The Viscount Who Loved Me
1814 promises to be another eventful season, but not, This Author believes, for Anthony Bridgerton, London's most elsuive bachelor, who has shown no indication that he plans to marry.
And in truth, why should he? When it comes to playing the consummate rake, nobody does it better...
—Lady Whistledown's Society Papers, April 1814
But this time the gossip columnists have it wrong. Anthony Bridgerton hasn't just decided to marry—he's even chosen a wife! The only obstacle is his intended's older sister, Kate Sheffield—the most meddlesome woman ever to grace a London ballroom. The spirited schemer is driving Anthony mad with her determination to stop the betrothal, but when he closes his eyes at night, Kate is the woman haunting his increasingly erotic dreams...
Contrary to popular belief, Kate is quite sure that reformed rakes do not make the best husbands—and Anthony Bridgerton is the most wicked rogue of them all. Kate is determined to protect her sister—but she fears her own heart is vulnerable. And when Anthony's lips touch hers, she's suddenly afraid she might not be able to resist the reprehensible rake herself...
" 'Oh, bloody hell', Anthony swore, completely forgetting that he was in the company of the woman he planned to make his wife. 'She's got the mallet of death.' "
Inside the Story
I went through three outlines for this book before I found a plot and premise that I felt worked. The story required Anthony's father to have died about ten years before the book began, but in The Duke and I, which was completely edited (but not yet published), his father had died two years earlier. While doing the final proofread of Duke, I had to go back and make all the changes. I was terrified that I would miss a mention!
Regular readers know that I love to include animals in my books. Newton, the overweight corgi, was modeled after Home, a very friendly corgi who lived on my street. Corgis, while not an officially recognized breed in Britain until the 1920s, originated in Wales during the Middle Ages. Corgis are also very popular with the royal family. Queen Elizabeth's dogs are "dorgis," which are corgi-dachsund mixes.
If there is one scene (from any of my books) I hear about the most from my readers, it's the Bridgerton Pall Mall game. And indeed, I enjoyed writing it so much, I brought everyone back for a rematch in the 2nd Epilogue to The Viscount Who Loved Me. But this famous scene almost never happened! I was about 2/3 into the book when I realized that everything seemed to be happening too fast. Specifically, Kate and Anthony seemed to have gone from dislike to admiration too quickly. I realized I needed to add a scene in which Kate realized that Anthony wasn't such a bad guy, and the best way to do that would be to show him interacting with his family. And thus the Pall Mall game (and the Mallet of Death!) was born.
Speaking of Pall Mall, this was indeed the name for croquet at the time, or at least the closest thing I could find to it. I don't believe that the rules were the same as they are today, but then again, I've never played croquet by the official rules.
The Viscount Who Loved Me received a facelift in 2006. But while the cover may have changed, the words have not. The story is exactly the same as when it was originally released in 2000.
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Awards & Achievements
The Viscount Who Loved Me was a finalist for the 2001 RITA Awards in the long historical category. The eventual winner was Devilish by Jo Beverley.
#18 on The New York Times Extended Bestseller list. The Viscount Who Loved Me spent four weeks total on this list.
Two weeks on the Publishers Weekly Mass Market Bestseller list (rising as high as #14.)
Four weeks on the USA Today Bestseller list, peaking at #60.
A Featured Alternate Selection of the Doubleday Book Club and an Alternate Selection of Rhapsody Book Club.
Start Reading This Book
Anthony Bridgerton had always known he would die young.
Oh, not as a child. Young Anthony had never had cause to ponder his own mortality. His early years had been a young boy's perfection, right from the very day of his birth.
It was true that Anthony was the heir to an ancient and wealthy viscountcy, but unlike most other aristocratic couples, Lord and Lady Bridgerton were very much in love, and they saw their son's birth not as the arrival of an heir, but rather that of a child.
And so there were no parties, no fetes, no celebration other than that of mother and father staring in wonderment at their new son.
The Bridgertons were young parents— Edmund barely twenty and Violet just eighteen, but they were sensible and they were strong, and they loved their son with a fierceness and devotion that was rarely seen in their social circles. Much to her own mother's horror, Violet insisted upon nursing the boy herself, and Edmund never subscribed to the prevailing attitude that fathers should neither see nor hear their children. He took the infant on long hikes across the fields of Kent, spoke to him of philosophy and poetry before he could possibly understand the words, and told him a bedtime story every night.
Because the viscount and viscountess were so young and so very much in love, it came as no surprise to anyone when, just two years after Anthony's birth, he was joined by a younger brother, christened Benedict. Edmund immediately adjusted his daily routine to take two sons on his hikes, and he spent a week holed up in the stables, working with his leathersmith to devise a special pack that would hold Anthony on the his back while he held the baby Benedict in his arms.
They walked across fields and streams, and he told them of wondrous things, of perfect flowers and clear blue skies, of knights in shining armor and damsels in distress. Violet used to laugh when they returned, all windblown and sun-kissed, and Edmund would say, "See? Here is our damsel in distress. Clearly we must save her." And Anthony would throw himself into his mother's arms, giggling as he swore he'd protect her from the fire-breathing dragon they'd seen just two miles down the road in the village.
"Two miles down the road in the village?" Violet would breathe, keeping her voice carefully laden with horror. "Heaven above, what would I do without three strong men to protect me?"
"Benedict's a baby," Anthony would reply.
Edmund always treated his children with equal affection and devotion, but late at night, when Anthony cradled the Bridgerton pocket watch to his chest (given to him on his eighth birthday by his father, who had received it on his eighth birthday from his father) he liked to think that his relationship with his father was just a little bit special. Not because Edmund loved him best; by that point the Bridgerton siblings numbered four (Colin and Daphne had arrived fairly close together) and Anthony knew very well that all the children were well loved.
No, Anthony liked to think that his relationship with his father was special simply because he'd known him the longest. After all, no matter how long Benedict had known their father, Anthony would always have two years on him. And six on Colin. And as for Daphne, well, beside the fact that she was a girl (the horror!) she'd known Father a full eight years less than he had and, he liked to remind himself, always would.
Edmund Bridgerton was, quite simply, the very center of Anthony's world. He was tall, his shoulders were broad, and he could ride a horse as if he'd been born in the saddle. He always knew the answers to arithmetic questions (even when the tutor didn't), he saw no reason why his sons should not have a tree house (and then he went and built it himself), and his laugh was the sort that warmed a body from the inside out.
Edmund taught Anthony how to ride. He taught Anthony how to shoot. He taught him to swim. He took him off to Eton himself, rather than sending him in a carriage with servants, as most of Anthony's future friends arrived, and when he saw Anthony glancing nervously about the school that would become his new home, he had a heart-to-heart talk with his eldest son, assuring him that everything would be all right.
And it was. Anthony knew it would be. His father, after all, never lied.
Anthony loved his mother. Hell, he'd probably bite off his own arm if it meant keeping her safe and well. But growing up, everything he did, every accomplishment, every goal, every single hope and dream —it was all for his father. And then one day, everything changed. It was funny, he reflected later, how one's life could alter in an instant, how one minute everything could be a certain way, and the next it's simply... not.
It happened when Anthony was eighteen, home for the summer and preparing for his first year at Oxford. He was to belong to All Souls College, as his father had before him, and his life was as bright and dazzling as any eighteen-year-old had a right to enjoy. He had discovered women, and perhaps more splendidly, they had discovered him, and he even managed not to roll his eyes when he passed his mother in the hall—pregnant with her eighth child! Anthony thought it a bit unseemly that his parents were still happily reproducing, but he kept his opinions to himself.
Who was he to doubt Edmund's wisdom? Maybe he, too, would want more children at the advanced age of thirty-eight.
When Anthony found out, it was late afternoon. He was returning from a long and bruising ride with Benedict and had just pushed through the front door of Aubrey Hall, the ancestral home of the Bridgertons, when he saw his ten-year-old sister, sitting on the floor. Benedict was still in the stables, having lost some silly bet with Anthony, the terms of which required him to rub down both horses.
Anthony stopped short when he saw Daphne. It was odd enough that his sister was sitting in the middle of the floor in the main hall. It was even more odd that she was crying.
Daphne never cried.
"Daff," he said hesitantly, too young to know what to do with a crying female and wondering if he'd ever learn, "what--"
But before he could finish his question, Daphne lifted her head, and the shattering heartbreak in her large, brown eyes cut through him like a knife. He stumbled back a step, knowing something was wrong, terribly wrong.
"He's dead," Daphne whispered. "Papa is dead."
For a moment Anthony was sure he'd misheard. His father couldn't be dead. Other people died young, like Uncle Hugo, but Uncle Hugo had been small and frail. Well, at least smaller and frailer than Edmund.
"You're wrong," he told Daphne. "You must be wrong."
She shook her head. "Eloise told me. He was... It was..."
Anthony knew he shouldn't shake his sister while she sobbed, but he couldn't help himself. "It was what, Daphne?"
"A bee," she whispered. "He was stung by a bee."
For a moment Anthony could do nothing but stare at her. Finally, his voice hoarse and barely recognizable, he said, "A man doesn't die from a bee sting, Daphne."
She said nothing, just sat there on the floor, her throat working convulsively as she tried to control her tears.
"He's been stung before," Anthony added, his voice rising in volume. "I was with him. We were both stung. We came across a nest. I was stung on the shoulder." Unbidden, his hand rose to touch the spot where he'd been stung so many years before. In a whisper he added, "He on his arm."
"He was fine," Anthony insisted. He could hear the panic in his voice and knew he was frightening his sister, but he was powerless to control it. "A man can't die from a bee sting!"
Daphne shook her head, her dark eyes suddenly looking about a hundred years old. "It was a bee," she said in a hollow voice. "Eloise saw it. One minute he was just standing there, and the next he was... he was..."
Anthony felt something very strange building within him, as if his muscles were about to jump through his skin. "The next he was what, Daphne?"
"Gone." She looked bewildered by the word, as bewildered as he felt.
Anthony left Daphne sitting in the hall and took the stairs three at a time up to his parents' bedchamber. Surely his father wasn't dead. A man couldn't die from a bee sting. It was impossible. Utterly mad. Edmund Bridgerton was young, he was strong. He was tall, his shoulders were broad, his muscles were powerful, and by God, no insignificant honey bee could have felled him.
But when Anthony reached the upstairs hall, he could tell by the utter and complete silence of the dozen or so hovering servants that the situation was grim.
And their pitying faces... For the rest of his life he'd be haunted by those pitying faces.
He'd thought he'd have to push his way into his parents' room, but the servants parted as if drops in the Red Sea, and when Anthony pushed open the door, he knew.
His mother was sitting on the edge of the bed, not weeping, not even making a sound, just holding his father's hand as she rocked slowly back and forth.
His father was still. Still as...
Anthony didn't even want to think the word.
"Mama?" he choked out. He hadn't called her that for years; she'd been "Mother" since he'd left for Eton.
She turned, slowly, as if hearing his voice through a long, long tunnel.
"What happened?" he whispered.
She shook her head, her eyes hopelessly far away. "I don't know," she said. Her lips remained parted by an inch or so, as if she'd meant to say something more but then forgotten to do it.
Anthony took a step forward, his movements awkward and jerky.
"He's gone," Violet finally whispered. "He's gone and I... Oh, God, I..." She placed a hand on her belly, full and round with child. "I told him—Oh, Anthony, I told him--"
She looked as if she might shatter from the inside out. Anthony choked back the tears that were burning his eyes and stinging his throat and moved to her side. "It's all right, Mama," he said.
But he knew it wasn't all right. "I told him this had to be our last," she gasped, sobbing onto his shoulder.
"I told him I couldn't carry another, and we'd have to be careful, and... Oh, God, Anthony, what I'd do to have him here and give him another child. I don't understand. I just don't understand..."
Anthony held her while she cried. He said nothing; it seemed useless to try to make any words fit the devastation in his heart.
He didn't understand, either.
The doctors came later that evening and pronounced themselves baffled. They'd heard of such things before, but never in one so young and strong. He was so vital, so powerful; nobody could have known. It was true that the viscount's younger brother Hugo had died quite suddenly the year before, but such things did not necessarily run in families, and besides, even though Hugo had died by himself out of doors, no one had noticed a bee sting on his skin.
Then again, nobody had looked.
Nobody could have known, the doctors kept saying, over and over until Anthony wanted to strangle them all. Eventually he got them out of the house, and he put his mother to bed. They had to move her into a spare bedroom; she grew agitated at the thought of sleeping in the bed she'd shared for so many years with Edmund. Anthony managed to send his six brothers and sisters to bed as well, telling them that they'd all talk in the morning, that everything would be well, and he would take care of them as their father would have wanted.
Then he walked into the room where his father's body still lay and looked at him. He looked at him and looked at him, staring at him for hours, barely blinking.
And when he left the room, he left with a new vision of his own life, and new knowledge about his own mortality.
Edmund Bridgerton had died at the age of thirty-eight. And Anthony simply couldn't imagine ever surpassing his father in any way, even in years.
The topic of rakes has, of course, been previously discussed in this column, and This Author has come to the conclusion that there are rakes, and there are Rakes.
Anthony Bridgerton is a Rake.
A rake (lower-case) is youthful and immature. He flaunts his exploits, behaves with utmost idiocy, and thinks himself dangerous to women.
A Rake (upper-case) knows he is dangerous to women.
He doesn't flaunt his exploits because he doesn't need to. He knows he will be whispered about by men and women alike, and in fact, he'd rather they didn't whisper about him at all. He knows who he is and what he has done; further recountings are, to him, redundant.
He doesn't behave like an idiot for the simple reason that he isn't an idiot (any moreso than must be expected among all members of the male gender). He has little patience for the foibles of society, and quite frankly, most of the time This Author cannot say she blames him.
And if that doesn't describe Viscount Bridgerton — surely this season's most eligible bachelor— to perfection, This Author shall retire Her quill immediately. The only question is: Will 1814 be the season he finally succumbs to the exquisite bliss of matrimony?
This Author Thinks...
Lady Whistledown's Society Papers,
20 April 1814
"Please don't tell me," Kate Sheffield said to the room at large, "that she is writing about Viscount Bridgerton again."
Her half-sister Edwina, younger by almost four years, looked up from behind the single-sheet newspaper. "How could you tell?"
"You're giggling like a madwoman."
"See?" Kate said, giving her a little poke in the arm. "You always giggle when she writes about some reprehensible rogue." But Kate grinned. There was little she liked better than teasing her sister. In a good-natured manner, of course.
Mary Sheffield, Edwina's mother, and Kate's stepmother since the age of three, glanced up from her embroidery and pushed her spectacles further up the bridge of her nose. "What are you two laughing about?"
"Kate's in a snit because Lady Whistledown is writing about that rakish viscount again," Edwina explained.
"I'm not in a snit," Kate said, even though no one was listening.
"Bridgerton?" Mary asked absently.
Edwina nodded. "Yes."
"She always writes about him."
"I think she just likes writing about rakes," Edwina commented.
"Of course she likes writing about rakes," Kate retorted. "If she wrote about boring people, no one would buy her newspaper."
"That's not true," Edwina replied. "Just last week she wrote about us, and heaven knows, we're not the most interesting people in London."
Kate smiled at her sister's naivete. Kate and Mary might not be the most interesting people in London, but Edwina, with her buttery-colored hair and startlingly pale blue eyes, had already been named the Incomparable of 1814. Kate, on the other hand, with her plain brown hair and eyes, was usually referred to as "the Incomparable's older sister."
She supposed there were worse monikers. At least no one had yet begun to call her "the Incomparable's spinster sister." Which was a great deal closer to the truth than any of the Sheffields cared to admit. At twenty (nearly twenty-one, if one was going to be scrupulously honest about it), Kate was a bit long in the tooth to be enjoying her first season in London.
But there hadn't really been any other choice. The Sheffields hadn't been wealthy even when Kate's father had been alive, and since he'd passed on five years earlier, they'd been forced to economize even further. They certainly weren't ready for the poorhouse, but they had to mind every penny and watch every pound.
With their straitened finances, the Sheffields could manage the funds for only one trip to London. Renting a house --and a carriage—and hiring the bare minimum of servants for the season cost money. More money than they could afford to spend twice. As it was, they'd had to save for five solid years to be able to afford this trip to London. And if the girls weren't successful on the Marriage Mart... Well, no one was going to clap them into debtor's prison, but they would have to look forward to a quiet life of genteel poverty at some charmingly small cottage in Somerset.
And so the two girls were forced to make their debuts in the same year. It had been decided that the most logical time would be when Edwina was just seventeen and Kate almost twenty-one. Mary would have liked to have waited until Edwina was eighteen, and a bit more mature, but that would have made Kate nearly twenty-two, and heavens, but who would have married her then?
Kate smiled wryly. She hadn't even wanted a season. She'd known from the outset that she wasn't the sort who would capture the attention of the ton. She wasn't pretty enough to overcome her lack of dowry, and she'd never learned to simper and mince and walk delicately, and do all those things other girls seemed to know how to do in the cradle. Even Edwina, who didn't have a devious bone in her body, somehow knew how to stand and walk and sigh so that men came to blows just for the honor of helping her cross the street.
Kate, on the other hand, always stood with her shoulders straight and tall, couldn't sit still if her life depended upon it, and walked as if she were in a race--and why not, she always wondered, if one was going somewhere, what could possibly be the point in not getting there quickly?
As for her current season in London, she didn't even like the city very much. Oh, she was having a good enough time, and she'd met quite a few nice people, but a London season seemed a horrible waste of money to a girl who would have been perfectly content to remain in the country and find some sensible man to marry there.
But Mary would have none of that. "When I married your father," she'd said, "I vowed to love you and bring you up with all the care and affection I'd give to a child of my own blood."
Kate had managed to get in a single, "But--" before Mary carried on with, "I have a responsibility to your poor mother, God rest her soul, and part of that responsibility is to see you married off happily and securely."
"I could be happy and secure in the country," Kate had replied.
Mary had countered, "There are more men from which to choose in London."
After which Edwina had joined in, insisting that she would be utterly miserable without her, and since Kate never could bear to see her sister unhappy, her fate had been sealed.
And so here she was —sitting in a somewhat faded drawing room in a rented house in a section of London that was almost fashionable, and...
She looked about mischievously.
...and she was about to snatch a newspaper from her sister's grasp.
"Kate!" Edwina squealed, her eyes bugging out at the tiny triangle of newsprint that remained between her right thumb and forefinger. "I wasn't done yet!"
"You've been reading it forever," Kate said with a cheeky grin. "Besides, I want to see what she has to say about Viscount Bridgerton today."
Edwina's eyes, which were usually compared to peaceful Scottish lochs, glinted devilishly. "You're awfully interested in the viscount, Kate. Is there something you're not telling us?"
"Don't be silly. I don't even know the man. And if I did, I would probably run in the opposite direction. He is exactly the sort of man the two of us should avoid at all costs. He could probably seduce an iceberg."
"Kate!" Mary exclaimed.
Kate grimaced. She'd forgotten her stepmother was listening. "Well, it's true," she added. "I've heard he's had more mistresses than I've had birthdays."
Mary looked at her for a few seconds, as if trying to decide whether or not she wanted to respond, and then finally she said, "Not that this is an appropriate topic for your ears, but many men have."
"Oh." Kate flushed. There was little less appealing than being decisively contradicted while one was trying to make a grand point. "Well, then, he's had twice as many. Whatever the case, he's far more promiscuous than most men, and not the sort Edwina ought to allow to court her."
"You are enjoying a season as well," Mary reminded her.
Kate shot Mary the most sarcastic of glances. They all knew that if the viscount chose to court a Sheffield, it would not be Kate.
"I don't think there is anything in there that's going to alter your opinion," Edwina said with a shrug as she leaned toward Kate to get a better view of the newspaper. "She doesn't say very much about him, actually. It's more of a treatise on the topic of rakes."
Kate's eyes swept over the typeset words. "Hmmph," she said, her favorite expression of disdain. "I'll wager she's correct. He probably won't come up to scratch this year."
"She usually is," Kate replied. "You must admit, for a gossip columnist, she displays remarkable good sense. She has certainly been correct in her assessment of all the people I have met thus far in London."
"You should make your own judgments, Kate," Mary said lightly. "It is beneath you to base your opinions upon a gossip column."
Kate knew her stepmother was right, but she didn't want to admit it, and so she just let out another "hmmph," and turned back to the paper in her hands.
Whistledown was, without a doubt, the most interesting reading material in all London. Kate wasn't entirely certain when the gossip column had begun --sometime the previous year, she'd heard—but one thing was certain. Whoever Lady Whistledown was (and no one really knew who she was) she was a well-connected member of the ton. She had to be. No interloper could ever uncover all the gossip she printed in her columns every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Lady Whistledown always had all the latest on-dits, and unlike other columnists, she wasn't hesitant about using people's full names. Having decided last week, for example, that Kate didn't look good in yellow, she wrote, clear as day: "The color yellow makes the dark-haired Miss Katharine Sheffield look like a singed daffodil."
Kate hadn't minded the insult. She'd heard it said on more than one occasion that one could not consider oneself "arrived" until one had been insulted by Lady Whistledown. Even Edwina, who was a huge social success by anyone's measure, had been jealous that Kate had been singled out for an insult.
And even though Kate didn't particularly want to be in London for a season, she figured that if she had to participate in the social whirl, she might as well not be a complete and utter failure. If getting insulted in a gossip column was to be her only sign of success, well, then, so be it. Kate would take her triumphs where she may.
Now when Penelope Featherington bragged about being likened to an overripe citrus fruit in her tangerine satin, Kate could wave her arm and sigh with great drama, "Yes, well, I am a singed daffodil."
"Someday," Mary announced out of the blue, giving her spectacles yet another push with her index finger, "someone is going to discover that woman's true identity, and then she's going to be in trouble."
Edwina looked at her mother with interest. "Do you really think someone will ferret her out? She has managed to keep her secret for over a year now."
"Nothing that big can stay a secret forever," Mary replied. She jabbed her embroidery with her needle, pulling a long strand of yellow thread through the fabric. "Mark my words. It's all going to come out sooner or later, and when it does, a scandal the likes of which you have never seen is going to erupt all over town."
"Well, if I knew who she was," Kate announced, flipping the single-sheet newspaper over to page two, "I'd probably make her my best friend. She's fiendishly entertaining. And no matter what anyone says, she's almost always right."
Just then, Newton, Kate's somewhat overweight corgi, trotted into the room.
"Isn't that dog supposed to stay outside?" Mary asked. Then she yelped, "Kate!" as the dog angled over to her feet and panted as if waiting for a kiss.
"Newton, come here this minute," Kate ordered.
The dog gazed longingly at Mary, then waddled over to Kate, hopped up onto the sofa, and laid his front paws across her lap.
"He's covering you with fur," Edwina said.
Kate shrugged as she stroked his thick, caramel-colored coat. "I don't mind."
Edwina sighed, but she reached out and gave Newton a quick pat, anyway. "What else does she say?" she asked, leaning forward with interest. "I never did get to see page two."
Kate smiled at her sister's sarcasm. "Not much. A little something about the Duke and Duchess of Hastings, who apparently arrived in town earlier this week, a list of the food at Lady Danbury's ball, which she proclaimed 'surprisingly delicious,' and a rather unfortunate description of Mrs. Featherington's gown Monday last."
Edwina frowned. "She does seem to pick on the Featheringtons quite a bit."
"And no wonder," Mary said, setting down her embroidery as she stood up. "That woman wouldn't know how to pick out a dress color for her girls if a rainbow wrapped itself right around her neck."
"Mother!" Edwina exclaimed.
Kate clapped a hand over her mouth, trying not to laugh. Mary rarely made such opinionated pronouncements, but when she did, they were always marvelous.
"Well, it's true. She keeps dressing her youngest in tangerine. Anyone can see that poor girl needs a blue or a mint green."
"You dressed me in yellow," Kate reminded her.
"And I'm sorry I did. That will teach me to listen to a shopgirl. I should never have doubted my own judgment. We'll simply have to have that one cut down for Edwina."
Since Edwina was a full head shorter than Kate, and several shades more delicate, this would not be a problem.
"When you do," Kate said, turning to her sister, "make sure you eliminate the ruffle on the sleeve. It's dreadfully distracting. And it itches. I had half a mind to rip it off right there at the Ashbourne ball."
Mary rolled her eyes. "I am both surprised and thankful that you saw fit to restrain yourself."
"I am surprised but not thankful," Edwina said with a mischievous smile. "Just think of the fun Lady Whistledown would have had with that."
"Ah yes," Kate said, returning her grin. "I can see it now. 'The singed daffodil rips off her petals. More details to follow.' "
"I am going upstairs," Mary announced, shaking her head at her daughters' antics. "Do try not to forget that we have a party to attend this evening. You girls may want to get a bit of rest before we go out. It's sure to be another late night for us."
Kate and Edwina nodded and murmured promises to that effect as Mary gathered her embroidery and left the room. As soon as she was gone, Edwina turned to Kate and asked, "Have you decided what you're going to wear tonight?"
"If you don't wear white," Edwina said loyally, "then neither shall I. I shall wear my blue muslin."
Kate nodded her approval as she glanced back at the newspaper in her hand, trying to balance Newton, who had flipped over onto his back and was angling to have his belly rubbed. "Just last week Mr. Berbrooke said you are an angel in blue. On account of it matching your eyes so well."
Edwina blinked in surprise. "Mr. Berbrooke said that? To you?"
Kate looked back up. "Of course. All of your swains try to pass on their compliments through me."
"They do? Whyever?"
Kate smiled slowly and indulgently. "Well, now, Edwina, it might have something to do with the time you announced to the entire audience at the Smythe-Smith musicale that you could never marry without your sister's approval."
Edwina's cheeks turned just the slightest bit pink. "It wasn't the entire audience," she mumbled.
"It might as well have been. The news traveled faster than fire on rooftops. I wasn't even in the room at the time and it only took two minutes for me to hear about it."
Edwina crossed her arms and let out a "hmmph" that made her sound rather like her older sister. "Well, it's true, and I don't care who knows it. I know I'm expected to make a grand and brilliant match, but I don't have to marry someone who will ill-treat me. Anyone with the fortitude to actually impress you would have to be up to snuff."
"Am I so difficult to impress, then?"
The two sisters looked at each other, then answered in unison, "Yes."
But as Kate laughed along with Edwina, a niggling sense of guilt rose within her. All three Sheffields knew that it would be Edwina who would snag a nobleman or marry into a fortune. It would be Edwina who would ensure that her family would not have to live out their lives in genteel poverty. Edwina was a beauty, while Kate was...
Kate was Kate.
Kate didn't mind. Edwina's beauty was simply a fact of life. There were certain truths Kate had long since come to accept. Kate would never learn to waltz without trying to take the lead; she'd always be afraid of electrical storms, no matter how often she told herself she was being silly; and no matter what she wore, no matter how she dressed her hair or pinched her cheeks, she'd never be as pretty as Edwina.
Besides, Kate wasn't certain that she'd like all the attention Edwina received. Nor, she was coming to realize, would she relish the responsibility of having to marry well to provide for her mother and sister.
"Edwina," Kate said softly, her eyes growing serious, "you don't have to marry anyone you don't like. You know that."
Edwina nodded, suddenly looking as if she might cry.
"If you decide there isn't a single gentleman in London who is good enough for you, then so be it. We shall simply go back to Somerset and enjoy our own company. There's no one I like better, anyway."
"Nor I," Edwina whispered.
"And if you do find a man who sweeps you off your feet, then Mary and I shall be delighted. You should not worry about leaving us, either. We shall get on fine with each other for company."
"You might find someone to marry as well," Edwina pointed out.
Kate felt her lips twist into a small smile. "I might," she allowed, knowing that it probably wasn't true. She didn't want to remain a spinster her entire life, but she doubted she would find a husband here in London. "Perhaps one of your lovesick suitors will turn to me once he realizes you are unattainable," she teased.
Edwina swatted her with a pillow. "Don't be silly."
"But I'm not!" Kate protested. And she wasn't. Quite frankly, this seemed to her the most likely avenue by which she might actually find a husband in town.
"Do you know what sort of man I'd like to marry?" Edwina asked, her eyes turning dreamy.
Kate shook her head.
"A scholar," Edwina said firmly.
Kate cleared her throat. "I'm not certain you'll find many of those in town for the season."
"I know." Edwina let out a little sigh. "But the truth is --and you know this even if I am not supposed to let on in public—I'm really rather bookish. I'd much rather spend my day in a library than gadding about in Hyde Park. I think I should enjoy life with man who enjoyed scholarly pursuits as well."
"Right. Hmmm..." Kate's mind worked frantically. Edwina wasn't likely to find a scholar back in Somerset either. "You know, Edwina, it might be difficult to find you a true scholar outside the university towns. You might have to settle for a man who likes to read and learn as you do."
"That would be all right," Edwina said happily. "I'd be quite content with an amateur scholar."
Kate breathed a sigh of relief. Surely they could find someone in London who liked to read.
"And do you know what," Edwina added. "You truly cannot tell a book by its cover. All sorts of people are amateur scholars. Why even that Viscount Bridgerton Lady Whistledown keeps talking about might be a scholar at heart."
"Bite your tongue, Edwina. You are not to have anything to do with Viscount Bridgerton. Everyone knows he is the worst sort of rake. In fact, he's the worst rake, period. In all London. In the entire country!"
"I know, I was just using him as an example. Besides, he's not likely to choose a bride this year, anyway. Lady Whistledown said so, and you yourself said that she is almost always right."
Kate patted her sister on the arm. "Don't worry. We will find you a suitable husband. But not—not not not not not Viscount Bridgerton!"
At that very moment, the subject of their discussion was relaxing at White's with two of his three younger brothers, enjoying a late afternoon drink.
Anthony Bridgerton leaned back in his leather chair, regarded his scotch with a thoughtful expression as he swirled it about, and then announced, "I'm thinking about getting married."
Benedict Bridgerton, who had been indulging in a habit his mother detested --tipping his chair drunkenly on the back two legs—fell over.
Colin Bridgerton started to choke.
Luckily for Colin, Benedict regained his seat with enough time to smack him soundly on the back, sending a green olive sailing across the table.
It narrowly missed Anthony's ear.
Anthony let the indignity pass without comment. He was all too aware that his sudden declaration had come as a bit of a surprise.
Well, perhaps more than a bit. "Complete," "total," and "utter" were words that came to mind.
Anthony knew that he did not fit the image of a man who had settling down on his mind. He'd spent the last decade as the worst sort of rake, taking pleasure where he may. For as he well knew, life was short and certainly meant to be enjoyed. Oh, he'd had a certain code of honor. He never dallied with well-bred young women. Anyone who might have any right to demand marriage was strictly off-limits.
With four younger sisters of his own, Anthony had a healthy degree of respect for the good reputations of gently-bred women. He'd already nearly fought a duel for one of his sisters, all over a slight to her honor. And as for the other three... He freely admitted that he broke out in a cold sweat at the mere thought of their getting involved with a man who bore a reputation like his.
No, he certainly wasn't about to despoil some other gentleman's younger sister.
But as for the other sort of women—the widows and actresses who knew what they wanted and what they were getting into—he'd enjoyed their company and enjoyed it well. Since the day he left Oxford and headed west to London, he'd not been without a mistress.
Sometimes, he thought wryly, he'd not been without two.
He'd ridden in nearly every horse race society had to offer, he'd boxed at Gentleman Jackson's, and he'd won more card games than he could count. (He'd lost a few, too, but he disregarded those.) He'd spent the decade of his twenties in a mindful pursuit of pleasure, tempered only by his overwhelming sense of responsibility to his family.
Edmund Bridgerton's death had been both sudden and unexpected; he'd not had a chance to make any final requests of his eldest son before he perished. But if he had, Anthony was certain that he would have asked him to care for his mother and siblings with same diligence and affection Edmund had displayed.
And so in between Anthony's rounds of parties and horseraces, he'd sent his brothers to Eton and Oxford, gone to a mind-numbing number of piano recitals given by his sisters (no easy feat; three out of four of them were tone deaf), and kept a close and watchful eye on the family finances. With seven brothers and sisters, he saw it as his duty to make sure there was enough money to secure all of their futures.
As he grew closer to thirty, he'd realized that he was spending more and more time tending to his heritage and family and less and less in his old pursuit of decadence and pleasure. And he'd realized that he liked it that way. He still kept a mistress, but never more than one at a time, and he discovered that he no longer felt the need to enter every horse race or stay late at a party, just to win that last hand of cards.
His reputation, of course, stayed with him. He didn't mind that, actually. There were certain benefits to being thought England's most reprehensible rake. He was nearly universally feared, for example.
That was always a good thing.
But now it was time for marriage. He ought to settle down, have a son. He had a title to pass on, after all. He did feel a rather sharp twinge of regret --and perhaps a touch of guilt as well—over the fact that it was unlikely that he'd live to see his son into adulthood. But what could he do? He was the firstborn Bridgerton of a firstborn Bridgerton of a firstborn Bridgerton eight times over. He had a dynastic responsibility to be fruitful and multiply.
Besides, he took some comfort in knowing that he'd leave three able and caring brothers behind. They'd see to it that his son was brought up with the love and honor that every Bridgerton enjoyed. His sisters would coddle the boy, and his mother might spoil him...
Anthony actually smiled a bit as he thought of his large and often boisterous family. His son would not need a father to be well-loved. And whatever children he sired—well, they probably wouldn't remember him after he was gone. They'd be young, unformed. It had not escaped Anthony's notice that of all the Bridgerton children, he, the eldest, was the one most deeply affected by their father's death.
Anthony downed another sip of his scotch and straightened his shoulders, pushing such unpleasant ruminations from his mind. He needed to focus on the matter at hand, namely, the pursuit of a wife.
Being a discerning and somewhat organized man, he'd made a mental list of requirements for the position. First, she ought to be reasonably attractive. She needn't be a raving beauty (although that would be nice), but if he was going to have to bed her, he figured a bit of attraction ought to make the job more pleasant.
Second, she couldn't be stupid. This, Anthony mused, might be the most difficult of his requirements to fill. He was not universally impressed by the mental prowess of London debutantes. The last time he'd made the mistake of engaging a young chit fresh out of the schoolroom in conversation, she'd been unable to discuss anything other than food (she'd had a plate of strawberries in her hand at the time) and the weather (and she hadn't even gotten that right; when Anthony had asked if she thought the weather was going to turn inclement, she'd replied, "I'm sure I don't know. I've never been to Clement.")
He might be able to avoid conversation with a wife who was less than brilliant, but he did not want stupid children.
Third--and this was the most important--she couldn't be anyone with whom he might actually fall in love.
Under no circumstances would this rule be broken.
He wasn't a complete cynic; he knew that true love existed. Anyone who'd ever been in the same room with his parents knew that true love existed.
But love was a complication he wished to avoid. He had no desire for his life to be visited by that particular miracle.
And since Anthony was used to getting what he wanted, he had no doubt that he would find an attractive, intelligent woman with whom he would never fall in love. And what was the problem with that? Chances were he wouldn't have found the love of his life even if he had been looking for her. Most men didn't.
"Good God, Anthony, what has you frowning so? Not that olive. I saw it clearly and it didn't even touch you."
Benedict's voice broke him out of his reverie, and Anthony blinked a few times before answering, "Nothing. Nothing at all."
He hadn't, of course, shared his thoughts about his own mortality with anyone else, even his brothers. It was not the sort of thing one wanted to advertise. Hell, if someone had come up to him and said the same thing, he probably would have laughed him right out the door.
But no one else could understand the depth of the bond he'd felt with his father. And no one could possibly understand the way Anthony felt it in his bones, how he simply knew that he could not live longer than his father had done. Edmund had been everything to him. He'd always aspired to be as great a man as his father, knowing that that was unlikely, yet trying all the same. To actually achieve more than Edmund had --in any way—that was nothing short of impossible.
Anthony's father was, quite simply, the greatest man he'd ever known, possibly the greatest man who'd ever lived. To think that he might be more than that seemed conceited in the extreme.
Something had happened to him the night his father had died, when he'd remained in his parents' bedroom with the body, just sitting there for hours, watching his father and trying desperately to remember every moment they'd shared. It would be so easy to forget the little things—how Edmund would squeeze Anthony's upper arm when he needed encouragement. Or how he could recite from memory Balthazar's entire "Sigh No More," song from Much Ado About Nothing, not because he thought it particularly meaningful but just because he liked it.
And when Anthony finally emerged from the room, the first streaks of dawn pinking the sky, he somehow knew that his days were numbered, and numbered in the same way Edmund's had been.
The Viscount Who Loved Me is Book 2 in the Bridgerton Series. The rest are as follows:
Book 1: The Duke and I
Book 3: An Offer from a Gentleman
Book 4: Romancing Mr. Bridgerton
Book 5: To Sir Phillip, With Love
Book 6: When He Was Wicked
Book 7: It's In His Kiss
Book 8: On the Way to the Wedding
Find out more about the Bridgerton Series.
The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After is a collection of 2nd Epilogues to the Bridgerton novels, plus a bonus novella about Violet Bridgerton.
Lady Whistledown, the gossip columnist featured in the Bridgerton Series, "narrates" her own anthologies in The Further Observations Of Lady Whistledown and Lady Whistledown Strikes Back. However, these books are not technically part of the Bridgerton series.