Just then Daphne marched by, following her ball, which had sailed unnoticed past their feet. “That was why I said ‘oh, dear,’ ” she said—rather unnecessarily, in Kate’s opinion.
“You’ll pay for this,” Kate hissed at Anthony.
His smirk said more than words ever could.
And then she marched down the hill, letting out a loud and extremely unladylike curse when she realized her ball was lodged under a hedge.
Half an hour later Kate was still two wickets behind the next-to-last player. Anthony was winning, which irked her to no end. The only saving grace was that she was so far behind she couldn’t see his gloating face.
Then as she was twiddling her thumbs and waiting for her turn (there was precious little else to do while waiting for her turn, as no other players were remotely near her), she heard Anthony let out an aggrieved shout.
This immediately got her attention.
Beaming with anticipation at his possible demise, she looked eagerly about until she saw the pink ball hurtling along the grass, straight at her.
“Urp!” Kate gurgled, jumping up and darting quickly to the side before she lost a toe.
Looking back up, she saw Colin leaping into the air, his mallet swinging wildly above him, as he cried out exultantly, “Woo-hoo!”
Anthony looked as if he might disembowel his brother on the spot.
Kate would have done a little victory dance herself—if she couldn’t win, the next best thing was knowing that he wouldn’t—except now it seemed that he’d be stuck back with her for a few turns. And while her solitude wasn’t terribly entertaining, it was better than having to make conversation with him.
Still, it was difficult not to look just a little bit smug when he came tromping over toward her, scowling as if a thundercloud had just lodged itself in his brain.
“Bad luck there, my lord,” Kate murmured.
He glared at her.
She sighed—just for effect, of course. “I’m sure you’ll still manage to place second or third.”
He leaned forward menacingly and made a sound suspiciously like a growl.
“Miss Sheffield!” came Colin’s impatient holler from up the hill. “It’s your turn!”
“So it is,” Kate said, analyzing her possible shots. She could aim for the next wicket or she could attempt to sabotage Anthony even further. Unfortunately, his ball wasn’t touching hers, so she couldn’t attempt the foot-on-the-ball maneuver he’d used on her earlier in the game. Which was probably for the best. With her luck, she’d end up missing the ball entirely and instead breaking her foot.
“Decisions, decisions,” she murmured.
Anthony crossed his arms. “The only way you’re going to ruin my game is to ruin yours as well.”
“True,” she acceded. If she wanted to send him into oblivion, she’d have to send herself there as well, since she’d have to hit hers with all she was worth just to get his to move. And since she couldn’t hold hers in place, heaven only knew where she’d end up.
“But,” she said, looking up at him and smiling innocently, “I really have no chance of winning the game, anyway.”
“You could come in second or third,” he tried.
She shook her head. “Unlikely, don’t you think? I’m so far behind as it is, and we are nearing the end of play.”
“You don’t want to do this, Miss Sheffield,” he warned.
“Oh,” she said with great feeling, “I do. I really, really do.” And then, with quite the most evil grin her lips had ever formed, she drew back her mallet and smacked her ball with every ounce of every single emotion within her. It knocked into his with stunning force, sending it hurtling even farther down the hill.
Right into the lake.
Openmouthed with delight, Kate just stared for a moment as the pink ball sank into the lake. Then something rose up within her, some strange and primitive emotion, and before she knew what she was about, she was jumping about like a crazy woman, yelling, “Yes! Yes! I win!”
“You don’t win,” Anthony snapped.
“Oh, it feels like I’ve won,” she reveled.
Colin and Daphne, who had come dashing down the hill, skidded to a halt before them. “Well done, Miss Sheffield!” Colin exclaimed. “I knew you were worthy of the mallet of death.”
“Brilliant,” Daphne agreed. “Absolutely brilliant.”
Anthony, of course, had no choice but to cross his arms and scowl mightily.
Colin gave her a congenial pat on the back. “Are you certain you’re not a Bridgerton in disguise? You have truly lived up to the spirit of the game.”
“I couldn’t have done it without you,” Kate said graciously. “If you hadn’t hit his ball down the hill…”
“I had been hoping you would pick up the reins of his destruction,” Colin said.
The duke finally approached, Edwina at his side. “A rather stunning conclusion to the game,” he commented.
“It’s not over yet,” Daphne said.
Her husband gave her a faintly amused glance. “To continue the play now seems rather anticlimactic, don’t you think?”
Surprisingly, even Colin agreed. “I certainly can’t imagine anything topping it.”
The duke glanced up at the sky. “Furthermore, it’s starting to cloud over. I want to get Daphne in before it starts to rain. Delicate condition and all, you know.”
Kate looked in surprise at Daphne, who had started to blush. She didn’t look the least bit pregnant.
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