When He Was Wicked takes place at the same time as both Romancing Mr. Bridgerton and To Sir Phillip, With Love. This turned out to be a major pain, but I'd . Everything was so much simpler when he was wicked. In every life there is a turning point. A moment so tremendous, so sharp and breathtaking, that one. In every life there is a turning pointA moment so tremendous, so sharp and breathtaking, that one knows one's life will never be the same. For Michael.
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When He Was Wicked Julia Quinn AVON BOOKS An Imprint of .. It was wicked and devilish, and she understood why half the ton— the female half, that. Bridgerton II Epilogue - 6. the same room with him and steal glances while they were each pretending to read a book. JULIA QUINN When He Was Wicked Bridgerton II Epilogue - 6 Julia Quinn Francesca’s Story She was counting again. Author: Quinn Julia When He Was Wicked (2nd Epilogue) · Read more When He Was Wicked (Bridgerton Series, Book 06). Read more.
But points for trying. Rating details. Every day. In his less polite moods, he used a different adjective entirely. His mother was going to be scandalized. Violet asked him about his time in India, and before he knew it he was telling them of palaces and princesses, caravans and curries. Night was night, after all, and she was rather overreaching to think that she had any-thing to do with the sun going down.
And he rather suspected that Francesca wondered the same. But she would never ask. Francesca understood men with remarkable clarity — probably from growing up with all of those brothers. Francesca knew exactly what not to ask a man. Which always left Michael a little worried. He thought he hid his feelings well, but what if she knew?
She would never speak of it, of course, never even allude to it. He rather suspected they were ironically alike that way; if Francesca suspected he was in love with her, she would never alter her manner in any way. Michael stood, suddenly rather eager to depart. John loves it there. As if he cared to witness their anniversary celebration. Truly, all it would do was remind him of what he could never have. Which would then remind him the guilt. Or amplify it. Reminders were rather unnecessary; he lived with it every day.
Not I, not John. A subtle reminder that they were a unit. John and Francesca. Lord and Lady Kilmartin. But I want you to be happy. John gave up his pretense of reading and set the paper down. When he sees fit. Good God. Even the one still in leading strings. His voice was gentle, but his meaning was clear. Michael could have kissed him for his interference.
Michael glanced out the window. All vestiges of daylight had left the sky. We shall be perfectly safe. Francesca turned to Michael and smiled, worming her way another inch into his heart.
His was a life of carefully cultivated dissolution. He knew he should stay away, knew he should never allow himself to be alone in her company. He would never act upon his desires, but truly, did he really need to subject himself to this sort of agony?
Because her presence was all he was ever going to get. There would never be a kiss, never a meaningful glance or touch. There would be no whispered words of love, no moans of passion. All he could have was her smile and her company, and pathetic idiot that he was, he was willing to take it.
Michael averted his eyes as his cousin actually blushed. Unfortunately, it could have been any number of things, all of them deliciously sexual. And he was likely to spend the next hour cataloguing them all in his mind, imagining them being done to him. He tugged at his cravat. Maybe he could get out of this jaunt with Francesca.
Maybe he could go home and draw a cold bath.
Or better yet, find himself a willing woman with long chestnut hair. He wanted to see her holding a child, not because it would be his child, but because it would be hers. He wanted her to have what she desired. And selfishly, he wanted to be the man to give it to her. They would visit one of her many brothers or sisters and be immediately surrounded by the next generation of offspring.
The Bridgertons were marvelously fertile. They all seemed to produce exactly the number of offspring they desired. And then perhaps one more, just for good measure. Except Francesca. Five hundred and eighty-four days after her thirty-third menses, Francesca stepped out of the Kilmartin carriage and breathed the fresh, clean air of the Kent countryside.
Spring was well under way, and the sun was warm on her cheeks, but when the wind blew, it carried with it the last hints of winter. He would be there, of course; she and Michael never missed the christening of any of their nieces and nephews.
But affairs in Edinburgh had delayed his arrival. Francesca could have delayed her trip as well, but it had been many months since she had seen her family, and she missed them.
It was funny. It had been breathtaking. Francesca smiled as she handed her cloak to a footman and walked down the familiar corridors of Aubrey Hall. Anthony and his wife had made some changes, but much was still just as it had always been. The walls were still painted the same creamy white, with the barest undertone of peach.
And the Fragonard her father had bought her mother for her thirtieth birthday still hung over the table just outside the door to the rose salon. It was her mother, rising from her seat in the salon. Francesca embraced her mother.
I was admiring the painting. It makes me think of Father. The painting was of a young woman holding a bouquet of flowers with a note attached. Not a very masculine subject. But she was looking over her shoulder, and her expression was a little bit mischievous, as if, given the correct provocation, she might laugh.
But she remembered the laughter. Violet took a half step back and cocked her head to the side. This was where he gave it to me. Violet reached out and took her hand, patting it gently as they both continued to study the painting. Francesca knew exactly what her mother was thinking about—her infertility, and the fact that they seemed to have an unspoken agreement never to talk about it, and really, why should they? What could Violet possibly say that would make it better?
Francesca thought it might be her—hers was the barren womb, after all. Violet was…her mother, and she was grieving for the lost dreams of her child. And the irony was, Francesca would never know. She was almost two-and-thirty. She did not know any married lady who had reached that age without conceiving a child.
It seemed that children either arrived right away or not at all. But Eloise will be here later this afternoon. There was a beat of silence, and then: She did, with every last bit of her being. Because then she would cry. Lucy and Gregory had been married for less than two years, but this would be their second child.
Violet nodded. For her entire life, Violet Bridgerton had been the most sensitive and wonderful of mothers. She always seemed to know what her children needed, exactly when they needed it—whether it was a kind word or a gentle prod, or even a giant proverbial kick in the breeches. But now, in this moment, Violet was lost.
And Francesca was the one who had done it to her. A little bit. As much as she was able. And yet, somehow, something had been lifted from her. And while she still grieved for the babies she would never have, for the first time in a long time, she felt unreservedly happy.
It was strange and wonderful, and she positively refused to question it. Aunt Francesca! Even the boys are covered in lace. I should love her no matter what she was wearing. They had nearly filled the basket when they heard the unmistakable sound of a carriage coming down the drive. Any number of relations were due that afternoon. Women adored Michael. It seemed even seven-year-old girls were not immune to his charm. Charlotte shrugged. And it had to be said—he did like to be in charge.
We bend rules all the time. And even if there were, who cares? Together they did a little jig, followed by a Scottish reel, twisting and twirling until they were both breathless.
I saw you from inside the house. I especially enjoyed the new one. By accident! He kissed her cheek and set her down. You need your sustenance after all the dancing. Father said I cannot learn until I am ten. Michael took her hand and tugged her toward him. He kissed her in return. Francesca steered him away from the house. But then she thought. That moment with her mother—there had been magic in those tears. Besides, he was a man.
She gave him a jaunty, single-shouldered shrug and leaned back against a tree. He regarded the landscape. She let out a little moan as he nipped her ear. You said that. She felt powerful. And she wanted to take charge.
Of him. Of her life. Of everything. Michael had missed his wife. At night, when she was not beside him, the bed felt cold, and the air felt empty. Even when he was tired, and his body was not hungry for her, he craved her presence, her scent, her warmth.
He missed the sound of her breathing. He missed the way the mattress moved differently when there was a second body on it. He knew, even though she was more reticent than he, and far less likely to use such passionate words, that she felt the same way. Her lips quivered, and then the lower one caught be-tween her teeth.
He stared at it, unable to take his eyes off her mouth, hating himself for the rush of longing that swept over him. She just stared at him, condemnation coloring her eyes. You need to talk to a woman. Her eyes flashed with anger. Behind him Francesca just sat quietly, still as death. And they remained thus for several minutes, for far too long, until she could not bear the silence any longer.
What did she want from him? He turned around. What did she want? Just stood there and waited for her to collect her thoughts, which made everything so much harder. And then, to her horror, it spilled out. Across from her, Michael opened his mouth, but only barely, and even then, nothing came out. What did I ever do? But oh, God, how she missed being held. She was just so sick of being alone. Michael was there, and he was holding her, and she felt warm and safe for the first time in weeks.
And she just cried. She cried weeks of tears. But most of all she cried for herself. Her voice was still shaky, but she managed his name, and she knew she was going to have to manage more. His embrace tightened, or maybe it loosened, but something was not quite the same.
Or if he did, that he was going to pretend otherwise. He went pale, deathly pale. Not the way you did. His eyes flared slightly, and for a moment she could have sworn that he resembled a trapped animal, cornered and terrified, waiting for the finality of the kill.
But she did know. She wanted him to grieve as she grieved. She wanted him to hurt in every way she hurt. She looked at him, but she moved her head slowly, scared by what she might see in his face. He stopped shaking her, but his fingers bit into her shoulders as he stared down at her, his quicksilver eyes afire with something terrifying and sad. His eyes were lost, and he seemed beyond her, unreachable. And then, abruptly, he did as she asked, and he stumbled back, his face a portrait of self-loathing.
Scared, but why? Michael would never hurt her. Maybe she was just scared of tomorrow. And the day after that. He just looked at her, his eyes silent in their agreement. And Francesca left.
She walked out the door and out of his house. And then she climbed into her carriage and went home. She climbed up her stairs and she climbed into her bed. She kept thinking she should, kept feeling like she might like to.
But all she did was stare at the ceiling. Back in his apartments in the Albany, Michael grabbed his bottle of whisky and poured himself a tall glass, even though a glance at the clock revealed the day to be still younger than noon. He knew himself. She had no idea.
Because she was going to keep saying tilings like that. And so, as he stood in his study, his body taut with misery and guilt, he realized two things. The first was easy.
But he had to do it. Rarely had the choices in his life been so clear.
Painful, but painfully clear. And so he set down his glass, two fingers of the amber liquid remaining, and he walked down the hall to his bedchamber. Not the heat, I should think; no one seems to enjoy the heat.
But the rest would enchant you. The colors, the spices, the scent of the air—they can place one in a strange, sensuous haze that is at turns unsettling and intoxicating.
Most of all, I think you would enjoy the pleasure gardens. They are rather like our London parks, except far more green and lush, and full of the most remarkable flowers you have ever seen. You have always loved to be out among nature; this you would adore, I am quite sure of it. But the pang had grown worse, into something more akin to an ache, when her sister Daphne had arrived in Scotland for a visit, all four of her children in tow.
The Hastings children had altered the very essence of Kilmartin, brought to it life and laughter that Francesca realized had been sadly lacking for years. Just empty. From that moment on, Francesca was different. She saw a nursemaid pushing a pram, and her heart ached. She traveled to Kent to spend Christmas with her family, but when night fell, and all of her nieces and nephews were tucked into bed, she felt too alone. And with it, a small measure of peace.
She enjoyed her life as Countess of Kilmartin— Michael had never married, so she retained the duties as well as the title. It had given her something to do, something to work toward. A reason to stop staring at the ceiling. She had friends, and she had family, both Stirling and Bridgerton, and she had a full life, in Scotland and London, where she spent several months of each year.
So she should have been happy. And she was, mostly. She just wanted a baby. It had taken some time to admit this to herself. But she supposed there were some things a woman simply had to get past, and one cold February day, as she was staring out a window at Kilmartin, watching the snow slowly wrap a shroud around the tree branches, she realized that this was one of them.
There were a lot of things in life to be afraid of, but strangeness ought not be among them. And so she decided to pack her things and head down to London a bit early this year. But this season would be different. She needed a new wardrobe, for one. It was time to wear blue. Bright, beautiful, cornflower blue. She was an eligible widow, and the rules were different.
But the aspirations were the same. She was going to London to find herself a husband. It had been too long. Michael knew that his return to Britain was well overdue, but it had been one of those things that was appallingly easy to put off.
So there was nothing to feel guilty about. But a man could only run from his destiny for so long, and as he marked his third year in the tropics, he had to admit that the novelty of an exotic life had worn off, and to be completely frank, he was growing rather sick of the climate.
For the first time, Michael finally understood why John had been so enamored of his work in the British Parliament. Life-threatening episodes aside, however, his time in India had brought him a certain sense of balance. There was no escaping that.
He would have to look into the blue eyes that had haunted him relentlessly and try to be her friend. But maybe now, with the benefit of time and the healing power of distance, he could manage it. But all the same, he was glad that it would be March when he disembarked in London, too early in the year for Francesca to have arrived for the season. But he was an honest man, too, honest enough to admit that the prospect of facing Francesca was terrifying in a way that no French battlefield or toothy tiger could ever be.
Oh, very well, not the dark. Night was night, after all, and she was rather overreaching to think that she had any-thing to do with the sun going down. All would be better on the morrow, after the housekeeper and butler made a mad dash to the Bond Street shops, but for now Francesca was shivering in her bed.
It had been a miserably freezing day, with a blustery wind that made it far colder than was normal for early March.
The library. That was it. It was small and cozy, and if Francesca shut the door, a fire in its grate would keep the room nice and toasty. Furthermore, there was a settee on which she could lie. Her decision made, Francesca leapt out of bed and dashed through the cold night air to her nightrobe, which was lying across the back of a chair.
She hurried downstairs, her heavy wool socks slipping and sliding on the polished steps. She tumbled down the last two, thankfully landing on her feet, then ran along the runner carpet to the library.
A short, staccato scream hurled itself across her lips. There was already a fire in the grate, and a man standing in front of it, idly warming his hands. Francesca reached wildly for something—anything— that she might use as a weapon. And then he turned. He might have schooled his features into a saturnine smirk, or at the very least made sure that he was impeccably dressed and wholeheartedly immersed in his role as the unrecoverable rake.
But no, there he was, just gaping at her, trying not to notice that she was wearing nothing but a dark crimson nightgown and dressing robe, so thin and sheer that he could see the outline of— He gulped.
Do not look. What are you doing here? It was, and was meant to be, a direct hit. She scowled at him. The motion seemed to embody the image he desperately needed to convey.
The letter would have gone out on the same ship I did. I thought the passenger vessels were slower than the ones that take the mail.
And besides, does it really matter? Your mother will be thrilled. But she kept herself somewhat off to the side, maintaining a bit of distance between them. Four years, I believe. It was supposed to be different now. And be friends again. She smiled in spite of herself.
He turned to her then, a wry smile tilting one corner of his mouth. Oh, there were the obvious differences—the ones everyone would notice. He was tan, quite scandalously so, and his hair, always midnight black, now sported a few odd strands of silver.
But there was more. He held his mouth differently, more tightly, if that made any sense, and his smooth, lanky grace seemed to have gone missing. He had always seemed so at ease, so comfortable in his skin, but now he was… taut. With its merely frigid winds, as opposed to the icy ones of winter. Parrish assures me that the house will be restocked tomorrow. She shrugged, then inched a little closer to the fire.
She ought not stand so near to him, but dash it, she was still rather cold, and her thin nightrobe did little to ward off the chill. And he seemed terribly close. Nor did she want to admit the very same thing to herself. He looked at her again, more closely this time. It was a bit sick of him, but he was rather pleased with himself for having offended her. She was going to have to set the boundaries. There was something different about her, something entirely unexpected. Something that shook him down to his very soul.
It was a sense about her—all in his mind, really, but no less devastating. There was an air of availability, a horrible, torturous knowledge that John was gone, really, truly gon2, and the only thing stopping Michael from reaching out and touching her was his own conscience. It was almost funny.
And there she was, still without a clue, still completely unaware that the man standing next to her wanted nothing so much than to peel every layer of silk from her body and lay her down in front of the fire. He wanted to nudge her thighs apart, sink himself into her, and— He laughed grimly.
Four years, it seemed, had done little to cool his inappropriate ardor. He shrugged. Not in any of the ways that might have made his life easier to bear. She used to do this all the time—touch his arm in friendship. Never in public, of course, and rarely even when it had just been the two of them. John would have been there; John was always there. And it had always—always—shaken him. But never so much as now. She withdrew her hand.
You should take mine. Besides, ringing the bell would mean that a servant would arrive within minutes, which would mean that he would no longer be standing here alone with Francesca. He looked over at her, lifting a brow. She was choosing her words, deciding whether or not to spear him with her legendary wit. Trust Francesca to choose stark honesty over a scathing retort.
And that was the one thing everyone had seemed to want of him. Even Francesca, in her own halfway sort of manner.
He looked at her. She probably thought she did, but how could she? But none of that was her fault. And as he looked at her, standing fragile and proud as she stared at the fire, he said it again. She turned to him then, her eyes filled with sorrow and perhaps a hint of their own apology. Thinking of you made me think of John, and I suppose I needed not to think of him so much just then.
She smiled wistfully. What grand times the four of us would have had. It seemed the best course of action. She looked up, broken from her reverie. The footman arrived, and Francesca took care of everything, allowing Michael to do nothing but stand by the fire, looking vaguely imperial as he nodded his agreement.
There were fires in every grate, and a splendid breakfast had been laid out in the informal dining room, with coddled eggs, ham, bacon, sausage, toast with butter and marmalade, and his own personal favorite, broiled mackerel. Francesca, however, was nowhere to be found. She did, however, invite him to call upon her that day, as she was certain they had much to discuss. But mostly, he just wanted to take in the cityscape, to remind himself of the rhythms of London.
There was the sound of his feet on the pavement, and smell of roasting nuts, and the vague heft of soot in the air, all combining to make something that was uniquely London. It was almost overpowering, which was strange, because he remembered feeling precisely the same way upon landing in India four years earlier. The humid air, redolent with spice and flowers, had shocked his every sense. It had felt almost like an assault, leaving him drowsy and disoriented. Had he become a stranger in his own land?
Or, he allowed, as he caught sight of his reflection in a shop window, it could be the tan. It would take weeks to fade. Months, maybe. His mother was going to be scandalized.
The thought of it made him grin. He rather enjoyed scandalizing his mother. He turned on Bruton Street and walked past the last few homes to Number Five. When he arrived, Lady Bridgerton was already in the green-and-cream drawing room, taking a cup of tea at her writing desk under the window. I suppose I should be calling you Kilmartin now. But that had been in India, where no one had known him as plain Mr.
Stirling, and perhaps more importantly, no one had known John as the earl. But if she sensed any of his inner discomfort, she gave no indication. Please do call me Violet. And he meant it. This was Lady Bridgerton. And why is that? She looked as if she were very much trying to be stern with him. And not entirely succeeding. Michael allowed his lips to curve into a mysterious smile as he watched the two ladies take their seats.
This was good, he decided. He was once again the reckless charmer and she was pretending to scold him, and all was as it had been back before John had died. It was just that when he was with Francesca it was vitally important that that aspect of his personality remained at the forefront, so that she never suspected what lay underneath.
Michael turned to her with what he knew had to be a blank expression. The maids keep water to near boiling on the stove at all times now. She had remembered how he took it—milk, no sugar. For some reason this pleased him immensely. Oh, come now, Francesca, you must realize that it is true. I owe you a greater debt than I could ever repay.
I could not have stayed away so long had I not known that the earldom was in such capable hands. Which they did. Violet asked him about his time in India, and before he knew it he was telling them of palaces and princesses, caravans and curries. After a while he realized that he was enjoying himseli immensely. It might actually be good to be home. The sun had broken through the clouds, and when she had declared that she could not resist the fine weather, Michael had had no choice but to offer to accompany her for a walk.
You used to take me out a great deal. Whenever John was busy. Kilmartin House belongs to you. Besides, Helen and Janet are only a week behind me; they should arrive soon, and then I will be able to move back in. Did you really think that your reputation would find itself whitewashed just because you left the country for four years? This was so like him, letting his words trail off meaningfully, leaving her imagination feverish with questions.
Allow me, then, to move the conversation to more respectable areas. What do you plan to do now that you are back? Will you take up your seat in Parliament? Michael looked at her grimly, and his eyes told her that he did not appreciate her tactics. She shrugged. Do we need to address this now?
Absolutely speechless. There was an edge to her voice, a jab to her words that had never quite been there before. But you are endlessly charming, and so you are always forgiven. And why was he surprised? You are fortunate that I took my mother aside this morning and made her swear not to throw Eloise or Hyacinth in your path.
Penelope is a perfectly lovely and highly intelligent lady once one gets past her initial shyness. Is that understood? Pray give me at least a week before you start planning my wedding. And at the knowledge that her prediction was probably correct. She turned to him and smiled, then patted his arm. It was good. Difficult, but good. They were fairly deep in Hyde Park now, and the grounds were growing a bit more crowded.
It was always full of nursemaids and children, shrieking like little savages often the nursemaids more so than the children and Michael had at least one acquaintance who had found himself pelted in the head with a loaf of bread. Seems no one had told the budding little cricket player that one was supposed to break the bread into more manageable—and less hazardous—segments.
With so much intermarriage, the family was at least as much English as it was Scottish, perhaps even more so, but with Kilmartin firmly situated in the border counties, the Stirlings clung to their Scottish heritage like a badge of honor. They found a bench not too far from the Serpentine and sat, idly watching the ducks on the water. Far be it from him to pretend any great knowledge of avian behavior. I imagine the descriptions are perfectly accurate.
The problem is, no Englishman can truly understand what they mean until he gets there. Not for an extended stay, anyway. Then he realized that her eyes were fixed off in the distance. There was nothing interesting in the vista, just a pinchfaced nursemaid pushing a pram. She said nothing, just continued to stare. Just last week I heard tale of the arrival of a mail pouch that was a full two years old; many of the recipients had already returned to England.
My mother writes that you are well and fully recovered from your ordeal; I am glad to hear of it. My work here continues to challenge and fulfill. I have taken up residence outside the city proper, as do most Europeans here in Madras.
Nonetheless, I enjoy visiting the city; it is rather Grecian in appearance; or rather, what I must imagine is Grecian, having never visited that country myself. The sky is blue, so blue it is nearly blinding, almost the bluest thing I have ever seen. He was sputtering, even. At the very least, he could have contradicted her. It would have been a lie, but it was still the kind and courteous thing to do. She pursed her lips. And you had probably best get used to it for your own sake.
I imagine someone will pop to the forefront once I start looking, though. He looked at her, then slumped back slightly and stared at the water. It took me two years to conceive with John, and look how I mucked that up. Marrying someone just so I could have a baby and then not having one? She had a choice. She was going to marry for a baby, and there was no guarantee that she would get one. There would be nothing stopping her.
She turned to him. It should have been a simple thing. He might have spent the last four years in India, but she knew his face, and she knew his smile. In truth, she knew everything about him— Except this time was different.
So quickly that she nearly lost her balance. She nodded jerkily, still off balance and out of sorts. I assure you. I simply detest being tardy.
She had to put up a good front, she realized rather feverishly. She had known, of course, that Michael was handsome, even startlingly so. But it had all been an abstract sort of knowledge. Michael was handsome, just as her brother Benedict was tall, and her mother had beautiful eyes. And it scared the very devil out of her. Francesca tended to subscribe to the notion that the best course of action was more action, so when she returned to Number Five after her stroll, she sought out her mother and informed her that she needed to visit the modiste immediately.
Best to make truth out of her lie as soon as possible, after all. It would have required full-fledged torture to get her to admit it, but Francesca was, quite simply, terrified.
She looked down at her sleeve as she sat in the carriage. And there was something comforting in that, something solid and dependable. And unrelenting black foi a year before that. It had been a bit of a badge, she realized, a uniform of sorts.
Violet turned to her with a smile. I would have remembered. But it was all so… odd. And unthinking, really. Why would no one have asked Violet about this? It seemed to Francesca quite the most burning question imaginable. Truly know her? None of us expected it. As tall as Benedict and perhaps even broader in the shoulders. I felt as if I were walking in a haze. Or even the ones directly thereafter. And she did.
Maybe I loved your father too much. I was in a very different position from you, after all. And your father left our affairs in very good order. I knew we would never want for anything. I did not mean to imply otherwise. I know.
Of course he would. And it feels so wrong to marry with less. You never have been. Even as a child you set yourself apart. And you needed your distance. How could you not love me when I love you so very, very much? Half the ton—more than half, in truth—has marriages like that, and quite a few of them are perfectly content.
But you will have to make your judgments for yourself when they arise. Everyone is different, Francesca. I suspect you know that better than most. And when a man asks for your hand, you will have to judge him on his merits and not by some arbitrary standard you have set out ahead of time.
And none of it addressed the problem that lay most deeply within her heart. But what if she did? How could she live with herself then? There was something rather satisfying about a foul mood, so Michael decided to indulge his completely.
He kicked a pebble all the way home. He snarled at anyone who jostled him on the street. He yanked open his front door with such ferocity that it slammed into the stone wall behind it. But he thought about slamming it open, which provided some satisfaction in and of itself. Or tried to.
Bloody hell. His valet appeared—or really, it seemed rather more like he apparated—in the doorway.