And if not halfway, then far enough to ensure that they wouldn’t find it too terribly easy to follow her trail.

In the end, it had all proven almost frighteningly easy. Her entire family had been distracted by some grand announcement Colin planned to make, and so all she’d had to do was excuse herself to the ladies’ retiring room, slip out the back, and walk the short distance to her own home, where she’d hidden her bags in the back garden. From there, she needed only to walk to the corner, where she’d arranged to have a hired coach waiting.

Goodness, if she’d known it would be this easy to make her own way in the world, she would have done so years ago.

And now here she was, rolling toward Gloucestershire, rolling toward destiny, she supposed—or hoped, she wasn’t sure which—with nothing but a few changes of clothing and a pile of letters written to her by a man she’d never met.

A man she hoped she could love.

It was thrilling.

No, it was terrifying.

It was, she reflected, quite possibly the most foolhardy thing she’d done in her life, and she had to admit that she’d made a few foolish decisions in her day.

Or it might just be her only chance at happiness.

Eloise grimaced. She was growing fanciful. That was a bad sign. She needed to approach this adventure with all the practicality and pragmatism with which she always tried to make her decisions. There was still time to turn around. What did she know about this man, really? He’d said quite a lot over the course of a year’s correspondence—

He was thirty years of age, two years her elder.

He had attended Cambridge and studied botany.

He had been married to her fourth cousin Marina for eight years, which meant that he’d been twenty-one at his wedding.

He had brown hair.

He had all of his teeth.

He was a baronet.

He lived at Romney Hall, a stone structure built in the eighteenth century near Tetbury, Gloucestershire.

He liked to read scientific treatises and poetry but not novels and definitely not works of philosophy.

He liked the rain.

His favorite color was green.

He had never traveled outside of England.

He did not like fish.

Eloise fought a bubble of nervous laughter. He didn’t like fish? That was what she knew about him?

“Surely a sound basis for marriage,” she muttered to herself, trying to ignore the panic in her voice.

And what did he know about her? What could have possibly led him to propose marriage to a total stranger?

She tried to recall what she had included in her many letters—

She was twenty-eight.

She had brown hair (chestnut, really) and all of her teeth.

She had gray eyes.

She came from a large and loving family.

Her brother was a viscount.

Her father had died when she was but a child, incomprehensibly brought down by a humble bee sting.

She had a tendency to talk too much. (Good God, had she really put that into writing?)

She liked to read poetry and novels but certainly not scientific treatises or works of philosophy.

She had traveled to Scotland, but that was all.

Her favorite color was purple.

She did not like mutton and positively detested blood pudding.

Another little burst of panicked laughter passed over her lips. Put that way, she thought with no small bit of sarcasm, she seemed a fine catch indeed.

She glanced out the window, as if that might possibly give her an indication as to where they were on the road from London to Tetbury.

Rolling green hills looked like rolling green hills looked like rolling green hills, and she could be in Wales, for all she knew.

Frowning, she looked down at the paper in her lap and refolded Sir Phillip’s letter. Fitting it back into the ribbon-tied bundle she kept in her valise, she then tapped her fingers against her thighs in a nervous gesture.

She had reason to be nervous.

She had left home and all that was familiar, after all.

She was traveling halfway across England, and no one knew.

No one.

Not even Sir Phillip.

Because in her haste to leave London, she’d neglected to tell him she was coming. It wasn’t that she’d forgotten; rather, she’d sort of . . . pushed the task aside until it was too late.

If she told him, then she was committed to the plan. This way, she still had the chance to back out at any moment. She told herself it was because she liked to have choices and options, but the truth was, she was quite simply terrified, and she had feared a total loss of her courage.

Besides, he was the one who had requested the meeting. He would be happy to see her.

Wouldn’t he?

Phillip rose from bed and pulled open the draperies in his bedchamber, revealing another perfect, sunny day.


He padded over to his dressing room to find some clothes, having long since dismissed the servants who used to perform these duties. He couldn’t explain it, but after Marina had died, he hadn’t wanted anyone bustling into his bedroom in the morning, yanking open his curtains, and selecting his garments.

He’d even dismissed Miles Carter, who had tried so hard to be a friend after Marina’s passing. But somehow the young secretary just made him feel worse, and so he’d sent him on his way, along with six months’ pay and a superb letter of reference.

He’d spent his marriage with Marina looking for someone to talk to, since she was so often absent, but now that she was gone, all he wanted was his own company.

He supposed he must have alluded to this in one of his many letters to the mysterious Eloise Bridgerton, because he had sent off his proposal of not-quite-marriage-but-maybe-something-leading-up-to-it over a month ago, and the silence on her part had been deafening, especially since she usually responded to his letters with charming alacrity.