“If you are attempting to gain my sister’s favor through me,” Kate replied icily, “you are not doing a very good job of it.”
“I’m aware of that,” he said. “I really shouldn’t provoke you. It’s not very well done of me, is it? But I’m afraid I just can’t help myself.” He grinned roguishly and held up his hands in a helpless manner. “What can I say? You do something to me, Miss Sheffield.”
His smile, Kate realized with dismay, was truly a force to be reckoned with. She suddenly felt faint. A seat…yes, what she needed to do was sit down. “Please, have a seat,” she said, waving at the blue damask sofa as she scrambled across the room to a chair. She didn’t particularly want him to linger, but she couldn’t very well sit without offering him a seat as well, and her legs were starting to feel awfully wobbly.
If the viscount thought oddly of her sudden burst of politeness, he did not say anything. Instead he removed a long black case off the sofa and placed it on a table, then sat down in its place. “Is that a musical instrument?” he queried, motioning to the case.
Kate nodded. “A flute.”
“Do you play?”
She shook her head, then cocked her head slightly and nodded. “I’m trying to learn. I took it up just this year.”
He nodded in reply, and that, apparently, was to be the end of the subject, because he then politely asked, “When do you expect Edwina to return?”
“Not for at least an hour, I should think. Mr. Berbrooke took her out for a ride in his curricle.”
“Nigel Berbrooke?” He practically choked on the name.
“The man has more hair than wit. A great deal more.”
“But he’s going bald,” she couldn’t resist pointing out.
He grimaced. “And if that doesn’t prove my point, I don’t know what will.”
Kate had reached much the same conclusion about Mr. Berbrooke’s intelligence (or lack thereof), but she said, “Isn’t it considered bad form to insult one’s fellow suitors?”
Anthony let out a little snort. “It wasn’t an insult. It was the truth. He courted my sister last year. Or tried to. Daphne did her best to discourage him. He’s a nice enough fellow, I’ll grant you that, but not someone you’d want building you a boat were you stranded on a desert island.”
Kate had a strange and unwelcome image of the viscount stranded on a desert island, clothes in tatters, skin kissed by the sun. It left her feeling uncomfortably warm.
Anthony cocked his head, regarding her with a quizzical gaze. “I say, Miss Sheffield, are you feeling all right?”
“Fine!” she practically barked. “Never better. You were saying?”
“You look a bit flushed.” He leaned in, watching her closely. She really didn’t look well.
Kate fanned herself. “It’s a bit hot in here, don’t you think?”
Anthony shook his head slowly. “Not at all.”
She gazed longingly out the door. “I wonder where Mary is.”
“Are you expecting her?”
“It’s unlike her to leave me unchaperoned for so long,” she explained.
Unchaperoned? The ramifications were frightening. Anthony had a sudden vision of being trapped into marriage with Miss Sheffield the elder, and it made him break out in a cold sweat. Kate was so unlike any debutante he’d ever met that he’d quite forgotten that they even needed a chaperone. “Perhaps she’s not aware I’m here,” he said quickly.
“Yes, that must be it.” She sprang to her feet and crossed the room to the bellpull. Giving it a firm yank, she said, “I’ll just ring for someone to alert her. I’m sure she won’t want to miss you.”
“Good. Perhaps she can keep us company while we wait for your sister to return.”
Kate froze halfway back to her chair. “You’re planning to wait for Edwina?”
He shrugged, enjoying her discomfort. “I have no other plans for the afternoon.”
“But she might be hours!”
“An hour at most, I’m sure, and besides—” He cut himself off, noting the arrival of a maid in the doorway.
“You rang, miss?” the maid queried.
“Yes, thank you, Annie,” Kate replied. “Would you please inform Mrs. Sheffield that we have a guest?”
The maid bobbed a curtsy and departed.
“I’m sure Mary will be down at any moment,” Kate said, quite unable to stop tapping her foot. “Any minute now. I’m sure of it.”
He just smiled in that annoying manner, looking terribly relaxed and comfortable on the sofa.
An awkward silence fell across the room. Kate offered him a tight smile. He just raised a brow in return.
“I’m sure she’ll be here—”
“Any minute now,” he finished for her, sounding heartily amused.
She sank back into her chair, trying not to grimace. She probably didn’t succeed.
Just then a small commotion broke out in the hall—a few decidedly canine barks, followed by a high-pitched shriek of, “Newton! Newton! Stop that at once!”
“Newton?” the viscount queried.
“My dog,” Kate explained, sighing as she rose to her feet. “He doesn’t—”
“—get along with Mary very well, I’m afraid.” Kate moved to the door. “Mary? Mary?”
Anthony rose when Kate did, wincing as the dog let out three more earsplitting barks, which were immediately followed by another terrified shriek from Mary. “What is he,” he muttered, “a mastiff?” It had to be a mastiff. Miss Sheffield the elder seemed exactly the sort to keep a man-eating mastiff at her beck and call.
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