“Where are you going?” Kate asked anxiously.
“I have to go out,” he grunted.
He didn’t answer because he didn’t know how to answer.
“Anthony?” She stepped out of bed and reached for him, but a split second before her hand touched his cheek he flinched, stumbling backward until his back hit the bedpost. He saw the hurt on her face, the pain of his rejection, but he knew that if she touched him in tenderness, he’d be lost.
“Damn it all,” he bit off. “Where the hell are my shirts?”
“In your dressing room,” she said nervously. “Where they always are.”
He stalked off in search of a fresh shirt, unable to bear the sound of her voice. No matter what she said, he kept hearing always and forever.
And it was killing him.
When he emerged from his dressing room, coat and shoes on their proper places on his body, Kate was on her feet, pacing the floor and anxiously fidgeting with the wide blue sash on her dressing gown.
“I have to go,” he said tonelessly.
She didn’t make a sound, which was what he’d thought he wanted, but instead he just found himself standing there, waiting for her to speak, unable to move until she did.
“When will you be back?” she finally asked.
He nodded. “I can’t be here,” he blurted out. “I have to go.”
She swallowed convulsively. “Yes,” she said, her voice achingly small, “you’ve said as much.”
And then, without a backward glance and without a clue as to where he was going, he left.
Kate walked slowly to the bed and stared at it. Somehow it seemed wrong to climb in alone, to pull the covers around her and make a little huddle of one. She thought she should cry, but no tears pricked her eyes. So finally she moved to the window, pushed aside the drapes, and stared out, surprising herself with a soft prayer for a storm.
Anthony was gone, and while she was certain he’d return in body, she was not so confident about his spirit. And she realized that she needed something—she needed the storm—to prove to herself that she could be strong, by herself and for herself.
She didn’t want to be alone, but she might not have a choice in that matter. Anthony seemed determined to maintain a distance. There were demons within him—demons she feared he would never choose to face in her presence.
But if she was destined to be alone, even with a husband at her side, then by God she’d be alone and strong.
Weakness, she thought as she let her forehead rest against the smooth, cool glass of her window, never got anyone anywhere.
Anthony had no recollection of his off-balance stumble through the house, but somehow he found himself tripping down the front steps, made slippery by the light fog that hung in the air. He crossed the street, not having a clue where he was going, only knowing that he needed to be away. But when he reached the opposite pavement, some devil within him forced his eyes upward toward his bedroom window.
He shouldn’t have seen her was his rather inane thought. She should have been in bed or the drapes should have been pulled or he should have been halfway to his club by now.
But he did see her and the dull ache in his chest grew sharper, more viciously unrelenting. His heart felt as if it had been sliced wide open—and he had the most unsettling sensation that the hand wielding the knife had been his own.
He watched her for a minute—or maybe it was an hour. He didn’t think she saw him; nothing in her posture gave any indication that she was aware of his presence. She was too far away for him to see her face, but he rather thought her eyes were closed.
Probably hoping it doesn’t storm, he thought, glancing up at the murky sky. She’d most likely be out of luck. The mist and fog were already coalescing into drops of moisture on his skin, and it seemed only a quick transition to out-and-out rain.
He knew he should leave, but some invisible cord kept him rooted to the spot. Even after she’d left her position at the window, he remained in place, staring up at the house. The pull back inside was nearly impossible to deny. He wanted to run back into the house, fall to his knees before her, and beg her forgiveness. He wanted to sweep her into his arms and make love to her until the first streaks of dawn touched the sky. But he knew he couldn’t do any of those things.
Or maybe it was that he shouldn’t. He just didn’t know anymore.
And so, after standing frozen in place for nearly an hour, after the rain came, after the wind blew gusts of chilly air down the street, Anthony finally left.
He left, not feeling the cold, not feeling the rain, which had begun to fall with surprising force.
He left, not feeling anything.
It has been whispered that Lord and Lady Bridgerton were forced to marry, but even if that is true, This Author refuses to believe that theirs is anything but a love match.
LADY WHISTLEDOWN’S SOCIETY PAPERS, 15 JUNE 1814
It was strange, Kate thought as she looked at the morning repast laid upon the side table in the small dining room, how one could feel utterly famished and at the same time have no appetite. Her stomach was rumbling and churning, demanding food now, and yet everything—from the eggs to the scones to the kippers to the roast pork—looked awful.
With a dejected sigh, she reached for a solitary triangle of toast and sank into her chair with a cup of tea.
Anthony had not come home last night.
Kate took a nibble of the toast and forced it down. She’d been hoping that he might at least make an appearance in time for breakfast. She’d delayed the meal as long as she could—it was already nearly eleven in the morning and she usually ate at nine—but her husband was still absent.
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