“Are you all right?” Miss Sheffield asked.

“He’s fine,” Anthony barked.

She ignored him, keeping her attention on Colin. “Are you certain?”

Colin nodded furiously. “Tickle in my throat.”

“Or perhaps a guilty conscience?” Anthony suggested.

Colin turned deliberately from his brother to Kate. “I think I might need another glass of lemonade,” he gasped.

“Or maybe,” said Anthony, “something stronger. Hemlock, perhaps?”

Miss Sheffield clapped a hand over her mouth, presumably to stifle a burst of horrified laughter.

“Lemonade will do just fine,” Colin returned smoothly.

“Would you like me to fetch you a glass?” she asked. Anthony noticed that she’d already stepped out with one foot, looking for any excuse to flee.

Colin shook his head. “No, no, I’m quite capable. But I do believe I had reserved this next dance with you, Miss Sheffield.”

“I shall not hold you to it,” she said with a wave of her hand.

“Oh, but I could not live with myself were I to leave you unattended,” he replied.

Anthony could see Miss Sheffield growing worried at the devilish gleam in Colin’s eye. He took a rather uncharitable pleasure in this. His reaction was, he knew, a touch out of proportion. But something about this Miss Katharine Sheffield sparked his temper and made him positively itch to do battle with her.

And win. That much went without saying.

“Anthony,” Colin said, sounding so deucedly innocent and earnest that it was all Anthony could do not to kill him on the spot, “you’re not engaged for this dance, are you?”

Anthony said nothing, just glared at him.

“Good. Then you will dance with Miss Sheffield.”

“I’m sure that’s not necessary,” the woman in question blurted out.

Anthony glared at his brother, then for good measure at Miss Sheffield, who was looking at him as if he’d just despoiled ten virgins in her presence.

“Oh, but it is,” Colin said with great drama, ignoring the optical daggers being hurled across their little threesome. “I could never dream of abandoning a young lady in her hour of need. How”—he shuddered—“ungentlemanly.”

Anthony thought seriously about pursuing some ungentlemanly behavior himself. Perhaps planting his fist in Colin’s face.

“I assure you,” Miss Sheffield said quickly, “that being left to my own devices would be far preferable to dan—”

Enough, Anthony thought savagely, was really enough. His own brother had already played him for a fool; he was not going to stand idly by while he was insulted by Edwina’s sharp-tongued spinster sister. He laid a heavy hand on Miss Sheffield’s arm and said, “Allow me to prevent you from making a grievous mistake, Miss Sheffield.”

She stiffened. How, he did not know; her back was already ramrod straight. “I beg your pardon,” she said.

“I believe,” he said smoothly, “that you were about to say something you would soon regret.”

“No,” she said, sounding deliberately thoughtful, “I don’t think regrets were in my future.”

“They will be,” he said ominously. And then he grabbed her arm and practically dragged her onto the ballroom floor.

Chapter 3

Viscount Bridgerton was also seen dancing with Miss Katharine Sheffield, elder sister to the fair Edwina. This can only mean one thing, as it has not escaped the notice of This Author that the elder Miss Sheffield has been in much demand on the dance floor ever since the younger Miss Sheffield made her bizarre and unprecedented announcement at the Smythe-Smith musicale last week.

Whoever heard of a girl needing her sister’s permission to choose a husband?

And perhaps more importantly, whoever decided that the words “Smythe-Smith” and “musicale” might be used in the same sentence? This Author has attended one of these gatherings in the past, and heard nothing that might ethically be termed “music.”

LADY WHISTLEDOWN’S SOCIETY PAPERS, 22 APRIL 1814

There was really nothing she could do, Kate realized with dismay. He was a viscount, and she was a mere nobody from Somerset, and they were both in the middle of a crowded ballroom. It didn’t matter if she’d disliked him on sight. She had to dance with him.

“There is no need to drag me,” she hissed.

He made a great show of loosening his grip.

Kate ground her teeth together and swore to herself that this man would never take her sister as his bride. His manner was too cold, too superior. He was, she thought a touch unfairly, too handsome as well, with velvety brown eyes that matched his hair to perfection. He was tall, certainly over six feet, although probably not by more than an inch, and his lips, while classically beautiful (Kate had studied enough art to regard herself qualified to make such a judgment) were tight at the corners, as if he did not know how to smile.

“Now then,” he said, once their feet began to move in the familiar steps, “suppose you tell me why you hate me.”

Kate trod on his foot. Lord, he was direct. “I beg your pardon?”

“There is no need to maim me, Miss Sheffield.”

“It was an accident, I assure you.” And it was, even if she didn’t really mind this particular example of her lack of grace.

“Why,” he mused, “do I find I have difficulty believing you?”

Honesty, Kate quickly decided, would be her best strategy. If he could be direct, well then, so could she. “Probably,” she answered with a wicked smile, “because you know that had it occurred to me to step on your foot on purpose, I would have done so.”

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