But this wasn’t the time or the place. It wasn’t that he felt a need to wait for his marriage vows. As far as he was concerned, he’d declared himself in public, and she was his. But he wasn’t going to tumble her in his mother’s garden gazebo. He had more pride—and more respect for her—than that.

With great reluctance, he slowly tore himself away from her, letting his hands rest on her slim shoulders and straightening his arms to keep himself far enough away so that he wouldn’t be tempted to continue where he’d left off.

And the temptation was there. He made the mistake of looking at her face, and in that moment he would have sworn that Kate Sheffield was every bit as beautiful as her sister.

Hers was a different sort of attraction. Her lips were fuller, less in fashion but infinitely more kissable. Her lashes—how had he not noticed before how long they were? When she blinked they seemed to rest on her cheeks like a carpet. And when her skin was tinged with the pinks of desire, she glowed. Anthony knew he was being fanciful, but when he gazed upon her face, he could not help thinking of the new dawn, of that exact moment when the sun was creeping over the horizon, painting the sky with its subtle palette of peaches and pinks.

They stood that way for a full minute, both catching their breath, until Anthony finally let his arms drop, and they each took a step back. Kate lifted a hand to her mouth, her fore, middle, and ring fingers just barely touching her lips. “We shouldn’t have done that,” she whispered.

He leaned back against one of the gazebo posts, looked extremely satisfied with his lot. “Why not? We’re betrothed.”

“We’re not,” she admitted. “Not really.”

He quirked a brow.

“No agreements have been made,” Kate explained hastily. “Or papers signed. And I have no dowry. You should know that I have no dowry.”

This caused him to smile. “Are you trying to get rid of me?”

“Of course not!” She fidgeted slightly, shifting her weight from foot to foot.

He took a step toward her. “Surely you’re not trying to provide me with a reason to be rid of you?”

Kate flushed. “N-no,” she lied, even though that was exactly what she had been doing. It was, of course, the utmost stupidity on her part. If he backed out of this marriage, she’d be ruined forever, not just in London, but also in her little village in Somerset. News of a fallen woman always traveled fast.

But it was never easy to be the second choice, and a part of her almost wanted him to confirm all of her suspicions—that he didn’t want her as his bride, that he’d much prefer Edwina, that he was only marrying her because he had to. It would hurt dreadfully, but if he would just say it, she would know, and knowing—even if the knowledge was bitter—was always better than not knowing.

At least then she would know exactly where she stood. As it was, she felt as if her feet were planted firmly in quicksand.

“Let us make one thing clear,” Anthony said, capturing her attention with his decisive tone. His eyes caught hers, burning with such intensity that she could not look away. “I said I was going to marry you. I am a man of my word. Any further speculation on the subject would be highly insulting.”

Kate nodded. But she couldn’t help thinking: Be careful what you wish for…be careful what you wish for.

She’d just agreed to marry the very man with whom she feared she was falling in love. And all she could wonder was: Does he think of Edwina when he kisses me?

Be careful what you wish for, her mind thundered.

You just might get it.

Chapter 15

Once again, This Author has been proven correct. Country house parties do result in the most surprising of betrothals.

Yes indeed, dear reader, you are surely reading it here first: Viscount Bridgerton is to marry Miss Katharine Sheffield. Not Miss Edwina, as gossips had speculated, but Miss Katharine.

As to how the betrothal came about, details have been surprisingly difficult to obtain. This Author has it on the best authority that the new couple was caught in a compromising position, and that Mrs. Featherington was a witness, but Mrs. F has been uncharacteristically closelipped about the entire affair. Given that lady’s propensity for gossip, This Author can only assume that the viscount (never known for lacking a spine) threatened bodily injury upon Mrs. F should she even breathe a syllable.

LADY WHISTLEDOWN’S SOCIETY PAPERS, 11 MAY 1814

Kate soon realized that notoriety did not agree with her.

The remaining two days in Kent had been bad enough; once Anthony had announced their engagement at supper following their somewhat precipitous betrothal, she had scarcely a chance to breathe between all the congratulations, questions, and innuendos that were being tossed her way by Lady Bridgerton’s guests.

The only time she felt truly at ease was when, a few hours after Anthony’s announcement, she finally had a chance to talk privately with Edwina, who’d thrown her arms around her sister and declared herself “thrilled,” “overjoyed,” and “not even one tiny bit surprised.”

Kate had expressed her surprise that Edwina was not surprised, but Edwina had just shrugged and said, “It was obvious to me that he was smitten. I do not know why no one else saw it.”

Which had left Kate rather puzzled, since she’d been fairly certain that Anthony had had his matrimonial sights set on Edwina.

Once Kate returned to London, the speculation was even worse. Every single member of the ton, it seemed, found it imperative to stop by the Sheffields’ small rented home on Milner Street to call on the future viscountess. Most managed to infuse their congratulations with a healthy dose of unflattering implication. No one believed it possible that the viscount might actually want to marry Kate, and no one seemed to realize how rude it was to say as much to her face.

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