“You are so sweet,” she said, wiping at her eyes as she landed rather solidly in his lap. “The nicest man in London.”

“Well, I don’t know about that,” he returned, sliding his arm around her waist. “The most dangerous, perhaps, or handsome—”

“Nicest,” she interrupted firmly, tucking her head into the crook of his neck. “Definitely the nicest.”

“If you insist,” he murmured, not at all unhappy with the recent turn of events.

“It’s a good thing we finished that tea,” Kate said, eyeing the cups on the floor. “It would have made a dreadful mess.”

“Oh, indeed.” He smiled to himself as he pulled her closer. There was something warm and comfortable about holding Kate. Her legs were dangling over the arm of the chair and her back was resting against the curve of his arm. They fit together nicely, he realized. She was just the right size for a man of his proportions.

There were a lot of things about her that were just right. It was the sort of realization that usually terrified him, but at that moment he was so damned happy just sitting here with her in his lap that he simply refused to think about the future.

“You are so good to me,” she murmured.

Anthony thought of all the times he’d purposely stayed away, all the times he’d left her to her own devices, but he pushed away the guilt. If he was forcing a distance between them, it was for her own good. He didn’t want her to fall in love with him. It would make it that much harder for her when he died.

And if he fell in love with her…

He didn’t even want to think about how much harder it would be for him.

“Do we have any plans for this evening?” he whispered in her ear.

She nodded; the motion caused her hair to tickle his cheek. “A ball,” she said. “At Lady Mottram’s.”

Anthony couldn’t resist the soft silkiness of her hair, and he threaded two fingers through it, letting it slide across his hand and wrap around his wrist. “Do you know what I think?” he murmured.

He heard her smile as she asked, “What?”

“I think I’ve never cared that much for Lady Mottram. And do you know what else I think?”

Now he heard her trying not to giggle. “What?”

“I think we should go upstairs.”

“You do?” she asked, clearly feigning ignorance.

“Oh, indeed. This very minute, as a matter of fact.”

She wiggled her bottom, the minx, ascertaining for herself just how quickly he needed to go upstairs. “I see,” she murmured gravely.

He pinched her hip lightly. “I rather thought you felt.”

“Well, that, too,” she admitted. “It was quite enlightening.”

“I’m sure it was,” he muttered. Then, with a very wicked smile, he nudged her chin until they were nose to nose. “Do you know what else I think?” he said huskily.

Her eyes widened. “I’m sure I can’t imagine.”

“I think,” he said, one of his hands creeping under her dress and slithering up her leg, “that if we don’t go upstairs this instant, I might be content to remain right here.”

“Here?” she squeaked.

His hand found the edge of her stockings. “Here,” he affirmed.

“Now?”

His fingers tickled her soft thatch of hair, then sank into the very core of her womanhood. She was soft and wet and felt like heaven. “Oh, most definitely now,” he said.

“Here?”

He nibbled on her lips. “Didn’t I already answer that question?”

And if she had any further questions, she didn’t voice them for the next hour.

Or maybe it was just that he was trying his damnedest to rob her of speech.

And if a man could judge from the little squeals and mewls that slipped from her mouth, he was doing a ripping good job.

Chapter 19

Lady Mottram’s annual ball was a crush, as always, but society watchers could not fail to note that Lord and Lady Bridgerton did not make an appearance. Lady Mottram insists that they had promised to attend, and This Author can only speculate as to what kept the newlyweds at home…

LADY WHISTLEDOWN’S SOCIETY PAPERS, 13 JUNE 1814

Much later that night, Anthony was lying on his side in bed, cradling his wife, who had snuggled her back up to his front and was presently sleeping soundly.

Which was fortunate, he realized, because it had started to rain.

He tried to nudge the covers up over her exposed ear so that she would not hear the drops beating against the windows, but she was as fidgety in sleep as she was when awake, and he could not manage to pull the coverlet much above the level of her neck before she shook it off.

He couldn’t yet tell whether the storm would grow electrical in nature, but the force of the rain had increased, and the wind had picked up until it howled through the night, rattling the tree branches against the side of the house.

Kate was growing a little more restless at his side, and he made shhhh-ing sounds as he smoothed her hair with his hand. The storm hadn’t woken her up, but it had definitely intruded upon her slumber. She had begun to mumble in her sleep, tossing and turning until she was curled on her opposite side, facing him.

“What happened to make you hate the rain so?” he whispered, tucking one dark lock of hair behind her ear. But he did not judge her for her terrors; he knew well the frustration of unfounded fears and premonitions. His certainty of his own impending death, for example, had haunted him since the moment he’d picked up his father’s limp hand and laid it gently on his unmoving chest.

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