It was true that they had to live in the country because even with the sizable influence of the Bridgerton family, Sophie was, on account of her birth, not likely to be accepted by some of the more particular London hostesses.
(Sophie called them particular. Benedict called them something else entirely.)
But that didn’t matter. Not really. She and Benedict preferred life in the country, so it was no great loss. And even though it would always be whispered that Sophie’s birth was not what it should be, the official story was that she was a distant—and completely legitimate—relative of the late Earl of Penwood. And even though no one really believed Araminta when she’d confirmed the story, confirmed it she had.
Sophie knew that by the time her children were grown, the rumors would be old enough so that no doors would be closed to them, should they wish to take their spots in London society.
All was well. All was perfect.
Almost. Really, all she needed to do was find a husband for Posy. Not just any husband, of course. Posy deserved the best.
“She is not for everyone,” Sophie had admitted to Benedict the previous day, “but that does not mean she is not a brilliant catch.”
“Of course not,” he murmured. He was trying to read the newspaper. It was three days old, but to his mind it was all still news to him.
She looked at him sharply.
“I mean, of course,” he said quickly. And then, when she did not immediately carry on, he amended, “I mean whichever one means that she will make someone a splendid wife.”
Sophie let out a sigh. “The problem is that most people don’t seem to realize how lovely she is.”
Benedict gave a dutiful nod. He understood his role in this particular tableau. It was the sort of conversation that wasn’t really a conversation. Sophie was thinking aloud, and he was there to provide the occasional verbal prompt or gesture.
“Or at least that’s what your mother reports,” Sophie continued.
“She doesn’t get asked to dance nearly as often as she ought.”
“Men are beasts,” Benedict agreed, flipping to the next page.
“It’s true,” Sophie said with some emotion. “Present company excluded, of course.”
“Oh, of course.”
“Most of the time,” she added, a little waspishly.
He gave her a wave. “Think nothing of it.”
“Are you listening to me?” she asked, her eyes narrowing.
“Every word,” he assured her, actually lowering the paper enough to see her above the top edge. He hadn’t actually seen her eyes narrow, but he knew her well enough to hear it in her voice.
“We need to find a husband for Posy.”
He considered that. “Perhaps she doesn’t want one.”
“Of course she wants one!”
“I have been told,” Benedict opined, “that every woman wants a husband, but in my experience, this is not precisely true.”
Sophie just stared at him, which he did not find surprising. It was a fairly lengthy statement, coming from a man with a newspaper.
“Consider Eloise,” he said. He shook his head, which was his usual inclination while thinking of his sister. “How many men has she refused now?”
“At least three,” Sophie said, “but that’s not the point.”
“What is the point, then?”
“Right,” he said slowly.
Sophie leaned forward, her eyes taking on an odd mix of bewilderment and determination. “I don’t know why the gentlemen don’t see how wonderful she is.”
“She’s an acquired taste,” Benedict said, momentarily forgetting that he wasn’t supposed to offer a real opinion.
“You said she’s not for everyone.”
“But you’re not supposed to—” She slumped a bit in her seat. “Never mind.”
“What were you going to say?”
“Sophie,” he prodded.
“Just that you weren’t supposed to agree with me,” she muttered. “But even I can recognize how ridiculous that is.”
It was a splendid thing, Benedict had long since realized, to have a sensible wife.
Sophie didn’t speak for some time, and Benedict would have resumed his perusal of the newspaper, except that it was too interesting watching her face. She’d chew on her lip, then let out a weary sigh, then straighten a bit, as if she’d got a good thought, then frown.
Really, he could have watched her all afternoon.
“Can you think of anyone?” she suddenly asked.
She gave him a look. A whom-else-might-I-be-speaking-of look.
He let out a breath. He should have anticipated the question, but he’d begun to think of the painting he was working on his studio. It was a portrait of Sophie, the fourth he’d done in their three years of marriage. He was beginning to think that he’d not got her mouth quite right. It wasn’t the lips so much as the corners of her mouth. A good portraitist needed to understand the muscles of the human body, even those on the face, and—
“What about Mr. Folsom?” he said quickly.
“He looks shifty.”
She was right, he realized, now that he thought on it. “Sir Reginald?”
Sophie gave him another look, visibly disappointed with his selection. “He’s fat.”
“She is not,” Sophie cut in. “She is pleasantly plump.”
“I was going to say that so is Mr. Folsom,” Benedict said, feeling the need to defend himself, “but that you had chosen to comment upon his shiftiness.”
He allowed himself the smallest of smiles.
“Shiftiness is far worse than excess weight,” she mumbled.
“I could not agree more,” Benedict said. “What about Mr. Woodson?”
vicar. The one you said—”
“—has a brilliant smile!” Sophie finished excitedly. “Oh, Benedict, that’s perfect! Oh, I love you love you love you!” At that, she practically leapt across the low table between them and into his arms.
“Well, I love you, too,” he said, and he congratulated himself on having had the foresight to shut the door to the drawing room earlier.
The newspaper flew over his shoulder, and all was right with the world.
The season drew to a close a few weeks later, and so Posy decided to accept Sophie’s invitation for an extended visit. London was hot and sticky and rather smelly in the summer, and a sojourn in the country seemed just the thing. Besides, she had not seen either of her godsons in several months, and she had been aghast when Sophie had written to say that Alexander had already begun to lose some of his baby fat.
Oh, he was just the most squeezable, adorable thing. She had to go see him before he grew too thin. She simply had to.
And it would be nice to see Sophie, too. She’d written that she was still feeling a bit weak, and Posy did like to be a help.
A few days into the visit, she and Sophie were taking tea, and talk turned, as it occasionally did, to Araminta and Rosamund, whom Posy occasionally bumped into in London. After over a year of silence, her mother finally had begun to acknowledge her, but even so, conversation was brief and stilted. Which, Posy had decided, was for the best. Her mother might have had nothing to say to her, but she didn’t have anything to say to her mother, either.
As far as epiphanies went, it had been rather liberating.
“I saw her outside the milliner,” Posy said, fixing her tea just the way she liked it, with extra milk and no sugar. “She’d just come down the steps, and I couldn’t avoid her, and then I realized I didn’t want to avoid her. Not that I wished to speak with her, of course.” She took a sip. “Rather, I didn’t wish to expend the energy needed to hide.”
Sophie nodded approvingly.
“And then we spoke, and said nothing, really, although she did manage to get in one of her clever little insults.”
“I hate that.”
“I know. She’s so good at it.”
“It’s a talent,” Sophie remarked. “Not a good one, but a talent nonetheless.”