“Oh, my—oh, Anthony!”

He ran his tongue around the aureole. She was perfect, simply perfect. He loved the sound of her voice, hoarse and broken with desire, and his body tingled at the thought of their wedding night, of her cries of passion and need. She’d be an inferno beneath him, and he relished the prospect of making her explode.

He pulled away so that he could see her face. She was flushed and her eyes were dazed and dilated. Her hair was starting to come undone from that hideous cap.

“This,” he said, plucking it from her head, “has got to go.”

“My lord!”

“Promise me you’ll never wear it again.”

She twisted in her seat—on his lap, actually, which did little to help the rather urgent state of his groin—to look over the edge of the chair. “I’ll do no such thing,” she retorted. “I quite like that cap.”

“You can’t possibly,” he said in all seriousness.

“I can and—Newton!”

Anthony followed her line of vision and broke out into loud laughter, shaking the both of them in their seats. Newton was happily munching away on Kate’s cap. “Good dog!” he said on a laugh.

“I would make you buy me another,” Kate muttered, yanking her dress back up, “except that you’ve already spent a fortune on me this week.”

This amused him. “I have?” he inquired mildly.

She nodded. “I’ve been shopping with your mother.”

“Ah. Good. I’m sure she didn’t let you pick out anything like that.” He motioned toward the now mangled cap in Newton’s mouth.

When he looked back at her, her mouth was twisted into a fetchingly disgruntled line. He couldn’t help but smile. She was so easy to read. His mother hadn’t let her buy such an unattractive cap, and it was killing her that she couldn’t offer a retort to his last statement.

He sighed rather contentedly. Life with Kate wasn’t going to be dull.

But it was getting late, and he should probably be going. Kate had said her mother wasn’t expected for at least an hour, but Anthony knew better than to trust the female sense of time. Kate could be wrong, or her mother could have changed her mind, or any number of things might have happened, and even though he and Kate were due to be married in just two days, it didn’t seem particularly prudent to get caught in the drawing room in such a compromising position.

With great reluctance—sitting in the chair with Kate and doing nothing but hold her was surprisingly satisfying—he stood, lifting her in his arms as he did so, and then set her back in the chair.

“This has been a delightful interlude,” he murmured, leaning down to drop a kiss on her forehead. “But I fear your mother’s early return. I shall see you Saturday morning?”

She blinked. “Saturday?”

“A superstition of my mother’s,” he said with a sheepish smile. “She thinks it’s bad luck for the bride and groom to see one another the day before the wedding.”

“Oh.” She rose to her feet, self-consciously smoothing her dress and hair. “And do you believe it as well?”

“Not at all,” he said with a snort.

She nodded. “It’s very sweet of you to indulge your mother, then.”

Anthony paused for a moment, well aware that most men of his reputation did not want to appear tied to apron strings. But this was Kate, and he knew that she valued devotion to family as much as he did, so he finally said, “There is little I would not do to keep my mother content.”

She smiled shyly. “It is one of the things I like best about you.”

He made some sort of gesture designed to change the subject, but she interrupted with, “No, it’s true. You’re far more caring a person than you’d like people to believe.”

Since he wasn’t going to be able to win the argument with her—and there was little point in contradicting a woman when she was being complimentary—he put a finger to his lips and said, “Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.” And then, with one last kiss to her hand and a murmured, “Adieu,” he made his way out the door and outside.

Once on his horse and on his way back to his small townhouse across town, he allowed himself to assess the visit. It went well, he thought. Kate had seemed to understand the limits he had set upon their marriage, and she’d reacted to his lovemaking with a desire that was sweet and fierce at the same time.

All in all, he thought with a satisfied smile, the future looked bright. His marriage would be a success. As for his previous concerns—well, it was clear he had nothing to worry about.

Kate was worried. Anthony had been practically tripping over himself to make certain that she understood that he would never love her. And he certainly didn’t seem to want her love in return.

Then he’d gone and kissed her as if there were no tomorrow, as if she were the most beautiful woman on earth. She’d be the first to admit that she had little experience with men and their desires, but he’d certainly seemed to desire her.

Or was he simply wishing she was someone else? She was not his first choice for a wife. She’d do well to remember that fact.

And even if she did fall in love with him—well, she’d simply have to keep it to herself. There was really nothing else to do.

Chapter 16

It has come to This Author’s attention that the wedding of Lord Bridgerton and Miss Sheffield is to be a small, intimate, and private affair.

In other words, This Author is not invited.

But have no fear, dear reader, This Author is at her most resourceful at times such as these, and promises to uncover the details of the ceremony, both the interesting and the banal.

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