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The Viscount Who Loved Me: Chapter 12


A man with charm is an entertaining thing, and a man with looks is, of course, a sight to behold, but a man with honor—ah, he is the one, dear reader, to which the young ladies should flock.

LADY WHISTLEDOWN’S SOCIETY PAPERS, 2 MAY 1814

Later that night, after supper was done and the men went off to drink their port before rejoining the ladies with superior expressions on their faces, as if they had just talked about something weightier than which horse was likely to win the Royal Ascot; after the assembled company had played a sometime tedious and sometime hilarious round of charades; after Lady Bridgerton had cleared her throat and discreetly suggested that it might be time to turn in; after the ladies had taken their candles and headed off to bed; after the gentlemen had presumably followed…

Kate couldn’t sleep.

Clearly, it was to be one of those stare-at-the-cracks-in the-ceiling sort of nights. Except that there were no cracks in the ceiling at Aubrey Hall. And the moon wasn’t even out, so there wasn’t any light filtering through the curtains, which meant that even if there were cracks, she wouldn’t be able to see them, and…

Kate groaned as she pushed back her covers and rose to her feet. One of these days she was going to have to learn how to force her brain to stop racing in eight different directions at once. She’d already lain in bed for nearly an hour, staring up into the dark, inky night, shutting her eyes every now and then and trying to will herself to sleep.

It wasn’t working.

She couldn’t stop thinking about the expression on Penelope Featherington’s face when the viscount had swooped in to her rescue. Her own expression, Kate was sure, must have been somewhat similar—a bit stunned, a little delighted, and a lot as if she were about to melt onto the floor at that very minute.

Bridgerton had been that magnificent.

Kate had spent the entire day either watching or interacting with the Bridgertons. And one thing had become clear: Everything that had been said about Anthony and his devotion to his family—it was all true.

And while she wasn’t quite ready to relinquish her opinion that he was a rake and a rogue, she was starting to realize that he might be all that and something else as well.

Something good.

Something that, if she were trying to be utterly objective about the matter, which she admitted was difficult to do, really ought not disqualify him as a potential husband for Edwina.

Oh, why why why did he have to go and be nice? Why couldn’t he have just stayed the suave but shallow libertine it had been so easy to believe him? Now he was something else altogether, someone she feared she might actually come to care for.

Kate felt her face flush, even in the dark. She had to stop thinking about Anthony Bridgerton. At this rate she wasn’t going to get any sleep for a week.

Maybe if she had something to read. She’d seen a rather large and extensive library earlier that evening; surely the Bridgertons had some tome in there that would be guaranteed to put her to sleep.

She pulled on her robe and tiptoed to the door, careful not to wake Edwina. Not that that would have been an easy task. Edwina had always slept like the dead. According to Mary, she’d even slept through the night as a baby—from the very first day of her birth.

Kate slid her feet into a pair of slippers, then moved quietly into the hall, careful to look this way and that before shutting the door behind her. This was her first country house visit, but she’d heard a thing or two about these sorts of gatherings, and the last thing she wanted to do was run into someone on his way to a bedroom not his own.

If someone was carrying on with someone not his spouse, Kate decided, she didn’t want to know about it.

A single lantern lit the hall, giving the dark air a dim, flickering glow. Kate had grabbed a candle on her way out, so she walked over and flipped the lid of the lantern to light her wick. Once the flame was steady, she started toward the stairs, making sure to pause at every corner and check carefully for passersby.

A few minutes later she found herself in the library. It wasn’t large by ton standards, but the walls were covered floor to ceiling with bookcases. Kate pushed the door until it was almost closed—if someone was up and about, she didn’t want to alert them to her presence by letting the door click shut—and made her way to the nearest bookcase, peering at the titles.

“Hmmm,” she murmured to herself, pulling out a book and looking at the front cover, “botany.” She did love gardening, but somehow a textbook on the subject didn’t sound terribly exciting. Should she seek out a novel, which would capture her imagination, or should she go for a dry text, which would be more likely to put her to sleep?

Kate replaced the book and moved over to the next bookcase, setting her candle down on a nearby table. It appeared to be the philosophy section. “Definitely not,” she muttered, sliding her candle along the table as she moved one bookcase to the right. Botany might put her to sleep, but philosophy was likely to leave her in a stupor for days.

She moved the candle a bit to the right, leaning forward to peer at the next set of books, when a bright and completely unexpected flash of lightning lit up the room.

A short, staccato scream burst forth from her lungs, and she jumped backward, bumping her behind against the table. Not now, she silently pleaded, not here.

But as her mind formed the word, “here,” the entire room exploded with a dull boom of thunder.

And then it was dark again, leaving Kate shaking, her fingers gripping the table so hard that her joints locked. She hated this. Oh, how she hated this. She hated the noise and the streaks of light, and the crackling tension in the air, but most of all she hated what it made her feel.

So terrified that eventually she couldn’t feel anything at all.

It had been this way all her life, or at least as long as she could remember. When she’d been small, her father or Mary had comforted her whenever it had stormed. Kate had many memories of one of them sitting on the edge of her bed, holding her hand and whispering soothing words as thunder and lightning crashed around her. But as she grew older, she managed to convince people that she was over her affliction. Oh, everyone knew that she still hated storms. But she’d managed to keep the extent of her terror to herself.

It seemed the worst sort of weakness—one with no apparent cause, and unfortunately, one with no clear cure.

She didn’t hear any rain against the windows; maybe the storm wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe it had started far away and was moving even farther. Maybe it was—

Another flash illuminated the room, squeezing out a second scream from Kate’s lungs. And this time the thunder had arrived even closer to the lightning, indicating that the storm was pulling closer.

Kate felt herself sink to the floor.

It was too loud. Too loud, and too bright, and too—

BOOM!

Kate huddled under the table, her legs folded up, her arms about her knees, waiting in terror for the next round.

And then the rain began.

It was a bit past midnight, and all the guests (who were keeping somewhat to country hours) had gone to bed, but Anthony was still in his study, tapping his fingers against the edge of his desk in time with the rain beating against his window. Every now and then a bolt of lightning lit up the room in a flash of brilliance, and each clap of thunder was so loud and unexpected, he jumped in his chair.

God, he loved thunderstorms.

Hard to tell why. Maybe it was just the proof of nature’s power over man. Maybe it was the sheer energy of the light and sound that pounded around him. Whatever the case, it made him feel alive.

He hadn’t been particularly tired when his mother had suggested they all turn in, and so it had seemed silly not to use these few moments of solitude to go over the Aubrey Hall books his steward had left out for him. The Lord knew his mother would have his every minute crammed with activities involving eligible young women on the morrow.

But after an hour or so of painstaking checking, the dry tip of a quill tapping against each number in the ledger as he added and subtracted, multiplied and occasionally divided, his eyelids began to droop.

It had been a long day, he allowed, closing the ledger but leaving a piece of paper sticking out to mark his place. He’d spent much of the morning visiting tenants and inspecting buildings. One family needed a door repaired. Another was having trouble harvesting their crops and paying their rent, due to the father’s broken leg. Anthony had heard and settled disputes, admired new babies, and even helped to fix a leaky roof. It was all part of being a landowner, and he enjoyed it, but it was tiring.

The Pall Mall game had been an enjoyable interlude, but once back at the house, he’d been thrust into the role of host for his mother’s party. Which had been almost as exhausting as the tenant visits. Eloise was barely seventeen and clearly had needed someone to watch over her, that bitchy Cowper girl had been tormenting poor Penelope Featherington, and someone had had to do something about that, and…

And then there was Kate Sheffield.

The bane of his existence.

And the object of his desires.

All at once.

What a muddle. He was supposed to be courting her sister, for God’s sake. Edwina. The belle of the season. Lovely beyond compare. Sweet and generous and even-tempered.

And instead he couldn’t stop thinking about Kate. Kate, who, much as she infuriated him, couldn’t help but command his respect. How could he not admire one who clung so steadfastly to her convictions? And Anthony had to admit that the crux of her convictions—devotion to family—was the one principle he held above all else.

With a yawn, Anthony got up from behind his desk and stretched his arms. It was definitely time for bed. With any luck, he’d fall asleep the moment his head hit the pillow. The last thing he wanted was to find himself staring at the ceiling, thinking of Kate.

And of all the things he wanted to do to Kate.

Anthony picked up a candle and headed out into the empty hall. There was something peaceful and intriguing about a quiet house. Even with the rain beating against the walls, he could hear every click of his boots against the floor—heel, toe, heel, toe. And except for when the lightning streaked through the sky, his candle provided the only illumination in the hall. He rather enjoyed waving the flame this way and that, watching the play of shadows against the walls and furniture. It was a rather odd feeling of control, but—

One of his brows rose up in question. The library door was a few inches ajar, and he could see a pale strip of candlelight shining from within.

He was fairly certain no one else was up. And there certainly wasn’t a sound coming from the library. Someone must have gone in for a book and left a candle burning. Anthony frowned. It was a damned irresponsible thing to do. Fire could devastate a house faster than anything else, even in the middle of a rainstorm, and the library—filled to the brim with books—was the ideal place to spark a flame.

He pushed the door open and entered the room. One entire wall of the library was taken up by tall windows, so the sound of the rain was much louder here than it had been in the hall. A crack of thunder shook the floor, then, practically on top of that, a flash of lightning split the night.

The electricity of the moment made him grin, and he crossed over to where the offending candle had been left burning. He leaned over, blew it out, and then…

He heard something.

It was the sound of breath. Panicked, labored, with the slightest touch of a whimper.

Anthony looked purposefully around the room. “Is someone here?” he called out. But he could see no one.

Then he heard it again. From below.

Holding his own candle steady, he crouched down to peer under the table.

And his breath was sucked right out of his body.

“My God,” he gasped. “Kate.”

She was curled up into a ball, her arms wrapped around her bent legs so tightly it looked as if she were about to shatter. Her head was bent down, her eye sockets resting on her knees, and her entire body was shaking with fast, intense tremors.

Anthony’s blood ran to ice. He’d never seen someone shake like that.

“Kate?” he said again, setting his candle down on the floor as he moved closer. He couldn’t tell if she could hear him. She seemed to have retreated into herself, desperate to escape something. Was it the storm? She’d said she hated the rain, but this went far deeper. Anthony knew that most people didn’t thrive on electrical storms as he did, but he’d never heard of someone being reduced to this.

She looked as if she’d break into a million brittle pieces if he so much as touched her.

Thunder shook the room, and her body flinched with such torment that Anthony felt it in his gut. “Oh, Kate,” he whispered. It broke his heart to see her thus. With a careful and steady hand, he reached out to her. He still wasn’t sure if she’d even registered his presence; startling her might be like waking a sleepwalker.

Gently he set his hand on her upper arm and gave it the tiniest of squeezes. “I’m here, Kate,” he murmured. “Everything will be all right.”

Lightning tore through the night, flashing the room with a sharp burst of light, and she squeezed herself into an even tighter ball, if that was possible. It occurred to him that she was trying to shield her eyes by keeping her face to her knees.

He moved closer and took one of her hands in his. Her skin was like ice, her fingers stiff from terror. It was difficult to pry her arm from around her legs, but eventually he was able to bring her hand to his mouth, and he pressed his lips against her skin, trying to warm her.

“I’m here, Kate,” he repeated, not really sure what else to say. “I’m here. It will be all right.”

Eventually he managed to scoot himself under the table so that he was sitting beside her on the floor, with his arm around her trembling shoulders. She seemed to relax slightly at his touch, which left him with the oddest feeling—almost a sense of pride that he had been the one to be able to help her. That, and a bone-deep feeling of relief, because it was killing him to see her in such torment.

He whispered soothing words in her ear and softly caressed her shoulder, trying to comfort her with his mere presence. And slowly—very, slowly; he had no idea how many minutes he sat under that table with her—he could feel her muscles begin to unwind. Her skin lost that awful clammy feeling, and her breathing, while still rushed, no longer sounded quite so panicked.

Finally, when he felt she might be ready, he touched two fingers to the underside of her chin, using the softest pressure imaginable to lift her face so that he could see her eyes. “Look at me, Kate,” he whispered, his voice gentle but suffused with authority. “If you just look at me, you will know that you are safe.”

The tiny muscles around her eyes quivered for a good fifteen seconds before her lids finally fluttered. She was trying to open her eyes, but they were resisting. Anthony had little experience with this sort of terror, but it seemed to make sense to him that her eyes just wouldn’t want to open, that they simply wouldn’t want to see whatever it was that so frightened her.

After several more seconds of fluttering, she finally managed to open her eyes all the way and met his gaze.

Anthony felt as if he’d been punched in the gut.

If eyes were truly the windows to the soul, something had shattered within Kate Sheffield that night. She looked haunted, hunted, and utterly lost and bewildered.

“I don’t remember,” she whispered, her voice barely audible.

He took her hand, which he’d never relinquished his hold on, and brought it to his lips again. He pressed a gentle, almost paternal kiss on her palm. “You don’t remember what?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“Do you remember coming to the library?”

She nodded.

“Do you remember the storm?”

She closed her eyes for a moment, as if the act of keeping them open had required more energy than she possessed. “It’s still storming.”

Anthony nodded. That was true. The rain was still beating against the windows with just as much ferocity as before, but it had been several minutes since the last bout of thunder and lightning.

She looked at him with desperate eyes. “I can’t…I don’t…”

Anthony squeezed her hand. “You don’t have to say anything.”

He felt her body shudder and relax, then heard her whisper, “Thank you.”

“Do you want me to talk to you?” he asked.

She shut her eyes—not as tightly as before—and nodded.

He smiled, even though he knew she could not see it. But maybe she could sense it. Maybe she’d be able to hear his smile in his voice. “Let’s see,” he mused, “what can I tell you about?”

“Tell me about the house,” she whispered.

“This house?” he asked in surprise.

She nodded.

“Very well,” he replied, feeling rather absurdly pleased that she was interested in the one pile of stone and mortar that meant so much to him. “I grew up here, you know.”

“Your mother told me.”

Anthony felt a spark of something warm and powerful in his chest as she spoke. He’d told her she didn’t have to say anything, and she’d been quite obviously thankful for that, but now she was actually taking part in the conversation. Surely that had to mean she was beginning to feel better. If she’d open her eyes—if they weren’t sitting under a table—it might seem almost normal.

And it was stunning how much he wanted to be the one to make her feel better.

“Shall I tell you about the time my brother drowned my sister’s favorite doll?” he asked.

She shook her head, then flinched when the wind picked up, causing the rain to beat against the windows with new ferocity. But she steeled her chin and said, “Tell me something about you.”

“All right,” Anthony said slowly, trying to ignore the vague, uncomfortable feeling that spread in his chest. It was so much easier to tell a tale of his many siblings than to talk about himself.

“Tell me about your father.”

He froze. “My father?”

She smiled, but he was too shocked by her request to notice. “You must have had one,” she said.

Anthony’s throat began to feel very tight. He didn’t often talk about his father, not even with his family. He’d told himself that it was because it was so much water under the bridge; Edmund had been dead for over ten years. But the truth was that some things simply hurt too much.

And there were some wounds that didn’t heal, not even in ten years.

“He—he was a great man,” he said softly. “A great father. I loved him very much.”

Kate turned to look at him, the first time she’d met his gaze since he’d lifted her chin with his fingers many minutes earlier. “Your mother speaks of him with great affection. That was why I asked.”

“We all loved him,” he said simply, turning his head and staring out across the room. His eyes focused on the leg of a chair, but he didn’t really see it. He didn’t see anything but the memories in his mind. “He was the finest father a boy could ever want.”

“When did he die?”

“Eleven years ago. In the summer. When I was eighteen. Right before I left for Oxford.”

“That’s a difficult time for a man to lose his father,” she murmured.

He turned sharply to look at her. “Any time is a difficult time for a man to lose his father.”

“Of course,” she quickly agreed, “but some times are worse than others, I think. And surely it must be different for boys and girls. My father passed on five years ago, and I miss him terribly, but I don’t think it’s the same.”

He didn’t have to voice his question. It was there in his eyes.

“My father was wonderful,” Kate explained, her eyes warming as she reminisced. “Kind and gentle, but stern when he needed to be. But a boy’s father—well, he has to teach his son how to be a man. And to lose a father at eighteen, when you’re just learning what all that means…” She let out a long exhale. “It’s probably presumptuous for me even to discuss it, as I’m not a man and therefore couldn’t possibly put myself in your shoes, but I think…” She paused, pursing her lips as she considered her words. “Well, I just think it would be very difficult.”

“My brothers were sixteen, twelve, and two,” Anthony said softly.

“I would imagine it was difficult for them as well,” she replied, “although your youngest brother probably doesn’t remember him.”

Anthony shook his head.

Kate smiled wistfully. “I don’t remember my mother, either. It’s an odd thing.”

“How old were you when she died?”

“It was on my third birthday. My father married Mary only a few months later. He didn’t observe the proper mourning period, and it shocked some of the neighbors, but he thought I needed a mother more than he needed to follow etiquette.”

For the first time, Anthony wondered what would have happened if it had been his mother who had died young, leaving his father with a house full of children, several of them infants and toddlers. Edmund wouldn’t have had an easy time of it. None of them would have.

Not that it had been easy for Violet. But at least she’d had Anthony, who’d been able to step in and try to act the role of surrogate father to his younger siblings. If Violet had died, the Bridgertons would have been left completely without a maternal figure. After all, Daphne—the eldest of the Bridgerton daughters—had been only ten at Edmund’s death. And Anthony was certain that his father would not have remarried.

No matter how his father would have wanted a mother for his children, he would not have been able to take another wife.

“How did your mother die?” Anthony asked, surprised by the depth of his curiosity.

“Influenza. Or at least that’s what they thought. It could have been any sort of lung fever.” She rested her chin on her hand. “It was very quick, I’m told. My father said I fell ill as well, although mine was a mild case.”

Anthony thought about the son he hoped to sire, the very reason he had finally decided to marry. “Do you miss a parent you never knew?” he whispered.

Kate considered his question for some time. His voice had held a hoarse urgency that told her there was something critical about her reply. Why, she couldn’t imagine, but something about her childhood clearly rang a chord within his heart.

“Yes,” she finally answered, “but not in the way you would think. You can’t really miss her, because you didn’t know her, but there’s still a hole in your life—a big empty spot, and you know who was supposed to fit there, but you can’t remember her, and you don’t know what she was like, and so you don’t know how she would have filled that hole.” Her lips curved into a sad sort of smile. “Does this make any sense?”

Anthony nodded. “It makes a great deal of sense.”

“I think losing a parent once you know and love them is harder,” Kate added. “And I know, because I’ve lost both.”

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly.

“It’s all right,” she assured him. “That old adage—time heals all wounds—it’s really true.”

He stared at her intently, and she could tell from his expression that he didn’t agree.

“It really is more difficult when you’re older. You’re blessed because you had the chance to know them, but the pain of the loss is more intense.”

“It was as if I’d lost an arm,” Anthony whispered.

She nodded soberly, somehow knowing that he hadn’t spoken of his sorrow to many people. She licked nervously at her lips, which had gone quite dry. Funny how that happened. All the rain in the world pounding outside, and here she was, parched as a bone.

“Perhaps it was better for me, then,” Kate said softly, “losing my mother so young. And Mary has been wonderful. She loves me as a daughter. In fact—” She broke off, startled by the sudden wetness in her eyes. When she finally found her voice again, it was an emotional whisper. “In fact, she has never once treated me differently than she has Edwina. I—I don’t think I could have loved my own mother any better.”

Anthony’s eyes burned into hers. “I’m so glad,” he said, his voice low and intense.

Kate swallowed. “She’s so funny about it sometimes. She visits my mother’s grave, just to tell her how I’m doing. It’s very sweet, actually. When I was small, I would go with her, to tell my mother how Mary was doing.”

Anthony smiled. “And was your report favorable?”

“Always.”

They sat in companionable silence for a moment, both staring at the candle flame, watching the wax drip down the taper to the candlestick. When the fourth drop of wax rolled down the candle, sliding along the column until it hardened in place, Kate turned to Anthony and said, “I’m sure I sound insufferably optimistic, but I think there must be some master plan in life.”

He turned to her and quirked a brow.

“Everything really does work out in the end,” she explained. “I lost my mother, but I gained Mary. And a sister I love dearly. And—”

A flash of lightning lit the room. Kate bit her lip, trying to force slow and even breaths through her nose. The thunder would come, but she’d be ready for it, and—

The room shook with noise, and she was able to keep her eyes open.

She let out a long exhale and allowed herself a proud smile. That hadn’t been so difficult. It certainly hadn’t been fun, but it hadn’t been impossible. It might have been Anthony’s comforting presence next to her, or simply that the storm was moving away, but she’d made it through without her heart jumping through her skin.

“Are you all right?” Anthony asked.

She looked over at him, and something inside of her melted at the concerned look on his face. Whatever he’d done in the past, however they’d argued and fought, in this moment he truly cared about her.

“Yes,” she said, hearing surprise in her voice even though she hadn’t intended it. “Yes, I think I am.”

He gave her hand a squeeze. “How long have you been like this?”

“Tonight? Or in my life?”

“Both.”

“Tonight since the first clap of thunder. I get quite nervous when it begins to rain, but as long as there is no thunder and lightning, I’m all right. It’s not the rain, actually, which upsets me, but just the fear that it might grow into something more.” She swallowed, licking her dry lips before she continued. “To answer your other query, I can’t remember a time I wasn’t terrified by storms. It’s simply a part of me. It’s quite foolish, I know—”

“It’s not foolish,” he interjected.

“You’re very sweet to think so,” she said with a sheepish half-smile, “but you’re wrong. Nothing could be more foolish than to fear something with no reason.”

“Sometimes…” Anthony said in a halting voice, “sometimes there are reasons for our fears that we can’t quite explain. Sometimes it’s just something we feel in our bones, something we know to be true, but would sound foolish to anyone else.”

Kate stared at him intently, watching his dark eyes in the flickering candlelight, and catching her breath at the flash of pain she saw in the brief second before he looked away. And she knew—with every fiber of her being—that he wasn’t speaking of intangibles. He was talking about his own fears, something very specific that haunted him every minute of every day.

Something she knew she did not have the right to ask him about. But she wished—oh, how she wished—that when he was ready to face his fears, she could be the one to help him.

But that wasn’t to be. He would marry someone else, maybe even Edwina, and only his wife would have the right to talk to him about such personal matters.

“I think I might be ready to go upstairs,” she said. Suddenly it was too hard to be in his presence, too painful to know that he would belong to someone else.

His lips quirked into a boyish smile. “Are you saying I might finally crawl out from under this table?”

“Oh, goodness!” She clapped one of her hands to her cheek in a sheepish expression. “I’m so sorry. I stopped noticing where we were sitting ages ago, I’m afraid. What a ninny you must think me.”

He shook his head, still smiling. “Never a ninny, Kate. Even when I thought you the most insufferable female creature on the planet, I had no doubts about your intelligence.”

Kate, who had been in the process of scooting out from under the table, paused. “I just don’t know if I should feel complimented or insulted by that statement.”

“Probably both,” he admitted, “but for friendship’s sake, let’s decide upon complimented.”

She turned to look at him, aware that she presented an awkward picture on her hands and knees, but the moment seemed too important to delay. “Then we are friends?” she whispered.

He nodded as he stood. “Hard to believe, but I think we are.”

Kate smiled as she took his helping hand and rose to her feet. “I’m glad. You’re—you’re really not the devil I’d originally thought you.”

One of his brows lifted, and his face suddenly took on a very wicked expression.

“Well, maybe you are,” she amended, thinking he probably was every bit the rake and rogue that society had painted him. “But maybe you’re also a rather nice person as well.”

“Nice seems so bland,” he mused.

Nice,” she said emphatically, “is nice. And given what I used to think of you, you ought to be delighted by the compliment.”

He laughed. “One thing about you, Kate Sheffield, is that you are never boring.”

“Boring is so bland,” she quipped.

He smiled—a true grin, not that ironic curve he used at society functions, but the real thing. Kate’s throat suddenly felt very tight.

“I’m afraid I cannot walk you back to your room,” he said. “If someone should come across us at this hour…”

Kate nodded. They’d forged an unlikely friendship, but she didn’t want to get trapped into marriage with him, right? And it went without saying that he didn’t want to marry her.

He motioned to her. “And especially with you dressed like that….”

Kate looked down and gasped, yanking her robe more tightly around her. She’d completely forgotten that she wasn’t properly dressed. Her nightclothes certainly weren’t risqué or revealing, especially with her thick robe, but they were nightclothes.

“Will you be all right?” he asked softly. “It’s still raining.”

Kate stopped and listened to the rain, which had softened to a gentle patter against the windows. “I think the storm is over.”

He nodded and peered out into the hall. “It’s empty,” he said.

“I should go.”

He stepped aside to let her pass.

She moved forward, but when she reached the doorway she stopped and turned around. “Lord Bridgerton?”

“Anthony,” he said. “You should call me Anthony. I believe I’ve already called you Kate.”

“You did?”

“When I found you.” He waved a hand. “I don’t think you heard anything I said.”

“You’re probably right.” She smiled hesitantly. “Anthony.” His name sounded strange on her tongue.

He leaned forward slightly, an odd, almost devilish light in his eyes. “Kate,” he said in return.

“I just wanted to say thank you,” she said. “For helping me tonight. I—” She cleared her throat. “It would have been a great deal more difficult without you.”

“I didn’t do anything,” he said gruffly.

“No, you did everything.” And then, before she’d be tempted to stay, she hurried down the hall and up the stairs.


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