She departed, Simon, Edwina, and Penelope in her wake.
“Colin!” Daphne barked.
“Oh, very well,” he grumbled, and he trailed along after.
Kate looked up at her husband, her lips beginning to twitch. “Well,” she said, scratching at a spot on her ear that was particularly caked with mud, “I suppose that’s the end of the match for us.”
“Brilliant job this year.”
“You as well,” he added, smiling down at her. “The puddle was inspired.”
“I thought so,” she said, with no modesty whatsoever. “And, well, about the mud . . .”
“It was not quite on purpose,” he murmured.
“I should have done the same,” she allowed.
“Yes, I know.”
“I am filthy,” she said, looking down at herself.
“The lake’s right there,” he said.
“It’s so cold.”
“A bath, then?”
She smiled seductively. “You’ll join me?”
“But of course.”
He held out his arm and together they began to stroll back toward the house.
“Should we have told them we forfeit?” Kate asked.
“Colin’s going to try to steal the black mallet, you know.”
He looked at her with interest. “You think he’ll attempt to remove it from Aubrey Hall?”
“Absolutely,” he replied, with great emphasis. “We shall have to join forces.”
They walked on a few more yards, and then Kate said, “But once we have it back . . .”
He looked at her in horror. “Oh, then it’s every man for himself. You didn’t think—”
“No,” she said hastily. “Absolutely not.”
“Then we are agreed,” Anthony said, with some relief. Really, where would the fun be if he couldn’t trounce Kate?
They walked on a few seconds more, and then Kate said, “I’m going to win next year.”
“I know you think you will.”
“No, I will. I have ideas. Strategies.”
Anthony laughed, then leaned down to kiss her, mud and all. “I have ideas, too,” he said with a smile. “And many, many strategies.”
She licked her lips. “We’re not talking about Pall Mall any longer, are we?”
He shook his head.
She wrapped her arms around him, her hands pulling his head back down to hers. And then, in the moment before his lips took hers, he heard her sigh—
An Offer From a Gentleman
An Offer From a Gentleman is my homage to Cinderella, but it soon became apparent that the story had one too many wicked stepsisters. Where Rosamund was malicious and unkind, Posy had a heart of gold, and when the story reached its climax, she was the one who risked everything to save the day. It seems only fair that she, too, would get her happy ending . . .
An Offer From a Gentleman:
The 2nd Epilogue
At five and twenty, Miss Posy Reiling was considered nearly a spinster. There were those who might have considered her past the cutoff from young miss to hopeless ape leader; three and twenty was often cited as the unkind chronological border. But Posy was, as Lady Bridgerton (her unofficial guardian) often remarked, a unique case.
In debutante years, Lady Bridgerton insisted, Posy was only twenty, maybe twenty-one.
Eloise Bridgerton, the eldest unmarried daughter of the house, put it a little more bluntly: Posy’s first few years out in society had been worthless and should not be counted against her.
Eloise’s youngest sister, Hyacinth, never one to be verbally outdone, simply stated that Posy’s years between the ages of seventeen and twenty-two had been “utter rot.”
It was at this point that Lady Bridgerton had sighed, poured herself a stiff drink, and sunk into a chair. Eloise, whose mouth was as sharp as Hyacinth’s (though thankfully tempered by some discretion), had remarked that they had best get Hyacinth married off quickly or their mother was going to become an alcoholic. Lady Bridgerton had not appreciated the comment, although she privately thought it might be true.
Hyacinth was like that.
But this is a story about Posy. And as Hyacinth has a tendency to take over anything in which she is involved . . . please do forget about her for the remainder of the tale.
The truth was, Posy’s first few years on the Marriage Mart had been utter rot. It was true that she’d made her debut at a proper age of seventeen. And, indeed, she was the stepdaughter of the late Earl of Penwood, who had so prudently made arrangements for her dowry before his untimely death several years prior.
She was perfectly pleasant to look at, if perhaps a little plump, she had all of her teeth, and it had been remarked upon more than once that she had uncommonly kind eyes.
Anyone assessing her on paper would not understand why she’d gone so long without even a single proposal.
But anyone assessing her on paper might not have known about Posy’s mother, Araminta Gunningworth, the dowager Countess of Penwood.
Araminta was splendidly beautiful, even more so than Posy’s elder sister, Rosamund, who had been blessed with fair hair, a rosebud mouth, and eyes of cerulean blue.
Araminta was ambitious, too, and enormously proud of her ascension from the gentry to the aristocracy. She’d gone from Miss Wincheslea to Mrs. Reiling to Lady Penwood, although to hear her speak of it, her mouth had been dripping silver spoons since the day of her birth.
But Araminta had failed in one regard; she had not been able to provide the earl with an heir. Which meant that despite the Lady before her name, she did not wield a terribly large amount of power. Nor did she have access to the type of fortune she felt was her due.
And so she pinned her hopes on Rosamund. Rosamund, she was sure, would make a splendid match. Rosamund was achingly beautiful. Rosamund could sing and play the pianoforte, and if she wasn’t talented with a needle, then she knew exactly how to poke Posy, who was. And since Posy did not enjoy repeated needle-sized skin punctures, it was Rosamund’s embroidery that always looked exquisite.
Posy’s, on the other hand, generally went unfinished.
And since money was not as plentiful as Araminta would have her peers believe, she lavished what they had on Rosamund’s wardrobe, and Rosamund’s lessons, and Rosamund’s everything.
She wasn’t about to let Posy look embarrassingly shabby, but really, there was no point in spending more than she had to on her. You couldn’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, and you certainly couldn’t turn a Posy into a Rosamund.
(And this is a rather large but.)
Things didn’t turn out so well for Araminta. It’s a terribly long story, and one probably deserving of a book of its own, but suffice it to say that Araminta cheated another young girl of her inheritance, one Sophia Beckett, who happened to be the earl’s illegitimate daughter. She would have got away with it completely, because who cares about a bastard, except that Sophie had had the temerity to fall in love with Benedict Bridgerton, second son in the aforementioned (and extremely well-connected) Bridgerton family.
This would not have been enough to seal Araminta’s fate, except that Benedict decided he loved Sophie back. Quite madly. And while he might have overlooked embezzlement, he certainly could not do the same for having Sophie hauled off to jail (on mostly fraudulent charges).
Things were looking grim for dear Sophie, even with intervention on the part of Benedict and his mother, the also aforementioned Lady Bridgerton. But then who should show up to save the day but Posy?
Posy, who had been ignored for most of her life.
Posy, who had spent years feeling guilty for not standing up to her mother.
Posy, who was still a little bit plump and never would be as beautiful as her sister, but who would always have the kindest eyes.
Araminta had disowned her on the spot, but before Posy had even a moment to wonder if this constituted good or bad fortune, Lady Bridgerton had invited her to live in her home, for as long as she wished.
Posy might have spent twenty-two years being poked and pricked by her sister, but she was no fool. She accepted gladly, and did not even bother to return home to collect her belongings.
As for Araminta, well, she’d quickly ascertained that it was in her best interest not to make any public comment about the soon-to-be Sophia Bridgerton unless it was to declare her an absolute joy and delight.
Which she didn’t do. But she didn’t go around calling her a bastard, either, which was all anyone could have expected.
All of this explains (in an admittedly roundabout way) why Lady Bridgerton was Posy’s unofficial guardian, and why she considered her a unique case. To her mind, Posy had not truly debuted until she came to live with her. Penwood dowry or no, who on earth would have looked twice at a girl in ill-fitting clothes, always stuck off in the corner, trying her best not to be noticed by her own mother?
And if she was still unmarried at twenty-five, why, that was certainly equal to a mere twenty for anyone else. Or so Lady Bridgerton said.
And no one really wanted to contradict her.
As for Posy, she often said that her life had not really begun until she went to jail.
This tended to require some explaining, but most of Posy’s statements did.
Posy didn’t mind. The Bridgertons actually liked her explanations. They liked her.
Even better, she rather liked herself.
Which was more important than she’d ever realized.
Sophie Bridgerton considered her life to be almost perfect. She adored her husband, loved her cozy home, and was quite certain that her two little boys were the most handsome, brilliant creatures ever to be born anywhere, anytime, any . . . well, any any one could come up with.