“Perfect,” Bridgerton answered, although he sounded vaguely distracted. He lifted the glasses, humming slightly to himself as his body slowly began to turn.

Keep walking. Keep walking. If he walked away from her while he turned, he’d go back to Maria and she’d be safe. But if he turned, and then walked, Kate was as good as dead.

And she had no doubt that he would kill her. Frankly, she was surprised he hadn’t made an attempt last week at The Serpentine.

Slowly, he turned. And turned. And didn’t walk.

And Kate tried to think of all the reasons why dying at the age of twenty-one was really not such a bad thing.

Anthony knew quite well why he’d brought Maria Rosso back to his study. Surely no warm-blooded man could be immune to her charms. Her body was lush, her voice was intoxicating, and he knew from experience that her touch was equally potent.

But even as he took in that silky sable hair and those full, pouting lips, even as his muscles tightened at the memory of other full, pouting parts of her body, he knew that he was using her.

He felt no guilt that he would be using her for his own pleasure. In that regard, she was using him as well. And she at least would be compensated for it, whereas he would be out several jewels, a quarterly allowance, and the rent on a fashionable townhouse in a fashionable (but not too fashionable) part of town.

No, if he felt uneasy, if he felt frustrated, if he felt like he wanted to put his damned fist through a brick wall, it was because he was using Maria to banish the nightmare that was Kate Sheffield from his mind. He never wanted to wake up hard and tortured again, knowing that Kate Sheffield was the cause. He wanted to drown himself in another woman until the very memory of the dream dissolved and faded into nothingness.

Because God knew he was never going to act on that particular erotic fantasy. He didn’t even like Kate Sheffield. The thought of bedding her made him break out in a cold sweat, even as it swirled a ripple of desire right through his gut.

No, the only way that dream was going to come true was if he were delirious with fever…and maybe she’d have to be delirious as well…and perhaps they would both have to be stranded on a desert isle, or sentenced to be executed in the morning, or…

Anthony shuddered. It simply wasn’t going to happen.

But bloody hell, the woman must have bewitched him. There could be no other explanation for the dream—no, make that a nightmare—and besides that, even now he could swear that he could smell her. It was that maddening combination of lilies and soap, that beguiling scent that had washed over him while they were out in Hyde Park last week.

Here he was, pouring a glass of the finest whiskey for Maria Rosso, one of the few women of his acquaintance who knew how to appreciate both a fine whiskey and the devilish intoxication that followed, and all he could smell was the damned scent of Kate Sheffield. He knew she was in the house—and he was half ready to kill his mother for that—but this was ridiculous.

“Is everything all right?” Maria called out.

“Perfect,” Anthony said, his voice sounding tight to his ears. He began to hum, something he’d always done to relax himself.

He turned and started to take a step forward. Maria was waiting for him, after all.

But there was that damned scent again. Lilies. He could swear it was lilies. And soap. The lilies were intriguing, but the soap made sense. A practical sort of woman like Kate Sheffield would scrub herself clean with soap.

His foot hesitated in midair, and his step forward proved to be a small one instead of his usual long stride. He couldn’t quite escape the smell, and he kept turning, his nose instinctively twisting his eyes toward where he knew there couldn’t be lilies, and yet the scent was, impossibly, there.

And then he saw her.

Under his desk.

It was impossible.

Surely this was a nightmare. Surely if he closed his eyes and opened them again, she’d be gone.

He blinked. She was still there.

Kate Sheffield, the most maddening, irritating, diabolical woman in all England, was crouching like a frog under his desk.

It was a wonder he didn’t drop the whiskey.

Their eyes met, and he saw hers widen with panic and fright. Good, he thought savagely. She should be frightened. He was going to tan her bloody hide until her hide was bloody well bloody.

What the hell was she doing here? Wasn’t dousing him with the filthy water of The Serpentine enough for her bloodthirsty spirit? Wasn’t she satisfied with her attempts to stymie his courtship of her sister? Did she need to spy on him as well?

“Maria,” he said smoothly, moving forward toward the desk until he was stepping on Kate’s hand. He didn’t step hard, but he heard her squeak.

This gave him immense satisfaction.

“Maria,” he repeated, “I have suddenly remembered an urgent matter of business that must be dealt with immediately.”

“This very night?” she asked, sounding quite dubious.

“I’m afraid so. Euf!”

Maria blinked. “Did you just grunt?”

“No,” Anthony lied, trying not to choke on the word. Kate had removed her glove and wrapped her hand around his knee, digging her nails straight through his breeches and into his skin. Hard.

At least he hoped it was her nails. It could have been her teeth.

“Are you sure there is nothing amiss?” Maria inquired.

“Nothing…at”—whatever body part Kate was sinking into his leg sank a little farther—“all!” The last word came out as more of a howl, and he kicked his foot forward, connecting with something he had a sneaking suspicion was her stomach.

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