“Very well,” Colin said. “I move we end the game and declare Miss Sheffield the winner.”
“I was two wickets behind the rest of you,” Kate demurred.
“Nevertheless,” Colin said, “any true aficionado of Bridgerton Pall Mall understands that sending Anthony into the lake is far more important than actually sending one’s ball through all the wickets. Which makes you our winner, Miss Sheffield.” He looked about, then straight at Anthony. “Does anyone disagree?”
No one did, although Anthony looked close to violence.
“Excellent,” Colin said. “In that case, Miss Sheffield is our winner, and Anthony, you are our loser.”
A strange, muffled sound burst from Kate’s mouth, half laugh and half choke.
“Well, someone has to lose,” Colin said with a grin. “It’s tradition.”
“It’s true,” Daphne agreed. “We’re a bloodthirsty lot, but we do like to follow tradition.”
“You’re all mad in the head is what you are,” the duke said affably. “And on that note, Daphne and I must bid you farewell. I do want to get her inside before it begins to rain. I trust no one will mind if we leave without helping to clear the course?”
No one minded, of course, and soon the duke and duchess were on their way back to Aubrey Hall.
Edwina, who had kept silent throughout the exchange (although she had been looking at the various Bridgertons as if they’d recently escaped from an asylum), suddenly cleared her throat. “Do you think we should try to retrieve the ball?” she asked, squinting down the hill toward the lake.
The rest of the party just stared at the calm waters as if they’d never considered such a bizarre notion.
“It’s not as if it landed in the middle,” she added. “It just rolled in. It’s probably right by the edge.”
Colin scratched his head. Anthony continued to glower.
“Surely you don’t want to lose another ball,” Edwina persisted. When no one had a reply, she threw down her mallet and threw up arms, saying, “Fine! I’ll get the silly old ball.”
That certainly roused the men from their stupor, and they jumped to help her.
“Don’t be silly, Miss Sheffield,” Colin said gallantly as he started to walk down the hill, “I’ll get it.”
“For the love of Christ,” Anthony muttered. “I’ll get the bloody ball.” He strode down the hill, quickly overtaking his brother. For all his ire, he couldn’t really blame Kate for her actions. He would have done the very same thing, although he would have hit the ball with enough force to sink hers in the middle of the lake.
Still, it was damned humiliating to be bested by a female, especially her.
He reached the edge of the lake and peered in. The pink ball was so brightly colored that it ought to show through the water, provided it had settled at a shallow enough level.
“Do you see it?” Colin asked, coming to a halt beside him.
Anthony shook his head. “It’s a stupid color, anyway. No one ever wanted to be pink.”
Colin nodded his agreement.
“Even the purple was better,” Anthony continued, moving a few steps to the right so that he could inspect another stretch of shoreline. He looked up suddenly, glaring at his brother. “What the hell happened to the purple mallet, anyway?”
Colin shrugged. “I’m sure I have no idea.”
“And I’m sure,” Anthony muttered, “that it will miraculously reappear in the Pall Mall set tomorrow evening.”
“You might very well be right,” Colin said brightly, moving a bit past Anthony, keeping his eyes on the water the whole way. “Perhaps even this afternoon, if we’re lucky.”
“One of these days,” Anthony said matter-of-factly, “I’m going to kill you.”
“Of that I have no doubt.” Colin scanned the water, then suddenly pointed with his index finger. “I say! There it is.”
Sure enough, the pink ball sat in the shallow water, about two feet out from the edge of the lake. It looked to be only a foot or so deep. Anthony swore under his breath. He was going to have to take off his boots and wade in. It seemed Kate Sheffield was forever forcing him to take off his boots and wade into bodies of water.
No, he thought wearily, he hadn’t had time to remove his boots when he’d charged into The Serpentine to save Edwina. The leather had been completely ruined. His valet had nearly fainted from the horror of it.
With a groan he sat on a rock to pull off his footwear. To save Edwina he supposed it was worth a pair of good boots. To save a stupid pink Pall Mall ball—frankly, it didn’t even seem worth getting his feet wet.
“You seem to have this well in hand,” Colin said, “so I’m going to go help Miss Sheffield pull up the wickets.”
Anthony just shook his head in resignation and waded in.
“Is it cold?” came a feminine voice.
Good God, it was her. He turned around. Kate Sheffield was standing on the shore.
“I thought you were pulling up wickets,” he said, somewhat testily.
“Too bloody many Miss Sheffields,” he muttered under his breath. There ought to be a law against letting sisters come out in the same season.
“I beg your pardon?” she asked, cocking her head to the side.
“I said it’s freezing,” he lied.
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
That got his attention. “No, you’re not,” he finally said.
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