Penelope Featherington was a nervous wreck. She felt the thunder of her beating heart echoing over the noise that was the Bridgerton family, and loud was an understatement when the enormous clan got together. And almost everyone was present tonight for the usual Saturday dinner. The only ones missing were Francesca and Michael--both will be coming the day after. It was highly irregular that everyone will be home and together, if not for Eloise’s upcoming nuptials and Violet’s birthday. Although, Penelope still could not believe that she was invited for their family dinner. She was only Eloise’s best friend from childhood, after all. But everyone had affirmed that she was, and will always be, an honorary Bridgerton, much to her delight.
She sighed as she played with the food on Violet’s good china. The familiar pangs of anxiety had started again, and they were still on the appetizer course.
“Penelope, you’re terribly quiet,” Colin Bridgerton remarked as he took a swig of wine. He looked curiously at her.
Her clammy hand almost lost its grip on her fork.
“Yeah, Pen. You look really pale,” Eloise said, concerned.
She almost winced. “Just tired from an all-nighter last night. New boss,” she lied fluidly.
“Oh, has Cowper been sacked?” Hyacinth exclaimed in delight.
“She’s moved on to a different company,” Penelope answered demurely. Although, she had a small smile fixed on her face.
“Good riddance!” Eloise said as she clinked her wine glass with her sister’s.
“You haven’t touched your wine,” Eloise said after drinking hers.
“I, ah, just took a headache medicine earlier. Not good mixing them with alcohol,” Penelope fibbed expertly.
“Oh, then I won’t keep you after dinner tonight. I’ll just call you tomorrow about the bridesmaid dresses,” her friend said as she set a reminder on her phone.
Penelope just nodded to her. She spied a glance to Colin’s side. He seemed preoccupied too, the way he glanced at his phone very telling.
Honestly, as much as she loved basking in the warm chaos of this family, she was here on a mission. One that involved Colin Bridgerton. She needed to tell him something important.
A life or death kind of thing.
She felt a surge of nausea, and a lead-like lump stuck in her throat. Her hands shook slightly from the nerves. She really should not be this stressed out. It’s not good for the baby.
Her baby. And Colin’s. The one he didn't know about.
The one he didn't even remember making.
It was just her luck to be knocked up after drunkenly having sex with man she was in love with since childhood. And he was equally hammered as she was.
It was about ten weeks ago. Colin just came back from Cyprus for his successful travel documentary show. Everyone went out for drinks. She came in late because of a tight deadline for work. By the time she showed up, almost everyone had gone home. Only the celebrant remained and he was already happily buzzed. Truthfully, she was happy to monopolize him for the evening. She remembered buying tequila shots to catch up to him.
She remembered laughing at his corny jokes and genuinely having fun after a long time. After the tenth shot, she blanked out. She didn’t remember them catching an Uber to his hotel, nor how they got entangled in bed. What she remembered was the feeling of his skin against his, how delicious his heavy weight felt above hers, and how extremely talented his tongue was. She even remembered how her throat felt hoarse after repeatedly screaming out his name.
As soon as she awoke the next day, she panicked and hurriedly left his room. Because how the hell can she face him after that? He had never looked in her direction like that, like a woman. And what would happen when he woke up? Would he look at her in disgust and regret? Would they be awkward with each other? Would she have to avoid him and his family altogether? Was she going to lose everything?
So she ran. The cowardly Penelope ran, and she’ll find that this will be her single biggest regret.
She avoided him like the plague. She even victoriously dodged Eloise’ with her work as an excuse. After a week of no contact, she hesitantly accepted Violet’s insistent invitation for Saturday dinner. Colin greeted her with his usual charming smile and politeness. Like nothing was amiss.
She didn’t know if she should laugh or cry.
It was after she inquired about his celebratory dinner did she find out that he did not remember even meeting her that night.
“He drank the entire bar that night,” Benedict hooted out with a laugh.
Colin winced. He confided to Penelope that his hangover lasted two days and that he had no recollection of how he got home at all.
She laughed out loud bitterly. The sad irony of events, how the only time Colin Bridgerton would get together with her was when he was drunk out of his damn mind and then he conveniently forgot the next day.
So she carried on with only the memory of that night forever imprinted in her heart. Only, she forgot about taking an after-morning pill. With worrying about Colin and her new boss, it completely slipped her mind. She was not on any birth control since she was not sexually active, nor did she plan on getting some at that time. She really was busy at work.
It wasn’t until five days ago that she felt something different with her body. Her favorite chippy shop just smelled absolutely foul, and she puked all over her new shoes. Then she started noticing that she constantly felt fatigue, or that dizziness would chase her throughout the day. When she was looking for some over-the-counter medication for her supposed headaches, she happened upon the pregnancy tests. And everything clicked.
She bought a dozen of them, and five liters of water.
All positive. She’s completely fucked.
So now, she was trying to tell the father of her child that not only did he had sex with her, they also have a bun in her oven.
Penelope’s mind drifted throughout dinner. When she finally had a chance, she subtly cornered Colin privately.
“What is it Penelope? You look...upset,” he asked in a gentle voice.
She drew her breath heavily. “Right, I don’t know how to break this to you, exactly,” she stalled, searching for the right words. Any words, in fact. Panic was setting in quickly.
“Take your time,” he said intently. “And breathe, Pen.”
“Do you remember about-” she was cut off by a different voice calling out Colin’s name.
“Marina!” Colin’s delighted cry rang out.
Marina Thompson, beauty and grace personified, ambled slowly towards them. She kissed Colin tenderly. On the lips, like passionate lovers do.
Penelope felt something break within her. Her heart? Her sanity?
She fixed an awkward smile on her face as she greeted the other woman. Colin introduced Marina to her as his girlfriend.
Marina politely greeted her back. “Penelope Featherington, right? From Whistledown Post? Love your articles, by the way.”
“Oh, thanks. I’m flattered.”
“Penelope deserves all the praise. She’s the only reason that paper is thriving,” Colin proudly exclaimed.
She laughed tightly, pretending to be modest. Penelope felt the beginnings of dizziness overtake her. She needed to get out of here.
“What was it you were saying?” Colin inquired curiously.
“You know, I don’t even remember,” she mumbled with a laugh. “Must be the wine.”
“But you didn’t drink.”
“What, are you keeping tabs on me?” Her voice is close to being shrill. “You must be tipsy. Keep an eye out for this one, drinks too much,” she quickly rambled to Marina. She swiftly excused herself and found refuge in the bathroom.
Okay, so her baby daddy is with another woman. Not just another woman. It’s THE woman. Just as long as she was head over heels with Colin, he felt the same for Marina. And now, they were together.
So, what now?
Would he even believe her? Would he even believe that they had sex together in a night that he didn't have any recollection at all? Would he even believe that he’s the father of her unborn child? Would he leave Marina for her?
Deep within her heart, Penelope knew the answer. Because if she were Colin, she knew she’d pick Marina too. Because who was Penelope, compared to Marina?
A wave of nausea interrupted her melancholic thoughts. The dizziness that she tried to ignore earlier came back in full force. There was an odd ringing in her ear. She tried to focus on her breathing to soothe herself.
“Pen?” Colin’s voice rang out through the door. “You were being kinda weird earlier. And I just wanted to know if you’re okay.”
Oh, he’s so sweet. If her child grew up to be half as sweet as him…
“I’m fine,” she choked out loud. She opened the door and was met with Colin’s concerned form. The buzzing in her ear grew louder and anything Colin said was a distant echo. Her vision doubled or dimmed, or both, she can't distinguish the difference at this point. Somewhere in the background, she heard a voice ask if she's alright. Her head couldn't string a coherent thought and she just mumbled a few words
Her head felt heavy and light at the same time. The incessant ringing grew louder still. Her body instantly felt beleaguered. The last thing that she saw was Colin’s distressed face as he held onto her before she fainted altogether.
She awoke shortly after on the settee surrounded by everyone. Apparently, she caused a commotion. So much for escaping silently.
Violet, a fountain of sensibility, ushered everyone away from crowding her space and out of the room. Only Simon and Daphne remained. Simon, a licensed medical practitioner, immediately inspected her eyes after counting her pulse.
“Alright Pen? Anything hurt?” he asked as he assessed her.
“‘M'alright,” she slightly slurred.
He held up three fingers. “How many fingers do I have up?”
“Good,” he said. Daphne gave him his sphygmomanometer. “May I take your blood pressure? Just to check.”
“You don’t have to. I’m pretty sure it’s low,” she said with a sigh. She unconsciously palmed her stomach.
Simon’s eyes caught the movement and his eyebrow arched. “Should I send you to A&E?”
“No, you don’t have to,” she mumbled quietly. “We’re- I mean, I’m fine.”
Daphne sent a loaded look to her husband. Simon nodded in understanding, a small part of him was proud of how quickly his wife caught on.
“Would you like some tea?” Daphne kindly asked her.
“You don’t have to.”
“We have non-caffeinated ones.”
Penelope’s whole body tensed. Her eyes grew large, and she looked ready to bolt.
“Let me prepare you some,” Daphne said gently before adding, ”mum’s the word, of course.”
The other girl nodded gratefully. She seemed to curl into herself, making her body look even smaller. All the while, she placed both arms protectively across her stomach.
“Have you seen an OB yet?”
“When did you find out?” he asked tactfully.
“A few days ago,” she tightly answered.
Simon hesitated for a beat before asking, “And the father?”
The poor girl just shook her head.
“Why don’t you come to the clinic on Monday for a blood test? I can make an opening for you. And my mate’s the best OB in the area. I’ll send you to him with a referral.”
“I’m not in your network,” she rejected his offer with a thankful smile.
“Please, Penelope,” Simon said as he patted her shoulder, “we’re family. Monday morning. I’ll be expecting you.”
Penelope was overcome with emotions, only nodded.
In the end, the news came out from a more expected source.
Penelope knew without a doubt that she was keeping it. So she steeled herself. She needed to tell her mother, after all.
It goes as well as she predicted, which is to say, not well at all. Her mother accused her of being a scarlet woman, a harlot who didn’t know who the father was. She knew. She just won’t name him.
The accusation stung, but it was indeed her fault. Her visit culminated to her mother refusing to talk to her any further. Of course, her sisters (excluding Felicity) sided with her mother.
It hurt so bad. To be cast out by one’s own family.
The silver lining to this was that her stress levels might actually decrease after not dealing with her mother anymore.
Soon after, her phone started ringing with Eloise’s and Colin’s incessant calls. Then Hyacinth’s. And Kate’s. Even Sophie called once or twice. Daphne chose to timidly send her text messages. But she couldn’t ignore Violet’s call.
“Are you alright, dear?” Violet’s worried voice soothed her.
Why does this woman, who never bore her, give her more compassion than her own mother?
It felt like a dam broke. She started sobbing inconsolably. She couldn't quite make out if she was crying about her circumstance, her mother or about the absent father. Violet just whispered all the right words a mother is supposed to say. That in itself only made her cry more. In the end, Violet assured her that all the Bridgertons have Penelope’s back, that she can expect no judgement from them. That she was family.
She still had a family.
Eloise was relentless with her mission on finding who the father was. Her friend was like a Pitbull. Once she bit on her prey, she would never let go. It was grating on the last bit of her nerves.
Penelope came for the next Saturday dinner. Violet was able to persuade her that she needed to be pampered. The Bridgerton matriarch was obviously delighted that another child will grace her household, nevermind that it was not actually of Bridgerton blood. How wrong was that train of thought.
Now, with Eloise hounding her, Penelope felt like tonight was a mistake.
“Honestly Pen, you can tell me. How else am I going to beat him up and make him step up?”
“It’s fine. I don’t need him to step up.”
“But, what about financial support? At least have Anthony sue him or something.”
“For the last time, the father is not in the picture and I don’t want him in the picture,” Penelope snapped loudly. There was an awkward silence that deafened the room.
“Pen, do you need… were you-” Anthony trailed off, unsure how to broach the issue.
“Oh my god. It was consensual,” she reddened immediately once she arrived at his question. “It was a one-night stand. Besides, I wouldn’t be able to track him if I tried.”
“Michael can help,” Gregory helpfully said. Michael Stirling worked in public service, with deep connections to the police force.
“I don’t want to,” she declared with finality. Her face did not betray any hesitancy. If Penelope refused to look in Colin’s direction, no one noticed.
At twelve weeks, she was still not showing. Penelope was ecstatic. She had not gone shopping yet. And it also meant that her dress for Eloise’s wedding only needed slight alterations. The dizziness finally abated, showing up only when she was highly stressed. The nausea, unfortunately, had not only stayed but also brought his friend, frequent urination.
She found herself spending much of her day in the ladies’ restroom. Her boss already made a remark about it. Therefore, Penelope stayed later than usual in a moot display of competency. It’s not like she had someone to come home to in her tiny apartment anyway.
That was her routine for the past two weeks. When she arrived home, she passes out right after, then continued the punishing cycle tomorrow. Penelope refused to acknowledge the fact that she was using work to avoid thinking about Colin. Or the fact that Colin and Marina were going serious too fast, according to Eloise. If she stopped, all the unbidden thoughts come out and she was back to tears. Especially now, apparently, her uterus told her body that she should cry at the drop of a hat for the most inane reasons. One particularly stressful morning, she cried because she saw her red hair in the mirror. She cried because she’s a ginger.
She was still on the first trimester and this child will be the death of her already, she mused fondly. For an unexpected accident, Penelope took to motherhood quite easily. It was as natural as breathing for her. Perhaps it was due to her being starved for motherly affection before, she knew how important it was to shower love early on. It was going to be only the two of them from now on, after all. Two months and her world revolved on the tiny lime-sized baby in her womb.
All in all, it wasn’t completely bad. Until Eloise's wedding finally came.
The grand affair was as long as it was ostentatious. It was apparent that Violet Bridgerton planned most of it. But none of that compares to how lovely Eloise and Phillip looked together. Or how happy they appearred to be.
Penelope was elated for her. She was always going to wish for the best for her dear friend. However, in the deepest recesses of her heart, she’ll always be jealous. Because Eloise found a love that can last a lifetime while she could not get over her friend’s brother.
As the after-party was in full swing, she carefully hid herself away from the dance floor by sitting all the way in the back. But it didn't matter anyway. Colin sought her out, planting himself on the seat next to her with a glass of whisky. Of course, he looked gorgeous in his black suit and tie ensemble.
“Not well enough,” she retorted lightly.
He chuckled before taking a sip. “Want me to get you something to drink?”
She shook her head. “If you’re going to continue enjoying my company, you need to get rid of that drink.”
“Is it the smell?” He placed his drink on the next table over.
Penelope mischievously smiled at him. “No. If I can’t drink, you can’t either.”
“Hah! You got me good,” he said with a laugh. “How are you, Pen? I feel like I haven’t talked to you in forever.”
She swallowed nervously. “Me and the little lime are fine.”
“At twelve weeks, she’s the size of a lime.”
His face broke into a pleasant smile. Penelope felt slightly enchanted.
“I’m just picturing a tiny Penelope lime-sized. Adorable.”
She was extremely thankful for the dim lights, lest he sees her blushing cheeks. “Yeah, she’s a handful already.”
“Wait, you said she. You already know the gender?”
“Oh no, it’s too early for that. I just feel like it’s a she,” she mused wistfully.
“A mother’s intuition is rarely wrong. Just ask mine. Although, she did wrongfully predict that Benedict would be a woman.”
They both turned to the brother in question. Benedict twirled his wife on the dance floor. She laughed heartily at his jest.
“It’s nice to hear you laugh again, Pen.”
“I didn’t know I stopped.”
He stared at her carefully. “You did.”
She didn't know he cared. She couldn’t help but gaze back into his unblinking eyes.
“You’re not alone in this,” Colin said as he squeezed her hand. “We’re all beside you. Even Marina.”
She smiled weakly at the mention of his girlfriend. “Where is she, anyway?”
“She had to leave early. She has a flight to Paris tomorrow morning. She has to be there for fashion week, then some other model stuff I don’t understand. I would have gone with her but mother insisted I stay to clean up,” he whinged.
“Oh how long will she be gone?”
“A month. Too long! I might just surprise her in France,” he thought out loud. His face was bright and jovial. So that’s how he looked when he was wearing his heart on his sleeve. He looked utterly besotted, and absolutely taken.
By another woman, not hers.
“It’s very becoming of you,” she said quietly. “Being in love.”
He beamed at her, thrilled at her compliment. “So while she’s gone, and I’m convalescing, I’m going to be bored out of my mind.”
“Uh huh, and I have a full day’s work tomorrow. That’s a weird flex.”
“Stop it,” he snickered, “I can help you with chores. I am being serious about being there for you.”
“Did your mother talk to you?” she eyed him suspiciously.
He had an admirable poker face. “How about it? Need an errand boy? I only accept payment in the form of food.”
“I’d rather pay cash. You’d bankrupt me with food.”
“Penelope! You wound me!” he exclaimed as he clutched his chest. “So is that a yes?”
“I do need a ride for my next doctor’s appointment. My car needs to be looked at and uptown is too far for commuting,” she conceded. She did not really mind taking the transit but she tires too easily lately.
“You’ve been commuting everyday to work?”
“Yeah, my car has a weird clunking sound and if I reverse a certain way, smoke comes out of the AC vent. I don’t have time to look for a mechanic.”
“Pen!” Colin exasperatedly called out her name. “What time do you go to work tomorrow?”
“Not until 9.”
“Oh good. I have time to send Marina off. I’ll pick you up at 8:30 sharp,” mumbled as he set an alarm on his phone.
“You don’t have to. I can take the transit.”
He gave her a baleful stare. “Do you honestly expect me to let my favorite Featherington, pregnant as she is, to commute on the way to work when I can take her myself?”
Her heart swelled at the compliment. She responded with a nod.
“That way you can have more sleep. Eloise told me that you haven’t been sleeping well.”
It was true. With the added commute, she needed to wake up at least an hour earlier to get to work on time.
“I’m going to take you and pick you up. At least, until we get your car looked at. Anthony should know a trustworthy mechanic.”
“I’m...thank you,” she managed to choke out before tears came out.
Colin instantly wrapped his arms around her and consoled her. “Don’t be afraid to order me around. I intend to be useful to you and our mini-Penelope lime.”
She knew that he did not mean it that way. She knew. But the way he said ‘our’ just smothered her heart further.
There was something amiss. Something fundamentally wrong but Colin could not seem to get a grasp on it. Like pieces of a puzzle that do not fit. It was plaguing his very being, missing something incredibly important.
It did not help that he’s developing a rather complicated curiosity with Penelope. Her pregnancy had been a shock. And the mystery of the unnamed father had been the subject of many discussions with his siblings. The fact that Penelope adamantly refused to name the wretch gave him unsavory opinions about the man. But that was not what was striking his interest.
It was her eyes. It was the haunted look she cast on his person that branded him like a hot poker. Because there was something important about her he was missing. It did not help that she was extremely flighty. Anytime he tried to have a meaningful conversation with her, she clams up and shuts him down.
It stung him a little. Before, she was a confidant. A very dear friend. She was the one who pushed him to pursue his dreams of travel. She supported him from his failures and successes. Therefore, this wall between them made him feel uncertain. If he can only figure out why…
So he chipped away from her resistances, little by little. He took her to work and back home. He sometimes visited during lunch to make sure she actually eats. His mother worried about the poor girl, and he had a lot of free time.
She smiled easily now, although not quite the same as before. But progress was progress.
“Have you been waiting long?” Penelope asked as she hopped in his car.
“No, I just got here. Muffin?” he asked as he handed her a small paper bag.
“Yes please. I’m famished. I get peckish all the time now.”
“You are eating for two.”
She eyed the two other paper bags in the back seat through the mirror. “Yeah, what’s your excuse?”
“I’m a growing boy,” he rebutted playfully.
She huffed at him. “With all the calories you consume, you never seem to grow fat. It’s a travesty. Completely unfair.”
He laughed at her disgust. “I’m blessed, what can I say? Pick you up at 5 later?”
“No, I have a doctor’s appointment later in the afternoon.”
“What time? I can drive you. I was supposed to go to Gregory’s game but it got cancelled.”
Penelope appeared to contemplate his offer. “You don't have to.”
“Pen, you’d do me a favor. If I don’t go with you, Eloise would make me go to one of her slam poetry parties,” he said with a shudder.
She reluctantly said yes. It always irked him that she was hesitant to ask for help. The way that she hunched her back a little to protect herself from hearing the answer. Like she was used to hearing the word no. But Colin was known for being stubborn. Penelope probably did not know how much she helped him attain his dream. And now that she was the one that needed help, he will be there for her.
This feels like a filler, I know. But things are moving. Next chapter will have more of Colin POV. Also, I don't think I can contain this in 4 chapters. I'm so wrong.
Thanks for reading and commenting! I was cracking up at some reactions. I love seeing people's take on this. If you want to keep in touch, catch me at tumblr @alengmae.
All my gratitude to the best beta out there, Greta_Delacour, for sifting through all my wrong grammar and misspelled words.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Colin knocked before entering the room. Penelope was situated on the bed, waiting for the doctor to finish writing his notes. He sheepishly said, “Sorry, I came too early.”
“It’s alright,” Penelope said with a wave of her hand.
“I can wait outside,” he offered.
“No, it’s alright. We should be done soon, right?” She directed the question to the doctor.
The doctor nodded before adding, “One last thing.” He moved the ultrasound close to her stomach and started the machine.
Colin moved closer to Penelope’s side and tried to make out the shape on the monitor. She once told him that at 15 weeks, the baby should be the size of an apple. The fist-sized blob on the monitor was to be expected. He couldn’t help but smile.
He had a lot of tiny nieces and nephews, but the idea of a tiny Penelope running around delighted him. He took her hand and squeezed it. She gave him a watery smile, too overwhelmed by emotions.
The doctor fiddled with the contraption before asking Penelope, “Ready to hear the heartbeat?”
She reached for her phone and placed it next to the speaker. Then he heard it. The staccato rhythm, gentle and reserved, permeated the room. Colin could not describe the emotions that washed over him. He was awed, the notion that Penelope’s child is a living being never more apparent than now.
Penelope gasped, tears streaming down her face. But her smile was pure unadulterated joy. Her gaze landed on his and Colin was struck by how beautiful she was. There was beauty in the strength that she exuded. He entwined his fingers with hers, passing on a message of solidarity. Her smile grew wider. And they sat there in silent appreciation, both refusing to break the magic of the moment.
Colin grabbed a handful of pretzels from the bowl and crammed it into his mouth. Benedict made a face of disgust and proceeded to take a swig of beer from his glass.
“How’s unemployment?” Anthony teased his brother.
“For the last time, I am on a sabbatical.”
The two older brothers both guffawed. Colin was used to tight deadlines and constant travelling. It was unsettling to see him lazing around.
“How long are you staying around for this time?” Benedict asked.
Colin stopped himself from grabbing another handful. “I’m reworking my contract. I may be based here soon.”
Anthony’s eyebrows arched. “You’re staying? Are you sure you didn’t get fired?”
Colin contemplated throwing the bowl in his brother’s direction but decided against it. “I’m staying.”
“Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m glad you’re staying. But why?” Benedict pressed on. “Can’t be because of Marina. Isn’t she preparing to move to Paris?”
Colin’s jaw tightened at the mention of his paramour. His relationship with Marina had been rocky lately. She rarely had time for him anymore, which he could understand. She was a rising star in the modelling world. Colin understood that she needed to throw a hundred percent of herself into work. But even when they were together, she acted unenthusiastically. He tried to rekindle their romance several times, but she was not as reciprocating as he had hoped. The once blazing passion seemed to fizzle out overnight. And lately, if he were to be honest, he found himself caring less and less.
“I don’t think Marina and I are going to work out,” he said tightly.
Anthony just patted his brother’s shoulder in consolation. Truthfully, he thought his brother fell too hard and too fast into his new relationship. He had a hunch that it wasn’t going to last.
Benedict just nudged the bowl of pretzels closer to his younger brother. “Long distance relationships are hard anyway.”
Colin sighed. “I might just be unlucky in love.”
“You can try looking for your imaginary lover again,” Benedict needled him to lighten the mood. Upon hearing that, Colin threw a pretzel at him.
“She’s not imaginary. I think.”
“That’s what happens when you get drunk out of your mind,” Anthony reprimanded him, the fatherly figure in him rearing its head. “You should have gone home when I told you to.”
With his chiding, Colin did throw a pretzel at him. But Anthony, always steps ahead of him, caught it expertly and ate it. Annoying git.
“You only have an earring as proof. You most likely picked it up from the bar and walked away with it,” Benedict reasoned.
“No, I’m sure I was with someone that night. But why would she run away?”
“Probably because she sobered up and saw your face,” Anthony teased yet again. This time, the pretzel struck his nose.
Colin was not a complete boor. He knew that someone brought him back to his hotel room. He knew that he had a dalliance with a woman he can’t remember. But when he woke up the next day, all traces of said woman were gone except for a single diamond earring. It was accented with yellow diamonds, in the shape of a flower in full bloom.
He racked his brain for any clues, anything, that could lead to the woman, however he was completely out of it that night. He knew it was dangerous to mix tequilas with vodkas, yet he still did it anyway. He wanted to find the mystery woman to apologize if he did anything untoward to her. If he can’t remember, then he can’t account for his behavior. The thought of anything possibly in the realm of illicit made him sick to his stomach. But all his efforts were moot.
He asked around if they remembered him with someone that night. Everyone said no. The bartender that night was too preoccupied, since it was just him for the night, to even notice him. He tried to get a copy of the security cameras at the bar and at the hotel but he was only told no.
He searched for her for two weeks. A fruitless effort.
It was then that he crossed paths again with Marina. They saw each other at one of Daphne’s parties. He had always carried a torch for her. How could he not? She was gorgeous, the kind of beauty you’d put on a pedestal to admire. He tried his luck, and he struck gold. Marina seemed to reciprocate his attraction. And it was bliss. The mystery woman left his head, although he'd still like to find her.
“I’ll never find her,” he slumped into his seat, clutching the bowl of food for comfort.
“You never know, she might be closer than you think,” Benedict mused. “Wouldn’t that be hilarious?”
“Is that coffee? Gimme!” Penelope excitedly grabbed his travel mug and opened it. She inhaled the aroma of the bitter coffee.
“Yes, and it’s mine,” Colin said as he pulled the mug from her before she was tempted to take a sip, which was more likely based on her hazed reaction. “This one’s yours.”
She pouted but still accepted the other cup. “It’s not the same. I swear I can smell the caffeine. Just let me smell it,” she whined. She’s been on a caffeine withdrawal. Prior to her pregnancy, coffee was her drug of choice. It powered her through uni and her dependence only cemented further after.
“Hah, the last time I did that, you drank some. Not falling for that again,” he said resolutely.
She grumbled underneath her breath. She liked him better when he was easier to fool.
“How’s my mini-Penelope?”
Her cheeks colored slightly. She had never been more glad that he was engrossed in driving. “She’s the size of a large sweet potato now.”
He beamed, pleased at the thought. “How are you feeling, by the way? You’ve been dizzy last night too. You should really step back from your workload.”
“I’m fine. I am!” she exclaimed as she felt his disapproving glare. “I feel better already.”
“I’ll send Kate later to check up on you for lunch. I’ll be out for today.”
“Oh, you’ve finally found employment?” she teased him. But there was a lingering disappointment that she successfully hid.
“You’re spending far too much time with Anthony. One, I’m on a sabbatical,” he retorted. “Second, I’m meeting up with Marina today.”
“She finally fit you in her schedule?” she couldn’t help the acid in her remark.
“Be nice,” Colin warned affectionately. He knew she was worried about him and the state of his relationship with Marina. Truthfully, he’d rather have lunch with Penelope than spend time with the other. It was really bad if seeing her becomes a chore.
“Sorry,” she mumbled, properly chastised. “I just... you put in more effort than her and she never appreciates it. If she calls you, it’s always to cancel on you. She makes me mad.”
He only sighed. “Don’t worry about me. Just focus on our potato, and rest when you can. I also brought you water. You don’t drink nearly enough.”
“Yes, mother,” she simpered, hiding her flaming cheeks.
It was Kate who noticed it first. How Colin would gravitate slowly around Penelope like a stray planet to a sun. She noticed his attentiveness and care that far exceeded what was conventionally proper. And the thought pleased her. They just fit together. Like pieces of a puzzle. Although, she knew better than to meddle.
Then she noticed how Sophie would look on eagerly at the two during the family dinners. She immediately pulled her aside and discussed their new obsession. The shy interaction from Penelope and Colin’s avid treatment was enough to fuel the fan girls in their hearts.
After a while, Daphne joined their secret group chats. Daphne went on how her favorite brother was so engrossed by Penelope. Or how he was too dense to label the affection into what it really was. Or how she’s incredibly captivated by the two’s glacial pace. The three went on to chronicle every interaction and read what was hidden between the lines.
Apparently, Daphne was too absorbed in their chats, that Simon had to see what the fuss was all about. Kate didn’t mind. Simon could keep a secret. He had to. Daphne did not mess around. He joined the group chat, only chiming in once in a while. But Sophie and Kate knew he was invested too. He did share a gif once.
After Simon joined, Kate knew they had to be careful with the group chat. The rest of Bridgertons, except for Violet, had a history of loose lips. It was up to her, as the moderator, to weed out all the false acolytes. Hyacinth came too close to accessing the group chats. Heaven forbid she found out. The youngest Bridgerton was too much of a troll to let them enjoy the two in peace. For now, their secret was secure.
And that is why she did not refuse Colin’s plea. She invited Penelope at a nearby café for lunch.
“How’s the heartburn?” Kate asked, following up on Penelope’s complaints the last time they talked.
“Not as bad as before, but still there,” she said with a wince.
“Gum. It really worked for me,” Kate sympathetically said, remembering her previous pregnancy.
“Yeah. Milk stopped working recently.”
“Yikes, I remember that feeling. It’s the worst.”
“I think it’s worse than morning sickness,” Penelope whined as she poked around her salad.
“Oh I’ll take all the heartburn. I take it back. Morning sickness was the worst.”
The shorter girl smiled. It felt nice to have someone to complain about the changes in her body. Colin was just as sympathetic but he tended to solve problems. Penelope just wanted to dwell sometimes.
“The things you do to me. Probably takes after her father,” she offhandedly uttered while stroking her stomach. She was barely showing. “Just as pushy as he was today.”
“Wait, you’re still seeing the father? I thought you didn't know him. You said it was a one-night stand.” Kate asked in astonishment.
Penelope’s eyes grew big, her body incredibly stiff. She blinked a few times. “No,” she managed to deny.
“Pen,” Kate whispered urgently, “You know him!”
The pregnant woman shook her head vigorously.
“Do I know him?”
“Look at the time. I need to go back. Lot’s of work today. This was...nice. Thanks!” Penelope rambled, ignoring Kate’s protests, before she fled the café.
Kate sagged into her seat, overwhelmed by the bomb that just dropped.
Okay so, a lot of things to address. I'm not an experienced writer, nor am I a diligent one. I did not storyboard this better so it might come off sloppy. This is exactly the reason I prefer one-shots than multi-chapters. The premise is ridiculous and you have to take this in with a grain of salt. For that, I sincerely apologize. I'll try to be better. I am taking longer to write and update because I am getting over sickness. I really appreciate all the comments, criticisms and praise alike. It helps me better my craft. Please please don't hesitate to let me know your opinions because I do treasure them. See you on the next chapter!
Boom, you looking for this?
Special thanks to Greta_Delacour for being the best beta.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Colin was not having a good day.
It started off well. He dropped off Penelope to her workplace, then met up with his agent. Everything was progressing well. He only had a month or two left before he started working as a writer for a new travel show. He was ecstatic, even planning to start looking for a new pad to live in. He hesitated moving out of the family house until his contract was finalized.
However, come lunch time, his day soured.
Marina was late, as usual. He was used to it, not minding the least. But recently, he found her bad habit particularly grating. And when she finally came in, she started an argument almost immediately. It was from some inane reason; he couldn’t even remember what. But when she dragged Penelope’s name into their fight, his hackles raised. He defended his friend valiantly, angering Marina further.
“Are you the father?” she asked rather bluntly.
He sputtered. “Of course not!”
She sneered at him. “That’s even worse, Colin.”
“What are you on now?” He couldn’t help the irritation from his voice.
“You’re not the father, yet you’re acting like you are.”
Her accusation struck him like a slap in the face. Still, he couldn’t deny it. “Leave her out of this. It’s not her fault we’re having problems.”
“You are absolutely right. I don't blame her. I blame you.” When he didn’t reason his way out of her argument, she added, “Has she even asked you to do all that you’re doing? Or did you insist ?”
His silence spoke volumes.
Marina’s shoulder drooped, the anger in her waning only to give way to complete defeat. “Colin, I know I wasn’t the perfect girlfriend. I’m aware of my own misgivings. I prioritized my career over us, and I’ve neglected you. You’ve put in so much effort into this relationship. I could have been better, I should have been better. But I don’t deserve this. Stop making me feel like I’m an outsider in our relationship. Either you commit to her or to me.”
“Marina-” he started but she cut him off.
“Pick. I won’t be mad at your decision. I just want to know where I stand.”
Marina left him after receiving a call from her agent. He stayed seated, emotionally drained. He loved Marina. He thought he saw a bright future with her. And he really did try to make it work. But as soon as he heard about Penelope’s pregnancy, something in him changed. He was drawn to Penelope further and further, without any logical reason.
He knew he was attracted to her, the very attraction he tried to douse with respect to Marina. He was a gentleman after all. The guilt in him ate at him because he knew, without the introspection, who he would pick. It made him feel wretched. He essentially cheated on Marina by having feelings for Penelope. He felt like a scumbag, a dreg from the lowest of a barrel.
He hoped he would not go any lower.
It took Kate a while to recover from lunch. She sat on the information that she gathered until she couldn’t help herself any longer. It was a good thing that Daphne and Sophie planned going to her place for a Friday dinner. Simon had to facetime since he was on duty until late at night.
They brainstormed all the possibilities but there was just too much unknown. They didn’t even know if she was dating anyone a couple months prior.
“Can we just agree that there’s a slight possibility it’s Colin?” Simon interjected. He had to take a lunch break in order to do the call.
Daphne scoffed at him. “If it were Colin, he would have married her already.”
“It does explain the attention he gives her,” Sophie conceded. Simon mouthed thanks to her as his wife glared at him.
“But why would Penelope hide it if he was the father? There has to be something we’re missing,” Kate reiterated. “Maybe she dated a co-worker? That would explain how she’s constantly seeing him.”
“That sounds more probable,” Sophie quipped.
“You know who would know,” Simon led.
“We are not asking Eloise,” Kate said.
“We can be vague,” Daphne answered, warming up to her husband’s idea.
“This would not end well,” Kate’s ominous words went unheeded. Her almost prophetic words rang true.
During dinner, Sophie, Kate and Daphne strategically sat themselves around Eloise. It was their good luck that Penelope was running late for dinner.
“El,” Daphne began delicately, “do you know if Penelope went out with someone from work?”
Eloise turned to her sister sharply, her eyes squinting in suspicion. “Why are you asking?”
Daphne backpedaled too fast, to Kate’s horror. She could not be more obvious. “Nothing. I just wanted to know.”
Kate tried to get Sophie to help but the other girl just shrugged her shoulders. Amateurs . Before Kate could perform any damage control, Eloise already zeroed in on them.
“Why are you asking me so suddenly? What do you know that I don’t know?”
“I don’t know anything you don’t know.”
“I know you know something I don’t know!”
“Well, I don’t,” Daphne lied unconvincingly.
“Penelope is my best friend. Tell me.”
At this point, everyone’s attention was on them. Kate spied Colin’s head swing sharply in their direction at the mention of Penelope’s name. She’ll linger on that later.
Daphne still adamantly denied, even with Eloise’s persistence. But Eloise was tenacity personified.
“If you don’t tell me, I’ll make Hyacinth the godmother of my future child,” she threatened.
“But it’s my turn!”
Phillip murmured to Eloise, “I feel like this is something we need to decide together.”
“Tell me or it’s Hyacinth,” Eloise maintained, completely ignoring her husband.
“You wouldn’t dare!”
At this, Hyacinth let out, “Oy!” in affront.
“I would and I will.”
Kate saw how Daphne broke down against her sister’s persistence. She almost leapt out of her seat to shove her hand over the other woman’s mouth but she blurted it all out before Kate could react.
“Penelope knew who the father was. And she still sees him.” Daphne immediately sent an apologetic look toward Kate, which the latter coolly ignored.
First, a chorus of gasps then chaos erupted the room. Everyone was talking all at the same time.
“She dated a co-worker briefly. I thought it was him. But she said she broke it off a couple of weeks before Colin came back,” Eloise contemplated out loud. “I remember because I told her I wanted her to meet a guy at Colin’s coming home party, but she couldn’t make it that night.”
“It makes sense too. She’s spending a lot of hours at work. If she’s not going to the doctor’s office, she’s working overtime,” Benedict chimed in. Another round of chattering filled the room.
Violet had enough. Her voice, level and domineering, rang out, “Be that as it may, this is none of your business. I will not have you gossip about Penelope like this. She clearly prefers not to discuss this with you, lot. If I hear any of this nonsense, you will have to answer to me. Am I clear?” She directed the question to Eloise, who appeared chastised.
Everyone broke off the conversation, ignoring the giant elephant in the room. It was only Kate that noticed how Colin paled and refused to take another bite of his food.
What a mess.
Penelope didn’t really plan on having a breakdown a Friday.
Everything that can go wrong went wrong. Her last article, which she slaved over for three days, was accidentally erased by an intern. Her bagel fell on the floor after one bite. Felicity cancelled dinner with her because their mother found out about them meeting. And for the pièce de résistance, she almost told Kate about the father. She felt miserable emotionally and physically.
She thought she found a reprieve from her sucky day by going home early. However, unbeknownst to her, the neighbor to her left fumigated their apartment and the fumes vented into hers. She was instructed to stay away for the night. Her life is turning out to be a bullet list of disappointment, it seemed.
By some stroke of luck, Violet called to ask her for dinner. And everyone knew, one does not simply say no to Violet. Besides, she didn’t really have a place to go.
She came late, after trying to reschedule a dinner date with Felicity. Almost everyone was present. She was able to finally relax, watching Disney movies with the Bridgerton younglings. She’d never guess that it would only take one look at a sad baby elephant before hysteria set in. At least, she had a good sense to excuse herself out of the room before she started hyperventilating. She was crying before she found purchase in a secluded bungalow.
Away from everyone where she could hide the pain.
Her body shook in tune with her sobs, which she tried in vain to silence immediately. She tried to stop crying, to reason with herself that she was being absurd. This was not the place nor time to do this. But she was too far gone in her despair.
“Stop it, Penelope. Just please stop,” she pleaded to herself. “Not now, not here. God, please.”
The door opened, with Violet stepping into her space. “Penelope? You left so suddenly.”
She knew she looked like a dumpster fire mess. She literally cannot stop bawling. But Violet calmly and compassionately crossed the little space between them and enveloped her in a hug.
“It’s ok. Cry if you need to.”
And she broke apart in Violet’s arms. She felt like she was torn apart in a million pieces and no one was left to pick up her lacerated pieces.
“I don’t know why I’m being like this,” she choked out in between sobs.
“Sometimes, you just need a good cry.”
“I don’t think I can do this. I don’t know why I thought I could go through with this on my own.”
Violet chided her lightly, “You’re not on your own. And you will be a good mother. You already are a good mother.”
“What do I know about being one? Mine hates me. And my baby will grow up without a father like I did, and she’ll probably hate me too.”
Violet wiped the tears on Penelope’s cheek. “Your mother does not hate you. She’s just... difficult. And your child will grow up knowing love. How can she not? You freely give it, without asking for anything back.”
“I’m scared,” she admitted.
“And you are entitled to that fear. There’s not a good mother who does not fear.”
“I wish things were different. I wish...I did it right.”
“Maybe. But did you ever do it wrong?”
She nodded slowly.
“Penelope,” Violet started gently, “is this about the father?”
Penelope almost laughed at the absurdity. Violet was the last person she wanted to talk to about her baby’s father. But the guilt was like a chain around her heart. And with every kindness that their family offers, the shackle tightened.
“I love him. So much. And I thought he was better off without me. Without us,” she whispered as she stroked her bump.
Penelope choked back a sob. “I don’t know. Every time I see him, I can’t help but feel like I made a mistake. And it’s been so long that I missed my chance to tell him and now, if I tell him… what if he doesn’t want our child? What if he doesn’t want me?”
Violet wanted to ask more, a lot more, but the poor girl already cried so hard, she was afraid to place her in greater distress. So, she just let Penelope cry to her heart’s content.
A movement by the door caught her peripheral vision. She saw Colin’s hunched silhouette leaving the doorway.
It was actually cathartic, Penelope mused hours later, crying her eyes out in the arms of someone who genuinely cared. Violet gently listened, never questioned her about the small truths that she let out. She could not help but bare her wounded soul, chasing the balm the older woman offered. Never mind the guilt of her omission, she’ll brace herself with the eventual fall out later. She was not completely delusional. It was going to blow up in her face, the way she could not seem to keep a secret very telling. It was only a matter of time.
The anxiety kept her awake. There were too many things in her mind, so she opted to take a walk around and get some fresh air. It was late at night and she was about to step out to the garden when saw Colin, sitting by the counter, with a glass of liquor in front of him. He noticed her almost immediately too.
“Hey,” she greeted in a hushed voice.
“Hey to you too,” he replied as he moved the glass far away from her. “It’s late. Why are you still awake?”
“I can say the same to you,” she countered as she sat next to him.
“Just thinking,” he said absentmindedly.
“Anything I can help with?”
He chuckled, still not looking at her. “You are amazing, know that? You have a lot on your plate and you still try to make me feel better, all the time. I should be the least of your problems.”
“You’re not a problem,” she denied in a small voice.
“Not yours, at least.” The way he said it sounded so melancholic, her heart almost burst.
“Is it Marina?”
He shook his head. “I’ll be fine, Pen. What about you? How can I help you?”
Penelope felt a little courage spike through her. She’s tired of running scared. He was here and she could finally be honest to him and to herself. “I lied.”
“About what?” he asked, looking at her now.
“I know who the father is. I’ve known all along.”
Her confession was met with silence. She was actually grateful for that. “I was scared to tell him because of how he may react. But lately, I’ve been thinking how wrong it was to hide it from him.”
She focused her attention on the counter in front of her, not catching the way his muscles clenched nor the way his jaw ticked.
“Colin,” she paused to hide the waver in her voice, “should I tell him? The father?”
He tensed, completely still. So still, she wondered for a moment if he breathed. Then he smiled, wan and not quite reaching his eyes. “Whatever you decide, Pen, I will be there for you. You’ll always have me. I’m your friend, after all.”
There was a tightness in her chest that settled, squeezing her painfully. Her confidence shattered as did her heart. She looked away, blinking back the tears that threatened to fall.
“Oh. I’m very lucky to have you as a friend . Would you look at the time?” She hopped from the stool and plastered a shaky grin. “I need to check on my apartment early tomorrow morning.”
“I can drop you off,” he offered.
“No, I think Benedict wanted to take me. He was going to help me check the vents.”
“Keep me updated, yeah?”
“Of course. Good night!”
Her tears started to fall as soon as she turned from him. She hurried away, never looking back.
There’s no going back.
I'm floored at the response to this fic. We're getting close to the end but I still have a few tricks up my sleeve. I love all the comments and theories. Let me know what you think. Til the next chapter!
PS. y'all can reach me on tumbler @alengmae
It's been so long. I'm sorry for taking forever with this. But I think I more than made up for the time with the length of this chapter. Enjoy!
Unbeta'd this time. Let me know if you see any mistakes please.
Credit to creativity1905 for the poster!
Greta_Delacour, hope you feel better!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Colin had barely a wink of sleep last night. He tried but sleep was evasive. The turmoil in his heart kept him roused. The alcohol that was ingested overnight already came and passed, however the numbness refused to leave. He spent the entire night staring at nothing, just processing everything.
He knew. He fucking knew. Falling in love with Penelope would be his greatest downfall. Maybe that was why he chose not to entertain it during his childhood years. He was sure he wasn’t ready for her then. His immaturity would have ruined everything good that could come to fruition. He was flighty, eager to seek his way into the world. He had tall dreams and an insane appetite for adventure. Truth be told, he needed to leave. Staying would have made him miserable. He was molded by his travels, becoming the person that he is now. But he always wondered what could have been.
It’s too late now.
She was in love with someone else. The father of her unborn child. The fucking bastard didn’t know how lucky he was.
The fiery pit of jealousy was like acid in his veins, eroding his being from within. He wanted to throttle the unnamed man into a bloody pulp. He knew the prick would always share a connection with Penelope for life, as the father of her child. It was something Colin cannot erase. The fury and bitterness consumed him. He could accept Penelope being pregnant with another man’s child. He loved her little potato already. But the fierce devotion that she showed, taking all the pain and suffering alone so that the asshole could live in blissful ignorance, was something that he physically cannot stomach. He wanted to confront her, shake the father’s name out of her, and convince her that he was the better man for her. But the sight of her completely falling apart in his mother’s arms took the fight out of him.
How could he add more to her burden? She was already struggling so much. When she asked him for advice on the father, the need to yell out no was intense. Pure envy filled his being. But he knew his defiance to reality was not entirely what she needed. Penelope needed time and space. What she needed from him was support through the hardship. She needed a friend. And he was more than willing to provide her anything she wishes.
He took a sip from his coffee cup, now tepid from the wait. The bouquet of flowers he purchased sat on the table, slowly wilting with each tick of the clock. He stared into space while wondering what Penelope decided on. He was too engrossed with his musings that he failed to notice Marina until she sat on the chair opposite to his.
“Hey,” he said softly.
She coolly picked up the bouquet of flowers. “Yellow roses. How very apt.”
“I’m sorry. I-”
She cut him off. “I knew it. You don’t have to explain. I lost you as soon as you heard Penelope was pregnant.” She took a sniff of one rose. “I’m not upset. Not anymore. I’m kinda relieved, actually.”
“I’m still sorry. I never intended to hurt you.”
She nodded. “I know that too. You’re a good man, too good for my taste,” she said with a hollow laugh. “We had fun. But I think I’ve outgrown you.”
Colin felt wretched, seeing his former lover fighting the waver in her voice. So he mercifully gave her control. “I don’t think I can catch up with your pace.”
She gratefully smiled at him. “I don’t think it’s going to work out, after all. We’re too different. Goodbye Colin.”
She stood up and took the bouquet. She was about to turn around but hesitated at the last minute. “I hope you’re happy with Penelope. Sincerely.”
Without hearing his response, she left for good.
Penelope woke up late. Her head pounded from crying too much late into the night. Her eyes were swollen and she would have to field questions from everyone today. She was supposed to go with Benedict a couple hours earlier. She was both thankful and distressed that she was not awoken. She needed the rest but she also dreaded coming out of the room looking like she did.
A small knock on the door pulled her out of her reverie. Eloise peeked in, carrying a small tray containing breakfast foods.
“Oh, good. You’re awake. I got you food. Can’t skip meals,” she explained. Eloise placed the tray on the bedside table. She scrutinized her swollen eyes but thankfully said nothing.
Penelope gratefully took the glass of juice and drank it greedily. “Thanks.”
Eloise stayed rooted on her spot by the bed, clearly wanting to say something but was reluctant to do so.
“I just...can we talk?”
“I feel like I haven’t talked in a while. Like really talk, you know. I miss you. I miss my best friend,” Eloise said as she sat down next to Penelope.
Penelope instantly felt guilt creeping out. Keeping this secret also meant shutting out Eloise. She had neglected her dear friend and it was horrid of her. “I’m sorry,” she replied morosely.
Eloise blanched, immediately backtracking. “It wasn’t meant to make you feel bad. God, why is it so weird now?”
She only bit her lip as she willed her tears away.
“I just...I want to be there for you. But I don’t know how anymore. I just wish we could go back to where we were before…”
Penelope felt sick to her stomach. “You mean, before I got pregnant?” She could not help the steel edge in her voice.
“No! Of course not! I’m happy for you. I’m excited to be a godmother to your baby. I’m just not happy I kinda got left behind.”
“I didn’t mean to. I just...it’s a lot to process. And, to be honest, I’m not handling it well.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? I would have helped.”
“Because...because you’d ask me about him and I’m not ready. I’m ashamed. And I’m scared to be a mother and I feel so alone,” she wiped her tears with the back of her hand, “It’s easy to just wallow and give in to the slump. You just got married and you should be happy. I shouldn’t drag you down with my mess.”
Eloise held her hand as both women shed tears. “Okay, one, I love messes. I thrive in it,” she paused to share a laugh, “two, I don’t care about the father. Okay, that’s a lie. I want to know. I really want to know. But I will respect your decision. If you ask me to never talk about him, I will stop. It’ll be painful but I’ll stop.”
Penelope could not help but giggle at Eloise’s dramatics.
“Third, you are not alone. You are clearly not using your best weapon in your arsenal. Me. I’m worth more than all my brothers combined,” she bragged as she sniffed through her tears.
“I forgot,” Penelope conceded. “How could I forget that?”
They embraced each other and shared tears and laughter. Penelope felt lighter than she’s ever had these past few days. It felt like coming back home.
“You know, I thought I put you off because I was a total Bridezilla about your grandmother’s earrings.”
“That was nothing. If anything, it was my fault. I promised you it was going to be your ‘something borrowed’ and I lost one.”
“Water under the bridge. I’ll just have to remember this when it’s your turn to be a Bridezilla,” Eloise teased her lightly.
Penelope scoffed at the idea. Marriage sounded revolting if it wasn’t with a certain someone. The dream that she harbored during her teen years was still very much alive, much to her disdain.
“Before you say stop talking about him, I have to ask. Just this one time and I’ll stop. What’s the deal with the father?”
The pregnant woman exhaled heavily before answering, “We had a one night stand. We forgot protection. I had-” she stopped briefly to compose herself, “have. I have feelings for him. But he doesn’t. And he’s with another woman.”
“Tell him. Steal him from the other woman. Do something. You’re too kind, Pen. Be selfish, for once,” Eloise exclaimed.
“This is me being selfish. I want him to choose me. I want someone to choose me, at least once in my life.”
Anything Eloise could have said never came out from her mouth. She pursed her lips and nodded her head in understanding. She merely hugged her friend, silently promising to never broach the subject again.
Things were a little awkward with Colin, days after their talk that fateful night. Penelope tried her best to plough through her disappointment to no avail. She was allowed to sulk. However, whenever she remembers that night, the bitterness of her cowardice assaulted her.
She rebuffed his offers to be her chauffeur and their weekly lunches, excusing herself with increased workload and a working car. He seemed equally disappointed but he let her be. It was as if he knew she needed space.
It took her awhile to find out about his failed romance with Marina. She was elated, only for a moment. She never did anything about it. It did not change how he felt about her. But it did give her a reason to revitalize their friendship.
She sought him out, when she felt she was ready to be the friend to the man she loved. He welcomed her just the same, always respectful about her needs and insistence for space. In fact, after her breakdown on that Friday, everyone seemed to be more wary of her mental health. They toed the line between walking on eggshells and being overly supportive. She was not sure what version she preferred. Nonetheless, she thanked Violet with a spa day that they shared.
But Colin, sweet as he was, let her just be herself. Imposing nothing and asking nothing in return for all his kindness. They fall back to the same routine they perfected before that night. But there was something akin to intimacy with them now. He insisted on being there for all the doctor’s appointments but giving her space for when she insisted on it. He never asked about the father, which she was not sure she can lie to him about. He was just there, a pillar of support.
She didn’t think she could fall any farther but he kept proving her wrong.
“What did Dr. Mehta say about it? You keep having dizzy spells. I read in a book that it’s not normal,” Colin asked as he scraped off the excess Nutella filling from his croissant. When it passed his scrutiny, he placed the croissant on her plate.
She picked at it but one push of the plate from him meant that it would only be seconds before he force-feed it to her. She hid her grin with a bite.
“I’m just mildly anemic. She said we’re going to up my iron supplements. Our big grapefruit just likes to keep me on my toes,” she said as she looked down to her bump.
“I’m buying steak tonight,” he said offhandedly as he gulped down his coffee.
“I don’t recall saying yes to dinner tonight,” she badgered him.
“Who said it’s for you?”
She threw her used napkin at his face. He tried to duck but it still hit him on the side of his face. With a snicker, he added, “It’s for our grapefruit. I keep telling you to add more protein in your diet.”
She rolled her eyes at him. “Yes, mother.”
“I’m closing on a flat not too far from here. My appointment is at six. I think I’ll be able to move out within the week.”
“That’s so exciting! When can I see it?”
“Now, if you have time.”
She took a big bite of her croissant and nodded to the exit. “Let’s go.”
Colin felt like a new man after his breakup. Most men would wallow and mourn a failed affair but not him. He was troubled about how his relationship with Marina ended but he did not regret the conclusion. He felt like he could live again. Like a lifeline was thrown in his direction right before he was swept away by a huge wave.
However things with Penelope were a bit precarious. It took every ounce of patience in him to let her evade him. She needed to deal with her problems in her own terms. He offered and she declined. She needed space, though it hurt that it was space away from him, but he relented. He was sure his gamble would pay off.
And it did.
When she finally heard about him and Marina, she drove to his place and gave him a hearty hug. She gave the best of hugs. They start having lunches together, sporadic due to her schedule. They continued as they were before all the awkwardness. He was adamant about the doctor’s appointments, and left little room for argument. And to be honest, him being there was mostly for his peace of mind. If something happened to her or her child, he would not be able to cope.
She never spoke about the father nor did she say anything about speaking to the dickwad. He was thankful and hopeful. He started entertaining thoughts of a brighter future.
Maybe he still had a chance.
So he prepared.
He arranged for a flat, with three rooms, equidistant from Penelope’s workplace and to his mother’s house. He successfully campaigned for a huge pay raise with little to no travel with his new job. He saved and carefully invested his money for future use. Every venture that he planned turned out to be rewarding. Like pieces of a puzzle slotting into place.
The only piece missing was her.
He planned on making a grand gesture, confessing his unrequited love in style. The steak dinner that he planned turned into a pizza and movie night after Hyacinth and Gregory barged their way into his dinner plans. His youngest sister managed to bribe Penelope away with a Blu-ray copy of the new Marvel movie. Now, he was stuck watching a two-hour movie on the couch with Penelope and his siblings.
Although he accepted the defeat from Hyacinth, who was now his least favorite sister, his heart swelled at Penelope’s apparent comfort with his family. Nothing made him more happier than seeing her easily interact with his rowdy family.
So even now, he was half-attuned to the movie and watching her fight sleep. When her head finally dropped, falling against his shoulder, he did not fight the grin on his face. He repositioned himself, moving her head closer to his chest and his arm on the back of her seat. Penelope only burrowed her head closer.
“How’s it feel to breathe fresh air again?” Gregory whispered loudly at him.
“Now that you finally got your head out of your ass?” His two siblings high-fived and cackled together.
He threw them a glare but refused to move an inch.
Colin was not really having the best of luck. He planned another grand gesture for Penelope but he got called away for work. It was for an emergency segment in Italy. He needed to fly out tonight and will be back in a couple of days. His schedule was tightly packed, also accounting for his moving day in his new home. He was about to call Penelope when his phone rang.
He answered Anthony’s call. “Hey Anthony, can’t really talk right now-”
“I heard from Eloise. Are you two alright?”
“Wait, what do you mean?”
“Aren’t you with Penelope right now?”
At the mention of her name, Colin felt his heart drop. “What’s going on with Penelope?”
“I thought you were with her,” there was a pause and someone was speaking in the background, “Pen got in a car accident. Eloise was the emergency contact. I don’t have all the details-”
Panic gripped him. He imagined the worst and fear took a steady hold of his heart, squeezing tighter with each second.
“Where?” he shouted over the phone.
Anthony told him which hospital Penelope was being admitted.
He drove like the devil was chasing him. He knew he flew over multiple stop signs, lucky not to encounter the traffic police nor cause any accidents. He ran, only stopping to inquire for her room.
When he finally saw her, she was animatedly arguing with Eloise about the state of her car. She was alive and he let out the breath he had been holding since he heard of her accident. The thunder of his heartbeat still rang in his ears. The tremor on his hands still did not dissipate even after he crossed the room and pulled her in a tight embrace. He breathed her scent. The floral scent that he identified as uniquely hers anchored him to reality.
She was alive and fine.
“Colin,” she squeaked in surprise. When he made no movement of letting her go, she let herself be swept away by the warmth and strength he offered. Sher wrapped her arms around him firmly.
Eloise quietly excused herself from the room to give them privacy.
“I thought...I thought,” he stopped when his voice shook with emotions he could not express out loud.
“Oh.” There was a distinct wetness on his shirt, and he heard her sniff. He placed a tender kiss on her temple.
“You scared me, Pen.”
“We’re fine. It was just a love tap on my car,” she explained, although her tears kept falling.
He pulled away slightly to wipe her tears with his hand. “Then why are you crying?”
Her unblinking eyes seemed to read what’s written all over his face. The wonder in her face humbled him. Like she could not believe that it was aimed at her. Like she could not believe that he loved her.
“I’m crying because my insurance is going to be through the roof,” she joked lightly but her eyes never left his.
He let out a small breathy laugh. He marveled at how perfect she fit in his arms. He could not help himself and blurted out, “I love you.”
Then his lips descended on hers.
Penelope could hardly believe it when she heard him say I love you. But his sincerity rang out the most. It scared her, how much she needed those three words to rid herself of numbness that plagued her. Like a bird being set free to enjoy the open air.
Then his lips were on hers, scorching her with his passion. And after all this wasted time between them, the burn never felt so good. She was being swept away by ecstasy and she only had one course of action.
This chapter took a lot out of me. Tell me what you think beautiful people.
Chapter 6: Interlude
I'm back...although not really. You'll see.
Also, did anyone notice the change in rating? Skip this chapter if smut is not your thing.
Many thanks to my beta, @Greta_Delacour
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Penelope let her phone ring again for the fifth time that night. She glanced at the pile of files stacked on her desk. She had been at it since morning but the intimidating stack never lessened. If she stayed overnight, she might be able to meet the Monday deadline. Is this her life now?
It’s a Friday night, for god’s sakes.
She toyed with her phone. She did deserve a break. She was the only one slaving at work, as always. With Cowper’s recent sacking, there was no one breathing down her neck and taking credit for all her hard work anymore.
She should celebrate. She rubbed her eyes, easing the strain of work from them. There was another reason why she should celebrate. A reason why she was hesitant to leave the office.
Her phone vibrated and she rolled her eyes. Eloise really was tenacity personified.
She spied the clock on her computer. It’s really late. People would have left already. It was Colin’s coming home party at a nearby bar. All the Bridgertons, of legal age, would be there. And, of course, as a family friend, she was invited.
He might not even stay so late. He had probably gone home by now.
She sighed. She was not prepared to see Colin right now. She still could not calm her heart from flying out her ribcage at the sight of the man. Even though she promised herself that this year would be the year she moved on, her resolve crumbled at his cheeky smiles.
So many New Year’s resolutions were wasted on him.
He was back and he was staying for a while. At least, a couple of months. So much time. Think of the possibilities.
She shook her head, willing the hope filling her being away. Besides, she already texted him earlier that she would not be able to make it tonight. His teary sad face emoji made her blush furiously. She really hated herself sometimes.
What she needed right now was to get away from her feelings. It was incredibly difficult, she knew. Loving him was as simple as breathing. However, she needed to move on. There was no future in this path.
She tried to date around. She even got up to three dates with the cute guy from HR. But she could not help but compare any guy to Colin. Everyone paled in comparison. She was disappointed in herself, most of all.
HR guy was really cute .
She should be firm. The New Year’s resolution for this year would last.
Her hand swiped at her phone, landing on Colin’s last text message. She bit her lip. Even the nastiest breakups had closure. Just one last time, she’d give her delusional self one last time to wallow. After this...she’d say goodbye.
She deserved to say goodbye.
She grabbed her keys and ran.
Penelope was a little self-conscious at the bar. She was still wearing her office-appropriate pantsuit. Compared to the women scantily clad around her, she was literally overdressed. She peered around for a familiar face.
Maybe she was too late.
It was then that she saw him sitting at the bar, happily eating the free pretzels, with a tiny umbrella perched daintily on his ear.
A rush of affection flooded her senses. She found herself grinning ear to ear as she ambled her way to him. She gave him a light tap on the shoulder as she said, “Hey there, stranger.”
“Pen!” he cheerfully shrieked. “You’re here!”
She allowed herself to relax in his tight embrace. She didn’t know what he did in Cyprus but his muscles filled out nicely. Her hands itched to feel just how hard his pecs would be but he pulled away before she had a chance to find out.
His cheeks were slightly pink. He was tipsy. She took the mini umbrella from his ear. “Looks like I missed a lot.”
“Oh, that? Eloise ordered a lot of hurricanes. They’re surprisingly tasty.”
“Where are they?” she asked as she scanned the vicinity.
“They left me to party on my own,” he responded with a slur.
“They just left you, drunk, on your own in a bar?”
The way he scrunched his face was too adorable.
“Erm, no. Not exactly,” Colin answered sheepishly. “I told the Uber to turn around.”
She giggled. “That’s probably not smart.”
“But if I hadn’t,” he paused, trying to formulate the right words, “I wouldn’t have seen you tonight.”
She had to turn away. Her face was hot and she tried to fight the smile breaking free on her lips. “I should probably bring you home.”
“Yes. Or you can drink with me,” he said with a push of his whisky into her hand.
When was the last time they had talked, just the two of them? It had been longer than she could remember. She really missed him. Maybe a few drinks wouldn’t hurt. Plus, she really could not say no to his face, not when he was staring at her like an eager puppy.
“Okay, one drink.”
He smirked at her, almost wickedly. “Sure.”
She was having a blast. Colin was jovial, by nature. He knew how to make people laugh and he was very successful with her tonight. Her cheeks were aching from laughing too much.
“Okay but how about this?,” he straightened his back and lowered his voice, “Girl, I put the STD in stud. All I need is you.”
She burst out in laughter again. “No! That’s...no! Tell me that didn’t work.”
He just wiggled his eyebrows in response.
“Oh my god. How the hell did that work? Was she drunk out of her mind?”
He playfully swatted her arm. “My face is enough to close the deal.”
He’s not lying . But she wasn’t going to inflate his ego any further. She grabbed the shot glasses and poured tequila on both glasses. They ordered the bottle service after the poor bartender took too long getting their drinks. It was a packed night and the poor soul was the only one there.
He took one shot glass and downed it in one go. She did the same, but winced as she finished. One would think that after the seventh shot, she would get used to the burn the alcohol left behind on her throat.
“So tell me, what’s the worst pick-up line that worked on you?”
She bit her lip, refusing to say. Because there was one she was especially ashamed of.
“Come on,” he whined. “I told you my worst one.”
It must be the alcohol flooding her system. Maybe it was the way the light bounced on his dilated pupils that urged her to say. He can probably ask her anything right now and she’d comply without restraint.
“There was this guy. I was really tipsy. And he was really fit,” she placed her hands on her face to hide her shame, “Don’t judge me.”
“I won’t, cross my heart.” He made a cross on his chest. Although, he was way off due to the amount of alcohol he already had.
“He said let me wipe your seat for you, then he wiped his face.”
“Pen!” He was positively scandalized. Maybe it was the right idea to omit the fact that the line only worked because the man resembled Colin slightly.
“I know. I’m embarrassed. And you said no judgement.”
“Yeah, but, Pen, come on.”
“He was really fit,” she mumbled before she took another shot. They were close to finishing the bottle. Her head was light from all the tequila she consumed.
He slumped on his seat, placing a hand on over hers. He played with the tiny umbrella in her hand. “I’m fit.”
Oh, she knew . Her eyes raked over his drooped form. The firm lines of his shoulder blades tingled her insides. Her tongue swiped over her lips. Her mouth watered. She grabbed the bottle of tequila and drank what’s left of it. If anything, the lingering thirst intensified.
“We’re out of booze,” she slurred at him as she brandished the empty bottle.
“Oh good. I hate sequila...tequila,” he murmured as he placed his head down on the counter.
“Why are we drinking it?”
“You like it.”
Damn him . Everything he said made her want to jump him. She glared at him before placing an order for vodka shots on Colin’s tab.
“You’re too charming for your own good,” she grumped. Try as she might, she would never be able to resist his charm.
He only responded with a small beam. He raised his shot glass to her in a silent toast. She responded in kind. And they both downed the vodka.
The next hour became a blur to Penelope. She could not remember how many more shots she took, only that she could barely feel her face. She had vignettes of the two of them scrambling out of the bar, each supporting one another to stay upright. She had a hazy recollection of her calling for an Uber to get Colin back to his hotel.
Her head bounced against the car window before he tucked her head against his shoulder during the bumpy car ride. She played with the loose button of his jacket as he kept trying to make her laugh. She thought she saw the driver roll his eyes at Colin’s corny jokes.
She almost slumped on the floor of the elevator, and Colin pulled her upright with a howl of laughter. The bruise on her knee the next day would serve as proof. She remembered how long it took him to fumble for his keys outside the door. It was like she was in a different body, watching the two of them run through their drunken motions.
She knew she wanted to curse herself into oblivion for drinking on an empty stomach. And when her gaze wandered onto Colin’s, she wondered how the hell is he even standing.
She dropped onto the floor and crawled her way onto the bed, the only place that looked inviting in his room. She took off her jacket and her favorite earrings before gently climbing on the bed.
Colin hastily took off his shirt, almost getting stuck with a button. When he dropped onto the bed, she groaned at the movement.
He turned, his bare back facing her. She should go. She didn’t want to be there when she vomits everything tomorrow and she already did her part escorting him safely. She tried to sit up, but Colin’s arm stopped her. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Her vision whirled at every movement. She’s not leaving the bed.
“Stay, pretty girl,” she heard him whisper. His eyes were shut and his voice, gravelly low.
She turned her body sideways to face him. Even with the intoxication veiling her consciousness, she couldn’t help but appreciate how beautiful he looked.
His eyes opened and the tenderness on his face awed her. “You look stunning.”
The intensity of his gaze pierced through her. “I should be saying that to you,” she bravely answered.
She didn’t remember who made the first move. But in a split-second, they were kissing like there was no tomorrow. He pulled her tighter to him and she anchored her hands on his broad shoulders. Her hands roamed on his heated skin, committing the lines of his muscles to memory.
His tongue teased hers and she opened her mouth wider, inviting him in. His leg pushed between her legs. She moaned at the pressure, wantonly rolling her hips against him. She heard him mutter obscenities in her ear, whispering how fucking gorgeous she was in his arms.
His lips travelled down to the crook of her neck. He nipped and sucked, leaving angry marks on her skin. Every contact of his lips on her skin was set her body ablaze. His hands made quick work of her clothes as she was bare in a few seconds without realizing it. She was too tantalized with his firm chest to notice, leaving tiny kisses on his skin.
When his fingers brushed her puckered nipples, she let out a loud moan. She saw him smirk wickedly before he replaced his hands with his mouth. His tongue swirled around her nipple and her hands pulled on his hair, egging him on. His fingers moved downwards, teasing the small patch of hair on her womanhood. She drew her breath as she waited for the inevitable contact. He snickered then placed a kiss on her lips.
“No teasing,” she mumbled.
He plunged two fingers in her, sliding easily into her slick heat. She gasped his name out loud. She could feel every callus from his many years of writing, with every curl of his fingers. He placed his attention back to her breasts, biting lightly on her nipples. It only took him a few more thrust before she gave out a keening wail. Her entire body shook at the force of her orgasm.
He withdrew his fingers from her, and she lapped the juices from his fingers, eyes never leaving his.
“Fuck,” Colin choked out loud. After she stopped, he hastily pulled his pants and boxers off. Seeing his large and thick member spring proudly, she swallowed audibly. Penelope grabbed him, stroking him twice before taking him in her mouth.
He hissed, hands firmly on her hair. He did not push, only guiding her to his pleasure. She sets a punishing pace, her head bobbing up and down as her cheeks hollowed. When her tongue swirled at the tip of his cock, he maneuvered her in one swift motion. Her cunny faced him, and he attacked with gusto.
He lifted his head and gave her slit a long lick. She shivered above him. He used his deft fingers to part her lips open before slipping his tongue in. She stopped her attention in his member, just moaning out his name.
“I like that.”
“Cry my name out like that.” He, then, sucked on her clit to further motivate her. She cried a litany of his name as he increased the pressure by humming. When his fingers plunged into her again, she was a blubbering mess. He kept pumping into her even as her walls contracted over his fingers.
When she recovered a bit, he placed tender kisses on her lips. She didn’t mind her taste on his lips, it only fanned the flames of her lust.
“I want you,” he murmured on her skin.
Her brain shut down and her body took over all decision-making. Any lapse of judgement would be a consequence of tomorrow. Tonight was hers.
He crashed his lips onto hers, tongue exploring her mouth with fervor. She pulled him on top of her, relishing the feel of his weight on her body. His hard cock teased her slit and he lifted her left leg before he sank into her. He filled her perfectly, so perfect that she swore she saw stars. He rocked his hips thrusting deep inside her, and all she could do was scream in pleasure. He pounded into her with vicious ferocity. The bed creaked, the noise only competing with the sounds of their skin slapping against each other.
Penelope clung to his shoulder as she felt the pleasure intensify. She clenched hard on him inside her and his resounding groan felt like victory. He started to build up in speed. She was so close. As if he read her mind, Colin used his thumb to press on her bundle of nerves. Her climax exploded and she screamed yet again. Her muscles spasmed around him and he let go, shuddering into her.
They slumped on the bed in a languid haze. Penelope felt boneless, and weary. The lethargy and dizziness from the booze she drank, the ones she pointedly ignored before the mind-blowing sex, came back full force. She lay on the bed, unmoving.
Colin pulled the comforter over them lazily. She grunted her thanks. She was already half-gone in her dreams when she heard him say sluggishly, “Stay, pretty girl.”
It was the sunlight hitting her face that woke her up. As soon as she opened her eyes, the pounding in her head started instantly. She winced with a cry. Even the act of rubbing her eyes aggravated the headache.
How much did she drink?
She pulled on the blanket and noticed her lack of clothing. This was not good. She turned to her side and saw Colin sleeping peacefully right next to her.
Panic set in. She could not reconcile with the idea that she just had sex with the man she had been in love with her entire life to her reality now. She placed both hands on her mouth in fear that her shallow breaths would wake him up.
She could not imagine his expression when he saw her naked on his bed. Would it be disgust? He had never regarded her as a woman, just a friend of his sister. Would he regret it? What if he did regret it? Would they be awkward with each other with every interaction?
If then, she was going to have to avoid him before he did so himself. Him and his family.
The thought made her want to vomit. A drunken night and she just might lose everything good in her life. Angry tears fell. The fear and panic settled in, pushing her body in overdrive. She clung to the anxiety, on top of the raging hangover.
It was either fight or flight.
And she chose flight.
She slowly crept away from the bed and hastily put on her clothes. She was careful not to make any noise, lest she woke him from his deep slumber. She tried to erase her presence from his room any way she can. She grabbed her stuff before she left.
In her haste, she didn’t realize that one of her earrings fell on the floor.
In the coming weeks, she’d never thought, even in her wildest dreams, that a single night with Colin Bridgerton would end up being so fruitful.
Okay soo... lots of things here. Am I a bad writer that I had to resort to writing smut to distract my readers that the next chapter is taking forever to write? Absolutely. I am also shameless that way. So enjoy the interlude. Tell me if you hate it or love it. Either way, I'll love all your comments. Thanks for reading!
Happy Thursday! I know a lot of people were disappointed with the last chapter. It really was mostly for me than for you. I needed more time to churn this particular chapter out.
Sorry for making you wait @barricadegal, and thanks so much for your input. You are simply amazing!
Thanks to the ever wonderful @Greta_Delacour for being the best beta in the world. You make me a better writer.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
His lips on hers ignited the fire simmering from the very first night she spent with him. Penelope was swept away by the overwhelming need that slowly consumed her.
His kisses grew insistent, demanding more. And she was nothing but willing. She would gladly give until she was deliciously spent. His tongue teased hers and she was gone, keening and wanton at his mercy.
She moaned as his hands travelled further down her back. The heat of his hands branded her through the thin material of the hospital gown. She heard him groan when she pulled at his hair. The low timbre of his voice sent a sharp bolt between her legs.
He slowly guided her to the bed until the back of her thighs hit the edge. Before they could take it any further, a loud cough sliced through the growing passion between them.
Colin pulled away, icily glaring at a sheepish Eloise.
Penelope whimpered slightly at the loss of contact. She burrowed her head in his chest as she tried to compose herself, controlling her haggard breathing.
“Are you serious, Eloise?” Colin bellowed in restrained anger. His grip on Penelope tightened as the latter tried to hide a giggle.
“Sorry, okay! As much as I want to watch you swap spit, you have company.”
“Tell them to wait.” Colin insisted, still incensed.
“You tell her yourself then,” Eloise retorted. “Your mother is outside, Pen.”
Penelope’s soaring heart flopped at the mention of her estranged mother. “She’s where?”
“She’s outside talking to the doctor. I think Felicity called her,” Eloise explained, then added as she gestured to Colin’s phone, “also, you’ve been too busy trying to eat each other’s faces, you didn’t even hear your phone ringing. It’s been going off for a while now.”
Colin let go of Penelope and took his phone from his pocket. He saw multiple missed phone calls from his assistant. Apparently, his flight is due in two hours. Shit.
“Is everything alright?” Penelope could not keep the worry out of her voice.
“I need to leave for Italy tonight,” Colin said as he texted his assistant. He added after seeing her deflate, “Only for a couple of days. I’ll be back this weekend. I tried to say no but I’m the only one who can take care of the segment. But I can stay. If you want me to, I’ll stay.”
“It’s okay. Go,” she answered, cradling her bump protectively. Her voice wavered but she managed to sound steadfast.
Colin was torn. Something about the way Penelope caged her baby bump in her arms was not sitting right with him. She tried to appear unperturbed but her hands shook as she stroked her stomach.
“I want this,” he assured her, with a gentle hand on her tummy, “I want us.”
Penelope nodded, understanding that he’s not fleeing. Not from her. He genuinely wanted to stay. With her. She almost cried at his sincerity. She probably would have, if not for Eloise’ obnoxious, “Aww!”
“You’re really not leaving?” Colin fumed, as he turned to his sister.
“And stay outside with her mother? Fat chance!” his sister bit back. Although, she backtracked almost immediately as she said guiltily to Penelope, “no offense.”
Colin’s phone rang again. Penelope grabbed Colin’s hand and sweetly told him, “You need to go before you miss your flight. You’ll really be unemployed if you don’t go. I’m-no, we will be fine. We will be waiting patiently for you. We have a lot to talk about, after all. I have a lot to tell you.”
Colin cradled Penelope’s cheek gingerly. She leaned into his touch. “I’ll call every day. And every night. And I’ll zoom you every free time I get,” he promised.
“I’ll answer every call,” she affirmed back. He leaned closer to her, hoping to seal their promise with a kiss. But a knock on the door interrupted them.
Portia Featherington quietly opened the door and asked, “May I come in?”
Penelope nodded timidly. Colin gave her a chaste kiss and excused himself away. Eloise also pardoned herself away with an excuse of a lengthy phone call with Anthony.
And then, she was alone with her mother.
She stood awkwardly by the bed. Her mother, also feeding from the same energy in the room, stood close to the door. Penelope saw the unusual uncertainty in her mother’s demeanor. She half-expected her to bolt out of the door.
The unpleasant silence permeated in the room.
As if unable to endure the stifling pause, she asked her mother pointedly, “What brings you here, mother?”
Portia grasped her hands in an odd display of nervousness. Her mother was never nervous, for as long as she could remember. Her mother was always very sure of herself, even when she was in the wrong. Penelope’s heart clenched.
“I heard from Felicity about the accident. She couldn’t come. She’s in Edinburgh for her internship,” Portia explained.
Penelope nodded. “As you can see, I’m alive.”
The invitation for her mother’s departure hung in the air. To another person, this act may have been a tad dismissive. But to her, it was an olive branch. It was clear that her mother was uncomfortable with her presence and she was giving her an out.
Portia hesitated. In a low voice, she inquired, “And the baby?”
Penelope squared off her shoulders in defense. “ My baby is fine too.” The acid in her remark was unavoidable. She will take the torment without a question from her mother, but her child, her sweet innocent child, will bear none.
“That’s great news,” Portia answered with a tight smile.
Penelope eyed her mother in confusion. Where was the spiteful woman who turned her away months ago? Where was she when she needed a mother the most?
“I talked to the doctor and it looked like you can go home after a few tests. I-”
“I don’t understand,” she cut her off. “Why are you here, mother?”
“To check up on you.”
“Why now? I thought you never wanted to see me again.”
Portia pursed her lips shut. She opened her mouth but her reply was stuck on her throat. Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. She took a deep breath and closed the space between them. She gently took her daughter’s hand and guided her to sit on the bed.
“I wanted to apologize.”
Penelope warily stared at her. The fear in her heart was surging. She’d been burned by her mother so many times in the past. The scraps of motherly affection that she once starved for no longer held the same gravity.
“I have been lacking, as a mother,” Portia said as her voice broke but she soldiered on, “I have been nothing but horrible to you. When I heard about the accident, I thought of my last words to you and it crushed me.”
She averted her gaze, knowing that if she maintained eye contact with her mother, she’ll start bawling soon.
“I’m sorry, Penelope,” her mother quietly said.
Penelope stayed still. She wiped the wetness tracking on her cheeks. “I needed you, and you weren’t there.”
“I know. And I regret that, very much so.”
“Why?” She wanted to ask the question she wondered in her youth. The question she had always been afraid to ask.
Out of all her sisters, why her? Why only her?
Portia cleared her throat and wiped her daughter’s tears away. Her voice strained as she said quietly, “Do you know that you look like your father the most? And your personality, just like him. So much like him. You are your father’s daughter through and through.”
Penelope couldn’t help but ask, “Is that why?”
Portia tried to blink away her own tears. “Maybe. It’s not fair for you, I know. But you reminded me of what could have been with him, of what was and what would never be. I hated him but I loved him so much more. And I-” she paused to stifle the sob breaking in between her explanation, “when he left us, I could not bear my failure as a wife. I was too preoccupied from the pain that I did not realize my failure as your mother.”
She stared at her mother as she openly wept.
“And you are so strong, so willful in a capacity that I never understood. Extremely unlike me and I regret not trying to bridge the gap between us. I let you drift away, and I even pushed you away,” she shook her head in disdain.
“You had all these grand plans, and I knew I wasn’t going to be a part of them. Because, why would you? When I had been nothing but horrible to you? Then, I learned of the baby. I thought you’d be exactly like me, bitter and hopeless. I was disappointed and angry because I never wanted any of my children to end up like me. I latched on to the anger. And I was very wrong.”
“Mother-” Penelope started but Portia woefully cut her off.
“Let me just say this, then you can tell me to leave,” she pleaded to her daughter. When Penelope nodded stiffly, she continued, “Anger burns through you until you are nothing but a husk of what you once were. I found that too late. My anger for your father consumed me, and my anger for myself that I projected onto you prevented me from making you feel loved. I do, I love you. I’m sorry for everything. It’s probably too late to salvage anything between us and I understand if you think so.”
Portia squeezed Penelope’s hands tightly. “I’d love to be a part of your life, and my future grandchild. If you’d let me, I’d like to make up all those times that I had been awful to you. But I’d respect your decision if you don’t want me to,” her voice broke as she spoke the last words.
“I just want you to know that I love you and I’m sorry,” Portia smiled tightly. She patted her daughter’s hand after a few seconds of silence and weakly said, “You’re probably tired and I’m taking up your time. I hope you feel better.”
Before her mother could open the door, Penelope stated a feeble voice, “I don’t want to be bitter and hopeless.”
Her mother only nodded as she suppressed a sob. She hastily wiped her tears and forced a smile on her face. “I understand.”
“I don’t want to hold on to the anger. And the despair. I want to be happy. There was a time that I thought I never would. I thought that I didn’t deserve it, because who would want me? I didn’t even want me. Because I learned that from you. I hated myself for reasons that were completely out of my control. I knew what it felt like to be kept wanting and doubting if I’ll ever be good enough. It stopped me from chasing what I really wanted, who I really wanted.”
Penelope sniffed. “I’m tired. Of just reacting to everything around me, and the secrets and the fear. And recently, very recent in fact, I found that if I just let go, I can be happy.” She stood up from the bed and ambled close to her mother.
“I promised that my child is going to know nothing but love,” she stared at Portia, warily clasping her mother’s weathered hand into hers. “What I’m trying to say is that your granddaughter will need her grandmother, just like I would need my mother. If you promise that things will be different, I’m willing to try. We could start anew. Let’s try to be happy, together.”
Portia cried at the generosity of her child. “I’d love that.”
The two women captured each other in a warm embrace.
Colin called everyday. It helped that the time difference is only an hour. He facetimed, texted and left her beautiful voice messages anytime he could.
Penelope upheld her end of the bargain. She answered every call she could, sometimes even forgoing her lunch break to talk to him. It irked him and his admonishments made her gush.
He would constantly ask after the baby first, then hers. His devotion made her weepy one too many times. He told her many times that he’d rather hear about her tiresome day than talk about Italy. But on the rare occasions that he did, he made promises of trips in the sunny Italian countryside. Just the three of them.
Being in the receiving end of his affection made her comprehend how wrong she was. She used to place him up on a pedestal. He was the sun that made everything brim with life. But he was also the sun perched high up, constantly out of her reach. She could only stare at his beautiful light until she ended up aching and always wanting more.
It took her just now to figure out that she was a sun by her own right. Her light shined farther and brighter than she thought. That, if only she were willing, she could achieve the bliss she so wished for.
Penelope bided her time.
She refrained from answering his words of love with her own. It was only right to do it face to face, when she could plant a fervent kiss on his lips right after. Colin did not seem to mind, assuring her that he’s fine with courting her first.
She decided that enough was enough. She would bare it all to him, starting with the night of his party. She would be courageous for once.
He was worth it.
She waited patiently. She planned on being there when his flight arrived from Italy on Friday. However, his plane was delayed several times. His arrival ended up cutting through a very important prenatal visit she could not delay on Saturday. He sweetly told her to go instead with Daphne, who was free that time. She agreed reluctantly, sorely disappointed that her plans were dashed by air traffic mismanagement.
She would have to make do. Everyone was set to be there at Violet’s anyway. With Colin’s abrupt departure, he was also rushing to get his furniture and personal items moved from Violet’s and into his new place. This Saturday was the only day everyone was free to help.
No matter. She would talk to Colin there instead. The pangs of anxiety made her stomach roil throughout the day. Her provider even noted that she had an unusual spike in her blood pressure. But she soldiered on.
When she turned up at Violet’s with Daphne, it was already full chaos. She spied the women in the kitchen preparing for dinner. She abstained from going near them, lest she become distracted from talking to Colin. She zeroed in on Colin’s bedroom. Anthony and Simon were arguing about the best way to move the bed while Benedict attempted to carry a huge box by himself. The crash that followed made her wince. She passed by Eloise who kept adding random items from Colin’s dresser onto the already heavy box in her husband’s arms. Philip grunted at her as she walked by. She felt bad for him but he willingly married her best friend. This was on him.
She found Colin exasperatedly scolding Hyacinth for wrapping the flat screen tv with the wrong paper.
“Hey,” she nervously called out.
“Oh, thank god you’re here! Colin can finally stop being a paper Nazi,” Hyacinth exclaimed as she pulled on the paper wrapping the tv.
The scowl Colin sent his sister was wiped away instantly when he turned his attention to Penelope. He gathered her in a tight embrace and pulled her into the balcony where they could be alone.
“I missed you,” he said softly.
“Me too,” she answered back, leaning towards him.
He slowly bent down and captured her lips with his. His kisses tasted like sunshine, burning her and giving her no avenue to quench the thirst. He swept her away with his passion and she could only cling to him.
He pulled away when they heard a loud clatter. Hyacinth poked her head out and asked timidly, “Hey dear brother, uh...how attached are you to the tv?”
“I just bought it.”
“Yikes,” his youngest sister grimaced then ran off.
He cursed heavily. Pen placed a comforting hand on his chest, which seemed to taper off his growing frustration. “Sorry,” he murmured against her forehead after he placed a lingering kiss.
“You’re fine. Actually, I wanted to talk to you about something, if you have time.”
Before he could answer, there was another loud shattering sound. That one sounded expensive. Colin massaged his temples in an effort to calm down. “I should have hired movers.”
“Yeah,” she had to agree. She pressed a hand on his cheek, which he welcomed with light kisses on the tips of her fingers.
“Sorry, I know you wanted to talk but can we push this later? I need to see how much of my stuff is destroyed. Besides, we have all the time in the world after,” he said the last part charmingly to her. She couldn’t help but mirror his earnest grin.
“Wait-” her phone rang, Felicity’s name came into view when she looked at her phone.
“Go ahead. Talk to your sister. I’ll kill mine,” he urged her. Colin stole a chaste kiss from her before making his way back inside.
She slumped by the door. There were too many interruptions today. It seemed like a day where everything could go wrong went wrong. She hoped her words were not prophetic.
“What the hell?” Colin bellowed at his guilty sister as he inspected the wreckage of his new television. “And you,” he pointed at Eloise, “I told you to leave my dresser alone. You’re not helping. You’re just snooping at this point.”
Eloise mischievously snickered. “If I didn’t snoop, I wouldn’t have seen your engagement ring. Now, the question is who is this for?” She brandished a small black box.
“Damn,” Benedict said aloud with an approving nod. Anthony whistled and gave Colin a thumbs up. Simon beamed before grabbing his phone to text furiously.
Colin glanced at Penelope, who was thankfully too distracted by her phone call to notice. Before he could cross the room, Eloise opened the box.
“Ugh, it’s not a ring. It’s...oh my god. You found it! Where did you find this? We have been looking for this forever!” Eloise asked as she brandished a diamond earring.
Anthony, Benedict and Colin all looked at each other in confusion. Simon stopped his manic texting, attentively listening instead to the conversation.
“Wait, what?” Anthony asked. “That earring is yours?”
“No, it’s not mine. Although, I was supposed to use it as my something borrowed for the wedding. I went ballistic when we thought it was lost. God, I was such a bridezilla.”
Benedict chimed in, “When you say we, who do you mean?”
“What?” It felt like the ground fell from Colin’s feet. His heart pounded and a low buzzing filled his ears.
“Yeah, look, it’s even shaped as a Penelope flower. Her grandmother had this personally made for her.”
The door opened and Penelope came in. She noticed the tension in the room. She was about to inquire but Eloise beat her to the punch.
“Pen, Colin found your earring!”
“It was you, that night. You were the girl from the bar,” Colin murmured breathlessly.
Anthony’s jaw hung open while Benedict rasped out, “Oh my god!”
Oh god. Penelope felt the air thin out as everyone’s attention shifted onto her. Not like this. She didn’t want him to find out like this. She swallowed the lump in her throat. Tears trickled down her face. But no words came out even as she willed any sound to come out.
“Pen, why didn’t you…” Colin’s words trailed off when he saw her protectively caress her baby bump.
Then, it all clicked. The date of conception, her acting weird upon meeting Marina, her reluctance to have him help her around. It all fit.
Like pieces of a fucking puzzle he took forever to solve.
She saw his stricken face and she was horrified. She needed to explain. She needed to let him know. “Colin,” she called out as she reached for him.
But he recoiled at her touch, moving his arm out of her reach instinctively as if her very touch scalded him.
His anger broke her. She hurt him. This was all her fault. All she could see and hear was the betrayal on his face and the loathing in his voice when he asked, “Were you ever going to tell me about my child?”
“I can explain,” she tearfully pleaded with him, “Please, just let me.” She reached for him again but he shook his head. He was heaving hard, gasping for air even. His hands were balled into a fist, clenching as his knuckles turned white.
“I need some air,” he said before storming out of the room.
Penelope placed both hands on her mouth to stifle the sobs that wracked through her body. The one thing she feared came true, after all.
She had just lost her sun.
I know, I love ending in cliffhangers. I probably should stop that. I hope you liked this one. This was emotionally taxing to write. Please let me know if you like it or hate it. I feed off your opinions. See you in the comment section, my lovelies!