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Embracing Scandal

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Anthony expected to wake up on his 35th birthday, much in the same way as his 34th birthday, except for the sneaking Kate out of his room at dawn part. He had managed to wrangle one Josey Bridgerton back into her own bed in the middle of the night last night after she fell asleep, so he and Kate could continue their celebrations. Now that he was married, he wanted to continue that celebration into the morning until they had to rise. There would be a horseback ride with Henry and Josey and a celebration later that much to Kate's dismay, she could not get any information for. 

Much to his own dismay though, he woke up alone. Feeling along Kate's side of the bed yielded cold blankets. She'd been gone for some time then. Perhaps feeding the twins. She'd be back. He hunkered back under the blankets. A commotion at the door captured his attention. He looked over his shoulder to see what was going on. Henry was carrying a plate and Josephine two objects he could not distinguish from the low candlelight. Kate, his goddess, brought up the rear with a baby in each arm, kicking the door shut behind her. 

"Shh, papa sleeping," that was Henry. 

"No you shh Henny!" 

"Both of you hush," Kate scolded gently. 

"I am not asleep," he said as he sat up and Josey gasped. 

"PAPA! HAP BIRFDAY," the little girl ran to his side of the bed. 

"Happy Birthday, Papa," echoed Henry as he approached. The plate he carried was filled with breakfast, and a delicious looking tart. "I made it for you." 

"No," Josey exclaimed. "I make it!" 

"No I did!" 

"No, you not!" 

"I bet mama made it," he said, interrupting their argument. 

"But I helped," Henry exclaimed. 

"No!" 

"Yes!"

"No!" 

"Ok," Kate said with a laugh. "Happy birthday my love. We had hoped to give you a peaceful morning," she gave a hard look to Henry and Josey who both shrunk back. Henry handed him the plate of food. 

"This yours." 

"Have you guys already eaten." 

"We have," Kate sat down after carefully laying the babies in the center of the bed next to each other. They were awake and cooing up a storm. 

"They are happy this morning," he mused as he took a bite of food. Josey had climbed in beside him, and Henry was over by Kate. 

"They are full and content." 

"We got peasants, papa," Josey said and thrust a package in his face. 

"Josephine, let papa eat and then he can open them." 

"How come not now," she pouted. 

"So he can eat, baby," Kate took her arm and gently pulled her over and sat her in her lap. 

"This is delicious," he murmured. "I did not know you could cook." 

"There are many things you do not know about me," Kate teased and he laughed. 

"I guess I am lucky I have the rest of my life to learn them." 

"Lucky papa," Josey exclaimed before moving off of Kate's lap and crawling over to the twins. "They look at me," she laughed. 

"They love you," Anthony said with a proud smile he directed towards his wife, who was prepared to combat any non-gentle hands. Josephine was doing really well with the babies, but sometimes she forgot that they were in fact, babies. 

"They wuv me," she sat on her knees and put her hand to her chest in surprise. "Why?" 

"Because you are their big sister," Kate said with a smile. 

"They wuv Henny too?" 

"They do love Henry too," Anthony said. 

She laid back down and kissed both of the babies on the forehead. Placing a finger in each of their hands, both babies grabbed on. "That is her favorite thing," Kate said amused. 

"What do you think of the babies, Josey," he asked as he finished off the tart. 

"They wittle," she pouted. "And they take mama fwom me." 

Kate sighed and opened her arms; he knew this was something she felt guilty about. Josephine let go of the babies hands and crawled her way back to her mama, who rocked her. "I am still your mama. And I will always be your mama. I will always love you, ok?" 

"Ok, mama," she stood in Kate's lap and wrapped her arms around her neck, before getting distracted by her gift again. "Oh papa, peasant!" 

"Ok, ok," he chuckled and put the plate on his side table. "I am ready." He held out his hands and Josey put her package in them. 

"I make this," she said shyly before turning into her mama's neck again. 

The gift in question was a canvased painting, clearly painted by Josephine in blues and whites and greens. In the center though were her handprints and footprints, clearly done with Benedict's assistance. He felt a wave of emotion as he ran a finger over the painting. 

"I make it papa wif my hands and feets," she giggled again wiggled her feet as she sat in Kate's lap. He leaned over and tickled one, causing her to squeal. 

"I love it, sweetheart. I'll put it in my office." 

Henry handed him a wrapped package. "This from me, Papa." He crawled over to him and sat at his side. "I bought it." Henry had access to money, but he rarely bought anything with it. He unwrapped the package carefully revealing a miniature statue of a horse that looked remarkably similar to-

"It looks like Grandpa Bridgeton horsey. From Uncle Ben painting." 

"Pegasus," Anthony said in awe. 

"That is a very good present, my love," Kate beamed at their son. 

"You like it, papa," Henry looked up at him nervously. 

Anthony smiled and pressed a kiss to the top of his forehead. "I love it. I will put it on my desk so I can see it everyday." 

That answer seemed to satisfy the boy as he had wrapped his arms around his father in a hug. "I love you papa." 

"I love you too," he murmured gruffly. 

"No," Josey exclaimed. "Papa wuv me," she made her way to Anthony and climbed onto his lap, joining the embrace. 

"I love you as well, sweetheart." 

"Ok," Kate interrupted. "Let us get ready for our ride. You two go get your boots on." 

"Yeah horsey," Josey exclaimed as she slid off her father's lap and the bed, running to the door, Henry close behind her. Kate moved to his side and pressed a kiss to his lips. 

"Did you enjoy your birthday breakfast," she asked. 

"Very much," he deepened the kiss. "Do I get dessert now?" 

"No," she chuckled. "There is no time. But I do have an assortment of delights for you to choose from tonight." 

"I look forward to it," he said, while sneaking a peak down the top of her dress. 

"Lord Bridgerton," she feigned exasperation. "You have no shame." 

"Absolutely none," he agreed. 

"We cannot," she sighed as he pulled her to him again. 

"I will be quick." 

"The babies,- " 

"Are in the middle of the bed, quite unaware of what their papa is doing to their mama." 

"We cannot," she breathed as he reached beneath her dress touching her at her core, before releasing himself. 

"You know how to ride, Countess," he murmured in her ear. "So ride me, my love." 

He was pleasantly surprised that she needed no further encouragement. 

 

Josephine was singing as she sat in front of her mama, on the horse, as they slowly made their way to the lake where they would allow the children to run and the horses to rest. Henry was riding in front of Anthony at their side. 

"What is that song you are singing, my love," she asked her daughter gently. 

"About horsey. My horsey Coco." 

"You love your horse, do you not."

"Mmhmm Mama." 

"Papa selected well," she grinned at Anthony at her side. 

"Papa give me Coco," Josey played with the horse's mane. "But this not my Coco." 

"No this is mama's horse," Anthony said. 

"Athena," Kate confirmed. Anthony had gotten her this horse last year when they first came to Aubrey Hall, before she was even thinking about marriage to him. 

"Awena," Josey asked. 

"Close enough," Anthony chuckled and turned his attention back to Henry who was reciting something in French, that he and Anthony had been working on for weeks now. Her little boy was smart, and she could not help but burst with pride. They reached their destination and Anthony stopped his horse before sliding down. He assisted Henry down before walking over to her and helping Josephine and then her. He walked the horses over to the water, allowing them something to drink before tying them to the trees. 

"Stay away from the water," she called to the children who were dangerously close to jumping in. 

"Aww mama," Henry complained. 

"Mama no!" 

"You heard your mama," Anthony called out. "No swimming today." Simultaneous groans from the children and caused them both to chuckle. "It must be difficult being a child." 

"Mm yes," she said as Anthony wrapped his arms around her from behind, laying his chin on her shoulder, inhaling deeply. "Thank you for the most incredible birthday, my love." 

"It is not over yet," she smiled. 

"It does not matter. It could end here and now, and it would be the best I have ever had."  She turned in his arms and pressed her body up against his as they embraced. 

"The children were so excited this morning to surprise you."

"I never got to thank you," he said. 

"For what?" 

"For trusting me enough to allow me to be their father. "

"There could be no one else," she said softly as she watched the children run. Occasionally Josephine would find a wildflower and run it over to hand it to them. 

"They are going to need naps," Anthony laughed. 

"Mama is going to need one too after taking care of you and the twins all night," she teased. 

"Do I exhaust you, my love?" 

"In the best way possible," she pressed a kiss to his cheek then turned back to watch their children. "Josephine Bridgerton, you put that rock down this instant!" 

The little girl startled then dropped the rock, before holding up her hands in innocence. "I not, mama!" 

"That one is going to be trouble," Anthony muttered as he went to collect their wayward daughter as she sprinted to the water. 

 

Kate knew she was avoiding a much-needed conversation with Mary, but truthfully, she was tired, and she didn't want to say the wrong thing. She loved Mary, she loved Edwina. But she could not pretend that they had not hurt her, any longer. She had given up everything for them to live in comfort. She'd given up the love of her life for them. And still it was her fault that they were now in this predicament. 

She was leaving the nursery when Mary finally caught up to her. 

"Kate, you have been avoiding me. We must speak." 

"I do not wish to speak now," Kate said. "I mean to rest before Anthony's dinner party." 

"Then when shall we talk, hmm?"

"It is my husband's birthday. I wish to enjoy his day." 

"Yes, your husband. Whom you have forgiven all of his transgressions but cannot yield that same forgiveness to your mama." 

"Because at a point when I needed you the most you were not there," Kate snapped. "You were there for Edwina. Always there for her. I understand that she is your daughter, born of your blood. But you were the only mother I had ever known. And when I needed you, you were not there." 

"Kate," she whispered. 

"You did not look for me. For five years, I could have been dead for all you knew, and you did not look. But Edwina leaves overnight and you are ready to summon the royal guard." 

"What you are doing by not talking to me Kate, is cruelty. I have been trying to earn your forgiveness. It is why I did not return to India with Edwina." 

"You did not return to India with Edwina because you felt guilty that I was funding the costs, and yet you had spent years neglecting me." 

"I wanted to be here for you. For my grandchildren! Your father, -" 

"Do not assume to know what father would do in this situation. Edwina would have never married Anthony had father been here." 

"If Josephine were doing to you what you are doing to me, -" 

"Josephine will have no need to be angry with me. I will fight for my daughter. She will never need to fear that I will not be there for her. I learned how not to be a mother from you. And I thank you for that," she said angrily. "You will not ruin my husband's birthday for me. He deserves to be celebrated for all that he has done for this family. For you even." 

"Kate,-" 

"We will speak of this another time. I do not wish to speak of it now," Kate nodded then made her way down the hall to her bedroom, where she quickly found herself crying in her husband's arms. 

 

Anthony's birthday celebration was filled with laughter, presents, games, and all of his favorite foods, including some new Indian cuisine that he had come to love this past year. The party took place outside in the cool air. Tents and lanterns set up on the lawn. The children took turns chasing each other. He recalled that it was this very lawn that Josephine had called him 'papa' for the first time. The squeals of the happy children highlighting the adult's laughter. 

And his baby sister was having another baby. 

Kate looked radiant in what she had dubbed her 'Bridgerton Blue' gown. He supposed they did wear a lot of blue. The twins were swaddled and passed around between doting aunts and uncles, and grandmothers. Even Milo seemed to be excited to join in the festivities. And plans were made for a Pall Mall rematch, though this time Kate would join.

"You can help me beat your husband," Sophie teased. 

"Hey," Anthony exclaimed. "There will be no assisting in my defeat." 

Kate wrapped her arms around her husband from his side and placed her chin on his shoulder. He in turn wrapped his arm around her. "I don't know, Soph. Anthony is rather radiant in his victories." 

Violet cleared her throat behind them in amusement, "Eight children," to which the group burst into laughter. 

"No mother," Anthony said still laughing. "We decided nine or ten." 

"We did no such thing," Kate slapped his shoulder. 

"Yes, we did," he said and shot her a wicked grin. "Just last week. In the barn." 

Kate blushed and buried her head into his chest just as Colin called out, "Pay up Benedict. I told you that was his cravat in the barn!" 

"You guys have no self-control," Benedict laughed. 

"You are just now realizing this," Anthony laughed and as Kate kept her face hidden. "You might as well relish in it, my love. You are a Bridgerton now. If this is the only thing they can tease you about, then you have done your job right." 

"Yeah sister," Benedict wrapped an arm around Kate's shoulder, pulling her away from Anthony. "Besides, we all know that Anthony has five years to make up for. It is not like he has been subtle since the day you came back into his life." 

"My son, the rake," Violet sighed and hit Anthony on the back of his head. 

"Hey," he exclaimed. "I am saving all my rakeness for my wife now! That is most likely why she had twins." 

"Yes, thank you for that," Kate said in false amusement and the ladies laughed and Anthony had the good grace to wince. "Your body is never the same after a baby, let alone twins." 

"Here, here," Daphne exclaimed. 

"Don't you get involved," Simon said good-naturedly. 

"We women should have a revolution. It is highly unfair that you men continue to look as you do while your children raise havoc on our bodies," Sophie exclaimed and Kate and Daphne seconded her. 

"I agree," Kate said and Anthony's eyes widened as did Simon's when Daphne echoed her. 

"No, no," Anthony stepped in, and pulled Kate back to his side. "There will be no revolution." 

"No revolution's" Benedict echoed weakly and Colin laughed to which Benedict slapped the back of his head. "You laugh because you have no wife yet!" 

"You guys can do without, I think," Sophie said. 

"No," Benedict placed a hand over Sophie's mouth gently. "No talk of revolutions." 

"No revolutions," Anthony echoed and looked down at Kate. "It is my birthday." 

"Tomorrow is not," she smirked. 

"Kate," he whined, and the women laughed. 

"Do you not have enough children, my lord," she teased. 

"That is not why," he paused. "That is not what I meant," he practically whimpered. 

"Yeah," Benedict said. "It is much more fun to make them, I think." 

Violet simply sighed and slapped her second eldest on the back of his head. "Like their father," she muttered while walking away with Lily in her arms. "Every single one of them." 

Kate pulled Anthony down for a deep kiss, whispering. "You know, Lord Bridgerton, I would never deny you such pleasures when I myself enjoy them just as much," before walking away. "Josey Bridgerton, Milo is not a horse!"

He breathed a sigh of relief. 

Yeah, it was his best birthday yet.