Edwina crossed her arms and let out a “Hmmph” that made her sound rather like her older sister. “Well, it’s true, and I don’t care who knows it. I know I’m expected to make a grand and brilliant match, but I don’t have to marry someone who will ill treat me. Anyone with the fortitude to actually impress you would have to be up to snuff.”

“Am I so difficult to impress, then?”

The two sisters looked at each other, then answered in unison, “Yes.”

But as Kate laughed along with Edwina, a niggling sense of guilt rose within her. All three Sheffields knew that it would be Edwina who would snag a nobleman or marry into a fortune. It would be Edwina who would ensure that her family would not have to live out their lives in genteel poverty. Edwina was a beauty, while Kate was…

Kate was Kate.

Kate didn’t mind. Edwina’s beauty was simply a fact of life. There were certain truths Kate had long since come to accept. Kate would never learn to waltz without trying to take the lead; she’d always be afraid of electrical storms, no matter how often she told herself she was being silly; and no matter what she wore, no matter how she dressed her hair or pinched her cheeks, she’d never be as pretty as Edwina.

Besides, Kate wasn’t certain that she’d like all the attention Edwina received. Nor, she was coming to realize, would she relish the responsibility of having to marry well to provide for her mother and sister.

“Edwina,” Kate said softly, her eyes growing serious, “you don’t have to marry anyone you don’t like. You know that.”

Edwina nodded, suddenly looking as if she might cry.

“If you decide there isn’t a single gentleman in London who is good enough for you, then so be it. We shall simply go back to Somerset and enjoy our own company. There’s no one I like better, anyway.”

“Nor I,” Edwina whispered.

“And if you do find a man who sweeps you off your feet, then Mary and I shall be delighted. You should not worry about leaving us, either. We shall get on fine with each other for company.”

“You might find someone to marry as well,” Edwina pointed out.

Kate felt her lips twist into a small smile. “I might,” she allowed, knowing that it probably wasn’t true. She didn’t want to remain a spinster her entire life, but she doubted she would find a husband here in London. “Perhaps one of your lovesick suitors will turn to me once he realizes you are unattainable,” she teased.

Edwina swatted her with a pillow. “Don’t be silly.”

“But I’m not!” Kate protested. And she wasn’t. Quite frankly, this seemed to her the most likely avenue by which she might actually find a husband in town.

“Do you know what sort of man I’d like to marry?” Edwina asked, her eyes turning dreamy.

Kate shook her head.

“A scholar.”

“A scholar?”

“A scholar,” Edwina said firmly.

Kate cleared her throat. “I’m not certain you’ll find many of those in town for the season.”

“I know.” Edwina let out a little sigh. “But the truth is—and you know this even if I am not supposed to let on in public—I’m really rather bookish. I’d much rather spend my day in a library than gadding about in Hyde Park. I think I should enjoy life with a man who enjoyed scholarly pursuits as well.”

“Right. Hmmm…” Kate’s mind worked frantically. Edwina wasn’t likely to find a scholar back in Somerset, either. “You know, Edwina, it might be difficult to find you a true scholar outside the university towns. You might have to settle for a man who likes to read and learn as you do.”

“That would be all right,” Edwina said happily. “I’d be quite content with an amateur scholar.”

Kate breathed a sigh of relief. Surely they could find someone in London who liked to read.

“And do you know what?” Edwina added. “You truly cannot tell a book by its cover. All sorts of people are amateur scholars. Why, even that Viscount Bridgerton Lady Whistledown keeps talking about might be a scholar at heart.”

“Bite your tongue, Edwina. You are not to have anything to do with Viscount Bridgerton. Everyone knows he is the worst sort of rake. In fact, he’s the worst rake, period. In all London. In the entire country!”

“I know, I was just using him as an example. Besides, he’s not likely to choose a bride this year, anyway. Lady Whistledown said so, and you yourself said that she is almost always right.”

Kate patted her sister on the arm. “Don’t worry. We will find you a suitable husband. But not—not not not not not Viscount Bridgerton!”

At that very moment, the subject of their discussion was relaxing at White’s with two of his three younger brothers, enjoying a late afternoon drink.

Anthony Bridgerton leaned back in his leather chair, regarded his scotch with a thoughtful expression as he swirled it about, and then announced, “I’m thinking about getting married.”

Benedict Bridgerton, who had been indulging in a habit his mother detested—tipping his chair drunkenly on the back two legs—fell over.

Colin Bridgerton started to choke.

Luckily for Colin, Benedict regained his seat with enough time to smack him soundly on the back, sending a green olive sailing across the table.

It narrowly missed Anthony’s ear.

Anthony let the indignity pass without comment. He was all too aware that his sudden declaration had come as a bit of a surprise.

Well, perhaps more than a bit. “Complete,” “total,” and “utter” were words that came to mind.

***

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