“Did you think I wouldn’t be?” she replied, trying to keep her voice dry and ironic.

He smiled in response. “There is nothing to fear.”

Kate nearly burst out in jittery laughter. It seemed she was destined to hear that platitude over and over again. “Perhaps,” she allowed, “but still much about which to be nervous.”

His smile broadened. “Touché, my dear wife.”

Kate swallowed convulsively. It was strange to be someone’s wife, especially strange to be this man’s wife. “And are you nervous?” she countered.

He leaned in toward her, his dark eyes hot and heavy with the promise of things to come. “Oh, desperately,” he murmured. He closed the rest of the distance between them, his lips finding the sensitive hollow of her ear. “My heart is pounding,” he whispered.

Kate’s body seemed to stiffen and melt at the same time. And then she blurted out, “I think we should wait.”

He nibbled on her ear. “Wait for what?”

She tried to wiggle away. He didn’t understand. If he’d understood, he’d be furious, and he didn’t seem particularly upset.

Yet.

“F-for the marriage,” she stammered.

That seemed to amuse him, and he playfully wiggled the rings that now rested on her gloved fingers. “It’s a bit late for that, don’t you think?”

“For the wedding night,” she clarified.

He drew back, his dark brows flattening into a straight, and perhaps a little bit angry, line. “No,” he said simply. But he did not move to embrace her again.

Kate tried to think of words that would make him understand, but it wasn’t easy; she wasn’t so sure that she understood herself. And she was rather certain that he would not believe her if she told him that she’d not intended to make this request; it had just burst forth from within her, born of a panic she hadn’t even known was there until that very moment.

“I’m not asking for forever,” she said, hating the tremor that shook her words. “Just a week.”

This caught his attention, and one of his brows rose in ironic query. “And what, pray tell, do you hope to gain by a week?”

“I don’t know,” she answered quite honestly.

His eyes focused onto hers, hard, hot, and sardonic. “You’re going to have to do better than that,” he said.

Kate didn’t want to look at him, didn’t want the intimacy he forced upon her when she was caught in his dark gaze. It was easy to hide her feelings when she could keep her focus on his chin or his shoulder, but when she had to look straight into his eyes…

She was afraid he could see into her very soul.

“This has been a week of a great many changes in my life,” she began, wishing she knew where she was going with the statement.

“For me as well,” he interjected softly.

“Not so much for you,” she returned. “The intimacies of marriage are nothing new to you.”

One corner of his mouth quirked into a lopsided, slightly arrogant smile. “I assure you, my lady, that I have never before been married.”

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”

He did not contradict her.

“I simply would like a bit of time to prepare,” she said, primly folding her hands in her lap. But she couldn’t keep her thumbs still, and they twiddled anxiously, giving proof to the state of her nerves.

Anthony stared at her for a long moment, then leaned back, propping his left ankle rather casually on his right knee. “Very well,” he allowed.

“Really?” She straightened with surprise. She had not expected him to capitulate with such ease.

“Provided…” he continued.

She slumped. She should have known that there would be a contingency.

“…that you edify me on one point.”

She gulped. “And what would that be, my lord?”

He leaned forward, the very devil in his eyes. “How, precisely, do you plan to prepare?”

Kate glanced out the window, then swore under her breath when she realized they weren’t even to Anthony’s street. There would be no escaping his question; she was stuck in the carriage for at least another five minutes. “We-e-e-e-ll,” she stalled, “I’m sure I don’t understand what you mean.”

He chuckled. “I’m sure you don’t, either.”

Kate scowled at him. There was nothing worse than being the butt of someone else’s joke, and it seemed especially inappropriate when one happened to be a bride on her wedding day. “Now you’re having fun with me,” she accused.

“No,” he said with what could only have been called a leer, “I’d like to have fun with you. There’s quite a difference.”

“I wish you wouldn’t talk like that,” she grumbled. “You know I don’t understand.”

His eyes focused on her lips as his tongue darted out to wet his own. “You would,” he murmured, “if you’d simply give in to the inevitable and forget your silly request.”

“I don’t enjoy being condescended to,” Kate said stiffly.

His eyes flashed. “And I don’t like being denied my rights,” he returned, his voice cold and his face a harsh rendition of aristocratic power.

“I’m not denying you anything,” she insisted.

“Oh, really?” His drawl lacked all humor.

“I’m just asking for a reprieve. A brief, temporary, brief”—she repeated the word, just in case his brain was too dulled by single-minded male pride to have understood her the first time—“reprieve. Surely you would not deny me such a simple request.”

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