Anthony caught her fishlike spluttering and quirked one corner of his mouth in the most obnoxious manner before he said, “I’m pleased to see you agree with me, Miss Sheffield.”
She just grumbled. If she’d formed words, they wouldn’t have been polite ones.
“Excellent,” Colin said. “We’ll see you then.”
And then he looped his arm through hers and led her away, leaving Anthony smirking behind them.
Colin and Kate walked about a quarter of a mile from the house to a somewhat uneven clearing bordered on one side by a lake.
“Home of the prodigal red ball, I presume?” Kate queried, motioning to the water.
Colin laughed and nodded. “It’s a pity, because we used to have equipment enough for eight players; Mother had insisted on our purchasing a set that could accommodate all of her children.”
Kate wasn’t certain whether to smile or frown. “Yours is a very close family, isn’t it?”
“The best,” Colin said simply, walking over to a nearby shed.
Kate trailed after him, tapping her hand idly against her thigh. “Do you know what time it is?” she called out.
He paused, pulled out his pocket watch, and flipped it open. “Ten minutes past three.”
“Thank you,” Kate replied, making a mental note of it. They’d probably left Anthony at five to three, and he’d promised to deliver Edwina to the Pall Mall field within thirty minutes, so they should be down at twenty-five past the hour.
Half three at the very latest. Kate was willing to be generous and allow for unavoidable delays. If the viscount had Edwina down by half three, she wouldn’t quibble.
Colin resumed his trek to the shed, Kate watching with interest as he wrenched open the door. “It sounds rusty,” she commented.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been out here to play,” he said.
“Really? If I had a house like Aubrey Hall, I would never go to London.”
Colin turned around, his hand still on the half-open door to the shed. “You’re a lot like Anthony, did you know that?”
Kate gasped. “Surely you’re joking.”
He shook his head, a strange little smile on his lips. “Perhaps it’s because you’re both the eldest. The Lord knows I’m thankful every day I wasn’t born in Anthony’s shoes.”
“What do you mean?”
Colin shrugged. “I simply wouldn’t want his responsibilities, that’s all. The title, the family, the fortune—it’s a great deal to fit on one man’s shoulders.”
Kate didn’t particularly want to hear how well the viscount had assumed the responsibilities of his title; she didn’t want to hear anything that might change her opinion of him, although she had to confess that she’d been impressed by the apparent sincerity of his apology earlier that afternoon. “What has this to do with Aubrey Hall?” she inquired.
Colin stared at her blankly for a moment, as if he’d forgotten that the conversation had started with her innocent comment about how lovely his country home was. “Nothing, I suppose,” he said finally. “And everything as well. Anthony loves it here.”
“But he spends all his time in London,” Kate said. “Doesn’t he?”
“I know.” Colin shrugged. “Odd, isn’t it?”
Kate had no reply, so she just watched as he pulled the door to the shed all the way open. “Here we are,” he said, pulling out a wheeled cart that had been specially constructed to fit eight mallets and wooden balls. “A bit musty, but none the worse for the wear.”
“Except for the loss of the red ball,” Kate said with a smile.
“I blame that entirely on Daphne,” Colin replied. “I blame everything on Daphne. It makes my life much easier.”
“I heard that!”
Kate turned to see an attractive young couple approaching. The man was devastatingly handsome, with dark, dark hair and light, light eyes. The woman could only be a Bridgerton, with the same chestnut hair as both Anthony and Colin. Not to mention the same bone structure and smile. Kate had heard that all the Bridgertons looked rather alike, but she’d never fully believed it until now.
“Daff!” Colin called out. “You’re just in time to help us put out the wickets.”
She gave him an arch smile. “You didn’t think I’d let you set up the course yourself, do you?” She turned to her husband. “I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him.”
“Don’t listen to her,” Colin said to Kate. “She’s very strong. I’d wager she could toss me clear into the lake.”
Daphne rolled her eyes and turned to Kate. “Since I’m sure my miserable brother won’t do the honors, I’ll introduce myself. I am Daphne, Duchess of Hastings, and this is my husband Simon.”
Kate bobbed a quick curtsy. “Your grace,” she murmured, then turned to the duke and said again, “Your grace.”
Colin waved his hand toward her as he bent down to retrieve the wickets from the Pall Mall cart. “This is Miss Sheffield.”
Daphne looked confused. “I just passed by Anthony at the house. I thought he said he was on his way to fetch Miss Sheffield.”
“My sister,” Kate explained. “Edwina. I am Katharine. Kate to my friends.”
“Well, if you are brave enough to play Pall Mall with the Bridgertons, I definitely want you as my friend,” Daphne said with a wide smile. “Therefore you must call me Daphne. And my husband Simon. Simon?”
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