Kate watched as he blinked himself into coherency, then focused on her. “Kate,” he said, his voice hoarse and husky with sleep and something else—maybe alcohol. “What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?” she countered. “The last time I checked, we lived nearly a mile away.”

“I didn’t want to disturb you,” he mumbled.

Kate didn’t believe that for one second, but she decided not to argue the point. Instead, she opted for the direct approach and asked, “Why did you leave last night?”

A long stretch of silence was followed by a weary, tired sigh, and Anthony finally said, “It’s complicated.”

Kate fought the urge to cross her arms. “I’m an intelligent woman,” she said in a purposefully even voice. “I’m generally able to grasp complex concepts.”

Anthony didn’t look pleased by her sarcasm. “I don’t want to go into this now.”

“When do you want to go into it?”

“Go home, Kate,” he said softly.

“Do you plan to come with me?”

Anthony let out a little groan as he raked a hand through his hair. Christ, she was like a dog with a bone. His head was pounding, his mouth tasted like wool, all he really wanted to do was splash some water on his face and clean his teeth, and here his wife would not stop interrogating him….

“Anthony?” she persisted.

That was enough. He stood so suddenly that his chair tipped back and slammed into the floor with a resounding crash. “You will cease your questions this instant,” he bit off.

Her mouth settled into a flat, angry line. But her eyes….

Anthony swallowed against the acidic taste of guilt that flooded his mouth.

Because her eyes were awash with pain.

And the anguish in his own heart grew tenfold.

He wasn’t ready. Not yet. He didn’t know what to do with her. He didn’t know what to do with himself. All his life—or at least since his father had died—he’d known that certain things were true, that certain things had to be true. And now Kate had gone and turned his world upside down.

He hadn’t wanted to love her. Hell, he hadn’t wanted to love anyone. It was the one thing—the only thing—that could make him fear his own mortality. And what about Kate? He’d promised to love and protect her. How could he do that, all the while knowing he would leave her? He certainly couldn’t tell her of his odd convictions. Aside from the fact that she’d probably think he was crazy, all it would do was subject her to the same pain and fear that wracked him. Better to let her live in blissful ignorance.

Or was it even better if she didn’t love him at all?

Anthony just didn’t know the answer. And he needed more time. And he couldn’t think with her standing there before him, those pain-filled eyes raking his face. And—

“Go,” he choked out. “Just go.”

“No,” she said with a quiet determination that made him love her all the more. “Not until you tell me what is bothering you.”

He strode out from behind his desk and took her arm. “I can’t be with you right now,” he said hoarsely, his eyes avoiding hers. “Tomorrow. I’ll see you tomorrow. Or the next day.”

“Anthony—”

“I need time to think.”

“About what?” she cried out.

“Don’t make this any harder than—” “How could it possibly get any harder?” she demanded.

“I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

“I just need a few days,” he said, feeling like an echo. Just a few days to think. To figure out what he was going to do, how he was going to live his life.

But she twisted around until she was facing him, and then her hand was on his cheek, touching him with a tenderness that made his heart ache. “Anthony,” she whispered, “please…”

He couldn’t form a word, couldn’t make a sound.

Her hand slipped to the back of his head, and then she was drawing him closer…closer…and he couldn’t help himself. He wanted her so damned badly, wanted to feel her body pressed against his, to taste the faint salt of her skin. He wanted to smell her, to touch her, to hear the rasp of her breath in his ear.

Her lips touched his, soft and seeking, and her tongue tickled the corner of her mouth. It would be so easy to lose himself in her, to sink down to the carpet and…

“No!” The word was ripped from his throat, and by God, he’d had no idea it was there until it burst forth.

“No,” he said again, pushing her away. “Not now.”

“But—”

He didn’t deserve her. Not right now. Not yet. Not until he understood how he was meant to live out the rest of his life. And if it meant he had to deny himself the one thing that might bring him salvation, so be it.

“Go,” he ordered, his voice sounding a bit more harsh than he’d intended. “Go now. I’ll see you later.”

And this time, she did go.

She went, without looking back.

And Anthony, who’d only just learned what it was to love, learned what it was to die inside.

By the following morning, Anthony was drunk. By afternoon, he was hungover.

His head was pounding, his ears were ringing, and his brothers, who had been surprised to discover him in such a state at their club, were talking far too loudly.

Anthony put his hands over his ears and groaned. Everyone was talking far too loudly.

“Kate boot you out of the house?” Colin asked, grabbing a walnut from a large pewter dish in the middle their table and splitting it open with a viciously loud crack.

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