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"Well, you are good"

"I know that now," she said with a wry smile, "but you have to remember, I was seventeen. And I'd said some pretty horrid things in there."

"About horrid people, I'm sure," he said.

"Well, yes, but still..." She closed her eyes as all the memories swam through her head. "They were popular people. Influential people. People who didn't like me very much. It didn't really matter that they were horrid if what I said got out. In fact, it would have been worse because they were horrid. I would have been ruined, and I would have ruined my entire family along with me."

"What happened then? I assume it was his idea to publish."

Penelope nodded. "Yes. He made all the arrangements with the printer, who in turn found the boys to deliver. And it was his idea to give it away for free for the first two weeks. He said we needed to addict the ton."

"I was out of the country when the column began," Colin said, "but I remember my mother and sisters telling me all about it."

"People grumbled when the newsboys demanded payment after two weeks for free," Penelope said. "But they all paid."

"A bright idea on the part of your solicitor," Colin murmured.

"Yes, he was quite savvy."

He picked up on her use of the past tense. "Was?"

She nodded sadly. "He passed on a few years ago. But he knew he was ill and so before he died he asked me if I wanted to continue. I suppose I could have stopped then, but I had nothing else in my life, and certainly no marriage prospects." She looked up quickly. "I don't mean to—That is to say—"

His lips curved into a self-deprecating smile. "You may scold me all you wish for not having proposed years ago."

Penelope returned his smile with one of her own. Was it any wonder she loved this man?

"But," he said rather firmly, "only if you finish the story."

"Right," she said, forcing her mind back to the matter at hand. "After Mr—" She looked up hesitantly. "I'm not certain I should say his name."

Colin knew she was torn between her love and trust for him, and her loyalty to a man who had, in all probability, been a father to her once her own had departed this earth. "It's all right," he said softly. "He's gone. His name doesn't matter."

She let out a soft breath. "Thank you," she said, chewing on her lower lip. "It's not that I don't trust you. I—"

"I know," he said reassuringly, squeezing her fingers with his. "If you want to tell me later, that's fine. And if you don't, that will be fine as well."

She nodded, her lips tight at the corners, in that strained expression people get when they are trying hard not to cry. "After he died, I worked directly with the publisher. We set up a system for delivery of the columns, and the payments continued the way they had always been made—into a discreet account in my name."

Colin sucked in his breath as he thought about how much money she must have made over the years. But how could she have spent it without incurring suspicion? "Did you make any withdrawals?" he asked.

She nodded. "After I'd been working about four years, my great-aunt passed away and left her estate to my mother. My father's solicitor wrote the will. She didn't have very much, so we took my money and pretended it was hers." Penelope's face brightened slightly as she shook her head in bewilderment. "My mother was surprised. She'd never dreamed Aunt Georgette had been so wealthy. She smiled for months. I've never seen anything like it."

"It was very kind of you," Colin said.

Penelope shrugged. "It was the only way I could actually use my money."

"But you gave it to your mother," he pointed out.

"She's my mother," she said, as if that ought to explain everything. "She supported me. It all trickled down."

He wanted to say more, but he didn't. Portia Featherington was Penelope's mother, and if Penelope wanted to love her,

he wasn't going to stop her.

"Since then," Penelope said, "I haven't touched it. Well, not for myself. I've given some money to charities." Her face took on a wry expression. "Anonymously."

He didn't say anything for a moment, just took the time to think about everything she had done in the last decade, all on her own, all in secret. "If you want the money now," he finally said, "you should use it. No one will question your suddenly having more funds. You're a Bridgerton, after all." He shrugged modestly. "It's well known that Anthony settled ample livings upon all of his brothers."

"I wouldn't even know what to do with it all."

"Buy something new," he suggested. Didn't all women like to shop?

She looked at him with an odd, almost inscrutable expression. "I'm not sure you understand how much money I have," she said hedgingly. "I don't think I could spend it all."

"Put it aside for our children, then," he said. "I've been fortunate that my father and brother saw fit to provide for me, but not all younger sons are so lucky."

"And daughters," Penelope reminded him. "Our daughters should have money of their own. Separate from their dowries."

Colin had to smile. Such arrangements were rare, but trust Penelope to insist upon it. "Whatever you wish," he said fondly.

She smiled and sighed, settling back against the pillows. Her fingers idly danced across the skin on the back of his hand, but her eyes were far away, and he doubted she was even aware of her movements.

"I have a confession to make," she said, her voice quiet and even just a touch shy.

He looked at her doubtfully. "Bigger than Whistledown?"


"What is it?"

She dragged her eyes off of the random spot on the wall she seemed to be focused upon and gave him her full attention.

"I've been feeling a bit"—she chewed on her lip as she paused, searching for the right words—"impatient with you lately. No, that's not right," she said. "Disappointed, really."

An odd feeling began to prickle in his chest. "Disappointed how?" he asked carefully.

Her shoulders gave a little shrug. "You seemed so upset with me. About Whistledown."

"I already told you that was because—"

"No, please," she said, placing a gently restraining hand on his chest. "Please let me finish. I told you I thought it was because you were ashamed of me, and I tried to ignore it, but it hurt so much, really. I thought I knew who you were, and I couldn't believe that person would think himself so far above me that he would feel such shame at my achievements."

He stared at her silently, waiting for her to continue.

"But the funny thing is ..." She turned to him with a wise smile. "The funny thing is that it wasn't because you were ashamed at all. It was all because you wanted something like that for your own. Something like Whistledown. It seems silly now, but I was so worried because you weren't the perfect man of my dreams."

"No one is perfect," he said quietly.

"I know." She leaned over and planted an impulsive kiss on his cheek. "You're the imperfect man of my heart, and that's even better. I'd always thought you infallible, that your life was charmed, that you had no worries or fears or unfulfilled dreams. But that wasn't really fair of me."

"I was never ashamed of you, Penelope," he whispered. "Never."

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They sat in companionable silence for a few moments, and then Penelope said, "Do you remember when I asked you if we might take a belated honeymoon trip?"

He nodded.

"Why don't we use some of my Whistledown money for that?"

"I will pay for the honeymoon trip."

"Fine," she said with a lofty expression. "You may take it out of your quarterly allowance."

He stared at her in shock, then hooted with laughter. "You're going to give me pin money?" he asked, unable to control

the grin that spread across his face.

"Pen money," she corrected. "So you can work on your journals."

"Pen money," he mused. "I like that."

She smiled and placed her hand on his. "I like you."

He squeezed her fingers. "I like you, too."

Penelope sighed as she settled her head on his shoulder. "Is life supposed to be this wonderful?"

"I think so," he murmured. "I really do."


One week later, Penelope was sitting at the desk in her drawing room, reading Colin's journals and making notes on a

separate piece of paper whenever she had a question or comment. He had asked her to help him edit his writing, a task

she found thrilling.

She was, of course, overjoyed that he had entrusted this critical job to her. It meant he trusted her judgment, thought she was smart and clever, felt that she could take what he had written and make it even better.

But there was more to her happiness than that. She'd needed a project, something to do. In the first days after giving up Whistledown, she'd reveled in her newfound free time. It was like having a holiday for the first time in ten years. She'd read like mad—all those novels and books she'd purchased but never gotten around to reading. And she'd taken long walks, ridden her horse in the park, sat in the small courtyard behind her house on Mount Street, enjoying the fine spring weather and tipping her face up toward the sun for a minute or so at a time—long enough to bask in the warmth, but not so long as to turn her cheeks brown.

Then, of course, the wedding and its myriad details had consumed all of her time. So she really hadn't had much opportunity to realize what might be missing in her life.