“Relentless,” Colin said.

Anthony smiled weakly. “Yes. Exactly.”

Simon looked back over toward the trio in question. Sure enough, Daphne looked miserable, Macclesfield was scanning the room, presumably looking for the nearest exit, and Lady Bridgerton's eyes held a gleam so ambitious that Simon cringed in sympathy for the young earl.

“We should save Daphne,” Anthony said.

“We really should,” Benedict added.

“And Macclesfield,” Anthony said.

“Oh, certainly,” Benedict added.

But Simon noticed that no one was leaping into action.

“All talk, aren't you?” Colin chortled.

“I don't see you marching over there to save her,” Anthony shot back.

“Hell no. But I never said we should. You, on the other hand…”

“What the devil is going on?” Simon finally asked.

The three Bridgerton brothers looked at him with identical guilty expressions.

“We should save Daff,” Benedict said.

“We really should,” Anthony added.

“What my brothers are too lily-livered to tell you,” Colin said derisively, “is that they are terrified of my mother.”

“It's true,” Anthony said with a helpless shrug.

Benedict nodded. “I freely admit it.”

Simon thought he'd never seen a more ludicrous sight. These were the Bridgerton brothers, after all. Tall, handsome, athletic, with every miss in the nation setting her cap after them, and here they were, completely cowed by a mere slip of a woman.

Of course, it was their mother. Simon supposed one had to make allowances for that.

“If I save Daff,” Anthony explained, “Mother might get me into her clutches, and then I'm done for.”

Simon choked on laughter as his mind filled with a vision of Anthony being led around by his mother, moving from unmarried lady to unmarried lady.

“Now you see why I avoid these functions like the plague,” Anthony said grimly. “I'm attacked from both directions. If the debutantes and their mothers don't find me, my mother makes certain I find them.”

“Say!” Benedict exclaimed. “Why don't you save her, Hastings?”

Simon took one look at Lady Bridgerton (who at that point had her hand firmly wrapped around Macclesfield's forearm) and decided he'd rather be branded an eternal coward. “Since we haven't been introduced, I'm sure it would be most improper,” he improvised.

“I'm sure it wouldn't,” Anthony returned. “You're a duke.”

“So?”

“So?” Anthony echoed. “Mother would forgive any impropriety if it meant gaining an audience for Daphne with a duke.”

“Now look here,” Simon said hotly, “I'm not some sacrificial lamb to be slaughtered on the altar of your mother.”

“You have spent a lot of time in Africa, haven't you?” Colin quipped.

Simon ignored him. “Besides, your sister said—”

All three Bridgerton heads swung round in his direction. Simon immediately realized he'd blundered. Badly.

“You've met Daphne?” Anthony queried, his voice just a touch too polite for Simon's comfort.

Before Simon could even reply, Benedict leaned in ever-so-slightly closer, and asked, “Why didn't you mention this?”

“Yes,” Colin said, his mouth utterly serious for the first time that evening. “Why?”

Simon glanced from brother to brother and it became perfectly clear why Daphne must still be unmarried. This belligerent trio would scare off all but the most determined—or stupid—of suitors.

Which would probably explain Nigel Berbrooke.

“Actually,” Simon said, “I bumped into her in the hall as I was making my way into the ballroom. It was”—he glanced rather pointedly at the Bridgertons—“rather obvious that she was a member of your family, so I introduced myself.”

Anthony turned to Benedict. “Must have been when she was fleeing Berbrooke.”

Benedict turned to Colin. “What did happen to Berbrooke? Do you know?”

Colin shrugged. “Haven't the faintest. Probably left to nurse his broken heart.”

Or broken head, Simon thought acerbically.

“Well, that explains everything, I'm sure,” Anthony said, losing his overbearing big-brother expression and looking once again like a fellow rake and best friend.

“Except,” Benedict said suspiciously, “why he didn't mention it.”

“Because I didn't have the chance,” Simon bit off, about ready to throw his arms up in exasperation. “In case you hadn't noticed, Anthony, you have a ridiculous number of siblings, and it takes a ridiculous amount of time to be introduced to all of them.”

“There are only two of us present,” Colin pointed out.

“I'm going home,” Simon announced. “The three of you are mad.”

Benedict, who had seemed to be the most protective of the brothers, suddenly grinned. “You don't have a sister, do you?”

“No, thank God.”

“If you ever have a daughter, you'll understand.”

Simon was rather certain he would never have a daughter, but he kept his mouth shut.

“It can be a trial,” Anthony said.

“Although Daff is better than most,” Benedict put in. “She doesn't have that many suitors, actually.”

Simon couldn't imagine why not.

“I'm not really sure why,” Anthony mused. “I think she's a perfectly nice girl.”

Simon decided this wasn't the time to mention that he'd been one inch away from easing her up against the wall, pressing his hips against hers, and kissing her senseless. If he hadn't discovered that she was a Bridgerton, frankly, he might have done exactly that.



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