He stopped in his tracks, letting go of her arm. He didn't really have an answer, other than the odd pounding in his heart. "Who would want to read them?" he finally asked.
"I would," she said frankly. "Eloise, Felicity..." she added, ticking off names on her fingers. "Your mother, Lady Whistledown, I'm sure," she added with a mischievous smile. "She does write about you rather a lot."
Her good humor was infectious, and Colin couldn't quite suppress his smile. "Penelope, it doesn't count if the only people who buy the book are the people I know."
"Why not?" Her lips twitched. "You know a lot of people. Why, if you only count Bridgertons—"
He grabbed her hand. He didn't know why, but he grabbed her hand. "Penelope, stop."
She just laughed. "I think Eloise told me that you have piles and piles of cousins as well, and—"
"Enough," he warned. But he was grinning as he said it.
Penelope stared down at her hand in his, then said, "Lots of people will want to read about your travels. Maybe at first it will only be because you're a well-known figure in London, but it won't take long before everyone realizes what a good writer you are. And then they'll be clamoring for more."
"I don't want to be a success because of the Bridgerton name," he said.
She dropped bis hand and planted hers on her hips. "Are you even listening to me? I just told you that—"
"What are you two talking about?" Eloise. Looking very, very curious.
"Nothing," they both muttered at the same time. Eloise snorted.
"Don't insult me. It's not nothing. Penelope looked as if she might start breathing fire at any moment."
"Your brother is just being obtuse," Penelope said.
"Well, that is nothing new," Eloise said.
"Wait a moment!" Colin exclaimed.
"But what," Eloise probed, ignoring him entirely, "is he being obtuse about?"
"It's a private matter," Colin ground out.
"Which makes it all the more interesting," Eloise said. She looked to Penelope expectantly.
"I'm sorry," Penelope said. "I really can't say."
"I can't believe it!" Eloise cried out. "You're not going to tell me."
"No," Penelope replied, feeling rather oddly satisfied with herself, "I'm not."
"I can't believe it," Eloise said again, turning to her brother. "I can't believe it."
His lips quirked into the barest of smiles. "Believe it."
"You're keeping secrets from me."
He raised his brows. "Did you think I told you everything?"
"Of course not." She scowled. "But I thought Penelope did."
"But this isn't my secret to tell," Penelope said. "It's Colin's."
"I think the planet has shifted on its axis," Eloise grumbled. "Or perhaps England has crashed into France. All I know is thisis not the same world I inhabited just this morning."
Penelope couldn't help it. She giggled.
"And you're laughing at me!" Eloise added.
"No, I'm not," Penelope said, laughing. "Really, I'm not."
"Do you know what you need?" Colin asked.
"Me?" Eloise queried.
He nodded. "A husband."
"You're as bad as Mother!"
"I could be a lot worse if I really put my mind to it."
"Of that I have no doubt," Eloise shot back.
"Stop, stop!" Penelope said, truly laughing in earnest now.
They both looked at her expectantly, as if to say, Now what?
"I'm so glad I came tonight," Penelope said, the words tumbling unbidden from her lips. "I can't remember a nicer evening. Truly, I can't."
Several hours later, as Colin was lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling in the bedroom of his new flat in Bloomsbury, it occurred to him that he felt the exact same way.
Colin Bridgerton and Penelope Featherington were seen in conversation at the Smythe-Smith musicale, although no one seems to know what exactly they were discussing. This Author would venture to guess that their conversation centered upon This Authors identity, since that was what everyone else seemed to be talking about before, after, and (rather rudely, in This Authors esteemed opinion) during the performance.
In other news, Honoria Smythe-Smith s violin was damaged when Lady Danbury accidentally knocked it off a table while waving her cane.
Lady Danbury insisted upon replacing the instrument, but then declared that as it is not her habit to buy anything but the best, Honoria will have a Ruggieri violin, imported from Cremona, Italy.
It is This Author's understanding that, when one factors in manufacture and shipping time, along with a lengthy waiting list, it takes six months for a Ruggieri violin to reach our shores.
Lady Whistledown's Society Papers, 16 April 1824
There are moments in a woman's life when her heart flips in her chest, when the world suddenly seems uncommonly pink and perfect, when a symphony can be heard in the tinkle of a doorbell.
Penelope Featherington had just such a moment two days after the Smythe-Smith musicale.
All it took was a knock on her bedroom door, followed by her butler's voice, informing her:
"Mr. Colin Bridgerton is here to see you." Penelope tumbled right off the bed. Briarly, who had butlered for the Featherington family long enough so that he did not even so much as bat an eyelash at Penelope's clumsiness, murmured, "Shall I tell him you are not in?"
"No!" Penelope nearly shrieked, stumbling to her feet. "I mean, no," she added in a more reasonable voice. "But I will
require ten minutes to prepare myself." She glanced in the mirror and winced at her disheveled appearance. "Fifteen."
"As you wish, Miss Penelope."
"Oh, and make certain to prepare a tray of food. Mr. Bridgerton is sure to be hungry. He's always hungry." The butler nodded again.
Penelope stood stock-still as Briarly disappeared out the door, then, completely unable to contain herself, danced from foot to foot, emitting a strange squealing sort of noise—one that she was convinced—or at least hoped—had never before crossed her lips
Then again, she couldn't remember the last time a gentleman had called upon her, much less the one with whom she'd been desperately in love for almost half of her life.
"Settle down," she said, spreading her fingers and pressing her flattened palms out in much the same motion she might make if she were trying to placate a small, unruly crowd. "You must remain calm. Calm," she repeated, as if that would actually do the trick. "Calm." But inside, her heart was dancing.
She took a few deep breaths, walked over to her dressing table, and picked up her hairbrush. It would only take a few minutes to repin her hair; surely Colin wasn't going to flee if she kept him waiting for a short while. He'd expect her to take a bit of time to ready herself, wouldn't he?
But still, she found herself fixing her hair in record time, and by the time she stepped through the sitting room door, a mere five minutes had passed since the butler's announcement.
"That was quick," Colin said with a quirky grin. He'd been standing by the window, peering out at Mount Street.
"Oh, was it?" Penelope said, hoping that the heat she felt on her skin wasn't translating into a blush. A woman was supposed to keep a gentleman waiting, although not too long. Still, it made no sense to hold to such silly behavior with Colin, of all people. He would never be interested in her in a romantic fashion, and besides, they were friends.
Friends. It seemed like such an odd concept, and yet that was exactly what they were. They'd always been friendly acquaintances, but since his return from Cyprus, they'd become friends in truth.
It was magical.
Even if he never loved her—and she rather thought he never would—this was better than what they'd had before.
'To what do I owe the pleasure?" she asked, taking a seat on her mother's slightly faded yellow damask sofa.
Colin sat across from her in a rather uncomfortable straight-backed chair. He leaned forward, resting his hands on his knees, and Penelope knew instantly that something was wrong. It simply wasn't the pose a gentleman adopted for a regular social call. He looked too distraught, too intense.
"It's rather serious," he said, his face grim.
Penelope nearly rose to her feet. "Has something happened? Is someone ill?"