Colin was not sure when or how it happened. It was the most curious thing. One day, he found himself always searching for Penelope everywhere. Or taking longer glances in her direction. Or smiling whenever he heard her hearty laugh. Or frowning when someone other than his brothers asked her to dance. Sometimes, he scowled even further when it was with his own brothers. He caught himself writing on his journal about how his interactions with her had become the highlight of his day.
The sudden realization was not entirely unwelcome. Penelope was a precious friend. She had been a steady correspondence during his travels. Her letters urged him to journey onto exotic lands while remaining a constant reminder of home. She had been a beacon of hope to him. She was and always have been sweet, witty and kind. Therefore, he knew how she had become so endeared to him.
However, lately, it seemed like the intensity of his favorability towards her dramatically increased. He was drawn to her like a fucking magnet. And he can't figure out why.
This irregularity had not gone unnoticed by the people around him. His mother and Eloise ensured that Penelope was always invited in their home. Anthony had remarked from time to time how Penelope 'fits right in' with their family. Daphne, and even Simon, called him out for brooding one too many times. But worst of all, Benedict, the insufferable git, had recently taken it upon himself to befriend Penelope. Perhaps a little too friendly. He was always first to talk to her, first to ask her to dance, make her giggle, sit entirely too close next to her, and so on. It really vexed him to no end.
Just at the other night's event, Benedict filled up Penelope's dance card with his signature.
"I'm afraid I don't understand," Penelope tilted her head in confusion. She can really be too adorable.
Benedict smugly flashed her an oily smile and whisked her away onto the dancefloor. FOR THE ENTIRE NIGHT. Colin had to leave the party early because he couldn't hide his annoyance.
During the next day's luncheon, sweet Penelope inquired after his constitution. Because Benedict told her he suffered a terrible indigestion. He retaliated by ruthlessly beating Benedict in Pall Mall.
Even now, Benedict made a show of primping for tonight's ball to impress a certain "red-headed lady." And like a weak thread, his patience snapped.
"What the bloody hell are you playing at?" Colin bellowed.
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," Benedict answered, not bothering to stop tying his cravat.
"Penelope Featherington. I demand you tell me your intentions."
Benedict had the gall to smirk. "Pen? Nothing. She's a darling."
"Then why do you take too much of her time and attention? Don't you think she might misconstrue your gestures?"
"Somehow, I doubt that," he responded back as he returned to his cravat.
"Other people will talk," Colin insisted.
"People will always talk. It's what they do."
"But what? Why do you care so much?"
"Because she is my friend. She is warm, witty and generous. And she's a good person who deserves attention from a suitor who has genuine intentions."
Colin asserted, "And she should not waste her time on you! She needs to be with someone who loves her."
Benedict regarded him for a second then laughed. "Jesus, Col. Penny in the fucking air!"
"What the bloody hell does that mean?"
"You know what, you are absolutely right," Benedict nodded.
"About Penelope deserving attention from a suitor with genuine intentions."
Colin felt a sinking sensation at the pit of his stomach at his ominous words. "Wait, why are you saying that? What are you planning?"
Benedict patted his brother's shoulder. "Thank you brother. You have been most enlightening." Then he walked away.
Colin's growing paranoia lasted until the next morning. Benedict's words last night set him on edge. He could only wait and see what his elder brother planned to do. It was only his good fortune that Penelope was not present during the previous ball.
His disturbed mind kept him awake until daylight. He elected to retire in his room, only to resurface in the late afternoon. As he walked into the sitting room, he heard the hushed voice of his mother, "You cannot be serious!"
Eloise, not caring the volume of her voice, chastised someone, "I know what you are doing, and I approved initially but this is going too far! Once Colin hears about this, he will kill you."
"Hear about what?" Colin asked as he entered the room.
"Oh dear," Violet mumbled.
"Benedict has formally asked for Penelope's hand in marriage," Eloise said slowly and as delicately as she can.
Colin blinked for a split second before he launched himself onto his brother.
He was able to get a few hits in before Anthony pulled him away. In his furious stupor, he did not notice his eldest brother dashing into the room. Violet kept him at bay while the others checked on Benedict. His mother's firm hand on his chest calmed the overwhelming rage he was feeling. Eloise steadied Benedict, who looked worse for wear.
"Can someone tell me what the bloody hell this is all about?" Anthony barked out at Colin.
"Why don't you ask that fiend?" Colin spat.
Violet intervened and pushed Colin down to the armchair. "Anthony, tend to your brother's bruised eye. Leave this one to me. And Eloise, leave." As the three dutifully left, Violet sighed.
"You know I hate it when you children fight."
"We aren't children anymore, mother."
"You will always be children to me. And that is exactly how you've acted. A child," she berated.
Colin chose to be silent at the accusation. He had to agree. He did react very poorly. Of course, he would never admit it out loud.
"If you have a problem with his proposal to Miss Featherington, you should talk it out. And not with your fist," she chided him while she inspected his bruised hand. "What compelled you to beat him in the first place?"
"I don't know," he evaded her question. As soon as he heard the words Penelope and marriage, he felt fury he had never felt before. And before he could think, his hand already connected with Benedict's face.
"You know. Do not be intentionally obtuse. You've known for a while."
It was true. He acknowledged that he had affection for Penelope. And that said affection had grown deeper day by day. But there was something preventing him from labeling it into what it really was.
"I can't," he replied helplessly.
"Col, she's not Marina."
Colin swallowed a lump in his throat. "I know."
"She is a good girl. She will not hurt you like Marina did."
"It's difficult for me to trust blindly in my emotions lest it happens again," he admitted.
"I know, dear, I know. But love, true love, requires a leap of faith. That is how you fall deep into love. It is not easy. But that is how you know if they are worth it. You know, marriage to your father was rough at first. He was quite like you. Passionate and unassuming with his love. But I was hesitant to trust him with my heart. He eventually won me over and we spent many blissful years together."
"And is he worth it?"
Violet smiled tenderly. "I have not stopped. I am still falling. He was the best love I've ever known."
He was moved by his mother's confession. He too wanted to experience a love like theirs. Marina was a burning fire that consumed him, but waned too fast. Penelope, though, his affection for her was calm and deep as the sea. Colin knew he could keep falling for her, that he can easily get swayed by her tide and still survive. He just needs to take a leap of faith.
"Thank you, mother," he said before he kissed her cheek.
The first person he sought was his brother. Benedict was in the kitchen massaging a raw steak on his left eye. Anthony and Eloise thankfully left them to talk privately.
"You have a mean right hook," Benedict groused.
"I apologize," he managed to look contrite. "How bad is it?"
Benedict lowered the piece of meat. His eye was covered in a massive ring of purple and dark hue. Colin winced.
"I probably deserve it."
"No, you don't," Colin protested immediately.
"No, I do. I don't actually have any sentimental attachments with Miss Featherington."
"What?" Colin felt the familiar pang of rage. "And you still asked for her hand in marriage?"
"Settle down. I don't want to get punched in my only good eye," Benedict whinged. "I did not officially asked her mother. And I knew she would decline."
"Because of this, you fool," he said as he pointed to his swollen eye. "Do you still deny your affection for her? There is no other reason why you would attempt on my life after you heard the news."
"You were trying to instigate me into confessing to her?" Colin asked incredulously.
"Because you're as dense as Eloise' disgusting cakes. Penelope is perfect for you. You're livelier after a few moments with her than when you come back from your long travels. You just needed a push."
"I'm...I do not know what to say," he said, dumbfounded.
"How about 'thank you' and how can I make it up to you?" Benedict bit out sarcastically.
"Thank you," Colin said sincerely.
"Yeah well, you better marry her after this. I am not losing half of my vision for nothing."
"I don't even know if she will welcome my affection."
"You're as blind as my left eye. Why do you think she declined me? Have you seen me?"
Colin felt a small urge to hit him in the eye again but decided against it. He was still very grateful to his brother. "I truly regret my actions earlier."
"There is a way you can compensate me."
"Help me win the next Pall Mall."
"You're kidding. This is this, and Pall Mall is another matter entirely."
"Look at my EYE!" he roared while pointing at his affected eye.
"Fine. One game."
The next person he sought after was Penelope. She was reading a book in their garden when he joined her.
"Colin!" she beamed at him, albeit with a little hesitance. He'was slightly mesmerized by the curve of mouth, the warmth in her eyes and the enchanting trill of her voice.
"How are you, Pen? We missed you at last night's ball."
"Decided to sit one out. Mama felt ill and Papa was away for business."
"That's too bad."
"It's quite alright," she said. "Do you...need something?"
"As a matter of fact, I do. I would like to ask for your hand in marriage."
Penelope frowned. "What--is this a prank between you and your brothers? Is Anthony going to call on me tomorrow too?"
"No, no! Of course not," he placated her quickly. "Benedict is a fool, a well-meaning fool."
"Because he asked me to marry him?" she questioned him yet again.
"No! It's because he had this grand idea to make me jealous."
Penelope stood still. It's as if she was trying to register his words. "Jealous? Of me?"
"Yes, he said that I needed a push." Colin placed her hand in his. "And I did. I needed someone to make me see what I'm missing. I can't believe it took me this long to realize how much I have fallen for you, Penelope."
"You have? With me?" she asked in awe.
"No one else but you, dearest Pen," he affirmed. "You dominate my mind and you occupy my heart. I love you. Assuredly, fervently, loudly."
Tears in her eyes fell. "You don't know how long I've dreamed this moment."
He dried her tears, while saying, "I will show you everyday how much I love you."
"I love you too."
He would forever embed this memory in his head. How she glowed, how her cheeks stained the perfect pinkish tinge, how her eyes glimmered. She is absolutely breathtaking.
"May I kiss you, Penelope?"
She coyly nodded. He closed the distance between them and slowly, reverently, kissed her. Oh she tasted so good. He parted her lips with his tongue and captured hers. She gave a guttural moan that shot straight to his groin. Her lips were damp and tasted so incredibly sweet. He pulled her closer to him, her soft body flush onto his.
When they parted, she stared at him with heady eyes. She looked downright sinful.
"That was amazing," she gushed. Her voice was so soft, so heated, he felt it lick right down his abdomen.
"You are amazing," he murmured before he kissed her temple. "Well, Miss Featherington, do I assume that your consent to marriage?"
"Why, Mr. Bridgerton. Assume away."