Bridgerton Collection, Volume 2 by Julia Quinn

Prologue


On the sixth of April, in the year 1812—precisely two days before her sixteenth birthday—Penelope Featherington fell in love.

It was, in a word, thrilling. The world shook. Her heart leaped. The moment was breathtaking. And, she was able to tell herself with some satisfaction, the man in question—one Colin Bridgerton—felt precisely the same way.

Oh, not the love part. He certainly didn’t fall in love with her in 1812 (and not in 1813, 1814, 1815, or—oh, blast, not in all the years 1816–1822, either, and certainly not in 1823, when he was out of the country the whole time, anyway). But his earth shook, his heart leaped, and Penelope knew without a shadow of a doubt that his breath was taken away as well. For a good ten seconds.

Falling off a horse tended to do that to a man.

It happened thus:

She’d been out for a walk in Hyde Park with her mother and two older sisters when she felt a thunderous rumbling under her feet (see above: the bit about the earth shaking). Her mother wasn’t paying much attention to her (her mother rarely did), so Penelope slipped away for a moment to see what was about. The rest of the Featheringtons were in rapt conversation with Viscountess Bridgerton and her daughter Daphne, who had just begun her second season in London, so they were pretending to ignore the rumbling. The Bridgertons were an important family indeed, and conversations with them were not to be ignored.

As Penelope skirted around the edge of a particularly fat-trunked tree, she saw two riders coming her way, galloping along hell-for-leather or whatever expression people liked to use for fools on horseback who care not for their safety and well-being. Penelope felt her heart quicken (it would have been difficult to maintain a sedate pulse as a witness to such excitement, and besides, this allowed her to say that her heart leaped when she fell in love).

Then, in one of those inexplicable quirks of fate, the wind picked up quite suddenly and lifted her bonnet (which, much to her mother’s chagrin, she had not tied properly since the ribbon chafed under her chin) straight into the air and, splat! right onto the face of one of the riders.

Penelope gasped (taking her breath away!), and then the man fell off his horse, landing most inelegantly in a nearby mud puddle.

She rushed forward, quite without thinking, squealing something that was meant to inquire after his welfare, but that she suspected came out as nothing more than a strangled shriek. He would, of course, be furious with her, since she’d effectively knocked him off his horse and covered him with mud—two things guaranteed to put any gentleman in the foulest of moods. But when he finally rose to his feet, brushing off whatever mud could be dislodged from his clothing, he didn’t lash out at her. He didn’t give her a stinging set-down, he didn’t yell, he didn’t even glare.

He laughed.

He laughed.

Penelope hadn’t much experience with the laughter of men, and what little she had known had not been kind. But this man’s eyes—a rather intense shade of green—were filled with mirth as he wiped a rather embarrassingly placed spot of mud off his cheek and said, “Well, that wasn’t very well done of me, was it?”

And in that moment, Penelope fell in love.

When she found her voice (which, she was pained to note, was a good three seconds after a person of any intelligence would have replied), she said, “Oh, no, it is I who should apologize! My bonnet came right off my head, and . . .”

She stopped talking when she realized he hadn’t actually apologized, so there was little point in contradicting him.

“It was no trouble,” he said, giving her a somewhat amused smile. “I—Oh, good day, Daphne! Didn’t know you were in the park.”

Penelope whirled around to find herself facing Daphne Bridgerton, standing next to her mother, who promptly hissed, “What have you done, Penelope Featherington?” and Penelope couldn’t even answer with her stock, Nothing, because in truth, the accident was completely her fault, and she’d just made a fool of herself in front of what was obviously—judging from the expression on her mother’s face—a very eligible bachelor indeed.

Not that her mother would have thought that she had a chance with him. But Mrs. Featherington held high matrimonial hopes for her older girls. Besides, Penelope wasn’t even “out” in society yet.

But if Mrs. Featherington intended to scold her any further, she was unable to do so, because that would have required that she remove her attention from the all-important Bridgertons, whose ranks, Penelope was quickly figuring out, included the man presently covered in mud.