“I would certainly be in a position to know.”
“He is reputed to be quite a rake.”
Colin looked at her assessingly. “That is true.”
“It is difficult to imagine so notorious a rogue settling down with one woman and finding happiness in marriage.”
“You seem to have given such a scenario a great deal of thought, Miss Sheffield.”
She leveled a frank stare directly at his face. “Your brother is not the first man of questionable character to court my sister, Mr. Bridgerton. And I assure you, I do not take my sister’s happiness lightly.”
“Surely any girl would find happiness in marriage to a wealthy and titled gentleman. Isn’t that what a season in London is all about?”
“Perhaps,” Kate allowed, “but I’m afraid that line of thinking does not address the true problem at hand.”
“Which is that a husband can break a heart with far greater intensity than a mere suitor.” She smiled—a small, knowing sort of smile—then added, “Don’t you think?”
“Having never been married, I am certainly not in a position to speculate.”
“Shame, shame, Mr. Bridgerton. That was the worst sort of evasion.”
“Was it? I rather thought it might be the best. I am clearly losing my touch.”
“That, I fear, will never be a worry.” Kate finished the rest of her lemonade. It was a small glass; Lady Hartside, their hostess, was notoriously stingy.
“You are far too generous,” he said.
She smiled, a real smile this time. “I am rarely accused of that, Mr. Bridgerton.”
He laughed. Right out loud in the middle of the ballroom. Kate realized with discomfort that they were suddenly the object of numerous curious stares.
“You,” he said, still sounding most heartily amused, “must meet my brother.”
“The viscount?” she asked with disbelief.
“Well, you might enjoy Gregory’s company as well,” he allowed, “but as I said, he is only thirteen and likely to put a frog on your chair.”
“And the viscount?”
“Is not likely to put a frog on your chair,” he said with an utterly straight face.
How Kate managed not to laugh she would never know. Keeping her lips completely straight and serious, she replied, “I see. He has a great deal to recommend him, then.”
Colin grinned. “He’s not such a bad sort.”
“I am much relieved. I shall begin planning the wedding breakfast immediately.”
Colin’s mouth fell open. “I didn’t mean—You shouldn’t—That is to say, such a move would be premature—”
Kate took pity on him and said, “I was joking.”
His face flushed slightly. “Of course.”
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must make my farewell.”
He raised a brow. “Not leaving so early, are you, Miss Sheffield?”
“Not at all.” But she wasn’t about to tell him she had to go relieve herself. Four glasses of lemonade tended to do that to a body. “I promised a friend I would meet her for a moment.”
“It has been a pleasure.” He executed a smart bow. “May I see you to your destination?”
“No, thank you. I shall be quite all right on my own.” And with a smile over her shoulder, she made her retreat from the ballroom.
Colin Bridgerton watched her go with a thoughtful expression, then made his way to his older brother, who was leaning against a wall, arms crossed in an almost belligerent manner.
“Anthony!” he called out, slapping his brother on the back. “How was your dance with the lovely Miss Sheffield?”
“She’ll do,” was Anthony’s terse reply. They both knew what that meant.
“Really?” Colin’s lips twitched ever so slightly. “You should meet the sister, then.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Her sister,” Colin repeated, starting to laugh. “You simply must meet her sister.”
Twenty minutes later, Anthony was confident he’d gotten the whole story on Edwina Sheffield from Colin. And it seemed that the road to Edwina’s heart and hand in marriage lay squarely through her sister.
Edwina Sheffield apparently would not marry without the approval of her older sister. According to Colin, this was common knowledge, and had been for at least a week, ever since Edwina had made an announcement to this effect at the annual Smythe-Smith musicale. The Bridgerton brothers had all missed this momentous statement, as they avoided Smythe-Smith musicales like the plague (as did anyone with any affection for Bach, Mozart, or music in any form.)
Edwina’s older sister, one Katharine Sheffield, more commonly known as Kate, was also making her debut this year, even though she was reputed to be at least one and twenty. Such timing led Anthony to believe that the Sheffields must be among the less wealthy ranks of the ton, a fact which suited him nicely. He had no need of a bride with a great dowry, and a bride without one might have more need of him.
Anthony believed in using all of his advantages.
Unlike Edwina, the elder Miss Sheffield had not immediately taken the ton by storm. According to Colin, she was generally well liked, but she lacked Edwina’s dazzling beauty. She was tall where Edwina was tiny, and dark where Edwina was fair. She also lacked Edwina’s dazzling grace. Again, according to Colin (who, though recently arrived in London for the season, was a veritable font of knowledge and gossip), more than one gentleman had reported sore feet after a dance with Katharine Sheffield.
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