The butler opened the door quickly and ushered him in, showing him to the nearby drawing room. Kate was waiting on the sofa, her hair swept up into a neat something-or-other (Anthony never could remember the names of all those coiffures the ladies seemed to favor) and topped with a ridiculous little cap of some sort that he supposed was meant to match the white trim on her pale blue afternoon dress.

The cap, he decided, would be the first thing to go once they were married. She had lovely hair, long and lustrous and thick. He knew that good manners dictated that she wear bonnets when she was out and about, but really, it seemed a crime to cover it up in the comfort of her own home.

Before he could open his mouth, however, even in greeting, she motioned to a silver tea service on the table in front of her and said, “I took the liberty of ordering tea. There’s a slight chill in the air and I thought you might like some. If you don’t, I’d be happy to ring for something else.”

There hadn’t been a chill in the air, at least not one that Anthony had detected, but he nonetheless said, “That would be lovely, thank you.”

Kate nodded and picked up the pot to pour. She tipped it about an inch, then righted it, frowning as she said, “I don’t even know how you take your tea.”

Anthony felt one corner of his mouth tipping up slightly. “Milk. No sugar.”

She nodded, setting the pot down in favor of the milk. “It seems a thing a wife should know.”

He sat down in a chair that sat at a right angle to the sofa. “And now you do.”

She took a deep breath and then let it go. “Now I do,” she murmured.

Anthony cleared his throat as he watched her pour. She wasn’t wearing gloves, and he found he liked to watch her hands as she worked. Her fingers were long and slender, and they were incredibly graceful, which surprised him, considering how many times she’d trod on his toes while dancing.

Of course some of those missteps had been done on purpose, but not, he suspected, as many as she would have liked to have him believe.

“Here you are,” she murmured, holding out his tea. “Be careful, it’s hot. I’ve never been one for lukewarm tea.”

No, he thought with a smile, she wouldn’t be. Kate wasn’t the sort to do anything in half measures. It was one of the things he liked best about her.

“My lord?” she said politely, moving the tea a few inches farther in his direction.

Anthony grasped the saucer, allowing his gloved fingers to brush against her bare ones. He kept his eyes on her face, noticing the faint pink stain of blush that touched her cheeks.

For some reason that pleased him.

“Did you have something specific you wanted to ask me, my lord?” she asked, once her hand was safely away from his and her fingers wrapped around the handle of her own teacup.

“It’s Anthony, as I’m sure you recall, and I can’t call upon my fiancée merely for the pleasure of her company?”

She gave him a shrewd look over the rim of her cup. “Of course you can,” she replied, “but I don’t think you are.”

He raised a brow at her impertinence. “As it happens, you’re right.”

She murmured something. He didn’t quite catch it, but he had a sneaking suspicion it had been, “I usually am.”

“I thought we ought to discuss our marriage,” he said.

“I beg your pardon?”

He leaned back in his chair. “We’re both practical people. I think we’ll find ourselves more at ease once we understand what we can expect from one another.”

“Of—of course.”

“Good.” He set his teacup down in the saucer, then set both down on the table in front of him. “I’m glad you feel that way.”

Kate nodded slowly but didn’t say anything, instead choosing to keep her eyes trained on his face as he cleared his throat. He looked as if he were preparing for a parliamentary speech.

“We did not get off to the most favorable of starts,” he said, scowling slightly when she nodded her agreement, “but I feel—and I hope that you do as well—that we have since reached a friendship of sorts.”

She nodded again, thinking that she might make it all the way through the conversation doing nothing but nodding.

“Friendship between the husband and the wife is of the utmost importance,” he continued, “even more important, in my opinion, than love.”

This time she didn’t nod.

“Our marriage will be one based on mutual friendship and respect,” he pontificated, “and I for one could not be more pleased.”

“Respect,” Kate echoed, mostly because he was looking at her expectantly.

“I will do my best to be a good husband to you,” he said. “And, provided that you do not bar me from your bed, I shall be faithful to both you and our vows.”

“That’s rather enlightened of you,” she murmured. He was saying nothing she did not expect, and yet she found it somewhat needling all the same.

His eyes narrowed. “I hope you’re taking me seriously, Kate.”

“Oh, very much so.”

“Good.” But he gave her a funny look, and she wasn’t sure if he believed her. “In return,” he added, “I expect that you will not behave in any manner that will sully my family’s name.”

Kate felt her spine stiffen. “I would not dream of it.”

“I didn’t think you would. That is one of the reasons I am so pleased with this marriage. You will make an excellent viscountess.”


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