“I just wanted to say thank you,” she said. “For helping me tonight. I—” She cleared her throat. “It would have been a great deal more difficult without you.”

“I didn’t do anything,” he said gruffly.

“No, you did everything.” And then, before she’d be tempted to stay, she hurried down the hall and up the stairs.

Chapter 13

There is little to report in London with so many people away in Kent at the Bridgerton house party. This Author can only imagine all the gossip that will soon reach town. There will be a scandal, yes? There is always a scandal at a house party.

LADY WHISTLEDOWN’S SOCIETY PAPERS, 4 MAY 1814

The following morning was the sort that usually follows a violent storm—bright and clear, but with a fine, damp mist that settled cold and refreshing on the skin.

Anthony was oblivious to the weather, having spent most of the night staring into the darkness and seeing nothing but Kate’s face. He’d finally fallen asleep as the first streaks of dawn fingered across the sky. By the time he woke, it was well past noon, but he did not feel rested. His body was suffused with a strange combination of exhaustion and nervous energy. His eyes felt heavy and dull in their sockets, and yet his fingers kept drumming the bed, inching toward the edge as if they alone could pull him out and to his feet.

Finally, when his stomach growled so loudly that he could swear he saw the plaster on the ceiling shake, he staggered upright and pulled on his robe. With a wide, loud yawn, he moved to the window, not because he was looking for anyone or anything in particular, but simply because the view was better than anything else in his room.

And yet in the quarter second before he looked down and gazed upon the grounds, he somehow knew what he would see.

Kate. Walking slowly across the lawn, far more slowly than he’d ever seen her walk before. Usually, she walked as if in a race.

She was much too far away for him to see her face—just a sliver of her profile, the curve of her cheek. And yet he could not take his eyes off of her. There was so much magic in her form—a strange grace in the way her arm swung as she walked, an artistry in the posture of her shoulders.

She was walking toward the garden, he realized.

And he knew he had to join her.

The weather remained in its contradictory state for most of the day, dividing the house party neatly in half, between those who insisted the bright sunshine beckoned outdoor play, and those who eschewed the wet grass and damp air for the warmer, drier clime of the drawing room.

Kate was firmly in the former group, although she was not in the mood for company. Her mind was in far too reflective a mood to make polite conversation with people she barely knew, and so she stole away once again to Lady Bridgerton’s spectacular gardens and found herself a quiet spot on a bench near the rose arbor. The stone was cold and just a little bit damp beneath her bottom, but she hadn’t slept particularly well the night before, and she was tired, and it was better than standing.

And it was, she realized with a sigh, just about the only place where she might be left to her own company. If she remained in the house, she’d surely be roped into joining the group of ladies chatting in the drawing room while they wrote correspondence to friends and family, or worse, she’d be stuck with the coterie who’d retired to the orangery to pursue their embroidery.

As for the outdoor enthusiasts, they’d also broken into two groups. One had hied off to the village to shop and see whatever sights there were to be found, and the other was taking a constitutional walk to the lake. As Kate had no interest in shopping (and she was already quite familiar with the lake) she’d eschewed their company as well.

Hence, her solitude in the garden.

She sat for several minutes, just staring off into space, her eyes focusing somewhat blindly on the tightly furled bud of a nearby rose. It was nice to be alone, where she didn’t have to cover her mouth or stifle the loud sleepy noises she made when she yawned. Nice to be alone, where no one was going to comment on the dark circles beneath her eyes or her uncommon quietude and lack of conversation.

Nice to be alone, where she could sit and attempt to sort through her muddle of thoughts about the viscount. It was a daunting task, and one she’d rather put off, but it had to be done.

But there really wasn’t all that much to sort out. Because everything she had learned in the past few days pointed her conscience in one, singular direction. And she knew that she could no longer oppose Bridgerton’s courtship of Edwina.

In the past few days he’d proven himself sensitive, caring, and principled. Even, she thought with a glimmer of a smile as she recalled the light in Penelope Featherington’s eyes when he’d saved her from the verbal talons of Cressida Cowper, heroic.

He was devoted to family.

He had used his social position and power not to lord over others but simply to spare another person insult.

He had helped her through one of her phobic attacks with a grace and sensitivity that, now that she could view it with a clear head, stunned her.

He might have been a rake and a rogue—he might still be a rake and a rogue—but clearly his behavior to those ends did not define the man. And the only objection Kate had to his marrying Edwina was…

She swallowed painfully. There was a lump the size of a cannonball in her throat.

Because deep in her heart, she wanted him for herself.

But that was selfish, and Kate had spent her life trying to be unselfish, and she knew she could never ask Edwina not to marry Anthony for such a reason. If Edwina knew that Kate was even the tiniest bit infatuated with the viscount, she would put an end to his courtship at once. And what purpose would that serve? Anthony would just find some other beautiful, eligible woman to pursue. There were plenty to choose from in London.

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