Kate, on the other hand, always stood with her shoulders straight and tall, couldn’t sit still if her life depended upon it, and walked as if she were in a race—and why not? she always wondered. If one was going somewhere, what could possibly be the point in not getting there quickly?

As for her current season in London, she didn’t even like the city very much. Oh, she was having a good enough time, and she’d met quite a few nice people, but a London season seemed a horrible waste of money to a girl who would have been perfectly content to remain in the country and find some sensible man to marry there.

But Mary would have none of that. “When I married your father,” she’d said, “I vowed to love you and bring you up with all the care and affection I’d give to a child of my own blood.”

Kate had managed to get in a single, “But—” before Mary carried on with, “I have a responsibility to your poor mother, God rest her soul, and part of that responsibility is to see you married off happily and securely.”

“I could be happy and secure in the country,” Kate had replied.

Mary had countered, “There are more men from which to choose in London.”

After which Edwina had joined in, insisting that she would be utterly miserable without her, and since Kate never could bear to see her sister unhappy, her fate had been sealed.

And so here she was—sitting in a somewhat faded drawing room in a rented house in a section of London that was almost fashionable, and…

She looked about mischievously.

…and she was about to snatch a newspaper from her sister’s grasp.

“Kate!” Edwina squealed, her eyes bugging out at the tiny triangle of newsprint that remained between her right thumb and forefinger. “I wasn’t done yet!”

“You’ve been reading it forever,” Kate said with a cheeky grin. “Besides, I want to see what she has to say about Viscount Bridgerton today.”

Edwina’s eyes, which were usually compared to peaceful Scottish lochs, glinted devilishly. “You’re awfully interested in the viscount, Kate. Is there something you’re not telling us?”

“Don’t be silly. I don’t even know the man. And if I did, I would probably run in the opposite direction. He is exactly the sort of man the two of us should avoid at all costs. He could probably seduce an iceberg.”

“Kate!” Mary exclaimed.

Kate grimaced. She’d forgotten her stepmother was listening. “Well, it’s true,” she added. “I’ve heard he’s had more mistresses than I’ve had birthdays.”

Mary looked at her for a few seconds, as if trying to decide whether or not she wanted to respond, and then finally she said, “Not that this is an appropriate topic for your ears, but many men have.”

“Oh.” Kate flushed. There was little less appealing than being decisively contradicted while one was trying to make a grand point. “Well, then, he’s had twice as many. Whatever the case, he’s far more promiscuous than most men, and not the sort Edwina ought to allow to court her.”

“You are enjoying a season as well,” Mary reminded her.

Kate shot Mary the most sarcastic of glances. They all knew that if the viscount chose to court a Sheffield, it would not be Kate.

“I don’t think there is anything in there that’s going to alter your opinion,” Edwina said with a shrug as she leaned toward Kate to get a better view of the newspaper. “She doesn’t say very much about him, actually. It’s more of a treatise on the topic of rakes.”

Kate’s eyes swept over the typeset words. “Hmmph,” she said, her favorite expression of disdain. “I’ll wager she’s correct. He probably won’t come up to scratch this year.”

“You always think Lady Whistledown is correct,” Mary murmured with a smile.

“She usually is,” Kate replied. “You must admit, for a gossip columnist, she displays remarkable good sense. She has certainly been correct in her assessment of all the people I have met thus far in London.”

“You should make your own judgments, Kate,” Mary said lightly. “It is beneath you to base your opinions on a gossip column.”

Kate knew her stepmother was right, but she didn’t want to admit it, and so she just let out another “Hmmph” and turned back to the paper in her hands.

Whistledown was, without a doubt, the most interesting reading material in all London. Kate wasn’t entirely certain when the gossip column had begun—sometime the previous year, she’d heard—but one thing was certain. Whoever Lady Whistledown was (and no one really knew who she was), she was a well-connected member of the ton. She had to be. No interloper could ever uncover all the gossip she printed in her columns every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Lady Whistledown always had all the latest on-dits, and unlike other columnists, she wasn’t hesitant about using people’s full names. Having decided last week, for example, that Kate didn’t look good in yellow, she wrote, clear as day: “The color yellow makes the dark-haired Miss Katharine Sheffield look like a singed daffodil.”

Kate hadn’t minded the insult. She’d heard it said on more than one occasion that one could not consider oneself “arrived” until one had been insulted by Lady Whistledown. Even Edwina, who was a huge social success by anyone’s measure, had been jealous that Kate had been singled out for an insult.

And even though Kate didn’t particularly want to be in London for a season, she figured that if she had to participate in the social whirl, she might as well not be a complete and utter failure. If getting insulted in a gossip column was to be her only sign of success, well then, so be it. Kate would take her triumphs where she may.

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