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Which somehow, unaccountably, made her feel a little sad.

He rocked on his heels for a moment, then said, "Well, I shouldn't keep you out here in the rain."

She smiled, since they'd been standing outside for at least fifteen minutes. Still, if he wanted to continue with the ruse, she would do so as well. "I'm the one with the parasol," she pointed out.

His lips curved slightly. "So you are. But still, I wouldn't be much of a gentleman if I didn't steer you toward a more hospitable environment. Speaking of which..." He frowned, looking around.

"Speaking of what?"

"Of being a gentleman. I believe we're supposed to see to the welfare of ladies."


He crossed his arms. "Shouldn't you have a maid with you?"

"I live just around the corner," she said, a little bit deflated that he didn't remember that. She and her sister were best friends with two of his sisters, after all. He'd even walked her home once or twice. "On Mount Street," she added, when his frown did not dissipate.

He squinted slightly, looking in the direction of Mount Street, although she had no idea what he hoped to accomplish by doing so.

"Oh, for heaven's sake, Colin. It's just near the corner of Davies Street. It can't be more than a five-minute walk to your mother's. Four, if I'm feeling exceptionally sprightly."

"I was just looking to see if there were any darkened or recessed spots." He turned back to face her. "Where a criminal might lurk."

"In Mayfair?"

"In Mayfair," he said grimly. "I really think you ought to have a maid accompany you when you journey to and fro. I should hate for something to happen to you."

She was oddly touched by his concern, even though she knew he would have extended equal thoughtfulness to just about every female of his acquaintance. That was simply the sort of man he was.

"I can assure you that I observe all of the usual proprieties when I am traveling longer distances," she said. "But truly, this is so close. Just a few blocks, really. Even my mother doesn't mind."

Colin's jaw suddenly looked quite stiff.

"Not to mention," Penelope added, "that I am eight-and-twenty."

"What has that to do with anything? I am three-and-thirty, if you care to know."

She knew that, of course, since she knew almost everything about him. "Colin," she said, a slightly annoyed whine creeping into her voice.

"Penelope," he replied, in exactly the same tone.

She let out a long exhale before saying, "I am quite firmly on the shelf, Colin. I needn't worry about all of the rules that plagued me when I was seventeen."

"I hardly think—"

One of Penelope's hands planted itself on her hip. "Ask your sister if you don't believe me."

He suddenly looked more serious than she had ever seen him. "I make it a point not to ask my sister on matters that relate to common sense."

"Colin!" Penelope exclaimed. "That's a terrible thing to say."

"I didn't say I don't love her. I didn't even say I don't like her. I adore Eloise, as you well know. However—"

"Anything that begins with however has got to be bad," Penelope muttered.

"Eloise," he said with uncharacteristic high-handedness, "should be married by now."

Now, that was really too much, especially in that tone of voice. "Some might say," Penelope returned with a self-righteous little tilt of her chin, "that you should be married by now, too."

"Oh, pi—"

"You are, as you so proudly informed me, three-and-thirty."

His expression was slightly amused, but with that pale tinge of irritation which told her he would not remain amused for long. "Penelope, don't even—"

"Ancient!" she chirped.

He swore under his breath, which surprised her, since she didn't think she'd ever heard him do so in the presence of a lady. She probably should have taken it as a warning, but she was too riled up. She supposed the old saying was true— courage spawned more courage.

Or maybe it was more that recklessness emboldened more recklessness, because she just looked at him archly and said, "Weren't both of your older brothers married by the age of thirty?"

To her surprise, Colin merely smiled and crossed his arms as he leaned one shoulder against the tree they were standing beneath. "My brothers and I are very different men."

It was, Penelope realized, a very telling statement, because so many members of the ton, including the fabled Lady Whistledown, made so much of the fact that the Bridgerton brothers looked so alike. Some had even gone so far as to call them interchangeable. Penelope hadn't thought any of them were bothered by this—in fact, she'd assumed they'd all felt flattered by the comparison, since they seemed to like each other so well. But maybe she was wrong.

Or maybe she'd never looked closely enough.

Which was rather strange, because she felt as if she'd spent half her life watching Colin Bridgerton.

One thing she did know, however, and should have remembered, was that if Colin had any sort of a temper, he had never chosen to let her see it. Surely she'd flattered herself when she thought that her little quip about his brothers marrying before they turned thirty might set him off.

No, his method of attack was a lazy smile, a well-timed joke. If Colin ever lost his temper...

Penelope shook her head slightly, unable even to fathom it. Colin would never lose his temper. At least not in front of her. He'd have to be really, truly—no, profoundly—upset to lose his temper. And that kind of fury could only be sparked by someone you really, truly, profoundly cared about.

Colin liked her well enough—maybe even better than he liked most people—but he didn't care. Not that way.

"Perhaps we should just agree to disagree," she finally said.

"On what?"

"Er ..." She couldn't remember. "Er, on what a spinster may or may not do?"

He seemed amused by her hesitation. "That would probably require that I defer to my younger sister's judgment in some

capacity, which would be, as I'm sure you can imagine, very difficult for me."

"But you don't mind deferring to my judgment?"

His smile was lazy and wicked. "Not if you promise not to tell another living soul."

He didn't mean it, of course. And she knew he knew she knew he didn't mean it. But that was his way. Humor and a smile could smooth any path. And blast him, it worked, because she heard herself sighing and felt herself smiling, and before she knew it she was saying, "Enough! Let us be on our way to your mother's."

Colin grinned. "Do you think she'll have biscuits?"

Penelope rolled her eyes. "I know she'll have biscuits."

"Good," he said, taking off at a lope and half dragging her with him. "I do love my family, but I really just go for the food."


It is difficult to imagine that there is any news from the Bridgerton ball other than Lady Danbury's determination to discern the identity of This Author, but the following items should be duly noted:

Mr. Geoffrey Albansdale was seen dancing with Miss Felicity Featherington.

Miss Felicity Featherington was also seen dancing with Mr. Lucas Hotchkiss.

Mr. Lucas Hotchkiss was also seen dancing with Miss Hyacinth Bridgerton.

Miss Hyacinth Bridgerton was also seen dancing with Viscount Burwick.

Viscount Burwick was also seen dancing with Miss Jane Hotchkiss.

Miss Jane Hotchkiss was also seen dancing with Mr. Colin Bridgerton.

Mr. Colin Bridgerton was also seen dancing with Miss Penelope Featherington.

And to round out this incestuous little ring-around-the-rosy, Miss Penelope Featherington was seen speaking with Mr. Geoffrey Albansdale. (It would have been too perfect if she'd actually danced with him, don't you agree, Dear Reader?)

LadyWhistledown's Society Papers, 12 April 1824

When Penelope and Colin entered the drawing room, Eloise and Hyacinth were already sipping tea, along with both of the Ladies Bridgerton. Violet, the dowager, was seated in front of a tea service, and Kate, her daughter-in-law and the wife of Anthony, the current viscount, was attempting, without much success, to control her two-year-old daughter Charlotte.

"Look who I bumped into in Berkeley Square," Colin said.