Edwina’s mouth fell open, and for one second she sat utterly frozen, as if suspended in time. Then she fell back onto her pillows, hooting with laughter. “Oh, Kate!” she gasped. “That is splendid! Oh, what a tangle. Oh, I love it!”

Kate glared at her. “It’s not funny.”

Edwina wiped at her eyes. “It might be the funniest thing I’ve heard all month. All year! Oh, my goodness.” She let out a short stream of coughs, brought on by her laughing fit. “Oh, Kate, I do believe you might have cleared out my nose.”

“Edwina, that’s disgusting.”

Edwina brought her handkerchief to her face and blew her nose. “But true,” she said triumphantly.

“It won’t last,” Kate muttered. “You’ll be sick as a dog by morning.”

“You’re probably right,” Edwina agreed, “but oh, what fun. He said he couldn’t help himself? Oh, Kate, that is just rich.”

“There is no need to dwell on it,” Kate grumbled.

“Do you know, but he might be the very first gentleman we’ve met all season you haven’t been able to manage.”

Kate’s lips twisted into a grimace. The viscount had used the same word, and they were both correct. She’d indeed spent the season managing men—managing them for Edwina. And she suddenly wasn’t so sure she liked this role of mother hen she’d been thrust into.

Or maybe she’d thrust herself into it.

Edwina saw the play of emotion on her sister’s face and immediately turned apologetic. “Oh, dear,” she murmured. “I’m sorry, Kate. I didn’t mean to tease.”

Kate arched a brow.

“Oh, very well, I did mean to tease, but never to actually hurt your feelings. I had no idea Lord Bridgerton had upset you so.”

“Edwina, I just don’t like the man. And I don’t think you should even consider marrying him. I don’t care how ardently or how persistently he pursues you. He will not make a good husband.”

Edwina was silent for a moment, her magnificent eyes utterly sober. Then she said, “Well, if you say so, it must be true. I have certainly never been steered wrong by your judgment before. And, as you said, you have spent more time in his company than have I, so you would know better.”

Kate let out a long and ill-disguised sigh of relief. “Good,” she said firmly. “And when you are feeling more the thing, we shall look among your current suitors for a better match.”

“And maybe you could look for a husband, too,” Edwina suggested.

“Of course I’m always looking,” Kate insisted. “What would be the point of a London season if I weren’t looking?”

Edwina looked dubious. “I don’t think you are looking, Kate. I think that all you do is interview possibilities for me. And there is no reason you shouldn’t find a husband as well. You need a family of your own. I certainly can’t imagine anyone more suited to be a mother than you.”

Kate bit her lip, not wanting to respond directly to Edwina’s point. Because behind those lovely blue eyes and perfect face, Edwina was quite the most perceptive person she knew. And Edwina was right. Kate hadn’t been looking for a husband. But why should she? No one was considering her for marriage, either.

She sighed, glancing toward the window. The storm seemed to have passed without striking her area of London. She supposed she ought to be thankful for small favors.

“Why don’t we see about you first,” Kate finally said, “since I think we both agree that you are more likely to receive a proposal before I do, and then we’ll think about my prospects?”

Edwina shrugged, and Kate knew that her deliberate silence meant that she did not agree.

“Very well,” Kate said, rising to her feet. “I’ll leave you to your rest. I’m sure you’ll need it.”

Edwina coughed as a reply.

“And drink that remedy!” Kate said with a laugh, heading out the door.

As she shut the door behind her, she heard Edwina mutter, “I’d rather die.”

Four days later, Edwina was dutifully drinking Cook’s remedy, although not without considerable grumbling and complaint. Her health had improved, but only to the point where she was almost better. She was still stuck in bed, still coughing, and very irritable.

Mary had declared that Edwina could not attend any social functions until Tuesday at the earliest. Kate had taken that to mean that they all would receive a respite (because really, what was the point of attending a ball without Edwina?), but after Kate spent a blessedly uneventful Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with nothing to do but read and take Newton for walks, Mary suddenly declared that the two of them would attend Lady Bridgerton’s musicale Monday evening, and—

(Kate tried to interject a vehement argument about why this was not a good idea at this point.)

—that was final.

Kate gave in fairly quickly. There was really no point in arguing any further, especially since Mary turned on her heel and walked away directly after uttering the word, “final.”

Kate did have certain standards, and they included not arguing with closed doors.

And so Monday evening she found herself dressed in ice blue silk, fan in hand, as she and Mary rolled through the streets of London in their inexpensive carriage, on their way to Bridgerton House in Grosvenor Square.

“Everyone will be very surprised to see us without Edwina,” Kate said, her left hand fiddling with the black gauze of her cloak.

“You are looking for a husband as well,” Mary replied.

***

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