Kate looked up and blinked. A footman was standing before her bearing a small cream-colored envelope.
“This arrived for you a few minutes ago,” he said.
Kate murmured her thanks and reached for the envelope, which had been secured with a neat dollop of pale pink sealing wax. Bringing it closer to her eyes, she made out the initials EOB. One of Anthony’s relations? The E would be Eloise, of course, since all of the Bridgertons had been named in alphabetical order.
Kate carefully broke the seal and slipped out the contents—a single piece of paper, neatly folded in half.
Anthony is here. He looks a wreck. It is, of course, none of my business, but I thought you might like to know.
Kate stared at the note a few seconds longer, then shoved her chair back and stood. It was time she paid a call upon Bridgerton House.
Much to Kate’s surprise, when she knocked at Bridgerton House, the door was swung open not by the butler but by Eloise, who immediately said, “That was fast!”
Kate looked around the hall, half expecting another Bridgerton sibling or two to jump out at her. “Were you waiting for me?”
Eloise nodded. “And you don’t have to knock at the door, you know. Bridgerton House belongs to Anthony, after all. And you are his wife.”
Kate smiled weakly. She didn’t feel much like a wife this morning.
“I hope you don’t think me a hopeless meddler,” Eloise continued, linking her arm through Kate’s and guiding her down the hall, “but Anthony does look awful, and I had a sneaking suspicion you didn’t know he was here.”
“Why would you think that?” Kate couldn’t help asking.
“Well,” Eloise said, “he didn’t go to any great pains to tell any of us that he was here.”
Kate eyed her sister-in-law suspiciously. “Meaning?”
Eloise had the grace to blush a faint pink. “Meaning, ah, that the only reason I know he’s here is that I was spying upon him. I don’t think my mother even knows he’s in residence.”
Kate felt her eyelids blink in rapid succession. “You’ve been spying upon us?”
“No, of course not. But I happened to be up and about rather early this morning, and I heard someone come in, and so I went to investigate and I saw light coming from under the door in his study.”
“How, then, do you know he looks awful?”
Eloise shrugged. “I figured he’d have to emerge eventually to eat or relieve himself, so I waited on the steps for an hour or so—”
“Or so?” Kate echoed.
“Or three,” Eloise admitted. “It’s really not that long when one is interested in one’s subject, and besides, I had a book with me to while away the time.”
Kate shook her head in reluctant admiration. “What time did he come in last night?”
“Around four or so.”
“What were you doing up so late?”
Eloise shrugged again. “I couldn’t sleep. I often can’t. I’d gone down to get a book to read from the library. Finally, at around seven—well, I suppose it was a bit before seven, so it wasn’t quite three hours I waited—”
Kate began to feel dizzy.
“—he emerged. He didn’t head in the direction of the breakfast room, so I can only assume it was for other reasons. After a minute or two, he reemerged and headed back into his study. Where,” Eloise finished with a flourish, “he has been ever since.”
Kate stared at her for a good ten seconds. “Have you ever considered offering your services to the War Department?”
Eloise grinned, a smile so like Anthony’s Kate almost cried. “As a spy?” she asked.
“I’d be brilliant, don’t you think?”
Eloise gave Kate a spontaneous hug. “I’m so glad you married my brother. Now go and see what is wrong.”
Kate nodded, straightened her shoulders, and took a step toward Anthony’s study. Turning around, she pointed a finger at Eloise and said, “You will not be listening at the door.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Eloise replied.
“I mean it, Eloise!”
Eloise sighed. “It’s time I went up to bed, anyway. I could use a nap after staying up all night.”
Kate waited until the younger girl had disappeared up the stairs, then made her way to Anthony’s study door. She put her hand on the knob, whispering, “Don’t be locked,” as she gave it a twist. To her extreme relief, it turned, and the door swung open.
“Anthony?” she called out. Her voice was soft and hesitant, and she found she didn’t like the sound of it. She wasn’t used to being soft and hesitant.
There was no reply, so Kate stepped farther into the room. The drapes were tightly closed, and the heavy velvet admitted little light. Kate scanned the room until her eyes fell on the figure of her husband, slouched over his desk, sound asleep.
Kate walked quietly across the room to the windows and pulled the drapes partway open. She didn’t want to blind Anthony when he woke up, but at the same time, she wasn’t going to conduct such an important conversation in the dark. Then she walked back over to his desk and gently shook his shoulder.
“Anthony?” she whispered. “Anthony?”
His reply was closer to a snore than anything else.
Frowning impatiently, she shook a little harder. “Anthony?” she said softly. “Anthon—”
“Yibbledeedad—!” He came awake in one sudden movement, an incoherent rush of speech bursting forth as his torso snapped upright.
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