“I need to speak with Kate,” Mary said.

Edwina nodded enthusiastically.


Edwina blinked. “I have to leave?”

Mary nodded and held out the lukewarm mug.


Mary nodded again.

Edwina looked stricken, then her expression melted into a wary smile. “You’re joking, right? I may stay, right?”

“Wrong,” Mary replied.

Edwina turned pleading eyes to Kate.

“Don’t look to me,” Kate said with a barely suppressed smile. “It’s her decision. She’ll be doing the talking, after all. I’ll just be listening.”

“And asking questions,” Edwina pointed out. “And I have questions, too.” She turned to her mother. “Lots of questions.”

“I’m sure you do,” Mary said, “and I’ll be happy to answer them all the night before you get married.”

Edwina groaned her way upright. “This isn’t fair,” she grumbled, snatching the mug out of Mary’s hand.

“Life isn’t fair,” Mary said with a grin.

“I’ll say,” Edwina muttered, dragging her feet as she crossed the room.

“And no listening at the door!” Mary called out.

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Edwina drawled. “Not that you’d talk loudly enough for me to hear a thing, anyway.”

Mary sighed as Edwina stepped out into the hall and shut the door, her movements punctuated by a constant stream of unintelligible grumbles. “We shall have to whisper,” she said to Kate.

Kate nodded, but she did feel enough loyalty toward her sister to say, “She might not be eavesdropping.”

The look Mary gave her was dubious in the extreme. “Do you want to swing the door open to find out?”

Kate grinned despite herself. “Point taken.”

Mary sat down in the spot Edwina had just vacated and gave Kate a rather direct look. “I’m sure you know why I’m here.”

Kate nodded.

Mary took a sip of her milk and was silent for a long moment before she said, “When I married—for the first time, not to your father—I knew nothing of what to expect in the marriage bed. It was not—” She closed her eyes briefly, and for a moment she looked to be in pain. “My lack of knowledge made it all the more difficult,” she finally said, the slowness of her carefully chosen words telling Kate that “difficult” was probably a euphemism.

“I see,” Kate murmured.

Mary looked up sharply. “No, you don’t see. And I hope you never do. But that is beside the point. I always swore that no daughter of mine would enter into marriage ignorant of what occurs between a husband and wife.”

“I’m already aware of the basics of the maneuver,” Kate admitted.

Clearly surprised, Mary asked, “You are?”

Kate nodded. “It can’t be very much different from animals.”

Mary shook her head, her lips pursed into a slightly amused smile. “No, it’s not.”

Kate pondered how best to phrase her next question. From what she’d seen on her neighbor’s farm back in Somerset, the act of procreation didn’t look terribly enjoyable at all. But when Anthony kissed her, she felt as if she were losing her mind. And when he kissed her twice, she wasn’t even sure if she wanted it back! Her entire body tingled, and she suspected that if their recent encounters had occurred in more suitable locales, she would have let him have his way with her with nary a protest.

But then there was that awful screaming mare at the farm…. Frankly, the various pieces of the puzzle didn’t seem to reconcile.

Finally, after much clearing of her throat, she said, “It doesn’t look very pleasant.”

Mary closed her eyes again, her face taking on that same look as before—as if she were remembering something she’d rather keep tucked away in the darkest recesses of her mind. When she opened her eyes again, she said, “A woman’s enjoyment depends entirely on her husband.”

“And a man’s?”

“The act of love,” Mary said, blushing, “can and should be a pleasant experience for both man and woman. But—” She coughed and took a sip of her milk. “I would be remiss if I did not tell you that a woman does not always find pleasure in the act.”

“But a man does?”

Mary nodded.

“That doesn’t seem fair.”

Mary’s smile was wry. “I believe I just told Edwina that life wasn’t always fair.”

Kate frowned, staring down into her milk. “Well, this really doesn’t seem fair.”

“This doesn’t mean,” Mary hastened to add, “that the experience is necessarily distasteful to the woman. And I’m certain it won’t be distasteful to you. I assumed the viscount has kissed you?”

Kate nodded without looking up.

When Mary spoke, Kate could hear the smile in her voice. “I’ll assume from your blush,” Mary said, “that you enjoyed it.”

Kate nodded again, her cheeks now burning.

“If you enjoyed his kiss,” Mary said, “then I am certain you won’t be upset by his further attentions. I’m sure that he will be gentle and attentive with you.”

“Gentle” didn’t quite capture the essence of Anthony’s kisses, but Kate didn’t think that was the sort of thing one was meant to share with one’s mother. Truly, the entire conversation was embarrassing enough as it was.

“Men and women are very different,” Mary continued, as if that weren’t completely obvious, “and a man—even one who is faithful to his wife, which I’m sure the viscount will be to you—can find his pleasure with almost any woman.”


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