“Just give the ball a good whack in that direction, darling,” Daphne said, pointing to the first wicket.
“Isn’t that the last wicket?” Anthony asked.
“It’s the first.”
“It ought to be the last.”
Daphne’s jaw jutted out. “I set up the course, and it’s the first.”
“I think this might get bloody,” Edwina whispered to Kate.
The duke turned to Anthony and flashed him a false smile. “I believe I’ll take Daphne’s word for it.”
“She did set up the course,” Kate cut in.
Anthony, Colin, Simon, and Daphne all looked at her in shock, as if they couldn’t quite believe she’d had the nerve to enter the conversation.
“Well, she did,” Kate said.
Daphne looped her arm through hers. “I do believe I adore you, Kate Sheffield,” she announced.
“God help me,” Anthony muttered.
The duke drew back his mallet, let fly, and soon the orange ball was hurtling along the lawn.
“Well done, Simon!” Daphne cried out.
Colin turned and looked at his sister with disdain. “One never cheers one’s opponents in Pall Mall,” he said archly.
“He’s never played before,” she said. “He’s not likely to win.”
Daphne turned to Kate and Edwina and explained, “Bad sportsmanship is a requirement in Bridgerton Pall Mall, I’m afraid.”
“I’d gathered,” Kate said dryly.
“My turn,” Anthony barked. He gave the pink ball a disdainful glance, then gave it a good whack. It sailed splendidly over the grass, only to slam into a tree and drop like a stone to the ground.
“Brilliant!” Colin exclaimed, getting ready to take his turn.
Anthony muttered a few things under his breath, none of which were suitable for gentle ears.
Colin sent the yellow ball toward the first wicket, then stepped aside to let Kate try her hand.
“Might I have a practice swing?” she inquired.
“No.” It was a rather loud no, coming, as it did, from three mouths.
“Very well,” she grumbled. “Stand back, all of you. I won’t be held responsible if I injure anyone on the first try.” She drew back on her mallet with all her might and slammed it into the ball. It sailed through the air in a rather impressive arc, then smacked into the same tree that had foiled Anthony and plopped on the ground right next to his ball.
“Oh, dear,” Daphne said, setting her aim by drawing back on her mallet a few times without actually hitting the ball.
“Why ‘oh, dear’?” Kate asked worriedly, not reassured by the duchess’s faintly pitying smile.
“You’ll see.” Daphne took her turn, then marched off in the direction of her ball.
Kate looked over at Anthony. He looked very, very pleased with the current state of affairs.
“What are you going to do to me?” she asked.
He leaned forward devilishly. “What am I not going to do to you might be a more appropriate question.”
“I believe it’s my turn,” Edwina said, stepping up to the starting point. She gave her ball an anemic hit, then groaned when it traveled only a third as far as the rest.
“Put a bit more muscle into it next time,” Anthony said before stalking over to his ball.
“Right,” Edwina muttered at his back. “I never would have figured that out.”
“Hastings!” Anthony yelled. “It’s your turn.”
While the duke tapped his ball toward the next wicket, Anthony leaned against the tree with crossed arms, his ridiculous pink mallet hanging from one hand, and waited for Kate.
“Oh, Miss Sheffield,” he finally called out. “Play of the game dictates that one follow one’s ball!”
He watched her tromp over to his side. “There,” she grumbled. “Now what?”
“You really ought to treat me with more respect,” he said, offering her a slow, sly smile.
“After you tarried with Edwina?” she shot back. “What I ought to do is have you drawn and quartered.”
“Such a bloodthirsty wench,” he mused. “You’ll do well at Pall Mall…eventually.”
He watched, utterly entertained, as her face grew red, then white. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“For the love of God, Anthony,” Colin yelled. “Take your bloody turn.”
Anthony looked down to where the wooden balls sat kissing on the grass, hers black, his appallingly pink. “Right,” he murmured. “Wouldn’t want to keep dear, sweet Colin waiting.” And with that, he put his foot atop his ball, drew back his mallet—
“What are you doing?” Kate shrieked.
—and let fly. His ball remained firmly in place under his boot. Hers went sailing down the hill for what seemed like miles.
“You fiend,” she growled.
“All’s fair in love and war,” he quipped.
“I am going to kill you.”
“You can try,” he taunted, “but you’ll have to catch up with me first.”
Kate pondered the mallet of death, then pondered his foot.
“Don’t even think about it,” he warned.
“It’s so very, very tempting,” she growled.
He leaned forward menacingly. “We have witnesses.”
“And that is the only thing saving your life right now.”
He merely smiled. “I believe your ball is down the hill, Miss Sheffield. I’m sure we’ll see you in a half hour or so, when you catch up.”
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