Later that day, the two of them walked up the steps to Mary’s small townhouse. The butler showed them into the drawing room, and Kate sat on the familiar blue sofa while Anthony walked over to the window, leaning on the sill as he peered out.

“See something interesting?” she asked.

He shook his head, smiling sheepishly as he turned to face her. “I just like looking out windows, that’s all.”

Kate thought there was something awfully sweet about that, although she couldn’t really put her finger on what. Every day seemed to reveal some new little quirk to his character, some uniquely endearing habit that bound them ever closer. She liked knowing strange little things about him, like how he always doubled up his pillow before going to sleep, or that he detested orange marmalade but adored the lemon.

“You look rather introspective.”

Kate jerked to attention. Anthony was staring at her quizzically. “You drifted off,” he said with an amused expression, “and you had the dreamiest smile on your face.”

She shook her head, blushed, and mumbled, “It was nothing.”

His answering snort was dubious, and as he walked over to the sofa, he said, “I’d give a hundred pounds for those thoughts.”

Kate was saved from having to comment by Mary’s entrance. “Kate!” Mary exclaimed. “What a lovely surprise. And Lord Bridgerton, how nice to see you both.”

“You really should call me Anthony,” he said somewhat gruffly.

Mary smiled as he took her hand in greeting. “I shall endeavor to remember to do so,” she said. She sat across from Kate, then waited for Anthony to take his place on the sofa before saying, “Edwina is out, I’m afraid. Her Mr. Bagwell came rather unexpectedly down to town. They’ve gone for a walk in the park.”

“We should lend them Newton,” Anthony said affably. “A more capable chaperone I cannot imagine.”

“We actually came to see you, Mary,” Kate said.

Kate’s voice held an uncommon note of seriousness, and Mary responded instantly. “What is it?” she asked, her eyes flicking back and forth from Kate to Anthony. “Is everything all right?”

Kate nodded, swallowing as she searched for the right words. Funny how she’d been rehearsing what to ask all morning, and now she was speechless. But then she felt Anthony’s hand on hers, the weight and the warmth of it strangely comforting, and she looked up and said to Mary, “I’d like to ask you about my mother.”

Mary looked a little startled, but she said, “Of course. But you know that I did not know her personally. I only know what your father told me of her.”

Kate nodded. “I know. And you might not have the answers to any of my questions, but I don’t know who else to ask.”

Mary shifted in her seat, her hands clasped primly in her lap. But Kate noticed that her knuckles had gone white.

“Very well,” Mary said. “What is it you wish to learn? You know that I will tell you anything I know.”

Kate nodded again and swallowed, her mouth having gone dry. “How did she die, Mary?”

Mary blinked, then sagged slightly, perhaps with relief. “But you know that already. It was influenza. Or some sort of lung fever. The doctors were never certain.”

“I know, but…” Kate looked to Anthony, who gave her a reassuring nod. She took a deep breath and plunged on. “I’m still afraid of storms, Mary. I want to know why. I don’t want to be afraid any longer.”

Mary’s lips parted, but she was silent for many seconds as she stared at her stepdaughter. Her skin slowly paled, taking on an odd, translucent hue, and her eyes grew haunted. “I didn’t realize,” she whispered. “I didn’t know you still—”

“I hid it well,” Kate said softly.

Mary reached up and touched her temple, her hands shaking. “If I’d known, I’d have…” Her fingers moved to her forehead, smoothing over worry lines as she fought for words. “Well, I don’t know what I’d have done. Told you, I suppose.”

Kate’s heart stopped. “Told me what?”

Mary let out a long breath, both of her hands at her face now, pressing against the upper edge of her eye sockets. She looked as if she had a terrible headache, the weight of the world pounding against her skull, from the inside out.

“I just want you to know,” she said in a choked voice, “that I didn’t tell you because I thought you didn’t remember. And if you didn’t remember, well, it didn’t seem right to make you remember.”

She looked up, and there were tears streaking her face. “But obviously you do,” she whispered, “or you wouldn’t be so afraid. Oh, Kate. I’m so sorry.”

“I am sure there is nothing for you to be sorry about,” Anthony said softly.

Mary looked at him, her eyes momentarily startled, as if she’d forgotten he was in the room. “Oh, but there is,” she said sadly. “I didn’t know that Kate was still suffering from her fears. I should have known. It’s the sort of thing a mother should sense. I may not have given her life, but I have tried to be a true mother to her—”

“You have,” Kate said fervently. “The very best.”

Mary turned back to her, holding her silence for a few seconds before saying, in an oddly detached voice, “You were three when your mother died. It was your birthday, actually.”

Kate nodded, mesmerized.

“When I married your father I made three vows. There was the vow I made to him, before God and witnesses, to be his wife. But in my heart I made two other vows. One was to you, Kate. I took one look at you, so lost and forlorn with those huge brown eyes—and they were sad, oh, they were so sad, eyes no child should have—and I vowed that I would love you as my own, and raise you with everything I had within me.”

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