The Viscount Who Loved Me:
The 2nd Epilogue
Two days prior . . .
Kate stomped across the lawn, glancing over her shoulder to make sure that her husband was not following her. Fifteen years of marriage had taught her a thing or two, and she knew that he would be watching her every move.
But she was clever. And she was determined. And she knew that for a pound, Anthony’s valet could feign the most marvelous sartorial disaster. Something involving jam on the iron, or perhaps an infestation in the wardrobe—spiders, mice, it really didn’t matter which—Kate was more than happy to leave the details up to the valet as long as Anthony was suitably distracted long enough for her to make her escape.
“It is mine, all mine,” she chortled, in much the same tones she’d used during the previous month’s Bridgerton family production of Macbeth. Her eldest son had casted the roles; she had been named First Witch.
Kate had pretended not to notice when Anthony had rewarded him with a new horse.
He’d pay now. His shirts would be stained pink with raspberry jam, and she—
She was smiling so hard she was laughing.
“Mine mine mine miiiiiiiiiiiine,” she sang, wrenching open the door to the shed on the last syllable, which just so happened to be the deep, serious note of Beethoven’s Fifth.
“Mine mine mine miiiiiiiiiine.”
She would have it. It was hers. She could practically taste it. She would have tasted it, even, if this would somehow have bonded it to her side. She had no taste for wood, of course, but this was no ordinary implement of destruction. This was . . .
The mallet of death.
“Mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine miiiiiiiiiine,” she continued, moving into the hoppy little section that followed the familiar refrain.
She could barely contain herself as she tossed a blanket aside. The Pall Mall set would be resting in the corner, as it always was, and in just a moment—
“Looking for this?”
Kate whirled around. There was Anthony, standing in the doorway, smiling diabolically as he spun the black Pall Mall mallet in his hands.
His shirt was blindingly white.
“You . . . You . . .”
One of his brows lifted dangerously. “You never were terribly skilled at vocabulary retrieval when crossed.”
“How did you . . . How did you . . .”
He leaned forward, his eyes narrowing. “I paid him five pounds.”
“You gave Milton five pounds?” Good Lord, that was practically his annual salary.
“It’s a deuced sight cheaper than replacing all of my shirts,” he said with a scowl. “Raspberry jam. Really. Have you no thought toward economies?”
Kate stared longingly at the mallet.
“Game’s in three days,” Anthony said with a pleased sigh, “and I have already won.”
Kate didn’t contradict him. The other Bridgertons might think the annual Pall Mall rematch began and ended in a day, but she and Anthony knew better.
She’d beaten him to the mallet for three years running. She was damned if he was going to get the better of her this time.
“Give up now, dear wife,” Anthony taunted. “Admit defeat, and we shall all be happier.”
Kate sighed softly, almost as if she acquiesced.
Anthony’s eyes narrowed.
Kate idly touched her fingers to the neckline of her frock.
Anthony’s eyes widened.
“It’s hot in here, don’t you think?” she asked, her voice soft, and sweet, and terribly breathless.
“You little minx,” he murmured.
She slid the fabric from her shoulders. She wasn’t wearing anything underneath.
“No buttons?” he whispered.
She shook her head. She wasn’t stupid. Even the best laid plans could find their way awry. One always had to dress for the occasion. There was still a slight chill in the air, and she felt her nipples tighten into insulted little buds.
Kate shivered, then tried to hide it with a breathy pant, as if she were desperately aroused.
Which she might have been, had she not been single-mindedly focused on trying not to focus on the mallet in her husband’s hand.
Not to mention the chill.
“Lovely,” Anthony murmured, reaching out and stroking the side of her breast.
Kate made a mewling sound. He could never resist that.
Anthony smiled slowly, then moved his hand forward, until he could roll her nipple between his fingers.
Kate let out a gasp, and her eyes flew to his. He looked—not calculating exactly, but still, very much in control. And it occurred to her—he knew precisely what she could never resist.
“Ah, wife,” he murmured, cupping her breast from the bottom, and lifting it higher until it sat plump in his hand.
Kate stopped breathing.
He bent forward and took the bud in his mouth.
“Oh!” She wasn’t faking anything now.
He repeated his torture on the other side.
Then he stepped back.
Kate stood still, panting.
“Ah, to have a painting of this,” he said. “I would hang it in my office.”
Kate’s mouth fell open.
He held up the mallet in triumph. “Goodbye, dear wife.” He exited the shed, then poked his head back ’round the corner. “Try not to catch a chill. You’d hate to miss the rematch, wouldn’t you?”
He was lucky, Kate later reflected, that she hadn’t thought to grab one of the Pall Mall balls when she’d been rummaging for the set. Although on second thought, his head was probably far too hard for her to have made a dent.
One day prior
There were few moments, Anthony decided, quite so delicious as the utter and complete besting of one’s wife. It depended upon the wife, of course, but as he had chosen to wed a woman of superb intellect and wit, his moments, he was sure, were more delicious than most.
He savored this over tea in his office, sighing with pleasure as he gazed upon the black mallet, which lay across his desk like a prized trophy. It looked gorgeous, gleaming in the morning light—or at least gleaming where it wasn’t scuffed and battered from decades of rough play.
No matter. Anthony loved every last dent and scratch. Perhaps it was childish, infantile even, but he adored it.
Mostly he adored that he had it in his possession, but he was still rather fond of it. When he was able to forget that he had brilliantly snatched it from under Kate’s nose, he actually recalled that it marked something else—
The day he’d fallen in love.
Not that he’d realized it at the time. Nor had Kate, he imagined, but he was certain that that was the day they had been fated to be together—the day of the infamous Pall Mall match.
She left him with the pink mallet. She had sent his ball into the lake.
God, what a woman.
It had been a most excellent fifteen years.
He smiled contentedly, then let his gaze drop to the black mallet again. Every year they replayed the match. All of the original players—Anthony, Kate, his brother Colin, his sister Daphne and her husband Simon, and Kate’s sister Edwina—they all trooped dutifully to Aubrey Hall each spring and took up their places on the ever-shifting course. Some agreed to attend with zeal and some with mere amusement, but they were all there, every year.
And this year—
Anthony chortled with glee. He had the mallet and Kate did not.
Life was good. Life was very very good.
Kate looked up from her book.
She tried to gauge his distance. After fifteen years of hearing her name bellowed in much the same fashion, she’d become quite proficient at calculating the time between the first roar and her husband’s appearance.
It was not as straightforward a calculation as it
might seem. There was her location to consider—was she upstairs or down, visible from the doorway, et cetera, et cetera.
Then one had to add in the children. Were they at home? Possibly in his way? They would slow him down, certainly, perhaps even by a full minute, and—
Kate blinked with surprise. Anthony was in the doorway, panting with exertion and glaring at her with a surprising degree of venom.
“Where is it?” he demanded.
Well, perhaps not so surprising.
She blinked impassively. “Would you like to sit down?” she inquired. “You look somewhat overexerted.”
“Kate . . .”
“You’re not as young as you used to be,” she said with a sigh.
“Kate . . .” The volume was rising.
“I can ring for tea,” she said sweetly.
“It was locked,” he growled. “My office was locked.”
“Was it?” she murmured.
“I have the only key.”
His eyes widened. “What have you done?”
She flipped a page, even though she wasn’t looking at the print. “When?”
“What do you mean, when?”
“I mean . . .” She paused, because this was not a moment to let pass without proper internal celebration. “When. This morning? Or last month?”
It took him a moment. No more than a second or two, but it was just long enough for Kate to watch his expression slide from confusion to suspicion to outrage.
It was glorious. Enchanting. Delicious. She’d have cackled with it, but that would only encourage another month of double-double-toil-and-trouble jokes, and she’d only just got him to cease.
“You made a key to my office?”
“I am your wife,” she said, glancing at her fingernails. “There should be no secrets between us, don’t you think?”
“You made a key?”
“You wouldn’t wish for me to keep secrets, would you?”