Kate looked around. “It doesn’t count if there is no one nearby to hear me, right?”

“I can hear you.”

“You certainly don’t count.”

His head dipped a little closer in her direction. “I should think I was the only one who did.”

Kate said nothing, not wanting even to meet his eyes. Whenever she allowed herself one glimpse into those velvety depths, her stomach started flipping anew.

“Miss Sheffield?” he murmured.

She looked up. Big mistake. Her stomach flipped again.

“Why did you seek me out?” she asked.

Anthony pushed off the wooden post and stood straight. “I didn’t, actually. I was just as surprised to see you as you were me.” Although, he thought acerbically, he shouldn’t have been. He should have realized his mother was up to something the moment she actually suggested where he take his walk.

But could she possibly be steering him to the wrong Miss Sheffield? Surely she wouldn’t choose Kate over Edwina as a prospective daughter-in-law.

“But now that I have found you,” he said, “I did have something I wanted to say.”

“Something you haven’t already said?” she quipped. “I can’t imagine.”

He ignored her jibe. “I wanted to apologize.”

That got her attention. Her lips parted with shock, and her eyes grew round. “I beg your pardon?” she said. Anthony thought her voice sounded rather like a frog.

“I owe you an apology for my behavior the other night,” he said. “I treated you most rudely.”

“You’re apologizing for the kiss?” she asked, still looking rather dazed.

The kiss? He hadn’t even considered apologizing for the kiss. He’d never apologized for a kiss, never before kissed someone for whom an apology might be necessary. He’d actually been thinking more of the unpleasant things he’d said to her after the kiss. “Er, yes,” he lied, “the kiss. And for what I said, as well.”

“I see,” she murmured. “I didn’t think rakes apologized.”

His hand flexed, then made a tight fist. It was damned annoying, this habit of hers always to jump to conclusions about him. “This rake does,” he said in clipped tones.

She took a deep breath, then let it out in a long, steady exhale. “Then I accept your apology.”

“Excellent,” he said, offering his most winning smile. “May I escort you back to the house?”

She nodded. “But don’t think this means that I will suddenly change my mind about you and Edwina.”

“I would never dream of considering you so easily swayed,” he said, quite honestly.

She turned to him, her eyes startlingly direct, even for her. “The fact remains that you kissed me,” she said bluntly.

“And you kissed me,” he could not resist returning.

Her cheeks turned a delightful shade of pink. “The fact remains,” she repeated determinedly, “that it happened. And should you marry Edwina—regardless of your reputation, which I do not consider inconsequential—”

“No,” he murmured, interrupting her with velvet soft tones, “I didn’t think you would.”

She glared at him. “Regardless of your reputation, it would always be between us. Once something happens, you can’t take it away.”

The devil in Anthony nearly compelled him to drawl the word, “It?” forcing her to repeat the words, “The kiss,” but instead he took pity on her and let it go. Besides, she had a good point. The kiss would always be between them. Even now, with her cheeks pinkened by embarrassment and her lips pursed with irritation, he found himself wondering how she’d feel if he pulled her into his arms, how she’d taste if he traced the outline of her lips with his tongue.

Would she smell like the garden? Or would that maddening scent of lilies and soap still cling to her skin?

Would she melt into his embrace? Or would she push him away and run for the house?

There was only one way to find out, and doing so would ruin his chances with Edwina forever.

But as Kate had pointed out, maybe marrying Edwina would bring with it far too many complications. It would not do to be lusting after one’s sister-in-law, after all.

Maybe the time had come to search out a new bride, tedious though the prospect may be.

Maybe the time was right to kiss Kate Sheffield again, here in the perfect beauty of Aubrey Hall’s gardens, with the flowers grazing their legs and the smell of lilac hanging in the air.

Maybe…

Maybe…

Chapter 9

Men are contrary creatures. Their heads and their hearts are never in agreement. And as women know all too well, their actions are usually governed by a different aspect altogether.

LADY WHISTLEDOWN’S SOCIETY PAPERS, 29 APRIL 1814

Or maybe not.

Just as Anthony was plotting the best course to her lips, he heard the perfectly awful sound of his younger brother’s voice.

“Anthony!” Colin shouted out. “There you are.”

Miss Sheffield, blissfully unaware of how close she’d come to having been kissed utterly senseless, turned to watch Colin approach.

“One of these days,” Anthony muttered, “I’m going to have to kill him.”

Kate turned back. “Did you say something, my lord?”

Anthony ignored her. It was probably his best option, since not ignoring her tended to leave him rather desperately lusting after her, which was, as he well knew, a short, straight road to utter disaster.

In all truth, he probably should have thanked Colin for his untimely interruption. A few more seconds, and he would have kissed Kate Sheffield, which would have been the greatest mistake of his life.

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