And then she recalled the advice given to her by her mother, before the blessed lady had gone to her reward, pecked to death by pigeons—
One corner of his mouth lifted into a hint of a smile. "Have you a solution?"She shook her head. "No. I've been thinking all day, and I don't know ... although ..."wAlthough what?" he asked, his brows rising.
Her lips parted, then pursed, then parted again as she said, "What if I enlisted the aid of Lady Danbury?"wYou're planning to ask her to pay off Cressida?"wNo," she said, even though the tone of his voice told her that his had not been a serious question. "I'm going to ask her to be me."wI beg your pardon?"wEveryone thinks she's Lady Whistledown, anyway," Penelope explained. "At least, quite a lot of people do. If she were to make an announcement—"wCressida would refute it instantly," Colin interrupted.wWho would believe Cressida over Lady Danbury?" Penelope turned to him with wide, earnest eyes. "I wouldn't dare cross Lady Danbury in any matter. If she were to say she was Lady Whistledown, I'd probably believe her myself."wWhat makes you think you can convince Lady Danbury to lie for you?"wWell," Penelope replied, chewing on her lower lip, "she likes me."wShe likes you?" Colin echoed.wShe does, rather. I think she might like to help me, especially since she detests Cressida almost as much as I do."wYou think her fondness for you will lead her to lie to the entire ton?" he asked doubtfully.She sagged in her seat. "It's worth asking."He stood, his movements abrupt, and walked to the window. "Promise me you won't go to her."wBut—"wPromise me."wI promise," she said, "but—"wNo buts," he said. "If we need to, we'll contact Lady Danbury, but not until I have a chance to think of something else." He raked his hand through his hair. "There must be something else."wWe have a week," she said softly, but she didn't find her words reassuring, and it was difficult to imagine that Colin did, either.
He turned around, his about-face so precise he might have been in the military. "I'll be back," he said, heading for the door.wBut where are you going?" Penelope cried out, jumping to her feet.wI have to think," he said, pausing with his hand on the doorknob.wYou can't think here with me?" she whispered.His face softened, and he crossed back to her side. He murmured her name, tenderly taking her face in his hands. "I love you," he said, his voice low and fervent. "I love you with everything I am, everything I've been, and everything I hope to be."wColin..."wI love you with my past, and I love you for my future." He bent forward and kissed her, once, softly, on the lips. "I love you for the children we'll have and for the years we'll have together. I love you for every one of my smiles, and even more, for every one of your smiles."
Penelope sagged against the back of a nearby chair.wI love you," he repeated. "You know that, don't you?"
She nodded, closing her eyes as her cheeks rubbed against his hands.wI have things to do," he said, "and I won't be able to concentrate if I'm thinking about you, worrying if you're crying, wondering if you're hurt."wI'm fine," she whispered. "I'm fine now that I've told you."wI will make this right," he vowed. "I just need you to trust me."Not that it didn’t all matter, because it did.
But he knew that it didn’t matter as much as she did, that the past wasn’t as important as the future, and the family he’d lost wasn’t nearly as dear to him as the family he would make.I love you, he said, his voice finally rising above a whisper. He turned, his heart, his very soul in his eyes. I love you.
She looked confused by his sudden change in demeanor, but in the end she just smiled—looking for all the world as if she might actually laugh. It was the sort of expression one made when one had too much happiness to keep it all inside.He wanted to make her look like that every day. Every hour. Every minute.