This was disturbing, and not what Kate had wanted to hear. “And a woman?” she had prompted.

“It is different for a woman. I have heard that wicked women find their pleasure like a man, in the arms of any who will satisfy, but I do not believe it. I think that a woman must care for her husband in order to enjoy the marriage bed.”

Kate was silent for a moment. “You did not love your first husband, did you?”

Mary shook her head. “It makes all the difference, sweet one. That, and a husband’s regard for his wife. But I have seen the viscount in your company. I realize that your match was sudden and unexpected, but he treats you with care and respect. You will have nothing to fear, I’m sure of it. The viscount will treat you well.”

And with that, Mary kissed Kate upon the forehead and bade her good night, picking up both empty milk mugs as she left the room. Kate sat on her bed, staring sightlessly at the wall for several minutes.

Mary was wrong. Kate was sure of it. She had much to fear.

She hated that she was not Anthony’s first choice for a wife, but she was practical, and she was pragmatic, and she knew that certain things in life simply had to be accepted as fact. But she’d been consoling herself with the memory of the desire she had felt—and she thought Anthony had felt—when she was in his arms.

Now it seemed that this desire wasn’t even necessarily for her, but rather some primitive urge that every man felt for every woman.

And Kate would never know if, when Anthony snuffed the candles and took her to bed, he closed his eyes…

And pictured another woman’s face.

The wedding, which was held in the drawing room of Bridgerton House, was a small, private affair. Well, as small as one could expect with the entire Bridgerton family in attendance, from Anthony all the way down to little eleven-year-old Hyacinth, who’d taken her role as flower girl very seriously. When her brother Gregory, aged thirteen, had tried to tip her basket of rose petals, she’d walloped him in the chin, delaying the ceremony by a good ten minutes but interjecting a much-needed note of levity and laughter.

Well, for everyone except Gregory, who’d been quite put out by the entire episode and certainly wasn’t laughing, even though he was, as Hyacinth was quick to point out to anyone who would listen (and her voice was loud enough so that one didn’t really have the option of not listening), the one who’d started it.

Kate had seen it all from her vantage point in the hall, where she’d been peeking through a crack in the door. It had made her smile, which was much appreciated, since her knees had been knocking for over an hour. She could only thank her lucky stars that Lady Bridgerton had not insisted upon a large, grand affair. Kate, who’d never thought of herself as a nervous sort of person before, would probably have passed out from fright.

Indeed, Violet had mentioned the possibility of a huge wedding as a method by which to combat the rumors that were circulating about Kate, Anthony, and their rather sudden engagement. Mrs. Featherington was, true to her word, remaining mostly silent on the details of the matter, but she’d let enough innuendo slip that everyone knew that the betrothal had not come about in the usual matter.

As a result, everyone was talking, and Kate knew it was only a matter of time before Mrs. Featherington could no longer restrain herself and everyone learned the true story of her downfall at the hands—or rather, the stinger—of a bee.

But in the end Violet had decided that a quick marriage was best, and since one couldn’t throw together a grand party in one week, the guest list had been limited to family. Kate was attended by Edwina, Anthony by his brother Benedict, and in due course they were man and wife.

It was strange, Kate thought later that afternoon as she stared at the gold band that had joined the diamond on her left hand, how quickly one’s life could change. The ceremony had been brief, rushing by in a crazy blur, and yet her life was forever altered. Edwina had been correct. Everything was different. She was a married woman now, a viscountess.

Lady Bridgerton.

She chewed on her lower lip. It sounded like someone else. How long would it take before someone said, “Lady Bridgerton,” and she actually thought they were talking to her, and not Anthony’s mother?

She was a wife now, with a wife’s responsibilities.

It terrified her.

Now that the wedding was done, Kate reflected upon Mary’s words from the previous night and knew that she was right. In many respects, she was the luckiest woman alive. Anthony would treat her well. He would treat any woman well. And that was the problem.

And now she was in a carriage, traveling the short distance between Bridgerton House, where the reception had been held, and Anthony’s private residence, which she supposed could no longer be referred to as “bachelor’s lodgings.”

She stole a glance at her new husband. He was facing straight ahead, his face oddly serious.

“Do you plan to move into Bridgerton House now that you are married?” she inquired quietly.

Anthony started, almost as if he’d forgotten she was there. “Yes,” he replied, turning to face her, “although not for several months. I thought we could do with a bit of privacy at the start of our marriage, don’t you think?”

“Of course,” Kate murmured. She looked down at her hands, which were fidgeting in her lap. She tried to still them, but it was impossible. It was a wonder she had not burst out of her gloves.

Anthony followed the line of her gaze and placed one of his large hands over both of hers. She went still instantly.

“Are you nervous?” he inquired.

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