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By the time Friday night came around, Edie had forgotten of the Bridgerton's.
Instead of thinking of them, or her papa, or her mama, or her brothers or the gossip that surrounded women born to her position, Edith threw herself into the arts.
When she had been considered beautiful, none had paid much mind to her talents. Yes, she was sure a mama or two had urged their sons in her direction by mentioning her talents, but apart from that, she had more value as a beautiful duke's daughter. She had been a fair violinist, and an excellent artist and poet. But her beauty had outshined all, and once that was taken…well then all her suitors had vanished as well.
It had been more than a year before her uncle had dragged her from the depths of agony and fear. When he could no longer watch her wither into an early death. Henry Granville loved his niece ever since the first moment he held her. And when she came to London at nineteen for her first season, he had housed her and promised his brother to guide and protect her through the season. Her mama had come as well, but Lord Granville was far too busy to make the trip, and so entrusted his brother to weed out the foolish, rakish, and detestable suitors from the promising, wealthy, well landed men.
He had failed. Most horrendously. And neither Lord Granville nor his younger brother could forgive that.
Henry refused to allow his niece waste away. So, instead, he encouraged her. He brought her paints, canvases, sketch pads. He brought her chocolates and coffee and invited her down to his studio everyday for eight months until she finally relented and ventured out of her room. He looked past the hideous scar he felt he bore responsibility for, and smiled at her. And every chance he got, until she believed it, he told her she had talents beyond those of gaining a good husband.
However, a woman raised with such ideals cannot succumb to any others in a single day.
Instead, Edith spent many nights experimenting. Pretending to be someone else, forgetting until some drunken man mentioned it, that her scar was unforgettable. In her early twenties, Edith had fooled herself into thinking love was indeed possible with a face like hers. Yes, someone would surely look past it and see the beauty she had been, take her in his arms and kiss her.
She had wept bitter tears when she was told, rather bluntly, that she could not be shown off in public.
Her mama had never told her the way it was between a man and his wife, promising to tell her on her wedding day. However, when it became clear it was not to be, it was aunt Lucy who sat her down and explained the act.
Aunt Lucy had tried her best to be delicate when she told her niece that just because she may never wed, it did not mean she had to live the life of a pious virgin. Too stunned to much else but listen, Edith had learned love did not necessarily make the act pleasurable, and that pleasure could come from any attentive lover. Concluding with her and Henry's blessing, Lucy warned her to be careful with any future dalliances she might venture into, not wanting her to bring shame to Lord Granville's good name by falling with child.
Naive as she was, Edie had to learn herself that a willing partner did not mean he loved you.
After one too many times, Edie decided celibacy didn't sound so terrible.
Rolling her ring around her finger, tilting her head at her sketch, wondering if it warranted a trip into the fire, or a few more well placed lines.
"You tilt anymore, you shall have a very crooked neck, my dear." Henry said, his charcoal staining his fingers black.
"How else am I supposed to inspect my work?" Alright, she decided, a trip to the fire it is.
"How can you properly inspect it when it's tilted sideways?" he countered, a sly grin pulling at his lips.
Edie scoffed, raising her hands in a dainty shrug. "It seems to work well enough." With that, she tore the paper in half, letting the pieces fall to the floor with the silent promise to feed it to the fire later when she went to bed.
"Perhaps not, if you destroyed a perfectly lovely depiction of Isabelle and Cath." The only reason he knew the two beautiful models by name was because they were, in fact, the housemaids. They were paid an extra wage for their time, and Edie knew they both enjoyed being studied at by eyes that often stared at beautiful things. Sometimes they would even ask to keep a drawing for themselves, which Edie was always happy to provide.
Edie shook her head, already dragging her charcoal over fresh bit of parchment. "It was far from lovely. With my dimensions, poor Cath was starting to look like someone held her arms, another her ankles and stretched her out."
The man sitting beside her laughed. "Goodness, you create quite the picture without much trouble."
Edith continued her sketch without a reply, pausing once or twice to sip at her wine.
When she was drawing, in the warmth of her uncle's studio, she felt free. She felt at peace, as though her life had not gone awry, as though no one had hurt her. No one stared at her here, and if they did, she hardly noticed. Perhaps her uncle forewarned people before they came the first time, or perhaps they were distracted by the naked bodies of Isabelle and Cath. It made no matter to her.
Here, she was not Edith Granville, the disfigured spinster daughter of a duke. Here, she was only Edie, an artist.
The hour grew late, and before long, Edie was slowly nursing a second glass of wine and staring at a (in her opinion) much better portrayal of Cath and Isabelle. As the hours ticked by, they were joined by a handful of likeminded individuals, from all walks of life who all shared a deep love of the arts. A heavy knock at the door, and her uncle stood from his seat to answer.
It was a man who had come, judging by the deep rumble of the new voice. A moment later, and her uncle reappeared in the arched doorway of the studio, a tall man standing with him.
Carefully withdrawing her charcoal, she glanced up at the two, frowning at the newcomer as he took in the naked beauties posing before him. It took her a moment to finally realize who he was.
When she had still been a sought after beauty, she had seen him at a gathering or two, flanked by his handsome older brother. Every mama in the ton had an eye for the Bridgerton boys, and hers was no exception. Edie could admit, even years later, that the two were very handsome, and she even had hoped to catch their eye and eventually their heart.
A childish dream, but she had been but a child then.
And now Benedict Bridgerton was standing before her seven years later. How wonderfully droll.
"I do not know what I was expecting, but surely it was not this." His voice was gentle, layered thick with wonder.
"Oh, simply a gathering of likeminded souls." Her uncle shrugged, stepping past him and leading the astonished man further into the room.
"So the pointy critic arrives." She noted, her eyes flashing over the impeccably well dressed Bridgerton. She could cringe to still hear her mama prattling away in her ear. Yes darling, don't forget to mention how wonderful you are at singing, ask him if he should like to hear you, and don't be afraid to show off your neck, men like a beautiful swan!
Neither Bridgerton had given her more than a dance at one ball, not that she was terribly heartbroken over it. She had had plenty of gentlemen to dance with.
"I beg your pardon?" He turned to her, and Edie saw it. That first widening of the eyes when they saw her face the first time, covered quickly and poorly. His mouth had opened with shock, but he quickly closed it, so tight that his lips appeared thinner.
The hurt from those first looks was naught but a pinch now.
"You are the Bridgerton boy who had some rather sharp thoughts on my uncle's latest portrait, correct? I believe it is hanging at Somerset House."
His blue eyes widened a little. "Oh, I—"
"Allow me to introduce you, Bridgerton." Henry interjected, patting his niece gently on her shoulder. "My niece, Lady Edith Granville, a fellow artist. Edie, this is Benedict Bridgerton."
"Delighted." She deadpanned, her eyes turning once more to the models. Bridgerton, however, followed her gaze and seemed to remember there were naked women in the room. And she, a gently bred lady, was drawing them.
"Oh, um." The Bridgerton boy nodded his head, his blue eyes flashing back to rest on her.
The woman frowned openly at the man's face, astounded at his innocence. "Do you honestly think I don't see two of these every morning? On my own body, that is." She asked, gesturing with the end of her brush. The Bridgerton blushed a fine pink colour that she wished to replicate later on, and turned his smile downward, embarrassed.
"Do not mind our Edith." Uncle Henry advised with a clap to the other man's shoulder. "She's become rather feral in her time away from her proper mama and papa."
At that, Edie growled like a beast at the man who seemed more of a green boy than a seasoned man.
Henry laughed, as did the others in the group, but she locked her eyes on Benedict Bridgerton, believing the poor sod would never last in such a lush environment. He was too…stiff. Too proper. Seven years ago, she might have fluttered her fan and try to entice him, but not anymore. A man with such a face would not look twice at her sweetly.
Edie continued her sketch, focusing the shape of the model's graceful hands. In her head, she saw a scene from nature, women at one with the elements, the bloom of the earth surrounding them, the sun shining proudly upon the forbidden flesh that men enjoyed gawking at. In her head, she wondered why anyone should be ashamed for admiring the feminine form when it really was so beautiful.
"Have you been here long, Miss Granville?" A voice asked from three spaces down. She looked and saw Mister Bridgerton, his eyes still focused on his work.
She finished a stroke with her charcoal before answering. "Yes, I should think so. If you think seven years is a long time, Mister Bridgerton."
"Oh." He raised his brows. They were rather handsome, in her opinion. Thick and dark. "I have never seen you at a ball or a soiree. You're a duke's daughter, are you not?"
Edie looked up from her sketch, staring straight ahead, pondering whether Benedict Bridgerton was simple or rude. She settled on simple after a beat, because he seemed far too happy to be in her uncle's studio to risk it by being cruel to his niece.
"Luckily, Mister Bridgerton, my face permits me to be blessedly absent from such events. If I were to attend, I fear I shall be thrown out for stamping on one too many toes."
"Don't let her fool you. She is a wonderful dancer." A voice called from the other end of the room. Caterina Rossi, a good friend of hers. By daylight, she was a washerwoman, working at her father's business, but at night, she nurtured a talent that had earned her a place at Henry Granville's studio. Edie especially loved Cat's sketches of the day to day toils of the working class. She found them honest and raw.
"And how would you know that, Cat?" she called back, refraining from smiling. When she smiled, her scar ran deeper, so noticeable that it became a valley that split her cheek.
"Cause you taught me how." She deadpanned back, eyes returning to the models before them.
"Please, you were leading." Edie's eyes flashed up from her work, studying the lay of Cath's hand on her thigh. "You were a dancer long before me." She insinuated playfully, her voice flat. To her surprise though, Benedict Bridgerton laughed.
After the Incident, people laughed once the shock of it all had faded. Somehow, some of the truly vile and wretched, found the idea of a disfigured lady, barely into her nineteenth year, funny. It was largely due to her status, and the fact that she had been sought by so many promising, handsome suitors, only to have them all flee the moment word came that the Incident had not killed her.
But Benedict Bridgerton's laugh was not like that. It was warm and pleasant, finding true amusement from her teasing. She fought back another smile and focused on shading in more of Cath's thigh, trying to match the lighting.
"So," Mister Bridgerton spoke after a while had passed, and when she sneaked a peek at his work, she found that he had half of Isabelle's body sketched out.
"I had heard you were rather a rake." She commented bluntly, sliding her charcoal gently over the paper. "So I am quite surprised by how uncomfortable you became at realizing I was drawing the female form." It was curious to her, how a man such as he to become flustered. So she wondered if it was because of her status or her gender.
It took a moment for him to formulate an answer.
"It is most unusual to see a lady of your standing in a place such as this." He didn't look up from his sketch.
"And it isn't for you to be sat here, staring at the housemaid's naked bodies?" Neither did she, taking another look at the models in question.
"I think it is rather unusual for anyone to be staring at the housemaid's naked bodies." He replied, his tone dry.
Edie permitted a small smile to tug her lips. "Indeed. However, Mister Bridgerton, I can assure you my intentions here are purely of the artistic sort. And I am of the firm belief that in the pursuit of capturing beauty and emotion, neither position nor sex should limit one's talents."
A long moment passed, and Edie was certain that either the matter was done, or Mister Bridgerton was focused on his work. She then did not see how he had paused his actions to look back at her, a quiet look of surprise on his face.
"Indeed Miss Granville." He finally said. "I believe we are in agreement."
"Wonderful, now my night is complete." Edie replied sardonically, earning another short laugh from the Bridgerton.