Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. A shiver raced down Daphne’s spine, causing her to sway. In just a moment, she would belong to this man forever. Simon’s head turned slightly, his eyes darting to her face. Are you all right? his eyes asked. She nodded, a tiny little jog of her chin that only he could see. Something blazed in his eyes— could it be relief? I now pronounce you— Gregory sneezed for a fourth time, then a fifth and sixth, completely obliterating the archbishop’s “man and wife.” Daphne felt a horrifying bubble of mirth pushing up her throat. She pressed her lips together, determined to maintain an appropriately serious facade. Marriage, after all, was a solemn institution, and not one to be treating as a joke. She shot a glance at Simon, only to find that he was looking at her with a queer expression. His pale eyes were focused on her mouth, and the corners of his lips began to twitch. Daphne felt that bubble of mirth rising ever higher. You may kiss the bride. Simon grabbed her with almost desperate arms, his mouth crashing down on hers with a force that drew a collective gasp from the small assemblage of guests. And then both sets of lips— bride and groom— burst into laughter, even as they remained entwined. Violet Bridgerton later said it was the oddest kiss she’d ever been privileged to view. Gregory Bridgerton— when he finished sneezing— said it was disgusting. The archbishop, who was getting on in years, looked perplexed. But Hyacinth Bridgerton, who at ten should have known the least about kisses of anyone, just blinked thoughtfully, and said, “I think it’s nice. If they’re laughing now, they’ll probably be laughing forever.” She turned to her mother. “Isn’t that a good thing?” Violet took her youngest daughter’s hand and squeezed it. “Laughter is always a good thing, Hyacinth. And thank you for reminding us of that.
Thus far, four men had asked for her hand, but when Daphne had thought about living the rest of her days in the company of any of them, she just couldn’t do it. There were a number of men she thought might make reasonably good husbands, but the problem was— none of them was interested. Oh, they all liked her. Everyone liked her. Everyone thought she was funny and kind and a quick wit, and no one thought her the least bit unattractive, but at the same time, no one was dazzled by her beauty, stunned into speechlessness by her presence, or moved to write poetry in her honor. Men, she thought with disgust, were interested only in those women who terrified them. No one seemed inclined to court someone like her. They all adored her, or so they said, because she was so easy to talk to, and she always seemed to understand how a man felt. As one of the men Daphne had thought might make a reasonably good husband had said, “Deuce take it, Daff, you’re just not like regular females. You’re positively normal.
His hands cupped her cheeks, holding her steady so that he might drink in the sight of her. It was too dark to see the exact colors that made her unforgettable face, but Simon knew that her lips were soft and pink, with just a tinge of peach at the corners. He knew that her eyes were made up of dozens of shades of brown, with that one enchanting circle of green constantly daring him to take a closer look, to see if it was really there or just a figment of his imagination. But the rest— how she would feel, how she would taste— he could only imagine. And Lord, how he’d been imagining it. Despite his composed demeanor, despite all of his promises to Anthony, he burned for her. When he saw her across a crowded room, his skin grew hot, and when he saw her in his dreams, he went up in flames. Now— now that he had her in his arms, her breath fast and uneven with desire, her eyes glazed with need she couldn’t possibly comprehend— now he thought he might explode. And so kissing her became a matter of self-preservation. It was simple. If he did not kiss her now, if he did not consume her, he would die. It sounded melodramatic, but at the moment he would have sworn it to be true. The hand of desire twisting around his gut would burst into flame and take him along with it. He needed her that much.
Say!” Benedict exclaimed. “Why don’t you save her, Hastings?” Simon took one look at Lady Bridgerton (who at that point had her hand firmly wrapped around Macclesfield’s forearm) and decided he’d rather be branded an eternal coward. “Since we haven’t been introduced, I’m sure it would be most improper,” he improvised. “I’m sure it wouldn’t,” Anthony returned. “You’re a duke.” “So?” “So?” Anthony echoed. “Mother would forgive any impropriety if it meant gaining an audience for Daphne with a duke.” “Now look here,” Simon said hotly, “I’m not some sacrificial lamb to be slaughtered on the altar of your mother.” “You have spent a lot of time in Africa, haven’t you?” Colin quipped. Simon ignored him. “Besides, your sister said—” All three Bridgerton heads swung round in his direction. Simon immediately realized he’d blundered. Badly. “You’ve met Daphne?” Anthony queried, his voice just a touch too polite for Simon’s comfort. Before Simon could even reply, Benedict leaned in ever-so-slightly closer, and asked, “Why didn’t you mention this?” “Yes,” Colin said, his mouth utterly serious for the first time that evening. “Why?” Simon glanced from brother to brother and it became perfectly clear why Daphne must still be unmarried. This belligerent trio would scare off all but the most determined— or stupid— of suitors. Which would probably explain Nigel Berbrooke. “Actually,” Simon said, “I bumped into her in the hall as I was making my way into the ballroom. It was”— he glanced rather pointedly at the Bridgertons—“ rather obvious that she was a member of your family, so I introduced myself.” Anthony turned to Benedict. “Must have been when she was fleeing Berbrooke.” Benedict turned to Colin. “What did happen to Berbrooke? Do you know?” Colin shrugged. “Haven’t the faintest. Probably left to nurse his broken heart.” Or broken head, Simon thought acerbically. “Well, that explains everything, I’m sure,” Anthony said, losing his overbearing big-brother expression and looking once again like a fellow rake and best friend. “Except,” Benedict said suspiciously, “why he didn’t mention it.” “Because I didn’t have the chance,” Simon bit off, about ready to throw his arms up in exasperation. “In case you hadn’t noticed, Anthony, you have a ridiculous number of siblings, and it takes a ridiculous amount of time to be introduced to all of them.” “There are only two of us present,” Colin pointed out. “I’m going home,” Simon announced. “The three of you are mad.” Benedict, who had seemed to be the most protective of the brothers, suddenly grinned. “You don’t have a sister, do you?” “No, thank God.
An awkward pause fell across the conversation. Daphne was shifting from foot to foot, not at all certain what to say to the duke, when Nigel exhibited stellar timing for the first time in his life, and sat up. “Daphne?” he said, blinking as if he couldn’t see straight. “Daphne, is that you?” “Good God, Miss Bridgerton,” the duke swore, “how hard did you hit him?” “Hard enough to knock him down, but no worse than that, I swear!” Her brow furrowed. “Maybe he is drunk.” “Oh, Daphne,” Nigel moaned. The duke crouched next to him, then reeled back, coughing. “Is he drunk?” Daphne asked. The duke staggered back. “He must have drunk an entire bottle of whiskey just to get up the nerve to propose.” “Who would have thought I could be so terrifying?” Daphne murmured, thinking of all the men who thought of her as a jolly good friend and nothing more. “How wonderful.” Simon stared at her as if she were insane, then muttered, “I’m not even going to question that statement.
She exhaled, and then looked back to Nigel, who was still lying on the floor, moaning incoherently. Simon looked down, too, and for several seconds they just stood there, staring at the unconscious man, until the girl said, “I really didn’t hit him very hard.” “Maybe he’s drunk.” She looked dubious. “Do you think? I smelled spirits on his breath, but I’ve never seen him drunk before.” Simon had nothing to add to that line of thought, so he just asked, “Well, what do you want to do?” “I suppose we could just leave him here,” she said, the expression in her dark eyes hesitant. Simon thought that was an excellent idea, but it was obvious she wanted the idiot cared for in a more tender manner. And heaven help him, but he felt the strangest compulsion to make her happy. “Here is what we’re going to do,” he said crisply, glad that his tone belied any of the odd tenderness he was feeling. “I am going to summon my carriage—” “Oh, good,” she interrupted. “I really didn’t want to leave him here. It seemed rather cruel.” Simon thought it seemed rather generous considering the big oaf had nearly attacked her, but he kept that opinion to himself and instead continued on with his plan. “You will wait in the library while I’m gone.” “In the library? But—” “In the library,” he repeated firmly. “With the door shut. Do you really want to be discovered with Nigel’s body should anyone happen to wander down this hallway?” “His body? Good gracious, sir, you needn’t make it sound as if he were dead.” “As I was saying,” he continued, ignoring her comment completely, “you will remain in the library. When I return, we will relocate Nigel here to my carriage.” “And how will we do that?” He gave her a disarmingly lopsided grin. “I haven’t the faintest idea.”-Daphne & Simon
You don’t know,” Anthony said, his voice low and nearly shaking with rage. “You don’t know what he has done.” “No more than what you have done, I’m sure,” Violet said slyly. “Precisely!” Anthony roared. “Good God, I know exactly what is going on in his brain right now, and it has nothing to do with poetry and roses.” Simon pictured laying Daphne down on a bed of rose petals. “Well, maybe roses,” he murmured. “I’m going to kill him,” Anthony announced. “These are tulips, anyway,” Violet said primly, “from Holland. And Anthony, you really must summon control of your emotions. This is most unseemly.” “He is not fit to lick Daphne’s boots.” Simon’s head filled with more erotic images, this time of himself licking her toes. He decided not to comment. Besides, he had already decided that he wasn’t going to allow his thoughts to wander in such directions. Daphne was Anthony’s sister, for God’s sake. He couldn’t seduce her. “I refuse to listen to another disparaging word about his grace,” Violet stated emphatically, “and that is the end of the subject.” “But—” “I don’t like your tone, Anthony Bridgerton!” Simon thought he heard Daphne choke on a chuckle, and he wondered what that was all about. “If it would please Your Motherhood,” Anthony said in excruciatingly even tones, “I would like a private word with his grace.” “This time I’m really going to get that vase,” Daphne announced, and dashed from the room. Violet crossed her arms, and said to Anthony, “I will not have you mistreat a guest in my home.” “I shan’t lay so much as a hand on him,” Anthony replied. “I give you my word.” Having never had a mother, Simon was finding this exchange fascinating. Bridgerton House was, after all, technically Anthony’s house, not his mother’s, and Simon was impressed that Anthony had refrained from pointing this out. “It’s quite all right, Lady Bridgerton,” he interjected. “I’m sure Anthony and I have much to discuss.” Anthony’s eyes narrowed. “Much.
Daphne turned to Simon with an amused expression. “I can’t quite decide if she is being terribly polite or exquisitely rude.” “Exquisitely polite, perhaps?” Simon asked mildly. She shook her head. “Oh, definitely not that.” “The alternative, of course, is—” “Terribly rude?” Daphne grinned and watched as her mother looped her arm through Lord Railmont’s, pointed him toward Daphne so that he could nod his good-bye, and led him from the room. And then, as if by magic, the remaining beaux murmured their hasty farewells and followed suit. “Remarkably efficient, isn’t she?” Daphne murmured. “Your mother? She’s a marvel.” “She’ll be back, of course.” “Pity. And here I thought I had you well and truly in my clutches.” Daphne laughed. “I don’t know how anyone considered you a rake. Your sense of humor is far too superb.” “And here we rakes thought we were so wickedly droll.” “A rake’s humor,” Daphne stated, “is essentially cruel.” Her comment surprised him. He stared at her intently, searching her brown eyes, and yet not really knowing what it was he was looking for. There was a narrow ring of green just outside her pupils, the color as deep and rich as moss. He’d never seen her in the daylight before, he realized. “Your grace?” Daphne’s quiet voice snapped him out of his daze. Simon blinked. “I beg your pardon.” “You looked a thousand miles away,” she said, her brow wrinkling. “I’ve been a thousand miles away.” He fought the urge to return his gaze to her eyes. “This is entirely different.” Daphne let out a little laugh, the sound positively musical. “You have, haven’t you? And here I’ve never even been past Lancashire. What a provincial I must seem.” He brushed aside her remark. “You must forgive my woolgathering. We were discussing my lack of humor, I believe?” “We were not, and you well know it.
I give in,” she gasped. “What has turned your evening into such a dreadful affair?” “What or whom?” “‘ Whom’?” she echoed, tilting her head as she looked at him. “This grows even more interesting.” “I can think of any number of adjectives to describe all of the ‘whoms’ I have had the pleasure of meeting this evening, but ‘interesting’ is not one of them.” “Now, now,” she chided, “don’t be rude. I did see you chatting with my brothers, after all.” He nodded gallantly, tightening his hand slightly at her waist as they swung around in a graceful arc. “My apologies. The Bridgertons are, of course, excluded from my insults.” “We are all relieved, I’m sure.” Simon cracked a smile at her deadpan wit. “I live to make Bridgertons happy.” “Now that is a statement that may come back to haunt you,” she chided. “But in all seriousness, what has you in such a dither? If your evening has gone that far downhill since our interlude with Nigel, you’re in sad straits, indeed.” “How shall I put this,” he mused, “so that I do not completely offend you?” “Oh, go right ahead,” she said blithely. “I promise not to be offended.” Simon grinned wickedly. “A statement that may come back to haunt you.” She blushed slightly. The color was barely noticeable in the shadowy candlelight, but Simon had been watching her closely. She didn’t say anything, however, so he added, “Very well, if you must know, I have been introduced to every single unmarried lady in the ballroom.” A strange snorting sound came from the vicinity of her mouth. Simon had the sneaking suspicion that she was laughing at him. “I have also,” he continued, “been introduced to all of their mothers.” She gurgled. She actually gurgled. “Bad show,” he scolded. “Laughing at your dance partner.” “I’m sorry,” she said, her lips tight from trying not to smile. “No, you’re not.” “All right,” she admitted, “I’m not. But only because I have had to suffer the same torture for two years. It’s difficult to summon too much pity for a mere evening’s worth.
The dark-haired stranger’s head snapped around. “Daphne? Did he say Daphne?” She drew back, unnerved by his direct question and the rather intense look in his eyes. “Yes.” “Your name is Daphne?” Now she was beginning to wonder if he was an idiot. “Yes.” He groaned. “Not Daphne Bridgerton.” Her face slid into a puzzled frown. “The very one.” Simon staggered back a step. He suddenly felt physically ill, as his brain finally processed the fact that she had thick, chestnut hair. The famous Bridgerton hair. Not to mention the Bridgerton nose, and cheekbones, and— Bugger it all, this was Anthony’s sister! Bloody hell. There were rules among friends, commandments, really, and the most important one was Thou Shalt Not Lust After Thy Friend’s Sister. While he stood there, probably staring at her like a complete idiot, she planted her hands on her hips, and demanded, “And who are you?” “Simon Basset,” he muttered. “The duke?” she squeaked. He nodded grimly. “Oh, dear.
One of us should save her,” Benedict mused. “Nah,” Colin said, grinning. “Mother’s only had her over there with Macclesfield for ten minutes.” “Macclesfield?” Simon asked. “The earl,” Benedict replied. “Castleford’s son.” “Ten minutes?” Anthony asked. “Poor Macclesfield.” Simon shot him a curious look. “Not that Daphne is such a chore,” Anthony quickly added, “but when Mother gets it in her head to, ah . . .” “Pursue,” Benedict filled in helpfully. “— a gentleman,” Anthony continued with a nod of thanks toward his brother, “she can be, ah . . .” “Relentless,” Colin said. Anthony smiled weakly. “Yes. Exactly.” Simon looked back over toward the trio in question. Sure enough, Daphne looked miserable, Macclesfield was scanning the room, presumably looking for the nearest exit, and Lady Bridgerton’s eyes held a gleam so ambitious that Simon cringed in sympathy for the young earl. “We should save Daphne,” Anthony said. “We really should,” Benedict added. “And Macclesfield,” Anthony said. “Oh, certainly,” Benedict added. But Simon noticed that no one was leaping into action. “All talk, aren’t you?” Colin chortled. “I don’t see you marching over there to save her,” Anthony shot back. “Hell no. But I never said we should. You, on the other hand . . .” “What the devil is going on?” Simon finally asked. The three Bridgerton brothers looked at him with identical guilty expressions. “We should save Daff,” Benedict said. “We really should,” Anthony added. “What my brothers are too lily-livered to tell you,” Colin said derisively, “is that they are terrified of my mother.” “It’s true,” Anthony said with a helpless shrug. Benedict nodded. “I freely admit it.
no one thought her the least bit unattractive, but at the same time, no one was dazzled by her beauty, stunned into speechlessness by her presence, or moved to write poetry in her honor.Men, she thought with disgust, were interested only in women who terrified them ... They all adored her, or so they said, because she was so easy to talk to, and she always seemed to understand how a man felt. As one of the men Daphne had thought might make a reasonably good husband had said, 'Deuce take it, Daff, you're just not like regular females. You're positively normal.
You have a minute and a half left.""Fine," she snapped. "Then I'll reduce this conversation to one single fact. Today I had six callers. Six! Can you recall the last time I had six callers?"Anthony just stared at her blankly."I can't," Daphne continued, in fine form now. "Because it has never happened. Six men marched up our steps, knocked on our door, and gave Humboldt their cards. Six men brought me flowers, engaged me in conversation, and one even recited poetry."Simon winced."And do you know why?" she demanded, her voice rising dangerously. "Do you?"Anthony, in his somewhat belatedly arrived wisdom, held his tongue."It is all because he"—she jabbed her forefinger toward Simon—"was kind enough to feign interest in me last night at Lady Danbury's ball.
Daphne Bridgerton, I don't—""—like my tone, I know." Daphne grinned. "But you love me."Violet smiled warmly and wrapped an arm around Daphne's shoulder. "Heaven help me, I do."Daphne gave her mother a quick peck on the cheek. "It's the curse of motherhood. You're required to love us even when we vex you."Violet just sighed. "I hope that someday you have children—""—just like me, I know." Daphne smiled nostalgically and rested her head on her mother's shoulder. Her mother could be overly inquisitive, and her father had been more interested in hounds and hunting than he'd been in society affairs, but theirs had been a warm marriage, filled with love, laughter, and children. "I could do a great deal worse than follow your example, Mother," she murmured.
Colin's chuckles grew more heartfelt. "You really ought to have more faith in your favorite brother, dear sis.""He’s your favorite brother?" Simon asked, one dark brow raised in disbelief."Only because Gregory put a toad in my bed last night," Daphne bit off, "and Benedict's standing has never recovered from the time he beheaded my favorite doll.""Makes me wonder what Anthony's done to deny him even an honorable mention," Colin murmured."Don't you have somewhere else to be?" Daphne asked pointedly.Colin shrugged. "Not really.""Didn't," she asked through clenched teeth, "you just tell me you promised a dance to Prudence Featherington?""Gads, no. You must have misheard.""Perhaps Mother is looking for you, then. In fact, I'm certain I hear her calling your name."Colin grinned at her discomfort. "You're not supposed to be so obvious," he said in a stage whisper, purposely loud enough for Simon to hear. "He'll figure out that you like him."Simon's entire body jerked with barely contained mirth."It's not his company I'm trying to secure," Daphne said acidly. "It's yours I'm trying to avoid."Colin clapped a hand over his heart. "You wound me, Daff." He turned to Simon. "Oh, how she wounds me.""You missed your calling, Bridgerton," Simon said genially. "You should have been on the stage.""An interesting idea," Colin replied, "but one that would surely give my mother the vapors." His eyes lit up. "Now that's an idea. And just when the party was growing tedious. Good eve to you both." He executed a smart bow and walked off.