On Wednesday morning, Penelope Bridgerton’s To-Do list looked something like this:
- Answer correspondence.
- Write an introductory scene for Miss Winter.
- Invent a good name for Miss Winter’s hero.
- Write novel.
- ANSWER CORRESPONDENCE.
Miss Winter was the heroine of her as-yet-unwritten third novel and, as it turned out, Miss Winter was persistent. Even as Penelope was conscientiously trying to turn her mind to items 1 and 5 on the list, Miss Winter was eagerly concocting new schemes and describing new acquaintances and mapping out new adventures that she insisted Penelope should be writing instead.
Except Penelope couldn’t give Miss Winter the free rein she was demanding because over the past month, which had been spent slavishly revising and editing her second novel, Penelope had completely neglected her correspondence.
It was, rather alarmingly, an ever-growing stack of correspondence. She was positive it had grown since she entered her study that morning. And Matthews hadn’t even interrupted her with the post.
Penelope had put the finishing touches on her second book a little over a week ago. The moment it was done—wonderfully, marvelously complete—she had wrapped it up and sent it off to her publisher. Then she had celebrated by spending the whole morning with her children in the park and the whole evening with her husband in the bedchamber.
But the euphoria and satisfaction of completing it had lasted only briefly. For here she was, stuck behind her desk—which was ever-so-distractingly positioned so that she could look out onto the street—and facing down a pile of unanswered letters. All the while wishing instead that she could spend the morning writing about Miss Winter and her enigmatic hero.
If Penelope had known how famous a person could get for publishing something under that person’s own name (especially considering the notoriety associated with that person’s other writing endeavors), she might have thought twice about attempting it. She had been a writer for years, of course, but she’d never fully realized how secure she’d felt behind the anonymity of her Lady Whistledown columns. It was disconcerting to receive so many letters in response to her novel, all of them addressed directly to her.
It was gratifying and humbling, as well, of course. She’d poured her heart into her novels and she wouldn’t give them up for anything. She wouldn’t give up her letters either. She’d read every one of them, every precious response to the novel that held so much of herself, and she treasured them with everything in her. Which was why she couldn’t let them rest unanswered. She had to acknowledge them and acknowledge how much it meant to her that so many people had read and responded to her book.
But it was just that— Well, Penelope had never been very good at being the centre of attention.
Sighing, she pushed Miss Winter and her (light-haired, perhaps?) beau, who were standing silently and awkwardly next to one another at a ball, to the edge of her mind and turned her attention to penning her replies.
Only one and half letters later she heard a brief knock on her study door. Colin poked his head in, a bright grin on his face.
“Am I interrupting my favourite authoress?” he said.
“No,” she sighed, and put down her pen. “I’ve been catching up on my correspondence. For which, I should point out, Miss Winter is very upset with me.”
Colin grinned even wider and came all the way inside. “Well, you are cruelly neglectful to her,” he said.
“That is not true!” Penelope protested. “I am a very benevolent creator.” She paused. “But I have so many letters to write I’m afraid I won’t even be able to remember her name when I finally do get the chance to write about her.”
Colin reached out and gently stroked a finger down her neck. “I don’t believe that is even remotely true,” he said. “You couldn’t forget a person’s name if you tried.”
Penelope thought for a moment. “I’ve forgotten the name of the clerk who helped me in the bookshop last week,” she pointed out scrupulously.
“Oh heavens!” Colin said and he fell dramatically into a mock swoon, collapsing into the chair next to her desk. “This is a disaster!”
“You are horrible,” Penelope said, scowling at him.
“I prefer incorrigible,” Colin said, sitting up cheerfully. “Could the indomitable Miss Winter be persuaded to be parted from you for an hour? We’re having grown-up lunch this afternoon. I’m told there will be sandwiches.”
Penelope smiled. Having two young children did not allow either her or Colin much time to write, so they had devised a system in which they each worked in their separate studies during the morning and early afternoon. Then they could take a break for lunch or tea with Agatha and Thomas. Some days they would venture over to Number Five; Violet Bridgerton could grow quite frightening when she was separated from her grandchildren for too long.
Often Penelope and Colin simply joined the children in the nursery for lunch; grown-up lunch, however, was conducted in the sitting room. Agatha in particular was in favour of grown-up lunch because she could not be dissuaded from the belief that the food served in the sitting room was infinitely better than the lunch served in the nursery.
“Who told you there would be sandwiches?” Penelope asked. “Matthews? Or Agatha?”
Their daughter liked sandwiches almost as much as her father, though, luckily, she couldn’t put away nearly as many. She was only five, after all.
Colin smiled. “Both! So it’s doubly assured.”
“Well, if that’s the case, how can I refuse?” Penelope said, and stood up to give Colin a swift kiss. Colin caught her hand and held her tight against him.
“If you keep that up, I won’t be able to remember my main character’s name either,” Colin said in her ear.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Penelope said, blushing. After all, Colin’s books were memoirs of his own travels. Catching sight of his mischievous grin, she tugged her hand out of his grip and swept out of her study, pointedly ignoring the chuckle that followed her.
Lunch was a cheerful affair and the fillings of only two sandwiches ended up on the carpet. Having eaten her fill, Agatha settled herself under the spindly legs of a nearby chair and occupied herself by setting up an imaginary kingdom in the pattern of the carpet.
“Don’t forget about tomorrow evening,” Penelope reminded Colin, as Thomas was settled comfortably on his father’s lap.
“Of course I won’t forget!” Colin said, and then grinned cheekily. “It’s the day after today, isn’t it?”
Penelope favoured him with a grimace. “You have forgotten.”
“That would be extremely ungentlemanly of me,” Colin said, “so it is clearly utterly impossible.”
“Clearly,” Penelope said dryly.
There was a brief pause while Colin extracted a half-masticated cucumber from their son’s hand and returned it to the edge of the plate.
“So, tomorrow evening,” Colin prompted, “we will—”
“I knew you wouldn’t be quite so cheerful if you’d remembered,” Penelope said. “We will be attending the Smythe-Smith musicale.”
It was almost amusing how dismayed Colin suddenly looked.
“Last month we agreed not to accept that invitation,” he said.
“We agreed no such thing.”
“Couldn’t Thomas come down with a sudden but not life-threatening illness that evening?”
“I absolutely refuse to use my son as any kind of excuse,” Penelope said firmly. “Or my daughter” she added quickly. “The Smythe-Smith musicales may not be the height of musical excellence—”
“May not?” Colin sputtered.
“—But those girls deserve more than being the butt of the ton’s jokes.”
Colin looked like he might object again, but then his face softened a little and he said, “Sometimes I forget how thoughtful a person you are.”
He smiled at her, affection written so clearly on his face that it made her heart thump and her breath catch. He tickled Thomas a little absent-mindedly with one hand and reached for the last piece of cake with the other.
She smiled at them both. “I am a thoughtful person,” she said. “How thoughtless of you to forget.”
“Yes, well, I’m not the one forgetting the name of her own heroine,” Colin said, holding the piece of cake out of reach of their son’s suddenly determined hands.
“You should name her Agatha,” Agatha said, momentarily distracted from her game on the floor.
“Oh should I?” Penelope said, and settled herself down on the floor beside the Kingdom of the Spindly Legs.
Penelope never did make it back to her desk that afternoon. But in time she did respond to every single one of the readers who had written her a letter about her book and—eventually—even accomplished items 2 through 4 on her To-Do list.
So that was all right.