“We would not dream of spending the evening anywhere else,” Mary replied. “And may I present my daughter?” She motioned to Kate, who stepped forward and bobbed a dutiful curtsy.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Sheffield,” Lady Bridgerton said.

“And I am likewise honored,” Kate replied.

Lady Bridgerton motioned to a young lady at her side. “And this is my daughter, Eloise.”

Kate smiled warmly at the girl, who looked to be about the same age as Edwina. Eloise Bridgerton had the exact same color hair as her older brothers, and her face was lit by a friendly, wide smile. Kate liked her instantly.

“How do you do, Miss Bridgerton,” Kate said. “Is this your first season?”

Eloise nodded. “I’m not officially out until next year, but my mother has been allowing me to attend functions here at Bridgerton House.”

“How lucky for you,” Kate replied. “I should have loved to have attended a few parties last year. Everything was so new when I arrived in London this spring. The mind boggles at the simple attempt to remember everyone’s name.”

Eloise grinned. “Actually, my sister Daphne came out two years ago, and she always described everyone and everything to me in such detail, I feel as if I already recognize almost everyone.”

“Daphne is your eldest daughter?” Mary asked Lady Bridgerton.

The viscountess nodded. “She married the Duke of Hastings last year.”

Mary smiled. “You must have been delighted.”

“Indeed. He is a duke, but more importantly, he is a good man and loves my daughter. I only hope the rest of my children make such excellent matches.” Lady Bridgerton cocked her head slightly to the side and turned back to Kate. “I understand, Miss Sheffield, that your sister was not able to attend this evening.”

Kate fought a groan. Clearly Lady Bridgerton was already pairing up Anthony and Edwina for a walk down the aisle. “I’m afraid she caught a chill last week.”

“Nothing serious, I hope?” the viscountess said to Mary, in a rather mother-to-mother sort of tone.

“No, not at all,” Mary replied. “In fact, she is nearly back to sorts. But I thought she should have one more day of recuperation before venturing out. It would not do for her to suffer a relapse.”

“No, of course not.” Lady Bridgerton paused, then smiled. “Well, that is too bad. I was so looking forward to meeting her. Edwina is her name, yes?”

Kate and Mary both nodded.

“I’ve heard she is lovely.” But even as Lady Bridgerton said the words, she was glancing at her son—who was flirting madly with the Italian opera singer—and frowning.

Kate felt something very uneasy in her stomach. According to recent issues of Whistledown, Lady Bridgerton was on a mission to get her son married off. And while the viscount didn’t seem the sort of man to bend to his mother’s will (or anyone’s, for that matter), Kate had a feeling that Lady Bridgerton would be able to exert quite a bit of pressure if she so chose.

After a few more moments of polite chatter, Mary and Kate left Lady Bridgerton to greet the rest of her guests. They were soon accosted by Mrs. Featherington, who, as the mother of three unmarried young women herself, always had a lot to say to Mary on a wide variety of topics. But as the stout woman bore down on them, her eyes were focused firmly on Kate.

Kate immediately began to assess possible escape routes.

“Kate!” Mrs. Featherington boomed. She had long since declared herself on a first-name basis with the Sheffields. “What a surprise to see you here.”

“And why is that, Mrs. Featherington?” Kate asked, puzzled.

“Surely you read Whistledown this morning.”

Kate smiled weakly. It was either that or wince. “Oh, you mean that little incident involving my dog?”

Mrs. Featherington’s brows rose a good half inch. “From what I hear, it was more than a ‘little incident.’ ”

“It was of little consequence,” Kate said firmly, although truth be told, she was finding it difficult not to growl at the meddlesome woman. “And I must say I resent Lady Whistledown referring to Newton as a dog of indeterminate breed. I’ll have you know he is a full-blooded corgi.”

“It was truly of no matter,” Mary said, finally coming to Kate’s defense. “I’m surprised it even warranted a mention in the column.”

Kate offered Mrs. Featherington her blandest smile, fully aware that both she and Mary were lying through their teeth. Dunking Edwina (and nearly dunking Lord Bridgerton) in The Serpentine was not an incident of “little consequence,” but if Lady Whistledown hadn’t seen fit to report the full details, Kate certainly wasn’t about to fill the gap.

Mrs. Featherington opened her mouth, a sharp intake of breath telling Kate that she was preparing to launch into a lengthy monologue on the topic of the importance of good deportment (or good manners, or good breeding, or good whatever the day’s topic was), so Kate quickly blurted out, “May I fetch you two some lemonade?”

The two matrons said yes and thanked her, and Kate slipped away. Once she returned, however, she smiled innocently and said, “But I have only two hands, so now I must return for a glass for myself.”

And with that, she took her leave.

She stopped briefly at the lemonade table, just in case Mary was looking, then darted out of the room and into the hall, where she sank onto a cushioned bench about ten yards from the music room, eager to get a bit of air. Lady Bridgerton had left the music room’s French doors open to the small garden at the back of the house, but it was such a crush that the air was stifling, even with the slight breeze from outside.

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