“Oh.” She pondered that for a moment. “I love to read.”

“Do you?” He eyed her with renewed interest. He wouldn’t have taken her for a bluestocking. “What do you like to read?”

She seemed to relax as she answered the question. “Novels if I’m feeling fanciful. Philosophy if I’m in the mood for self-improvement.”

“Philosophy, eh?” Anthony queried. “Never could stomach the stuff myself.”

Edwina let out one of her charmingly musical laughs. “Kate is the same way. She is forever telling me that she knows perfectly well how to live her life and doesn’t need a dead man to give her instructions.”

Anthony thought about his experiences reading Aristotle, Bentham, and Descartes at university. Then he thought about his experiences avoiding reading Aristotle, Bentham, and Descartes at university. “I think,” he murmured, “that I would have to agree with your sister.”

Edwina grinned. “You, agree with Kate? I feel I should find a notebook and record the moment. Surely this must be a first.”

He gave her a sideways, assessing sort of glance. “You’re more impertinent than you let on, aren’t you?”

“Not half as much as Kate.”

“That was never in doubt.”

He heard Edwina let out a little giggle, and when he looked over at her, she appeared to be trying her hardest to maintain a straight face. They rounded the final corner to the field, and as they came over the rise, they saw the rest of the Pall Mall party waiting for them, idly swinging their mallets to and fro as they waited.

“Oh, bloody hell,” Anthony swore, completely forgetting that he was in the company of the woman he planned to make his wife. “She’s got the mallet of death.”

Chapter 10

The country house party is a very dangerous event. Married persons often find themselves enjoying the company of one other than one’s spouse, and unmarried persons often return to town as rather hastily engaged persons.

Indeed, the most surprising betrothals are announced on the heels of these spells of rustication.

LADY WHISTLEDOWN’S SOCIETY PAPERS, 2 MAY 1814

“You certainly took your time getting here,” Colin remarked as soon as Anthony and Edwina reached the group. “Here, we’re ready to go. Edwina, you’re blue.” He handed her a mallet. “Anthony, you’re pink.”

“I’m pink and she”—he jabbed a finger toward Kate—“gets to have the mallet of death?”

“I gave her first pick,” Colin said. “She is our guest, after all.”

“Anthony is usually black,” Daphne explained. “In fact, he gave the mallet its name.”

“You shouldn’t have to be pink,” Edwina said to Anthony. “It doesn’t suit you at all. Here”—she held out her mallet—“why don’t we trade?”

“Don’t be silly,” Colin interjected. “We specifically decided that you must be blue. To match your eyes.”

Kate thought she heard Anthony groan.

“I will be pink,” Anthony announced, grabbing the offending mallet rather forcefully from Colin’s hand, “and I will still win. Let’s begin, shall we?”

As soon as the necessary introductions were made between the duke and duchess and Edwina, they all plopped their wooden balls down near the starting point and prepared to play.

“Shall we play youngest to oldest?” Colin suggested, with a gallant bow in Edwina’s direction.

She shook her head. “I should rather go last, so that I might have a chance to observe the play of those more experienced than I.”

“A wise woman,” Colin murmured. “Then we shall play oldest to youngest. Anthony, I believe you’re the most ancient among us.”

“Sorry, brother dear, but Hastings has a few months on me.”

“Why,” Edwina whispered in Kate’s ear, “do I get the feeling I am intruding upon a family spat?”

“I think the Bridgertons take Pall Mall very seriously,” Kate whispered back. The three Bridgerton siblings had assumed bulldog faces, and they all appeared rather single-mindedly determined to win.

“Eh eh eh!” Colin scolded, waving a finger at them. “No collusion allowed.”

“We wouldn’t even begin to know where to collude,” Kate commented, “as no one has seen fit to even explain to us the rules of play.”

“Just follow along,” Daphne said briskly. “You’ll figure it out as you go.”

“I think,” Kate whispered to Edwina, “that the object is to sink your opponents’ balls into the lake.”

“Really?”

“No. But I think that’s how the Bridgertons see it.”

“You’re still whispering!” Colin called out without sparing a glance in their direction. Then, to the duke, he barked, “Hastings, hit the bloody ball. We haven’t all day.”

“Colin,” Daphne cut in, “don’t curse. There are ladies present.”

“You don’t count.”

“There are two ladies present who are not me,” she ground out.

Colin blinked, then turned to the Sheffield sisters. “Do you mind?”

“Not at all,” Kate replied, utterly fascinated. Edwina just shook her head.

“Good.” Colin turned back to the duke. “Hastings, get moving.”

The duke nudged his ball a bit forward from the rest of the pile. “You do realize,” he said to no one in particular, “that I have never played Pall Mall before?”

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