“No,” Kate said, rushing out into the hall as Mary let out another shriek. “He’s a—”

But Anthony missed her words. It didn’t matter much, anyway, because one second later, in trotted the most benign-looking corgi he’d ever seen, with thick caramel-colored fur and a belly that almost dragged on the ground.

Anthony froze with surprise. This was the fearsome creature from the hall? “Good day, dog,” he said firmly.

The dog stopped in its tracks, sat right down, and…

Smiled?

Chapter 4

This Author was, sadly, unable to determine all the details, but there was a considerable to-do Thursday last near The Serpentine in Hyde Park involving Viscount Bridgerton, Mr. Nigel Berbrooke, both the Misses Sheffield, and an unnamed dog of indeterminate breed.

This Author was not an eyewitness, but all accounts seem to indicate that the unnamed dog emerged the victor.

LADY WHISTLEDOWN’S SOCIETY PAPERS, 25 APRIL 1814

Kate stumbled back into the drawing room, knocking arms with Mary as they both squeezed through the doorway at the same time. Newton was seated happily in the middle of the room, shedding on the blue-and-white rug as he grinned up at the viscount.

“I think he likes you,” Mary said, somewhat accusingly.

“He likes you, too, Mary,” Kate said. “The problem is that you don’t like him.”

“I’d like him better if he didn’t try to accost me every time I come through the hall.”

“I thought you said Mrs. Sheffield and the dog didn’t get along,” Lord Bridgerton said.

“They don’t,” Kate replied. “Well, they do. Well, they don’t and they do.”

“That clears things up immeasurably,” he murmured.

Kate ignored his quiet sarcasm. “Newton adores Mary,” she explained, “but Mary doesn’t adore Newton.”

“I’d adore him a bit more,” Mary interrupted, “if he’d adore me a bit less.”

“So,” Kate continued determinedly, “poor Newton regards Mary as something of a challenge. So when he sees her…” She shrugged helplessly. “Well, I’m afraid he simply adores her more.”

As if on cue, the dog caught sight of Mary and bounded straight over to her feet.

“Kate!” Mary exclaimed.

Kate rushed to her stepmother’s side, just as Newton rose on his hind legs and planted his front paws just above Mary’s knees. “Newton, down!” she scolded. “Bad dog. Bad dog.”

The dog sat back down with a little whine.

“Kate,” Mary said in an extremely no-nonsense voice, “that dog must be taken for a walk. Now.”

“I had been planning to when the viscount arrived,” Kate replied, motioning to the man across the room. Really, it was remarkable the number of things she could blame on the insufferable man if she put her mind to it.

“Oh!” Mary yelped. “I beg your pardon, my lord. How rude of me not to greet you.”

“It is of no concern,” he said smoothly. “You were a bit preoccupied upon your arrival.”

“Yes,” Mary grumbled, “that beastly dog…. Oh, but where are my manners? May we offer you tea? Something to eat? It is so kind of you to call upon us.”

“No, thank you. I’ve just been enjoying your daughter’s invigorating company while I await Miss Edwina’s arrival.”

“Ah, yes,” Mary answered. “Edwina’s off with Mr. Berbrooke, I believe. Isn’t that so, Kate?”

Kate nodded stonily, not sure she liked being called “invigorating.”

“Do you know Mr. Berbrooke, Lord Bridgerton?” Mary asked.

“Ah, yes,” he said, with what Kate thought was fairly surprising reticence. “Yes, I do.”

“I wasn’t sure if I should have allowed Edwina to go off with him for a ride. Those curricles are terribly difficult to drive, aren’t they?”

“I believe that Mr. Berbrooke has a steady hand with his horses,” Anthony replied.

“Oh, good,” Mary replied, letting out a much-relieved sigh. “You have surely set my mind at rest.”

Newton let out a staccato bark, simply to remind everyone of his presence.

“I had better find his lead and take him for a walk,” Kate said hurriedly. She certainly could use a bit of fresh air. And it would be nice to finally escape the viscount’s fiendish company. “If you’ll excuse me…”

“But wait, Kate!” Mary called out. “You cannot leave Lord Bridgerton here with me. I’m sure I’ll bore him to tears.”

Kate slowly turned around, dreading Mary’s next words.

“You could never bore me, Mrs. Sheffield,” the viscount said, debonair rake that he was.

“Oh, but I could,” she assured him. “You’ve never been trapped in conversation with me for an hour. Which is about how long it will be before Edwina returns.”

Kate stared at her stepmother, her jaw actually hanging open with shock. What on earth did Mary think she was doing?

“Why don’t you go with Kate to take Newton for a walk?” Mary suggested.

“Oh, but I could never ask Lord Bridgerton to accompany me on a chore,” Kate said quickly. “It would be beyond rudeness, and after all, he is our esteemed guest.”

“Don’t be silly,” Mary answered, before the viscount could get even half of a word in. “I’m sure he wouldn’t look upon it as a chore. Would you, my lord?”

“Of course not,” he murmured, looking utterly sincere. But really, what else could he say?

***

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