Penelope wasn't sure if that was a bad thing or not.
She and Eloise had made plans the week before to go shopping, but they'd decided to meet at Number Five so that they could head out together and forgo the accompaniment of their maids. It was a perfect sort of day, far more like June than April, and Penelope was looking forward to the short walk up to Oxford Street.
But when she arrived at Eloise's house, she was met with a puzzled expression on the butler's face.
"Miss Featherington," he said, blinking several times in rapid succession before locating a few more words. "I don't believe Miss Eloise is here at present."
Penelope's lips parted in surprise. "Where did she go? We made our plans over a week ago."
Wickham shook his head. "I do not know. But she departed with her mother and Miss Hyacinth two hours earlier."
"I see." Penelope frowned, trying to decide what to do. "May I wait, then? Perhaps she was merely delayed. It's not like
Eloise to forget an appointment."
He nodded graciously and showed her upstairs to the informal drawing room, promising to bring a plate of refreshments and handing her the latest edition of Whistledown to read while she bided her time.
Penelope had already read it, of course; it was delivered quite early in the morning, and she made a habit of perusing the column at breakfast. With so little to occupy her mind, she wandered over to the window and peered out over the Mayfair streetscape. But there wasn't much new to see; it was the same buildings she'd seen a thousand times before, even the same people walking along the street.
Maybe it was because she was pondering the sameness of her life that she noticed the one object new to her vista: a bound book lying open on the table. Even from several feet away she could see that it was filled not with the printed word, but rather with neat handwritten lines.
She inched toward it and glanced down without actually touching the pages. It appeared to be a journal of sorts, and in the middle of the right-hand side there was a heading that was set apart from the rest of the text by a bit of space above and below:
22 February 1824
Troodos Mountains, Cyprus
One of her hands flew to her mouth. Colin had written this! He'd said just the other day that he'd visited Cyprus instead of Greece. She had no idea that he kept a journal.
She lifted a foot to take a step back, but her body didn't budge. She shouldn't read this, she told herself. This was Colin's private journal. She really ought to move away.
"Away," she muttered, looking down at her recalcitrant feet. "Away."
Her feet didn't move.
But maybe she wasn't quite so in the wrong. After all, was she really invading his privacy if she read only what she could see without turning a page? He had left it lying open on the table, for all the world to see.
But then again, Colin had every reason to think that no one would stumble across his journal if he dashed out for a few moments. Presumably, he was aware that his mother and sisters had departed for the morning. Most guests were shown to the formal drawing room on the ground floor; as far as Penelope knew, she and Felicity were the only non-Bridgertons who were taken straight up to the informal drawing room. And since Colin wasn't expecting her (or, more likely, hadn't thought of her one way or another), he wouldn't have thought there was any danger in leaving his journal behind while he ran an errand.
On the other hand, he had left it lying open.
Open, for heaven's sake! If there were any valuable secrets in that journal, surely Colin would have taken greater care to secret it when he left the room. He wasn't stupid, after all.
Penelope leaned forward.
Oh, bother. She couldn't read the writing from that distance. The heading had been legible since it was surrounded by so much white space, but the rest was a bit too close together to make out from far away.
Somehow she'd thought she wouldn't feel so guilty if she didn't have to step any closer to the book to read it. Never mind, of course, that she'd already crossed the room to get to where she was at that moment.
She tapped her finger against the side of her jaw, right near her ear. That was a good point. She had crossed the room some time ago, which surely meant that she'd already committed the biggest sin she was likely to that day. One little step was nothing compared to the length of the room.
She inched forward, decided that only counted as half a step, then inched forward again and looked down, beginning her reading right in the middle of a sentence.
in England. Here the sand ripples between tan and white, and the consistency is so fine that it slides over a bare foot like a whisper of silk. The water is a blue unimaginable in England, aquamarine with the glint of the sun, deep cobalt when the clouds take the sky. And it is warm—surprisingly, astoundingly warm, like a bath that was heated perhaps a half an hour earlier. The waves are gentle, and they lap up on the shore with a soft rush of foam, tickling the skin and turning the perfect sand into a squishy delight that slips and slides along the toes until another wave arrives to clean up the mess.
It is easy to see why this is said to be the birthplace of Aphrodite. With every step I almost expect to see her as in Botticelli's painting, rising from the ocean, perfectly balanced on a giant shell, her long titian hair streaming around her.
If ever a perfect woman was born, surely this would be the place. I am in paradise. And yet...
And yet with every warm breeze and cloudless sky I am reminded that this is not my home, that I was born to live my life elsewhere. This does not quell the desire— no, the compulsion!—to travel, to see, to meet. But it does feed a strange longing to touch a dew-dampened lawn, or feel a cool mist on one's face, or even to remember the joy of a perfect day after a week of rain.
The people here can't know that joy. Their days are always perfect. Can one appreciate perfection when it is a constant in one's life?
22 February 1824
Troodos Mountains, Cyprus
It is remarkable that I am cold. It is, of course, February, and as an Englishman I'm quite used to a February chill (as well as that of any month with an R in its name), but I am not in England. I am in Cyprus, in the heart
of the Mediterranean, and just two days ago I was in Paphos, on the southwest coast of the island, where the sun is strong and the ocean salty and warm. Here, one can see the peak of Mount Olympus, still capped with snow so white one is temporarily blinded when the sun glints off of it.
The climb to this altitude was treacherous, with danger lurking around more than one corner. The road is rudimentary, and along the way we met.
Penelope let out a soft grunt of protest when she realized that the page ended in the middle of a sentence. Who had he met? What had happened? What danger?
She stared down at the journal, absolutely dying to flip the page and see what happened next. But when she'd started reading, she had managed to justify it by telling herself she wasn't really invading Colin's privacy; he'd left the book open, after all. She was only looking at what he had left exposed.
Turning the page, however, was something else altogether.
She reached out, then yanked her hand back. This wasn't right. She couldn't read his journal. Well, not beyond what she'd already read.
On the other hand, it was clear that these were words worth reading. It was a crime for Colin to keep them for himself. Words should be celebrated, shared. They should be—
"Oh, for God's sake," she muttered to herself. She reached for the edge of the page.
"What are you doing?"
Penelope whirled around. "Colin!"
"Indeed," he snapped.
Penelope lurched back. She'd never heard him use such a tone. She hadn't even thought him capable of it.
He strode across the room, grabbed the journal, and snapped it shut. "What are you doing here?" he demanded.
"Waiting for Eloise," she managed to get out, her mouth suddenly quite dry.
"In the upstairs drawing room?"
/> "Wickham always takes me here. Your mother told him to treat me like family. I... uh ... he ... uh ..." She realized that she was wringing her hands together and willed herself to stop. "It's the same with my sister Felicity. Because she and Hyacinth are such good friends. I—I'm sorry. I thought you knew."
He threw the leather-bound book carelessly onto a nearby chair and crossed his arms. "And do you make a habit of reading the personal letters of others?"
"No, of course not. But it was open and—" She gulped, recognizing how awful the excuse sounded the second the words left her lips. "It's a public room," she mumbled, somehow feeling like she had to finish her defense. "Maybe you should have taken it with you."
"Where I went," he ground out, still visibly furious with her, "one doesn't ordinarily take a book."
"It's not very big," she said, wondering why why why she was still talking when she was so clearly in the wrong.
"For the love of God," he exploded. "Do you want me to say the word chamberpot in your presence?"
Penelope felt her cheeks blush deep red. "I'd better go," she said. "Please tell Eloise—"
"I'll go," Colin practically snarled. "I'm moving out this afternoon, anyway. Might as well leave now, since you've so obviously taken over the house."
Penelope had never thought that words could cause physical pain, but right then she would have sworn that she'd taken a knife to the heart. She hadn't realized until that very moment just how much it meant to her that Lady Bridgerton had opened her home to her.
Or how much it would hurt to know that Colin resented her presence there.
"Why do you have to make it so difficult to apologize?" she burst out, dogging his heels as he crossed the room to gather the rest of his things.
"And why, pray tell, should I make it easy?" he returned., He didn't face her as he said it; he didn't even break his stride.
"Because it would be the nice thing to do," she ground out.
That got his attention. He whirled around, his eyes flashing so furiously that Penelope stumbled back a step. Colin was the nice one, the easygoing one. He didn't lose his temper.
"Because it would be the nice thing to do?" he thundered. "Is that what you were thinking when you read my journal? That it would be a nice thing to read someone's private papers?"