The Duke and I (Bridgertons 1) - Page 24


“You’re out late,” he said, sitting beside me. He set his lantern down and brushed his hands against his work trousers, shaking off the loose dirt.

“Just thinking,” I replied.

He nodded, then leaned his elbows on his thighs and looked out at the sky. “Any shooting stars tonight?”

I shook my head even though he wasn’t facing me. “No.”

“Do you need one?”

I smiled to myself. He was asking if I had any wishes to be made. We used to wish on stars together all the time when I was small, but somehow we’d got out of the habit.

“No,” I said. I was feeling introspective, thinking about Charles and wondering what it meant that I’d spent the whole of the afternoon with him and now could not wait to see him again tomorrow. But I didn’t feel as if I needed any wishes granted. At least, not yet.

“I always have wishes,” he remarked.

“You do?” I turned to him, my head tilting to the side as I took in his profile. I know that he’d been terribly unhappy before he’d met my current mother, but that was all well behind him. If ever a man had a happy and fulfilled life, it was he.

“What do you wish for?” I asked.

“The health and happiness of my children, first and foremost.”

“That doesn’t count,” I said, feeling myself smile.

“Oh, you don’t think so?” He looked at me, and there was more than a hint of amusement in his eyes. “I assure you, it’s the first thing I think about in the morning, and the last before I lay myself down to sleep.”

“Really?”

“I have five children, Amanda, and every one of them is healthy and strong. And as far as I know, you’re all happy. It’s probably dumb luck that you’ve all turned out so well, but I’m not going to tempt any fates by wishing for something else.”

I thought about that for a moment. It had never occurred to me to wish for something I already had. “Is it scary being a parent?” I asked.

“The most terrifying thing in the world.”

I don’t know what I thought he might say, but it wasn’t that. But then I realized—he was speaking to me as an adult. I don’t know if he’d ever really done so before. He was still my father, and I was still his daughter, but I’d crossed some mysterious threshold.

It was thrilling and sad at the same time.

We sat together for a few minutes more, pointing out constellations and not saying anything of import. And then, just when I was about to head back inside he said, “Your mother said that you had a gentleman caller this afternoon.”

“And four of his female cousins,” I quipped.

He looked over at me with arched brows, a silent scolding for making light of the topic.

“Yes,” I said. “I did.”

“Did you like him?”

“Yes.” I felt myself grow a bit light, as if my insides had gone fizzy. “I did.”

He digested that, then said, “I’m going to have to get a very large stick.”

“What?”

“I used to say to your mother that when you were old enough to be courted, I was going to have to beat away the gentlemen.”

There was something almost sweet about that. “Really?”

“Well, not when you were very small. Then you were such a nightmare I despaired of anyone ever wanting you.”

“Father!”

He chuckled. “Don’t say you don’t know it’s true.”

I couldn’t contradict.

“But when you were a bit older, and I started to see the first hints of the woman you would become . . .” He sighed. “Good Lord, if ever being a parent is terrifying . . .”

“And now?”

He thought about that for a moment. “I suppose now I can only hope I raised you well enough to make sensible decisions.” He paused. “And of course, if anyone even thinks about mistreating you, I shall still have that stick.”

I smiled, then scooted over slightly, so that I could rest my head on his shoulder. “I love you, Father.”

“I love you, too, Amanda.” He turned and kissed me on the top of my head. “I love you, too.”

I did marry Charles, by the way, and my father never once had to brandish a stick. The wedding occurred six months later, after a proper courtship and slightly improper engagement. But I am certainly not going to put into writing any of the events that made the engagement improper.

My mother insisted upon a premarital chat, but this was conducted the night before the wedding, by which time the information was no longer exactly timely, but I did not let on. I did, however, get the impression that she and my father might also have anticipated their marriage vows. I was shocked. Shocked. It seems most unlike them. Now that I have experienced the physical aspects of love, the mere thought of my parents . . .

It is too much to bear.

Charles’s family home is in Dorset, rather close to the sea, but as his father is very much alive, we have let a home in Somerset, halfway between his family and mine. He dislikes town as much as I do. He is thinking of beginning a breeding program for horses, and it’s the oddest thing, but apparently the breeding of plants and the breeding of animals are not entirely dissimilar. He and my father have become great friends, which is lovely, except that now my father visits quite often.

Our new home is not large and all of the bedrooms are quite near to one another. Charles has devised a new game he calls “See how quiet Amanda can be.”

Then he proceeds to do all measure of wicked things to me—all whilst my father sleeps across the hall!

He is a devil, but I adore him. I can’t help it. Especially when he . . .

Oh, wait, I wasn’t going to put any such things in writing, was I?

Just know that I am smiling very broadly as I remember it.

And that it was not covered in my mother’s premarital chat.

I suppose I should admit that last night I lost the game. I was not quiet at all.

My father did not say a word. But he departed rather unexpectedly that afternoon, citing some sort of botanical emergency.

I don’t know that plants have emergencies, but as soon as he left, Charles insisted upon inspecting our roses for whatever it was my father said was wrong with his.

Except that for some reason he wanted to inspect the roses that were already cut and arranged in a vase in our bedroom.

“We’re going to play a new game,” he whispered in my ear. “See how noisy Amanda can be.”

“How do I win?” I asked. “And what is the prize?”

I can be quite competitive, and so can he, but I think it is safe to say that we both won that time.

And the prize was lovely, indeed.

When He Was Wicked

I will confess that when I wrote the final words of When He Was Wicked, it didn’t even occur to me to wonder whether Francesca and Michael would have children. Their love story had been so moving and so complete that I felt I had closed the book on them, so to speak. But within days of the book’s publication, I began to hear from readers, and everybody wanted to know the same thing: Had Francesca ever had that baby she so desperately wanted? When I sat down to write the 2nd epilogue, I knew that this was the question I must answer . . .

When He Was Wicked:

The 2nd Epilogue

She was counting again.

Counting, always counting.

Seven days since her last menses.

Six until she might be fertile.


Tags: Julia Quinn Bridgertons Romance
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