One kiss with Kate could probably be excused, especially considering how far she’d provoked him the other night in his study. But two…well, two would have required any man of honor to withdraw his courtship of Edwina Sheffield.

And Anthony wasn’t quite ready to give up on the concept of honor.

He couldn’t believe how close he’d come to tossing aside his plan to marry Edwina. What was he thinking? She was the perfect bride for his purposes. It was only when her meddlesome sister was around that his brain grew confused.

“Anthony,” Colin said again as he drew near, “and Miss Sheffield.” He eyed them curiously; he well knew they didn’t get along. “What a surprise.”

“I was just exploring your mother’s gardens,” Kate said, “and I stumbled upon your brother.”

Anthony gave a single nod of agreement.

“Daphne and Simon are here,” Colin said.

Anthony turned to Kate and explained, “My sister and her husband.”

“The duke?” she inquired politely.

“The very one,” he grumbled.

Colin laughed at his brother’s pique. “He was opposed to the marriage,” he said to Kate. “It kills him that they’re happy.”

“Oh, for the love of—” Anthony snapped, catching himself just before he blasphemed in front of Kate. “I’m very happy that my sister is happy,” he ground out, not sounding particularly happy. “It’s simply that I should have had one more opportunity to beat the tar out of that bas—bounder before they embarked on ‘happily ever after.’ ”

Kate choked on a laugh. “I see,” she said, fairly certain that she had not kept the straight face she’d been aiming for.

Colin shot her a grin before turning back to his brother. “Daff suggested a game of Pall Mall. What do you say? We haven’t played for ages. And, if we set off soon, we can escape the milksop misses Mother has invited for us.” He turned back to Kate with the sort of grin that could win forgiveness for anything. “Present company excluded, of course.”

“Of course,” she murmured.

Colin leaned forward, his green eyes flashing with mischief. “No one would make the mistake of calling you a milksop miss,” he added.

“Is that a compliment?” she asked acerbically.

“Without a doubt.”

“Then I shall accept it with grace and good favor.”

Colin laughed and said to Anthony, “I like her.”

Anthony didn’t look amused.

“Have you ever played Pall Mall, Miss Sheffield?” Colin asked.

“I’m afraid not. I’m not even sure what it is.”

“It’s a lawn game. Brilliant fun. More popular in France than it is here, although they call it Paille Maille.”

“How does one play?” Kate asked.

“We set out wickets on a course,” Colin explained, “then hit wooden balls through them with mallets.”

“That sounds simple enough,” she mused.

“Not,” he said with a laugh, “when you’re playing with the Bridgertons.”

“And what does that mean?”

“It means,” Anthony cut in, “that we’ve never seen the need to set out a regulation course. Colin sets out the wickets over tree roots—”

“And you aimed yours toward the lake,” Colin interrupted. “We never did find the red ball after Daphne sank it.”

Kate knew she shouldn’t be committing herself to an afternoon in the company of Viscount Bridgerton, but dash it all, Pall Mall sounded fun. “Might there be room for one more player?” she inquired. “Since we’ve already excluded me from the ranks of the milksops?”

“Of course!” Colin said. “I suspect you’ll fit right in with the rest of us schemers and cheaters.”

“Coming from you,” Kate said with a laugh, “I know that was a compliment.”

“Oh, for certain. Honor and honesty has its time and place, but not in a game of Pall Mall.”

“And,” Anthony cut in, a smug expression on his face, “we shall have to invite your sister as well.”

“Edwina?” Kate choked out. Drat. She’d just played right into his hand. She’d been doing her best to keep the two of them apart, and now she’d practically arranged an afternoon out. There was no way she could exclude Edwina after all but inviting herself into the game.

“Do you have another sister?” he asked mildly.

She just scowled at him. “She might not wish to play. I think she was resting in her room.”

“I’ll instruct the maid to knock very lightly on her door,” Anthony said, obviously lying.

“Excellent!” Colin said brightly. “We shall be evenly matched. Three men and three women.”

“Does one play on teams?” Kate asked.

“No,” he replied, “but my mother has always been adamant that one must be evenly matched in all things. She’ll be quite disturbed if we go out in odd numbers.”

Kate couldn’t imagine the lovely and gracious woman she’d chatted with just an hour earlier getting upset over a game of Pall Mall, but she figured it wasn’t her place to comment.

“I’ll see to fetching Miss Sheffield,” Anthony murmured, looking insufferably smug. “Colin, why don’t you see this Miss Sheffield down to the field and I’ll meet you there in half an hour?”

Kate opened her mouth to protest the arrangements that would leave Edwina alone in the viscount’s company, even for so short a time as a walk down to the field, but in the end she remained silent. There was no reasonable excuse she could give to prevent it, and she knew it.

***

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