035 - When He Was Wicked
Michael Stirling was living his own person hell, since he friend-zoned himself by falling in love with his cousin's wife. Francesca Bridgerton Stirling was living her best life until the untimely death of her husband, John. She tried to lean on Michael for support in her grief but Michael, who is to become the Earl in John's stead, just cannot handle being her rock. He's loved her too long and now he has to replace John in so many ways, the idea of taking his place at Francesca's side is just too much. Four years later the pair are reunited and while Michael's secret feelings are unchanged, Francesca is on the hunt for a new husband and somehow just realized Michael is a man and is making her feel things she only ever expected to feel with her first husband. Our sixth Bridgerton installment features the elusive Francesca as she learns to reconcile the loss of her first husband with that of her new feelings of love for Michael, the man who was only ever supposed to be her friend. This week we're reading When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn and man y'all....Who knew Francesca's book was going to be so steamy? **Spoilers. Were you really surprised?**
Pick up a copy of this week's book, When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn, here!
Want to listen to a certain segment? Here is our outline this week:
0:00 - 08:47: Intro/Author Facts/History Facts
08:47 - 38:10: Synopsis
38:10 - 41:42: Parlour
41:42 - 1:17:50: General Discussion
We are now including our synopses as a semi-transcription of the episode in our blog posts. You can learn more about how we compose these by reading this article. As a reminder though, our synopses are FULL of spoilers. Read ahead at your own risk :)
When He Was Wicked Synopsis:
Michael Stirling is in love with Francesca Bridgerton. It was instant and most unfortunately happened three days before she married his cousin and best friend John Stirling, the Earl of Kilmartin.
However, he loves his cousin and keeps his love inside and here we are two years later.
Michael, John, and Francesca are the three amigos. They’re all so chummy that often Fancesca will ask Michael to tell her something wicked, even in front of her husband, as she knows he’s a rake and delights in his stories.
One night they are enjoying each other’s company when Francesca says she wants to go for a walk. Michael agrees to accompany her but John says he has a headache and is going to go take a nap before his meeting with the Prime Minister.
Now Michael, while deeply in love with Francesca, as mentioned, has never given any indication of his feelings and of course this walk is no different. He knows that John and Francesca love each other and he is not going to get in the way of his best friend’s happiness. But he is feeling the strain of having such a close relationship with Francesca that cannot evolve the way he would like.
Upon their return, John’s valet talls Francesca that there is no response from the Earl at his knocking on his room to wake him up. Francesca, knowing the importance of the meeting with Lord Liverpool (may need to check that), goes up to wake John.
It is Francesca’s scream that sends Michael running upstairs.
“Francesca?” he gasped. “Frannie, Frannie, what is—” She was sitting next to the bed, clutching John’s forearm, which was dangling over the side. “Wake him up, Michael,” she cried. “Wake him up. Do it for me. Wake him up!”
Michael cannot wake John though because he is dead.
The family is devastated at the loss and suddenly Michael is thrust into the role of Earl. That is….unless Francesa is pregnant and then, he is informed, he’ll need to have someone present at the birth so there is no baby swapping…
Michael, grieving John, is disgusted by this and wants nothing to do with it.
Already he’d heard that men in the clubs were calling him the luckiest man in Britain. Overnight, he’d gone from the fringe of aristocracy to its very epicenter. No one seemed to understand that Michael had never wanted this. Never.
He didn’t want an earldom. He wanted his cousin back. And no one seemed to understand that.
But it does turn out that Francesca is pregnant. So now the wait begins to see if she will birth the future earl, or a lowly daughter.
With John’s death, Michael’s strong feelings for Francesca, which have already been hard to contain, are fraying. Francesca is leaning on Michael in her grief and now that Michael is almost-officially the Earl, he feels very strongly that he is already erasing John and if he were to act on his feelings for Francesca, that would be just another nail in the coffin.
His heart still ached with the pain of loving her. Except now it was all wrapped in an extra layer of guilt—as if he hadn’t had enough of that while John was alive. She was in pain, and she was grieving, and he ought to be comforting her, not lusting after her. Good God, John wasn’t even cold in his grave. What kind of monster would lust after his wife? He was already stepping into John’s shoes in so many ways. He would not complete the betrayal by taking his place with Francesca as well.
Then to top off the tragedy, Francesca suffers a miscarriage, making Michael officially the Earl, without question. Michael hears that Francesca is asking for him from her sick bed but He simply cannot make himself go to her. Eventually she comes to him as she is trying to find solace in one to understand and share her grief. However his grief and his guilt are at war with one another.
And when Francesca had turned to him with those bottomless blue eyes and said, “The baby was to have been yours in a way, too,” she’d shattered him to his very soul. She didn’t know. She had no idea. And as long as she remained in the dark about his feelings for her, as long as she couldn’t understand why he had no choice but to hate himself for every step he took in John’s shoes, he couldn’t be near her. Because she was going to keep saying things like that. And he simply didn’t know how much he could take.
So he runs. He runs all the way to India. For four years.
So here we are four years later. Francesca has been running Kilmartin in Michael’s absence and she loves it. She loves Kilmartin. But she feels something is missing from her life.
She wants a baby.
To get a baby, Francesca knows she’ll need to find a husband, which means attending the season full force. She’s going to need a whole new wardrobe, as she has worn half mourning for years.
She knows what she had with John was special and will likely only find affection for her next husband. However, she wants a baby more than she needs to love her husband. So it’s off to London a bit early in order to outfit herself and make it be known that the Countess of Kilmartin is on the market.
Since Francesca forgot to tell the staff in London of her early arrival, the house is not quite prepared for her and her room is so cold! However, there should be wood in the library and she’ll be able to snuggle up to the fire and be warm.
However, the library is not empty though when she arrives! It turns out Michael thought it was time to return to England.
After getting over her shock, Francesca goes on the offensive.
“Couldn’t you have written?” “To you?” he asked, quirking a brow. It was, and was meant to be, a direct hit. She hadn’t penned him a single letter during his travels. He had sent her three letters, but once it became apparent that she didn’t plan to answer, he’d conducted the rest of his correspondence through his mother and John’s.
The two take the time to assess the other. They no longer have that ease of friendship and they are noting changes in each other.
He’d changed, she realized. Oh, there were the obvious differences—the ones everyone would notice. He was tan, quite scandalously so, and his hair, always midnight black, now sported a few odd strands of silver. But there was more. He held his mouth differently, more tightly, if that made any sense, and his smooth, lanky grace seemed to have gone missing. He had always seemed so at ease, so comfortable in his skin, but now he was . . . taut. Strained.
He’d been lying when he’d said she hadn’t changed. There was something different about her, something entirely unexpected. Something that shook him down to his very soul. It was a sense about her—all in his mind, really, but no less devastating. There was an air of availability, a horrible, torturous knowledge that John was gone, really, truly gone, and the only thing stopping Michael from reaching out and touching her was his own conscience.
Amid sizing each other up, they do discuss Michael’s sudden departure to India and why Francesca did not write to him in all the time he was gone.
“I was rather angry with you for leaving.” He sucked in his breath. Trust Francesca to choose stark honesty over a scathing retort. “I’m sorry,” he said, and he meant it, even though he wouldn’t have changed any of his actions. He’d needed to leave. He’d had to leave. Maybe it meant he was a coward; maybe it meant he’d been less of a man. But he hadn’t been ready to be the earl
The two leave the encounter with them both going to bed separately. The next day Francesa goes to her mother’s house in order to maintain propriety until Michael and John’s mother arrive in town for the season.
Michael pays a visit to number 5 and is invited to family dinner. He and Francesca also go for a walk in Hyde Park to clear the air further and that is where he learns Francesca’s true purpose in town is that she wants a baby.
“A lot of women want children.” “Right,” he said, coughing on the word. “Of course. But . . . don’t you think you might want a husband first?” “Of course.” She speared him with an aggravated glare. “Why do you think I came down to London early?” He looked at her blankly. “I am shopping for a husband,” she said, speaking to him as if he were a halfwit. “How mercenarily put,” he murmured. She pursed her lips. “It’s what it is. And you had probably best get used to it for your own sake. It’s precisely how the ladies will soon be talking about you.”
While chatting about the mercenary nature of marriage in the ton, Francesca has a revelation about her long time friend.
But suddenly . . . But now . . . She’d looked at him, and she’d seen something entirely new. She’d seen a man. And it scared the very devil out of her
Michael heads home afterward and Francesca goes shopping with her mother which leads to a big heart to heart. Afterall, her mother is also a widow who lost her husband young and very suddenly. She may be able to help Francesca with her mixed feelings towards finding another husband.
“I’m not going to find someone like John. I’ve accepted that. And it feels so wrong to marry with less.” “You won’t find someone like John, that is true,” Violet said. “But you might find a man who will suit you equally well, just in a different way.
At least it helps a bit
none of it addressed the problem that lay most deeply within her heart. What would happen if she actually did meet someone who made her feel the way she’d felt with John? She couldn’t imagine that she would; truly, it seemed wildly improbable. But what if she did? How could she live with herself then?
That night at number 5, everyone is wondering why Michael has not shown up for dinner. Francesca is worried because a rake Michael may be but he has always been punctual to a fault.
Leaving her family behind with a promise to return, she heads over to Kilmartin house and finds Michael sick in bed with a “head cold”. Francesca is not buying it.
“This is not a head cold,” she said sharply. His lips stretched into a hideous approximation of a smile. “A really bad head cold?” “Michael Stuart Stirling!” “Good God, you sound like my mother.”
It turns out this is a Malaria fever episode, and he explains to Francesca that he will suffer one every other day for the next little bit and then it will fade and he’ll be right as rain, until the next one appears. He also begs her not to tell anyone because they won’t understand.
While she believes his explanation Francesca takes the time to care for him and ends up falling asleep. Whoops.
The next morning Michael wakes up to find Francesca in the chair next to his bed.
He supposed it had been too much to hope that he could hide his illness from her; she was far too perceptive and certainly far too nosy. And even though he would have preferred that she didn’t worry over him, the truth was, he’d been comforted by her presence the night before.
She wakes up and then after seeing to Michael leaves him to return to Number 5.
Francesca continues this back and forth until the Mothers arrive and then at that point she moves back in.
While Michael may have wanted to, he does not have the luxury of keeping his illness from his mother and aunt. So they take over fussing over him, allowing Francesca time to do what she arrived in London to do.
And she is widely successful. After one ball, there are dozens of flowers delivered to the house and Michael is a bit put out by the male attention she is receiving. He starts being short with her and she is a bit confused.
Things are then compounded after Michael heads over to his club trying to escape all the attention on Francesca and he is waylaid by men wanting to know what her dowry situation is like. And then after getting rid of the pestering lords about the club, Colin Bridgerton approaches.
Michael had long suspected there was quite a bit of substance under Colin’s ever-jovial surface, and perhaps it was because they were alike in so many ways, but Michael had always feared that if anyone were to sense the truth of his feelings for Francesca, it would be this brother.
And after saying he heard Michael was looking for a wife, Colin tells him he should just marry Francesca.
Michael is taken aback, how could Colin know?! He had worked so hard to keep his feelings a secret… But the question of is it possible starts to seriously seep into Michael’s brain. Technically he can marry her, there is no law against it...in fact, maybe he could marry her after all....but would that hurt the memory of John?
Francesca on the other hand, is making it known she is looking for a husband. Don’t think nobody noticed she was dressed in blue for the first time in 4 years!
At Violet Bridgerton’s birthday party, things do not go well. Michael has not so subtly been avoiding Francesca but at this party he cannot take his eyes from her.
After dancing with a suitor, Michael notices that she has disappeared from the party.
Noticing an open door to the terrace, Micahel ventures out and overhears her protesting the attention of the man in question.
He rushes in (right as Francesca was about to take care of the situation for herself) and punches the man, taking him down.
Francesca realized she was holding her breath. He was terrifying, but he was also magnificent, and it shook her to her very core to realize that she’d never seen him thus. Never dreamed he could be like this.
The man who got the beat leaves the party after promising to leave London.
And Francesca thinks it’s best she leaves as well but she cannot help pondering the events for the rest of the night.
When Michael returns home he is ambushed by Francesca.
He tries to blow her off but she follows him into his room
“Why are you so angry with me?” she repeated, and she realized that she hadn’t even realized she’d felt this way until the words had left her lips. But something wasn’t right between them, and she had to know why.
She pushes him and pushes him until finally the dam bursts and Michael cannot keep himself contained anymore and a kiss is inevitable.
It was the sort of kiss that seduced with subtlety, sent tingles through her body and left her desperate for more.
They part and have a minute of just looking at each other and then reality comes into play
“I can’t do this,” she whispered. He said nothing. The words came faster, but not in greater numbers. “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t . . . I. . . I—” “Then go,” he bit off. “Now.” She ran. She ran to her bedroom, and then the next day she ran to her mother. And then the day after that, she ran all the way to Scotland.
Michael on the other hand tries to drown himself in women...but he can’t. He’s spoiled for other women now. With just that kiss he knows what he’s been missing for his whole life.
He heads to his club to drown himself there. Where, of course, who finds him, but Colin Bridgerton. Just the man he did not want to see.
Colin, of course, wants to talk about Francesca, while also telling Michael about his impending nuptials to Penelope Featherington. (Now we know why we have not heard from Francesca in all these books)!
He also tells Michael something important
there is no reason you can’t marry her. None at all. Except, of course,” he added, almost as an afterthought, “the reasons you manufacture for yourself.”
However, Colin does mention someone should probably tell Francesca about his upcoming wedding…
So Michael is on his way! And on his way there he made a decision. He is going to marry Francesca.
And he wastes no time telling her. Francesca comes back from a walk to find out he’s at Kilmartin and is waiting for her in a drawing room.
Once she is seated in the drawing room he tells her he thinks they should marry. He’ll happily give her the children she wants and then she can remain Countess of Kilmartin. It’s not romantic, just practical. He figured that might work better on her than feelings.
When the direct approach doesn’t work he sets about on a different approach. The seductive approach.
Turns out Francesca likes dirty talk.
“Do you want me to stop?” he whispered again, and this time he did stop. He didn’t remove his hands, but he didn’t move them either, just held still and allowed her a moment of quiet in which to make her answer. And he pulled his head back, just far enough so that she had to look at him. Or if not that, then at least he would be looking at her.
She does not want him to stop and she has her first orgasm(s) in years! And this is how we have encounter number 1.
Michael is blown away. He had no idea it could be that good with someone.
The next morning Francesca is kicking herself. She is so mad that she turned against herself that way. She feels like it is a betrayal to her first marriage. Not that she had done it but that she had enjoyed it.
And most all, she hated him because he’d asked her permission, because every step of the way, even as his fingers had teased her mercilessly, he had made sure she was willing, and now she could never claim that she’d been swept away, that she’d been powerless against the force of her own passion.
Bastard. How dare he require consent!
Francesca sets out for a long walk and then gets stuck in the rain. For two hours.
And then who finds her Michael. Just the person she was trying to avoid. He insists she return with him but she keeps refusing. Finally he gets her onto the horse and then the horse goes lame.
Conveniently there is an abandoned groundskeeper cottage nearby.
Francesca gets there first while Michael cares for the horse.
Now, what are two wet people to do in a very small cottage?
“Will you let me kiss you?” he whispered. She didn’t move. He leaned toward her. “I told you I wouldn’t seduce you without your permission,” he said, his voice husky, his words falling mere inches from her lips. Still, she didn’t move. “Will you kiss me, Francesca?” he asked again. She swayed. And he knew she was his.
They have a romping good time and it turns out, Francesca likes to dictate the rules in bed.
After making it back to the house, Michael agrees to give Francesca some space to think over the offer of marriage.
Michael also does some thinking, and that thinking includes wondering what John would think over the whole thing.
And he realized that his cousin would have given his blessing. John’s heart was that big, his love for Francesca—and Michael—that true. He would have wanted Francesca to be loved and cherished the way that Michael loved and cherished her. And he would have wanted Michael to be happy. The one emotion Michael had never truly thought he could apply to himself. Happy. Imagine that.
Francesca on the other hand, is not enjoying this time to think. She would rather be doing other things. So she gets Michael to continue with other things...until three weeks later when she still has yet to make a decision.
Finally Michael has had enough. He cannot keep living in limbo and has it out with her. In fact he tells her to leave. If she cannot be with him then she needs to go because she cannot watch her choose someone else.
“Why?” he asked again, this time with increased volume as he turned around to face her. “Why? It’s because I love you, damn me to hell. Because I’ve always loved you. Because I loved you when you were with John, and I loved you when I was in India, and God only knows I don’t deserve you, but I love you, anyway.”
Francesca leaves him and he is gutted. He just handed her the knife to kill him with. What was he thinking?
However, he does get a reprieve because just three hours later, Francesca is back and she’ll marry him.
“There will be no backing out. No cold feet. No changed minds.” “No,” she said. “I promise.”
They confirm this decision in bed but sadly there are no details.
A couple days later Francesca gets a letter from her mother detailing how Colin’s wedding was moved up and how Eloise ran off and is marrying a man she’s never met before.
At her annoyed response to this letter, Michael teases Francesca has a huge reality check. She’s agreed to marry her best friend. Why had she not thought of that before? Surely their marriage will be good since they’ve shared such a strong bond before.
Suddenly Michael says they should get married. She laughs that that was already the plan. But Michael has an objective and with creeping fingers and teasing Michael says they should get married right away. Francesca agrees thinking she’ll get some more of Michael’s clever fingers instead of just being rushed off to the chapel.
Which is what happens. Michael denies Francesca her orgasm until she, once again, becomes Francesca Stirling, Countess of Kilmartin.
“I’m very glad I married you,” she finished, her voice matching the uncharacteristically shy expression on her face. “It was the right thing to do.” He felt his toes clench slightly, gripping the carpet as he tamped down his disappointment. It was more than he’d ever thought to hear from her, and yet so much less than he’d hoped.
And then following that bittersweet proclamation, we have encounter number 3.
Happiness is short lived though because Michael suddenly has a raging fever. He insists it’s too soon for his malaria to return but Francesca is not convinced and she is terrified. If it is malaria, does this mean it’s the end of the line for Michael?
It wasn’t right, and it wasn’t fair, damn it all, that she should have to lose two husbands when so many women got to hold onto one for an entire lifetime. And most of those women didn’t even like their spouses, whereas she, who actually loved them both— Francesca’s breath caught. She loved him? Michael?
Luckily, it is not the malaria it is just a run of the mill fever and Michael will recover. Once Francesca knows this to be true, she takes a journey to John’s grave. And while she’s there, quote:
And she knew—truly, fully knew—that John could have imagined it. And more than that, he would have wanted it. He would have wanted her to marry Michael. He would have wanted her to marry any man with whom she’d fallen in love, but she rather thought he’d be almost tickled that it had happened with Michael.
Despite the fact he’s been so sick, Michael makes it out of bed to follow Francesca. He’s worried she still feels guilty for marrying him. And he wants her happiness above anything else.
However, when he finds her, he hears her tell John that she loves Michael and then she sees him.
“I love you,” he said hoarsely. “But did you hear me?” she persisted. She had to know, and if he hadn’t heard her, she had to tell him. He nodded jerkily. “I love you,” she said. She wanted to go to him, she wanted to throw her arms around him, but somehow she was rooted to her spot. “I love you,” she said again. “I love you.”
And they lived happily ever after.
The Epilogue is a letter from Janet, John’s mother. It extends her surprise but also her blessing. The last line is the tear jerker.
And I hope you will not think me foolish when I also extend my thanks. Thank you, Michael, for letting my son love her first.