“I don't know!” Violet very nearly wailed.

Daphne shook her head. “I'm going to find Eloise.”

“Yes, do that,” Violet said distractedly, “and make sure Gregory is clean. He never washes behind his ears. And Hyacinth—Good God, what are we to do about Hyacinth? Hastings will not expect a ten-year-old at the table.”

“Yes, he will,” Daphne replied patiently. “Anthony told him we were dining as a family.”

“Most families do not allow their younger children to dine with them,” Violet pointed out.

“Then that is their problem.” Daphne finally gave in to her exasperation and let out a loud sigh. “Mother, I spoke to the duke. He understands that this is not a formal meal. And he specifically told me that he was looking forward to a change of pace. He has no family himself, so he has never experienced anything like a Bridgerton family dinner.”

“God help us.” Violet's face went utterly pale.

“Now, Mother,” Daphne said quickly, “I know what you're thinking, and I assure you that you don't have to worry about Gregory putting creamed potatoes on Francesca's chair again. I'm certain he has outgrown such childish behavior.”

“He did it last week!”

“Well, then,” Daphne said briskly, not missing a beat, “then I'm sure he's learned his lesson.”

The look Violet gave her daughter was dubious in the extreme.


“Very well, then,” Daphne said, her tone considerably less businesslike, “then I will simply threaten him with death if he does anything to upset you.”

“Death won't scare him,” Violet mused, “but perhaps I can threaten to sell his horse.”

“He'll never believe you.”

“No, you're right. I'm far too softhearted.” Violet frowned. “But he might believe me if I told him he would be forbidden to go on his daily ride.”

“That might work,” Daphne agreed.

“Good. I shall go off and scare some sense into him.” Violet took two steps then turned around. “Having children is such a challenge.”

Daphne just smiled. She knew it was a challenge her mother adored.

Violet cleared her throat softly, signaling a more serious turn of conversation. “I do hope this supper goes well, Daphne. I think Hastings might be an excellent match for you.”

“‘Might’?” Daphne teased. “I thought dukes were good matches even if they had two heads and spit while they talked.” She laughed. “Out of both mouths!”

Violet smiled benignly. “You might find this difficult to believe, Daphne, but I don't want to see you married off to just anyone. I may introduce you to no end of eligible men, but that is only because I would like you to have as many suitors as possible from which to choose a husband.” Violet smiled wistfully. “It is my fondest dream to see you as happy as I was with your father.”

And then, before Daphne could reply, Violet disappeared down the hall.

Leaving Daphne with second thoughts.

Maybe this plan with Hastings wasn't such a good idea, after all. Violet was going to be crushed when they broke off their faux alliance. Simon had said that Daphne might be the one to do the jilting, but she was beginning to wonder if perhaps it wouldn't be better the other way around. It would be mortifying for Daphne to be thrown over by Simon, but at least that way she wouldn't have to endure Violet's bewildered chorus of “Why?”

Violet was going to think she was insane for letting him get away.

And Daphne would be left wondering if maybe her mother was right.

Simon had not been prepared for supper with the Bridgertons. It was a loud, raucous affair, with plenty of laughter and thankfully, only one incident involving a flying pea.

(It had looked as if the pea in question had originated at Hyacinth's end of the table, but the littlest Bridgerton had looked so innocent and angelic that Simon had difficulty believing she had actually aimed the legume at her brother.)

Thankfully, Violet had not noticed the flying pea, even though it sailed right over her head in a perfect arc.

But Daphne, who was sitting directly across from him, most certainly had, because her napkin flew up to cover her mouth with remarkable alacrity. Judging from the way her eyes were crinkling at the corners, she was definitely laughing under the square of linen.

Simon spoke little throughout the meal. Truth be told, it was far easier to listen to the Bridgertons than actually to try to converse with them, especially considering the number of malevolent stares he was receiving from Anthony and Benedict.

But Simon had been seated clear at the opposite end of the table from the two eldest Bridgertons (no accident on Violet's part, he was sure) so it was relatively simple to ignore them and instead enjoy Daphne's interactions with the rest of her family. Every now and then one of them would ask him a direct question, and he would answer, and then he would return to his demeanor of quiet observation.

Finally, Hyacinth, who was seated to Daphne's right, looked him straight in the eye, and said, “You don't talk much, do you?”

Violet choked on her wine.

“The duke,” Daphne said to Hyacinth, “is being far more polite than we are, constantly jumping into the conversation and interrupting one another as if we're afraid we might not be heard.”

“I'm not afraid I might not be heard,” Gregory said.

“I'm not afraid of that, either,” Violet commented dryly. “Gregory, eat your peas.”

“But Hyacinth—”

“Lady Bridgerton,” Simon said loudly, “may I trouble you for another helping of those delicious peas?”

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