He'd wanted to walk—the vigorous use of his legs and feet and muscles seemed the only socially acceptable outlet for his fury. But he'd recognized that time was of the essence, and even with traffic, a carriage could convey him to Mayfair faster than could his own two feet.
But now the walls seemed too close and the air too thick, and goddamn it, was that an overturned milkwagon blocking the street?
Colin poked his head out the door, hanging out of the carriage even as they were still rolling to a halt. "God above," he muttered, taking in the scene. Broken glass littered the street, milk was flowing everywhere, and he couldn't tell who was screeching louder—the horses, which were still tangled in the reins, or the ladies on the pavement, whose dresses had been completely splattered with milk.
Colin jumped down from his carriage, intending to help clear the scene, but it quickly became apparent that Oxford Street would be a snarl for at least an hour, with or without his help. He checked to make sure that the milkwagon horses were being properly cared for, informed his driver that he would be continuing on foot, and took off walking.
He stared defiantly in the faces of each person he passed, perversely enjoying the way they averted their gaze when faced with his obvious hostility. He almost wished one of them would make a comment, just so he could have someone to lash out at. It didn't matter that the only person he really wanted to throttle was Cressida Twombley; by this point anyone would have made a fine target.
His anger was making him unbalanced, unreasonable. Unlike himself.
He still wasn't certain what had happened to him when Penelope had told him of Cressida's threats. This was more than
anger, greater than fury. This was physical; it coursed through his veins, pulsed beneath his skin.
He wanted to hit someone.
He wanted to kick things, put his fist through a wall.
He'd been furious when Penelope had published her last column. In fact, he'd thought he couldn't possibly experience a
He was wrong.
Or perhaps it was just that this was a different sort of anger. Someone was trying to hurt the one person he loved above all others.
How could he tolerate that? How could he allow it to happen?
The answer was simple. He couldn't.
He had to stop this. He had to do something.
After so many years of ambling through life, laughing at the antics of others, it was time to take action himself.
He looked up, somewhat surprised that he was already at Bridgerton House. Funny how it no longer seemed like home.
He'd grown up here, but now it was so obviously his brother's house.
Home was in Bloomsbury. Home was with Penelope.
Home was anywhere with Penelope.
He turned around. Anthony was on the pavement, obviously returning from an errand or appointment.
Anthony nodded toward the door. "Were you planning to knock?"
Colin looked blankly at his brother, just then realizing that he'd been standing perfectly still on the steps for God only
knew how long.
"Colin?" Anthony asked again, his brow furrowing with concern.
"I need your help," Colin said. It was all he needed to say.
* * *
Penelope was already dressed for the ball when her maid brought in a note from Colin.
"Dunwoody got it from the messenger," the maid explained before bobbing a quick curtsy and leaving Penelope to read
the note in privacy.
Penelope slid her gloved finger under the envelope flap and nudged it open, pulling out the single sheet of paper on which she saw the fine, neat handwriting that had become so familiar to her since she'd started editing Colin's journals.
I will make my own way over to the ball this evening. Please proceed to Number Five. Mother, Eloise,
and Hyacinth are waiting to accompany you to Hastings House.
All my love, Colin
For someone who wrote so well in his journals, he wasn't much of a correspondent, Penelope thought with a wry smile.
She stood, smoothing out the fine silk of her skirts. She'd chosen a dress of her favorite color—sage green—in hopes that it might lend her courage. Her mother had always said that when a woman looked good, she felt good, and she rather thought her mother was right. Heaven knows, she'd spent a good eight years of her life feeling rather bad in the dresses her mother had insisted looked good.
Her hair had been dressed in a loosely upswept fashion that flattered her face, and her maid had even combed something through the strands (Penelope was afraid to ask what) that seemed to bring out the red highlights.
Red hair wasn't very fashionable, of course, but Colin had once said he liked the way the candlelight made her hair more colorful, so Penelope had decided that this was one case upon which she and fashion would have to disagree.
By the time she made her way downstairs, her carriage was waiting for her, and the driver had already been instructed to take her to Number Five.
Colin had clearly taken care of everything. Penelope wasn't sure why this surprised her; he wasn't the sort of man who
forgot details. But he was preoccupied today. It seemed odd that he would have taken the time to send instructions to
the staff about her delivery to his mother's house when she could have conveyed the order just as well herself.
He had to be planning something. But what? Was he going to intercept Cressida Twombley and have her shipped off
to a penal colony?
No, too melodramatic.
Maybe he'd found a secret about her, and was planning to cross-blackmail her. Silence for silence.
Penelope nodded approvingly as her carriage rolled along Oxford Street. That had to be the answer. It was just like Colin to come up with something so diabolically fitting and clever. But what could he possibly have unearthed about Cressida in so short a time? In all her years as Lady Whistledown, she'd never heard even a whisper of anything truly scandalous attached to Cressida's name.
Cressida was mean, and Cressida was petty, but she'd never stepped outside the rules of society. The only truly daring
thing she'd ever done was claim to be Lady Whistledown.
The carriage turned south into Mayfair, and a few minutes later, they came to a stop in front of Number Five. Eloise must have been watching at the window, because she virtually flew down the steps and would have crashed into the carriage had the driver not stepped down at that precise moment and blocked her path.
Eloise jumped from foot to foot as she waited for the driver to open the carriage door; in fact, she looked so impatient that Penelope was surprised she didn't brush past him and wrench the door open herself. Finally, ignoring the driver's offer of help, she climbed into the carriage, nearly tripping on her skirts and tumbling to the floor in the process. As soon as she'd righted herself, she looked both ways, her face pursed into an extremely furtive expression, and yanked the door shut, nearly taking off the driver's nose in the process.
"What," Eloise demanded, "is going on?"
Penelope just stared at her. "I could ask the same of you."
"You could? Why?"
"Because you nearly knocked over the car
riage in your haste to climb inside!"
"Oh," Eloise sniffed dismissively. "You have only yourself to blame for that."
"Yes, you! I want to know what's going on. And I need to know tonight."
Penelope was quite certain that Colin would not have told his sister about Cressida's blackmail demands, not unless his plan was to have Eloise harangue Cressida to death. "I don't know what you mean," she said.
"You have to know what I mean!" Eloise insisted, glancing back up toward the house. The front door was opening.
"Oh, bother. Mother and Hyacinth are coming already. Tell me!"
'Tell you what?"
"Why Colin sent us that abominably cryptic note instructing us to stick to you like glue all evening."
"Yes, and may I point out that he underlined the word glue."
"And here I thought the emphasis was yours," Penelope said dryly.
Eloise scowled. "Penelope, this is not the time to poke fun at me."
"When is the time?"
"Sorry, I couldn't resist."
"Do you know what the note was about?"
Penelope shook her head. Which wasn't a complete lie, she told herself. She really didn't know what Colin had planned
for this evening.
Just then the door opened, and Hyacinth bounded in. "Penelope!" she said with great enthusiasm. "What is going on?"
"She doesn't know," Eloise said.
Hyacinth shot her sister an annoyed look. "It figures you'd sneak out here early."
Violet poked her head in, "Are they quarreling?" she asked Penelope.
"Just a little," Penelope replied.
Violet sat next to Hyacinth across from Penelope and Eloise. "Very well, it's not as if I could stop them, anyway. But do tell, what did Colin mean when he instructed us to stick to you like glue?"
"I'm sure I don't know."
Violet's eyes narrowed, as if assessing Penelope's honesty. "He was quite emphatic. He underlined the word glue, you know."
"I know," Penelope replied, just as Eloise said, "I told her."
"He underlined it twice," Hyacinth added. "If his ink had been any darker, I'm sure I would have had to go out and slaughter a horse myself."
"Hyacinth!" Violet exclaimed.