Kate eyed him suspiciously. “Are you certain you don’t want some tea with that biscuit? I’m not a great aficionado of brandy, but I would imagine that tea would taste better with shortbread.”
Actually, Anthony thought, the brandy did quite well with shortbread, but it certainly couldn’t hurt to empty out the teapot a bit, just in case he toppled it over. “Capital idea,” he said, grabbing a teacup and thrusting it toward her. “Tea’s just the thing. Can’t imagine why I didn’t think of it earlier.”
“I can’t imagine, either,” she murmured acerbically—if one could murmur in an acerbic manner, and after hearing Kate’s low sarcasm, Anthony rather thought one could.
But he just gave her a jovial smile as he reached out and took his teacup from her outstretched hand. “Thank you,” he said, checking to see that she’d added milk. She had, which didn’t surprise him; she was very good at remembering such details.
“Is it still hot enough?” Kate asked politely.
Anthony drained the cup. “Perfect,” he replied, letting out a satisfied exhale. “Might I trouble you for some more?”
“You seem to be developing quite a taste for tea,” she said dryly.
Anthony eyed the teapot, wondering how much was left and whether he’d be able to finish it off without being attacked by an urgent need to relieve himself. “You should have some more, too,” he suggested. “You look a bit parched.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “Is that so?”
He nodded, then worried he might have laid it on a little too thick. “Just a bit, of course,” he said.
“Is there enough tea left for me to have another cup?” he asked, as nonchalantly as he could manage.
“If there isn’t, I’m sure I could have Cook brew another pot.”
“Oh, no, I’m sure that won’t be necessary,” he exclaimed, probably a little too loudly. “I’ll just take whatever is left.”
Kate tipped the pot until the last dregs of tea swirled in his cup. She added a dollop of milk, then handed it back to him in silence, although her arched eyebrows spoke volumes.
As he sipped at his tea—his belly was a little too full to gulp it down as quickly as the last cup—Kate cleared her throat and asked, “Do you know Edwina’s young man?”
“I don’t even know who he is.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. I must have forgotten to mention his name. It’s Mr. Bagwell. I don’t know his Christian name, but Edwina said he’s a second son, if that’s helpful. She met him at your mother’s party.”
Anthony shook his head. “Never heard of him. He’s probably one of the poor chaps my mother invited to even out the numbers. My mother invited a bloody lot of women. She always does, hoping that one of us might actually fall in love, but then she has to find a pack of unremarkable men to even up the numbers.”
“Unremarkable?” Kate echoed.
“So that the women don’t fall in love with them instead of us,” he replied, his grin rather lopsided.
“She’s rather desperate to marry the lot of you off, isn’t she?”
“All I know,” Anthony said with a shrug, “is that my mother invited so many eligible women last time that she had to go down to the vicar’s and beg his sixteen-year-old son to come up for supper.”
Kate winced. “I think I met him.”
“Yes, he’s painfully shy, poor fellow. The vicar told me he had hives for a week after ending up seated next to Cressida Cowper at supper.”
“Well, that would give anyone hives.”
Anthony grinned. “I knew you had a mean streak in you.”
“I’m not being mean!” Kate protested. But her smile was sly. “It was nothing more than the truth.”
“Don’t defend yourself on my account.” He finished the tea; it was bitterly strong from having sat in the pot for so long, but the milk made it almost palatable. Setting the cup down, he added, “Your mean streak is one of the things I like best about you.”
“Goodness,” she muttered, “I should hate to know what you like least.”
Anthony just waved a dismissive hand in the air. “But getting back to your sister and her Mr. Bugwell—”
He ignored her. “I’ve actually been thinking I ought to provide Edwina with a dowry.”
The irony of the gesture was not lost on him. Back when he’d intended to wed Edwina, he’d planned to provide a dowry for Kate.
He peeked over at Kate to see her reaction.
He hadn’t, of course, made the offer just to gain her good favor, but he wasn’t so noble that he couldn’t admit to himself that he’d been hoping for a little more than the stunned silence she was displaying.
Then he realized she was near tears.
“Kate?” he asked, not certain whether to be delighted or worried.
She wiped her nose rather inelegantly with the back of her hand. “That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me,” she sniffled.
“I actually did it for Edwina,” he mumbled, never comfortable with weepy females. But inside, she was making him feel about eight feet tall.
“Oh, Anthony!” she practically wailed. And then, much to his extreme surprise, she jumped to her feet and leaped across the table and into his arms, the heavy hem of her afternoon dress sweeping three teacups, two saucers, and a spoon onto the floor.
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