Home > To Sir Phillip, With Love (Bridgertons #5)(7)

To Sir Phillip, With Love (Bridgertons #5)(7)
Julia Quinn

He was silent for a full three seconds—Eloise counted that as well—before saying, “I accept your apology.”

She cleared her throat.

“And of course”—he coughed, glancing around as if in search of someone who might save him from her—“I am delighted that you are here.”

It would probably be impolite to point out that he sounded anything but delighted, so Eloise just stood there, staring at his right cheekbone as she tried to decide what she could say without insulting him.

Eloise considered it a sad state of affairs that she—who generally had something to say for any occasion—couldn’t think of a thing.

Luckily, he saved their awkward silence from growing to monumental proportions by asking, “Is this all of your luggage?”

Eloise straightened her shoulders, delighted to move on to a comparatively trivial topic. “Yes. I didn’t really—” She broke herself off. Did she really need to tell him that she’d stolen away from home in the middle of the night? It didn’t seem to speak well of her, or of her family, for that matter. She wasn’t sure why, but she didn’t want him to know that she had, for all intents and purposes, run away. She wasn’t certain why she thought so, but she had a distinct feeling that if he knew the truth, he’d pack her up and send her back to London posthaste. And while her meeting with Sir Phillip had not thus far proven to be the stuff of romance and bliss she’d imagined it to be, she was not yet prepared to give up.

Especially when that meant running back to her family with her tail between her legs.

“This is all I have,” she said firmly.

“Good. I, er . . .” He looked around again, this time a little desperately, which Eloise did not find flattering in the least. “Gunning!” he bellowed.

The butler appeared so quickly that he must have been eavesdropping. “Yes, sir?”

“We . . . ah . . . need to prepare a room for Miss Bridgerton.”

“I have already done so,” Gunning assured him.

Sir Phillip’s cheeks colored slightly. “Good,” he grunted. “She will be staying here for . . .” He looked to her in askance.

“A fortnight,” she supplied, hoping that was about the right amount of time.

“A fortnight,” Sir Phillip reiterated as if the butler wouldn’t have heard her reply. “We will do everything in our power to make her comfortable, of course.”

“Of course,” the butler agreed.

“Good,” Sir Phillip said, still looking somewhat uncomfortable with the entire situation. Or if not uncomfortable, precisely, then perhaps weary, which might have been even worse.

Eloise was disappointed. She’d pictured him as a man of easy charm, rather like her brother Colin, who possessed a dashing smile and always knew what to say in any situation, awkward or otherwise.

Sir Phillip, on the other hand, looked as if he’d rather be anywhere else but where he was, which Eloise did not find encouraging, as his present surroundings included her. And what’s more, he was supposed to be making at least some effort to make her acquaintance and determine if she would make him an acceptable wife.

And his efforts had better be good ones indeed, because if it was true that first impressions were the most accurate, she rather doubted that she would determine that he would make an acceptable husband.

She smiled at him through gritted teeth.

“Would you like to sit down?” he blurted out.

“That would be quite pleasing, thank you.”

He looked around with a blank expression on his face, giving Eloise the impression he barely knew his way around his own house. “Here,” he mumbled, motioning to a door at the end of the hall, “the drawing room.”

Gunning coughed.

Sir Phillip looked at him and scowled.

“Perhaps you intended to order refreshments, sir?” the butler asked solicitously.

“Er, yes, of course,” Sir Phillip replied, clearing his throat. “Of course. Er, perhaps . . .”

“A tea tray, perhaps?” Gunning suggested. “With muffins?”

“Excellent,” Sir Phillip muttered.

“Or perhaps if Miss Bridgerton is hungry,” the butler continued, “I could have a more extensive breakfast prepared.”

Sir Phillip swung his gaze over to Eloise.

“Muffins will be lovely,” she said, even though she was hungry.

Eloise allowed Sir Phillip to take her arm and lead her to the drawing room, where she sat on a sofa covered in striped blue satin. The room was neat and clean, but the furnishings were shabby. The entire house had a vague neglected quality to it, as if the owner had run out of money, or perhaps just didn’t care.

Eloise tended to think that it was the latter. She supposed it was possible that Sir Phillip was short of funds, but the grounds had been magnificent, and she had seen enough of his greenhouse as she was driving in to realize that it was in excellent condition. Given that Sir Phillip was a botanist, that might explain the great care given to the exterior while the interior was left to fade.

Clearly, he needed a wife.

She folded her hands in her lap, then watched as he took a seat across from her, folding his large frame into a chair that had obviously been designed for one much smaller than he.

He looked most uncomfortable and (and Eloise had enough brothers to recognize the signs) rather like he wanted desperately to curse, but Eloise decided it was his own fault for choosing that chair, and so she smiled at him in what she hoped was a polite and encouraging manner, waiting for him to begin the conversation.

He cleared his throat.

She leaned forward.

He cleared his throat again.

She coughed.

He cleared his throat once more.

“Do you need some tea?” she finally asked, unable to bear even the thought of one more ahem.

He looked up gratefully, although Eloise wasn’t certain whether that was due to her offer of tea or her merciful breaking of the silence. “Yes,” he said, “that would be lovely.”

Eloise opened her mouth to reply, then remembered she was in his house and had no business offering tea. Not to mention that he ought to have remembered that fact as well. “Right,” she said. “Well, I’m sure it will be here soon.”

“Right,” he agreed, shifting in his seat.

“I’m sorry to have come by unannounced,” she murmured, even though she’d already said as much. But something had to be said; Sir Phillip might be well used to awkward pauses, but Eloise was the sort who liked to fill any silence.

“It’s quite all right,” he said.

“It’s not, actually,” she replied. “It was terribly ill-mannered of me to do so, and I apologize.”

He looked startled at her frankness. “Thank you,” he murmured. “It is no problem, I assure you. I was merely . . .”

“Surprised?” she offered.

“Yes.”

She nodded. “Yes, well, anyone would have been. I should have thought of that, and I truly am sorry for the inconvenience.”

He opened his mouth, but then closed it, instead glancing out the window. “It’s a sunny day,” he said.

“Yes, it is,” Eloise agreed, thinking that quite obvious.

He shrugged. “I imagine it will still rain by nightfall.”

She wasn’t quite certain how to respond to that, so she just nodded, surreptitiously studying him while his gaze was still fixed on the window. He was bigger than she’d imagined him, rougher-looking, less urbane. His letters had been so charming and well written; she’d pictured him to be more . . . smooth. More slender, perhaps, certainly not given to fat, but still, less muscled. He looked as if he worked outside like a laborer, especially in those rough trousers and shirt with no cravat. And even though he’d written that his hair was brown, she’d always imagined him as a dark blond, looking rather like a poet (why she always pictured poets with blond hair she did not know). But his hair was exactly as he’d described it—brown, a rather dark shade, actually, bordering on black, with an unruly wave to it. His eyes were brown, much the same shade as his hair, so dark they were utterly unreadable.

She frowned. She hated people she couldn’t figure out in a heartbeat.

“Did you travel all night?” he inquired politely.

“I did.”

“You must be tired.”

She nodded. “I am, quite.”

He stood, motioning gallantly to the door. “Would you prefer to rest? I don’t wish to keep you here if you’d rather sleep.”

Eloise was exhausted, but she was also ferociously hungry. “I’ll have just a bite to eat first,” she said, “and then I would be grateful to accept your hospitality and rest.”

He nodded and started to sit down, trying to fold himself back into the ridiculously small chair, then finally muttering something under his breath, turning to her with a slightly more intelligible, “Excuse me,” and moving to another, larger chair.

“I beg your pardon,” he said, once he was settled.

Eloise just nodded at him, wondering when she had ever found herself in a more awkward situation.

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