You don’t want to do this, Miss Sheffield,” he warned. “Oh,” she said with great feeling, “I do. I really, really do.” And then, with quite the most evil grin her lips had ever formed, she drew back her mallet and smacked her ball with every ounce of every single emotion within her. It knocked into his with stunning force, sending it hurtling even farther down the hill. Farther . . . Farther . . . Right into the lake. Openmouthed with delight, Kate just stared for a moment as the pink ball sank into the lake. Then something rose up within her, some strange and primitive emotion, and before she knew what she was about, she was jumping about like a crazy woman, yelling, “Yes! Yes! I win!” “You don’t win,” Anthony snapped. “Oh, it feels like I’ve won,” she reveled. Colin and Daphne, who had come dashing down the hill, skidded to a halt before them. “Well done, Miss Sheffield!” Colin exclaimed. “I knew you were worthy of the mallet of death.” “Brilliant,” Daphne agreed. “Absolutely brilliant.” Anthony, of course, had no choice but to cross his arms and scowl mightily. Colin gave her a congenial pat on the back. “Are you certain you’re not a Bridgerton in disguise? You have truly lived up to the spirit of the game.” “I couldn’t have done it without you,” Kate said graciously. “If you hadn’t hit his ball down the hill . . .” “I had been hoping you would pick up the reins of his destruction,” Colin said. The duke finally approached, Edwina at his side. “A rather stunning conclusion to the game,” he commented. “It’s not over yet,” Daphne said. Her husband gave her a faintly amused glance. “To continue the play now seems rather anticlimactic, don’t you think?” Surprisingly, even Colin agreed. “I certainly can’t imagine anything topping it.” Kate beamed. The duke glanced up at the sky. “Furthermore, it’s starting to cloud over. I want to get Daphne in before it starts to rain. Delicate condition and all, you know.” Kate looked in surprise at Daphne, who had started to blush. She didn’t look the least bit pregnant. “Very well,” Colin said. “I move we end the game and declare Miss Sheffield the winner.” “I was two wickets behind the rest of you,” Kate demurred. “Nevertheless,” Colin said, “any true aficionado of Bridgerton Pall Mall understands that sending Anthony into the lake is far more important than actually sending one’s ball through all the wickets. Which makes you our winner, Miss Sheffield.” He looked about, then straight at Anthony. “Does anyone disagree?” No one did, although Anthony looked close to violence. “Excellent,” Colin said. “In that case, Miss Sheffield is our winner, and Anthony, you are our loser.” A strange, muffled sound burst from Kate’s mouth, half laugh and half choke. “Well, someone has to lose,” Colin said with a grin. “It’s tradition.” “It’s true,” Daphne agreed. “We’re a bloodthirsty lot, but we do like to follow tradition.
She did this to him. Only her. It was a humbling thought. Gritting his teeth against his baser urges, Benedict began to move within her, slowly stroking when what he really wanted to do was let go completely. “Sophie, Sophie,” he grunted, repeating her name, trying to remind himself that this time was about her. He was here to please her needs, not his own. It would be perfect. It had to be perfect. He needed her to love this. He needed her to love him. She was quickening beneath him, and every wiggle, every squirm whipped up his own frenzy of desire. He was trying to be extra gentle for her, but she was making it so damn hard to hold back. Her hands were everywhere— on his hips, on his back, squeezing his shoulders. “Sophie,” he moaned again. He couldn’t hold off much longer. He wasn’t strong enough. He wasn’t noble enough. He wasn’t— “Ohhhhhhhhhhhh!” She convulsed beneath him, her body arching off the sofa as she screamed. Her fingers bit into his back, nails raking his skin, but he didn’t care. All he knew was that she’d found her release, and it was good, and for the love of God, he could finally— “Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!” He exploded. There was simply no other word for it. He couldn’t stop moving, couldn’t stop shaking, and then, in an instant, he collapsed, dimly aware that he was probably crushing her, but unable to move a single muscle. He should say something, tell her something about how wonderful it had been. But his tongue felt thick and his lips felt heavy, and on top of all that, he could barely open his eyes. Pretty words would have to wait. He was only a man, and he had to catch his breath. “Benedict?” she whispered. He flopped his hand slightly against her. It was the only thing he could manage to indicate that he’d heard. “Is it always like this?” He shook his head, hoping that she’d feel the motion and know what it meant. She sighed and seemed to sink deeper into the cushions. “I didn’t think so.” Benedict kissed the side of her head, which was all that he could reach. No, it wasn’t always like this. He’d dreamed of her so many times, but this . . . This . . . This was more than dreams.
Would you like me to fetch you some more water?” Sophie asked solicitously. He shook his head. “Tea. Please.” She shot to her feet. “I’ll go get it.” “I’ll get it,” Mrs. Crabtree said firmly. “Would you like help?” Sophie asked timidly. Something about this pair made her feel like she were ten years old. They were both short and squat, but they positively exuded authority. Mrs. Crabtree shook her head. “A fine housekeeper I am if I can’t prepare a pot of tea.” Sophie gulped. She couldn’t tell whether Mrs. Crabtree was miffed or joking. “I never meant to imply—” Mrs. Crabtree waved off her apology. “Shall I bring you a cup?” “You shouldn’t fetch anything for me,” Sophie said. “I’m a ser—” “Bring her a cup,” Benedict ordered. “But—” He jabbed his finger at her, grunting, “Be quiet,” before turning to Mrs. Crabtree and bestowing upon her a smile that could have melted an ice cap. “Would you be so kind as to include a cup for Miss Beckett on the tray?” “Of course, Mr. Bridgerton,” she replied, “but may I say—” “You can say anything you please once you return with the tea,” he promised. She gave him a stern look. “I have a lot to say.” “Of that I have no doubt.” Benedict, Sophie, and Mr. Crabtree waited in silence while Mrs. Crabtree left the room, and then, when she was safely out of earshot, Mr. Crabtree positively chortled, and said, “You’re in for it now, Mr. Bridgerton!” Benedict smiled weakly. Mr. Crabtree turned to Sophie and explained, “When Mrs. Crabtree has a lot to say, she has a lot to say.” “Oh,” Sophie replied. She would have liked to have said something slightly more articulate, but “oh” was truly the best she could come up with on such short notice. “And when she has a lot to say,” Mr. Crabtree continued, his smile growing wide and sly, “she likes to say it with great vigor.
Oh, for the love of God,” Benedict snarled. “Will you let go of her or will I have to shoot your damned hand off?” Benedict wasn’t even holding a gun, but the tone of his voice was such that the man let go instantly. “Good,” Benedict said, holding his arm out toward the maid. She stepped forward, and with trembling fingers placed her hand on his elbow. “You can’t just take her!” Phillip yelled. Benedict gave him a supercilious look. “I just did.” “You’ll be sorry you did this,” Phillip said. “I doubt it. Now get out of my sight.” Phillip made a huffy sound, then turned his friends and said, “Let’s get out of here.” Then he turned to Benedict and added, “Don’t think you shall ever receive another invitation to one of my parties.” “My heart is breaking,” Benedict drawled.
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.-Kate & Anthony
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.”-Anthony & Kate
Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. A shiver raced down Daphne’s spine, causing her to sway. In just a moment, she would belong to this man forever. Simon’s head turned slightly, his eyes darting to her face. Are you all right? his eyes asked. She nodded, a tiny little jog of her chin that only he could see. Something blazed in his eyes— could it be relief? I now pronounce you— Gregory sneezed for a fourth time, then a fifth and sixth, completely obliterating the archbishop’s “man and wife.” Daphne felt a horrifying bubble of mirth pushing up her throat. She pressed her lips together, determined to maintain an appropriately serious facade. Marriage, after all, was a solemn institution, and not one to be treating as a joke. She shot a glance at Simon, only to find that he was looking at her with a queer expression. His pale eyes were focused on her mouth, and the corners of his lips began to twitch. Daphne felt that bubble of mirth rising ever higher. You may kiss the bride. Simon grabbed her with almost desperate arms, his mouth crashing down on hers with a force that drew a collective gasp from the small assemblage of guests. And then both sets of lips— bride and groom— burst into laughter, even as they remained entwined. Violet Bridgerton later said it was the oddest kiss she’d ever been privileged to view. Gregory Bridgerton— when he finished sneezing— said it was disgusting. The archbishop, who was getting on in years, looked perplexed. But Hyacinth Bridgerton, who at ten should have known the least about kisses of anyone, just blinked thoughtfully, and said, “I think it’s nice. If they’re laughing now, they’ll probably be laughing forever.” She turned to her mother. “Isn’t that a good thing?” Violet took her youngest daughter’s hand and squeezed it. “Laughter is always a good thing, Hyacinth. And thank you for reminding us of that.
Thus far, four men had asked for her hand, but when Daphne had thought about living the rest of her days in the company of any of them, she just couldn’t do it. There were a number of men she thought might make reasonably good husbands, but the problem was— none of them was interested. Oh, they all liked her. Everyone liked her. Everyone thought she was funny and kind and a quick wit, and no one thought her the least bit unattractive, but at the same time, no one was dazzled by her beauty, stunned into speechlessness by her presence, or moved to write poetry in her honor. Men, she thought with disgust, were interested only in those women who terrified them. No one seemed inclined to court someone like her. They all adored her, or so they said, because she was so easy to talk to, and she always seemed to understand how a man felt. As one of the men Daphne had thought might make a reasonably good husband had said, “Deuce take it, Daff, you’re just not like regular females. You’re positively normal.
Where,” Eloise asked, one afternoon about a week after what Sophie was now referring to as the big kiss, “do you suppose Benedict is?” “Ow!” Four Bridgerton faces turned to Sophie. “Are you all right?” Lady Bridgerton asked, her teacup suspended halfway between her saucer and her mouth. Sophie grimaced. “I pricked my finger.” Lady Bridgerton’s lips curved into a small, secret smile. “Mother has told you,” fourteen-year-old Hyacinth said, “at least a thousand times—” “A thousand times?” Francesca asked with arched brows. “A hundred times,” Hyacinth amended, shooting an annoyed look at her older sister, “that you do not have to bring your mending to tea.” Sophie suppressed a smile of her own. “I should feel very lazy if I did not.” “Well, I’m not going to bring my embroidery,” Hyacinth announced, not that anyone had asked her to. “Feeling lazy?” Francesca queried. “Not in the least,” Hyacinth returned. Francesca turned to Sophie. “You’re making Hyacinth feel lazy.” “I do not!” Hyacinth protested. Lady Bridgerton sipped at her tea. “You have been working on the same piece of embroidery for quite some time, Hyacinth. Since February, if my memory serves.” “Her memory always serves,” Francesca said to Sophie. Hyacinth glared at Francesca, who smiled into her teacup.
Am I a terrible person?” she whispered, more for her ears than for his. “Does this mean I am fallen?” But he heard her, and his voice was hot and moist on the skin of her cheek. “No.” He moved to her ear and made her listen more closely. “No.” He traveled to her lips and forced her to swallow the word. “No.” Kate felt her head fall back. His voice was low and seductive, and it almost made her feel like she’d been born for this moment. “You’re perfect,” he whispered, his large hands moving urgently over her body, one settling on her waist and the other moving up toward the gentle swell of her breast. “Right here, right now, in this moment, in this garden, you’re perfect.”-Kate & Anthony
This will work,” he said with great authority. “You’ll see.” She looked doubtful, but she nodded. Of course, there was little else she could do. She’d just been caught by the biggest gossip in London with a man’s mouth on her chest. If he hadn’t offered to marry her, she’d have been ruined forever. And if she’d refused to marry him . . . well, then she’d be branded a fallen woman and an idiot. Anthony suddenly stood. “Mother!” he barked, leaving Kate on the bench as he strode over to her. “My fiancée and I desire a bit of privacy here in the garden.” “Of course,” Lady Bridgerton murmured. “Do you think that’s wise?” Mrs. Featherington asked. Anthony leaned forward, placed his mouth very close to his mother’s ear, and whispered, “If you do not remove her from my presence within the next ten seconds, I shall murder her on the spot.” Lady Bridgerton choked on a laugh, nodded, and managed to say, “Of course.” In under a minute, Anthony and Kate were alone in the garden. He turned to face her; she’d stood and taken a few steps toward him. “I think,” he murmured, slipping his arm through hers, “that we ought to consider moving out of sight of the house.” His steps were long and purposeful, and she stumbled to keep up with him until she found her stride. “My lord,” she asked, hurrying along, “do you think this is wise?” “You sound like Mrs. Featherington,” he pointed out, not breaking his pace, even for a second. “Heaven forbid,” Kate muttered, “but the question still stands.” “Yes, I do think it’s very wise,” he replied, pulling her into a gazebo. Its walls were partially open to the air, but it was surrounded by lilac bushes and afforded them considerable privacy. “But—” He smiled. Slowly. “Did you know you argue too much?” “You brought me here to tell me that?” “No,” he drawled, “I brought you here to do this.” And then, before she had a chance to utter a word, before she even had a chance to draw breath, his mouth swooped down and captured hers in a hungry, searing kiss.
His mouth moved along the line of her jaw to her neck, pausing only to whisper, “Where is your mother?” “Out,” Kate gasped. His teeth tugged at the edge of her bodice. “For how long?” “I don’t know.” She let out a little squeal as his tongue dipped below the muslin and traced an erotic line on her skin. “Good heavens, Anthony, what are you doing?” “How long?” he repeated. “An hour. Maybe two.” Anthony glanced up to make sure he’d shut the door when he had entered earlier. “Maybe two?” he murmured, smiling against her skin. “Really?” “M-maybe just one.” He hooked a finger under the edge of her bodice up near her shoulder, making sure to catch the edge of her chemise as well. “One,” he said, “is still quite splendid.” Then, pausing only to bring his mouth to hers so that she could not utter any protest, he swiftly pulled her dress down, taking the chemise along with it. He felt her gasp into his mouth, but he just deepened the kiss as he palmed the round fullness of her breast. She was perfect under his fingers, soft and pert, filling his hand as if she’d been made for him. When he felt the last of her resistance melt away, he moved his kiss to her ear, nibbling softly on her lobe. “Do you like this?” he whispered, squeezing gently with his hand. She nodded jerkily. “Mmmm, good,” he murmured, letting his tongue do a slow sweep of her ear. “It would make things very difficult if you did not.” “H-how?” He fought the bubble of mirth that was rising in his throat. This absolutely wasn’t the time to laugh, but she was so damned innocent. He’d never made love to a woman like her before; he was finding it surprisingly delightful. “Let’s just say,” he said, “that I like it very much.”-Anthony & Kate
He was taking a nap,” Kate explained. “He’s a very sound sleeper.” But once awake, Newton refused to be left out of the action, and with a slightly more awake bark, he leaped up onto the chair, landing on Kate’s lap. “Newton!” she squealed. “Oh, for the love of—” But Anthony’s mutterings were cut short by a big, sloppy kiss from Newton. “I think he likes you,” Kate said, so amused by Anthony’s disgusted expression that she forgot to be self-conscious about her position on his lap. “Dog,” Anthony ordered, “get down on the floor this instant.” Newton hung his head and whined. “Now!” Letting out a big sigh, Newton turned about and plopped down onto the floor. “My goodness,” Kate said, peering down at the dog, who was now moping under the table, his snout lying sorrowfully on the carpet, “I’m impressed.” “It’s all in the tone of voice,” Anthony said archly, snaking a viselike arm around her waist so that she could not get up. Kate looked at his arm, then looked at his face, her brows arching in question. “Why,” she mused, “do I get the impression you find that tone of voice effective on women as well?” He shrugged and leaned toward her with a heavy-lidded smile. “It usually is,” he murmured. “Not this one.” Kate planted her hands on the arms of the chair and tried to wrench herself up. But he was far too strong. “Especially this one,” he said, his voice dropping to an impossibly low purr. With his free hand, he cupped her chin and turned her face to his. His lips were soft but demanding, and he explored her mouth with a thoroughness that left her breathless. -Kate & Anthony
His hands cupped her cheeks, holding her steady so that he might drink in the sight of her. It was too dark to see the exact colors that made her unforgettable face, but Simon knew that her lips were soft and pink, with just a tinge of peach at the corners. He knew that her eyes were made up of dozens of shades of brown, with that one enchanting circle of green constantly daring him to take a closer look, to see if it was really there or just a figment of his imagination. But the rest— how she would feel, how she would taste— he could only imagine. And Lord, how he’d been imagining it. Despite his composed demeanor, despite all of his promises to Anthony, he burned for her. When he saw her across a crowded room, his skin grew hot, and when he saw her in his dreams, he went up in flames. Now— now that he had her in his arms, her breath fast and uneven with desire, her eyes glazed with need she couldn’t possibly comprehend— now he thought he might explode. And so kissing her became a matter of self-preservation. It was simple. If he did not kiss her now, if he did not consume her, he would die. It sounded melodramatic, but at the moment he would have sworn it to be true. The hand of desire twisting around his gut would burst into flame and take him along with it. He needed her that much.
You stopped,” she whispered, looking surprised. “This isn’t the place,” he replied. For a moment her face showed no change of expression. Then, almost as if someone were pulling a shade over her face, horror dawned. It started in her eyes, which grew impossibly round and somehow even more green than usual, then it reached her mouth, her lips parting as a gasp of air rushed in. “I didn’t think,” she whispered, more to herself than to him. “I know.” He smiled. “I know. I hate it when you think. It always ends badly for me.” “We can’t do this again.” “We certainly can’t do it here.” “No, I mean—” “You’re spoiling it.” “But—” “Humor me,” he said, “and let me believe the afternoon ended without your telling me this will never happen again.” “But—” He pressed a finger to her lips. “You’re not humoring me.” “But—” “Don’t I deserve this one little fantasy?” At last, he broke through. She smiled. “Good,” he said. “That’s more like it.” Her lips quivered, then, amazingly, her smile grew. “Excellent,” he murmured. “Now then, I’m going to leave. And you have only one task while I go. You will stay right here, and you will keep smiling. Because it breaks my heart to see any other expression on your face.” “You won’t be able to see me,” she pointed out. He touched her chin. “I’ll know.” And then, before her expression could change from that enchanting combination of shock and adoration, he left.-Sophie & Benedict