She nodded. “I don’t know why I think that. A gut feeling, I suppose.”

“Gut feelings,” he said, in a voice that sounded strange and flat even to his own ears, “are often the most accurate.”

“I feel the strangest sense of optimism,” she said, waving her silver-backed hairbrush in the air as she spoke. “All my life, I’ve had this awful thing hanging over my head. I didn’t tell you—I never told anyone—but every time it stormed, and I fell to pieces, I thought…well, I didn’t just think, I somehow knew…”

“What, Kate?” he asked, dreading the answer without even having a clue why.

“Somehow,” she said thoughtfully, “as I shook and sobbed, I just knew that I was going to die. I knew it. There was just no way I could feel that awful and live to see the next day.” Her head cocked slightly to the side, and her face took on a vaguely strained expression, as if she weren’t sure how to say what she needed to say.

But Anthony understood all the same. And it made his blood run to ice.

“I’m sure you’ll think it’s the silliest thing imaginable,” she said, her shoulders rising and falling in a sheepish shrug. “You’re so rational, so levelheaded and practical. I don’t think you could understand something like this.”

If she only knew. Anthony rubbed at his eyes, feeling strangely drunk. He staggered to a chair, hoping she wouldn’t notice how off balance he was, and sat down.

Luckily, her attention had returned to the various bottles and trinkets on her vanity table. Or maybe she was just too embarrassed to look at him, thinking he’d scoff at her irrational fears.

“Whenever the storm passed,” she continued, talking down at her table, “I knew how foolish I’d been and how ridiculous the notion was. After all, I’d endured thunderstorms before, and none had ever killed me. But knowing that in my rational mind never seemed to help. Do you know what I mean?”

Anthony tried to nod. He wasn’t sure if he actually did.

“When it rained,” she said, “nothing really existed except for the storm. And, of course, my fear. Then the sun would come out, and I’d realize again how silly I’d been, but the next time it stormed, it was just like before. And once again, I knew I would die. I just knew it.”

Anthony felt sick. His body felt strange, not his own. He couldn’t have said anything if he’d tried.

“In fact,” she said, raising her head to look at him, “the only time I felt I might actually live to see the next day was in the library at Aubrey Hall.” She stood and walked to his side, resting her cheek on his lap as she knelt before him. “With you,” she whispered.

He lifted his hand to stroke her hair. The motion was more out of reflex than anything else. He certainly wasn’t conscious of his actions.

He’d had no idea that Kate had any sense of her own mortality. Most people didn’t. It was something that had lent Anthony an odd sense of isolation through the years, as if he understood some basic, awful truth that eluded the rest of society.

And while Kate’s sense of doom wasn’t the same as his—hers was fleeting, brought on by a temporary burst of wind and rain and electricity, whereas his was with him always, and would be until the day he died—she, unlike him, had beaten it.

Kate had fought her demons and she had won.

And Anthony was so damned jealous.

It was not a noble reaction; he knew that. And, caring for her as he did, he was thrilled and relieved and overjoyed and every good and pure emotion imaginable that she had beaten the terrors that came with the storms, but he was still jealous. So goddamned jealous.

Kate had won.

Whereas he, who had acknowledged his demons but refused to fear them, was now petrified with terror. And all because the one thing he swore would never happen had come to pass.

He had fallen in love with his wife.

He had fallen in love with his wife, and now the thought of dying, of leaving her, of knowing that their moments together would form a short poem and not a long and lusty novel—it was more than he could bear.

And he didn’t know where to set the blame. He wanted to point his finger at his father, for dying young and leaving him as the bearer of this awful curse. He wanted to rail at Kate, for coming into his life and making him fear his own end. Hell, he would have blamed a stranger on the street if he’d thought there’d be any use to it.

But the truth was, there was no one to blame, not even himself. It would make him feel so much better if he could point his finger at someone—anyone—and say, “This is your fault.” It was juvenile, he knew, this need to assign blame, but everyone had a right to childish emotions from time to time, didn’t they?

“I’m so happy,” Kate murmured, her head still resting on his lap.

And Anthony wanted to be happy, too. He wanted so damned much for everything to be uncomplicated, for happiness just to be happiness and nothing more. He wanted to rejoice in her recent victories without any thought to his own worries. He wanted to lose himself in the moment, to forget about the future, to hold her in his arms and…

In one abrupt, unpremeditated movement, he hauled them both to their feet.

“Anthony?” Kate queried, blinking in surprise.

In answer, he kissed her. His lips met hers in an explosion of passion and need that blurred the mind until he could be ruled by body alone. He didn’t want to think, he didn’t want to be able to think. All he wanted was this very moment.

And he wanted this moment to last forever.

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