Anthony lifted his head just far enough to glare at him.

Benedict watched his brother with raised brows and the vaguest hint of a smirk. “She definitely booted him out,” he said to Colin. “Hand me one of those walnuts, will you?”

Colin tossed one across the table. “Do you want the crackers as well?”

Benedict shook his head and grinned as he held up a fat, leather-bound book. “Much more satisfying to smash them.”

“Don’t,” Anthony bit out, his hand shooting out to grab the book, “even think about it.”

“Ears a bit sensitive this afternoon, are they?”

If Anthony had had a pistol, he would have shot them both, hang the noise.

“If I might offer you a piece of advice?” Colin said, munching on his walnut.

“You might not,” Anthony replied. He looked up. Colin was chewing with his mouth open. As this had been strictly forbidden while growing up in their household, Anthony could only deduce that Colin was displaying such poor manners only to make more noise. “Close your damned mouth,” he muttered.

Colin swallowed, smacked his lips, and took a sip of his tea to wash it all down. “Whatever you did, apologize for it. I know you, and I’m getting to know Kate, and knowing what I know—”

“What the hell is he talking about?” Anthony grumbled.

“I think,” Benedict said, leaning back in his chair, “that he’s telling you you’re an ass.”

“Just so!” Colin exclaimed.

Anthony just shook his head wearily. “It’s more complicated than you think.”

“It always is,” Benedict said, with sincerity so false it almost managed to sound sincere.

“When you two idiots find women gullible enough to actually marry you,” Anthony snapped, “then you may presume to offer me advice. But until then…shut up.”

Colin looked at Benedict. “Think he’s angry?”

Benedict quirked a brow. “That or drunk.”

Colin shook his head. “No, not drunk. Not anymore, at least. He’s clearly hungover.”

“Which would explain,” Benedict said with a philosophical nod, “why he’s so angry.”

Anthony spread one hand over his face and pressed hard against his temples with his thumb and middle finger. “God above,” he muttered. “What would it take to get you two to leave me alone?”

“Go home, Anthony,” Benedict said, his voice surprisingly gentle.

Anthony closed his eyes and let out a long breath. There was nothing he wanted to do more, but he wasn’t sure what to say to Kate, and more importantly, he had no idea how he’d feel once he got there.

“Yes,” Colin agreed. “Just go home and tell her that you love her. What could be more simple?”

And suddenly it was simple. He had to tell Kate that he loved her. Now. This very day. He had to make sure she knew, and he vowed to spend every last minute of his miserably short life proving it to her.

It was too late to change the destiny of his heart. He’d tried not to fall in love, and he’d failed. Since he wasn’t likely to fall back out of love, he might as well make the best of the situation. He was going to be haunted by the premonition of his own death whether or not Kate knew of his love for her. Wouldn’t he be happier during these last few years if he spent them loving her openly and honestly?

He was fairly certain she’d fallen in love with him as well; surely she’d be glad to hear that he felt the same way. And when a man loved a woman, truly loved her from the depths of her soul to the tips of her toes, wasn’t it his God-given duty to try to make her happy?

He wouldn’t tell her of his premonitions, though. What would be the point? He might suffer the knowledge that their time together would be cut short, but why should she? Better she be struck by sharp and sudden pain at his death than suffer the anticipation of it beforehand.

He was going to die. Everyone died, he reminded himself. He was just going to have to do it sooner rather than later. But by God, he was going to enjoy his last years with every breath of his being. It might have been more convenient not to have fallen in love, but now that he had, he wasn’t going to hide from it.

It was simple. His world was Kate. If he denied that, he might as well stop breathing right now.

“I have to go,” he blurted out, standing up so suddenly that his thighs hit the edge of the table, sending walnut shell shards skittering across the tabletop.

“I thought you might,” Colin murmured.

Benedict just smiled and said, “Go.”

His brothers, Anthony realized, were a bit smarter than they let on.

“We’ll speak to you in a week or so?” Colin asked.

Anthony had to grin. He and his brothers had met at their club every day for the past fortnight. Colin’s oh-so-innocent query could only imply one thing—that it was obvious that Anthony had completely lost his heart to his wife and planned to spend at least the next seven days proving it to her. And that the family he was creating had grown as important as the one he’d been born into.

“Two weeks,” Anthony replied, yanking on his coat. “Maybe three.”

His brothers just grinned.

But when Anthony pushed through the door of his home, slightly out of breath from taking the front steps three at a time, he discovered that Kate was not in.

“Where did she go?” he asked the butler. Stupidly, he’d never once considered that she might not be at home.

“Out for a ride in the park,” the butler replied, “with her sister and a Mr. Bagwell.”


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