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The Viscount Who Loved Me: Chapter 16


It has come to This Author’s attention that the wedding of Lord Bridgerton and Miss Sheffield is to be a small, intimate, and private affair.

In other words, This Author is not invited.

But have no fear, dear reader, This Author is at her most resourceful at times such as these, and promises to uncover the details of the ceremony, both the interesting and the banal.

The wedding of London’s most eligible bachelor is surely something which must be reported in This Author’s humble column, don’t you agree?

LADY WHISTLEDOWN’S SOCIETY PAPERS, 13 MAY 1814

The night before the wedding, Kate was sitting on her bed in her favorite dressing gown, looking dazedly at the multitude of trunks strewn across the floor. Her every belonging was packed away, neatly folded or stored, ready for transport to her new home.

Even Newton had been prepared for the journey. He’d been bathed and dried, a new collar had been affixed to his neck, and his favorite toys were loaded into a small satchel that now sat in the front hall, right next to the delicately carved wooden chest Kate had had since she was a baby. The chest was filled with Kate’s childhood toys and treasures, and she’d found tremendous comfort in their presence here in London. It was silly and sentimental, but to Kate it made her upcoming transition a little less scary. Bringing her things—funny little items that meant nothing to anyone but her—to Anthony’s home made it seem more like it would truly be her home as well.

Mary, who always seemed to understand what Kate needed before she understood it herself, had sent word to friends back in Somerset as soon as Kate had become betrothed, asking them to ship the chest to London in time for the wedding.

Kate stood and wandered about the room, stopping to run her fingers across a nightgown that was folded and laid upon a table, awaiting transfer to the last of her trunks. It was one that Lady Bridgerton—Violet, she had to start thinking of her as Violet—had picked out, modest in cut but sheer in fabric. Kate had been mortified throughout the entire visit to the lingerie maker. This was her betrothed’s mother, after all, selecting items for the wedding night!

As Kate picked up the gown and set it carefully in a trunk, she heard a knock at the door. She called out her greeting, and Edwina poked her head in. She, too, was dressed for bed, her pale hair pulled back into a sloppy bun at the nape of her neck.

“I thought you might like some hot milk,” Edwina said.

Kate smiled gratefully. “That sounds heavenly.”

Edwina reached down and picked up the ceramic mug she’d set on the floor. “Can’t hold two mugs and twist the doorknob at the same time,” she explained with a smile. Once inside, she kicked the door shut and handed one of the mugs to Kate. Eyes trained on Kate, Edwina asked without preamble, “Are you scared?”

Kate took a gingerly sip, checking the temperature before gulping it down. It was hot but not scalding, and it somehow comforted her. She’d been drinking hot milk since childhood, and the taste and feel of it always made her feel warm and secure.

“Not scared precisely,” she finally replied, sitting down on the edge of her bed, “but nervous. Definitely nervous.”

“Well, of course you’re nervous,” Edwina said, her free hand waving animatedly through the air. “Only an idiot wouldn’t be nervous. Your whole life is going to change. Everything! Even your name. You’ll be a married woman. A viscountess. After tomorrow, you will not be the same woman, Kate, and after tomorrow night—”

“That’s enough, Edwina,” Kate interrupted.

“But—”

“You are not doing anything to ease my mind.”

“Oh.” Edwina offered her a sheepish smile. “Sorry.”

“It’s all right,” Kate assured her.

Edwina managed to hold her tongue for about four seconds before she asked, “Has Mother been in to speak with you?”

“Not yet.”

“She must, don’t you think? Tomorrow is your wedding day, and I’m sure there are all sorts of things one needs to know.” Edwina took a big gulp of her milk, leaving a rather incongruous white mustache on her upper lip, then perched on the edge of the bed across from Kate. “I know there are all sorts of things I don’t know. And unless you’ve been up to something I don’t know about, I don’t see how you could know them, either.”

Kate wondered if it would be impolite to muzzle her sister with some of the lingerie Lady Bridgerton had picked out. There seemed to be some rather nice poetic justice in such a maneuver.

“Kate?” Edwina asked, blinking curiously. “Kate? Why are you looking at me so strangely?”

Kate gazed at the lingerie longingly. “You don’t want to know.”

“Hmmph. Well, I—”

Edwina’s mutterings were cut short by a soft knock at the door. “That’ll be Mother,” Edwina said with a wicked grin. “I can’t wait.”

Kate rolled her eyes at Edwina as she rose to open the door. Sure enough, Mary was standing in the hall, holding two steaming mugs. “I thought you might like some hot milk,” she said with a weak smile.

Kate lifted her mug in response. “Edwina had the same notion.”

“What is Edwina doing here?” Mary asked, entering the room.

“Since when do I need a reason to talk with my sister?” Edwina asked with a snort.

Mary shot her a peevish look before turning her attention back to Kate. “Hmmm,” she mused. “We do seem to have a surfeit of hot milk.”

“This one’s gone lukewarm, anyway,” Kate said, setting her mug down on one of the already-closed-up trunks and replacing it with the warmer one in Mary’s hand. “Edwina can take the other one down to the kitchen when she leaves.”

“Beg pardon?” Edwina asked, vaguely distracted. “Oh, of course. I’m happy to help.” But she didn’t rise to her feet. In fact, she didn’t even twitch, save for the back and forth of her head as she looked from Mary to Kate and back again.

“I need to speak with Kate,” Mary said.

Edwina nodded enthusiastically.

“Alone.”

Edwina blinked. “I have to leave?”

Mary nodded and held out the lukewarm mug.

“Now?”

Mary nodded again.

Edwina looked stricken, then her expression melted into a wary smile. “You’re joking, right? I may stay, right?”

“Wrong,” Mary replied.

Edwina turned pleading eyes to Kate.

“Don’t look to me,” Kate said with a barely suppressed smile. “It’s her decision. She’ll be doing the talking, after all. I’ll just be listening.”

“And asking questions,” Edwina pointed out. “And I have questions, too.” She turned to her mother. “Lots of questions.”

“I’m sure you do,” Mary said, “and I’ll be happy to answer them all the night before you get married.”

Edwina groaned her way upright. “This isn’t fair,” she grumbled, snatching the mug out of Mary’s hand.

“Life isn’t fair,” Mary said with a grin.

“I’ll say,” Edwina muttered, dragging her feet as she crossed the room.

“And no listening at the door!” Mary called out.

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Edwina drawled. “Not that you’d talk loudly enough for me to hear a thing, anyway.”

Mary sighed as Edwina stepped out into the hall and shut the door, her movements punctuated by a constant stream of unintelligible grumbles. “We shall have to whisper,” she said to Kate.

Kate nodded, but she did feel enough loyalty toward her sister to say, “She might not be eavesdropping.”

The look Mary gave her was dubious in the extreme. “Do you want to swing the door open to find out?”

Kate grinned despite herself. “Point taken.”

Mary sat down in the spot Edwina had just vacated and gave Kate a rather direct look. “I’m sure you know why I’m here.”

Kate nodded.

Mary took a sip of her milk and was silent for a long moment before she said, “When I married—for the first time, not to your father—I knew nothing of what to expect in the marriage bed. It was not—” She closed her eyes briefly, and for a moment she looked to be in pain. “My lack of knowledge made it all the more difficult,” she finally said, the slowness of her carefully chosen words telling Kate that “difficult” was probably a euphemism.

“I see,” Kate murmured.

Mary looked up sharply. “No, you don’t see. And I hope you never do. But that is beside the point. I always swore that no daughter of mine would enter into marriage ignorant of what occurs between a husband and wife.”

“I’m already aware of the basics of the maneuver,” Kate admitted.

Clearly surprised, Mary asked, “You are?”

Kate nodded. “It can’t be very much different from animals.”

Mary shook her head, her lips pursed into a slightly amused smile. “No, it’s not.”

Kate pondered how best to phrase her next question. From what she’d seen on her neighbor’s farm back in Somerset, the act of procreation didn’t look terribly enjoyable at all. But when Anthony kissed her, she felt as if she were losing her mind. And when he kissed her twice, she wasn’t even sure if she wanted it back! Her entire body tingled, and she suspected that if their recent encounters had occurred in more suitable locales, she would have let him have his way with her with nary a protest.

But then there was that awful screaming mare at the farm…. Frankly, the various pieces of the puzzle didn’t seem to reconcile.

Finally, after much clearing of her throat, she said, “It doesn’t look very pleasant.”

Mary closed her eyes again, her face taking on that same look as before—as if she were remembering something she’d rather keep tucked away in the darkest recesses of her mind. When she opened her eyes again, she said, “A woman’s enjoyment depends entirely on her husband.”

“And a man’s?”

“The act of love,” Mary said, blushing, “can and should be a pleasant experience for both man and woman. But—” She coughed and took a sip of her milk. “I would be remiss if I did not tell you that a woman does not always find pleasure in the act.”

“But a man does?”

Mary nodded.

“That doesn’t seem fair.”

Mary’s smile was wry. “I believe I just told Edwina that life wasn’t always fair.”

Kate frowned, staring down into her milk. “Well, this really doesn’t seem fair.”

“This doesn’t mean,” Mary hastened to add, “that the experience is necessarily distasteful to the woman. And I’m certain it won’t be distasteful to you. I assumed the viscount has kissed you?”

Kate nodded without looking up.

When Mary spoke, Kate could hear the smile in her voice. “I’ll assume from your blush,” Mary said, “that you enjoyed it.”

Kate nodded again, her cheeks now burning.

“If you enjoyed his kiss,” Mary said, “then I am certain you won’t be upset by his further attentions. I’m sure that he will be gentle and attentive with you.”

“Gentle” didn’t quite capture the essence of Anthony’s kisses, but Kate didn’t think that was the sort of thing one was meant to share with one’s mother. Truly, the entire conversation was embarrassing enough as it was.

“Men and women are very different,” Mary continued, as if that weren’t completely obvious, “and a man—even one who is faithful to his wife, which I’m sure the viscount will be to you—can find his pleasure with almost any woman.”

This was disturbing, and not what Kate had wanted to hear. “And a woman?” she had prompted.

“It is different for a woman. I have heard that wicked women find their pleasure like a man, in the arms of any who will satisfy, but I do not believe it. I think that a woman must care for her husband in order to enjoy the marriage bed.”

Kate was silent for a moment. “You did not love your first husband, did you?”

Mary shook her head. “It makes all the difference, sweet one. That, and a husband’s regard for his wife. But I have seen the viscount in your company. I realize that your match was sudden and unexpected, but he treats you with care and respect. You will have nothing to fear, I’m sure of it. The viscount will treat you well.”

And with that, Mary kissed Kate upon the forehead and bade her good night, picking up both empty milk mugs as she left the room. Kate sat on her bed, staring sightlessly at the wall for several minutes.

Mary was wrong. Kate was sure of it. She had much to fear.

She hated that she was not Anthony’s first choice for a wife, but she was practical, and she was pragmatic, and she knew that certain things in life simply had to be accepted as fact. But she’d been consoling herself with the memory of the desire she had felt—and she thought Anthony had felt—when she was in his arms.

Now it seemed that this desire wasn’t even necessarily for her, but rather some primitive urge that every man felt for every woman.

And Kate would never know if, when Anthony snuffed the candles and took her to bed, he closed his eyes…

And pictured another woman’s face.

The wedding, which was held in the drawing room of Bridgerton House, was a small, private affair. Well, as small as one could expect with the entire Bridgerton family in attendance, from Anthony all the way down to little eleven-year-old Hyacinth, who’d taken her role as flower girl very seriously. When her brother Gregory, aged thirteen, had tried to tip her basket of rose petals, she’d walloped him in the chin, delaying the ceremony by a good ten minutes but interjecting a much-needed note of levity and laughter.

Well, for everyone except Gregory, who’d been quite put out by the entire episode and certainly wasn’t laughing, even though he was, as Hyacinth was quick to point out to anyone who would listen (and her voice was loud enough so that one didn’t really have the option of not listening), the one who’d started it.

Kate had seen it all from her vantage point in the hall, where she’d been peeking through a crack in the door. It had made her smile, which was much appreciated, since her knees had been knocking for over an hour. She could only thank her lucky stars that Lady Bridgerton had not insisted upon a large, grand affair. Kate, who’d never thought of herself as a nervous sort of person before, would probably have passed out from fright.

Indeed, Violet had mentioned the possibility of a huge wedding as a method by which to combat the rumors that were circulating about Kate, Anthony, and their rather sudden engagement. Mrs. Featherington was, true to her word, remaining mostly silent on the details of the matter, but she’d let enough innuendo slip that everyone knew that the betrothal had not come about in the usual matter.

As a result, everyone was talking, and Kate knew it was only a matter of time before Mrs. Featherington could no longer restrain herself and everyone learned the true story of her downfall at the hands—or rather, the stinger—of a bee.

But in the end Violet had decided that a quick marriage was best, and since one couldn’t throw together a grand party in one week, the guest list had been limited to family. Kate was attended by Edwina, Anthony by his brother Benedict, and in due course they were man and wife.

It was strange, Kate thought later that afternoon as she stared at the gold band that had joined the diamond on her left hand, how quickly one’s life could change. The ceremony had been brief, rushing by in a crazy blur, and yet her life was forever altered. Edwina had been correct. Everything was different. She was a married woman now, a viscountess.

Lady Bridgerton.

She chewed on her lower lip. It sounded like someone else. How long would it take before someone said, “Lady Bridgerton,” and she actually thought they were talking to her, and not Anthony’s mother?

She was a wife now, with a wife’s responsibilities.

It terrified her.

Now that the wedding was done, Kate reflected upon Mary’s words from the previous night and knew that she was right. In many respects, she was the luckiest woman alive. Anthony would treat her well. He would treat any woman well. And that was the problem.

And now she was in a carriage, traveling the short distance between Bridgerton House, where the reception had been held, and Anthony’s private residence, which she supposed could no longer be referred to as “bachelor’s lodgings.”

She stole a glance at her new husband. He was facing straight ahead, his face oddly serious.

“Do you plan to move into Bridgerton House now that you are married?” she inquired quietly.

Anthony started, almost as if he’d forgotten she was there. “Yes,” he replied, turning to face her, “although not for several months. I thought we could do with a bit of privacy at the start of our marriage, don’t you think?”

“Of course,” Kate murmured. She looked down at her hands, which were fidgeting in her lap. She tried to still them, but it was impossible. It was a wonder she had not burst out of her gloves.

Anthony followed the line of her gaze and placed one of his large hands over both of hers. She went still instantly.

“Are you nervous?” he inquired.

“Did you think I wouldn’t be?” she replied, trying to keep her voice dry and ironic.

He smiled in response. “There is nothing to fear.”

Kate nearly burst out in jittery laughter. It seemed she was destined to hear that platitude over and over again. “Perhaps,” she allowed, “but still much about which to be nervous.”

His smile broadened. “Touché, my dear wife.”

Kate swallowed convulsively. It was strange to be someone’s wife, especially strange to be this man’s wife. “And are you nervous?” she countered.

He leaned in toward her, his dark eyes hot and heavy with the promise of things to come. “Oh, desperately,” he murmured. He closed the rest of the distance between them, his lips finding the sensitive hollow of her ear. “My heart is pounding,” he whispered.

Kate’s body seemed to stiffen and melt at the same time. And then she blurted out, “I think we should wait.”

He nibbled on her ear. “Wait for what?”

She tried to wiggle away. He didn’t understand. If he’d understood, he’d be furious, and he didn’t seem particularly upset.

Yet.

“F-for the marriage,” she stammered.

That seemed to amuse him, and he playfully wiggled the rings that now rested on her gloved fingers. “It’s a bit late for that, don’t you think?”

“For the wedding night,” she clarified.

He drew back, his dark brows flattening into a straight, and perhaps a little bit angry, line. “No,” he said simply. But he did not move to embrace her again.

Kate tried to think of words that would make him understand, but it wasn’t easy; she wasn’t so sure that she understood herself. And she was rather certain that he would not believe her if she told him that she’d not intended to make this request; it had just burst forth from within her, born of a panic she hadn’t even known was there until that very moment.

“I’m not asking for forever,” she said, hating the tremor that shook her words. “Just a week.”

This caught his attention, and one of his brows rose in ironic query. “And what, pray tell, do you hope to gain by a week?”

“I don’t know,” she answered quite honestly.

His eyes focused onto hers, hard, hot, and sardonic. “You’re going to have to do better than that,” he said.

Kate didn’t want to look at him, didn’t want the intimacy he forced upon her when she was caught in his dark gaze. It was easy to hide her feelings when she could keep her focus on his chin or his shoulder, but when she had to look straight into his eyes…

She was afraid he could see into her very soul.

“This has been a week of a great many changes in my life,” she began, wishing she knew where she was going with the statement.

“For me as well,” he interjected softly.

“Not so much for you,” she returned. “The intimacies of marriage are nothing new to you.”

One corner of his mouth quirked into a lopsided, slightly arrogant smile. “I assure you, my lady, that I have never before been married.”

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”

He did not contradict her.

“I simply would like a bit of time to prepare,” she said, primly folding her hands in her lap. But she couldn’t keep her thumbs still, and they twiddled anxiously, giving proof to the state of her nerves.

Anthony stared at her for a long moment, then leaned back, propping his left ankle rather casually on his right knee. “Very well,” he allowed.

“Really?” She straightened with surprise. She had not expected him to capitulate with such ease.

“Provided…” he continued.

She slumped. She should have known that there would be a contingency.

“…that you edify me on one point.”

She gulped. “And what would that be, my lord?”

He leaned forward, the very devil in his eyes. “How, precisely, do you plan to prepare?”

Kate glanced out the window, then swore under her breath when she realized they weren’t even to Anthony’s street. There would be no escaping his question; she was stuck in the carriage for at least another five minutes. “We-e-e-e-ll,” she stalled, “I’m sure I don’t understand what you mean.”

He chuckled. “I’m sure you don’t, either.”

Kate scowled at him. There was nothing worse than being the butt of someone else’s joke, and it seemed especially inappropriate when one happened to be a bride on her wedding day. “Now you’re having fun with me,” she accused.

“No,” he said with what could only have been called a leer, “I’d like to have fun with you. There’s quite a difference.”

“I wish you wouldn’t talk like that,” she grumbled. “You know I don’t understand.”

His eyes focused on her lips as his tongue darted out to wet his own. “You would,” he murmured, “if you’d simply give in to the inevitable and forget your silly request.”

“I don’t enjoy being condescended to,” Kate said stiffly.

His eyes flashed. “And I don’t like being denied my rights,” he returned, his voice cold and his face a harsh rendition of aristocratic power.

“I’m not denying you anything,” she insisted.

“Oh, really?” His drawl lacked all humor.

“I’m just asking for a reprieve. A brief, temporary, brief”—she repeated the word, just in case his brain was too dulled by single-minded male pride to have understood her the first time—“reprieve. Surely you would not deny me such a simple request.”

“Of the two of us,” he said, his voice clipped, “I don’t think I’m the one doing the denying.”

He was right, drat the man, and she had no idea what else to say. She knew she hadn’t a leg to stand on with her spur-of-the-moment request; he had every right to toss her over his shoulder, drag her off to bed, and lock her in the room for a week if he so desired.

She was acting foolishly, a prisoner of her own insecurities—insecurities she hadn’t even known she possessed until she’d met Anthony.

All her life, she’d been the one who’d received the second glance, the second greeting, the second kiss on the hand. As the elder daughter, it should have been her due to be addressed before her younger sister, but Edwina’s beauty was so stunning, the pure and perfect blue of her eyes so startling, that people simply forgot themselves in her presence.

Introductions to Kate were usually met with an embarrassed, “Of course,” and a polite murmured greeting while their eyes slid back to Edwina’s pure and shining face.

Kate had never minded it much. If Edwina had been spoiled or bad-tempered it might have been difficult, and in all truth, most of the men she’d met were shallow and silly, and she hadn’t much cared if they only took the time to acknowledge her after her sister.

Until now.

She wanted Anthony’s eyes to light up when she entered the room. She wanted him to scan a crowd until he saw her face. She didn’t need him to love her—or at least that’s what she was telling herself—but she desperately wanted to be first in his affections, first in his desires.

And she had an awful, terrible feeling that all this meant she was falling in love.

Falling in love with one’s husband—who would have thought it could be such a disaster?

“I see you have no response,” Anthony said quietly.

The carriage rolled to a halt, thankfully sparing her from having to make a reply. But when a liveried footman rushed forward and attempted to open the door, Anthony yanked it back shut, never once taking his eyes off of her face.

“How, my lady?” he repeated.

“How…” she echoed. She’d quite forgotten what he was asking.

“How,” he said yet again, his voice hard as ice but hot as flame, “do you plan to prepare for your wedding night?”

“I—I had not considered,” Kate replied.

“I thought not.” He let go of the door handle, and the door swung open, revealing the faces of two footmen who were obviously trying very hard not to look curious. Kate remained silent as Anthony helped her down and led her into the house.

His household staff was assembled in the small entry hall, and Kate murmured her greetings as each member was introduced to her by the butler and housekeeper. The staff wasn’t very extensive, as the house was small by ton standards, but the introductions took a good twenty minutes.

Twenty minutes which, unfortunately, did little to calm her nerves. By the time he placed his hand at the small of her back and guided her toward the stairs, her heart was racing, and for the first time in her life, she thought she might actually pass out.

It wasn’t that she feared the marriage bed.

It wasn’t even that she feared not pleasing her husband. Even an innocent virgin such as herself could tell that his actions and reactions when they kissed were proof enough of his desire. He would show her what to do; of that she had no doubt.

What she feared…

What she feared…

She caught her throat closing, choking, and she brought her fist to her mouth, biting on the knuckle to steady her stomach, as if that might actually do something to help the awful churning that had her in knots.

“My God,” Anthony whispered as the reached the landing. “You’re terrified.”

“No,” she lied.

He took her by the shoulders and twisted her to face him, staring deeply into her eyes. Cursing under his breath, he grabbed her hand and pulled her into his bedroom, muttering, “We need privacy.”

When they reached his chamber—a richly appointed, masculine room exquisitely decorated in shades of burgundy and gold—he planted his hands on his hips and demanded, “Didn’t your mother tell you about…ah…about…”

Kate would have laughed at his flailings if she hadn’t been so nervous. “Of course,” she said quickly. “Mary explained everything.”

“Then what the hell is the problem?” He cursed again, then apologized. “I beg your pardon,” he said stiffly. “That certainly is not the way to set you at ease.”

“I can’t say,” she whispered, her eyes sliding to the floor, focusing on the intricate pattern of the carpet until they swam with tears.

A strange, horrible choking noise emerged from Anthony’s throat. “Kate?” he asked hoarsely. “Did someone…has a man…ever forced unwelcome attentions on you?”

She looked up, and the concern and terror on his face nearly made her heart melt. “No!” she cried out. “It isn’t that. Oh, don’t look that way, I can’t bear it.”

I can’t bear it,” Anthony whispered, closing the distance between them as he took her hand and raised it to his lips. “You must tell me,” he said, his voice oddly choked. “Do you fear me? Do I repulse you?”

Kate shook her head frantically, unable to believe that he could possibly think any woman would find him repulsive.

“Tell me,” he whispered, his lips pressing against her ear. “Tell me how to make it right. For I don’t think I can grant you your reprieve.” He molded his body against hers, his strong arms holding her close as he groaned, “I can’t wait a week, Kate. I simply cannot do it.”

“I…” Kate made the mistake of looking up into his eyes, and she forgot everything she’d meant to say. He was staring at her with a burning intensity that forged a fire in the very center of her being, leaving her breathless, hungry, and desperate for something she did not quite understand.

And she knew that she could not make him wait. If she looked into her own soul, and looked with honesty and without delusion, she was forced to admit that she did not wish to wait, either.

For what could be the point? Maybe he would never love her. Maybe his desire would never be focused as single-mindedly on her as hers was for him.

But she could pretend. And when he held her in his arms and pressed his lips to her skin, it was so, so easy to pretend.

“Anthony,” she whispered, his name a benediction, a plea, a prayer all in one.

“Anything,” he replied raggedly, dropping to his knees before her, his lips trailing a hot path along her skin as his fingers frantically worked to release her from her gown. “Ask me anything,” he groaned. “Anything in my power, I give to you.”

Kate felt her head fall back, felt the last of her resistance melting away. “Just love me,” she whispered. “Just love me.”

His only answer was a low growl of need.


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