
"I thought so." Anthony leaned back in his chair. "You are thirty-three now, Colin..."
Colin stared at him in disbelief. "God above, don't you start on me."
"I wouldn't dream of it. I was merely going to suggest that you keep your eyes open this season. You needn't actively look for a wife, but there's no harm in remaining open to the possibility."
Colin eyed the doorway, intending to pass through it very shortly. "I assure you I am not averse to the idea of marriage."
"I didn't think you were," Anthony demurred.
"I see little reason to rush, however."
"There's never a reason to rush," Anthony returned. "Well, rarely, anyway. Just humor Mother, will you?"
Colin hadn't realized he was still holding his empty glass until it slipped through his fingers and landed on the carpet with a loud thunk. "Good God," he whispered, "is she ill?"
"No!" Anthony said, his surprise making his voice loud and forceful. "She'll outlive us all, I'm sure of it."
"Then what is this about?" Anthony sighed. "I just want to see you happy."
"I am happy," Colin insisted.
"Hell, I'm the happiest man in London. Just read Lady Whistledown. She'll tell you so."
Romancing Mr. Bridgerton is Book 4 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 5: To Sir Phillip, With Love
Book 6: When He Was Wicked
Book 7: It's In His Kiss
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.