Kate smiled wickedly. “I noticed that you didn’t choose the pink mallet.”

“Of course not,” he returned, his grin even more devious than hers. “My wife had already chosen it for him. I could not gainsay her, now, could I?”

“Yellow for me,” Colin said, “and blue for Miss Edwina, don’t you think?”

“Oh, yes,” Kate replied. “Edwina loves blue.”

The foursome stared down at the two mallets left: pink and purple.

“He’s not going to like either one,” Daphne said.

Colin nodded. “But he’ll like pink even less.” And with that, he picked up the purple mallet and tossed it into the shed, then reached down and sent the purple ball in after it.

“I say,” the duke said, “where is Anthony?”

“That’s a very good question,” Kate muttered, tapping her hand against her thigh.

“I suppose you’ll want to know what time it is,” Colin said slyly.

Kate flushed. She’d already asked him to check his pocket watch twice. “I’m fine, thank you,” she answered, lacking a witty retort.

“Very well. It’s just that I’ve learned that once you start moving your hand like that—”

Kate’s hand froze.

“—you’re usually about ready to ask me what time it is.”

“You’ve learned quite a lot about me in the past hour,” Kate said dryly.

He grinned. “I’m an observant fellow.”

“Obviously,” she muttered.

“But in case you wanted to know, it’s a quarter of an hour before four.”

“They’re past due,” Kate said.

Colin leaned forward and whispered, “I highly doubt that my brother is ravishing your sister.”

Kate lurched back. “Mr. Bridgerton!”

“What are you two talking about?” Daphne asked.

Colin grinned. “Miss Sheffield is worried that Anthony is compromising the other Miss Sheffield.”

“Colin!” Daphne exclaimed. “That isn’t the least bit funny.”

“And certainly not true,” Kate protested. Well, almost not true. She didn’t think the viscount was compromising Edwina, but he was probably doing his very best to charm her silly. And that was dangerous in and of itself.

Kate pondered the mallet in her hand and tried to figure out how she might bring it down upon the viscount’s head and make it look like an accident.

The mallet of death, indeed.

Anthony checked the clock on the mantel in his study. Almost half three. They were going to be late.

He grinned. Oh, well, nothing to do about it.

Normally he was a stickler for punctuality, but when tardiness resulted in the torture of Kate Sheffield, he didn’t much mind a late arrival.

And Kate Sheffield was surely writhing in agony by now, horrified at the thought of her precious younger sister in his evil clutches.

Anthony looked down at his evil clutches—hands, he reminded himself, hands—and grinned anew. He hadn’t had this much fun in ages, and all he was doing was loitering about his office, picturing Kate Sheffield with her jaw clenched together, steam pouring from her ears.

It was a highly entertaining image.

Not, of course, that this was even his fault. He would have left right on time if he hadn’t had to wait for Edwina. She’d sent word down with the maid that she would join him in ten minutes. That was twenty minutes ago. He couldn’t help it if she was late.

Anthony had a sudden image of the rest of his life—waiting for Edwina. Was she the sort who was chronically late? That might grow vexing after a while.

As if on cue, he heard the patter of footsteps in the hall, and when he looked up, Edwina’s exquisite form was framed by the doorway.

She was, he thought dispassionately, a vision. Utterly lovely in every way. Her face was perfection, her posture the epitome of grace, and her eyes were the most radiant shade of blue, so vivid that one could not help but be surprised by their hue every time she blinked.

Anthony waited for some sort of reaction to rise up within him. Surely no man could be immune to her beauty.

Nothing. Not even the slightest urge to kiss her. It almost seemed a crime against nature.

But maybe this was a good thing. After all, he didn’t want a wife with whom he’d fall in love. Desire would have been nice, but desire could be dangerous. Desire certainly had a greater chance of sliding into love than did disinterest.

“I’m terribly sorry I’m late, my lord,” Edwina said prettily.

“It was no trouble whatsoever,” he replied, feeling a bit brightened by his recent set of rationalizations. She’d still work just fine as a bride. No need to look elsewhere. “But we should be on our way. The others will have the course set up already.”

He took her arm and they strolled out of the house. He remarked on the weather. She remarked on the weather. He remarked on the previous day’s weather. She agreed with whatever he’d said (he couldn’t even remember, one minute later).

After exhausting all possible weather-related topics, they fell into silence, and then finally, after a full three minutes of neither of them having anything to say, Edwina blurted out, “What did you study at university?”

Anthony looked at her oddly. He couldn’t remember ever being asked such a question by a young lady. “Oh, the usual,” he replied.

“But what,” she ground out, looking most uncharacteristically impatient, “is the usual?”

“History, mostly. A bit of literature.”

***

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