Never her sister.

Instead, he just looked at her impassively, his eyes far, far steadier than his heart, and said, “I am much relieved,” all the while having the strangest feeling that he wasn’t really there, but rather watching the entire scene—nothing more than a farce, really—from outside of his body, all the while wondering what the hell was going on.

She smiled weakly and said, “I thought you might feel that way.”

“Kate, I—”

She’d never know what he meant to say. In all truth, he wasn’t even sure what he intended to say. He hadn’t even realized that he was going to speak until her name passed over his lips.

But his words would remain forever unspoken, because at that moment, he heard it.

A low buzz. A whine, really. It was the sort of sound most people found mildly annoying.

Nothing, to Anthony, could have been more terrifying.

“Don’t move,” he whispered, his voice harsh with fear.

Kate’s eyes narrowed, and of course she moved, trying to twist about. “What are you talking about? What is wrong?”

“Just don’t move,” he repeated.

Her eyes slid to the left, then her chin followed by a quarter of an inch or so. “Oh, it’s just a bee!” Her face broke out in a relieved grin, and she lifted her hand to swat it away. “For goodness’ sake, Anthony, don’t do that again. You had me scared for a moment.”

Anthony’s hand shot out and grasped her wrist with painful force. “I said don’t move,” he hissed.

“Anthony,” she said, laughing, “it’s a bee.”

He held her immobile, his grasp hard and painful, his eyes never leaving the loathsome creature, watching as it buzzed purposefully around her head. He was paralyzed by fear, and fury, and something else he couldn’t quite put his finger on.

It wasn’t as if he hadn’t come into contact with bees in the eleven years since his father’s death. One couldn’t reside in England, after all, and expect to avoid them altogether.

Until now, in fact, he’d forced himself to flirt with them in an odd, fatalistic manner. He’d always suspected that he might be doomed to follow in his father’s footsteps in all respects. If he was going to be brought down by a humble insect, by God he’d do it standing firm and holding his ground. He was going to die sooner or…well, sooner, and he wasn’t going to run from some bloody bug. And so when one flew by, he laughed, he mocked, he cursed, and he swatted it away with his hand, daring it to retaliate.

And he’d never been stung.

But seeing one fly so dangerously close to Kate, brushing by her hair, landing on the lacy sleeve of her dress—it was terrifying, almost hypnotizing. His mind raced ahead, and he saw the tiny monster sink its stinger into her soft flesh, he saw her gasping for air, sinking to the ground.

He saw her here at Aubrey Hall, laid out on the same bed that had served as his father’s first coffin.

“Just be quiet,” he whispered. “We’re going to stand—slowly. Then we’re going to walk away.”

“Anthony,” she said, her eyes crinkling in an impatiently confused manner, “what is wrong with you?”

He tugged on her hand, trying to force her to rise, but she resisted. “It’s a bee,” she said in an exasperated voice. “Stop acting so strangely. For heaven’s sake, it’s not going to kill me.”

Her words hung heavy in the air, almost like solid objects, ready to crash to the ground and shatter them both. Then, finally, when Anthony felt his throat relax enough to speak, he said in a low, intense voice, “It might.”

Kate froze, not because she meant to follow his orders, but because something in his aspect, something in his eyes, frightened her to the bone. He looked changed, possessed by some unknown demon. “Anthony,” she said in what she hoped was an even, authoritative voice, “let go of my wrist this instant.”

She pulled, but he did not relent, and the bee kept buzzing relentlessly about her.

“Anthony!” she exclaimed. “Stop this right—”

The rest of her sentence was lost as she somehow managed to yank her hand from his crushing grasp. The sudden freedom left her off balance, and her arm flailed up and about, the inside of her elbow knocking into the bee, which let out a loud, angry buzz as the force of the blow sent it hurtling through space, smashing right into the strip of bare skin above the lace-edged bodice of her afternoon dress.

“Oh, for the love of—Ow!” Kate let out a howl as the bee, no doubt infuriated by its abuse, sank its stinger into her flesh. “Oh, damn,” she swore, completely past any pretensions toward proper language. It was just a bee sting, of course, and nothing she hadn’t suffered several times before, but bloody hell, it hurt.

“Oh, bother,” she grumbled, pulling her chin against her chest so she could look down and get the best view of the red welt rising right along the edge of her bodice. “Now I’ll have to go inside for a poultice, and it’ll get all over my dress.” With a disdainful sniff, she brushed the dead carcass of the bee from her skirt, muttering, “Well, at least he’s dead, the vexing thing. It’s probably the only justice in the—”

That was when she looked up and spied Anthony’s face. He’d gone white. Not pale, not even bloodless, but white. “Oh, my God,” he whispered, and the oddest thing was that his lips didn’t even move. “Oh, my God.”

“Anthony?” she asked, leaning forward and momentarily forgetting about the painful sting on her chest. “Anthony, what is wrong?”


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