Of course, it did not escape her notice that he’d never repeated the gesture.

Hers was a fine existence, a far better marriage than most women of her station could expect. If her husband did not love her, if he would never love her, then at least he did a good job of making her feel cared for and appreciated. And for now Kate was able to content herself with that.

And if he seemed distant during the day, well, he certainly wasn’t distant at night.

The rest of society, however, and Edwina in particular, had gotten it into their heads that Lord and Lady Bridgerton’s marriage was a love match. Edwina had taken to visiting in the afternoons, and this day was no exception. She and Kate were sitting in the drawing room, sipping tea and nibbling on biscuits, enjoying a rare moment of privacy now that Kate had bidden farewell to her daily swarm of visitors.

Everyone, it seemed, wanted to see how the new viscountess was getting along, and Kate’s drawing room was almost never empty in the afternoon.

Newton had hopped up onto the sofa beside Edwina, and she was idly stroking his fur as she said, “Everyone is talking about you today.”

Kate didn’t even pause as she lifted her tea to her lips and took a sip. “Everyone is always talking about me,” she said with a shrug. “They’ll soon find another topic.”

“Not,” Edwina replied, “as long as your husband keeps looking at you the way he did last night.”

Kate felt her cheeks grow warm. “He did nothing out of the ordinary,” she murmured.

“Kate, he was positively smoldering!” Edwina shifted her position as Newton shifted his, letting her know with a little whine that he wanted his belly rubbed. “I personally saw him push Lord Haveridge out of the way in his haste to reach your side.”

“We arrived separately,” Kate explained, although her heart was filling with a secret—and most probably foolish—joy. “I’m sure he just had something he needed to tell me.”

Edwina looked dubious. “And did he?”

“Did he what?”

“Tell you something,” Edwina said with palpable exasperation. “You just said you were sure he just had something he needed to tell you. If that were the case, wouldn’t he have told you whatever it was? And then you’d know he had something to tell you, right?”

Kate blinked. “Edwina, you’re making me dizzy.”

Edwina’s lips smooshed together in a disgruntled frown. “You never tell me anything.”

“Edwina, there’s nothing to tell!” Kate reached forward, grabbed a biscuit, and took a large, extremely uncouth bite so that her mouth would be too full to speak. What was she supposed to say to her sister—that before they’d even wed, her husband had informed her in a most matter-of-fact and straightforward manner that he would never love her?

That would make for charming conversation over tea and biscuits.

“Well,” Edwina finally announced, after watching Kate chew for an improbable full minute, “I actually had another reason for coming here today. I have something I wish to tell you.”

Kate swallowed gratefully. “Really?”

Edwina nodded, then blushed.

“What is it?” Kate implored, sipping at her tea. Her mouth was awfully dry after all that chewing.

“I think I’m in love.”

Kate nearly spit out her tea. “With whom?”

“Mr. Bagwell.”

Try as she might, Kate could not for the life of her recall who Mr. Bagwell was.

“He’s a scholar,” Edwina said with a dreamy sigh. “I met him at Lady Bridgerton’s country house party.”

“I don’t recall meeting him,” Kate said, her brow knitting into thoughtful lines.

“You were rather busy throughout the visit,” Edwina replied in an ironic voice. “Getting yourself betrothed and all that.”

Kate pulled the sort of face one could only display with a sibling. “Just tell me about Mr. Bagwell.”

Edwina’s eyes grew warm and bright. “He’s a second son, I’m afraid, so he cannot expect much in the way of income. But now that you’ve married so well, I needn’t worry about that.”

Kate felt an unexpected welling of tears in her eyes. She hadn’t realized just how pressured Edwina must have felt earlier that season. She and Mary had been careful to assure Edwina that she might marry anyone she liked, but they had all known exactly where their finances stood, and they had certainly all been guilty of making jokes about how it was just as easy to fall in love with a wealthy man as it was with a poor one.

It only took one look at Edwina’s face to realize that a huge burden had been lifted from her shoulders.

“I’m glad you’ve found someone who suits you,” Kate murmured.

“Oh, he does. I know that we shall not have much in the way of money, but truly, I don’t need silks and jewels.” Her eyes fell on the glittering diamond on Kate’s hand. “Not that I think you do, of course!” she quickly interjected, her face growing red. “Just that—”

“Just that it’s nice not to have to worry about supporting your sister and mother,” Kate finished for her in a gentle voice.

Edwina let out a huge sigh. “Exactly.”

Kate reached across the table and took her sister’s hands in hers. “You certainly needn’t worry about me, and I’m sure that Anthony and I will always be able to provide for Mary, should she ever need assistance.”

Edwina’s lips curved into a wobbly smile.

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