"I'm not ashamed of you," he said again, mostly because he couldn't bring himself to tell her the truth—that he was jealous. Jealous of her achievements, jealous of her.
It was such a distasteful feeling, such an unpleasant emotion. It ate at him, creating a vague sense of shame every time
someone mentioned Lady Whistledown, which, given the tenor of London's current gossip, was about ten times each day. And he wasn't quite certain what to do about it.
His sister Daphne had once commented that he always seemed to know what to say, how to set others at ease. He'd thought about that for several days after she'd said it, and he'd come to the conclusion that his ability to make others feel good about themselves must stem from his own sense of self.
He was a man who had always felt supremely comfortable in his own skin. He didn't know why he was so blessed— perhaps it was good parents, maybe simple luck. But now he felt awkward and uncomfortable and it was spilling into every corner of his life. He snapped at Penelope, he barely spoke at parties.
And it was all due to this detestable jealousy, and its attendant shame.
Or was it?
Would he be jealous of Penelope if he hadn't already sensed a lack in his own life?
It was an interesting psychological question. Or at least it would be if it were about anyone else but him.
"My mother will be expecting us," he said curtly, knowing that he was avoiding the issue, and hating himself for it, but quite unable to do anything else. "And your mother will be there as well, so we had better not be late."
"We're already late," she pointed out.
He took her arm and tugged her toward Number Five. "All the more reason not to dally."
"You're avoiding me," she said.
"How can I be avoiding you if you're right here on my arm?"
That made her scowl. "You're avoiding my question."
"We will discuss it later," he said, "when we are not standing in the middle of Bruton Street, with heaven knows whom staring at us through their windows."
And then, to demonstrate that he would brook no further protest, he placed his hand at her back and steered her none-too-gently up the steps to Number Five.
* * *
One week later, nothing had changed, except, Penelope reflected, her last name.
The wedding had been magical. It was a small affair, much to the dismay of London society. And the wedding night—well, that had been magical, too.
And, in fact, marriage was magical. Colin was a wonderful husband—teasing, gentle, attentive ...
Except when the topic of Lady Whistledown arose.
Then he became ... well, Penelope wasn't sure what he became, except that he was not himself. Gone was his easy grace, his glib tongue, everything wonderful that made him the man she'd loved for so very long.
In a way, it was almost funny. For so long, all of her dreams had revolved around marrying this man. And at some point those dreams had come to include her telling him about her secret life. How could they not? In Penelope's dreams, her marriage to Colin had been a perfect union, and that meant complete honesty.
In her dreams, she sat him down, shyly revealed her secret. He reacted first with disbelief, then with delight and pride. How remarkable she was, to have fooled all of London for so many years. How witty to have written such clever turns of phrase. He admired her for her resourcefulness, praised her for her success. In some of the dreams, he even suggested that he become her secret reporter.
It had seemed the sort of thing Colin would enjoy, just the sort of amusing, devious task that he would relish.
But that wasn't the way it had turned out.
He said he wasn't ashamed of her, and maybe he even thought that was true, but she couldn't quite bring herself to believe him. She'd seen his face when he swore that all he wanted was to protect her. But protectiveness was a fierce, burning feeling, and when Colin was talking about Lady Whistledown, his eyes were shuttered and flat.
She tried not to feel so disappointed. She tried to tell herself that she had no right to expect Colin to live up to her dreams, that her vision of him had been unfairly idealized, but...
But she still wanted him to be the man she'd dreamed of.
And she felt so guilty for every pang of disappointment. This was Colin! Colin, for heaven's sake. Colin, who was as close to perfect as any human being could ever hope to be. She had no right to find fault with him, and yet...
And yet she did.
She wanted him to be proud of her. She wanted it more than anything in the world, more even than she'd wanted him all
those years when she'd watched him from afar.
But she cherished her marriage, and awkward moments aside, she cherished her husband. And so she stopped mentioning Lady Whistledown. She was tired of Colin's hooded expression. She didn't want to see the tight lines of displeasure around his mouth.
It wasn't as if she could avoid the topic forever; any trip out into society seemed to bring mention of her alter ego. But she didn't have to introduce the subject at home.
And so, as they sat at breakfast one morning, chatting amiably as they each perused that morning's newspaper, she searched for other topics.
"Do you think we shall take a honeymoon trip?" she asked, spreading a generous portion of raspberry jam on her muffin. She probably ought not to eat so much, but the jam was really quite tasty, and besides, she always ate a lot when she was anxious.
She frowned, first at the muffin and then at nothing in particular. She hadn't realized she was so anxious. She'd thought she'd been able to push the Lady Whistledown problem to the back of her mind.
"Perhaps later in the year," Colin replied, reaching for the jam once she was through with it. "Pass me the toast, would you?"
She did so, silently.
He glanced up, either at her or over at the plate of kippers—she couldn't be sure. "You look disappointed," he said.
She supposed she should be flattered that he'd looked up from his food. Or maybe he was looking at the kippers and she
just got in the way. Probably the latter. It was difficult to compete with food for Colin's attention.
"Penelope?" he queried.
"You looked disappointed?" he reminded her.
"Oh. Yes, well, I am, I suppose." She gave him a faltering smile. "I've never been anywhere, and you've been everywhere, and I guess I thought you could take me someplace you especially liked. Greece, perhaps. Or maybe Italy. I've always wanted to see Italy."
"You would like it," he murmured distractedly, his attention more on his eggs than on her. "Venice especially, I think."
"Then why don't you take me?"
ll," he said, spearing a pink piece of bacon and popping it into his mouth. "Just not now."
Penelope licked a bit of jam off her muffin and tried not to look too crestfallen.
"If you must know," Colin said with a sigh, "the reason I don't want to leave is ..." He glanced at the open door, his lips pursing with annoyance. "Well, I can't say it here."
Penelope's eyes widened. "You mean..." She traced a large W on the tablecloth.
She stared at him in surprise, a bit startled that he had brought up the subject, and even more so that he didn't seem terribly upset by it. "But why?" she finally asked.
"Should the secret come out," he said cryptically, just in there were any servants about, which there usually were, "I should like to be in town to control the damage."
Penelope deflated in her chair. It was never pleasant to be referred to as damage. Which was what he had done. Well, indirectly, at least. She stared at her muffin, trying to decide if she was hungry. She wasn't, not really.
But she ate it, anyway.
A few days later, Penelope returned from a shopping expedition with Eloise, Hyacinth, and Felicity to find her husband
seated behind his desk in his study. He was reading something, uncharacteristically hunched as he pored over some
unknown book or document.
His head jerked up. He must not have heard her coming, which was surprising, since she hadn't made any effort to soften her steps. "Penelope," he said, rising to his feet as she entered the room, "how was your, er, whatever it was you did when you went out?"
"Shopping," she said with an amused smile. "I went shopping."
"Right. So you did." He rocked slightly from foot to foot. "Did you buy anything?"
"A bonnet," she replied, tempted to add and three diamond rings, just to see if he was listening.
"Good, good," he murmured, obviously eager to get back to whatever it was on his desk.
"What are you reading?" she asked.
"Nothing," he replied, almost reflexively, then he added, "Well, actually it's one of my journals."