Lady Bridgerton choked on a laugh, nodded, and managed to say, “Of course.”

In under a minute, Anthony and Kate were alone in the garden.

He turned to face her; she’d stood and taken a few steps toward him. “I think,” he murmured, slipping his arm through hers, “that we ought to consider moving out of sight of the house.”

His steps were long and purposeful, and she stumbled to keep up with him until she found her stride. “My lord,” she asked, hurrying along, “do you think this is wise?”

“You sound like Mrs. Featherington,” he pointed out, not breaking his pace, even for a second.

“Heaven forbid,” Kate muttered, “but the question still stands.”

“Yes, I do think it’s very wise,” he replied, pulling her into a gazebo. Its walls were partially open to the air, but it was surrounded by lilac bushes and afforded them considerable privacy.

“But—”

He smiled. Slowly. “Did you know you argue too much?”

“You brought me here to tell me that?”

“No,” he drawled, “I brought you here to do this.”

And then, before she had a chance to utter a word, before she even had a chance to draw breath, his mouth swooped down and captured hers in a hungry, searing kiss. His lips were voracious, taking everything she had to give and then demanding even more. The fire that glowed within her burned and crackled even hotter than what he’d stoked that night in his study, hotter by a tenfold.

She was melting. Dear God, she was melting, and she wanted so much more.

“You shouldn’t do this to me,” he whispered against her mouth. “You shouldn’t. Everything about you is absolutely wrong. And yet…”

Kate gasped as his hands stole around to her backside and pressed her harshly against his arousal.

“Do you see?” he said raggedly, his lips moving along her cheek. “Do you feel?” He chuckled hoarsely, an odd mocking sound. “Do you even understand?” He squeezed mercilessly, then nibbled the tender skin of her ear. “Of course you don’t.”

Kate felt herself sliding into him. Her skin was starting to burn, and her traitorous arms stole up and around his neck. He was stoking a fire in her, something she could not even begin to control. She’d been possessed by some primitive urge, something hot and molten which needed nothing so much as the touch of his skin against hers.

She wanted him. Oh, how she wanted him. She shouldn’t want him, shouldn’t desire this man who was marrying her for all the wrong reasons.

And yet she wanted him with a desperation that left her breathless.

It was wrong, so very wrong. She had grave doubts about this marriage, and she knew she ought to maintain a clear head. She kept trying to remind herself of that, but it didn’t stop her lips from parting to allow his entry, nor her own tongue from shyly flicking out to taste the corner of his mouth.

And the desire pooling in her belly—and surely that was what this strange, prickly, swirling feeling had to be—it just kept getting stronger and stronger.

“Am I a terrible person?” she whispered, more for her ears than for his. “Does this mean I am fallen?”

But he heard her, and his voice was hot and moist on the skin of her cheek.

“No.”

He moved to her ear and made her listen more closely.

“No.”

He traveled to her lips and forced her to swallow the word.

“No.”

Kate felt her head fall back. His voice was low and seductive, and it almost made her feel like she’d been born for this moment.

“You’re perfect,” he whispered, his large hands moving urgently over her body, one settling on her waist and the other moving up toward the gentle swell of her breast. “Right here, right now, in this moment, in this garden, you’re perfect.”

Kate found something unsettling about his words, as if he were trying to tell her—and perhaps himself as well—that she might not be perfect tomorrow, and perhaps even less so the next day. But his lips and hands were persuasive, and she forced the unpleasant thoughts from her head, instead reveling in the heady bliss of the moment.

She felt beautiful. She felt…perfect. And right there, right then, she couldn’t help but adore the man who made her feel that way.

Anthony slid the hand at her waist to the small of her back, supporting her as his other hand found her breast and squeezed her flesh through the thin muslin of her dress. His fingers seemed beyond his control, tight and spasmodic, gripping her as if he were falling off a cliff and had finally found purchase. Her nipple was hard and tight against his palm, even through the fabric of her dress, and it took everything in him, every last ounce of restraint, not to reach around to the back of her frock and slowly pull each button from its prison.

He could see it all in his mind, even as his lips met hers in another searing kiss. Her dress would slip from her shoulders, the muslin doing a tantalizing slide along her skin until her breasts were bared. He could picture those in his mind, too, and he somehow knew they, too, would be perfect. He’d cup one, lifting the nipple to the sun, and slowly, ever so slowly, he’d bend his head toward her until he could just barely touch her with his tongue.

She’d moan, and he’d tease her some more, holding her tightly so that she couldn’t wriggle away. And then, just when her head dropped back and she was gasping, he’d replace his tongue with his lips and suckle her until she screamed.

Dear God, he wanted that so badly he thought he might explode.

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