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"I must tell you this," she said urgently. "I know it was unforgivably intrusive of me to look at your journal. I was just... bored... and waiting ... and I had nothing to do, and then I saw the book and I was curious."

He opened his mouth to interrupt her, to tell her that what was done was done, but the words were rushing from her mouth, and he found himself oddly compelled to listen.

"I should have stepped away the moment I realized what it was," she continued, "but as soon as I read one sentence I had to read another! Colin, it was wonderful! It was just like I was there. I could feel the water—I knew exactly the temperature. It was so clever of you to describe it the way you did. Everyone knows exactly what a bath feels like a half an hour after it has been filled."

For a moment Colin could do nothing but stare at her. He'd never seen Penelope quite so animated, and it was strange and ... good, really, that all that excitement was over his journal.

"You—you liked it?" he finally asked.

"Liked it? Colin, I loved it! I—"

"Ow!"

In her excitement, she'd started squeezing his hand a bit too hard. "Oh, sorry," she said perfunctorily. "Colin, I really must know. What was the danger? I couldn't bear to be left hanging like that."

"It was nothing," he said modestly. "The page you read really wasn't a very exciting passage."

"No, it was mostly description," she agreed, "but the description was very compelling and evocative. I could see everything. But it wasn't—oh, dear, how do I explain this?"

Colin discovered that he was very impatient for her to figure out what she was trying to say.

"Sometimes," she finally continued, "when one reads a passage of description, it's rather... oh, I don't know ... detached. Clinical, even. You brought the island to life. Other people might call the water warm, but you related it to something we all know and understand. It made me feel as if I were there, dipping my toe in right alongside you."

Colin smiled, ridiculously pleased by her praise.

"Oh! And I don't want to forget—there was another brilliant thing I wanted to mention."

Now he knew he must be grinning like an idiot. Brilliant brilliant brilliant. What a good word.

Penelope leaned in slightly as she said, "You also showed the reader how you relate to the scene and how it affects you. It becomes more than mere description because we see how you react to it."

Colin knew he was fishing for compliments, but he didn't much care as he asked, "What do you mean?"

"Well, if you look at—May I see the journal to refresh my memory?"

"Of course," he murmured, handing it to her. "Wait, let me find the correct page again."

Once he had done so, she scanned his lines until she found the section she was looking for. "Here we are. Look at this

part about how you are reminded that England is your home."

"It's funny how travel can do that to a person."

"Do what to a person?" she asked, her eyes wide with interest.

"Make one appreciate home," he said softly.

Her eyes met his, and they were serious, inquisitive. "And yet you still like to go away."

He nodded. "I can't help it. It's like a disease."

She laughed, and it sounded unexpectedly musical. "Don't be ridiculous," she said. "A disease is harmful. It's clear that your travels feed your soul." She looked down to his hand, carefully peeling the napkin back to inspect his wound. "It's almost better," she said.

"Almost," he agreed. In truth, he suspected the bleeding had stopped altogether, but he was reluctant to let the conversation end. And he knew that the moment she was done caring for him, she would go.

He didn't think she wanted to go, but he somehow knew that she would. She'd think it was the proper thing to do, and she'd probably also think it was what he wanted.

Nothing, he was surprised to realize, could be further from the truth.

And nothing could have scared him more.

CHAPTER 6

Everyone has secrets.

Especially me.

Lady Whistledown's Society Papers, 14 April 1824

I wish I'd known you kept a journal," Penelope said, reapplying pressure to his palm.

"Why?"

"I'm not sure," she said with a shrug. "It's always interesting to find out that there is more to someone than meets the eye, don't you think?"

Colin didn't say anything for several moments, and then, quite suddenly, he blurted out, "You really liked it?"

She looked amused. He was horrified. Here he was, considered one of the most popular and sophisticated men of the ton, and he'd been reduced to a bashful schoolboy, hanging on Penelope Featherington's every word, just for a single scrap of praise.

Penelope Featherington, for God's sake.

Not that there was anything wrong with Penelope, of course, he hastened to remind himself. Just that she was ... well... Penelope.

"Of course I liked it," she said with a soft smile. "I just finished telling you so."

"What was the first thing that struck you about it?" he asked, deciding that he might as well act like a complete fool, since he was already more than halfway there.

She smiled wickedly. "Actually, the first thing that struck me was that your penmanship was quite a bit neater than I would have guessed."

He frowned. "What does that mean?"

"I have difficulty seeing you bent over a desk, practicing your flicks," she replied, her lips tightening at the corners to suppress a smile.

If ever there were a time for righteous indignation, this was clearly it. "I'll have you know I spent many an hour in the nursery schoolroom, bent over a desk, as you so delicately put it."

"I'm sure," she murmured.

"Hmrnmph."

She looked down, clearly trying not to smile.

"I'm quite good with my flicks," he added. It was just a game now, but somehow it was rather fun to play the part of the petulant schoolboy.

"Obviously," she replied. "I especially liked them on the H's. Very well done. Quite ... flicky of you."

"Indeed."

She matched his straight face perfectly. "Indeed."

His gaze slid from hers, and for a moment he felt quite unaccountably shy. "I'm glad you liked the journal," he said.

"It was lovely," she said in a soft, faraway kind of voice. "Very lovely, and..." She looked away, blushing. "You're going to think I' m silly."

"Never," he promised.

"Well, I think one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much is that I could somehow feel that you'd enjoyed writing it."

Colin was silent for a long moment. It hadn't ever occurred to him that he enjoyed his writing; it was just something he did.

He did it because he couldn't imagine not doing it. How could he travel to foreign lands and not keep a record of what he saw, what he experienced, and perhaps most importantly, what he felt?

But when he thought back, he realized that he felt a strange rush of satisfaction whenever he wrote a phrase that was exactly right, a sentence that was particularly true. He distinctly remembered the moment he'd written the passage Penelope had read. He'd been sitting on the beach at dusk, the sun still warm on his skin, the sand somehow rough and smooth at the same time under his bare feet. It had been a heavenly moment—full of that warm, lazy feeling one can truly only experience in the dead of summer (or on the perfect beaches of the Mediterranean), and he'd been trying to think of the exact right way to describe the water.

He'd sat there for ages—surely a full half an hour—his pen poised above the paper of his journal, waiting for inspiration. And then suddenly he'd realized the temperature was precisely that of slightly old bathwater, and his face had broken into a wide, delighted smile.

Yes, he enjoyed writing. Funny how he'd never realized it before.

"It's good to have something in your life," Penelope said quietly. "Something satisfying—that will fill the hours with a sense of purpose." She crossed her hands in her lap

and looked down, seemingly engrossed by her knuckles. "I've never understood the supposed joys of a lazy life."

Colin wanted to touch his fingers to her chin, to see her eyes when he asked her—And what do you do to fill your hours with a sense of purpose? But he didn't. It would be far too forward, and it would mean admitting to himself just how interested he was in her answer.

So he asked the question, and he kept his own hands still.

"Nothing, really," she replied, still examining her fingernails. Then, after a pause, she looked up quite suddenly, her chin rising so quickly it almost made him dizzy. "I like to read," she said. "I read quite a bit, actually. And I do a bit of embroidery now and then, but I'm not very good at it. I wish there were more, but, well..."

"What?" Colin prodded.

Penelope shook her head. "It's nothing. You should be grateful for your travels. I'm quite envious of you."

There was a long silence, not awkward, but strange nonetheless, and finally Colin said brusquely, "It's not enough."

The tone of his voice seemed so out of place in the conversation that Penelope could do nothing but stare. "What do you mean?" she finally asked.

He shrugged carelessly. "A man can't travel forever; to do so would take all the fun out of it."

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