She didn’t think she could bear it if he pitied her.

But Kate didn’t have very long to obsess over the kiss and what it might and might not have meant, because that afternoon—the afternoon after the flowers—arrived an invitation far more unsettling than anything Lord Bridgerton might have issued himself. The Sheffields’ presence, it seemed, was desired at a country house party being rather spontaneously hosted in one week’s time by Lady Bridgerton.

The mother of the devil himself.

And there was no way that Kate could possibly get out of going. Nothing short of an earthquake combined with a hurricane combined with a tornado—none of which were likely to occur in Great Britain, although Kate was still holding out hope for the hurricane, as long as there was no thunder or lightning involved—would prevent Mary from showing up on the Bridgertons’ bucolic doorstep with Edwina in tow. And Mary certainly wasn’t going to allow Kate to remain alone in London, left to her own devices. Not to mention that there was no way Kate was going to allow Edwina to go without her.

The viscount had no scruples. He’d probably kiss Edwina just as he’d kissed Kate, and Kate couldn’t imagine that Edwina would have the fortitude to resist such an advance. She’d probably think it beyond romantic and fall in love with him on the spot.

Even Kate had had difficulty keeping her head when his lips had been on hers. For one blissful moment, she’d forgotten everything. She’d known nothing but an exquisite sensation of being cherished and wanted—no, needed—and it had been heady stuff, indeed.

Almost enough to make a lady forget that the man doing the kissing was a worthless cad.

Almost…but not quite.

Chapter 8

As any regular reader of this column knows, there are two sects in London who shall forever remain in the utmost opposition: Ambitious Mamas and Determined Bachelors.

The Ambitious Mama has daughters of marriageable age. The Determined Bachelor does not want a wife. The crux of the conflict should be obvious to those with half a brain, or, in other words, approximately fifty percent of This Author’s readership.

This Author has not yet seen a guest list for Lady Bridgerton’s country house party, but informed sources indicate that nearly every eligible young lady of marriageable age will be gathering in Kent next week.

This surprises no one. Lady Bridgerton has never made a secret of her desire to see her sons favorably married. This sentiment has made her a favorite among the Ambitious Mama set, who despairingly view the Bridgerton brothers as the worst sort of Determined Bachelors.

If one is to trust the betting books, then at least one of the Bridgerton brothers shall be witness to wedding bells before the year is through.

As much as it pains This Author to agree with the betting books (they are written by men, and thus inherently flawed), This Author must concur in the prediction.

Lady Bridgerton will soon have her daughter-in-law. But who she will be—and to which brother she shall find herself married—ah, Gentle Reader, that is still anyone’s guess.

LADY WHISTLEDOWN’S SOCIETY PAPERS, 29 APRIL 1814

One week later, Anthony was in Kent—in his private suite of offices, to be precise—awaiting the start of his mother’s country house party.

He’d seen the guest list. There could be no doubt that his mother had decided to host this party for one reason and one reason only: to get one of her sons married off, preferably him. Aubrey Hall, the ancestral seat of the Bridgertons, would be filled to the brim with eligible young ladies, each lovelier and more empty-headed than the last. To keep numbers even, Lady Bridgerton had had to invite a number of gentlemen, to be sure, but none were as wealthy or well connected as her own sons, save for the few who were married.

His mother, Anthony thought ruefully, had never been known for her subtlety. At least not when the well-being (her definition of well-being, that is) of her children was concerned.

He had not been surprised to see that an invitation had been extended to the Misses Sheffield. His mother had mentioned—several times—how much she liked Mrs. Sheffield. And he had been forced to listen to his mother’s “Good Parents Make Good Children” theory too many times not to know what that meant.

He’d actually felt a resigned sort of satisfaction upon the sight of Edwina’s name on the list. He was eager to propose to her and be done with it. He did feel a measure of uneasiness over what had happened with Kate, but there seemed little to be done now unless he wanted to go to the trouble of finding another prospective bride.

Which he did not. Once Anthony made a decision—in this case to finally get married—he saw no reason in courting delays. Procrastination was for those with a bit more time to live out their lives. Anthony might have avoided the parson’s mousetrap for nearly a decade, but now that he’d decided it was time for a bride, there seemed little sense in tarrying.

Marry, procreate, and die. Such was the life of a noble Englishman, even one whose father and uncle had not dropped unexpectedly dead at the ages of thirty-eight and thirty-four, respectively.

Clearly, all he could do at this point was to avoid Kate Sheffield. An apology would probably also be in order. It wouldn’t be easy, since the last thing he wanted to do was humble himself to that woman, but the whispers of his conscience had risen to a dull roar, and he knew she deserved the words, “I’m sorry.”

She probably deserved more, but Anthony was unwilling to contemplate what that might be.

Not to mention that unless he went and spoke to her, she was likely to block a union between him and Edwina to her dying breath.

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