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The Viscount Who Loved Me: Chapter 3


Viscount Bridgerton was also seen dancing with Miss Katharine Sheffield, elder sister to the fair Edwina. This can only mean one thing, as it has not escaped the notice of This Author that the elder Miss Sheffield has been in much demand on the dance floor ever since the younger Miss Sheffield made her bizarre and unprecedented announcement at the Smythe-Smith musicale last week.

Whoever heard of a girl needing her sister’s permission to choose a husband?

And perhaps more importantly, whoever decided that the words “Smythe-Smith” and “musicale” might be used in the same sentence? This Author has attended one of these gatherings in the past, and heard nothing that might ethically be termed “music.”

LADY WHISTLEDOWN’S SOCIETY PAPERS, 22 APRIL 1814

There was really nothing she could do, Kate realized with dismay. He was a viscount, and she was a mere nobody from Somerset, and they were both in the middle of a crowded ballroom. It didn’t matter if she’d disliked him on sight. She had to dance with him.

“There is no need to drag me,” she hissed.

He made a great show of loosening his grip.

Kate ground her teeth together and swore to herself that this man would never take her sister as his bride. His manner was too cold, too superior. He was, she thought a touch unfairly, too handsome as well, with velvety brown eyes that matched his hair to perfection. He was tall, certainly over six feet, although probably not by more than an inch, and his lips, while classically beautiful (Kate had studied enough art to regard herself qualified to make such a judgment) were tight at the corners, as if he did not know how to smile.

“Now then,” he said, once their feet began to move in the familiar steps, “suppose you tell me why you hate me.”

Kate trod on his foot. Lord, he was direct. “I beg your pardon?”

“There is no need to maim me, Miss Sheffield.”

“It was an accident, I assure you.” And it was, even if she didn’t really mind this particular example of her lack of grace.

“Why,” he mused, “do I find I have difficulty believing you?”

Honesty, Kate quickly decided, would be her best strategy. If he could be direct, well then, so could she. “Probably,” she answered with a wicked smile, “because you know that had it occurred to me to step on your foot on purpose, I would have done so.”

He threw back his head and laughed. It was not the reaction she’d been either expecting or hoping for. Come to think of it, she had no idea what sort of reaction she’d been hoping for, but this certainly wasn’t what she’d been expecting.

“Will you stop, my lord?” she whispered urgently. “People are starting to stare.”

“People started to stare two minutes ago,” he returned. “It’s not often a man such as I dances with a woman such as you.”

As barbs went, this one was well aimed, but sadly for him, also incorrect. “Not true,” she replied jauntily. “You are certainly not the first of Edwina’s besotted idiots to attempt to gain her favor through me.”

He grinned. “Not suitors, but idiots?”

She caught his gaze with hers and was surprised to find true mirth in his eyes. “Surely you’re not going to hand me such a delicious piece of bait as that, my lord?”

“And yet you did not take it,” he mused.

Kate looked down to see if there was some way she might discreetly step on his foot again.

“I have very thick boots, Miss Sheffield,” he said.

Her head snapped back up in surprise.

One corner of his mouth curved up in a mockery of a smile. “And quick eyes as well.”

“Apparently so. I shall have to watch my step around you, to be sure.”

“My goodness,” he drawled, “was that a compliment? I might expire from the shock of it.”

“If you’d like to consider that a compliment, I give you leave to do so,” she said airily. “You’re not likely to receive many more.”

“You wound me, Miss Sheffield.”

“Does that mean that your skin is not as thick as your boots?”

“Oh, not nearly.”

She felt herself laugh before she realized she was amused. “That I find difficult to believe.”

He waited for her smile to melt away, then said, “You did not answer my question. Why do you hate me?”

A rush of air slipped through Kate’s lips. She hadn’t expected him to repeat the question. Or at least she’d hoped that he would not. “I do not hate you, my lord,” she replied, choosing her words with great care. “I do not even know you.”

“Knowing is rarely a prerequisite for hating,” he said softly, his eyes settling on hers with lethal steadiness. “Come now, Miss Sheffield, you don’t seem a coward to me. Answer the question.”

Kate held silent for a full minute. It was true, she had not been predisposed to like the man. She certainly wasn’t about to give her blessing to his courtship of Edwina. She didn’t believe for one second that reformed rakes made the best husbands. She wasn’t even sure that a rake could be properly reformed in the first place.

But he might have been able to overcome her preconceptions. He could have been charming and sincere and straightforward, and been able to convince her that the stories about him in Whistledown were an exaggeration, that he was not the worst rogue London had seen since the turn of the century. He might have convinced her that he held to a code of honor, that he was a man of principles and honesty…

If he hadn’t gone and compared her to Edwina.

For nothing could have been more obvious a lie. She knew she wasn’t an antidote; her face and form were pleasing enough. But there was simply no way she could be compared to Edwina in this measure and emerge as her equal. Edwina was truly a diamond of the first water, and Kate could never be more than average and unremarkable.

And if this man was saying otherwise, then he had some ulterior motive, because it was obvious he wasn’t blind.

He could have offered her any other empty compliment and she would have accepted it as a gentleman’s polite conversation. She might have even been flattered if his words had struck anywhere close to the truth. But to compare her to Edwina…

Kate adored her sister. She truly did. And she knew better than anyone that Edwina’s heart was as beautiful and radiant as her face. She didn’t like to think herself jealous, but still…somehow the comparison stung right to the core.

“I do not hate you,” she finally replied. Her eyes were trained on his chin, but she had no patience for cowardice, especially within herself, so she forced herself to meet his gaze when she added, “But I find I cannot like you.”

Something in his eyes told her that he appreciated her stark honesty. “And why is that?” he asked softly.

“May I be frank?”

His lips twitched. “Please do.”

“You are dancing with me right now because you wish to court my sister. This does not bother me,” she hastened to assure him. “I am well used to receiving attentions from Edwina’s suitors.”

Her mind was clearly not on her feet. Anthony pulled his foot out of the way of hers before she could injure him again. He noticed with interest that she was back to referring to them as suitors rather than idiots. “Please continue,” he murmured.

“You are not the sort of man I would wish my sister to marry,” she said simply. Her manner was direct, and her intelligent brown eyes never left his. “You are a rake. You are a rogue. You are, in fact, notorious for being both. I would not allow my sister within ten feet of you.”

“And yet,” he said with a wicked little smile, “I waltzed with her earlier this evening.”

“An act which shall not be repeated, I can assure you.”

“And is it your place to decide Edwina’s fate?”

“Edwina trusts my judgment,” she said primly.

“I see,” he said in what he hoped was his most mysterious manner. “That is very interesting. I thought Edwina was an adult.”

“Edwina is but seventeen years old!”

“And you are so ancient at, what, twenty years of age?”

“Twenty-one,” she bit off.

“Ah, that makes you a veritable expert on men, and husbands in particular. Especially since you have been married yourself, yes?”

“You know I am unwed,” she ground out.

Anthony stifled the urge to smile. Good Lord, but it was fun baiting the elder Miss Sheffield. “I think,” he said, keeping his words slow and deliberate, “that you have found it relatively easy to manage most of the men who have come knocking on your sister’s door. Is that true?”

She kept her stony silence.

“Is it?”

Finally she gave him one curt nod.

“I thought so,” he murmured. “You seem the sort who would.”

She glared at him with such intensity that it was all he could do to keep from laughing. If he weren’t dancing, he probably would have stroked his chin in an affectation of deep thought. But since his hands were otherwise engaged, he had to settle for a ponderous tilt of his head, combined with an arch raise of his eyebrows. “But I also think,” he added, “that you made a grave mistake when you thought to manage me.”

Kate’s lips were set in a grim, straight line, but she managed to say, “I do not seek to manage you, Lord Bridgerton. I only seek to keep you away from my sister.”

“Which just goes to show, Miss Sheffield, how very little you know of men. At least of the rakish, roguish variety.” He leaned in closer, letting his hot breath brush against her cheek.

She shivered. He’d known she’d shiver.

He smiled wickedly. “There is very little we relish more than a challenge.”

The music drew to a close, leaving them standing in the middle of the ballroom floor, facing one another. Anthony took her arm, but before he led her back to the perimeter of the room, he put his lips very close to her ear and whispered, “And you, Miss Sheffield, have issued to me a most delicious challenge.”

Kate stepped on his foot. Hard. Enough to make him let out a small, decidedly unrakish, unroguish squeak.

When he glared at her, though, she just shrugged and said, “It was my only defense.”

His eyes darkened. “You, Miss Sheffield, are a menace.”

“And you, Lord Bridgerton, need thicker boots.”

His grasp tightened on her arm. “Before I return you to the sanctuary of the chaperones and spinsters, there is one thing we need to make clear.”

Kate held her breath. She did not like the hard tone of his voice.

“I am going to court your sister. And should I decide that she will make a suitable Lady Bridgerton, I will make her my wife.”

Kate whipped her head up to face him, fire flashing in her eyes. “And I suppose, then, that you think it is your place to decide Edwina’s fate. Do not forget, my lord, that even if you decide she will make a suitable”—she sneered the word—“Lady Bridgerton, she might choose otherwise.”

He looked down at her with the confidence of a male who is never crossed. “Should I decide to ask Edwina, she will not say no.”

“Are you trying to tell me that no woman has ever been able to resist you?”

He did not answer, just raised one supercilious brow and let her draw her own conclusions.

Kate wrenched her arm free and strode back to her stepmother, shaking with fury, resentment, and not a little bit of fear.

Because she had an awful feeling that he did not lie. And if he really did turn out to be irresistible…

Kate shuddered. She and Edwina were going to be in big, big trouble.

The next afternoon was like any following a major ball. The Sheffields’ drawing room was filled to bursting with flower bouquets, each one accompanied by a crisp white card bearing the name, “Edwina Sheffield.”

A simple “Miss Sheffield” would have sufficed, Kate thought with a grimace, but she supposed one couldn’t really fault Edwina’s suitors for wanting to make certain the flowers went to the correct Miss Sheffield.

Not that anyone was likely to make a mistake on that measure. Floral arrangements generally went to Edwina. In fact, there was nothing general about it; every bouquet that had arrived at the Sheffield residence in the last month had gone to Edwina.

Kate liked to think she had the last laugh, however. Most of the flowers made Edwina sneeze, so they tended to end up in Kate’s chamber, anyway.

“You beautiful thing,” she said, lovingly fingering a fine orchid. “I think you belong right on my bedstand. And you”—she leaned forward and sniffed at a bouquet of perfect white roses—“you will look smashing on my dressing table.”

“Do you always talk to flowers?”

Kate whirled around at the sound of a deep male voice. Good heavens, it was Lord Bridgerton, looking sinfully handsome in a blue morning coat. What the devil was he doing here?

No sense in not asking.

“What the dev—” She caught herself just in time. She would not let this man reduce her to cursing aloud, no matter how often she did it in her head. “What are you doing here?”

He raised a brow as he adjusted the huge bouquet of flowers he had tucked under his arm. Pink roses, she noted. Perfect buds. They were lovely. Simple and elegant. Exactly the sort of thing she’d choose for herself.

“I believe it’s customary for suitors to call upon young women, yes?” he murmured. “Or did I misplace my etiquette book?”

“I meant,” Kate growled, “how did you get in? No one alerted me to your arrival.”

He cocked his head toward the hall. “The usual manner. I knocked on your front door.”

Kate’s look of irritation at his sarcasm did not prevent him from continuing with, “Amazingly enough, your butler answered. Then I gave him my card, he took a look at it, and showed me to the drawing room. Much as I’d like to claim some sort of devious, underhanded subterfuge,” he continued, maintaining a rather impressively supercilious tone, “it was actually quite aboveboard and straightforward.”

“Infernal butler,” Kate muttered. “He’s supposed to see if we’re ‘at home’ before showing you in.”

“Maybe he had previous instructions that you would be ‘at home’ for me under any circumstances.”

She bristled. “I gave him no such instructions.”

“No,” Lord Bridgerton said with a chuckle, “I wouldn’t have thought so.”

“And I know Edwina didn’t.”

He smiled. “Perhaps your mother?”

Of course. “Mary,” she groaned, a world of accusation in the single word.

“You call her by her given name?” he asked politely.

She nodded. “She’s actually my stepmother. Although she’s really all I know. She married my father when I was but three. I don’t know why I still call her Mary.” She gave her head a little shake as her shoulders lifted into a perplexed shrug. “I just do.”

His brown eyes remained fixed on her face, and she realized she’d just let this man—her nemesis, really—into a small corner of her life. She felt the words “I’m sorry” bubbling on her tongue—a reflexive reaction, she supposed, for having spoken too freely. But she didn’t want to apologize to this man for anything, so instead she just said, “Edwina is out, I’m afraid, so your visit was for nothing.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” he replied. He grasped the bouquet of flowers—which had been tucked under his right arm—with his other hand, and as he brought it forward Kate saw that it was not one massive bouquet, but three smaller ones.

“This,” he said, putting one of the bouquets down on a side table, “is for Edwina. And this”—he did the same with the second—“is for your mother.”

He was left with a single bouquet. Kate stood frozen with shock, unable to take her eyes off the perfect pink blooms. She knew what he had to be about, that the only reason he’d included her in the gesture was to impress Edwina, but blast it, no one had ever brought her flowers before, and she hadn’t known until that very moment how badly she’d wanted someone to do so.

“These,” he said finally, holding out the final arrangement of pink roses, “are for you.”

“Thank you,” she said hesitantly, taking them into her arms. “They’re lovely.” She leaned down to sniff them, sighing with pleasure at the thick scent. Glancing back up, she added, “It was very thoughtful of you to think of Mary and me.”

He nodded graciously. “It was my pleasure. I must confess, a suitor for my sister’s hand once did the same for my mother, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen her more delighted.”

“Your mother or your sister?”

He smiled at her pert question. “Both.”

“And what happened to this suitor?” Kate asked.

Anthony’s grin turned devilish in the extreme. “He married my sister.”

“HmmPh. Don’t think history is likely to repeat itself. But—” Kate coughed, not particularly wanting to be honest with him but quite incapable of doing anything otherwise. “But the flowers are truly lovely, and—and it was a lovely gesture on your part.” She swallowed. This wasn’t easy for her. “And I do appreciate them.”

He leaned forward slightly, his dark eyes positively melting. “A kind sentence,” he mused. “And directed at me, no less. There now, that wasn’t so difficult, was it?”

Kate went from bending lovingly over the flowers to standing uncomfortably straight in an instant. “You do seem to have a knack for saying the exact wrong thing.”

“Only where you’re concerned, my dear Miss Sheffield. Other women, I assure you, hang on my every word.”

“So I’ve read,” she muttered.

His eyes lit up. “Is that where you’ve developed your opinions of me? Of course! The estimable Lady Whistledown. I should have known. Lud, I’d like to strangle the woman.”

“I find her rather intelligent and quite on the mark,” Kate said primly.

“You would,” he returned.

“Lord Bridgerton,” Kate ground out, “I’m sure you did not come calling to insult me. May I leave a message for Edwina for you?”

“I think not. I don’t particularly trust that it would reach her unadulterated.”

That was really too much. “I would never stoop to interfering with another person’s correspondence,” Kate somehow managed to say. Her entire body was shaking with rage, and if she’d been a less controlled sort of woman, her hands would surely have been wrapped around his throat. “How dare you imply otherwise.”

“When all is said and done, Miss Sheffield,” he said with annoying calmness, “I really don’t know you very well. What I do know consists of your fervent avowals that I will never find myself within ten feet of your sister’s saintly presence. You tell me, would you feel confident to leave a note if you were me?”

“If you are attempting to gain my sister’s favor through me,” Kate replied icily, “you are not doing a very good job of it.”

“I’m aware of that,” he said. “I really shouldn’t provoke you. It’s not very well done of me, is it? But I’m afraid I just can’t help myself.” He grinned roguishly and held up his hands in a helpless manner. “What can I say? You do something to me, Miss Sheffield.”

His smile, Kate realized with dismay, was truly a force to be reckoned with. She suddenly felt faint. A seat…yes, what she needed to do was sit down. “Please, have a seat,” she said, waving at the blue damask sofa as she scrambled across the room to a chair. She didn’t particularly want him to linger, but she couldn’t very well sit without offering him a seat as well, and her legs were starting to feel awfully wobbly.

If the viscount thought oddly of her sudden burst of politeness, he did not say anything. Instead he removed a long black case off the sofa and placed it on a table, then sat down in its place. “Is that a musical instrument?” he queried, motioning to the case.

Kate nodded. “A flute.”

“Do you play?”

She shook her head, then cocked her head slightly and nodded. “I’m trying to learn. I took it up just this year.”

He nodded in reply, and that, apparently, was to be the end of the subject, because he then politely asked, “When do you expect Edwina to return?”

“Not for at least an hour, I should think. Mr. Berbrooke took her out for a ride in his curricle.”

“Nigel Berbrooke?” He practically choked on the name.

“Yes, why?”

“The man has more hair than wit. A great deal more.”

“But he’s going bald,” she couldn’t resist pointing out.

He grimaced. “And if that doesn’t prove my point, I don’t know what will.”

Kate had reached much the same conclusion about Mr. Berbrooke’s intelligence (or lack thereof), but she said, “Isn’t it considered bad form to insult one’s fellow suitors?”

Anthony let out a little snort. “It wasn’t an insult. It was the truth. He courted my sister last year. Or tried to. Daphne did her best to discourage him. He’s a nice enough fellow, I’ll grant you that, but not someone you’d want building you a boat were you stranded on a desert island.”

Kate had a strange and unwelcome image of the viscount stranded on a desert island, clothes in tatters, skin kissed by the sun. It left her feeling uncomfortably warm.

Anthony cocked his head, regarding her with a quizzical gaze. “I say, Miss Sheffield, are you feeling all right?”

“Fine!” she practically barked. “Never better. You were saying?”

“You look a bit flushed.” He leaned in, watching her closely. She really didn’t look well.

Kate fanned herself. “It’s a bit hot in here, don’t you think?”

Anthony shook his head slowly. “Not at all.”

She gazed longingly out the door. “I wonder where Mary is.”

“Are you expecting her?”

“It’s unlike her to leave me unchaperoned for so long,” she explained.

Unchaperoned? The ramifications were frightening. Anthony had a sudden vision of being trapped into marriage with Miss Sheffield the elder, and it made him break out in a cold sweat. Kate was so unlike any debutante he’d ever met that he’d quite forgotten that they even needed a chaperone. “Perhaps she’s not aware I’m here,” he said quickly.

“Yes, that must be it.” She sprang to her feet and crossed the room to the bellpull. Giving it a firm yank, she said, “I’ll just ring for someone to alert her. I’m sure she won’t want to miss you.”

“Good. Perhaps she can keep us company while we wait for your sister to return.”

Kate froze halfway back to her chair. “You’re planning to wait for Edwina?”

He shrugged, enjoying her discomfort. “I have no other plans for the afternoon.”

“But she might be hours!”

“An hour at most, I’m sure, and besides—” He cut himself off, noting the arrival of a maid in the doorway.

“You rang, miss?” the maid queried.

“Yes, thank you, Annie,” Kate replied. “Would you please inform Mrs. Sheffield that we have a guest?”

The maid bobbed a curtsy and departed.

“I’m sure Mary will be down at any moment,” Kate said, quite unable to stop tapping her foot. “Any minute now. I’m sure of it.”

He just smiled in that annoying manner, looking terribly relaxed and comfortable on the sofa.

An awkward silence fell across the room. Kate offered him a tight smile. He just raised a brow in return.

“I’m sure she’ll be here—”

“Any minute now,” he finished for her, sounding heartily amused.

She sank back into her chair, trying not to grimace. She probably didn’t succeed.

Just then a small commotion broke out in the hall—a few decidedly canine barks, followed by a high-pitched shriek of, “Newton! Newton! Stop that at once!”

“Newton?” the viscount queried.

“My dog,” Kate explained, sighing as she rose to her feet. “He doesn’t—”

“NEWTON!”

“—get along with Mary very well, I’m afraid.” Kate moved to the door. “Mary? Mary?”

Anthony rose when Kate did, wincing as the dog let out three more earsplitting barks, which were immediately followed by another terrified shriek from Mary. “What is he,” he muttered, “a mastiff?” It had to be a mastiff. Miss Sheffield the elder seemed exactly the sort to keep a man-eating mastiff at her beck and call.

“No,” Kate said, rushing out into the hall as Mary let out another shriek. “He’s a—”

But Anthony missed her words. It didn’t matter much, anyway, because one second later, in trotted the most benign-looking corgi he’d ever seen, with thick caramel-colored fur and a belly that almost dragged on the ground.

Anthony froze with surprise. This was the fearsome creature from the hall? “Good day, dog,” he said firmly.

The dog stopped in its tracks, sat right down, and…

Smiled?


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