He looked at them again, still tied in that bow. Did he want to open them? Could there be anything in his father’s letters that might be of help to Colin and Penelope as they guided Georgie through what might be a difficult childhood?
No. It was impossible. His father had been a hard man, unfeeling and unforgiving. He’d been so obsessed with his heritage and title that he’d turned his back on his only child. There could be nothing—nothing—that he might have written that could help Georgie.
Simon picked up the letters. The papers were dry. They smelled old.
The fire in the grate felt new. Hot, and bright, and redemptive. He stared at the flames until his vision blurred, just sat there for endless minutes, clutching his father’s final words to him. They had not spoken for over five years when his father died. If there was anything the old duke had wanted to say to him, it would be here.
He looked up slowly, barely able to pull himself from his daze. Daphne was standing in the doorway, her hand resting lightly on the edge of the door. She was dressed in her favorite pale blue dressing gown. She’d had it for years; every time he asked if she wanted to replace it, she refused. Some things were best soft and comfortable.
“Are you coming to bed?” she asked.
He nodded, coming to his feet. “Soon. I was just—” He cleared his throat, because the truth was—he wasn’t sure what he’d been doing. He wasn’t even sure what he’d been thinking. “How are you feeling?” he asked her.
“Better. It’s always better in the evening.” She took a few steps forward. “I had a bit of toast, and even some jam, and I—” She stopped, the only movement in her face the quick blink of her eyes. She was staring at the letters. He hadn’t realized he was still holding them when he stood.
“Are you going to read them?” she asked quietly.
“I thought . . . perhaps . . .” He swallowed. “I don’t know.”
“But why now?”
“Colin told me about Georgie. I thought there might be something in here.” He moved his hand slightly, holding the stack of letters just a little bit higher. “Something that might help him.”
Daphne’s lips parted, but several seconds passed before she was able to speak. “I think you might be one of the kindest, most generous men I have ever known.”
He looked at her in confusion.
“I know you don’t want to read those,” she said.
“I really don’t care—”
“No, you do,” she interrupted gently. “Not enough to destroy them, but they still mean something to you.”
“I hardly ever think about them,” he said. It was the truth.
“I know.” She reached out and took his hand, her thumb moving lightly over his knuckles. “But just because you let go of your father, it doesn’t mean he never mattered.”
He didn’t speak. He didn’t know what to say.
“I’m not surprised that if you do finally decide to read them, it will be to help someone else.”
He swallowed, then grasped her hand like a lifeline.
“Do you want me to open them?”
He nodded, wordlessly handing her the stack.
Daphne moved to a nearby chair and sat, tugging at the ribbon until the bow fell loose. “Are these in order?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. He sat back down behind his desk. It was far enough away that he couldn’t see the pages.
She gave an acknowledging nod, then carefully broke the seal on the first envelope. Her eyes moved along the lines—or at least he thought they did. The light was too dim to see her expression clearly, but he had seen her reading letters enough times to know exactly what she must look like.
“He had terrible penmanship,” Daphne murmured.
“Did he?” Now that he thought about it, Simon wasn’t sure he’d ever seen his father’s handwriting. He must have done, at some point. But it wasn’t anything he recalled.
He waited a bit longer, trying not to hold his breath as she turned the page.
“He didn’t write on the back,” she said with some surprise.
“He wouldn’t,” Simon said. “He would never do anything that smacked of economization.”
She looked up, her brows arched.
“The Duke of Hastings does not need to economize,” Simon said dryly.
“Really?” She turned to the next page, murmuring, “I shall have to remember that the next time I go to the dressmaker.”
He smiled. He loved that she could make him smile at such a moment.
After another few moments, she refolded the papers and looked up. She paused briefly, perhaps in case he wanted to say anything, and then when he did not, said, “It’s rather dull, actually.”
“Dull?” He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting, but not this.
Daphne gave a little shrug. “It’s about the harvest, and an improvement to the east wing of the house, and several tenants he suspects of cheating him.” She pressed her lips together disapprovingly. “They weren’t, of course. It is Mr. Miller and Mr. Bethum. They would never cheat anyone.”
Simon blinked. He’d thought his father’s letters might include an apology. Or if not that, then more accusations of inadequacy. It had never occurred to him that his father might have simply sent him an accounting of the estate.
“Your father was a very suspicious man,” Daphne muttered.
“Shall I read the next?”
She did, and it was much the same, except this time it was about a bridge that needed repairing and a window that had not been made to his specifications.
And on it went. Rents, accounts, repairs, complaints . . . There was the occasional overture, but nothing more personal than I am considering hosting a shooting party next month, do let me know if you are interested in attending. It was astounding. His father had not only denied his existence when he’d thought him a stuttering idiot, he’d managed to deny his own denial once Simon was speaking clearly and up to snuff. He acted as if it had never happened, as if he had never wished his own son were dead.
“Good God,” Simon said, because something had to be said.
Daphne looked up. “Hmmm?”
“Nothing,” he muttered.
“It’s the last one,” she said, holding the letter up.
“Do you want me to read it?”
“Of course,” he said sarcastically. “It might be about rents. Or accounts.”
“Or a bad harvest,” Daphne quipped, obviously trying not to smile.
“Or that,” he replied.
“Rents,” she said once she’d finished reading. “And accounts.”
She smiled slightly. “It was good that season.”
Simon closed his eyes for a moment, as a strange tension eased from his body.
“It’s odd,” Daphne said. “I wonder why he never mailed these to you.”
“What do you mean?”
sp; “Well, he didn’t. Don’t you recall? He held on to all of them, then gave them to Lord Middlethorpe before he died.”
“I suppose it was because I was out of the country. He wouldn’t have known where to send them.”
“Oh yes, of course.” She frowned. “Still, I find it interesting that he would take the time to write you letters with no hope of sending them to you. If I were going to write letters to someone I couldn’t send them to, it would be because I had something to say, something meaningful that I would want them to know, even after I was gone.”
“One of the many ways in which you are unlike my father,” Simon said.
She smiled ruefully. “Well, yes. I suppose.” She stood, setting the letters down on a small table. “Shall we go to bed?”
He nodded and walked to her side. But before he took her arm, he reached down, scooped up the letters, and tossed them into the fire. Daphne let out a little gasp as she turned in time to see them blacken and shrivel.
“There’s nothing worth saving,” he said. He leaned down and kissed her, once on the nose and then once on the mouth. “Let’s go to bed.”
“What are you going to tell Colin and Penelope?” she asked as they walked arm in arm toward the stairs.
“About Georgie? The same thing I told them this afternoon.” He kissed her again, this time on her brow. “Just love him. That’s all they can do. If he talks, he talks. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t. But either way, it will all be fine, as long as they just love him.”
“You, Simon Arthur Fitzranulph Basset, are a very good father.”
He tried not to puff with pride. “You forgot the Henry.”
“Simon Arthur Henry Fitzranulph Basset.”
She pfffted that. “You have too many names.”
“But not too many children.” He stopped walking and tugged her toward him until they were face to face. He rested one hand lightly on her abdomen. “Do you think we can do it all once more?”
She nodded. “As long as I have you.”
“No,” he said softly. “As long as I have you.”
The Viscount Who Loved Me
Without a doubt, readers’ favorite scene in The Viscount Who Loved Me (and perhaps in all of my books) is when the Bridgertons get together to play Pall Mall, the nineteenth-century version of croquet. They are viciously competitive and completely dismissive of the rules, having long since decided that the only thing better than winning is making sure your siblings lose. When it came time to revisit the characters from this book, I knew it had to be at a Pall Mall rematch.