He smiled in vague disbelief, but his words, in that last second before their lips met, were, “Anything you wish, Lady Bridgerton. Anything you wish.”

And then it all seemed to happen at once. His lips were on hers, teasing and devouring, while his hands were lifting her up into a seated position. His fingers worked nimbly at the buttons of her gown, and she could feel the cool brush of the air on her skin as the fabric slipped down, inch by inch, exposing her rib cage, then her navel, and then…

And then his hands slid beneath her hips, and he was lifting her up, yanking the dress out from underneath her. Kate gasped at the intimacy of it. She was clad only in her unmentionables, stockings, and garters. She’d never felt so exposed in her life, and yet she thrilled in every moment, every sweep of his eyes over her body.

“Lift your leg,” Anthony ordered softly.

She did, and with a slowness that was exquisite and agonizing at the same time, he rolled one of her silk stockings down to her toes. The other soon followed, and then her drawers came next, and before she knew it she was nude, completely bared before him.

His hand skimmed softly over her stomach, then he said, “I think I’m a little overdressed, don’t you?”

Kate’s eyes widened as he left the bed and stripped off the rest of his clothing. His body was perfection, his chest finely muscled, his arms and legs powerful, and his—

“Oh, my God,” she gasped.

He grinned. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

Kate swallowed convulsively. No wonder those animals on her neighbor’s farm hadn’t looked as if they were enjoying the act of procreation. At least not the female ones. Surely this wasn’t going to work.

But she didn’t want to seem naive and foolish, so she didn’t say anything, just gulped and tried to smile.

Anthony caught the flash of terror in her eyes and smiled gently. “Trust me,” he murmured, sliding onto the bed beside her. His hands settled on the curve of her hip as he nuzzled her neck. “Just trust me.”

He felt her nod, and he propped himself up on one of his elbows, using his free hand to idly trace circles and swirls on her abdomen, moving lower and lower, until he brushed the edge of the dark thatch of hair nestling between her legs.

Her muscles quivered, and he heard a rush of indrawn breath pass over her lips. “Shhhh,” he said soothingly, leaning down to distract her with a kiss. The last time he’d lain with a virgin he’d been one himself, and he was relying on instinct to guide him with Kate. He wanted this, her first time, to be perfect. Or if not perfect, then at least damn good.

While his lips and tongue explored her mouth, his hand dipped ever lower, until he reached the moist heat of her womanhood. She gasped again, but he was relentless, teasing and tickling, delighting in each of her squirms and moans.

“What are you doing?” she whispered against his lips.

He gave her a lopsided grin, as one of his fingers slid inside. “Making you feel really, really good?”

She moaned, which pleased him. If she’d managed intelligible speech he would have known he wasn’t doing his job correctly.

He moved over her, nudging her legs farther apart with one of his thighs, and letting out a moan of his own as his manhood settled against her hip. Even there, she felt perfect, and he was nearly bursting at the thought of sinking within her.

He was trying to hold his control, trying to make sure that he remained slow and gentle, but his need was getting stronger and stronger, and his own breath was growing fast and ragged.

She was ready for him, or at least as ready as she was going to be. He knew that this first time would bring her pain, but he prayed it wouldn’t last more than a moment.

He fitted himself against her opening, using his arms to brace his body a few inches above hers. He whispered her name, and her dark eyes, hazed by passion, focused on his.

“I’m going to make you mine now,” he said, inching forward as he spoke. Her body tightened spasmodically around him; the feeling was so exquisite he had to grit his teeth against it. It would be so, so easy to lose himself in the moment, to plunge forward and seek only his own pleasure.

“Tell me if it hurts,” he whispered hoarsely, allowing himself to move forward only by tiny increments. She was certainly aroused, but she was very small, and he knew he needed to give her time to adjust to his intimate invasion.

She nodded.

He froze, barely able to comprehend the stab of pain in his chest. “It hurts?”

She shook her head. “No, I only meant I’ll tell you if it does. It doesn’t hurt, but it feels so very…odd.”

Anthony fought a smile and he leaned down to kiss the tip of her nose. “I don’t know that I’ve ever been called odd while making love to a woman before.”

For a moment it looked as if she were afraid that she’d insulted him, then her mouth quivered into a small smile. “Perhaps,” she said softly, “you’ve been making love to the wrong women.”

“Perhaps so,” he replied, moving forward yet another inch.

“May I tell you a secret?” she asked.

He nudged farther. “Of course,” he murmured.

“When I first saw you…tonight, I mean…”

“In all my glory?” he teased, lifting his brows into an arrogant arch.

She shot him a rather enchanting scowl. “I didn’t think this could possibly work.”

He moved forward. He was close, so close to embedding himself fully within her. “May I tell you a secret?” he returned.

“Of course.”

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