“Er, wasn't Daphne the one to do that?”

“Yes, but I had to tell him.”

“Not many brothers would allow their sister such latitude with their marriage proposals,” Simon said quietly.

Anthony just shrugged again, as if he couldn't imagine treating his sister in any other way. “She's been a good sister to me. It's the least I can do.”

“Even if it means escorting her to Almack's?” Simon said wickedly.

Anthony groaned. “Even then.”

“I'd console you by pointing out that this will all be over soon, but you've what, three other sisters waiting in the wings?”

Anthony positively slumped in his seat. “Eloise is due out in two years, and Francesca the year after that, but then I've a bit of a reprieve before Hyacinth comes of age.”

Simon chuckled. “I don't envy you your responsibilities in that quarter.” But even as he said the words, he felt a strange longing, and he wondered what it would be like to be not quite so alone in this world. He had no plans to start a family of his own, but maybe if he'd had one to begin with, his life would have turned out a bit differently.

“So you'll come for supper, then?” Anthony stood. “Informal, of course. We never take meals formally when it's just family.”

Simon had a dozen things to do in the next few days, but before he could remind himself that he needed to get his affairs in order, he heard himself saying, “I'd be delighted.”

“Excellent. And I'll see you at the Danbury bash first?”

Simon shuddered. “Not if I can help it. My aim is to be in and out in under thirty minutes.”

“You really think,” Anthony said, raising a doubtful brow, “that you're going to be able to go to the party, pay your respects to Lady Danbury, and leave?”

Simon's nod was forceful and direct.

But Anthony's snort of laughter was not terribly reassuring.

Chapter 2

The new Duke of Hastings is a most interesting character. While it is common knowledge that he was not on favorable terms with his father, even This Author is unable to learn the reason for the estrangement.

LADY WHISTLEDOWN'S SOCIETY PAPERS, 26 APRIL 1813

Later that week, Daphne found herself standing on the fringes of Lady Danbury's ballroom, far away from the fashionable crowd. She was quite content with her position.

Normally she would have enjoyed the festivities; she liked a good party as well as the next young lady, but earlier that evening, Anthony had informed her that Nigel Berbrooke had sought him out two days earlier and asked for her hand. Again. Anthony had, of course, refused (again!), but Daphne had the sinking feeling that Nigel was going to prove uncomfortably persistent. After all, two marriage proposals in two weeks did not paint a picture of a man who accepted defeat easily.

Across the ballroom she could see him looking this way and that, and she shrank further into the shadows.

She had no idea how to deal with the poor man. He wasn't very bright, but he also wasn't unkind, and though she knew she had to somehow put an end to his infatuation, she was finding it far easier to take the coward's way out and simply avoid him.

She was considering slinking into the ladies' retiring room when a familiar voice stopped her in her tracks.

“I say, Daphne, what are you doing all the way over here?”

Daphne looked up to see her eldest brother making his way toward her. “Anthony,” she said, trying to decide if she was pleased to see him or annoyed that he might be coming over to meddle in her affairs. “I hadn't realized you would be in attendance.”

“Mother,” he said grimly. No other words were necessary.

“Ah,” Daphne said with a sympathetic nod. “Say no more. I understand completely.”

“She made a list of potential brides.” He shot his sister a beleaguered look. “We do love her, don't we?”

Daphne choked on a laugh. “Yes, Anthony, we do.”

“It's temporary insanity,” he grumbled. “It has to be. There is no other explanation. She was a perfectly reasonable mother until you reached marriageable age.”

“Me?” Daphne squeaked. “Then this is all my fault? You're a full eight years older than I am!”

“Yes, but she wasn't gripped by this matrimonial fervor until you came along.”

Daphne snorted. “Forgive me if I lack sympathy. I received a list last year.”

“Did you?”

“Of course. And lately she's been threatening to deliver them to me on a weekly basis. She badgers me on the issue of marriage far more than you could ever imagine. After all, bachelors are a challenge. Spinsters are merely pathetic. And in case you hadn't noticed, I'm female.”

Anthony let out a low chuckle. “I'm your brother. I don't notice those things.” He gave her a sly, sideways look. “Did you bring it?”

“My list? Heavens, no. What can you be thinking?”

His smile widened. “I brought mine.”

Daphne gasped. “You didn't!”

“I did. Just to torture Mother. I'm going peruse it right in front of her, pull out my quizzing glass—”

“You don't have a quizzing glass.”

He grinned—the slow, devastatingly wicked smile that all Bridgerton males seemed to possess. “I bought one just for this occasion.”

“Anthony, you absolutely cannot. She will kill you. And then, somehow, she'll find a way to blame me.”

“I'm counting on it.”

Daphne swatted him in the shoulder, eliciting a loud enough grunt to cause a half dozen partygoers to send curious looks in their direction.



----