The entire situation seemed a bit absurd to Anthony. After all, who had ever heard of a girl requiring her sister’s approval for a husband? A father, yes, a brother, or even a mother, but a sister? It was unfathomable. And furthermore, it seemed odd that Edwina would look to Katharine for guidance when Katharine clearly did not know what she was about in matters of the ton.
But Anthony didn’t particularly feel like searching out another suitable candidate to court, so he conveniently decided this simply meant that family was important to Edwina. And since family was all-important to him, this was one more indication that she would make an excellent choice as a wife.
So now it appeared that all he had to do was charm the sister. And how difficult could that be?
“You’ll have no trouble winning her over,” Colin predicted, a confident smile lighting his face. “No trouble at all. A shy, aging spinster? She’s probably never received attentions from such a man as you. She’ll never know what hit her.”
“I don’t want her to fall in love with me,” Anthony retorted. “I just want her to recommend me to her sister.”
“You can’t fail,” Colin said. “You simply can’t fail. Trust me, I spent a few minutes in conversation with her earlier this evening, and she could not say enough about you.”
“Good.” Anthony pushed himself up off the wall and gazed out with an air of determination. “Now, where is she? I need you to introduce us.”
Colin scanned the room for a minute or so, then said, “Ah, there she is. She’s coming this way, as a matter of fact. What a marvelous coincidence.”
Anthony was coming to believe that nothing within five yards of his younger brother was ever a coincidence, but he followed his gaze nonetheless. “Which one is she?”
“In the green,” Colin said, motioning toward her with a barely perceptible nod of his chin.
She was not at all what he’d expected, Anthony realized as he watched her pick her way through the crowds. She was certainly no ape-leading amazon; it was only when compared to Edwina, who barely touched five feet, that she would appear so tall. In fact, Miss Katharine Sheffield was quite pleasant-looking, with thick, medium brown hair and dark eyes. Her skin was pale, her lips pink, and she held herself with an air of confidence he could not help but find attractive.
She would certainly never be considered a diamond of the first water like her sister, but Anthony didn’t see why she shouldn’t be able to find a husband of her own. Perhaps after he married Edwina he’d provide a dowry for her. It seemed the very least a man could do.
Beside him, Colin strode forward, pushing through the crowd. “Miss Sheffield! Miss Sheffield!”
Anthony swept along in Colin’s wake, mentally preparing himself to charm Edwina’s older sister. An underappreciated spinster, was she? He’d have her eating out of his hand in no time.
“Miss Sheffield,” Colin was saying, “what a delight to see you again.”
She looked a bit perplexed, and Anthony didn’t blame her. Colin was making it sound as if they’d bumped into each other accidentally, when they all knew he’d trampled at least a half dozen people to reach her side.
“And it’s lovely to see you again as well, sir,” she replied wryly. “And so unexpectedly soon after our last encounter.”
Anthony smiled to himself. She had a sharper wit than he’d been led to believe.
Colin grinned winningly, and Anthony had the distinct and unsettling impression that his brother was up to something. “I can’t explain why,” Colin said to Miss Sheffield, “but it suddenly seemed imperative that I introduce you to my brother.”
She looked abruptly to Colin’s right and stiffened as her gaze settled on Anthony. In fact, she rather looked as if she’d just swallowed an antidote.
This, Anthony thought, was odd.
“How kind of you,” Miss Sheffield murmured—between her teeth.
“Miss Sheffield,” Colin continued brightly, motioning to Anthony, “my brother Anthony, Viscount Bridgerton. Anthony, Miss Katharine Sheffield. I believe you made the acquaintance of her sister earlier this evening.”
“Indeed,” Anthony said, becoming aware of an overwhelming desire—no, need—to strangle his brother.
Miss Sheffield bobbed a quick, awkward curtsy. “Lord Bridgerton,” she said, “it is an honor to make your acquaintance.”
Colin made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a snort. Or maybe a laugh. Or maybe both.
And Anthony suddenly knew. One look at his brother’s face should have given it all away. This was no shy, retiring, underappreciated spinster. And whatever she had said to Colin earlier that evening, it had contained no compliments about Anthony.
Fratricide was legal in England, wasn’t it? If not, it damn well should have been.
Anthony belatedly realized that Miss Sheffield had held out her hand to him, as was only polite. He took it and brushed a light kiss across her gloved knuckles. “Miss Sheffield,” he murmured unthinkingly, “you are as lovely as your sister.”
If she had seemed uncomfortable before, her bearing now turned downright hostile. And Anthony realized with a mental slap that he’d said exactly the wrong thing. Of course he should not have compared her to her sister. It was the one compliment she could never have believed.
“And you, Lord Bridgerton,” she replied in a tone that could have frozen champagne, “are almost as handsome as your brother.”
Colin snorted again, only this time it sounded as if he were being strangled.
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