And yet he’d dreamed about her.

It had happened after the fiasco at The Serpentine. He’d been so furious with her he could barely speak. It was a wonder he’d managed to say anything at all to Edwina during the short ride back to her house. Polite conversation was all he’d been able to get out—mindless words so familiar they tripped from his tongue as if by rote.

A blessing indeed, since his mind most definitely had not been where it should be: on Edwina, his future wife.

Oh, she hadn’t agreed to marry him. He hadn’t even asked. But she fit his requirements for a wife in every possible way; he’d already decided that she would be the one to whom he would finally propose marriage. She was beautiful, intelligent, and even-tempered. Attractive without making his blood rush. They would spend enjoyable years together, but he’d never fall in love with her.

She was exactly what he needed.

And yet…

Anthony reached for his drink and downed the rest of its contents in one gasping gulp.

And yet he’d dreamed about her sister.

He tried not to remember. He tried not to remember the details of the dream—the heat and the sweat of it—but he’d only had this one drink this evening, certainly not enough to impair his memory. And although he’d had no intention of having more than this one drink, the concept of sliding into mindless oblivion was starting to sound appealing.

Anything would be appealing if it meant he wouldn’t remember.

But he didn’t feel like drinking. He’d not overimbibed in years. It seemed such the young man’s game, not at all attractive as one neared thirty. Besides, even if he did decide to seek temporary amnesia in a bottle, it wouldn’t come fast enough to make the memory of her go away.

Memory? Ha. It wasn’t even a real memory. Just a dream, he reminded himself. Just a dream.

He’d fallen asleep quickly upon returning home that evening. He’d stripped naked and soaked in a hot bath for nearly an hour, trying to remove the chill from his bones. He hadn’t been completely submerged in The Serpentine as had Edwina, but his legs had been soaked, as had one of his sleeves, and Newton’s strategic shake had guaranteed that not one inch of his body remained warm during the windy ride home in the borrowed curricle.

After his bath he’d crawled into bed, not particularly caring that it was still light outside, and would be for a good hour yet. He was exhausted, and he’d had every intention of falling into a deep, dreamless sleep, not to be awakened until the first streaks of dawn touched the morning.

But sometime in the night, his body had grown restless and hungry. And his treacherous mind had filled with the most awful of images. He’d watched it as if floating near the ceiling, and yet he felt everything—his body, naked, moving over a lithe female form; his hands stroking and squeezing warm flesh. The delectable tangle of arms and legs, the musky scent of two bodies in love—it had all been there, hot and vivid in his mind.

And then he’d shifted. Just the tiniest bit, perhaps to kiss the faceless woman’s ear. Except as he moved to the side, she was no longer faceless. First appeared a thick lock of dark brown hair, softly curling and tickling at his shoulder. Then he moved even farther…

And he saw her.

Kate Sheffield.

He’d awakened in an instant, sitting bolt upright in bed and shaking from the horror of it. It had been the most vivid erotic dream he’d ever experienced.

And his worst nightmare.

He’d felt frantically around the sheets with one of his hands, terrified that he’d find the proof of his passion. God help him if he’d actually ejaculated while dreaming of quite the most awful woman of his acquaintance.

Thankfully, his sheets were clean, and so, with beating heart and heavy breath, he’d lain back against his pillows, his movements slow and careful, as if that would somehow prevent a recurrence of the dream.

He’d stared at the ceiling for hours, first conjugating Latin verbs, then counting to a thousand, all in an attempt to keep his brain on anything but Kate Sheffield.

And amazingly, he’d exorcised her image from his brain and fallen asleep.

But now she was back. Here. In his home.

It was a terrifying thought.

And where the hell was Edwina? Why hadn’t she accompanied her mother and sister?

The first strains of a string quartet drifted under his door, discordant and jumbled, no doubt the warm-up of the musicians his mother had hired to accompany Maria Rosso, the latest soprano to take London by storm.

Anthony certainly hadn’t told his mother, but he and Maria had enjoyed a pleasant interlude the last time she’d been in town. Maybe he ought to consider renewing their friendship. If the sultry Italian beauty didn’t cure what ailed him, nothing would.

Anthony stood and straightened his shoulders, aware that he probably looked as if he were girding himself for battle. Hell, that’s how he felt. Maybe, if he was lucky, he’d be able to avoid Kate Sheffield entirely. He couldn’t imagine she’d go out of her way to engage him in conversation. She’d made it abundantly clear that she held him in just as much esteem as he did her.

Yes, that’s exactly what he would do. Avoid her. How difficult could that be?

Chapter 6

Lady Bridgerton’s musicale proved to be a decidedly musical affair (not, This Author assures you, always the norm for musicales). The guest performer was none other than Maria Rosso, the Italian soprano who made her debut in London two years ago and has returned after a brief stint on the Vienna stage.

With thick, sable hair and flashing dark eyes, Miss Rosso proved as lovely in form as she did in voice, and more than one (indeed, more than a dozen) of society’s so-called gentlemen found it difficult indeed to remove their eyes from her person, even after the performance had concluded.


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