And since Anthony was used to getting what he wanted, he had no doubt that he would find an attractive, intelligent woman with whom he would never fall in love. And what was the problem with that? Chances were he wouldn’t have found the love of his life even if he had been looking for her. Most men didn’t.

“Good God, Anthony, what has you frowning so? Not that olive. I saw it clearly and it didn’t even touch you.”

Benedict’s voice broke him out of his reverie, and Anthony blinked a few times before answering, “Nothing. Nothing at all.”

He hadn’t, of course, shared his thoughts about his own mortality with anyone else, even his brothers. It was not the sort of thing one wanted to advertise. Hell, if someone had come up to him and said the same thing, he probably would have laughed him right out the door.

But no one else could understand the depth of the bond he’d felt with his father. And no one could possibly understand the way Anthony felt it in his bones, how he simply knew that he could not live longer than his father had done. Edmund had been everything to him. He’d always aspired to be as great a man as his father, knowing that that was unlikely, yet trying all the same. To actually achieve more than Edmund had—in any way—that was nothing short of impossible.

Anthony’s father was, quite simply, the greatest man he’d ever known, possibly the greatest man who’d ever lived. To think that he might be more than that seemed conceited in the extreme.

Something had happened to him the night his father had died, when he’d remained in his parents’ bedroom with the body, just sitting there for hours, watching his father and trying desperately to remember every moment they’d shared. It would be so easy to forget the little things—how Edmund would squeeze Anthony’s upper arm when he needed encouragement. Or how he could recite from memory Balthazar’s entire “Sigh No More” song from Much Ado About Nothing, not because he thought it particularly meaningful but just because he liked it.

And when Anthony finally emerged from the room, the first streaks of dawn pinking the sky, he somehow knew that his days were numbered, and numbered in the same way Edmund’s had been.

“Spit it out,” Benedict said, breaking into his thoughts once again. “I won’t offer you a penny for your thoughts, since I know they can’t possibly be worth that much, but what are you thinking about?”

Anthony suddenly sat up straighter, determined to force his attention back to the matter at hand. After all, he had a bride to choose, and that was surely serious business. “Who is considered the diamond of this season?” he asked.

His brothers paused for a moment to think on this, and then Colin said, “Edwina Sheffield. Surely you’ve seen her. Rather petite, with blond hair and blue eyes. You can usually spot her by the sheeplike crowd of lovesick suitors following her about.”

Anthony ignored his brother’s attempts at sarcastic humor. “Has she a brain?”

Colin blinked, as if the question of a woman with a brain were one that had never occurred to him. “Yes, I rather think she does. I once heard her discussing mythology with Middlethorpe, and it sounded as if she had the right of it.”

“Good,” Anthony said, letting his glass of scotch hit the table with a thunk. “Then I’ll marry her.”

Chapter 2

At the Hartside ball Wednesday night, Viscount Bridgerton was seen dancing with more than one eligible young lady. This behavior can only be termed “startling” as Bridgerton normally avoids proper young misses with a perseverance that would be impressive were it not so utterly frustrating to all marriage-minded Mamas.

Can it be that the viscount read This Author’s most recent column and, in that perverse manner all males of the species seem to endorse, decided to prove This Author wrong?

It may seem that This Author is ascribing to herself far more importance than She actually wields, but men have certainly made decisions based on far, far less.

LADY WHISTLEDOWN’S SOCIETY PAPERS, 22 APRIL 1814

By eleven o’clock that evening, all of Kate’s fears had been realized.

Anthony Bridgerton had asked Edwina to dance.

Even worse, Edwina had accepted.

Even worse, Mary was gazing at the couple as if she’d like to reserve a church that minute.

“Will you stop that?” Kate hissed, poking her stepmother in the ribs.

“Stop what?”

“Looking at them like that!”

Mary blinked. “Like what?”

“Like you’re planning the wedding breakfast.”

“Oh.” Mary’s cheeks turned pink. A guilty sort of pink.

“Mary!”

“Well, I might have been,” Mary admitted. “And what’s wrong with that, I might ask? He’d be a superb catch for Edwina.”

“Were you listening this afternoon in the drawing room? It’s bad enough that Edwina has any number of rakes and rogues sniffing about her. You cannot imagine the amount of time it has taken me to sort the good suitors from the bad. But Bridgerton!” Kate shuddered. “He’s quite possibly the worst rake in all London. You cannot want her to marry a man like him.”

“Don’t you presume to tell me what I can and cannot do, Katharine Grace Sheffield,” Mary said sharply, stiffening her spine until she’d straightened to her full height—which was still a full head shorter than Kate. “I am still your mother. Well, your stepmother. And that counts for something.”

Kate immediately felt like a worm. Mary was all she’d ever known as a mother, and she’d never, not even once, made Kate feel any less her daughter than Edwina was. She’d tucked Kate into bed at night, told her stories, kissed her, hugged her, helped her through the awkward years between childhood and adulthood. The only thing she had not done was ask Kate to call her “Mother.”

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