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The Viscount Who Loved Me: Chapter 5


It has come to This Author’s attention that Miss Katharine Sheffield took offense at the labeling of her beloved pet, “an unnamed dog of indeterminate breed.”

This Author is, to be sure, prostrate with shame at this grievous and egregious error and begs of you, dear reader, to accept this abject apology and pay attention to the first ever correction in the history of this column.

Miss Katharine Sheffield’s dog is a corgi. It is called Newton, although it is difficult to imagine that England’s great inventor and physicist would have appreciated being immortalized in the form of a short, fat canine with poor manners.

LADY WHISTLEDOWN’S SOCIETY PAPERS, 27 APRIL 1814

By that evening, it had become apparent that Edwina had not come through her (albeit brief) ordeal unscathed. Her nose turned red, her eyes began to water, and it was apparent to anyone who glimpsed her puffy face for even a second that, while not seriously ill, she’d caught a bad cold.

But even while Edwina was tucked into bed with a hot water bottle between her feet and a therapeutic potion brewed up by the cook in a mug on her bedside table, Kate was determined to have a conversation with her.

“What did he say to you on the ride home?” Kate demanded, perching on the edge of her sister’s bed.

“Who?” Edwina replied, sniffing fearfully at the remedy. “Look at this,” she said, holding it forward. “It’s giving off fumes.”

“The viscount,” Kate ground out. “Who else would have spoken to you on the ride home? And don’t be a ninny. It’s not giving off fumes. That’s just steam.”

“Oh.” Edwina took another sniff and pulled a face. “It doesn’t smell like steam.”

“It’s steam,” Kate ground out, gripping the mattress until her knuckles hurt. “What did he say?”

“Lord Bridgerton?” Edwina asked blithely. “Oh, just the usual sort of things. You know what I mean. Polite conversation and all that.”

“He made polite conversation while you were dripping wet?” Kate asked doubtfully.

Edwina took a hesitant sip, then nearly gagged. “What is in this?”

Kate leaned over and sniffed at the contents. “It smells a bit like licorice. And I think I see a raisin at the bottom.” But as she sniffed, she thought she heard rain pattering against the glass of the window, and so she sat back up. “Is it raining?”

“I don’t know,” Edwina said. “It might be. It was rather cloudy when the sun set earlier.” She gave the glass one more dubious look, then set it back on the table. “If I drink that, I know it will make me sicker,” she stated.

“But what else did he say?” Kate persisted, getting up to check out the window. She pushed the curtain aside and peered out. It was raining, but only lightly, and it was too early to tell whether the precipitation would be accompanied by any thunder or lightning.

“Who, the viscount?”

Kate thought herself a saint for not shaking her sister senseless. “Yes, the viscount.”

Edwina shrugged, clearly not as interested in the conversation as Kate. “Not much. He asked for my welfare, of course. Which was only reasonable, considering that I had just been dunked in The Serpentine. Which, I might add, was perfectly wretched. Aside from being cold, the water was most certainly not clean.”

Kate cleared her throat and sat back down, preparing to ask a most scandalous question, but one which, in her opinion, simply had to be asked. Trying to keep her voice devoid of the complete and total fascination that was coursing through her veins, she asked, “Did he make any untoward advances?”

Edwina lurched back, her eyes growing round with shock. “Of course not!” she exclaimed. “He was a perfect gentleman. Really, I don’t see what has you so excited. It wasn’t a very interesting conversation. I can’t even remember half of what was said.”

Kate just stared at her sister, unable to fathom that she could have been trapped in conversation with that odious rake for a good ten minutes and it didn’t make an indelible impression on her. Much to her own everlasting dismay, every single awful word he’d said to her was etched permanently on her brain.

“By the way,” Edwina added, “how was your time with Mr. Berbrooke? It took you nearly an hour to return.”

Kate shuddered visibly.

“That bad?”

“I’m sure he will make some woman a good husband,” Kate said. “Just not one with a brain.”

Edwina let out a little giggle. “Oh, Kate, you are awful.”

Kate sighed. “I know. I know. That was terribly cruel of me. The poor man hasn’t an unkind bone in his body. It’s just that—”

“He hasn’t an intelligent bone, either,” Edwina finished.

Kate raised her brows. It was most unlike Edwina to make such a judgmental comment.

“I know,” Edwina said with a sheepish smile. “Now I am the unkind one. I really shouldn’t have said a word, but truly, I thought I would perish on our curricle ride.”

Kate straightened with concern. “Was he a dangerous driver?”

“Not at all. It was his conversation.”

“Boring?”

Edwina nodded, her blue eyes slightly bewildered. “He was so hard to follow it was almost fascinating to try to figure out how his mind works.” She let out a stream of coughs, then added, “But it made my brain hurt.”

“So he’s not to be your perfect scholar-husband?” Kate said with an indulgent smile.

Edwina coughed some more. “I’m afraid not.”

“Maybe you should try a bit more of that brew,” Kate suggested, motioning to the lonely mug sitting on Edwina’s bedside table. “Cook swears by it.”

Edwina shook her head violently. “It tastes like death.”

Kate waited a few moments, then had to ask, “Did the viscount say anything about me?”

“You?”

“No, some other me,” Kate practically snapped. “Of course me. How many other people may I correctly refer to as ‘me’?”

“No need to get upset about it.”

“I’m not upset—”

“But actually, no, he didn’t mention you.”

Kate suddenly felt upset.

“He had a lot to say about Newton, though.”

Kate’s lips parted with dismay. It was never flattering to be passed over for a dog.

“I assured him that Newton is truly the perfect pet, and that I was not at all angry with him, but he was rather charmingly upset on my behalf.”

“How charming,” Kate muttered.

Edwina grabbed a handkerchief and blew her nose. “I say, Kate, you’re rather interested in the viscount.”

“I did spend practically the entire afternoon trapped in conversation with him,” Kate replied, as if that ought to explain everything.

“Good. Then you’ve had a chance to see how polite and charming he can be. He’s very wealthy, too.” Edwina let out a loud sniffle, then fumbled around for a fresh handkerchief. “And while I don’t think that one can choose a husband based entirely on finances, given our lack of funds, I would be remiss not to consider it, don’t you think?”

“Well…” Kate hedged, knowing that Edwina was absolutely correct but not wanting to say anything that might be construed as approval of Lord Bridgerton.

Edwina brought the handkerchief to her face and gave her nose a rather unfeminine blow. “I think we should add him to our list,” she said, snuffling over the words.

“Our list,” Kate echoed, her voice strangled.

“Yes, of possible matches. I think he and I would suit very well.”

“But I thought you wanted a scholar!”

“I did. I do. But you yourself pointed out the unlikelihood of my finding a true scholar. Lord Bridgerton seems intelligent enough. I’ll just have to devise a way to discover if he likes to read.”

“I’d be surprised if that boor can read,” Kate muttered.

“Kate Sheffield!” Edwina exclaimed with a laugh. “Did you just say what I think you said?”

“No,” Kate said baldly, because of course the viscount could read. But he was just so awful in every other way.

“You did,” Edwina accused. “You are the worst, Kate.” She smiled. “But you do make me laugh.”

A low rumble of distant thunder echoed in the night, and Kate forced a smile on her face, trying not to flinch. She was usually all right when the thunder and lightning were far away. It was only when they came one on top of each other, and both seemingly on top of her, that she felt as if she were about to burst from her skin.

“Edwina,” Kate said, needing to have this discussion with her sister but also needing to say something that would take her mind off the approaching storm, “you must put the viscount from your mind. He is absolutely not the sort of husband who would make you happy. Aside from the fact that he is the worst sort of rake and would probably flaunt a dozen mistresses in your face—”

At Edwina’s frown, Kate cut off the rest of her sentence and decided to expand upon this point. “He would!” she said with great drama. “Haven’t you been reading Whistledown? Or listening to anything any of the other young ladies’ mamas have to say? The ones who have been on the social circuit for several years and know what’s what. They all say he is a terrible rake. That his only saving grace is how nicely he treats his family.”

“Well, that would be a mark in his favor,” Edwina pointed out. “Since a wife would be family, yes?”

Kate nearly groaned. “A wife isn’t the same as a blood relative. Men who would never dream of uttering a cross word in front of their mothers trample all over their wives’ feelings every day.”

“And how would you know this?” Edwina demanded.

Kate’s mouth fell open. She couldn’t remember the last time Edwina had questioned her judgment on an important matter, and unfortunately, the only answer she could think of on such short notice was, “I just do.”

Which, even she had to admit, really didn’t pass muster.

“Edwina,” she said in a placating voice, deciding to steer the topic in a different direction, “aside from all that, I don’t think you would even like the viscount if you got to know him.”

“He seemed pleasant enough while driving me home.”

“But he was on his best behavior!” Kate persisted. “Of course he’d seem nice. He wants you to fall in love with him.”

Edwina blinked. “So you think it was all an act.”

“Exactly!” Kate exclaimed, pouncing on the concept. “Edwina, between last night and this afternoon, I spent several hours in his company, and I can assure you, he was not on his best behavior with me.”

Edwina gasped with horror and maybe a little titillation. “Did he kiss you?” she breathed.

“No!” Kate howled. “Of course not! Where on earth would you get that idea?”

“You said he wasn’t on his best behavior.”

“What I meant,” Kate ground out, “was that he wasn’t polite. Nor was he very nice. In fact, he was insufferably arrogant and dreadfully rude and insulting.”

“That’s interesting,” Edwina murmured.

“It wasn’t the least bit interesting. It was horrible!”

“No, that’s not what I meant,” Edwina said, thoughtfully scratching her chin. “It’s very odd that he would have behaved rudely to you. He must have heard that I shall be looking to your judgment when I choose a husband. One would think he’d go out of his way to be nice to you. Why,” she mused, “would he behave the churl?”

Kate’s face colored a dull red—thankfully not so noticeable in the candlelight—as she muttered, “He said he couldn’t help himself.”

Edwina’s mouth fell open, and for one second she sat utterly frozen, as if suspended in time. Then she fell back onto her pillows, hooting with laughter. “Oh, Kate!” she gasped. “That is splendid! Oh, what a tangle. Oh, I love it!”

Kate glared at her. “It’s not funny.”

Edwina wiped at her eyes. “It might be the funniest thing I’ve heard all month. All year! Oh, my goodness.” She let out a short stream of coughs, brought on by her laughing fit. “Oh, Kate, I do believe you might have cleared out my nose.”

“Edwina, that’s disgusting.”

Edwina brought her handkerchief to her face and blew her nose. “But true,” she said triumphantly.

“It won’t last,” Kate muttered. “You’ll be sick as a dog by morning.”

“You’re probably right,” Edwina agreed, “but oh, what fun. He said he couldn’t help himself? Oh, Kate, that is just rich.”

“There is no need to dwell on it,” Kate grumbled.

“Do you know, but he might be the very first gentleman we’ve met all season you haven’t been able to manage.”

Kate’s lips twisted into a grimace. The viscount had used the same word, and they were both correct. She’d indeed spent the season managing men—managing them for Edwina. And she suddenly wasn’t so sure she liked this role of mother hen she’d been thrust into.

Or maybe she’d thrust herself into it.

Edwina saw the play of emotion on her sister’s face and immediately turned apologetic. “Oh, dear,” she murmured. “I’m sorry, Kate. I didn’t mean to tease.”

Kate arched a brow.

“Oh, very well, I did mean to tease, but never to actually hurt your feelings. I had no idea Lord Bridgerton had upset you so.”

“Edwina, I just don’t like the man. And I don’t think you should even consider marrying him. I don’t care how ardently or how persistently he pursues you. He will not make a good husband.”

Edwina was silent for a moment, her magnificent eyes utterly sober. Then she said, “Well, if you say so, it must be true. I have certainly never been steered wrong by your judgment before. And, as you said, you have spent more time in his company than have I, so you would know better.”

Kate let out a long and ill-disguised sigh of relief. “Good,” she said firmly. “And when you are feeling more the thing, we shall look among your current suitors for a better match.”

“And maybe you could look for a husband, too,” Edwina suggested.

“Of course I’m always looking,” Kate insisted. “What would be the point of a London season if I weren’t looking?”

Edwina looked dubious. “I don’t think you are looking, Kate. I think that all you do is interview possibilities for me. And there is no reason you shouldn’t find a husband as well. You need a family of your own. I certainly can’t imagine anyone more suited to be a mother than you.”

Kate bit her lip, not wanting to respond directly to Edwina’s point. Because behind those lovely blue eyes and perfect face, Edwina was quite the most perceptive person she knew. And Edwina was right. Kate hadn’t been looking for a husband. But why should she? No one was considering her for marriage, either.

She sighed, glancing toward the window. The storm seemed to have passed without striking her area of London. She supposed she ought to be thankful for small favors.

“Why don’t we see about you first,” Kate finally said, “since I think we both agree that you are more likely to receive a proposal before I do, and then we’ll think about my prospects?”

Edwina shrugged, and Kate knew that her deliberate silence meant that she did not agree.

“Very well,” Kate said, rising to her feet. “I’ll leave you to your rest. I’m sure you’ll need it.”

Edwina coughed as a reply.

“And drink that remedy!” Kate said with a laugh, heading out the door.

As she shut the door behind her, she heard Edwina mutter, “I’d rather die.”

Four days later, Edwina was dutifully drinking Cook’s remedy, although not without considerable grumbling and complaint. Her health had improved, but only to the point where she was almost better. She was still stuck in bed, still coughing, and very irritable.

Mary had declared that Edwina could not attend any social functions until Tuesday at the earliest. Kate had taken that to mean that they all would receive a respite (because really, what was the point of attending a ball without Edwina?), but after Kate spent a blessedly uneventful Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with nothing to do but read and take Newton for walks, Mary suddenly declared that the two of them would attend Lady Bridgerton’s musicale Monday evening, and—

(Kate tried to interject a vehement argument about why this was not a good idea at this point.)

—that was final.

Kate gave in fairly quickly. There was really no point in arguing any further, especially since Mary turned on her heel and walked away directly after uttering the word, “final.”

Kate did have certain standards, and they included not arguing with closed doors.

And so Monday evening she found herself dressed in ice blue silk, fan in hand, as she and Mary rolled through the streets of London in their inexpensive carriage, on their way to Bridgerton House in Grosvenor Square.

“Everyone will be very surprised to see us without Edwina,” Kate said, her left hand fiddling with the black gauze of her cloak.

“You are looking for a husband as well,” Mary replied.

Kate held silent for a moment. She couldn’t very well argue that point, since, after all, it was supposed to be true.

“And stop crumpling your cloak,” Mary added. “It will be wrinkled all evening.”

Kate’s hand went limp. She then tapped the right one rhythmically against the seat for several seconds, until Mary blurted out, “Good heavens, Kate, can’t you sit still?”

“You know I can’t,” Kate said.

Mary just sighed.

After another long silence, punctuated only by the tapping of her foot, Kate added, “Edwina will be lonely without us.”

Mary didn’t even bother to look at her as she answered, “Edwina has a novel to read. The latest by that Austen woman. She won’t even notice we’re gone.”

That much was also true. Edwina probably wouldn’t notice if her bed caught on fire while she was reading a book.

So Kate said, “The music will probably be dreadful. After that Smythe-Smith affair…”

“The Smythe-Smith musicale was performed by the Smythe-Smith daughters,” Mary replied, her voice starting to hold an edge of impatience. “Lady Bridgerton has hired a professional opera singer, visiting from Italy. We are honored simply to receive an invitation.”

Kate knew without a doubt that the invitation was for Edwina; she and Mary were surely included only out of politeness. But Mary’s teeth were beginning to clench together, and so Kate vowed to hold her tongue for the remainder of the ride.

Which wouldn’t be so difficult, after all, as they were presently rolling up in front of Bridgerton House.

Kate’s mouth dropped open as she looked out the window. “It’s huge,” she said dumbly.

“Isn’t it?” Mary replied, gathering her things together. “I understand that Lord Bridgerton doesn’t live there. Even though it belongs to him, he remains in his bachelor’s lodgings so that his mother and siblings may reside at Bridgerton House. Isn’t that thoughtful of him?”

Thoughtful and Lord Bridgerton were not two expressions Kate would have thought to use in the same sentence, but she nodded nonetheless, too awed by the size and grace of the stone building to make an intelligent comment.

The carriage rolled to a halt, and Mary and Kate were helped down by one of the Bridgerton footmen, who rushed to open the door. A butler took their invitation and admitted them, taking their wraps and pointing them toward the music room, which was just at the end of the hall.

Kate had been inside enough grand London homes not to publicly gape at the obvious wealth and beauty of the furnishings, but even she was impressed by the interiors, decorated with elegance and restraint in the Adam style. Even the ceilings were works of art—done up in pale shades of sage and blue, the colors separated by white plasterwork so intricate it almost appeared to be a more solid form of lace.

The music room was just as lovely, the walls painted a friendly shade of lemon yellow. Rows of chairs had been set up for attendees, and Kate quickly steered her stepmother toward the back. Truly, there could be no reason why she’d want to put herself in a noticeable position. Lord Bridgerton was sure to be in attendance—if all the tales about his devotion to his family were true—and if Kate was lucky, maybe he wouldn’t even notice her presence.

Quite to the contrary, Anthony knew exactly when Kate stepped out of her carriage and entered his family home. He had been in his study, having a solitary drink before heading down to his mother’s annual musicale. In a bid for privacy, he’d chosen not to live at Bridgerton House while still a bachelor, but he did keep his study here. His position as head of the Bridgerton family carried with it serious responsibilities, and Anthony generally found it easier to attend to these responsibilities while in close proximity to the rest of his family.

The study’s windows looked out over Grosvenor Square, however, and so he had been amusing himself watching the carriages arrive and the guests alight. When Kate Sheffield had stepped down, she’d looked up at the facade of Bridgerton House, tipping her face up in much the same manner she’d done while enjoying the warmth of the sun in Hyde Park. The light from the sconces on either side of the front door had filtered onto her skin, bathing her with a flickering glow.

And Anthony’s breath was sucked right out of him.

His glass tumbler landed on the wide windowsill with a heavy thunk. This was getting ridiculous. He wasn’t self-delusional enough to mistake the tightening of his muscles as anything other than desire.

Bloody hell. He didn’t even like the woman. She was too bossy, too opinionated, too quick to jump to conclusions. She wasn’t even beautiful—at least not compared to quite a few of the ladies flitting about London for the season, her sister most especially included.

Kate’s face was a touch too long, her chin a hair too pointed, her eyes a shade too big. Everything about her was too some thing. Even her mouth, which vexed him to no end with its endless stream of insults and opinions, was too full. It was a rare event when she actually had it closed and was treating him to a moment of blessed silence, but if he happened to look at her in that split second (for surely she could not be silent for much longer than that) all he saw were her lips, full and pouty, and—provided that she kept them shut and didn’t actually speak—eminently kissable.

Kissable?

Anthony shuddered. The thought of kissing Kate Sheffield was terrifying. In fact, the mere fact that he’d even thought of it ought to be enough to have him locked up in an asylum.

And yet…

Anthony collapsed in a chair.

And yet he’d dreamed about her.

It had happened after the fiasco at The Serpentine. He’d been so furious with her he could barely speak. It was a wonder he’d managed to say anything at all to Edwina during the short ride back to her house. Polite conversation was all he’d been able to get out—mindless words so familiar they tripped from his tongue as if by rote.

A blessing indeed, since his mind most definitely had not been where it should be: on Edwina, his future wife.

Oh, she hadn’t agreed to marry him. He hadn’t even asked. But she fit his requirements for a wife in every possible way; he’d already decided that she would be the one to whom he would finally propose marriage. She was beautiful, intelligent, and even-tempered. Attractive without making his blood rush. They would spend enjoyable years together, but he’d never fall in love with her.

She was exactly what he needed.

And yet…

Anthony reached for his drink and downed the rest of its contents in one gasping gulp.

And yet he’d dreamed about her sister.

He tried not to remember. He tried not to remember the details of the dream—the heat and the sweat of it—but he’d only had this one drink this evening, certainly not enough to impair his memory. And although he’d had no intention of having more than this one drink, the concept of sliding into mindless oblivion was starting to sound appealing.

Anything would be appealing if it meant he wouldn’t remember.

But he didn’t feel like drinking. He’d not overimbibed in years. It seemed such the young man’s game, not at all attractive as one neared thirty. Besides, even if he did decide to seek temporary amnesia in a bottle, it wouldn’t come fast enough to make the memory of her go away.

Memory? Ha. It wasn’t even a real memory. Just a dream, he reminded himself. Just a dream.

He’d fallen asleep quickly upon returning home that evening. He’d stripped naked and soaked in a hot bath for nearly an hour, trying to remove the chill from his bones. He hadn’t been completely submerged in The Serpentine as had Edwina, but his legs had been soaked, as had one of his sleeves, and Newton’s strategic shake had guaranteed that not one inch of his body remained warm during the windy ride home in the borrowed curricle.

After his bath he’d crawled into bed, not particularly caring that it was still light outside, and would be for a good hour yet. He was exhausted, and he’d had every intention of falling into a deep, dreamless sleep, not to be awakened until the first streaks of dawn touched the morning.

But sometime in the night, his body had grown restless and hungry. And his treacherous mind had filled with the most awful of images. He’d watched it as if floating near the ceiling, and yet he felt everything—his body, naked, moving over a lithe female form; his hands stroking and squeezing warm flesh. The delectable tangle of arms and legs, the musky scent of two bodies in love—it had all been there, hot and vivid in his mind.

And then he’d shifted. Just the tiniest bit, perhaps to kiss the faceless woman’s ear. Except as he moved to the side, she was no longer faceless. First appeared a thick lock of dark brown hair, softly curling and tickling at his shoulder. Then he moved even farther…

And he saw her.

Kate Sheffield.

He’d awakened in an instant, sitting bolt upright in bed and shaking from the horror of it. It had been the most vivid erotic dream he’d ever experienced.

And his worst nightmare.

He’d felt frantically around the sheets with one of his hands, terrified that he’d find the proof of his passion. God help him if he’d actually ejaculated while dreaming of quite the most awful woman of his acquaintance.

Thankfully, his sheets were clean, and so, with beating heart and heavy breath, he’d lain back against his pillows, his movements slow and careful, as if that would somehow prevent a recurrence of the dream.

He’d stared at the ceiling for hours, first conjugating Latin verbs, then counting to a thousand, all in an attempt to keep his brain on anything but Kate Sheffield.

And amazingly, he’d exorcised her image from his brain and fallen asleep.

But now she was back. Here. In his home.

It was a terrifying thought.

And where the hell was Edwina? Why hadn’t she accompanied her mother and sister?

The first strains of a string quartet drifted under his door, discordant and jumbled, no doubt the warm-up of the musicians his mother had hired to accompany Maria Rosso, the latest soprano to take London by storm.

Anthony certainly hadn’t told his mother, but he and Maria had enjoyed a pleasant interlude the last time she’d been in town. Maybe he ought to consider renewing their friendship. If the sultry Italian beauty didn’t cure what ailed him, nothing would.

Anthony stood and straightened his shoulders, aware that he probably looked as if he were girding himself for battle. Hell, that’s how he felt. Maybe, if he was lucky, he’d be able to avoid Kate Sheffield entirely. He couldn’t imagine she’d go out of her way to engage him in conversation. She’d made it abundantly clear that she held him in just as much esteem as he did her.

Yes, that’s exactly what he would do. Avoid her. How difficult could that be?


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