This is like an advice podcast? a woman’s voice asked. She eased into the only vacant seat, next to Brody.

She looked at him in surprise.

My favorite kind of night, Colin said in a jaunty voice.Don’t you have somewhere to be? Benedict asked. Colin shook his head. I’m sure Mother would prefer that I be in the ballroom, but it’s not exactly a requirement. /require it, Benedict returned. Sophie felt a giggle bubbling in her throat. Very well, Colin sighed. I shall take myself off. Excellent, Benedict said. All alone, to face the ravenous wolves ... Wolves? Sophie queried.

Eligible young ladies, Colin clarified. A pack of ravenous wolves, the lot of them. Present company excluded, of course.Sophie thought it best not to point out that she was not an eligible young lady at all.My mother— Colin began.

—would like nothing better than to see my dear elder brother married off. He paused and pondered his words. Except, perhaps, to see me married off.If only to get you out of the house, Benedict said dryly.

This time Sophie did giggle.

But then again, he’s considerably more ancient, Colin continued, so perhaps we should send him to the gallows— er, altar first.He gave his head a small shake. No. To scare you, perhaps. But not to hurt you.

Kate stepped backward on shaky legs. You’re nothing but a rake, she said, wishing her voice had emerged with a bit more disdain and a bit less quavering.I know, he said with a shrug, the intense fire in his eyes draining down to light amusement. It’s in my nature.

Kate took another step back. She didn’t have the energy to try to keep up with his abrupt changes of mood. I’m leaving now.Go, he said affably, waving toward the door.