To Sir Phillip, with Love: The Epilogue II
A book in the Bridgerton 2nd Epilogues series, 2009
I am not the most patient of individuals. And I have almost no tolerance for stupidity. Which was why I was proud of myself for holding my tongue this afternoon while having tea with the Brougham family.
The Broughams are our neighbors and have been for the past six years, since Mr. Brougham inherited the property from his uncle, also named Mr. Brougham. They have four daughters and one extremely spoiled son. Luckily for me, the son is five years younger than I am, which means I shall not have to entertain notions of marrying him. (Although my sisters, Penelope and Georgiana, nine and ten years my junior, will not be so lucky.) The Brougham daughters are all close in age, beginning two years ahead of me and ending two behind. They are perfectly pleasant, if perhaps a touch too sweet and gentle for my taste. But lately they have been too much to bear.
This is because I, too, have a brother, and he is not five years younger than they are. In fact, he is my twin, which makes him a matrimonial possibility for any of them.
Unsurprisingly, Oliver did not elect to accompany my mother, Penelope, and me to tea.
But here is what happened, and here is why I am pleased with myself for not saying what I wished to say, which was: Surely you must be an idiot.
I was sipping my tea, trying to keep the cup at my lips for as long as possible so as to avoid questions about Oliver, when Mrs. Brougham said, “It must be so very intriguing to be a twin. Tell me, dear Amanda, how is it different than not being one?”
I should hope that I do not have to explain why this question was so asinine. I could hardly tell her what the difference was, as I have spent approximately one hundred percent of my life as a twin and thus have precisely zero experience at not being one.
I must have worn my disdain on my face because my mother shot me one of her legendary warning looks the moment my lips parted to reply. Because I did not wish to embarrass my mother (and not because I felt any need to make Mrs. Brougham feel cleverer than she actually was), I said, “I suppose one always has a companion.”
“But your brother is not here now,” one of the Brougham girls said.
“My father is not always with my mother, and I would imagine that she considers him to be her companion,” I replied.
“A brother is hardly the same as a husband,” Mrs. Brougham trilled.
“One would hope,” I retorted. Truly, this was one of the more ridiculous conversations in which I had taken part. And Penelope looked as if she would have questions when we returned home.
My mother gave me another look, one that said she knew exactly what sort of questions Penelope would have, and she did not wish to answer them. But as my mother had always said, she valued curiosity in females…
Well, she’d be hoist by her own petard.
I should mention that, petard-hoisings aside, I am convinced that I have the finest mother in England. And unlike being a nontwin, about which I have no knowledge, I do know what it’s like to have a different mother, so I am fully qualified, in my opinion, to make the judgment.
My mother, Eloise Crane, is actually my stepmother, although I only refer to her as such when required to for purposes of clarification. She married my father when Oliver and I were eight years old, and I am quite certain she saved us all. It is difficult to explain what our lives were like before she entered them. I could certainly describe events, but the tone of it all, the feeling in our house…
I don’t really know how to convey it.
My mother-my original mother-killed herself. For most of my life I did not know this. I thought she died of a fever, which I suppose is true. What no one told me was that the fever was brought on because she tried to drown herself in a lake in the dead of winter.
I have no intention of taking my own life, but I must say, this would not be my chosen method.
I know I should feel compassion and sympathy for her. My current mother was a distant cousin of hers and tells me that she was sad her entire life. She tells me that some people are like that, just as others are unnaturally cheerful all the time. But I can’t help but think that if she was going to kill herself, she might as well have done it earlier. Perhaps when I was a toddler. Or better yet, an infant. It certainly would have made my life easier.
I asked my uncle Hugh (who is not really my uncle, but he is married to the stepsister of my current mother’s brother’s wife and he lives quite close and he’s a vicar) if I would be going to hell for such a thought. He said no, that frankly, it made a lot of sense to him.
I do think I prefer his parish to my own.
But the thing is, now I have memories of her. Marina, my first mother. I don’t want memories of her. The ones I have are hazy and muddled. I can’t recall the sound of her voice. Oliver says that might be because she hardly spoke. I can’t remember whether she spoke or not. I can’t remember the exact shape of her face, and I can’t remember her smell.
Instead, I remember standing outside her door, feeling very small and frightened. And I remember tiptoeing a great deal, because we knew we mustn’t make noise. I remember always feeling rather nervous, as if I knew something bad were about to happen.
And indeed it did.
Shouldn’t a memory be specific? I would not mind a memory of a moment, or of a face, or a sound. Instead, I have vague feelings, and not even happy ones at that.
I once asked Oliver if he had the same memories, and he just shrugged and said he didn’t really think about her. I am not sure if I believe him. I suppose I probably do; he does not often think deeply about such things. Or perhaps more accurately, he does not think deeply about anything. One can only hope that when he marries (which surely will not come soon enough for the sisters Brougham) that he will choose a bride with a similar lack of thoughtfulness and sensibility. Otherwise, she shall be miserable. He won’t be, of course; he wouldn’t even notice her misery.
Men are like that, I’m told.
My father, for example, is remarkably unobservant. Unless, of course, you happen to be a plant, then he notices everything. He is a botanist and could happily toddle about in his greenhouse all day. He seems to me a most unlikely match for my mother, who is vivacious and outgoing and never at a loss for words; but when they are together, it is obvious that they love each other very much. Last week I caught them kissing in the garden. I was aghast. Mother is nearly forty, and Father older than that.
But I have digressed. I was speaking of the Brougham family, more specifically of Mrs. Brougham’s foolish query about not being a twin. I was, as previously mentioned, feeling rather pleased with myself for not having been rude, when Mrs. Brougham said something that was of interest.
“My nephew comes to visit this afternoon.”
Every one of the Brougham girls popped straighter in her seat. I swear, it was like some children’s game with snaps. Bing bing bing bing…Up they went, from perfect posture to preternaturally erect.
From this I immediately deduced that Mrs. Brougham’s nephew must be of marriageable age, probably of good fortune, and perhaps of pleasing features.
“You did not mention that Ian was coming to visit,” one of the daughters said.
“He’s not,” replied Mrs. Brougham. “He is still at Oxford, as you well know. Charles is coming.”
Poof. The daughters Brougham deflated, all at once.
“Oh,” said one of them. “Charlie.”
“Today, you say,” said another, with a remarkable lack of enthusiasm.
And then the third said, “I shall have to hide my dolls.”
The fourth said nothing. She just resumed drinking her tea, looking rather bored by the whole thing.
“Why do you have to hide your dolls?” Penelope asked. In all truth, I was wondering the same thing, but it seemed too childish a question for a lady of nineteen years.
“That was twelve years ago, Dulcie,” Mrs. Brougham said. “Good heavens, you’ve a memory of an elephant.”
“One does not forget what he did to my dolls,” Dulcie said darkly.
“What did he do?” Penelope asked.
Dulcie made a slashing motion across her throat. Penelope gasped, and I must confess, there was something rather gruesome in Dulcie’s expression.
“He is a beast,” said one of Dulcie’s sisters.
“He is not a beast,” Mrs. Brougham insisted.
The Brougham girls all looked at us, shaking their heads in silent agreement, as if to say-Do not listen to her.
“How old is your nephew now?” my mother asked.
“Two-and-twenty,” Mrs. Brougham replied, looking rather grateful for the question. “He was graduated from Oxford last month.”
“He is a year older than Ian,” explained one of the girls.
I nodded, even though I could hardly use Ian-whom I had never met-as a reference point.
“He’s not as handsome.”
“Or as nice.”
I looked at the last Brougham daughter, awaiting her contribution. But all she did was yawn.
“How long will he be staying?” my mother asked politely.
“Two weeks,” Mrs. Brougham answered, but she really only got out, “Two wee-” before one of her daughters howled with dismay.
“Two weeks! An entire fortnight!”
“I was hoping he could accompany us to the local assembly,” Mrs. Brougham said.
This was met by more groans. I must say, I was beginning to grow curious about this Charles fellow. Anyone who could inspire such dread amongst the Brougham daughters must have something to recommend him.
Not, I hasten to add, that I dislike the Brougham daughters. Unlike their brother, none of them was granted her every wish and whim, and thus they are not at all unbearable. But they are-how shall I say it-placid and biddable, and therefore not a natural sort of companion for me (about whom such adjectives have never been applied). Truthfully, I don’t think I had ever known any of them to express a strong opinion about anything. If all four of them detested someone that much-well, if nothing else, he would be interesting.
“Does your nephew like to ride?” my mother asked.
Mrs. Brougham got a crafty look in her eye. “I believe so.”
“Perhaps Amanda would consent to showing him the area.” With that, my mother smiled a most uncharacteristically innocent and sweet smile.
Perhaps I should add that one of the reasons I am convinced that mine is the finest mother in England is that she is rarely innocent and sweet. Oh, do not misunderstand-she has a heart of gold and would do anything for her family. But she grew up the fifth in a family of eight, and she can be marvelously devious and underhanded.
Also, she cannot be bested in conversation. Trust me, I have tried.
So when she offered me up as a guide, I could do nothing but say yes, even as three out of four Brougham sisters began to snicker. (The fourth still looked bored. I was beginning to wonder if there might be something wrong with her.)
“Tomorrow,” Mrs. Brougham said delightedly. She clapped her hands together and beamed. “I shall send him over tomorrow afternoon. Will that do?”
Again, I could say nothing but yes, and so I did, wondering what exactly I had just consented to.
The following afternoon I was dressed in my best riding habit and was lolling about the drawing room, wondering if the mysterious Charles Brougham would actually make an appearance. If he didn’t, I thought, he’d be entirely within his rights. It would be rude, of course, as he was breaking a commitment made on his behalf by his aunt, but all the same, it wasn’t as if he’d asked to be saddled with the local gentry.
My mother had not even tried to deny that she was playing matchmaker. This surprised me; I would have thought she’d put up at least a feeble protest. But instead she reminded me that I had refused a season in London, and then began to expound upon the lack of appropriately aged, eligible gentlemen here in our corner of Gloucestershire.
I reminded her that she had not found her husband in London.
She then said something that began with “Be that as it may,” then veered off so quickly and with such twists and turns that I could not follow a thing she said.
Which I am fairly certain was her intention.
My mother wasn’t precisely upset that I had said no to a season; she was rather fond of our life in the country, and heaven knows my father would not survive in town for more than a week. Mother called me unkind for saying so, but I believe that she secretly agreed with me-Father would get distracted by a plant in the park, and we’d never find him again. (He’s a bit distractible, my father.)
Or, and I confess this is more likely, he would say something utterly inappropriate at a party. Unlike my mother, my father does not have the gift of polite conversation, and he certainly does not see the need for double entendre or cunning twists of phrase. As far as he is concerned, a body ought to say what a body means.
I do love my father, but it is clear that he should be kept away from town.
I could have had a season in London, if I wished. My mother’s family is extremely well-connected. Her brother is a viscount, and her sisters married a duke, an earl, and a baron. I should be admitted to all of the most exclusive gatherings. But I really didn’t wish to go. I should have no freedom whatsoever. Here I may take walks or go for a ride by myself so long as I tell someone where I am going. In London, a young lady may not so much as touch her toe to her front steps without a chaperone.
I think it sounds dreadful.
But back to my mother. She did not mind that I had refused the season because this meant that she would not have to be apart from my father for several months. (Since, as we have determined, he would have to be left at home.) But at the same time, she was genuinely concerned for my future. To that end, she had launched into a bit of a crusade. If I would not go to the eligible gentlemen, she would bring them to me.
Hence Charles Brougham.
At two o’clock, he had still not arrived, and I must confess, I was growing irritable. It was a hot day, or at least as hot as it gets in Gloucestershire, and my dark green habit, which had felt so stylish and jaunty when I had donned it, was beginning to itch.
I was beginning to wilt.
Somehow my mother and Mrs. Brougham had forgotten to set a time for the nephew’s arrival, so I had been obligated to be dressed and ready at noon precisely.
“What time would you say marks the end of the afternoon?” I asked, fanning myself with a folded-up newspaper.
“Hmmm?” My mother was writing a letter-presumably to one of her many siblings-and wasn’t really listening. She looked quite lovely sitting there by the window. I have no idea what my original mother would have looked like as an older woman since she did not deign to live that long, but Eloise had not lost any of her beauty. Her hair was still a rich, chestnut color and her skin unlined. Her eyes are difficult to describe-rather changeable in color, actually.
She tells me that she was never considered a beauty when she was young. No one thought she was unattractive, and she was in fact quite popular, but she was never designated a diamond of the first water. She tells me that women of intelligence age better.
I find this interesting, and I do hope it bodes well for my own future.
But at present I was not concerned for any future outside that of the next ten minutes, after which I was convinced I would perish from the heat. “The afternoon,” I repeated. “When would you say it ends? Four o’clock? Five? Please say it isn’t six.”
She finally glanced up. “What are you talking about?”
“Mr. Brougham. We did say the afternoon, did we not?”
She looked at me blankly.
“I may stop waiting for him once the afternoon passes into evening, may I not?”
Mother paused for a moment, her quill suspended in air. “You should not be so impatient, Amanda.”
“I’m not,” I insisted. “I’m hot.”
She considered that. “It is warm in here, isn’t it?”
I nodded. “My habit is made of wool.”
She grimaced, but I noticed she did not suggest that I change. She was not going to sacrifice a potential suitor for anything as inconsequential as the weather. I resumed fanning myself.
“I don’t think his name is Brougham,” Mother said.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I believe he is related to Mrs. Brougham, not Mister. I don’t know what her family name is.”
She went back to her letter. My mother writes an inordinate number of letters. About what, I cannot imagine. I would not call our family dull, but we are certainly ordinary. Surely her sisters have grown bored of Georgiana has mastered French conjugation and Frederick has skinned his knee.
But Mother likes to receive letters, and she says that one must send to receive, so there she is at her desk, nearly every day, recounting the boring details of our lives.
“Someone is coming,” she said, just as I was beginning to nod off on the sofa. I sat up and turned toward the window. Sure enough, a carriage was rolling up the drive.
“I thought we were meant to go for a ride,” I said, somewhat irritably. Had I sweltered in my riding habit for nothing?
“You were,” Mother murmured, her brow knitting together as she watched the carriage draw near.
I did not think that Mr. Brougham-or whoever was in the carriage-could see into the drawing room through the open window, but just in case, I maintained my dignified position on the sofa, tilting my head ever so slightly so that I could observe the events in the front drive.
The carriage came to a halt, and a gentleman hopped down, but his back was to the house, and I could see nothing of him other than his height (average) and his hair (dark). He then reached up and assisted a lady down.
“What is she doing here?” I said indignantly.
And then, once Dulcie had both feet safely on the ground, the gentleman aided another young lady, then another. And then another.
“Did he bring all of the Brougham girls?” my mother asked.
“I thought they hated him.”
I shook my head. “Apparently not.”
The reason for the sisters’ about-face became clear a few moments later, when Gunning announced their arrival.
I do not know what Cousin Charles used to look like, but now…well, let us just say that any young lady would find him pleasing. His hair was thick and with a bit of wave, and even from across the room, I could see that his eyelashes were ridiculously long. His mouth was the sort that always looks as if it is about to smile, which in my opinion is the best sort of mouth to have.
I am not saying that I felt anything other than polite interest, but the Brougham sisters were falling all over themselves to be the one on his arm.
“Dulcie,” my mother said, walking forth with a welcoming smile. “And Antonia. And Sarah.” She took a breath. “And Cordelia, too. What a pleasant surprise to see all of you.”
It is a testament to my mother’s skills as a hostess that she did indeed sound pleased.
“We could not let dear Cousin Charles come over by himself,” Dulcie explained.
“He does not know the way,” added Antonia.
It could not have been a simpler journey-one had only to ride into the village, turn right at the church, and it was only another mile until our drive.
But I did not say this. I did, however, look over at Mr. Brougham with some sympathy. It could not have been an entertaining drive.
“Charles, dear,” Dulcie was saying, “this is Lady Crane, and Miss Amanda Crane.”
I bobbed a curtsy, wondering if I was going to have to climb into that carriage with all five of them. I hoped not. If it was hot in here, it would be beastly in the carriage.
“Lady Crane, Amanda,” Dulcie continued, “my dear cousin Charles, Mr. Farraday.”
I cocked my head at that. My mother was correct-his name was not Brougham. Oh dear, did that mean he was related to Mrs. Brougham? I found Mr. Brougham the more sensible of the two.
Mr. Farraday bowed politely, and for the briefest of moments, his eyes caught mine.
I should say at this point that I am not a romantic. Or at least I do not think I am a romantic. If I were, I would have gone to London for that season. I would have spent my days reading poetry and my nights dancing and flirting and making merry.
I certainly do not believe in love at first sight. Even my parents, who are as much in love as anyone I know, tell me that they did not love each other instantly.
But when my eyes met Mr. Farraday’s…
As I said, it was not love at first sight, since I do not believe in such things. It was not anything at first sight, really, but there was something…a shared recognition…a sense of humor. I’m not certain how to describe it.
I suppose, if pressed, that I would say it was a sense of knowing. That somehow I already knew him. Which was of course ridiculous.
But not as ridiculous as his cousins, who were trilling and frilling and fluttering about. Clearly they had decided that Cousin Charles was no longer a beast, and if anyone was going to marry him, it was going to be one of them.
“Mr. Farraday,” I said, and I could feel the corners of my mouth pinching in an attempt to hold back a smile.
“Miss Crane,” he said, wearing much the same expression. He bent over my hand and kissed it, much to the consternation of Dulcie, who was standing right next to me.
Again, I must stress that I am not a romantic. But my insides did a little flip when his lips touched my skin.
“I am afraid that I am dressed for a ride,” I told him, motioning to my riding habit.
“So you are.”
I glanced ruefully at his cousins, who were most assuredly not dressed for any sort of athletic endeavor. “It’s such a lovely day,” I murmured.
“Girls,” my mother said, looking squarely at the Brougham sisters, “why don’t you join me while Amanda and your cousin go for a ride? I did promise your mother that she would show him the area.”
Antonia opened her mouth to protest, but she was no match for Eloise Crane, and indeed she did not make even a sound before my mother added, “Oliver will be down shortly.”
That settled it. They sat, all four of them, in a neat row on the sofa, descending as one, with identically placid smiles on their faces.
I almost felt sorry for Oliver.
“I did not bring my mount,” Mr. Farraday said regretfully.
“That is no matter,” I replied. “We have an excellent stables. I’m certain we can find something suitable.”
And off we went, out the drawing-room door, then out of the house, then around the corner to the back lawn, and then-
Mr. Farraday sagged against the wall, laughing. “Oh, thank you,” he said, with great feeling. “Thank you. Thank you.”
I was not sure if I should feign ignorance. I could hardly acknowledge the sentiment without insulting his cousins, which I did not wish to do. As I have mentioned, I do not dislike the Brougham sisters, even if I found them a bit ridiculous that afternoon.
“Tell me you can ride,” he said.
He motioned to the house. “None of them can.”
“That’s not true,” I replied, puzzled. I knew I had seen them on horseback at some point.
“They can sit in a saddle,” he said, his eyes flashing with what could only be a dare, “but they cannot ride.”
“I see,” I murmured. I considered my options and said, “I can.”
He looked at me, one corner of his mouth tilted up. His eyes were a rather nice shade of green, mossy with little brown flecks. And again, I got that odd sense of being in accord.
I hope I am not being immodest when I say that there are a few things I do quite well. I can shoot with a pistol (although not with a rifle, and not as well as my mother, who is freakishly good). I can add up sums twice as quickly as Oliver, provided I have pen and paper. I can fish, and I can swim, and above all, I can ride.
“Come with me,” I said, motioning toward the stables.
He did, falling into step beside me. “Tell me, Miss Crane,” he said, his voice laced with amusement, “with what were you bribed for your presence this afternoon?”
“You think your company was not enough reward?”
“You did not know me,” he pointed out.
“True.” We turned onto the path toward the stables, and I was happy to feel that the breeze was picking up. “As it happens, I was outmaneuvered by my mother.”
“You admit to being outmaneuvered,” he murmured. “Interesting.”
“You don’t know my mother.”
“No,” he assured me, “I am impressed. Most people would not confess to it.”
“As I said, you don’t know my mother.” I turned to him and smiled. “She is one of eight siblings. Besting her in any sort of devious matter is nothing short of a triumph.”
We reached the stables, but I paused before entering. “And what about you, Mr. Farraday?” I asked. “With what were you bribed for your presence this afternoon?”
“I, too, was thwarted,” he said. “I was told I’d escape my cousins.”
I let out a snort of laughter at that. Inappropriate, yes, but unavoidable.
“They attacked just as I was departing,” he told me grimly.
“They are a fierce lot,” I said, utterly deadpan.
“I was outnumbered.”
“I thought they didn’t like you,” I said.
“So did I.” He planted his hands on his hips. “It was the only reason I consented to the visit.”
“What exactly did you do to them when you were children?” I asked.
“The better question would be-what did they do to me?”
I knew better than to claim that he held the upper hand because of his gender. Four girls could easily trounce one boy. I had gone up against Oliver countless times as a child, and although he would never admit it, I bested him more often than not.
“Frogs?” I asked, thinking of my own childhood pranks.
“That was me,” he admitted sheepishly.
He didn’t speak, but his expression was clearly one of guilt.
“Which one?” I asked, trying to imagine Dulcie’s horror.
“All of them.”
I sucked in my breath. “At the same time?”
I was impressed. I suppose most ladies would not find such things attractive, but I have always had an unusual sense of humor. “Have you ever done a flour ghosting?” I asked.
His eyebrows rose, and he actually leaned forward. “Tell me more.”
And so I told him about my mother, and how Oliver and I had tried to scare her off before she’d married my father. We’d been utter beasts. Truly. Not just mischievous children, but utter and complete blights on the face of humanity. It’s a wonder my father hadn’t shipped us off to a workhouse. The most memorable of our stunts was when we’d rigged a bucket of flour above her door so that it would dust her when she stepped out into the hall.
Except that we’d filled the bucket quite high, so it was more of a coating than a dusting, and in fact more of a deluge than anything else.
We also hadn’t counted on the bucket hitting her on the head.
When I said that my current mother’s entry into our lives had saved us all, I meant it quite literally. Oliver and I were so desperate for attention, and our father, as lovely as he is now, had no idea how to manage us.
I told all this to Mr. Farraday. It was the strangest thing. I have no idea why I spoke so long and said so much. I thought it must be that he was an extraordinary listener, except that he later told me that he is not, that in fact he is a dreadful listener and usually interrupts too often.
But he didn’t with me. He listened, and I spoke, then I listened, and he spoke, and he told me of his brother Ian, with his angelic good looks and courtly manners. How everyone fawned over him, even though Charles was the elder. How Charles never could manage to hate him, though, because when all was said and done, Ian was a rather fine fellow.
“Do you still want to go for a ride?” I asked, when I noticed that the sun had already begun to dip in the sky. I could not imagine how long we had been standing there, talking and listening, listening and talking.
To my great surprise Charles said no, let’s walk instead.
And we did.
It was still warm later that night, and so after supper was done, I took myself outside. The sun had sunk below the horizon, but it was not yet completely dark. I sat on the steps of the back patio, facing west so I could watch the last hints of daylight turn from lavender to purple to black.
I love this time of the night.
I sat there for quite some time, long enough so that the stars began to appear, long enough so that I had to hug my arms to my body to ward off the chill. I hadn’t brought a shawl. I suppose I hadn’t thought I’d be sitting outside for so long. I was just about to head back inside when I heard someone approaching.
It was my father, on his way home from his greenhouse. He was holding a lantern, and his hands were dirty. Something about the sight of him made me feel like a child again. He was a big bear of a man, and even before he’d married Eloise, back when he didn’t seem to know what to say to his own children, he’d always made me feel safe. He was my father, and he would protect me. He didn’t need to say it, I just knew.
“You’re out late,” he said, sitting beside me. He set his lantern down and brushed his hands against his work trousers, shaking off the loose dirt.
“Just thinking,” I replied.
He nodded, then leaned his elbows on his thighs and looked out at the sky. “Any shooting stars tonight?”
I shook my head even though he wasn’t facing me. “No.”
“Do you need one?”
I smiled to myself. He was asking if I had any wishes to be made. We used to wish on stars together all the time when I was small, but somehow we’d got out of the habit.
“No,” I said. I was feeling introspective, thinking about Charles and wondering what it meant that I’d spent the whole of the afternoon with him and now could not wait to see him again tomorrow. But I didn’t feel as if I needed any wishes granted. At least, not yet.
“I always have wishes,” he remarked.
“You do?” I turned to him, my head tilting to the side as I took in his profile. I know that he’d been terribly unhappy before he’d met my current mother, but that was all well behind him. If ever a man had a happy and fulfilled life, it was he.
“What do you wish for?” I asked.
“The health and happiness of my children, first and foremost.”
“That doesn’t count,” I said, feeling myself smile.
“Oh, you don’t think so?” He looked at me, and there was more than a hint of amusement in his eyes. “I assure you, it’s the first thing I think about in the morning, and the last before I lay myself down to sleep.”
“I have five children, Amanda, and every one of them is healthy and strong. And as far as I know, you’re all happy. It’s probably dumb luck that you’ve all turned out so well, but I’m not going to tempt any fates by wishing for something else.”
I thought about that for a moment. It had never occurred to me to wish for something I already had. “Is it scary being a parent?” I asked.
“The most terrifying thing in the world.”
I don’t know what I thought he might say, but it wasn’t that. But then I realized-he was speaking to me as an adult. I don’t know if he’d ever really done so before. He was still my father, and I was still his daughter, but I’d crossed some mysterious threshold.
It was thrilling and sad at the same time.
We sat together for a few minutes more, pointing out constellations and not saying anything of import. And then, just when I was about to head back inside, he said, “Your mother said that you had a gentleman caller this afternoon.”
“And four of his female cousins,” I quipped.
He looked over at me with arched brows, a silent scolding for making light of the topic.
“Yes,” I said. “I did.”
“Did you like him?”
“Yes.” I felt myself grow a bit light, as if my insides had gone fizzy. “I did.”
He digested that, then said, “I’m going to have to get a very large stick.”
“I used to say to your mother that when you were old enough to be courted, I was going to have to beat away the gentlemen.”
There was something almost sweet about that. “Really?”
“Well, not when you were very small. Then you were such a nightmare I despaired of anyone ever wanting you.”
He chuckled. “Don’t say you don’t know it’s true.”
I couldn’t contradict.
“But when you were a bit older, and I started to see the first hints of the woman you would become…” He sighed. “Good Lord, if ever being a parent is terrifying…”
He thought about that for a moment. “I suppose now I can only hope I raised you well enough to make sensible decisions.” He paused. “And, of course, if anyone even thinks about mistreating you, I shall still have that stick.”
I smiled, then scooted over slightly, so that I could rest my head on his shoulder. “I love you, Father.”
“I love you, too, Amanda.” He turned and kissed me on the top of my head. “I love you, too.”
I did marry Charles, by the way, and my father never once had to brandish a stick. The wedding occurred six months later, after a proper courtship and slightly improper engagement. But I am certainly not going to put into writing any of the events that made the engagement improper.
My mother insisted upon a premarital chat, but this was conducted the night before the wedding, by which time the information was no longer exactly timely, but I did not let on. I did, however, get the impression that she and my father might also have anticipated their marriage vows. I was shocked. Shocked. It seems most unlike them. Now that I have experienced the physical aspects of love, the mere thought of my parents…
It is too much to bear.
Charles’s family home is in Dorset, rather close to the sea, but as his father is very much alive, we have let a home in Somerset, halfway between his family and mine. He dislikes town as much as I do. He is thinking of beginning a breeding program for horses, and it’s the oddest thing, but apparently the breeding of plants and the breeding of animals are not entirely dissimilar. He and my father have become great friends, which is lovely, except that now my father visits quite often.
Our new home is not large, and all of the bedrooms are quite near to one another. Charles has devised a new game he calls, “See how quiet Amanda can be.”
Then he proceeds to do all measure of wicked things to me-all while my father sleeps across the hall!
He is devil, but I adore him. I can’t help it. Especially when he…
Oh, wait, I wasn’t going to put any such things in writing, was I?
Just know that I am smiling very broadly as I remember it.
And that it was not covered in my mother’s premarital chat.
I suppose I should admit that last night I lost the game. I was not quiet at all.
My father did not say a word. But he departed rather unexpectedly that afternoon, citing some sort of botanical emergency.
I don’t know that plants have emergencies, but as soon as he left, Charles insisted upon inspecting our roses for whatever it was my father said was wrong with his.
Except that for some reason he wanted to inspect the roses that were already cut and arranged in a vase in our bedroom.
“We’re going to play a new game,” he whispered in my ear. “See how noisy Amanda can be.”
“How do I win?” I asked. “And what is the prize?”
I can be quite competitive, and so can he, but I think it is safe to say that we both won that time.
And the prize was lovely, indeed.
About the Author
JULIA QUINN started writing her first book one month after finishing college and has been tapping away at her keyboard ever since. The New York Times bestselling author of nineteen novels for Avon Books, she is a graduate of Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges and lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. Please visit her on the web at www.juliaquinn.com.