“He implied,” Anthony added, “that you could not say enough good about me.”

She shouldn’t have smiled. “That’s not true.”

He probably shouldn’t have smiled, either, but Kate was glad he did. “I didn’t think so,” he replied.

They turned up Brompton Road toward Knightsbridge and Hyde Park, and Kate asked, “Why would he do such a thing?”

Anthony shot her a sideways look. “You don’t have a brother, do you?”

“No, just Edwina, I’m afraid, and she’s decidedly female.”

“He did it,” Anthony explained, “purely to torture me.”

“A noble pursuit,” Kate said under her breath.

“I heard that.”

“I rather thought you would,” she added.

“And I expect,” he continued, “that he wanted to torture you as well.”

“Me?” she exclaimed. “Whyever? What could I possibly have done to him?”

“You might have provoked him ever so slightly by denigrating his beloved brother,” he suggested.

Her brows arched. “Beloved?”

“Much-admired?” he tried.

She shook her head. “That one doesn’t wash, either.”

Anthony grinned. Miss Sheffield the elder, for all her annoyingly managing ways, did have an admirable wit. They’d reached Knightsbridge, so he took her arm as they crossed over the thoroughfare and took one of the smaller pathways that led to South Carriage Road within Hyde Park. Newton, clearly a country dog at heart, picked up his pace considerably as they entered greener surroundings, although it would be difficult to imagine the portly canine moving with anything that might correctly be termed speed.

Still, the dog seemed rather jolly and certainly interested in every flower, small animal, or passerby that crossed their path. The spring air was crisp, but the sun was warm, and the sky was a surprisingly clear blue after so many typical London days of rain. And while the woman on his arm was not the woman he planned to take to wife, nor, in fact, was she a woman he planned to take to anything, Anthony felt a rather easy sense of contentment wash over him.

“Shall we cross over to Rotten Row?” he asked Kate.

“Hmmm?” was her distracted reply. She had her face tipped up to the sun and was basking in its warmth. And for one extremely disconcerting moment, Anthony felt a sharp stab of…something.

Something? He gave his head a little shake. It couldn’t possibly be desire. Not for this woman.

“Did you say something?” she murmured.

He cleared his throat and took a deep breath, hoping it would clear his head. Instead, he simply got an intoxicating whiff of her scent, which was an odd combination of exotic lilies and sensible soap. “You seem to be enjoying the sun,” he said.

She smiled, turning to face him with a clear-eyed gaze. “I know that’s not what you said, but yes, I am. It’s been so dreadfully rainy of late.”

“I thought young ladies were not supposed to let sun on their faces,” he teased.

She shrugged, looking only the slightest bit sheepish as she replied, “They’re not. That is to say, we’re not. But it does feel heavenly.” She let out a little sigh, and a look of longing crossed her face, so intense that Anthony almost ached for her. “I do wish I could remove my bonnet,” she said wistfully.

Anthony nodded his agreement, feeling much the same way about his hat. “You could probably push it back just a bit without anyone noticing,” he suggested.

“Do you think?” Her entire face lit up at the prospect, and that strange stab of something pierced his gut again.

“Of course,” he murmured, reaching up to adjust the rim of the bonnet. It was one of those bizarre confections women seemed to favor, all ribbons and lace, and tied in such a way that no reasonable man could ever make sense of it. “Here, just hold still for a moment. I’ll fix it.”

Kate held still, just as he’d gently ordered, but when his fingers accidentally brushed the skin on her temple she stopped breathing as well. He was so very close, and there was something very odd about it. She could feel the heat of his body, and smell the clean, soapy scent of him.

And it sent a prickle of awareness straight through her.

She hated him, or at least she heartily disliked and disapproved of him, and yet she had the most absurd inclination to lean forward slightly, until the space between their bodies was squeezed into nothingness, and…

She swallowed and forced herself to draw back. Good God, what had come over her?

“Hold for a moment,” he said. “I haven’t finished.”

Kate reached up with frantic fingers to adjust her bonnet. “I’m sure it’s just fine. You needn’t—you needn’t worry yourself.”

“Can you feel the sun any better?” he asked.

She nodded, even though she was so distracted she wasn’t even sure if it was true. “Yes, thank you. It’s lovely. I—Oh!”

Newton let out a loud stream of barks and yanked on the lead. Hard.

“Newton!” she called out, jerking forward with the lead. But the dog already had something in his sights—Kate had no idea what—and was bounding enthusiastically forward, pulling her along until she was stumbling over her feet, her entire body pulled into a diagonal line, with her shoulder decidedly in front of the rest of her. “Newton!” she called out again, rather helplessly. “Newton! Stop!”

Anthony watched with amusement as the dog barreled forward, moving with more speed than he would have ever guessed its short, pudgy legs could have managed. Kate was making a valiant attempt to keep her grip on the lead, but Newton was now barking like mad, and running with equal vigor.


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