“Of the two of us,” he said, his voice clipped, “I don’t think I’m the one doing the denying.”

He was right, drat the man, and she had no idea what else to say. She knew she hadn’t a leg to stand on with her spur-of-the-moment request; he had every right to toss her over his shoulder, drag her off to bed, and lock her in the room for a week if he so desired.

She was acting foolishly, a prisoner of her own insecurities—insecurities she hadn’t even known she possessed until she’d met Anthony.

All her life, she’d been the one who’d received the second glance, the second greeting, the second kiss on the hand. As the elder daughter, it should have been her due to be addressed before her younger sister, but Edwina’s beauty was so stunning, the pure and perfect blue of her eyes so startling, that people simply forgot themselves in her presence.

Introductions to Kate were usually met with an embarrassed, “Of course,” and a polite murmured greeting while their eyes slid back to Edwina’s pure and shining face.

Kate had never minded it much. If Edwina had been spoiled or bad-tempered it might have been difficult, and in all truth, most of the men she’d met were shallow and silly, and she hadn’t much cared if they only took the time to acknowledge her after her sister.

Until now.

She wanted Anthony’s eyes to light up when she entered the room. She wanted him to scan a crowd until he saw her face. She didn’t need him to love her—or at least that’s what she was telling herself—but she desperately wanted to be first in his affections, first in his desires.

And she had an awful, terrible feeling that all this meant she was falling in love.

Falling in love with one’s husband—who would have thought it could be such a disaster?

“I see you have no response,” Anthony said quietly.

The carriage rolled to a halt, thankfully sparing her from having to make a reply. But when a liveried footman rushed forward and attempted to open the door, Anthony yanked it back shut, never once taking his eyes off of her face.

“How, my lady?” he repeated.

“How…” she echoed. She’d quite forgotten what he was asking.

“How,” he said yet again, his voice hard as ice but hot as flame, “do you plan to prepare for your wedding night?”

“I—I had not considered,” Kate replied.

“I thought not.” He let go of the door handle, and the door swung open, revealing the faces of two footmen who were obviously trying very hard not to look curious. Kate remained silent as Anthony helped her down and led her into the house.

His household staff was assembled in the small entry hall, and Kate murmured her greetings as each member was introduced to her by the butler and housekeeper. The staff wasn’t very extensive, as the house was small by ton standards, but the introductions took a good twenty minutes.

Twenty minutes which, unfortunately, did little to calm her nerves. By the time he placed his hand at the small of her back and guided her toward the stairs, her heart was racing, and for the first time in her life, she thought she might actually pass out.

It wasn’t that she feared the marriage bed.

It wasn’t even that she feared not pleasing her husband. Even an innocent virgin such as herself could tell that his actions and reactions when they kissed were proof enough of his desire. He would show her what to do; of that she had no doubt.

What she feared…

What she feared…

She caught her throat closing, choking, and she brought her fist to her mouth, biting on the knuckle to steady her stomach, as if that might actually do something to help the awful churning that had her in knots.

“My God,” Anthony whispered as the reached the landing. “You’re terrified.”

“No,” she lied.

He took her by the shoulders and twisted her to face him, staring deeply into her eyes. Cursing under his breath, he grabbed her hand and pulled her into his bedroom, muttering, “We need privacy.”

When they reached his chamber—a richly appointed, masculine room exquisitely decorated in shades of burgundy and gold—he planted his hands on his hips and demanded, “Didn’t your mother tell you about…ah…about…”

Kate would have laughed at his flailings if she hadn’t been so nervous. “Of course,” she said quickly. “Mary explained everything.”

“Then what the hell is the problem?” He cursed again, then apologized. “I beg your pardon,” he said stiffly. “That certainly is not the way to set you at ease.”

“I can’t say,” she whispered, her eyes sliding to the floor, focusing on the intricate pattern of the carpet until they swam with tears.

A strange, horrible choking noise emerged from Anthony’s throat. “Kate?” he asked hoarsely. “Did someone…has a man…ever forced unwelcome attentions on you?”

She looked up, and the concern and terror on his face nearly made her heart melt. “No!” she cried out. “It isn’t that. Oh, don’t look that way, I can’t bear it.”

“I can’t bear it,” Anthony whispered, closing the distance between them as he took her hand and raised it to his lips. “You must tell me,” he said, his voice oddly choked. “Do you fear me? Do I repulse you?”

Kate shook her head frantically, unable to believe that he could possibly think any woman would find him repulsive.

“Tell me,” he whispered, his lips pressing against her ear. “Tell me how to make it right. For I don’t think I can grant you your reprieve.” He molded his body against hers, his strong arms holding her close as he groaned, “I can’t wait a week, Kate. I simply cannot do it.”


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