“I meant,” Kate growled, “how did you get in? No one alerted me to your arrival.”

He cocked his head toward the hall. “The usual manner. I knocked on your front door.”

Kate’s look of irritation at his sarcasm did not prevent him from continuing with, “Amazingly enough, your butler answered. Then I gave him my card, he took a look at it, and showed me to the drawing room. Much as I’d like to claim some sort of devious, underhanded subterfuge,” he continued, maintaining a rather impressively supercilious tone, “it was actually quite aboveboard and straightforward.”

“Infernal butler,” Kate muttered. “He’s supposed to see if we’re ‘at home’ before showing you in.”

“Maybe he had previous instructions that you would be ‘at home’ for me under any circumstances.”

She bristled. “I gave him no such instructions.”

“No,” Lord Bridgerton said with a chuckle, “I wouldn’t have thought so.”

“And I know Edwina didn’t.”

He smiled. “Perhaps your mother?”

Of course. “Mary,” she groaned, a world of accusation in the single word.

“You call her by her given name?” he asked politely.

She nodded. “She’s actually my stepmother. Although she’s really all I know. She married my father when I was but three. I don’t know why I still call her Mary.” She gave her head a little shake as her shoulders lifted into a perplexed shrug. “I just do.”

His brown eyes remained fixed on her face, and she realized she’d just let this man—her nemesis, really—into a small corner of her life. She felt the words “I’m sorry” bubbling on her tongue—a reflexive reaction, she supposed, for having spoken too freely. But she didn’t want to apologize to this man for anything, so instead she just said, “Edwina is out, I’m afraid, so your visit was for nothing.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” he replied. He grasped the bouquet of flowers—which had been tucked under his right arm—with his other hand, and as he brought it forward Kate saw that it was not one massive bouquet, but three smaller ones.

“This,” he said, putting one of the bouquets down on a side table, “is for Edwina. And this”—he did the same with the second—“is for your mother.”

He was left with a single bouquet. Kate stood frozen with shock, unable to take her eyes off the perfect pink blooms. She knew what he had to be about, that the only reason he’d included her in the gesture was to impress Edwina, but blast it, no one had ever brought her flowers before, and she hadn’t known until that very moment how badly she’d wanted someone to do so.

“These,” he said finally, holding out the final arrangement of pink roses, “are for you.”

“Thank you,” she said hesitantly, taking them into her arms. “They’re lovely.” She leaned down to sniff them, sighing with pleasure at the thick scent. Glancing back up, she added, “It was very thoughtful of you to think of Mary and me.”

He nodded graciously. “It was my pleasure. I must confess, a suitor for my sister’s hand once did the same for my mother, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen her more delighted.”

“Your mother or your sister?”

He smiled at her pert question. “Both.”

“And what happened to this suitor?” Kate asked.

Anthony’s grin turned devilish in the extreme. “He married my sister.”

“HmmPh. Don’t think history is likely to repeat itself. But—” Kate coughed, not particularly wanting to be honest with him but quite incapable of doing anything otherwise. “But the flowers are truly lovely, and—and it was a lovely gesture on your part.” She swallowed. This wasn’t easy for her. “And I do appreciate them.”

He leaned forward slightly, his dark eyes positively melting. “A kind sentence,” he mused. “And directed at me, no less. There now, that wasn’t so difficult, was it?”

Kate went from bending lovingly over the flowers to standing uncomfortably straight in an instant. “You do seem to have a knack for saying the exact wrong thing.”

“Only where you’re concerned, my dear Miss Sheffield. Other women, I assure you, hang on my every word.”

“So I’ve read,” she muttered.

His eyes lit up. “Is that where you’ve developed your opinions of me? Of course! The estimable Lady Whistledown. I should have known. Lud, I’d like to strangle the woman.”

“I find her rather intelligent and quite on the mark,” Kate said primly.

“You would,” he returned.

“Lord Bridgerton,” Kate ground out, “I’m sure you did not come calling to insult me. May I leave a message for Edwina for you?”

“I think not. I don’t particularly trust that it would reach her unadulterated.”

That was really too much. “I would never stoop to interfering with another person’s correspondence,” Kate somehow managed to say. Her entire body was shaking with rage, and if she’d been a less controlled sort of woman, her hands would surely have been wrapped around his throat. “How dare you imply otherwise.”

“When all is said and done, Miss Sheffield,” he said with annoying calmness, “I really don’t know you very well. What I do know consists of your fervent avowals that I will never find myself within ten feet of your sister’s saintly presence. You tell me, would you feel confident to leave a note if you were me?”


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