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He leaned fluidly back against the wall, crossing his arms. "I prefer flattery to honesty."

"No, you don't."

Dear God, he wanted to smack her. He hadn't done that since he was twelve. And he'd been horsewhipped for it. The only time he could recall his father laying a hand on him.

"What I want," Colin returned, arching one brow, "is an immediate cessation of this conversation."

"What you want," Eloise needled, "is for me to stop asking you why you went to see Penelope Featherington, but I think we both know that isn't likely to occur."

And that was when he knew it. Knew it deep in his bones, from his head to his toes, his heart to his mind that his sister was Lady Whistledown. All of the pieces fit. There was no one more stubborn and bullheaded, no one who could—or would—take the time to get to the bottom of every last piece of gossip and innuendo.

When Eloise wanted something, she didn't stop until she had it firmly in her grasp. It wasn't about money, or greed, or material goods. With her it was about knowledge. She liked knowing things, and she'd needle and needle and needle until you'd told her exactly what she wanted to hear.

It was a miracle no one had found her out sooner.

Out of nowhere he said, "I need to talk to you." He grabbed her arm and hauled her into the nearest room, which happened to be her own.

"Colin!" she shrieked, trying unsuccessfully to shake him off. "What are you doing?"

He slammed the door shut, let go of her, and crossed his arms, his stance wide, his expression menacing.

"Colin?" she repeated, her voice dubious.

"I know what you've been up to."

"What I've been—"

And then, damn her, she started laughing.

"Eloise!" he boomed. "I'm talking to you!"

"Clearly," she just barely managed to get out.

He held his ground, glaring at her.

She was looking away, nearly doubled over with laughter. Finally, she said, "What are you—"

But then she looked at him again and even though she'd tried to keep her mouth shut, she exploded again.

If she'd been drinking something, Colin thought without a trace of humor, it would have come out her nose. "What the hell is the matter with you?" he snapped.

That finally got her attention. He didn't know whether it was his tone of voice or maybe his use of profanity, but she sobered in an instant.

"My word," she said softly, "you're serious."

"Do I look like I'm joking?"

"No," Eloise said. "Although you did at first. I'm sorry, Colin, but it's just not like you to be glowering and yelling and all that. You looked rather like Anthony."


"Actually," she said, giving him a look that was not nearly as wary as it should have been, "you looked more like yourself, trying to imitate Anthony."

He was going to kill her. Right here in her room, in his mother's house, he was going to commit sororicide.

"Colin?" she asked hesitantly, as if she'd just finally noticed that he had long since passed angry on his way to furious.

"Sit. Down." He jerked his head toward a chair. "Now."

"Are you all right?"

"SIT DOWN!" he roared.

And she did. With alacrity.

"I can't remember the last time you raised your voice," she whispered.

"I can't remember the last time I had cause to."

"What's wrong?"

He decided he might as well just come out and say it.


"I know you're Lady Whistledown."


"There's no use denying it. I've seen—"

Eloise jumped to her feet. "Except that it's not true!"

Suddenly he no longer felt quite so angry. Instead he felt tired, old. "Eloise, I've seen the proof."

"What proof?" she asked, her voice rising with disbelief. "How can there be proof of something that isn't true?"

He grabbed one of her hands. "Look at your fingers."

She did so. "What about them?"


Her mouth fell open. "From that you've deduced that I'm Lady Whistledown?"

"Why are they there, then?"

"You've never used a quill?"

"Eloise..." There was a great deal of warning in his voice.

"I don't have to tell you why I have inkstains on my fingers."

He said her name again.

"I don't," she protested. "I owe you no—oh, very well, fine." She crossed her arms mutinously. "I write letters."

He shot her an extremely disbelieving look.

"I do!" she protested. "Every day. Sometimes two in a day when Francesca is away. I'm quite a loyal correspondent. You should know. I've written enough letters with your name on the envelope, although I doubt half of them ever reached you."

"Letters?" he asked, his voice full of doubt... and derision. "For God's sake, Eloise, do you really think that will wash? Who the devil are you writing so many letters to?"

She blushed. Really, truly, deeply blushed. "It's none of your business."

He would have been intrigued by her reaction if he still weren't so sure that she was lying about being Lady Whistledown. "For God's sake, Eloise," he bit off, "who is going to believe that you're writing letters every day? I certainly don't."

She glared at him, her dark gray eyes flashing with fury. "I don't care what you think," she said in a very low voice. "No, that's not true. I am furious that you don't believe me."

"You're not giving me much to believe in," he said wearily.

She stood, walked over to him, and poked him in the chest. Hard. "You are my brother," she spat out. "You should believe me unquestioningly. Love me unconditionally. That's what it means to be family."

"Eloise," he said, her name coming out really as nothing more than a sigh.

"Don't try to make excuses now."

"I wasn't."

"That's even worse!" She stalked to the door. "You should be on your hands and knees, begging me for forgiveness."

He hadn't thought he had it in him to smile, but somehow that did it for him. "Now, that doesn't really seem in keeping with my character, does it?"

She opened her mouth to say something, but the sound that came out was not precisely English. All she managed was something along the lines of, "Ooooooooh," in an extremely irate voice, and then she stormed out, slamming the door behind her.

Colin slouched into a chair, wondering when she'd realize that she'd left him in her own bedchamber.

The irony was, he reflected, possibly the only bright spot in an otherwise miserable day.


Dear Reader—

It is with a surprisingly sentimental heart that I write these words. After eleven years of chronicling the lives and times of the beau monde, This Author is putting down her pen.

Although Lady Danbury's challenge was surely the catalyst for the retirement, in truth the blame cannot be placed (entirely) upon that countess's shoulders. The column has grown wearisome of late, less fulfilling to write, and perhaps less entertaining to read. This Author needs a change. It is not so difficult to fathom. Eleven years is a long time.

And in truth, the recent renewal of interest in This Author's identity has grown disturbing. Friends are turning against friends, brothers against sisters, all in the futile attempt to solve an unsolvable secret. Furthermore, the sleuthing of the ton has grown downright dangerous. Last week it was Lady Blackwood's twisted ankle, this week's injury apparently belongs to Hyacinth Bridgerton, who was slightly hurt at Saturday's soirie held at the London home of Lord and Lady Riverdale. (It has not escaped This Author's notice that Lord Riverdale is Lady Danbury's nephew.) Miss Hyacinth must have suspected someone in attendance, because she sustained her injuries while falling into the library after the door was opened while she had her ear pressed up to the wood.

Listening at doors, chasing down delivery boys—and these are only the tidbits that

have reached This Authors ears! What has London Society come to? This Author assures you, Dear Reader, that she never once listened at a door in all eleven years of her career. All gossip in this column was come by fairly, with no tools or tricks other than keen eyes and ears.

I bid you au revoir, London! It has been a pleasure to serve you.

Lady Whistledown's Society Papers, 19 April 1824

It was, not surprisingly, the talk of the Macclesfield ball.

"Lady Whistledown has retired!"