To Sir Phillip, With Love
Book 5 in the Bridgerton Series
My dear Miss Bridgerton,
We have been corresponding now for quite some time, and although we have never formally met, I feel as if I know you.
Forgive me if I am too bold, but I am writing to invite you to visit me. It is my hope that we might decide that we will suit, and you will consent to be my wife.
—Sir Phillip Crane
Sir Phillip Crane knew that Eloise Bridgerton was a spinster, and so he’d proposed, figuring that she’d be homely and unassuming, and more than a little desperate for an offer of marriage. Except… she wasn’t. The beautiful woman on his doorstep was anything but quiet, and when she stopped talking long enough to close her mouth, all he wanted to do was kiss her… and more.
Did he think she was mad? Eloise Bridgerton couldn’t marry a man she had never met! But then she started thinking… and wondering… and before she knew it, she was in a hired carriage in the middle of the night, on her way to meet the man she hoped might be her perfect match. Except… he wasn’t. Her perfect husband wouldn’t be so moody and ill-mannered, and while Phillip was certainly handsome, he was a large brute of a man, rough and rugged, and totally unlike the London gentlemen vying for her hand. But when he smiled… and when he kissed her… the rest of the world simply fell away, and she couldn’t help but wonder… could this imperfect man be perfect for her?
Eloise just stared at him. As long as she lived, she’d never understand men. She had four brothers, and quite frankly should have understood them better than most women, and maybe it had taken all of her twenty-eight years to come to this realization, but men were, quite simply, freaks.
Inside the Story
- To Sir Phillip, With Love begins mere hours after Romancing Mr. Bridgerton ends. Which means that Eloise doesn't know RMB's big secret! Her family could have told her halfway through the book, but I decided they wouldn't, just to be cruel. (Not to mention that the logistics for me, as the author, were too daunting...)
- Many of my books have a working title which never sees the light of day, but To Sir Phillip, With Love had two: The first was For Eloise, Wherever I May Find Her, inspired by the Simon & Garfunkel song "For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her," which I think is one of the most romantic songs ever written. (Naturally, the S&G song is included on my "soundtrack" for this book.) The second working title was The Importance of Being Eloise.
- Eloise's letters (which serve as epigraphs for chapter #2 and on) were written well after I'd finished the book. I wanted to do something fun, along the lines of the Lady Whistledown entries in my previous books, but the muse didn't strike until To Sir Phillip, With Love was well into the editorial process.
- Willow bark contains the same active ingredient as aspirin and is indeed quite useful in reducing a fever.
- Sometimes I get to see a copy of cover art before the type is added, and this time I'm glad I did! I loved the art—the pack of letters bundled by a ribbon is perfect for the book— but the postage stamp was a huge anachronism.
To Sir Phillip, With Love is set in 1824, and postage stamps weren't introduced in the UK until 1840.
Enjoy an Excerpt
To Sir Phillip, With Love
It was ironic, really, that it had happened on such a sunny day.
The first sunny day in what had it been—six straight weeks of gray skies, accompanied by the occasional sprinkling of light snow or rain? Even Phillip, who’d thought himself impervious to the vagaries of the weather, had felt his spirits lighten, his smile widen. He’d gone outside– he’d had to. No one could remain indoors during such a splendid display of sunshine.
Especially in the middle of such a gray winter.
Even now, more than a month after it had happened, he couldn’t quite believe that the sun had had the temerity to tease him so.
And how was it that he’d been so blind, that he’d not expected it? He’d lived with Marina since the day of their marriage. Eight long years to know the woman. He should have expected it. And in truth…
Well, in truth, he had expected it. He just hadn’t wanted to admit to the expectation. Perhaps he was just trying to delude himself, protect himself even. To hide from the obvious, hoping that if he didn’t think about it, it would never happen.
But it did. And on a sunny day, to boot. God certainly had a sick sense of humor.
He looked down at his glass of whiskey, which was, quite inexplicably, empty. He must have drunk the damned thing, and yet he had no memory of doing so. He didn’t feel woozy, at least not as woozy as he should have been. Or even as woozy as he wanted to be.
He stared out the window at the sun, which was slipping low on the horizon. It had been another sunny day today. That probably explained his exceptional melancholy. At least he hoped it did. He wanted an explanation, needed one, for this awful tiredness that seemed to be taking over. Melancholy terrified him. More than anything. More than fire, more than war, more than hell itself. The thought of sinking into sadness, of being like her…
Marina had been melancholy. Marina had spent her entire life, or at least the entire life he’d known, melancholy. He couldn’t remember the sound of her laughter, and in truth, he wasn’t sure that he’d ever known it.
It had been a sunny day, and–
He squeezed his eyes shut, not certain whether the motion was meant to urge the memory or dispel it.
It had been a sunny day, and…
“Never thought you’d feel the likes of that on your skin again, eh, Sir Phillip?”
Phillip Crane turned his face to the sun, closing his eyes as he let the warmth spread over his skin. “It’s perfect,” he murmured. “Or it would be, if it weren’t so bloody cold.”
Miles Carter, his secretary, chuckled. “It’s not as cold as that. The lake hasn’t frozen this year. Just a few patchy spots.”
Reluctantly, Phillip turned away from the sun and opened his eyes. “It isn’t spring, though,”
“If you were wishing for spring, sir, perhaps you should have consulted a calendar.”
Phillip regarded him with a sideways glance. “Do I pay you for such impertinence?”
“Indeed. And rather handsomely, too.”
Phillip smiled to himself as both men paused to enjoy the sun for a few moments longer.
“I thought you didn’t mind the gray,” Miles said conversationally, once they’d resumed their trek to Phillip’s greenhouse.
“I don’t,” Phillip said, striding along with the confidence of a natural athlete. “But just because I don’t mind an overcast sky doesn’t mean I don’t prefer the sun.” He paused, thought for a moment. “Be sure to tell Nurse Millsby to take the children outside today. They’ll need warm coats, of course, and hats and mittens and the like, but they ought to get a little sun on their faces. They’ve been cooped up far too long.”
“As have we all,” Miles murmured.
Phillip chuckled. “Indeed.” He glanced over his shoulder at his greenhouse. He probably ought to take care of his correspondence now, but he had some seeds he needed to sort through, and truly, there was no reason he couldn’t conduct his business with Miles in an hour or so. “Go on,” he said to Miles. “Find Nurse Millsby. You and I can deal later. You know you hate the greenhouse, anyway.”
“Not this time of year,” Miles said. “The heat is rather welcome.”
Phillip arched a brow as he inclined his head toward Romney Hall. “Are you calling my ancestral home drafty?”
“All ancestral homes are drafty.”
“True enough,” Phillip said with a grin. He rather liked Miles. He’d hired him six months earlier to help with the mountains of paperwork and details that seemed to accumulate from the running of his small property. Miles was quite good. Young, but good. And his dry sense of humor was certainly welcome in a house where laughter was never in abundance. The servants would never dare joke with Phillip, and Marina… well, it went without saying that Marina did not laugh or joke.
The children sometimes made Phillip laugh, but that was a different sort of humor, and besides, most of the time he did not know what to say to them. He tried, but then he felt too awkward, too big, too strong if such a thing were possible. And then he just found himself shooing them off, telling them to go back to their nurse.
It was easier that way.
“Go on, then,” Phillip said, sending Miles off on a task he probably should have done himself. He hadn’t seen his children yet today, and he supposed he ought to, but he didn’t want to spoil the day by saying something stern, which he inevitably seemed to do.
He’d find them while they were off on their nature walk with Nurse Millsby. That would be a good idea. Then he could point out some sort of plant and tell them about it, and everything would remain perfectly simple and benign.
Phillip entered his greenhouse and shut the door behind him, taking a welcome breath of the moist air. He’d studied botany at Cambridge, taken a first even, and in truth, he’d probably have taken up an academic life if his older brother had not died at Waterloo, thrusting the second-born Phillip into the role of landowner and country gentleman.
He supposed it could have been worse. He could have been landowner and city gentleman, after all. At least here he was able to pursue his botanical pursuits in relative serenity.
He bent over his workbench, examining his latest project– a strain of peas that he was trying to breed to grow fatter and plumper in the pod. No luck yet, though. This latest batch was not just shriveled but had even turned yellow, which had not been the expected result at all.
Phillip frowned, then allowed himself a small smile as he moved to the back of the greenhouse to gather his supplies. He never minded too terribly when his experiments did not produce the expected outcome. In his opinion, necessity had never been the mother of invention.
Accidents. It was all about accidents. No scientist would admit to it, of course, but most great invention occurred while one was attempting to solve some other problem entirely.
He chuckled as he swept the shriveled seeds aside. At this rate, he’d cure gout by the end of the year.
Back to work. Back to work. He bent over his seed collection, smoothing them out so that he could examine them all. He needed just the right one for–
He looked up and out the freshly washed glass. A movement across the field caught his eye. A flash of red.
Red. Phillip smiled to himself as he shook his head. It must be Marina.Red was her favorite color, something that he’d always found odd. Anyone who spent any time with her would have surely thought she’d prefer something darker, more somber.
He watched as she disappeared into the wooded copse, then got back to work. It was rare for Marina to venture outside. These days she didn’t often even leave the confines of her bedchamber. Phillip was happy to see her out in the sun. Maybe it would restore her spirits. Not completely, of course. Phillip didn’t think even the sun had the ability to do that. But maybe a bright, warm day would be enough to draw her out for a few hours, bring a small smile to her face.
Heaven knew the children could use that. They visited their mother in her room almost every evening, but it wasn’t enough.
And Phillip knew that this lack was not made up for by him.
He sighed, a wave of guilt washing over him. He was not the sort of father they needed, he knew that. He tried to tell himself that he was doing his best, that he was succeeding in what was his only goal when it came to parenthood– that he not behave in the manner of his own father.
But still he knew it wasn’t enough.
With resolute motions, he pushed himself away from his workbench. The seeds could wait. His children could probably wait, too, but that didn’t mean they should. And he ought to take them on their nature walk, not Nurse Millsby, who didn’t know a deciduous tree from a coniferous and would most likely tell them that a rose was a daisy and…
He glanced out the window again, reminding himself that it was February. Nurse Millsby wasn’t likely to locate any sort of flower in this weather, but still, it didn’t excuse the fact that he ought to take the children on their nature walk. It was the one sort of children’s activity at which he truly excelled, and he ought not shirk the responsibility.
He strode out of the greenhouse but then stopped, not even a third of the way back to Romney Hall. If he was going to fetch the children, he ought to take them out to see their mother. They craved her company, even when she did nothing more than pat them on the head. Yes, they should find Marina. That would be even more beneficial than a nature walk.
But he knew from experience that he ought not make assumptions about Marina’s state of mind. Just because she’d ventured outside did not mean that she was feeling well. And he hated when the children saw her in one of her moods.
Phillip turned around and headed out toward the copse, where he’d seen Marina disappear just a few moments earlier. He walked with nearly twice the speed of Marina; it wouldn’t take very long to catch up to her and ascertain her mood. He could be back at the nursery before the children set out with Nurse Millsby.
He walked through the woods, easily following Marina’s path. The ground was moist, and Marina must have been wearing heavy boots, because her prints had sunk into the earth with clear definition. They led down the slight incline and out of the woods, then onto a grassy patch.
“Damn,” Phillip muttered, the word barely audible as the wind picked up around him. It was impossible to see her footprints on the grass. He used his hand to shade his eyes from the sun and scanned the horizon, looking for a telltale scrap of red.
Not near the abandoned cottage, nor at Phillip’s field of experimental grains, nor at the large boulder that Phillip had spent so many hours clambering upon when he was a child. He turned north, his eyes narrowing when he finally saw her. She was heading toward the lake.
Phillip’s lips parted as he stared down at her form, moving slowly toward the water’s edge. He wasn’t quite frozen; it was more that he was… suspended… as his mind took in the strange sight. Marina didn’t swim. He didn’t even know if she could. He supposed she was aware that there was a lake on the grounds, but in truth, he’d never known her to go there, not in the eight years they’d been married.
He started walking toward her, his feet somehow recognizing what his mind refused to accept. As she stepped into the shallows, he picked up speed, still too far to do anything but call out her name.
But if she heard him, she made no indication, just continued her slow and steady progress into the depths.
“Marina!” he screamed, now breaking into a run. He was still a good minute away, even moving at top speed. “Marina!”
She reached the point where the bottom dropped off, and then she dropped off, too, disappearing under the gunmetal gray of the surface, her red cloak floating along the top for a few seconds before being sucked under after her.
He yelled her name again, even though she couldn’t possibly hear. He skidded and stumbled down the hill leading to the lake, then had just enough presence of mind to yank off his coat and boots before diving into the freezing cold water. She’d been under barely a minute; his mind recognized that that was probably not enough time to drown, but every second it took him to find her was one second toward her death.
He’d swum in the lake countless times, knew exactly where the bottom dropped off, and he reached that critical point with swift, even strokes, barely noticing the drag of the water against his heavy clothes.
He could find her. He had to find her.
Before it was too late.
He dove down, his eyes scanning the murky water. Marina must have kicked up some of the sand from the bottom, and he had surely done the same, because the fine silt was swirling around him, the puffy opaque clouds making it difficult to see.
But in the end, Marina was saved by her one colorful quirk, and Phillip pumped through the water, down to the bottom where he saw the red of her cloak floating through the water like a languorous kite. She did not fight him as he pulled her to the surface; indeed, she had already lost consciousness and was nothing more than a dead weight in his arms.
They broke out into the air, and he took great, big gasps to fill his burning lungs. For a moment he could do nothing but breathe; his body recognizing that it had to save itself before he could save anyone else. Then he pulled her along to the shore, careful to keep her face above water, even though she didn’t seem to be breathing.
Finally, they reached the water’s edge, and he dragged her upon the narrow strip of dirt and pebbles that separated the water from the grass. With frantic movements he felt in front of her face for air, but there was none emerging from her lips.
He didn’t know what to do, hadn’t thought he’d ever have to save someone from drowning, so he just did what seemed most sensible and heaved her over his lap, face down, whacking her on the back. Nothing happened at first, but after the fourth violent thrust, she coughed, and a stream of murky water erupted from her mouth.
He turned her over quickly. “Marina?” he asked urgently, lightly slapping her face. “Marina?”
She coughed again, her body wracked by spasmodic tremors. Then she began to suck in air, her lungs forcing her to live, even when her soul desired something else.
“Marina,” Phillip said, his voice shaking with relief. “Thank God.” He didn’t love her, had never really loved her, but she was his wife, and she was the mother of his children, and she was, deep down, beneath her unshakable cloak of sorrow and despair, a good and fine person. He may not have loved her, but he did not want her death.
She blinked, her eyes unfocused. And then, finally, she seemed to realize where she was, who he was, and she whispered, “No.”
“I’ve got to get you back to the house,” he said gruffly, startled by how angry he was over that single word.
How dare she refuse his rescue? Would she give up on life just because she was sad? Did her melancholy amount to more than their two children? In the balance of life, did a bad mood weigh more than their need for a mother?
“I’m taking you home,” he bit out, heaving her none-too-gently into his arms. She was breathing now, and clearly in possession of her faculties, misguided though they may be. There was no need to treat her like a delicate flower.
“No,” she sobbed quietly. “Please don’t. I don’t want… I don’t…”
“You’re going home,” he stated, trudging up the hill, oblivious to the chill wind turning his sodden clothes to ice.
“I can’t,” she whispered, with what seemed like her last ounce of energy.
And as Phillip carried his burden home, all he could think was how apt those words were.
In a way, it seemed to sum up her entire life.
By nightfall, it became apparent that fever might succeed where the lake had failed.
Phillip had carried Marina home as quickly as he was able, and with the aid of Mrs. Hurley, his housekeeper, they had stripped her of her icy garments and tried to warm her beneath the goosedown quilt that had been the centerpiece of her trousseau eight years earlier.
“What happened?” Mrs. Hurley had gasped when he staggered through the kitchen door. He hadn’t wanted to use the main entrance, where he might be seen by his children, and besides, the kitchen door was closer by a good forty yards.
“She fell in the lake,” he said gruffly.
Mrs. Hurley gave him a look that was somehow dubious and sympathetic all in one, and he knew that she knew the truth. She had worked for the Cranes since their marriage; she knew Marina’s moods.
She had shooed him out of the room once they had Marina in bed, insisting that he change his own clothing before he caught his death as well. He had returned, though, to Marina’s side. That was his place as her husband, he thought guiltily, a place he had avoided in recent years.
It was depressing to be with Marina. It was hard.
But now wasn’t the time to shirk his duties or his place, and so he sat at her bedside throughout the day and into the night. He mopped her brow when she began to perspire, tried to pour lukewarm broth down her throat when she was calm.
He told her to fight, even though he knew his words fell on deaf ears.
Three days later she was dead.
It was what she’d wanted, but that was little comfort as Phillip faced his children, twins, just turned seven years old, and tried to explain that their mother was gone. He sat in their nursery, his large frame too big for any of their tot-sized chairs. But he sat, anyway, twisted like a pretzel, and forced himself to meet their gazes as he forced the words out.
They said little, which was unlike them. But they didn’t look surprised, which Phillip found disturbing.
“I–I’m sorry,” he choked out, once he reached the end of his speech. He loved them so much, and he failed them in so many ways. He barely knew how to be a father to them; how in hell was he meant to take on the role of mother as well?
“It’s not your fault,” Oliver said, his brown eyes capturing his father’s with an intensity that was unsettling. “She fell in the lake, didn’t she? You didn’t push her.”
Phillip only nodded, unsure of how to respond.
“Is she happy now?” Amanda asked softly.
“I think so,” Phillip whispered. “She gets to watch you all the time now from heaven, so she must be happy.”
The twins seemed to consider that for quite some time. “I hope she’s happy,” Oliver finally said, his voice more resolute than his expression. “Maybe she won’t cry anymore.”
Phillip felt his breath catch in his throat. He hadn’t realized that they had heard Marina’s sobs. She only seemed to sink so low late at night; their room was directly above hers, but he’d always assumed they’d been asleep when their mother started to cry.
Amanda nodded her agreement, her little blond head bobbing up and down. “If she’s happy now,” she said, “then I’m glad she’s gone.”
“She’s not gone,” Oliver cut in. “She’s dead.”
“No, she’s gone,” Amanda persisted.
“It’s the same thing,” Phillip said flatly, wishing he had something to tell them other than the truth. “But I think she’s happy now.”
And in a way, that was the truth, too. It was what Marina had wanted, after all. Maybe it was all she had wanted all along.
Amanda and Oliver were quiet for a long while, both keeping their eyes on the floor as their legs swung from their perch on Oliver’s bed. They looked so small, sitting there on a bed that was clearly too high for them. Phillip frowned. How was it that he’d never noticed this before? Shouldn’t they be on lower beds? What if they fell off in the night?
Or maybe they were too big for all that. Maybe they didn’t fall out of bed any longer. Maybe they never had.
Maybe he truly was an abominable father. Maybe he should know these things.
Maybe… Maybe… He closed his eyes and sighed. Maybe he should stop thinking quite so much and simply try his best and be happy with that.
“Are you going to go away?” Amanda asked, raising her head.
He looked into her eyes, so blue, so like her mother’s. “No,” he whispered fiercely, kneeling before her and taking her tiny hands in his own. They looked so small in his grasp, so fragile.
“No,” he repeated. “I’m not going away. I’m not ever going away…”
Phillip looked down at his whiskey glass. It was empty again. Funny how a whiskey glass could go empty even after one filled it four times.
He hated remembering. He wasn’t sure what was the worst. Was it the dive underwater or the moment Mrs. Hurley had turned to him and said, “She’s gone.”
Or was it his children, the sorrow on their faces, the fear in their eyes?
He lifted the glass to his lips, letting the final drops slide into his mouth. The worst part was definitely his children. He’d told them he wouldn’t ever leave them, and he hadn’t –he wouldn’t– but his simple presence wasn’t enough. They needed more. They needed someone who knew how to be a parent, who knew how to speak to them and understand them and get them to mind and behave.
And since he couldn’t very well get them another father, he supposed he ought to think about finding them a mother. It was too soon, of course. He couldn’t marry anyone until his prescribed period of mourning was completed, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t look.
He sighed, slumping in his seat. He needed a wife. Almost any wife would do. He didn’t care what she looked like. He didn’t care if she had money. He didn’t care if she could do sums in her head or speak French or even ride a horse.
She just had to be happy.
Was that so much to want in a wife? A smile, at least once a day. Maybe even the sound of her laughter?
And she had to love his children. Or at least pretend so well that they never knew the difference.
And she had to stay. He wouldn’t risk breaking their hearts again with a woman who would tire of their quiet life in the country.
It wasn’t so much to ask for, was it?
Phillip looked up, cursing at himself for having left his study door slightly ajar. Miles Carter, his secretary, was poking his head in.
“What is it?”
“A letter, sir,” Miles said, walking forward to hand him an envelope. “From London.”
Phillip looked down at the envelope in his hand, his brows rising at the obviously feminine slant to the handwriting. He dismissed Miles with a nod, then picked up his letter-opener and slid it under the wax. A single sheet of paper slipped out. Phillip rubbed it between his fingers. High quality. Expensive. Heavy, too, a clear sign that the sender need not economize to reduce franking costs.
Then he turned it over and read:
No. 5, Bruton Street
Sir Phillip Crane–
I am writing to express my condolences on the loss of your wife, my dear cousin Marina. Although it has been many years since I last saw Marina, I remember her fondly and was deeply saddened to have heard of her passing.
Please do not hesitate to write if there is anything I can do to ease your pain at this difficult time.
Miss Eloise Bridgerton
Phillip rubbed his eyes. Bridgerton… Bridgerton. Did Marina have Bridgerton cousins? She must have done, if one of them was sending him a letter.
He sighed, then surprised himself by reaching for his own stationery and quill. He’d received precious few condolence notes since Marina had died. It seemed most of her friends and family had forgotten her since her marriage. He supposed he shouldn’t be upset, or even surprised. She’d rarely left her bedchamber; it was easy to forget about someone one never saw.
Miss Bridgerton deserved a reply. It was common courtesy, or even if it wasn’t (and Phillip was quite certain he didn’t know the full etiquette of one’s wife dying), it still somehow seemed like the right thing to do.
And so, with weary breath, he put his quill to paper.
Somewhere on the road from London to Gloucestershire.
The middle of the night.
Dear Miss Bridgerton–
Thank you for your kind note at the loss of my wife. It was thoughtful of you to take the time to write to a gentleman you have never met. I offer you this pressed flower as thanks. It is naught but the simple red campion (silene dioica), but it brightens the fields here in Gloucestershire, and indeed seems to have arrived early this year.
It was Marina’s favorite wildflower.
Sir Phillip Crane
Eloise Bridgerton smoothed the well-read sheet of paper across her lap. There was little light by which to read, even with the full moon shining through the windows of the coach, but that didn’t really matter. She had the entire letter memorized, and the delicate pressed flower, which was actually more pink than red, was safely protected between the pages of a book she’d nipped from her brother’s library.
She hadn’t been too terribly surprised when she’d received a reply from Sir Phillip. Good manners dictated as much, although even Eloise’s mother, surely the supreme arbiter of good behavior, said that Eloise took her correspondence a bit too seriously.
It was common, of course, for ladies of Eloise’s station to spend several hours each week writing letters, but Eloise had long since fallen into the habit of taking that amount of time each day. She enjoyed writing notes, especially to people she hadn’t seen in years (she’d always liked to imagine their surprise when they opened her envelope) and so she pulled out her pen and paper for most any occasion–births, deaths, any sort of achievement that deserved congratulations or condolences.
She wasn’t sure why she kept sending her missives, just that she spent so much time writing letters to whichever of her siblings were not in residence in London at the time, and it seemed easy enough to pen a short note to some far-off relative while she was seated at her escritoire.
And although everyone penned a short note in reply –she was a Bridgerton, of course, and no one wanted to offend a Bridgerton– never had anyone enclosed a gift, even something so humble as a pressed flower.
Eloise closed her eyes, picturing the delicate pink petals. It was hard to imagine a man handling such a fragile bloom. Her four brothers were all big, strong men, with broad shoulders and large hands that would surely mangle the poor thing in a heartbeat.
She had been intrigued by Sir Phillip’s reply, especially his use of the Latin, and she had immediately penned her own response.
Dear Sir Phillip–
Thank you so very much for the charming pressed flower. It was such a lovely surprise when it floated out of the envelope. And such a precious memento of dear Marina, as well.
I could not help but notice your facility with the flower’s scientific name. Are you a botanist?
Miss Eloise Bridgerton
It was sneaky of her to end her letter with a question. Now the poor man would be forced to respond again.
He did not disappoint her. It had taken only ten days for Eloise to receive his reply.
Dear Miss Bridgerton–
Indeed I am a botanist, trained at Cambridge, although I am not currently connected with any university or scientific board. I conduct experiments here at Romney Hall, in my own greenhouse.
Are you of a scientific bent as well?
Sir Phillip Crane
Something about the correspondence was thrilling; perhaps it was simply the excitement of finding someone not related to her who actually seemed eager to conduct a written dialogue. Whatever it was, Eloise wrote back immediately.
Dear Sir Phillip–
Heavens, no, I have not the scientific mind, I’m afraid, although I do have a fair head for sums. My interests lie more in the humanities; you may have noticed that I enjoy penning letters.
Yours in friendship,
Eloise hadn’t been certain about signing with such an informal salutation, but she decided to err on the side of daring. Sir Phillip was obviously enjoying the correspondence as much as she; surely he wouldn’t have finished his missive with a question, otherwise?
Her answer came a fortnight later.
My dear Miss Bridgerton–
Ah, but it is a sort of friendship, isn’t it? I confess to a certain measure of isolation here in the country, and if one cannot have a smiling face across one’s breakfast table, then one might at least have an amiable letter, don’t you think?
I have enclosed another flower for you. This one is geranium pratense, more commonly known as the meadow cranesbill.
With great regard,
Eloise remembered that day well. She had sat in her chair, the one by the window in her bedchamber, and stared at the carefully pressed, purple flower for what seemed like an eternity. Was he attempting to court her? Through the post?
And then one day she received a note that was quite different from the rest.
My dear Miss Bridgerton–
We have been corresponding now for quite some time, and although we have never formally met, I feel as if I know you. I hope you feel the same.
Forgive me if I am too bold, but I am writing to invite you to visit me here at Romney Hall. It is my hope that after a suitable period of time, we might decide that we will suit, and you will consent to be my wife.
You will, of course, be properly chaperoned. If you accept my invitation, I will make immediate plans to bring my widowed aunt to Romney Hall.
I do hope you will consider my proposal.
Yours, as always,
Eloise had immediately tucked the letter away in a drawer, unable to even fathom his request. He wanted to marry someone he didn’t even know?
No, to be fair, that wasn’t entirely true. They did know one another. They’d said more in the course of a year’s correspondence than many husbands and wives did during the entire course of a marriage.
But still, they’d never met.
Eloise thought about all of the marriage proposals she’d refused over the years. How many had there been? At least six. Now she couldn’t even remember why she’d refused some of them. No reason, really, except that they weren’t…
Was that so much to expect?
She shook her head, aware that she sounded silly and spoiled. No, she didn’t need someone perfect. She just needed someone perfect for her.
She knew what the society matrons said about her. She was too demanding, worse than foolish. She’d end up a spinster– no, they didn’t say that anymore. They said she already was a spinster, which was true. One didn’t reach the age of eight and twenty without hearing that whispered behind one’s back.
Or thrown in one’s face.
But the funny truth was, Eloise didn’t mind her situation. Or at least, she hadn’t, not until recently.
It had never occurred to her that she’d always be a spinster, and besides, she enjoyed her life quite well. She had the most marvelous family one could imagine– seven brothers and sisters in all, named alphabetically, which put her right in the middle at E, with four older and three younger. Her mother was a delight, and she’d even stopped nagging Eloise about getting married. She still held a prominent place in society; the Bridgertons were universally adored and respected (and occasionally feared), and Eloise’s sunny and irrepressible personality was such that everyone sought out her company, spinsterish age or no.
She sighed, suddenly feeling quite a bit older than her twenty-eight years. Lately she hadn’t been feeling so sunny. Lately she’d been starting to think that maybe those crotchety old matrons were right, and she wasn’t going to find herself a husband. Maybe she had been too picky, too determined to follow the example of her older brothers and sister, all of whom had found a deep and passionate love with their spouses (even if it hadn’t necessarily been there at the outset).
Maybe a marriage based on mutual respect and companionship was better than none at all.
But it was difficult to talk about these feelings with anyone. Her mother had spent so many years urging her to find a husband; as much as Eloise adored her, it would be difficult to eat crow and say that she should have listened. Her brothers would have been no help whatsoever. Anthony, the eldest, would probably have taken it upon himself to personally select a suitable mate and then browbeat the poor man into submission. Benedict was too much of a dreamer, and besides, he almost never came down to London anymore, preferring the quiet of the country. As for Colin– Well, that was a another story entirely, quite worthy of its own paragraph.
She supposed she should have talked to Daphne, but every time she went to see her, her elder sister was so bloody happy, so blissfully in love with her husband and her life as mother to her brood of four. How could someone like that possibly offer useful advice to one in Eloise’s position? And Francesca seemed half a world away, off in Scotland. Besides, Eloise didn’t think it fair to bother her with her silly woes. Francesca had been widowed, for heaven’s sake. Eloise’s fears and worries seemed terribly inconsequential by comparison.
And maybe all this was why her correspondence with Sir Phillip had become such a guilty pleasure. The Bridgertons were a large family, loud and boisterous. It was nearly impossible to keep anything a secret, especially from her sisters, the youngest of whom –Hyacinth– could probably have won the war against Napoleon in half the time if His Majesty had only thought to draft her into the espionage service.
Sir Phillip was, in his own strange way, hers. The one thing she’d never had to share with anyone. His letters were bundled and tied with a purple ribbon, hidden at the bottom of her middle desk drawer, tucked underneath the piles of stationery she used for her many letters.
He was her secret. Hers.
And because she’d never actually met him, she’d been able to create him in her mind, using his letters as the bones and then fleshing him out as she saw fit. If ever there was a perfect man, surely it had to be the Sir Phillip Crane of her imagination.
And now he wanted to meet? Meet? Was he mad? And ruin what had to be the perfect courtship?
But then the impossible had occurred. Penelope Featherington, Eloise’s closest friend for nearly a dozen years, had married. And what’s more, she’d married Colin. Eloise’s brother!
If the moon had suddenly dropped from the sky and landed in her back garden, Eloise could not have been more surprised.
Eloise was happy for Penelope. Truly, she was. And she was happy for Colin, too. They were quite possibly her two most favorite people in the entire world, and she was thrilled that they had found happiness. No one deserved it more.
But that didn’t mean that their marriage hadn’t left a hollow spot in her life.
She supposed that when she’d been considering her life as a spinster, and trying to convince herself that it was what she really wanted, Penelope had always been there in the image, spinster right beside her. It was acceptable –almost fun, even– to be twenty-eight and unmarried as long as Penelope was twenty-eight and unmarried, as well. It wasn’t that she hadn’t wanted Penelope to find a husband; it was just that it had never seemed even the least bit likely. Eloise knew that Penelope was wonderful and kind and smart and witty, but the gentlemen of the ton had never seemed to notice. In all her years in society –eleven in all– Penelope had not received one proposal of marriage. Nor even a whiff of interest.
In a way, Eloise had counted on her to remain where she was, what she was–first and foremost, Eloise’s friend. Her companion in spinsterhood.
And the worst part –the part that left Eloise wracked with guilt– was thatshe’d never given a thought to how Penelope might feel if she married first, which, in truth, she’d always supposed she would do.
But now Penelope had Colin, and Eloise could see that the match was a splendid thing. And she was alone. Alone in the middle of crowded London, in the middle of a large and loving family.
It was hard to imagine a lonelier spot.
Suddenly Sir Phillip’s bold proposal– tucked away at the very bottom of her bundle, at the bottom of the middle drawer, locked away in a newly-purchased safebox, just so that Eloise wouldn’t be tempted to look at it six times a day– Well, it seemed a bit more intriguing.
More intriguing by the day, frankly, as she grew more and more restless, more dissatisfied with the lot in life that she had to admit she’d chosen.
And so one day, after she’d gone to visit Penelope, only to be informed by the butler that Mr. and Mrs. Bridgerton were not able to receive visitors (uttered in such a way that even Eloise knew what it meant) she made a decision. It was time to take her life into her own hands, time to control her destiny, rather than attending ball after ball in the vain hope that the perfect man would suddenly materialize before her, never mind that there was never anybody new in London, and after a full decade out in society, she’d already met everyone of the appropriate age and gender to marry.
She told herself that this did not mean she had to marry Sir Phillip; she was merely investigating what seemed like it might be an excellent possibility. If they did not suit, they would not have to marry; she’d made no promises to him, after all.
But if there was one thing about Eloise, it was that she was when she made a decision, she acted upon it quickly. No, she reflected with a rather impressive (in her opinion, at least) display of self-honesty, there were two things about her that colored her every action– she liked to act quickly and she was tenacious. Penelope had once described her as akin to a dog with a bone.
And Penelope had not been joking. Not even a little bit.
Once Eloise got her claws into an idea, not even the full force of the Bridgerton family could sway her from her intended goal. (And the Bridgertons constituted a mighty force, indeed.) It was probably just dumb luck that her goals and those of her family had never crossed purposes before, at least not over anything important.
Eloise knew that they would never countenance her going off blindly to meet a man she’d never met. Anthony would have probably demanded that Sir Phillip come to London to meet the entire family en masse, and Eloise couldn’t imagine a single scenario more likely to scare off a prospective suitor. The men who’d previously sought her favor were at least familiar with the London scene and knew what they were getting into; poor Sir Phillip, who had –by his own admission in his letters– not set foot in London since his school days, and never participated in the social season, would be ambushed.
So the only option was for her to travel to Gloucestershire, and, as she came to realize after pondering the problem for a few days, she had to do it in secret. If her family knew of her plans, they might very well forbid her to go. Eloise was a worthy opponent, and she might prevail in the end, but it would be a long and painful battle. Not to mention that if they did allow her to go, whether after a protracted battle over the subject or not, they would insist upon sending at least two of their ranks to accompany her.
Eloise shuddered. Those two would most probably be her mother and Hyacinth.
Good gad, no one could fall in love with those two around. No one could even form a mild but lasting attachment, which Eloise thought she might actually be willing to settle for this go around.
She decided that she would make her escape during her sister Daphne’s ball. It was to be a grand affair, with hordes of guests, and just the right amount of noise and confusion to allow her absence to go unnoticed for a good six hours, maybe more. Her mother had always insisted that they be punctual –early, even– when a family member was hosting a social event, so they would surely arrive at Daphne’s no later than eight. If she slipped away early on, and the ball did not wind down until the wee hours of the morning… well, it would be nearly dawn before anyone realized she was gone, and she could be halfway to Gloucestershire.
And if not halfway, then far enough to ensure that they wouldn’t find it too terribly easy to follow her trail.
In the end, it had all proven almost frighteningly easy. Her entire family had been distracted by some grand announcement Colin planned to make, and so all she’d had to do was excuse herself to the ladies’ retiring room, slip out the back, and walk the short distance to her own home, where she’d hidden her bags in the back garden. From there, she needed only to walk to the corner, where she’d arranged to have a hired coach waiting.
Goodness, if she’d known it would be this easy to make her own way in the world, she would have done so years ago.
And now here she was, rolling toward Gloucestershire, rolling toward destiny, she supposed –or hoped, she wasn’t sure which– with nothing but a few changes of clothing and a pile of letters written to her by a man she’d never met.
A man she hoped she could love.
It was thrilling.
No, it was terrifying.
It was, she reflected, quite possibly the stupidest thing she’d done in her life, and she had to admit that she’d made a few foolish decisions in her day.
Or it might just be her only chance at happiness.
Eloise grimaced. She was growing fanciful. That was a bad sign. She needed to approach this adventure with all the practicality and pragmatism with which she always tried to make her decisions. There was still time to turn around. What did she know about this man, really? He’d said quite a lot over the course of a year’s correspondence–
He was thirty years of age, two years her elder.
He had attended Cambridge and studied botany.
He had been married to her fourth cousin Marina for eight years, which meant that he’d been twenty-one at his wedding.
He had brown hair.
He had all of his teeth.
He was a baronet.
He lived at Romney Hall, a stone structure built in the eighteenth century near Tetbury, Gloucestershire.
He liked to read scientific treatises and poetry but not novels and definitely not works of philosophy.
He liked the rain.
His favorite color was green.
He had never traveled outside of England.
He did not like fish.
Eloise fought a bubble of nervous laughter. He didn’t like fish? That was what she knew about him?
“Surely a sound basis for marriage,” she muttered to herself, trying to ignore the panic in her voice.
And what did he know about her? What could have possibly led him to propose marriage to a total stranger?
She tried to recall what she had included in her many letters–
She was twenty-eight.
She had brown hair (chestnut, really) and all of her teeth.
She had gray eyes.
She came from a large and loving family.
Her brother was a viscount.
Her father had died when she was only eight years of age, incomprehensibly brought down by a humble beesting.
She had a tendency to talk too much (Good God, had she really put that into writing?)
She liked to read poetry and novels but certainly not scientific treatises or works of philosophy.
She had traveled to Scotland, but that was all.
Her favorite color was purple.
She did not like mutton and positively detested blood pudding.
Another little burst of panicked laughter passed over her lips. Put that way, she thought with no small bit of sarcasm, she seemed a fine catch indeed.
She glanced out the window, as if that might possibly give her an indication as to where they were on the road from London to Tetbury.
She frowned, looking back at the paper in her lap. Rolling green hills looked like rolling green hills looked like rolling green hills, and she could be in Wales for all she knew.
She refolded Sir Phillip’s letter and fitted it back into the ribbon-tied bundle she kept in her valise, then tapped her fingers against her thighs in a nervous gesture.
She had reason to be nervous.
She had left home and all that was familiar, after all.
She was traveling halfway across England, and no one knew.
Not even Sir Phillip.
Because in her haste to leave London, she’d neglected to tell him she was coming. It wasn’t that she’d forgotten; rather, she’d sort of… pushed the task aside until it was too late.
If she told him, then she was committed to the plan. This way, she still had the chance to back out at any moment. She told herself it was because she wanted to keep her options open, but the truth was, she was quite simply terrified, and she had feared a total loss of her courage.
Besides, he was the one who had requested the meeting. He would be happy to see her.
Phillip rose from bed and pulled open the draperies in his bedchamber, revealing another perfect, sunny day.
He padded over to his dressing room to find some clothes, having long since dismissed the servants who used to perform these duties. He couldn’t explain it, but after Marina had died, he hadn’t wanted anyone bustling into his bedroom in the morning, yanking open his curtains and selecting his garments.
He’d even dismissed Miles Carter, who had tried so hard to be a friend after Marina’s passing. But somehow the young secretary just made him feel worse, and so he’d sent him on his way, along with six month’s pay and a superb letter of reference.
He’d spent his marriage with Marina looking for someone to talk to, since she was so often absent, but now that she was gone, all he wanted was his own company.
He supposed he must have alluded to this in one of his many letters to the mysterious Eloise Bridgerton, because he had sent off his proposal of not-quite-marriage-but-maybe-something-leading-up-to-it over a month ago, and the silence on her part had been deafening, especially since she usually responded to his letters with charming alacrity.
He frowned. The mysterious Eloise Bridgerton wasn’t really so mysterious. In her letters she seemed quite open and honest and possessed of a positively sunny disposition, which when it all came down to it, was all he really insisted upon in a wife this time around.
He yanked on a work shirt; he planned to spend most of the day in the greenhouse, up to his elbows in dirt. He was rather disappointed that Miss Bridgerton had obviously decided he was some sort of deranged lunatic to be avoided at all costs. She had seemed the perfect solution to his problems. He desperately needed a mother for Amanda and Oliver, but they’d grown so unmanageable that he couldn’t imagine any woman willingly agreeing to cleave unto him in marriage and thus bind herself to those two little devils for life (or at least until they reached majority).
Miss Bridgerton was eight and twenty, however; quite obviously a spinster. And she’d been corresponding with a complete stranger for over a year; surely she was a little desperate? Wouldn’t she appreciate the chance to find a husband? He had a home, a respectable fortune, and was only thirty years of age. What more could she want?
He muttered several annoyed phrases as he thrust his legs into his rough, woolen trousers. Obviously she wanted something more; else she would have had the courtesy to at least write back and decline.
Phillip glanced up at the ceiling and grimaced. Romney Hall was old and solid and very well-built, and if his ceiling was thumping, then his children had dropped (pushed? hurled?) something very large indeed.
He winced. That one sounded even worse. Still, their nurse was up there with them, and she always managed them better than he did. If he could just get his boots on in under a minute, he could be out of the house before they inflicted too much more damage, and thus he could pretend none of it was happening.
He reached for his boots. Yes, excellent idea. Out of earshot, out of mind.
He donned the rest of his ensemble with impressive speed and dashed out into the hall, making quick strides toward the stairs.
“Sir Phillip! Sir Phillip!”
Damn. His butler was after him now.
Phillip pretended he didn’t hear.
“Curse it,” he muttered. There was no way he could ignore that bellow unless he was willing to suffer the torture of his servants hovering over him due to their worries over his hearing loss.
“Yes,” he said, turning around slowly, “Gunning?”
“Sir Phillip,” Gunning said, clearing his throat. “We have a caller.”
“A caller?” Phillip echoed. “Was that the source of the, ah…”
“Noise?” Gunning supplied helpfully.
“No.” The butler cleared his throat. “That would have been your children.”
“I see,” Phillip murmured. “How silly of me to have hoped otherwise.”
“I don’t believe they broke anything, sir.”
“That’s a relief and a change.”
“Indeed, sir, but there is the caller to consider.”
Phillip groaned. Who on earth was visiting at this time of the morning? It wasn’t like they were used to receiving callers even during reasonable hours.
Gunning attempted a smile, but one could see that he was out of practice. “We used to have callers, do you recall?”
That was the problem with butlers who’d worked for the family since before one was born. They tended to think highly of sarcasm.
“Who is this caller?”
“I’m not entirely certain, sir.”
“You’re not certain?” Phillip asked disbelievingly.
“I didn’t inquire.”
“Isn’t that what butlers are meant to do?”
“Yes,” Phillip ground out, wondering if Gunning was trying to see how red in the face his employer could get without actually collapsing to the floor in an apoplectic fit.
“I thought I’d let you inquire, sir.”
“You thought you’d let me inquire.” This one came out as a statement, Phillip having realized the futility of asking questions.
“Yes, sir. She’s here to see you, after all.”
“So are all of our callers, and that has never stopped you from ascertaining their identities before.”
“Well, actually, sir–”
“I’m quite certain–” Phillip tried to interrupt.
“We don’t have callers, sir,” Gunning finished, quite clearly winning the conversational battle.
Phillip opened his mouth to point out that they did have callers; there was one downstairs that very moment, but really, what was the point? “Fine,” he said, thoroughly irritated. “I’ll go downstairs.”
Gunning beamed. “Excellent, sir.”
Phillip stared at his butler in shock. “Are you unwell, Gunning?”
“No, sir. Why do you ask, sir?”
It didn’t seem quite polite to point out that the broad smile made Gunning look a bit like a horse, so Phillip just muttered, “It’s nothing,” and headed down the stairs.
A caller? Who would be calling? No one had come to visit in nearly a year, since the neighbors had finished making their obligatory condolence calls. He supposed he couldn’t really blame them for staying away; the last time one of them had come to visit, Oliver and Amanda had smeared strawberry jam on the chairs.
Lady Winslet had left in a fit of temper quite beyond anything Phillip would have thought healthy for a woman of her years.
Phillip frowned as he reached the bottom of the stairs and turned into the entry hall. It was a she, wasn’t it? Hadn’t Gunning said his visitor was a she?
Who the devil–
He stopped short, stumbled even.
Because the woman standing in his entry hall was young, and quite pretty, and when she looked up to meet his gaze, he saw that she had the largest, most achingly beautiful gray eyes he’d ever seen.
He could drown in those eyes.
And Phillip did not, as one might imagine, even think the word drown lightly.
End of Excerpt
Awards & Achievements
- To Sir Phillip, With Love was chosen by popular vote as one of Romance Writers of America’s Top Ten Books of 2003.
- Named one of the six best original mass market paperbacks of 2003 by Publishers Weekly. To Sir Phillip, With Love also spent 5 weeks on the PW bestseller list, including one at #4.
- To Sir Phillip, With Love spent four weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, peaking at #6.
- #8 bestselling romance of 2003 at Amazon.com
- Six weeks on the USA Today bestseller list.