Normally, Anthony would die before striking a woman, but this truly seemed to be an exceptional case. In fact, he took not a little bit of pleasure in kicking her while she was down.

She was biting his leg, after all.

“Allow me to walk you to the door,” he said to Maria, shaking Kate off his ankle.

But Maria’s eyes were curious, and she took a few steps forward. “Anthony, is there an animal under your desk?”

Anthony let out a bark of laughter. “You could say that.”

Kate’s fist came down on his foot.

“Is it a dog?”

Anthony seriously considered answering in the affirmative, but even he was not that cruel. Kate obviously appreciated his uncharacteristic tact, because she let go of his leg.

Anthony took advantage of his release to quickly step out from behind the desk. “Would I be unforgivably rude,” he asked, striding to Maria’s side and taking her arm, “if I merely walked you to the door and not back to the music room?”

She laughed, a low, sultry sound that should have seduced him. “I am a grown woman, my lord. I believe I can manage the short distance.”

“Forgive me?”

She stepped through the door he held open for her. “I suspect there isn’t a woman alive who could deny you forgiveness for that smile.”

“You are a rare woman, Maria Rosso.”

She laughed again. “But not, apparently, rare enough.”

She floated out, and Anthony shut the door with a decisive click. Then, some devil on his shoulder surely prodding him, he turned the key in the lock and pocketed it.

“You,” he boomed, eliminating the distance to the desk in four long strides. “Show yourself.”

When Kate didn’t scramble out quickly enough, he reached down, clamped his hand around her upper arm, and hauled her to her feet.

“Explain yourself,” he hissed.

Kate’s legs nearly buckled as the blood rushed back to her knees, which had been bent for nearly a quarter of an hour. “It was an accident,” she said, grabbing on to the edge of the desk for support.

“Funny how those words seem to emerge from your mouth with startling frequency.”

“It’s true!” she protested. “I was sitting in the hall, and—” She gulped. He had stepped forward and was now very, very close. “I was sitting in the hall,” she said again, her voice sounding crackly and hoarse, “and I heard you coming. I was just trying to avoid you.”

“And so you invaded my private office?”

“I didn’t know it was your office. I—” Kate sucked in her breath. He’d moved even closer, his crisp, wide lapels now only inches from the bodice of her dress. She knew his proximity was deliberate, that he sought to intimidate rather than seduce, but that didn’t do anything to quell the frantic beating of her heart.

“I think perhaps you did know that this was my office,” he murmured, letting his forefinger trail down the side of her cheek. “Perhaps you did not seek to avoid me at all.”

Kate swallowed convulsively, long past the point of trying to maintain her composure.

“Mmmm?” His finger slid along the line of her jaw. “What do you say to that?”

Kate’s lips parted, but she couldn’t have uttered a word if her life had depended on it. He wore no gloves—he must have removed them during his tryst with Maria—and the touch of his skin against hers was so powerful it seemed to control her body. She breathed when he paused, stopped when he moved. She had no doubt that her heart was beating in time to his pulse.

“Maybe,” he whispered, so close now that his breath kissed her lips, “you desired something else altogether.”

Kate tried to shake her head, but her muscles refused to obey.

“Are you sure?”

This time, her head betrayed her and gave a little shake.

He smiled, and they both knew he had won.

Chapter 7

Also in attendance at Lady Bridgerton’s musicale: Mrs. Featherington and the three elder Featherington daughters (Prudence, Philippa, and Penelope, none of whom wore colors beneficial to their complexions); Mr. Nigel Berbrooke (who, as usual, had much to say, although no one save Philippa Featherington seemed interested); and, of course, Mrs. Sheffield and Miss Katharine Sheffield.

This Author assumes that the Sheffields’ invitation had also included Miss Edwina Sheffield, but she was not present. Lord Bridgerton seemed in fine spirits despite the younger Miss Sheffield’s absence, but alas, his mother appeared disappointed.

But then again, Lady Bridgerton’s matchmaking tendencies are legendary, and surely she must be at loose ends now that her daughter has married the Duke of Hastings.

LADY WHISTLEDOWN’S SOCIETY PAPERS, 27 APRIL 1814

Anthony knew he had to be insane.

There could be no other explanation. He’d meant to scare her, terrify her, make her understand that she could never hope to meddle in his affairs and win, and instead…

He kissed her.

Intimidation had been his intention, and so he’d moved closer and closer until she, an innocent, could only be cowed by his presence. She wouldn’t know what it was like to have a man so near that the heat of his body seeped through her clothes, so close that she couldn’t tell where his breath ended and hers began.

She wouldn’t recognize the first prickles of desire, nor would she understand that slow, swirling heat in the core of her being.

And that slow, swirling heat was there. He could see it in her face.

But she, a complete innocent, would never comprehend what he could see with one look of his experienced eyes. All she would know was that he was looming over her, that he was stronger, more powerful, and that she had made a dreadful mistake by invading his private sanctuary.

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