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The Viscount Who Loved Me: Chapter 7


Also in attendance at Lady Bridgerton’s musicale: Mrs. Featherington and the three elder Featherington daughters (Prudence, Philippa, and Penelope, none of whom wore colors beneficial to their complexions); Mr. Nigel Berbrooke (who, as usual, had much to say, although no one save Philippa Featherington seemed interested); and, of course, Mrs. Sheffield and Miss Katharine Sheffield.

This Author assumes that the Sheffields’ invitation had also included Miss Edwina Sheffield, but she was not present. Lord Bridgerton seemed in fine spirits despite the younger Miss Sheffield’s absence, but alas, his mother appeared disappointed.

But then again, Lady Bridgerton’s matchmaking tendencies are legendary, and surely she must be at loose ends now that her daughter has married the Duke of Hastings.

LADY WHISTLEDOWN’S SOCIETY PAPERS, 27 APRIL 1814

Anthony knew he had to be insane.

There could be no other explanation. He’d meant to scare her, terrify her, make her understand that she could never hope to meddle in his affairs and win, and instead…

He kissed her.

Intimidation had been his intention, and so he’d moved closer and closer until she, an innocent, could only be cowed by his presence. She wouldn’t know what it was like to have a man so near that the heat of his body seeped through her clothes, so close that she couldn’t tell where his breath ended and hers began.

She wouldn’t recognize the first prickles of desire, nor would she understand that slow, swirling heat in the core of her being.

And that slow, swirling heat was there. He could see it in her face.

But she, a complete innocent, would never comprehend what he could see with one look of his experienced eyes. All she would know was that he was looming over her, that he was stronger, more powerful, and that she had made a dreadful mistake by invading his private sanctuary.

He was going to stop right there and leave her bothered and breathless. But when there was barely an inch between them, the pull grew too strong. Her scent was too beguiling, the sound of her breath too arousing. The prickles of desire he’d meant to spark within her suddenly ignited within him, sending a warm claw of need to the very tips of his toes. And the finger he’d been trailing along her cheek—just to torture her, he told himself—suddenly became a hand that cupped the back of her head as his lips took hers in an explosion of anger and desire.

She gasped against his mouth, and he took advantage of her parted lips by sliding his tongue between them. She was stiff in his arms, but it seemed more to do with surprise than anything else, and so Anthony pressed his suit further by allowing one of his hands to slide down her back and cup the gentle curve of her derriere.

“This is madness,” he whispered against her ear. But he made no move to let her go.

Her reply was an incoherent, confused moan, and her body became slightly more pliant in his arms, allowing him to mold her even closer to his form. He knew he should stop, knew he damned well shouldn’t have started, but his blood was racing with need, and she felt so…so…

So good.

He groaned, his lips leaving hers to taste the slightly salty skin of her neck. There was something about her that suited him like no woman ever had before, as if his body had discovered something his mind utterly refused to consider.

Something about her was…right.

She felt right. She smelled right. She tasted right. And he knew that if he stripped off all of her clothes and took her there on the carpet on the floor of his study, she would fit underneath him, fit around him—just right.

It occurred to Anthony that when she wasn’t arguing with him, Kate Sheffield might bloody well be the finest woman in England.

Her arms, which had been imprisoned in his embrace, slowly edged up, until her hands were hesitantly resting on his back. And then her lips moved. It was a tiny thing, actually, a movement barely felt on the thin skin of his forehead, but she was definitely kissing him back.

A low, triumphant growl emerged from Anthony’s mouth as he moved his mouth back to hers, kissing her fiercely, daring her to continue what she’d begun. “Oh, Kate,” he moaned, nudging her back until she was leaning against the edge of the desk. “God, you taste so good.”

“Bridgerton?” Her voice was tremulous, the word more of a question than anything else.

“Don’t say anything,” he whispered. “Whatever you do, don’t say anything.”

“But—”

“Not a word,” he interrupted, pressing a finger to her lips. The last thing he wanted was for her to ruin this perfectly good moment by opening her mouth and arguing.

“But I—” She planted her hands on his chest and wrenched herself away, leaving him off balance and panting.

Anthony let out a curse, and not a mild one.

Kate scurried away, not all the way across the room, but over to a tall wingback chair, far enough away so that she was not in arms’ reach. She gripped the stiff back of the chair, then darted around it, thinking that it might be a good idea to have a nice solid piece of furniture between them.

The viscount didn’t look to be in the best of tempers.

“Why did you do that?” she said, her voice so low it was almost a whisper.

He shrugged, suddenly looking a little less angry and a little more uncaring. “Because I wanted to.”

Kate just gaped at him for a moment, unable to believe that he could have such a simple answer to what was, despite its simple phrasing, such a complicated question. Finally, she blurted out, “But you can’t have.”

He smiled. Slowly. “But I did.”

“But you don’t like me!”

“True,” he allowed.

“And I don’t like you.”

“So you’ve been telling me,” he said smoothly. “I’ll have to take your word for it, since it wasn’t particularly apparent a few seconds ago.”

Kate felt her cheeks flush with shame. She had responded to his wicked kiss, and she hated herself for it, almost as much as she hated him for initiating the intimacy.

But he didn’t have to taunt her. That was the act of a cad. She gripped the back of the chair until her knuckles turned white, no longer certain if she was using it as a defense against Bridgerton or as a means to stop herself from lunging forward to strangle him.

“I am not going to let you marry Edwina,” she said in a very low voice.

“No,” he murmured, moving slowly forward until he was just on the other side of the chair. “I didn’t think you were.”

Her chin lifted a notch. “And I am certainly not going to marry you.”

He planted his hands on the armrests and leaned forward until his face was only a few inches from hers. “I don’t recall asking.”

Kate lurched backward. “But you just kissed me!”

He laughed. “If I offered marriage to every woman I’d kissed, I’d have been thrown into jail for bigamy long ago.”

Kate could feel herself begin to shake, and she held on to the back of the chair for dear life. “You, sir,” she nearly spat out, “have no honor.”

His eyes blazed and one of his hands shot out to grip her chin. He held her that way for several seconds, forcing her to meet his gaze. “That,” he said in a deadly voice, “is not true, and were you a man, I’d call you out for it.”

Kate remained still for what seemed like a very long time, her eyes locked on his, the skin on her cheek burning where his powerful fingers held her motionless. Finally she did the one thing she’d sworn she would never do with this man.

She begged.

“Please,” she whispered, “let me go.”

He did, his hand releasing her with a startling abruptness. “My apologies,” he said, sounding the slightest bit…surprised?

No, that was impossible. Nothing could surprise this man.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” he added softly.

“Didn’t you?”

He gave his head a small shake. “No. To scare you, perhaps. But not to hurt you.”

Kate stepped backward on shaky legs. “You’re nothing but a rake,” she said, wishing her voice had emerged with a bit more disdain and a bit less quavering.

“I know,” he said with a shrug, the intense fire in his eyes draining down to light amusement. “It’s in my nature.”

Kate took another step back. She didn’t have the energy to try to keep up with his abrupt changes of mood. “I’m leaving now.”

“Go,” he said affably, waving toward the door.

“You can’t stop me.”

He smiled. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

She began to edge away, walking slowly backward, afraid that if she took her eyes off him for one second he might pounce. “I’m leaving now,” she said again, unnecessarily.

But when her hand was an inch away from the doorknob, he said, “I suppose I’ll see you next time I call upon Edwina.”

Kate went white. Not that she could actually see her face, of course, but for the first time in her life, she actually felt the blood drain from her skin. “You said you were going to leave her alone,” she said accusingly.

“No,” he replied, leaning rather insolently against the side of the chair, “I said that I didn’t think you were likely to ‘let’ me marry her. Which doesn’t really signify, as I have no plans to let you manage my life.”

Kate suddenly felt as if a cannonball were lodged in her throat. “But you can’t possibly want to marry her after you—after I—”

He took a few steps toward her, his movements slow and sleek like a cat. “After you kissed me?”

“I didn’t—” But the words burned the back of her throat, because they were so obviously a lie. She had not initiated the kiss, but she had, in the end, participated in it.

“Oh, come now, Miss Sheffield,” he said, standing up straight and crossing his arms. “Let’s not go down that road. We don’t like each other, that much is true, but I do respect you in an odd, perverted sort of way, and I know you’re not a liar.”

She said nothing. Really, what could she say? How did one respond to a statement that contained the words “respect” and “perverted”?

“You kissed me back,” he said with a small, satisfied smile. “Not with any great enthusiasm, I’ll admit, but that would be just a matter of time.”

She shook her head, unable to believe what she was hearing. “How can you talk of such things not even a minute after declaring your intention to court my sister?”

“This does put a bit of a crimp in my plans, that is true,” he commented, his voice light and thoughtful, as if he were considering the purchase of a new horse, or perhaps deciding which neckcloth to wear.

Maybe it was his casual posture, maybe it was the way he stroked his chin as if pretending to give the matter some thought. But something ignited a fuse inside of Kate, and without even thinking, she launched forward, all the furies of the world collecting in her soul as she threw herself against him, pounding his chest with her fists. “You will never marry her!” she cried out. “Never! Do you hear me?”

He raised one arm to ward off a blow to his face. “I’d have to be deaf not to.” Then he expertly captured her wrists, holding her arms immobile while her body heaved and shook with rage.

“I won’t let you make her unhappy. I won’t let you ruin her life,” she said, the words choking in her throat. “She is everything that is good and honorable and pure. And she deserves better than you.”

Anthony watched her closely, his eyes trained on her face, somehow rendered beautiful by the force of her anger. Her cheeks were high with color, her eyes shone with tears she was fighting hard to keep off her face, and he was beginning to feel like he might be the worst sort of cad.

“Why, Miss Sheffield,” he said softly, “I do believe you truly love your sister.”

“Of course I love her!” she burst out. “Why do you think I have gone to such efforts to keep her away from you? Did you think I did it for amusement? Because I can assure you, my lord, I can think of many things more amusing than being held captive in your study.”

Abruptly, he let go of her wrists.

“I should think,” she said with a sniffle, rubbing her reddened, abused flesh, “that my love for Edwina would be the one thing about me you could understand with perfect clarity. You, who are supposedly so devoted to your own family.”

Anthony said nothing, just watched her, and wondered if perhaps there was a great deal more to this woman than he’d originally estimated.

“If you were Edwina’s brother,” Kate said with deadly accuracy, “would you allow her to marry a man like you?”

He did not speak for a very long moment, long enough so that the silence rang awkwardly in his own ears. Finally he said, “That is beside the point.”

To her credit, she did not smile. She did not crow, nor did she taunt. When she spoke, her words were quiet and true. “I believe I have my answer.” Then she turned on her heel and began to walk away.

“My sister,” he said, loudly enough to halt her progress toward the door, “married the Duke of Hastings. Are you familiar with his reputation?”

She paused, but she did not turn around. “He is reputed to be quite devoted to his wife.”

Anthony chuckled. “Then you are not familiar with his reputation. At least not as it was before he married.”

Kate turned slowly around. “If you are attempting to convince me that reformed rakes make the best husbands, you will meet with no success. It was in this very room, not fifteen minutes ago, that you told Miss Rosso that you saw no reason to give up a mistress for a wife.”

“I believe I said that was the case only if one does not love one’s wife.”

A funny little sound emerged from her nose—not quite a snort, but more than a breath, and it was abundantly clear, in that moment at least, that she had no respect for him. With a sharp amusement in her eyes, she asked, “And do you love my sister, Lord Bridgerton?”

“Of course not,” he replied. “And I would never insult your intelligence by saying otherwise. But,” he said loudly, warding off the interruption he knew was sure to come, “I have known your sister but a week. I have no reason to believe that I would not come to love her were we to spend many years in holy matrimony.”

She crossed her arms. “Why is it that I cannot believe a word out of your mouth?”

He shrugged. “I’m sure I do not know.” But he did know. The very reason he’d selected Edwina for his wife was that he knew he’d never come to love her. He liked her, he respected her, and he was confident that she’d make an excellent mother to his heirs, but he’d never love her. The spark simply was not there.

She shook her head, disappointment in her eyes. Disappointment that somehow made him feel less of a man. “I hadn’t thought you a liar, either,” she said softly. “A rake and a rogue, and perhaps a whole host of other things, but not a liar.”

Anthony felt her words like blows. Something unpleasant squeezed around his heart—something that made him want to lash out, to hurt her, or at least to show her she hadn’t the power to hurt him. “Oh, Miss Sheffield,” he called out, his voice a rather cruel drawl, “you won’t get far without this.”

Before she had a chance to react, he reached into his pocket, pulled out the key to the study, and tossed it in her direction, deliberately aiming it at her feet. Given no warning, her reflexes were not sharp, and when she thrust out her hands to catch the key, she missed it entirely. Her hands made a hollow clapping sound as they connected, followed by the dull thud of the key hitting the carpet.

She stood there for a moment, staring at the key, and he could tell the instant she realized he had not intended for her to catch it. She remained utterly still, and then she brought her eyes to his. They were blazing with hatred, and something worse.

Disdain.

Anthony felt as if he’d been punched in the gut. He fought the most ridiculous impulse to leap forward and grab the key from the carpet, to get down on one knee and hand it to her, to apologize for his conduct and beg her forgiveness.

But he would do none of those things. He did not want to mend this breach; he did not want her favorable opinion.

Because that elusive spark—the one so noticeably absent with her sister, whom he intended to marry—crackled and burned so strongly it seemed the room ought to be as light as day.

And nothing could have terrified him more.

Kate remained motionless for far longer than he would have thought, obviously loath to kneel before him, even if it was to gather up the key that would provide her with the escape she so obviously desired.

Anthony just forced a smile, lowering his gaze to the floor and then back up to her face. “Don’t you want to leave, Miss Sheffield?” he said, too smoothly.

He watched as her chin trembled, as her throat worked a convulsive swallow. And then, abruptly, she crouched down and scooped up the key. “You will never marry my sister,” she vowed, her low, intense voice sending chills to his very bones. “Never.”

And then, with a decisive click of the lock, she was gone.

Two days later, Kate was still furious. It didn’t help that the afternoon following the musicale, a large bouquet of flowers had arrived for Edwina, the card reading, “With my wishes for a speedy recovery. Last night was dull indeed without your shining presence.—Bridgerton.”

Mary had ooohed and aahed over the note—so poetic, she’d sighed, so lovely, so obviously the words of a man truly smitten. But Kate had known the truth. The note was more of an insult toward her than it was a compliment toward Edwina.

Dull indeed, she fumed, eyeing that note—enshrined now on a table in the sitting room—and wondering how she might make it look an accident if it somehow found itself torn into pieces. She might not know very much about matters of the heart and the affairs of men and women, but she’d bet her life that whatever the viscount had been feeling that night in the study, it had not been boredom.

He hadn’t, however, come to call. Kate couldn’t imagine why, since taking Edwina out for a drive would be an even bigger slap in the face than the note had been. In her most fanciful moments, she liked to flatter herself that he hadn’t stopped by because he was afraid to face her, but she knew that was patently untrue.

That man wasn’t afraid of anyone. Least of all, a plain, aging spinster he’d probably kissed out of a mix of curiosity, anger, and pity.

Kate crossed over to a window and gazed out over Milner Street; not the most picturesque view in London, but at least it stopped her from staring at the note. It was the pity that truly ate at her. She prayed that whatever had gone into that kiss, the curiosity and the anger had outweighed the pity.

She didn’t think she could bear it if he pitied her.

But Kate didn’t have very long to obsess over the kiss and what it might and might not have meant, because that afternoon—the afternoon after the flowers—arrived an invitation far more unsettling than anything Lord Bridgerton might have issued himself. The Sheffields’ presence, it seemed, was desired at a country house party being rather spontaneously hosted in one week’s time by Lady Bridgerton.

The mother of the devil himself.

And there was no way that Kate could possibly get out of going. Nothing short of an earthquake combined with a hurricane combined with a tornado—none of which were likely to occur in Great Britain, although Kate was still holding out hope for the hurricane, as long as there was no thunder or lightning involved—would prevent Mary from showing up on the Bridgertons’ bucolic doorstep with Edwina in tow. And Mary certainly wasn’t going to allow Kate to remain alone in London, left to her own devices. Not to mention that there was no way Kate was going to allow Edwina to go without her.

The viscount had no scruples. He’d probably kiss Edwina just as he’d kissed Kate, and Kate couldn’t imagine that Edwina would have the fortitude to resist such an advance. She’d probably think it beyond romantic and fall in love with him on the spot.

Even Kate had had difficulty keeping her head when his lips had been on hers. For one blissful moment, she’d forgotten everything. She’d known nothing but an exquisite sensation of being cherished and wanted—no, needed—and it had been heady stuff, indeed.

Almost enough to make a lady forget that the man doing the kissing was a worthless cad.

Almost…but not quite.


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