His fingers gripped the door frame until his knuckles turned white. “Stop looking like you’re enjoying this,” he ground out.
“Ah, but that would be a lie, and it’s a sin to lie to one’s husband.”
Strange choking sounds began to emanate from his throat.
Kate smiled. “Didn’t I pledge honesty at some point?”
“That was obedience,” he growled.
“Obedience? Surely not.”
“Where is it?”
She shrugged. “Not telling.”
She slid into a singsong. “Not tellllllllling.”
“Woman . . .” He moved forward. Dangerously.
Kate swallowed. There was a small, rather tiny actually but nonetheless very real chance that she might have gone just a wee bit too far.
“I will tie you to the bed,” he warned.
“Yeeeessss,” she said, acknowledging his point as she gauged the distance to the door. “But I might not mind it precisely.”
His eyes flared, not quite with desire—he was still too focused on the Pall Mall mallet for that—but she rather thought she saw a flash of . . . interest there.
“Tie you up, you say,” he murmured, moving forward, “and you’d like it, eh?”
Kate caught his meaning and gasped. “You wouldn’t!”
“Oh, I would.”
He was aiming for a repeat performance. He was going to tie her up and leave her there while he searched for the mallet.
Not if she had anything to say about it.
Kate scrambled over the arm of her chair and then scooted behind it. Always good to have a physical barrier in situations like these.
“Oh, Kaaaaate,” he taunted, moving toward her.
“It’s mine,” she declared. “It was mine fifteen years ago, and it’s still mine.”
“It was mine before it was yours.”
“But you married me!”
“And this makes it yours?”
She said nothing, just locked her eyes with his. She was breathless, panting, caught up in the rush of the moment.
And then, fast as lightning, he jumped forward, reaching over the chair, catching hold of her shoulder for a brief moment before she squirmed away.
“You will never find it,” she practically shrieked, scooting behind the sofa.
“Don’t think you’ll escape now,” he warned, doing a sideways sort of maneuver that put him between her and the door.
She eyed the window.
“The fall would kill you,” he said.
“Oh, for the love of God,” came a voice from the doorway.
Kate and Anthony turned. Anthony’s brother Colin was standing there, regarding them both with an air of disgust.
“Colin,” Anthony said tightly. “How nice to see you.”
Colin merely quirked a brow. “I suppose you’re looking for this.”
Kate gasped. He was holding the black mallet. “How did you—”
Colin stroked the blunt, cylindrical end almost lovingly. “I can only speak for myself, of course,” he said with a happy sigh, “but as far as I’m concerned, I’ve already won.”
“I fail to comprehend,” Anthony’s sister Daphne remarked, “why you get to set up the course.”
“Because I bloody well own the lawn,” he bit off. He held his hand up to shield his eyes from the sun as he inspected his work. He’d done a brilliant job this time, if he did say so himself. It was diabolical.
“Any chance you might be capable of refraining from profanity in the company of ladies?” This, from Daphne’s husband, Simon, the Duke of Hastings.
“She’s no lady,” Anthony grumbled. “She’s my sister.”
“She’s my wife.”
Anthony smirked. “She was my sister first.”
Simon turned to Kate, who was tapping her mallet—green, which she’d declared herself happy with, but Anthony knew better—against the grass.
“How,” he asked, “do you tolerate him?”
She shrugged. “It’s a talent few possess.”
Colin stepped up, clutching the black mallet like the Holy Grail. “Shall we begin?” he asked grandly.
Simon’s lips parted with surprise. “The mallet of death?”
“I’m very clever,” Colin confirmed.
“He bribed the housemaid,” Kate grumbled.
“You bribed my valet,” Anthony pointed out.
“So did you!”
“I bribed no one,” Simon said, to no one in particular.
Daphne patted his arm condescendingly. “You were not born to this family.”
“Neither was she,” he returned, motioning to Kate.
Daphne pondered that. “She is an aberration,” she finally concluded.
“An aberration?” Kate demanded.
“It’s the highest of compliments,” Daphne informed her. She paused, then added, “In this context.” She then turned to Colin. “How much?”
“How much what?”
“How much did you give the housemaid?”
He shrugged. “Ten pounds.”
“Ten pounds?” Daphne nearly shrieked.
“Are you mad?” Anthony demanded.
“You gave the valet five,” Kate reminded him.
“I hope it wasn’t one of the good housemaids,” Anthony grumbled, “for she’ll surely quit by the day’s end with that sort of money in her pocket.”
“All of the housemaids are good,” Kate said, with some irritation.
“Ten pounds,” Daphne repeated, shaking her head. “I’m going to tell your wife.”
“Go ahead,” Colin said indifferently as he nodded toward the hill sloping down to the Pall Mall course. “She’s right there.”
Daphne looked up. “Penelope’s here?”
“Penelope’s here?” Anthony barked. “Why?”
“She’s my wife,” Colin returned.
“She’s never attend
“She wanted to see me win,” Colin shot back, rewarding his brother with a sickly stretch of a smile.
Anthony resisted the urge to throttle him. Barely. “And how do you know you’re going to win?”
Colin waved the black mallet before him. “I already have.”
“Good day, all,” Penelope said, ambling down to the gathering.
“No cheering,” Anthony warned her.
Penelope blinked in confusion. “I beg your pardon?”
“And under no circumstances,” he continued, because really, someone had to make sure the game retained some integrity, “may you come within ten paces of your husband.”
Penelope looked at Colin, bobbed her head nine times as she estimated the steps between them, and took a step back.
“There will be no cheating,” Anthony warned.
“At least no new types of cheating,” Simon added. “Previously established cheating techniques are permissible.”
“May I speak with my husband during the course of play?” Penelope inquired mildly.
“No!” A resounding chorus, three voices strong.
“You’ll notice,” Simon said to her, “that I made no objection.”
“As I said,” Daphne said, brushing by him on her way to inspect a wicket, “you were not born of this family.”
“Where is Edwina?” Colin asked briskly, squinting up toward the house.
“She’ll be down shortly,” Kate replied. “She was finishing breakfast.”
“She is delaying the play.”
Kate turned to Daphne. “My sister does not share our devotion to the game.”
“She thinks we’re all mad?” Daphne asked.
“Well, she is sweet to come down every year,” Daphne said.
“It’s tradition,” Anthony barked. He’d managed to get hold of the orange mallet and was swinging it against an imaginary ball, narrowing his eyes as he rehearsed his aim.
“He hasn’t been practicing the course, has he?” Colin demanded.
“How could he?” Simon asked. “He only just set it up this morning. We all watched him.”