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Embracing Scandal

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"This wasn't how it was supposed to be," Kate whispered as she rubbed her sleeping son's back, who had now just inherited an entire dukedom at the tender age of three. She should be happy. She should be thrilled that he was finally gone, finally unable to torment her, to terrify her, to beat her. But all she felt was sadness. 

He had taken everything from her. Her family, her friends, her independence. Sometimes even her will to live. If it weren't for her children, her precious children, she would have run away years ago. A honeymoon spent on Continent in long sleeves to hide the bruises, and a pregnancy that occurred so quickly after their marriage, that she felt she barely had time to switch between girlish newlywed to mother. 

All for the love of a sister that she didn't even have a relationship with anymore. He made sure of that. 

And now her husband dead from a duel after being called out by the Duke of Hastings, who forced his way into the household two days ago and found her pulling at her sleeves to hide the bruises. She couldn't hide the handprint on her neck though. She had met Simon four in a half years ago at Edwina and the viscount's wedding and they had established a growing friendship. He had attended her own wedding with his wife, Daphne, whom she adored. But after the wedding, everything was cut off. She couldn't write to her family. They never attended the same functions anyway. And she could never be home when they wanted to visit. 

Grey house never received visitors these past four years that she was mistress, except for her husband's associates. 

In all the ways her husband tried to keep her locked away from the ton and prying eyes, his greatest mistake was forcing her to go to the opera three days ago. She should perhaps think it her greatest gift. 

The Duke and Duchess of Hastings had been there, and nothing it seemed had escaped Daphne's keen eye. The Duke stormed his way into their home the next day and demanded satisfaction of a man who would dare dishonor a woman as he had. 

The Duke of Lancaster had died the this morning. 

She had to snap out of this. The children's nurses were packing things for their move, as well as her own maid. They were closing up the house. There would be a reading of the will tomorrow, but her husband's solicitor had been pretty straight forward with the duke who had taken it upon himself to handle her affairs. A few years ago, she would have been affronted. Now she simply felt guilt. She did not have the heart to even care. 

The duke had an heir in little Henry who was his twin, and nobody could contest that. 

She reached down and pushed a dark curl away from his forehead. "It is time to wake up, my love," she whispered softly. "We have to go meet some new people today. Some new family." She watched in awe, as she always did with both of her children, awe that she made them. That she got to be their mother. "Come on, sweet love, time to get up." She watched as he used his tiny fists to wipe the last remaining bouts of sleep from his eyes, he smiled his dimpled smile, and crawled into her lap and wrapped his arms around her neck. She inhaled and wrapped her arms around his little boy body. 

Her little boy who was now technically the man of the house. 

"We get to leave the house today," he asked excitedly. "With Josey and everyone?!"

"Yeah sweetheart," she smiled and kissed his head, then stood and shifted him to her hip. "Let us go wake Josey up so she can get ready too, yeah?" He nodded excitedly and clung to her. It did not surprise her that he did not ask for his father. He never did. Short of introducing the children to his associates, he was mostly absent. She thanked the higher ups for small mercies. It would break her heart if he ever turned his anger upon them. 

They walked down the hall towards the nursery. Josephine was born six months ago, and already she was her twin. Her dark wavy hair already needed pinned back, she was light, and heaven-sent at a time when Kate thought she could not go on. The little girl was already up, and sitting up against a large stuffed animal in the corner, cooing at a rattle she had in her tiny fist. 

"Your Grace," her nurse dropped a curtsy. "Marquis Henry," Kate had been adamant about not exposing Henry to the truth of a name change at the moment. Truthfully, she was probably only delaying the inevitable, but calling a three-year old by the duke's title was a little much for her right now. "Everything is packed for Lady Josephine, and I have assisted Master Henry's nurse with his. We are ready to go whenever." 

"Thank you, Sarah," she set Henry down who ran to his sister. "And thank you for being so organized. I think the Duke and Duchess are expecting us at their home for breakfast, but I think we are going to stay at the Danbury estate. It's quieter, and I know it well. It's where I stayed before-," she stopped. 

Before your sister married the love of your life and convinced you to stay in London. Before you agreed to let the man Lady Danbury pushed at you for an 'excellent match,' propose to you. Before you accepted him because you could not face your sister and her husband in their own happy situation. 

Truthfully, the months between Edwina's marriage to the viscount, and her own, she knew her sister was not actually happy, but she never dared to ask. The duke had to go to Anthony for permission to court her and propose. 

"You want this," he asked, the crease between his brow betraying his agitation. 

"What choice do I have," she asked. 

"You had a choice when you pushed me to your sister," he said angrily. 

"Because you proposed to her, on your knee, in front of me might I add. Do not dare question my decisions, when you are the reason I have to make them." 

He gave his consent rather unwillingly. She had not seen him since her wedding. 

She had not seen any of her family since. 

She was sure they knew she had children now, but she knew nothing about them. The duke had monitored all correspondence, and when the rare letter got through, it was never from the people she wished. It was usually Lady Danbury, berating her for her silent treatment towards her and her family. 

I had no choice. 

A commotion downstairs told her that Simon was there. The household staff would continue to work within the house, some of them her very best friends these last years, there when she needed them the most. She had asked Simon to keep them on and paid. Even if it meant essentially paying them to do nothing. He had agreed. The dukedom was one of the wealthiest in London, up there with the Devonshire's and the Cornwall's. Henry would not inherit a broke estate. At least her husband was good with his money. 

She herself had enough in her settlement, she knew, to not need to marry again. She was grateful for Anthony's shrewdness in that at least. And Josephine was covered as well. They need not worry. 

She watched her son hand Josey a small stuffed animal, and she squealed her pleasure. They got along splendidly, and for that she was grateful. "Ok, my little loves," she walked to them and lifted her daughter onto her hip this time, reaching down to take Henry's hand. "Shall we go on a little adventure?" Henry was always up for a new adventure, especially if it involved horses, or the frogs in the pond in the backyard of their town home. So, she knew he would do well. She was the one who was terrified. 

Seeing her family for the first time in four years after not a word. 

Who could forgive her all that? 

 

 

Lady Danbury was at her wits end. Could they not make it one season without a scandal in either of their households? Both the Bridgertons and the Danbury households seemed to invite it in, every season now since Hastings had married his wife. She adored her family, but something had to give. The viscount sat in the sitting room; hands clasped in his lap staring straight ahead. Violet was pacing back and forth. Benedict and his new wife Sophie were silently staring ahead. Lady Mary was using a handkerchief to wipe the corner of her eye as she sniffed. 

And she had the note from the Viscountess left to her husband overnight that she was running away with a lover, and that she was sorry for any pain caused. 

"Could her sister know about this," Violet asked the room. "The Duchess?" 

"Nobody has heard from the Duchess in years," Lady Danbury stated bitterly. "I am not sure she is even in town. Last I heard was that she delivered a healthy heir." 

Violet looked at Anthony and sighed. The Viscount's marriage produced no children, something that now seemed like a very good thing. The scandal would not mar their prospects in the future. The Bridgertons would of course survive this as powerful as they were, but still the scandal would be great. 

"I could attempt to write to her," Mary sniffed. "To Kate, and see if maybe-," she let her sentence die off. Two daughters gone to her was something that Lady Danbury could not fathom. "She probably would not respond." 

"Has no one seen the Duchess this season then? Or the last? I cannot imagine her not wanting to be here to help with this situation," said Violet. 

"I heard from Daphne that she was at the opera the other night, with the duke," Sophie said softly. As the room focused on her she blushed and looked down at her lap. "Daphne was not forthcoming with much information other than that, I'm afraid." 

"So, she is in town," Violet exclaimed. "And maybe Edwina got a hold of her!" 

"I doubt it," Lady Danbury stared at Sophie. "But I am going to have a conversation with my godson about keeping this from me. I have been trying to reach out to Kate for years, without response," she knocked her cane against the floor several times in anger. The girl, who had become like a daughter to her, had not deemed her necessary enough to keep in touch with her. It was unfathomable! 

She sat down and took a sip of her tea, sparing a glance at the viscount, who had remained silent this whole time. "Lord Bridgerton," she asked softly. "Did you know she even had a lover?" 

He sighed and looked to the window. "Our marriage," he cleared his throat. "Our marriage has been a sham these last three years. It does not surprise me." 

"Oh Anthony," Violet exclaimed and moved to sit by him, wrapping a motherly arm around him. "Why did you not say anything?"

"It was my burden to bear," Anthony said. 

"You do not have to bear your burdens alone!" She ran a hand through his hair, much as she had when he was a younger child. "You should have told me." 

"What would you have me do, mother," he snapped. "Admit that I was wrong? Admit that I never should have asked the viscountess for her hand? Believe me I realize! I have failed in more things than this, I assure you."

"Anthony, -" Violet began and was interrupted by a maid bringing in a letter to Lady Danbury. 

"Maybe it is from Edwina," Mary exclaimed hopefully. 

Lady Danbury looked at the seal and shook her head. "It is from the duke." She broke the seal and read. Her countenance falling at every word. 

My Dear Godmother, 

I should assure you that we are all fine, but this letter is not one that is a pleasure to communicate. A few days ago, we arrived in town for the Opera, where we saw a familiar face. The Duchess of Lancaster was there in attendance with her husband that night, a rarity it seems, as the duchess has not attended events since her marriage. Everything seemed in order. Her wit was in fine form, though she was barely allowed to speak. My beautiful wife however noticed bruising on her skin that she was trying to hide with her sleeves, and a mark of a hand on her neck that no amount of powder could cover.  

I forced myself into Grey house the next day, unexpected and saw for myself what she could not cover up when surprised by a visitor. I am not one to be emotional. Nor am I one to fly off the handle, especially since the birth of my son. But I demanded retribution from Lancaster then and there. 

The duke is dead. Deservedly so. And the duchess is free. They are currently preparing to come to my own home, but the hope is, is that they would be able to use your home. The duchess has fond memories of you and living there, and her children are not much use to the rambunctiousness of Daphne and I's brood, I am afraid. 

There is an heir, but he is only three. The Marquis Henry Grey is a credit to his mother, and the other child is an infant of six months, Lady Josephine, who is quite possibly the most beautiful baby I have ever laid eyes on. 

There is much to be explained, though I am quite in a hurry dealing with Lancaster's solicitor. I will be damned if these children and Kate do not get their due. 

Please come at your earliest convenience. 

Yours, 

Simon. 

 

Lady Danbury read the letter three times before handing it to Violet who gasped and Mary who began to cry. "Kate, my God. My daughter. I should have been there. I should have known," Mary sobbed. 

"What is going on," Benedict asked softly as Anthony looked, for the first time, alarmed. 

"I think we are all needed at the Hastings' house at the moment. Seems the Bridgerton family is set two endure two scandals now," Lady Danbury cursed under her breath and nodded at the maid. "Please see that they prepare our carriages. We must depart immediately." 

A string of curse words filled the room as Lord Bridgerton and Benedict got their hands on the letter, and none of the women seemed fit enough to correct them. It was not the time. They were all feeling it. 

Edwina had made her choice to run from family.

Kate had made the choice to stay for family. 

And Lady Danbury all of the sudden was eaten up with guilt. I'm so sorry, sweetheart. I am so, so sorry. 

She had made the match. 

 

Kate sat on the sitting room floor, her daughter in her lap, watching Henry play with the Hastings' oldest son, Auggie. They were fast becoming friends. "I should be wearing black," she said quietly. Daphne was on the floor across from her, her own child in her lap asleep. "I should be wearing black, and I find I do not care."

Daphne sighed and reached across the space to give her hand a gentle squeeze. "No one blames you. And you are at home with family right now. You can wear what you want." 

"My children have lost their father, and I do not even care." 

"Did he ever hurt them," she asked as she ran a hand over her child's head. 

"No," she bit her lip. Josephine too, was sleeping. Her face worry-free as they would always be, she would make sure of it. Henry was old enough to see her bruises, especially when her crawled into her bed in the middle of the night during a storm. Henry was worried about his mama constantly. Henry heard his mother scream, even when she tried not to, to protect her babies from anything negative to do with their father. 

She had hoped that would instill a good relationship with their father as an adult, should she not survive. 

Nevertheless, it was Henry who asked her after one brutal night, "Mama, I wish I could save you." 

Henry had saved her, her beautiful son, precious and precocious. She would have let go years ago if not for him.

"I know it is not something that you wish to talk about right now," Daphne said softly as she watched her. "But I do hope that you realize, if you need to talk at all. I will always be here. I feel like we became good friends before your marriage, and I hope we can continue." 

Kate smiled at her because it was all she could do. Josey sighed and she lifter her to her shoulder. Her tiny face in the crook of her neck. She typically never held her children as they slept, but she found she could not let them out of her sight today, not for a moment. 

"They are beautiful children, Kate," Daphne smiled. "Truly." 

"Thank you," Kate whispered as she watched Henry run after a ball. His legs were longer than they were even last month, but he still had yet to outgrow his baby face, and event that Kate looked forward to with sorrow. If she was to never marry again, she would never have another child. And while the act of making another child was tasteless to her and painful, motherhood was everything to her. 

They heard a commotion at the door which let them know they had visitors, and Kate shared a look with Daphne. Both women rose into a chair careful to not disturb their sleeping infants. Henry ran to her, crawling in behind her, burying his head in her neck. "Mama what happen?" 

Lady Mary was the first to push her way into the room and she stopped and froze when she caught sight of her daughter for the first time in years. She gasped and held a hand to her mouth, as others filed in behind her. Lady Danbury was there as well as the Dowager Bridgerton. She saw Benedict next to a small blonde woman whom she had never seen before. And of course, Anthony, who had not blinked since he laid eyes on her. Where is Edwina? 

"Oh Kate," Mary sobbed as she made her way across the room. "Oh, my love. My precious love," she knelt before her, and Kate was thankful that she had not touched her. "You will never, EVER leave my sight again. Do you understand me?" 

"Mama, -" Kate began. 

"No," Mary said sharply. "I am your mother, and for once in your life, you will allow me to take care of you. Am I understood."? 

She nodded, because what else could she do. She watched as Mary slowly became aware of the baby in her arms, and the toddler behind her back who peaking at her through her long hair she wore half down today. His thumb was in his mouth, as it always was when he was nervous. "Oh sweetheart," she sighted. "They are beautiful." She smiled up at her daughter with so much love and adoration that Kate couldn't hold back the wave of tears anymore. 

Her mother seemed to understand and reached up and pulled her into a tight embrace, whispering comfort into her ear, mindless of the other people currently watching the scene unfold in the room. 

"Mama," Henry said quietly. "Shh do not cry, mama." Henry rubbed her back soothingly and looked panicked towards Daphne, the only other person he knew in the room. "Mama crying." 

"These are good tears, sweetheart," Daphne soothed. "Your mama is ok." 

He nodded but didn't seem so sure. He looked around the room and noticed all eyes on them and shrank back into the back of the chair. Kate was without words, and thankful for Daphne because she had noticed and helped him off the chair, he quickly clung to her skirt. "I think there needs to be some introductions made." Kate nodded; thankful she didn't have to make them. 

Daphne knelt down beside her son, who was currently the highest in rank in the room which caused Kate to cry even harder. He had his thumb back in his mouth and was staring at the room full of strangers in confusion. He wasn't used to so many people her husband hadn't allowed it. Another failure she felt in her gut. Auggie was the life of the house, running up to his family and demanding attention without the fear of retribution, every bit the child the Hastings wanted him to be. "Marquis Henry Grey Lancaster, these are some of your family members." She pointed to Mary first. "That is your grandmother, Mary. She is your mama's, mama." Mary waved at the toddler with a smile who stared back at her confused. 

Daphne continued. "And that is your uncle Anthony, he is married to your mama's sister, your aunt Edwina, who is-," Daphne trailed off. "Not here?" Kate watched as the new group of visitors shifted uncomfortably. Daphne continued. "There is Benedict and Sophia," she pointed to the couple at the side of the room. "And that woman there is my own mama, Violet Bridgerton. She is always good for a nice hug." Violet smiled at the toddler and waved at him. "And Lady Danbury," Daphne pointed to the woman with the cane. "This is the new duke, -" trailed off. "This is Henry." 

Violet was the first to break the silence. She had plenty of experience with children and was quite comfortable with them and all their moods. She made her way across the room and knelt before him. Being at his level, he studied her with discerning eyes. Then slowly removed his thumb from his mouth and waved at her, stuffing his hand into his pocket. 

"How old are you, sweetheart," Violet cooed, and Kate admired her tenacity. She put her child at ease in a way that he hadn't been all morning. 

"I three," he responded before walking to her slowly. He took her face into his tiny hands and stared at her. "You nice." 

She smiled and nodded. "I am. So are you." She motioned to Mary who was watching with eye. "And so is your grandmama." Henry watched Mary for a while. It seemed the whole room held its breath as he slowly made the three steps over to his grandmother. 

"You look like my mama." 

Mary sobbed and nodded as he placed his hands onto her own face. "You nice too, cause my mama is nice. My papa is not nice," he shook his head seriously. Kate heard the curse that rang through the room and knew exactly where it came from. Why was he here right now, and without her sister? 

"You know," Mary said softly. "You look like your mama too, Henry." 

He nodded happily. "And Josey too," he motioned to his baby sister who was just waking up in Kate's arms. 

Daphne motioned to the baby. "Lady Josephine." 

Kate could tell that Mary wanted to hold the baby. As did Violet and Lady Danbury. But Henry was older, and much more aware that there were strangers in the room. He went first. The three matriarchs had all found a chair to sit on and let Henry come to them one by one. Lady Danbury's expression softened into a look she had never seen before as she watched the three-year old study her cane. 

But it was Anthony fiddling with his watch, a nervous habit of his that Kate learned back when life was easier, that caught the toddler's attention. She watched as the man she used to love knelt down with great care and showed him the watch that he inherited from his father. They shared a conversation that nobody could hear, and Henry nodded excitedly at something his uncle had said. She watched Anthony pull off the ring of his pinky finger and hand it to her son, who squealed in delight. It was too big to even be on his thumb, but the toddler didn't care. He raced back to show his mama his new present. 

"Did you tell him thank you," she asked him kindly. 

"Oh," he raced back to his uncle and bowed like he was taught recently, which really ended up being a rather graceful head nod, but Anthony took him seriously, and bowed back. "Thank you!" He wrapped his little boy arms around Anthony's legs in a quick embrace and ran back to her. 

Her little boy hugging his uncle should not have affected her as it did. In another life Henry might have been his. But it was too late now. She caught his eye and nodded quickly before turning her attention back to her son who was currently showing Mary his new piece of jewelry, climbing into her lap as he did so. 

The tension was broken. Henry was happy and that was all that mattered. 

She noticed Violet had risen and moved to set beside her. "Do you mind if I hold her," she asked quietly. "She is stunning." 

Pride filled her chest, as it always did, when people pointed out to her that her children were beautiful. Mostly it was the staff, but sometimes a random stranger might notice them on a walk, and the pride she felt never went away.  She handed Josey over to the matriarch carefully. Josey was an easy baby full of life, and was comfortable in anybody's arms. Kate stood, arms thankful for the respite. Daphne made her way by her side. 

"Are you ok," she whispered. 

"I am fine," Kate nodded. "As long as the children are happy, I am." She looked towards Anthony again, who was once again staring at her. "But where is my sister?" 

"I have no idea," Daphne frowned. "But let me see if I can find out. Maybe she is ill or something." 

 

 

"What do you mean she ran off," Daphne shrieked in the most un-ladylike way. "Where did she go?" 

Anthony sat in the corner, massaging his forehead. This was not a conversation that he wanted to have right now. They were in the duke's study at Hastings' house who had yet to make an appearance as he was still dealing with Lancaster's solicitor, a job that should have been his own, had he fought harder to stay involved in Kate's life. 

His wife had run off with some unknown lover, and all he could think about was her sister.

Truthfully, Kate was all he ever thought about. He'd been a good husband to Edwina. He bought her everything she desired. Escorted her to every ball and house party. But after their first year of marriage yielded no children, he quit trying. The title would fall to Benedict's son, if he had one, or Colin's. He was okay with that, and he couldn't force himself to bed his wife, when all he wanted to do was bed her sister. He had never gone outside his marriage. He didn't deserve happiness. He made the mistake of proposing to Edwina, and he had to suffer the consequences. 

Why did I not fight harder for Kate? 

The simple answer was that he wanted the easy way out. Now he was suffering the consequences, and the woman he loved was at his sister's home, the sleeves of her dress barely covering the bruises he could see quite clearly. 

And yet he still wanted her. He watched the way she had with her children. They should have been his. Her curves and bosom more pronounced than before. If she had been beautiful before, she was absolutely stunning now. The loose dress did nothing to hide her body from his discerning eyes. 

And her children. He could see enough of a resemblance of the duke in her son, but thankfully it was just that. Her children resembled her in every way that mattered. The young lad, the new duke, seemed more in tune with his mama's suffering than he should have been, and he could tell that it broke Kate. 

No, he didn't want to talk about Edwina, who for all they knew, was having the time of her life. Edwina who for the past four years had slept in peace and wealth. Who had a husband who would never beat her. Edwina who used Kate's lack of communication as a sign that "Kate's probably travelling and having the time of her life."  Edwina who showed her youth at Francesca's presentation last year. 

"Do you think she would actually tell me where she was planning to go," he hissed. 

Lady Danbury tapped her cane. "Our hope was that Kate would know." 

"Kate knows nothing," Daphne exclaimed in anger. "All she wants right now is to see her baby sister, and she is not even allowed that!" She turned to Anthony and sighed. "Brother, I know it is not my place," she began. 

"Then stay out of it," he snapped. 

"But we need to get a story in place. And what do we tell Kate?" 

"We could tell her that Edwina is travelling," Lady Danbury suggested. "It would not necessarily be a lie." 

"No," Anthony stood. "She would see right through that. We will tell her the truth." 

"But Anthony, -" Daphne began. 

"No Daph," he interrupted. "I have lied to Kate too many times to count and that is why I am in this mess to begin with. After what she has been through," he motions to the door. "She deserves nothing but the truth." 

"He is right," Violet still had Josephine in her arms, who was playing with the necklace around her neck and cooing. "Yes, I know," she said to the little girl. "It is a pretty necklace!"  Anthony's arms ached to hold the infant in his mother's arms. To pretend that she was his. To love her and cherish her. His marriage would have been worth it if it had given him at least one child. 

He supposed that now, this was for the best. 

 

 

It was late when Simon made it back to his house and quickly pulled Anthony into his study, and Lady Danbury made her presence known as she usually did. But Anthony was the man of the family and he had to know the facts. Regardless of how effortless the whole process really was. 

"They are covered, all three of them. The duke was a cruel man, but he handled his finances very well," Simon began as he poured a spot of Brandy for him and Anthony. 

"I know of her settlement, I made sure she was," Anthony threw his drink back and wiped his mouth. "Of course, I did not think of any impending children." 

Simon winced at his friend in sympathy. He really was the only person who knew in the family, besides Benedict, of the torch he still carried for Kate. And that was only because drinking was frequent in each other's company. 

"Obviously young Henry will inherit everything. Kate has her settlement, plus she was frugal with all her pin money throughout her marriage. She was never allowed out. And Josephine has a dowry of 50,000 pounds. He took care of them financially. I'll give him that." 

"50,000 pounds," Lady Danbury gasped and Simon nodded. 

"Yes. I do not know much of where the dukedom earns its living, but I hope to in the coming days, especially when the will is read. Lancaster had no siblings, and his mother passed a year ago. It was just him, the duchess, and their two children. The house in town is quite large, and I know of at least two in the country and there is one in Spain. I know one of the country homes will be willed to Josephine, but I have no idea which one. And of course, the Dowager house to Kate." 

Anthony nodded and looked at the papers on Simon's desk with a frown. 

"There should not be a contest, but you never know. It is going to be pretty hard to contest this, honestly," Simon continued. 

"The duel," Anthony said. "You shot him?"

"I did," Simon said. His face serious. "And I would do it again. If you had seen her neck, Anthony," he sighed and poured himself another drink. "If you had seen her that night. You would have done the same thing." 

"Good," Anthony nodded and downed another glass of Brandy. In his opinion, shooting the bastard dead was far too nice. 

 

 

Kate inhaled as she found herself outside on the terrace. The fragrant blooms of peony and lilacs filled her senses in a way that had not been done since Aubrey Hall. Her sister had run off with a lover nobody knew she had, causing quite the scandal, leading the Bridgerton family to pick up the pieces. She would never judge her sister for attempting to be happy. But she had stayed in London for Edwina and married the duke to stay in London for Edwina. 

It was easy to shift the blame to her. 

She wasn't surprised that Anthony found her out here. The desire she felt for him was still there. He was still as handsome as ever. But she was no mere virgin anymore with nothing to lose. She understood where those heated glances she once shared with him led now, and she wanted nothing of it. 

"I thought I would find you out here," his voice was soft as he studied her from the entry way. "Are you alright?" 

She chuckled. "I should ask you the same question, my lord." 

He shook his head and moved to stand beside her. "It does not signify." 

"Perhaps it should," she asked softly. "I know better than most the pressure you put on yourself. I assume you do even more so now?" 

"You know me better than I know myself," he chuckled. "If that is even possible." 

She laughed and looked out over the railing into the gardens. "I am sorry about Edwina. I know it cannot be easy what you are going through. And then my situation happens." 

"Do not make light of your situation to ease my anxiety, Kate," he said sternly. "When I read Simon's letter this morning," he ran a hand over his face. "All I could think of was you and how I was not there. Not Edwina. Not the scandal she left behind in her wake. You."  He shrugged and looked out to the garden. "Truthfully, you are all I ever think about." 

"Anthony," she said softly shaking her head. 

"I know," he smiled at her sadly. "I know." 

"What will you do," she asked quietly. "With my sister." 

"I have to request a divorce," he said. "There is nothing else I can do. I may have not been perfect in my marriage Kate, but I never strayed. All my mother and Lady Danbury, and your own mother are concerned about is finding her and bringing her back. But I cannot share a home with a woman who did this so blatantly. If she wanted out, she could have come to me, and we could have worked to find a way out together." 

She smiled at him sadly and fought back the urge to run a hand through his hair. "I know." She placed a gentle hand over his that was on the railing, and her raised it to place a kiss on the top of it. 

"I missed you," he said softly. "I felt like I lost my best friend. When I married your sister, it was never the same. And then you and the duke." 

"I know that too," she said. "But it was for the best." 

"Giving him consent was the hardest thing I have ever had to do." 

"You did not have a choice, Anthony." 

"Didn't I," he asked. 

" I would not have allowed you one," she said seriously. 

"If you had not heard me that night," he began. "On that terrace at the conservatory ball. Would you have accepted my suit?"

"I do not know. Back then I was sure that only love would lead me to matrimony. I probably would have seen right through you," she teased. "You never wanted love in your marriage." 

He nodded and looked out at the garden again. "But I do love you." 

She gave him a sad smile. They could drown in the what-ifs of their relationship which would be pointless. She wrapped an arm around his waist and laid her head on his shoulder. 

"You are doing a great job with your children. They are a testament to you," he whispered, still staring out at the garden. 

"Why did you never have children, Anthony?" 

"I tried," he shrugged. "She was not you." 

 

 

Chapter Text

The reading of the will was being held at the Bridgerton townhome the next morning, and Lady Danbury was one of the first to arrive. She hadn't really slept even after such a shocking day; the guilt was eating her alive. 

Violet Bridgerton seemed to be in the same boat as she greeted her friend at the entry way. The staff had begun deferring back to her in the viscountess absence. Another match that she forced and failed. "Lady Danbury," Violet called out a slight smile on her face that betrayed her nerves. "Our guests haven't arrived yet, but I figured I would get here and see what I could do to help. Anthony did not sleep last night apparently." 

Lady Danbury nodded, "Let me guess. His lack of sleep had nothing to do with his missing wife." 

"You would be right," Violet sighed. "I spent most of my night trying to figure out where I went wrong with Anthony. I knew he was not happy, and I did nothing to stop it. I should have stopped it." 

"Trying to stop that boy from doing something he has set his mind to is like trying to stop lightning from striking a tree. I feel the only person in the world who could get him to stop is not even his wife, but her sister," she took a seat, her cane held out in front of her. "And I am to blame. Both marriages were excellent matches, but definitely not the right ones." 

"It is not your fault," Violet reassured her as she took a seat across from her.

"Is it not," she sighed. "No matter. It is over with right now." 

"For the better," Violet agreed. "Edwina was the perfect viscountess, though I must admit looking back, she was not perfect for my son. It pains me to see him suffering now."

The maid brought the tea service in, and the room quieted once again when Hyacinth followed. "Mama, are we to be here all day," she huffed and threw herself back onto the sofa, reminding Violet much of her older sons who were apt to do that in frustration as well. 

"There are some important events going on today, Miss Bridgerton," Lady Danbury soothed. "But I dare say there are a couple of children that you would love to play with that will be here as well." 

Violet could see that the thought of playing with the young ones almost soothed her youngest's curiosity, almost. Anthony and Hyacinth were very close in temperament, and she would not stop seeking answers until she had them all.  Most likely those answers would come from Anthony anyway, so she didn't say more. "Yes. There is a beautiful little baby girl who loves being held. And the little boy adores playing games. Perhaps you could make some plans to entertain them?" 

Hyacinth loved holding babies, so that was all that needed to be said. 

Lady Danbury shared a look with Violet that conveyed what they both knew: this was the calm before the storm. 

 

Kate held onto both of her children on their way to Bridgerton house, in the Grey carriage. The carriage was luxurious and roomy, but she preferred them close. The meeting was to take place at Bridgerton house, a house she thought she would never set foot in again. Anthony as the head of her own family was to handle all of the particulars which gave her much relief, because she did not really have the heart to. It was going to be hard enough to sit in the meeting with her three year old, who had to attend as a guardian had not been appointed by the late duke. Which meant, the conversation she was hoping to avoid about his papa, had to take place before. Not that he would have any understanding of what was happening. 

She dreaded his reaction. 

She dreaded this day. 

Anthony had been a source of comfort to her the night before. He explained in full what to expect as they stood on the terrace and looked out at the gardens. He hadn't touched her without asking to which she was grateful. But he had comforted her as she cried, in a way that she would never thought him possible of doing. Minor interruptions when her son ran out to find her in his excitement to be around playmates his own age, who were up much too late, but allowed for this occasion. Nobody cared that a widowed woman was out alone with a man. It was a freedom she had not expected to experience. 

It was a freedom, she found, that could possibly get her into trouble. She was not looking for a relationship and of course her sister's husband was off limits. She would be content to be single for the rest of her life. But if she ever did find that man, one she felt that connection with, that spark, she wasn't sure she would be strong enough to turn it away. 

The carriage pulled up in front of the Bridgerton home, the home that her sister was technically still mistress of. It was smaller than Grey house, but it was beautiful all the same and unpretentious. The Bridgerton family was one of the most popular families of the ton, unique in the way that they were also one of the kindest. They each had their quirks to be sure, but in essentials they were all the same. She could see neighbors gathering around outside of their houses, watching with interest as the grand carriage pulled up. She was sure her visit would be in the latest issue of Whistledown, but it was unavoidable. 

The footman opened the door and helped Henry down, then leant her a hand, which she ignored, stepping down herself with her infant in her arms. Anthony and Violet were waiting on the front steps, with a young woman she assumed was Hyacinth, all grown up and beautiful. Anthony made his way down the stairs quickly as had Violet to help usher them inside. 

"Do you need help," he murmured once he was by her side. She watched as Violet introduced Henry to the young woman. 

"Is that truly Hyacinth," she asked in awe. 

He chuckled and grinned. "Yes. She has grown up fast even as much as I tried to stop it." 

"I know that feeling well," she said softly as she accepted his assistance in leading her up the stairs. Henry had Violet and Hyacinth on either side of him, his hands in both of theirs as he climbed. "There was a time when he refused to walk up the stairs by himself. He always called for me and would wait there until I came to carry him up or down."

He looked at her, a pensive look on his face, then he looked away. 

It was better not to know what he was thinking, it made it easier to pretend that she didn't care. 

 

 

Josey settled with Violet and Hyacinth quickly. Hyacinth had found some old baby toys the Bridgerton's had stored in the attic, and she was currently dragging them all across the floor. 

Henry quickly started picking out several toys he thought his baby sister would like. "Here sister," he handled her a block. "She likes to chew on them," he looked up at Violet, his brown eyes wide and smiling. "Mama says she has teefs coming in." 

Yes. Josey was definitely teething as she felt it yesterday morning while feeding her. She winced at the memory. The duke had not gone against her wish and hired a wet nurse. Probably because he wanted to hide his true colors for as long as possible. She nursed Henry with ease. Josephine was a little more precocious as she would not establish a schedule. 

Violet got down on the ground beside both of her children and she took a seat across from her. She felt Anthony sit next to her, watching the scene. She felt a twinge of sadness for him. Violet was born to be a grandmother, and her eldest son, more so than anyone, was born to be a father. He had proven himself over and over again in raising his own siblings. 

The way he spoke to her son yesterday, as if he were the most important person in the world, shattered her already fractured heart. His own father never showed him that respect. And then he held Josephine at the end of the night so she could indulge in a game of cards. He had walked the room talking to her as she fell asleep. More than once she had caught Violet staring at him with a sad smile on her face. 

Anthony deserved to be a father. To experience his baby coming into the world. To be there for all of their firsts. She briefly chanced a glance at him to her side. He was staring at the tender scene in front of him, blinking furiously. She nudged him a little. "Are you ok?"

He nodded and shook his head and forced a smile at her. "I am fine. They are really special children." 

She flashed him a smile. It was all she could do. 

 

Anthony took a deep breath as he closed the door to his study to prepare for the meeting. He leaned his palms against the door and shuddered. The scene downstairs was the most domestic scene he had experienced these last five miserable years. His mother was smitten with Kate's children, as was Hyacinth, and it was his failing that his mother had no grandchildren by him. 

He had tried, damnit he had tried. But picturing your sister-in-law in order to get through bedding your own wife was not something he was comfortable with anymore. He was lying to Kate. He was lying to Edwina. 

He was lying to himself. 

And his now his wife was gone, and he could not bring himself to care. His sister-in-law suffered brutality against her person, and all he could think of was her in his bed, and in his arms as his wife. Her children as his own. There would be more children. They would be happy. 

His mother would be happy. 

They could be happy, right?

Kate had asked him to help her speak to Henry before the meeting. In a way he and Henry had a lot in common, he felt some sort of kinship towards him. He was a handsome boy. He was bright and inquisitive, and a perfect older brother. 

A perfect protector for his mother as well. 

The way he reacted to Kate yesterday when she was overwhelmed, he rubbed her back, he calmed her down. 

That was something a husband should be there doing. 

Her husband had been the cause of that, and his own little boy had to now grow up too fast. 

"Why must the children always pay for the sins of the father," his mother had whispered to him after dinner last night as they watched Henry yawn and crawl into his mother's lap. 

He had no response. But he knew he would do all he could to make sure that that was not the case for Henry and Josephine. 

He just had to. 

 

She knew her son knew something was going on. She held his hand as they followed Anthony and Lady Danbury into the viscount's study. He had his other thumb in his mouth and was squeezing her own hand tight. 

If that were not enough of a sign, his random "mamas?" as he looked up at her on the way would definitely convince her. 

Anthony's study was just as she pictured, it was dark much like the study she remembered at Aubrey Hall. Edwina's feminine influences had shown through the house, but not in here. She found she preferred his taste. It was soothing. 

She found a seat and Henry turned to her and climbed into her lap, looking up at her. "Mama. I in trouble?" 

"No sweetheart," she smiled down at him. She felt Lady Danbury take the seat next to her, and Anthony stood across the room staring at her. "We are about to get some important visitors and I needed to talk to you right quick, my darling." 

"Oh," he settled down and looked relieved. 

She took a deep breath to fortify herself to continue. "We left our home yesterday to stay with family, right?" He nodded and she continued. "We closed our home because your papa has passed away."

"What that mean," he looked at her confused as he played with the bracelet on her arm. "Papa not here." 

"No he is not, my darling." 

"Good. Cause he hurting you.'

"Angel," she sniffed and kissed his head. "You know you are the bravest boy I have ever met," she turned him in her lap to face her. He became distracted by her necklace. His brow furrowed in concentration. 

"I do not like Papa to hurt you, mama. When I grow up, I protect you."

"I know, sweetheart. And he will not be able to hurt me anymore," he looked at her again in confusion. "Your papa had an accident, my love. And he did not survive. He is not here anymore." 

"He not hurting you anymore," he asked. 

"No, he cannot hurt me anymore." 

He nodded matter-of-factly and returned to his attention to her bracelet. "Good. Cause I not like my papa. And Josey not like him either. He a mean man." He nodded seriously in Lady Danbury's direction who gave him a sweet smile.  

Anthony cleared his throat. "Well, you will never have to see him ever again," his voice was gruff as he pushed off the wall he had been leaning against. 

Henry looked up at her and then back at Anthony his eyes wide. "Promise?" 

She gave his hand a squeeze. There was nothing else she could do. He didn't understand, he couldn't possibly. but he wasn't upset and that's all she could ask for, though it made her feel terrible. When her own father died it was like the world had collapsed around her. Henry barely knew his own. 

Maybe, if she believed in a higher power, the pain she suffered in her marriage and what Henry had witnessed could be a small victory? Sure, she had suffered, but her son and daughter would not, and in that she could claim her victory. 

She kissed his head and hugged him tight as they waited for the solicitor and Simon to show up. 

 

Everything was straight forward with the reading of the will. And because the duke had no living relatives, there was no contest. Henry became the 10th Duke of Lancaster, though he was much more interested in the trinkets on top of Anthony's desk. The sight of Anthony carrying her son around the room as he pointed to random artifacts that he had collected of the years, was enough to make her swoon, and break her heart. She leaned towards the lady on her left and whispered. "Anything from Edwina yet?" 

"I received a letter from her this morning, but it basically said the same thing, except that she had boarded a ship bound for Italy." 

"Then she is happy then," she soothed an imaginary wrinkle in the skirt of her dress. 

"He is going to have to bring a suit against her, Your Grace," Lady Danbury nodded at Anthony who while still carrying Henry was in a serious conversation with the solicitor and Simon. "It is the only way to get him out of this. She still has access to his accounts." 

For the first time in a while Kate found her anger rising at Edwina's careless actions. "He'll have to talk to the archbishop then." 

"Yes, who is family. So that should not be a problem. The Queen is the problem. Should he ever want to make another match, to try for an heir even, she would have to approve of him remarrying," Lady Danbury sighed. 

"Does he even want to remarry? He seems perfectly content right now." 

"Anthony is a Bridgerton. And he also is dutiful. I look at him now with your son, and I cannot picture him without one of his own. It would break his mother's heart." 

Kate thought for a moment and then looked back to the group of men huddled around the desk with her son. She was pretty sure that her son was only enthralled with the conversation because he was copying the man who held him. "I should have stopped it. Stopped the wedding."

"And caused a scandal," the lady questioned. 

"Is that not what we are dealing with now," she questioned. Her voice taking on the fake authoritative voice she had learned to take as a duchess all those years ago. 

Lady Danbury laughed and watched her for a moment. "The Queen does hold you in high regard, if I recall." 

"She was at my wedding," Kate nodded. 

"Yes. The Greys are definitely a part of the upper echelons of society. Next to the Cavendishes." 

"The Queen knows how her bread gets buttered," Kate teased the older woman who actually laughed. 

"And your son just became one of the richest peers of the realm." 

"He is entitled to it. He is a Grey." 

"And you," Lady Danbury asked. 

"I am my son's mother." 

"Good answer. There is no better protection that Henry can possibly have, than that provided by his own mother." 

"I will remember," Kate smiled and sat back, taking a sip of her tea. Plotting with Lady Danbury just now was refreshing. She felt a tiny piece of her old self settle in her soul. 

"God help him when he hits the marriage mart," Lady Danbury remarked dryly to which Kate threw her head back and laughed. 

"Indeed." 

 

She finished laying Henry down for his nap in the nursery, quietly pulling the door shut when she felt his presence. She always felt a pull to him before, like a moth to a flame, and these last two days it was fast becoming their habit again. She couldn't explain it. He held out a hand for her to take, should she wish it, and this time she was surprised that she did. He led her down the quiet hall and down a servant's staircase, and into the conservatory. The room was warm, and the plants were in bloom. 

They had spent the last two nights at Bridgerton house while Lady Danbury's nursery was aired out and cleaned, having not been opened for years. It was bittersweet because she always felt at home in this house. 

The Bridgertons had accepted her and the children into their lives so easily that it was overwhelming. Dinner the last two nights were attended by both of her children, and an entire table of Bridgertons. The guys hoping to teach Henry some bad habits, and the girls cooing over beautiful Josey. This was the type of family that she had always hoped to raise her children around. And Henry was soaking up being the center of attention for once. He was so happy that she couldn't even bring herself to correct some of the more ungentlemanly tricks Benedict and Colin were teaching him. 

She had renewed her friendship with Eloise, quite easily, and made fast friends with Sophie, who she was sure at first judged her for her sister's sins.

Josephine was passed around while she gnawed on a boiled potato, and eventually ended up in Anthony's arms, to which she made fast work of the food on his plate and his wine glass and challenged his quick reflexes. Violet, who sat next to him, could not stop staring at him with the baby in his arms, no matter how much Anthony fussed at her to stop. 

More than once she had to tell Henry to sit down in his chair, before she just gave up. 

"So, you are leaving tomorrow," he asked as he led her to a sofa that had a tea service set up in front of it for refreshments. She was grateful. Josey was particularly hungry today during lunch today, and no amount of bland vegetables could soothe her. She had days like that, where the only comfort that she could find was at her mother's breast, and she was ok with that. She dreaded the day when Josey wouldn't need her in that way anymore. 

"I believe so. At least Lady Danbury believes everything should be ready," she giggled. "She is acting so indifferent, but I can tell she is excited to have children in the home once again."

He smiled and made her a plate of fruit. "You do not have to leave, if you wish. You are family. We have plenty of room here." 

"I appreciate that," she smiled at him and squeezed his hand. "But I doubt you would feel that way when Henry gets settled in or Josey has one of her all-night cry sessions." 

"Well, it is a big house," he grinned. 

She laughed too. "Not big enough, my lord." 

They drank their refreshment in an easy silence. 

"You know," he began. "Sometimes I think about what might have happened that night, after that dance if Daph had not interrupted." 

She blushed at the memory. "We probably would have been caught and forced to marry. Had a terrible marriage because we hated each other then." She laughed. 

"Do you think so," he studied her with an intensity that she had fast become use to. It used to unsettle her but not anymore. 

"No," she began. "Well, I do not know. I know then that I probably would have resented you for my hand being forced." 

"I messed everything up," he sighed and looked down. 

"No, you did not," she smiled. "I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason. If you had not married Edwina, I would not have married the duke. And I would not have my greatest gifts," she stopped. "I am trying to look to the past only as it gives me pleasure, Anthony. My children are the only reason I am alive here and now. I wanted to give up so many times. If not for them, I would have let go years ago." She watched as he stared ahead. Her life might be turning out alright at the moment, but his own was in shambles. "I am sorry about my sister though. I never would have thought her capable." 

"I pushed her to do it," he sighed. "I was a bad husband. 

"Did you tell her to go? Did you beat her? Believe me when I say that you are not a bad husband. I know what a bad husband is, and you are not one. Edwina made those vowels as well, Anthony. I guarantee she is not beating herself up for leaving right now, as you are." 

"I am not beating myself up for her leaving. In fact, I am relieved she is gone. I am beating myself up right now because I want you to stay. How can I be upset that my wife is gone, when you are here now? Alive, and beautiful." 

"Anthony," she whispered. 

"How can I be upset that she is gone, when I was never present for her in the first place? All I could picture these last few years was you, wherever you were, happy, and enjoying life. And it killed me. And then I found out what had actually been going on, and that killed me. I know you do not love me," 

"Anthony," she sighed but he continued. 

"And I know that I have much to do to earn your trust. But I cannot help but feel that this is a second chance for me. For us." She smiled at him sadly. "No do not look at me like that. Like there is not a chance."

"Anthony, I have no intention of marrying again." 

She watched as his whole body just deflated. "I see." 

"My children," she began again. 

"I love them," he started desperately. "I would protect them. I will continue to protect them. Like they are my very own."

She had never seen him thusly. This passionate or this desperate and it broke down her walls a little. Walls that she fought so hard to put up. 

"Please," he whispered. "Just give me a chance. You know I love you. I have loved you since the beginning of our acquaintance, and I will you love you until I die. And your children, your beautiful children." He held out a hand, and she gently placed hers in it. He brought her palm up to his mouth and placed a gentle almost worshipful kiss into it. "I have a lot to contend with, I realize, with my divorce. But after," another kiss. "You should know that if you say no, I am a stubborn man, your Grace. As you well know." 

"I do know," she giggled. 

"Then you should know I will not take 'no' for an answer. I will be at your table for every breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I will be there with Henry's first horse, and Josey's because we have to face the facts that she is your daughter, as she is exactly like you, so there will definitely be multiple horses in her future." Kate giggled again, and he smiled and continued. "You will be at every Pall Mall game in the future, and I will be there to teach the children how to hide my lucky mallet from their competitive mama." 

"I am not that bad," she exclaimed. 

"Darling, we landed in a mud puddle." 

"Well," she had no words. 

"Exactly. So, you see. You will not be getting rid of me anytime soon, so you might as well just give in." 

She chuckled and looked at where their hands were still clasped, and he ran a thumb over the top of hers back and forth. "A compromise then," she said silently. "Because I know myself, and I know I am stubborn, but I also know that you have overcome my willpower several times in the past when I was at my most stubborn. If the divorce is approved and we find a way out of this mess. I will consider it fairly."

"And until then," he asked as he squeezed her hand gently, his dimpled smile lighting up his face. 

"Until then," she leaned over and kissed his cheek. "We can spend time together. And get to know each other again. I have always enjoyed talking to you and just being around you even when you were vexing me." 

 

Chapter Text

The Italian sun did wonders to rejuvenate a person, and Edwina was intent on soaking it up. "I do believe leaving England is the best decision I have ever made, my love." She leaned back into Bagwell's arms. It had been three months since she ran away and all she felt was relief. Relief to be away from the ranks of British nobility and the freedom to spend from her pin money as she please. She was financing this trip, rather her husband was. And she had not heard a word from him.

She had thought by now that he would have sent people after her to bring her back home. To avoid scandal. He had the resources to do it. His financial portfolio had grown since they had gotten married, and because of his guilt for not laying with her anymore, he had deepened her pin money each month. She knew at some point she would need to return, but she was having far too much fun. She rifled through some correspondence that had arrived for Bagwell from London, when she noticed a copy of Whistledown.

She never really gave Whistledown much thought. As a Bridgerton, she had much more important things to do than worry about some old harpy who had nothing to do but report on the ton's personal dealings. Besides, generally Whistledown was pretty nice to the Bridgerton family as a whole. The issue in her hand now was a couple months old, which figured, and come to think of she was dying for a little information from home. If she knew Anthony, he would prefer to keep her leaving a secret for as long as possible. He was dutiful and mindful of scandal, so she didn't have to worry about that. But she did wonder at the happenings in London. Whistledown could give her some entertainment while Bagwell read through his letters.

Gentle Readers,

If it is a scandal you desire, then it is a scandal you shall have. Let me go back to the beginning. The Duchess of Lancaster, her Grace Kate Grey has made her triumphant return back to the ton this season, after many seasons since her marriage of avoiding the ton all together. Though now technically, she is a Dowager, as the title of the dukedom has since passed on to her young son, who I have it on good authority is named Henry. Though I am assured that his Grace is all but three years old, and his kingdom is being managed by two of his uncles on his Mama's side. Lord Bridgerton and the Duke of Hastings have taken an eager interest in the child's concerns, as is their duty as next of kin. But Lord Bridgerton especially, seems to have taken a special interest in the child. It seems he has been overseeing his equestrian lessons, as well as caring for his needs and those of his younger sister, who I am told is quite the beauty already at the tender age of six months old. 

Now readers, I would be remiss to mention, that the duchess, who is in her mourning period, has not been observed wearing black at all these couple months since her return and the duke's untimely death. I am told that it was not a good marriage, and that she was treated most ill, so much so, that the Duke of Hastings took her concerns into his hands. I am told that the duchess' return to her family after so many years apart was a healing balm to her soul, and she is much happier now than she has been these years. 

Leave it to death to put things into perspective.

And speaking of the Bridgerton family, the duchess was surprised to not be received by her own sister, the viscountess. Though her surprise quickly turned to anger. It seems that our dear Viscountess Bridgerton has ran off, in the middle of the night, with a Mr. Bagwell, who is little known. The morning after her disappearance the matriarchs of the family were attempting to find some way to locate the viscountess but were immediately distracted by the return of her sister the duchess, and then decided that it did not matter. 

Scandal? 

This author does not think so. Should an entire family pay for the actions of one? It is a relief that the Bridgerton's marriage produced no children, nor does it seem likely to. You see, Lord Bridgerton applied for divorce a week after his wife's disappearance. The head of the Church, the Queen, who actually sanctioned the marriage, was quick to express her anger at her former diamond, and grant Lord Bridgerton's request. The Queen is said to believe in love matches, which I believe, is her strongest quality. 

Lord Bridgerton does not seem miserable in the wake of his divorce. Of course, he has been busy. Opening Aubrey Hall and preparing for festivities there, as well as closing accounts that his former wife may still have access to. In fact, he has also been seen escorting his former sister-in-law around balls and seen making her laugh on more than one occasion. 

There seems to be no hard feelings at all between the viscount and the duchess, which tells me that a friendship between the families will remain solid. Especially considering he has been appointed as the children's guardian. And sources tell me that he looks radiant when carrying around the duchess' infant daughter or riding with the new young duke. That would be a sight to see. 

I am happy for both families, but I am also intrigued at the reception of the former viscountess when she makes herself known if she comes back to London. 

I am assuming, dearest readers, that there shall be more than just a warm welcome home. 

There shall be fireworks!

Edwina lost count of how many times she read through the scandal sheet before Bagwell got her attention. She pulled away. "I need a minute!" Of all the possibilities she imagined, she never imagined divorce. That her husband, her now former husband had applied for divorce so quickly and that it had been granted by the Queen no less. A woman she considered a confidant. 

Sure, she made mistakes, but did that mean she had to pay for them for the rest of her life. 

And why did nobody try to contact her about her sister's return? And that her sister had children?!

Edwina was impulsive by nature; it is what drew her to the viscount in the first place. She had foolishly believed that once they were married he would fall in love with her. She, after all, was the diamond of the season. She had a long list of suitors, and the viscount was lucky to have her. Was he not? And now it seemed her accounts were to be closed, and she would have no access to any money except the pin money she had on her? 

"We have to return to England," she threw the scandal sheet down. 

"My love," Bagwell stood. "What can you mean? We agreed to India next." 

"He applied for a divorce!" She picked up the sheet again and threw it at him. "Anthony. He applied for a divorce, and it was granted. Quickly. I shall not have funds to get us to India. I need to go home and make this right." 

"Make this right how," he asked. "If the divorce has already been granted?" 

"I can talk to him. I can make him see reason." 

"Edwina," he sighed. "You left him, in the middle of the night, and ran off with your lover. Not only that, but you left him a letter admitting as much. You knew there would be consequences." 

"I did not know he would file for a divorce! There are things I am use to that you cannot provide me!" 

"Like the events of the upper echelon? Certainly not, love," he spat. "He hasn't bedded you in years."

"It is not about that," she sniffed. "Plus my sister has returned." 

"It is telling that the first thing you mention is not your sister's return, but the loss of your financial assurance," he said quietly. "By all means let us pack and go then. But you know that he will not have you. He is a noble man, sure. He is dutiful, and compassionate. But you embarrassed him, and I can assure you, he will not let it go so easily. I assure you, I would not either." 

 

Josey was crawling. How was that even possible. Her now eight-month-old infant was now crawling a whole two months ahead of her elder brother and it did not bode well for her. After crawling came walking. And then running. And Josey was showing signs already of being far more precocious than Henry, who was actually quite serious compared to his younger sister.

So, she was currently in Lady Danbury's sitting room, the elder woman laughing at her as she chased down the infant before she could grab something of value and toss it. "Josephine! No!" They had been at Lady Danbury's house these last three months and her children had definitely made themselves at home, more so than they had at Grey house. She was currently making plans to reopen Grey House, her son needed to grow up in the home he now owned, but Lady Danbury was hearing none of that. Her first and only season in London, she and Lady Danbury had actually developed a great relationship, one symbolic of a mother and daughter, and she knew it broke the elder woman's heart when she had all but disappeared. They had picked up where they left off, and Lady Danbury was great with her children.

Henry was watching from his place on the settee next to the woman, an abandoned plate of fruit on his lap as he flipped through a children's book. "She is really fast, right mama?" Lady Danbury smiled down at him and ruffled his hair. "She is faster than me, I think."

Kate swooped her daughter up into her arms and placed a kiss on her cheek which sent the baby into peels of laughter. "It is mama's lap for you, until you are back in the nursery where there is nothing to break Josephine Aahana." She sat back down on the sofa just in time for her mama and Violet Bridgerton to be announced.

Lady Mary immediately went for Josey while Violet went for Henry. The matriarchs were always thrilled to have a baby in their arms. She watched as Violet asked Henry about his horse ride with Lord Bridgerton this morning. 

"We went fast," his eyes alight with excitement as he remembered. Lord Bridgerton had taken to riding in the morning with her son in his arms, and he was growing into quite the equestrian. Anthony had one time taken Josey on a slow canter, but the infant loved to move more than anything, so until she learned to sit still for a bit, her horse experience was down to petting them and feeding them chunks of apples and giggling happily when their lips tickled her tiny hands. 

These were the daily things the children's father should have been doing with them and yet she could count the number of times the duke had held Josey on one hand. And yet Anthony was fast becoming one of Josey's favorite people, and he was already Henry's favorite uncle. 

Come to think of it. He was fast becoming one of her favorite people as well, and that was dangerous. She had promised to consider them together once his divorce was final, but she had not imagined that he would get the consents so quickly. And anytime they were together alone, or had those quiet moments, which were far more frequent since she was a widow, she knew she was crossing into dangerous territory. Especially when she saw him with her children. 

It was really unfair, actually. No man should look so good carrying a child that was not his own, and yet all she could picture was Josey in his arms while he listened to her infant babble intently, or Henry in his lap as they trotted around the park on the back of his horse. She had thought that she would have more time to sort out her feelings, though she guessed that there was never really a right time to make a move on your sister's former husband. 

But he was there every day, even Whistledown had noticed. The way he held her hand while escorting her on a promenade, or the discreet touches he made on her back when nobody was looking at a ball. There was the way that he held her hand at the opera the other night, his thumb caressing her hand in that gentle motion that soothed all her anxiety at being out in public again. Yhe way he moved her around the dance floors, with his hands lingering on her hips for a second longer than necessary, always. 

Her husband was not a gentle man in their bedroom. He was not a gentle man at all. But the flood of heat she got in the pool of her belly when he ran a finger on the inside of her wrist and then lifted her hand gently for a kiss, all she could feel was that maybe she was robbed of an experience that could have been much better than she had ever imagined if she had married the right man. 

And maybe in another life that man would have been Anthony. 

Maybe in this life it could be Anthony. 

But she knew they had much to resolve, and most of it had to do with her runaway sister. If she ever dared show her face again. 

Kate had never been angry with Edwina. But she was now. She gave up everything because Edwina had said she loved Anthony. She wanted to be viscountess. She wanted the life, the home, the family, his family. Kate herself, at the time only wanted the man himself. The viscount who loved to vex her but knew her deepest fears. Knew her insecurities about her failures of being the eldest sibling. He knew her in a way nobody else knew. And she had to give him up because Edwina wanted him first.

And she married a duke, for Edwina. To stay in England, for Edwina

And Edwina was no longer here.  

She moved her attention to matriarchs who were talking about the upcoming visit to Aubrey Hall, a home Kate adored for its simplicity and natural beauty. "Of course Kate," Violet was saying. "There will be Pall Mall. We had to order a new set, all of the balls ended up in the lake somehow." Violet's eyes were full of mischief. 

"I can very well guess how that happened, Lady Bridgerton," Kate grinned. "It's not surprising. I would chastise them, but as I am one of them with my competitiveness, I find I cannot."

"Sophie does not really understand the object of sabotage that the Bridgertons are famous for," Violet said. "So, it will be fun to get you involved again this year."

"I have hopes of bloodshed, yet." Lady Danbury grinned. "And of course, us matrons can entertain these beasts," she motioned to the children. "Though I have a feeling in a few years Miss Josephine will be a part of the game regardless."

Kate threw her head back and laughed. "Yes. She is very good at throwing things already."

 

"Can I touch you," his voice sent a shiver down her spine, and she immediately granted her consent. The ballroom was warm, and she only wanted some fresh air. She hadn't been outside a full minute, and he had found her. He always found her. 

His hand made its way along her waist, and he pulled her to him for a quick squeeze to his body before releasing her. "You know for being in the middle of yet another scandal, I was not expecting to have so many women vying for my attention."

"You are a viscount free to marry again, my lord. I know Miss Cowper was eyeing you like you were a sweet treat. So maybe be careful not to be alone around her." 

He chuckled and leaned into her, his breath hot and tickling her ear. "The only woman I want to be alone with is you. And yet I find I cannot find an excuse to get you so. Perhaps at Aubrey Hall." 

"I have plans which include your new lucky mallet," she teased. 

"Is that so," he laughed. "And what would those entail?" 

"Wouldn't you like to know?"

"I would actually," he nipped her ear with the tip of his tongue which sent another shiver down her. "I wonder if it would require me to make a plan of retribution." 

She gasped in feigned shock. "Lord Bridgerton," she laughed. "I thought you a man of honor!"

"It seems that where you are concerned, your Grace, I have none. And I am ok with that." 

She laughed again and turned facing the railing. He was behind her, both arms wrapped around her middle, his chin now on her shoulder. "Your touch grounds me," she admits. "It is like, I can feel like I am falling, and you touch me, and all of a sudden I am on solid ground again."

"That is a good thing, my love," he had not stopped using his endearment for her since their conversation that day. "Anything to get you to realized that you will always be safe in my arms." 

"I am beginning to realize," she said. "It is odd, allowing you to touch me without the fear of overreactive mama's telling us we must marry."

He kissed the side of her forehead and his lips lingered. "The beauty of your situation in life, is that it is easier for me to let you know of my own desires." 

"And what may those be?" 

"You. In my home. In my bed. My ring on your finger and you screaming my name as I make you fall apart in my arms." 

She stiffened and turned in his arms to face him. "Anthony," she sighed. "That has never been my experience." 

"I know," he grimaced. "But unlike your former husband, I know what I am doing. And I love you with all of my being. And I intend to show you that the connection between a man and a woman can be more than suffering through what is perceived as a duty to procreate. I intend to show you all of the ways a lady can be seduced. To show you all the ways you can bring me to my knees."

"To your knees?"

"Kate, you own me completely. Surely you know that. Body and soul, I belong to you. I have always belonged to you. It took me too long to realize that, and I made mistakes which I will freely admit. There are ways to have a man at your mercy without physical acts which you already know all too well. But to own me completely to fully comprehend me, to own me physically. That is something I have been dying to teach you. To have me at your control while you take your pleasure, my darling girl. You have no idea what is coming for you." 

"What is coming for me?" 

"Absolutely," he grinned placing another kiss into her neck, sucking on the pulse point there lightly and tightening his arms around her. 

"Oh Anthony," she moaned softly. 

"Yeah, just like that," he grinned. "Get your practice in now."

 

Violet Bridgerton held a letter in her hands that she had received today while she was out with Henry and Lady Danbury on a picnic. She was nervous and agitated. But mostly she was angry. 

Edwina was had heard about the divorce and was coming back seeking forgiveness. She sent a letter to her instead of Anthony because she knew he would not accept any correspondence from her. 

Violet had no issue barring the woman who made such a mess from any of her homes. That was not the issue. The issue was, she knew her son to be falling in love with Kate, in a way she never knew it was possible for him to feel such a way. The way the snuck out of rooms together did not go unnoticed by the matriarchs of the family, nor did they care. Anthony and Kate were both adults who had been through much and knew what they were about. If they could seek an ounce of comfort from each other then they should. Not only that but Kate's children were easy to claim as her own grandchildren. 

She knew she had nothing to fear. Anthony was divorced in the eyes of all who mattered including the Queen of England. He would never take her back. Her concern had to do with Kate. 

What would Kate do about her relationship with Anthony when her sister was back in her life? 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Aubrey Hall was exactly as she remembered it. Natural and unassuming and beautiful. You could get lost in the gardens alone for days. The children loved the country air and the less restrictions that they had in the country versus town. But for Kate, who had been looking forward to this trip, it was not all rainbows and sunshine. 

It was time to admit that she still had feelings for Anthony, and the last time she was here, that final day, he had dropped to one knee and proposed to her sister. If Anthony could tell something was wrong with her, he didn't say. She was not avoiding his company she just hadn't been seeking him out. She told herself that the children needed her, but in all actuality the children rarely needed her direct supervision with so many people in the family always wanting to spend time with them. 

Visions of Anthony before yesterday's Pall Mall game (she won of course with his lucky mallet). He had come down the stairs with her daughter in his arms. He called out to her. "Kate," his smile lit up the sky. "We have a new trick." He sat the baby on her feet, holding her tiny hands in his own, and helped her walk down to the field. Josephine was able to make the last few steps on her own as she ran into her arms. 

Everyone was hypnotized at the baby's first steps and immediately broke into cheers. 

Kate smiled at the memory, as she turned another page in the book in her lap that she really wasn't reading. The storm outside was raging, and she was ashamed to admit that she had never, even since her own children were born, she had never gotten over her fear of storms. The night sky was dark but for the flashes of lighting that seemed to grow larger every time. She heard the door open but thought nothing of it, except to pull her robe closed a little tighter. 

"I thought I would find you in here," he said softly as he shut the door, and made his way across the library. He took a seat beside her. "You have been avoiding me." 

"No."

"Yes. Have I done something wrong?"

She sighed because she really did not want to have this conversation here. Not with so many memories flooding her senses and her resentment towards him growing at the same time. "It is nothing."

"Kate," he started. "I know you better than that. You are avoiding me. And I am not so prideful to admit that it terrifies me. I thought we had an understanding." 

"We did," she began. 

"Did?" 

"We do," she sighed again and closed her book, looking at the title. It was a book on philosophy. She really had not been paying attention. 

He reached for her hand and clasped in his own, giving it a slight squeeze. It comforted her a little and she was able to block out the thunder for the first time that night. "Talk to me. Tell me what I did so I can fix it. Please. Because my imagination is running wild."

"You did nothing wrong," she said. 

"Do not lie to me," he snapped, for the first time losing his temper at her. She could tell he immediately regretted it though when he squeezed her hand again and apologized. "I am sorry. I just-" he ran his other hand through his hair. "Last time you were here, all I wanted was you. And you got away. And, -." 

"Because you proposed to my sister." 

His mouth snapped shut, and she could see his eyes widen in the candlelight. 

"That is how I got away. You proposed to my sister. Here. At this very home. Right in front of me." 

"Kate,-" he swallowed. "It was never.. I never, -." 

"You say you wanted me, and you still proposed to her. I was just someone you toyed with on the side. Not respectable enough to offer for," she had no idea where this venom was coming from but she couldn't stop it from spewing out. 

"That was not it, at all!" 

"Was it not," she asked. "Did you even consider offering for me? The woman you nearly kissed the night before you proposed, and probably would have if not for your own sister." 

He stared at her as she removed her hand from his. 

"I did not think so," she stood. 

"Kate where is this coming from," he stood up, his voice raising a little. "I thought we were through with that. It was the past." 

"The past has a way of showing up when there is no closure." 

"Closure? You cannot mean that." He reached for her, desperate to touch her. "Kate, look at me. LOOK at me," he ordered, and she defiantly lifted her face to look into his eyes. She almost gave in when she saw the unshed tears in his eyes. "I will not lose you again. I cannot lose you again, not when I just got you back. Tell me what I have to do to fix this, and I will. I cannot go back and change the past as much as I wish it."

"No, you cannot." 

"I will beg. I will get down on my knees and beg you for mercy if that is what you wish. But you cannot leave me," he shuddered a little. "You cannot leave me again."

 "Again?"

"When you married him, my heart broke Kate." 

"I married him to survive, Anthony," she hissed. "What would have happened? Would you have taken me as your mistress? Sired secret children with me? Come to my bed every time you were bored in Edwina's. I married him because you left me no choice." 

"You told me to marry her! I wanted to call it off!" 

"Because you had already proposed to her! You made that choice Anthony. You did. No one else." 

"Kate," this time he did fall to his knees and wrapped his arms around her waist. "I am sorry. I am so sorry. I am doing everything I can to make up for what I did. I live with the guilt every day. I ruined lives. I cannot imagine," he stopped. "I have night terrors of receiving a letter of you dying at his hands, and worse I could not protect you. I hate that you had to live through that." 

"Do not turn this around on me," she hissed. "One has nothing to do with the other. Edwina was the perfect wife that you wanted. I am not Edwina." 

"I know! I know! My definition of perfection was superficial. I wanted nothing more than to marry and do my duty to produce an heir, and I could not do that because she was not you, Kate!" She tried to remove herself from his embrace. She needed space, and he wouldn't let her go. "Kate please!" 

"I need space," she said. He immediately dropped his arms and stood, staring at her, looking so much like the young viscount in this very library all those years ago demanding to know why she did not like him. 

"Kate," he still stood there staring at her. She could see the tears roll down his cheek. "Kate, I cannot lose you. Please do not leave. We can work through this. I can be better. I can do better."

She almost felt bad for him. There was nothing wrong with the way he acted around her now. He was great around her, around her kids. But she could not help these feelings of betrayal that invaded her thoughts. He sent Dorset to her to distract her from Edwina. When she gave him a chance after the proposal to talk about what happened at this very home, he denied anything had happened. He had defended her so valiantly at the dinner with the Sheffield's, but not ten minutes later told her any feelings for her were unsupportable. 

She had to help Edwina prepare her trousseau and get her ready for her wedding. Her wedding night. She had to watch him as he pledged his devotion to her. She had never had anyone fight for her the way he fought for Edwina's hand in marriage. She wasn't Edwina. She would never be Edwina. "I should go," she whispered. 

"No," he moved in front of the door. "No. Not until we work through this. Kate if you sleep on this, you will never give me a chance. It will only fester. I cannot," he choked back a sob. "I am begging you. Please. Just talk to me. I cannot lose you. I cannot lose your children." 

"You are their guardian," she scoffed. 

"That is not what I meant and you know it. I love them and I love you." 

"I do not feel like talking," she snapped. 

"Then we will sit here. Together. In silence even." 

She sighed and went back to the sofa and sat. He remained at the door, probably terrified that if he was not blocking it, she would race through it. A crash of thunder sounded and she jumped a little. 

"Are you alright," he asked softly from where he stood. 

"I am fine," she said. She wasn't fine. 

"Can I do anything?" 

"I do not want anything from you," she snapped. 

"Kate, please. Let me help." 

"NO! No!" She stood and walked to the far end of the room, the furthest she could get away from him. She did not know what she was about. Right now, she was so angry at him, but all she wanted him to do was take her in his arms and never let her go. "I am so angry with you," she whispered. 

"I know," he said just as softly. "I know. I will not ever be able to justify my actions."

"Your mother says Edwina is coming back." 

"She is not my wife, Kate. Not anymore. There is no comparison between you and her." 

"There used to be." 

"What do you want me to say? The decision I made back then was when I was an entirely different person." 

"But you said you also loved me back then," she snapped. 

"Kate do not twist my words!"

"I am only pointing out the truth of them." 

Silence filled the room as rain hit the windowpanes. 

"Kate. All I can say is that I am sorry. I cannot take anything back and I wish I could. I have grown since then. I have learned what it is to not be with the love of your life."

"I know," she sighed as a lump grew in her throat as tears threatened to overwhelm her. 

"Knowing I hurt you Kate," he touched his hand to his chest. "Knowing that I did so on purpose when I could have just gotten over my damn pride and had you. When all day, every day, all I thought of was you. The only thing I was able to breathe for was you. Not knowing where you were, or how you were doing. Not being able to see your smile every day. Not being to hold you. My marriage was over long before Edwina left me. It was a marriage in name only. I stopped going to her bed after a year, and even before that it was only a handful of attempts in hopes of producing an heir quickly. I could not bed my wife, when all I pictured was you." 

"Anthony," she sighed. "You do not have to," she began. 

"No, I do have to. I think you need to know the reality of what my marriage was. If you have a clear picture of what it was like, you will not be able to conjure up some fantasy image that you think happened but did not." 

She found her way back to the couch and he did as well. Sitting beside her, he hesitantly reached for her hand again, and this time she let him take it. He let out a sigh of relief. He pulled her closer and lifter her long legs so that they hung over his own, and her head was cradled on his shoulder. He leaned his cheek on the top of her head and kissed the hand he was still holding gently. 

"We did not even have a honeymoon," he said. 

"What," she asked. "But you were to go after my wedding." 

"The image of Lancaster having you in his arms was enough to dissuade me from it. I had let you go, and I did not deserve a vacation. So, I threw myself into my estates. Every now and then Edwina would throw a ball or house party I would have to attend. Of course, we had to attend events for Eloise and Francesca. I begged Lady Danbury to find out anything she can or had head from you. I asked Edwina even, but she did not seem phased by you not even writing. She just assumed you were having fun," he sighed. "Edwina was," he sighed. "Kate she is your sister and I do not want to speak ill of her in front of you. But she was much younger than I. Something I did not think of during the courtship. She showed her age rather quickly after we married. I know to you she was perfection. You were the ideal older sister. But Kate," he kissed the top of her head. "Kate, you are worth ten of her. I see you with your children, your perfect children. And the way you treat my household staff. The way you treat Lady Danbury's staff. You do not look down on people who are below your rank and circumstance. You prefer the outdoors and nature and adventure and horses. You do not get upset if your gown gets dirty." He lifted her chin up to look her in the eyes. "I made mistakes. I made some big mistakes that I cannot take back. But I will never, ever stop humbling myself before you, because I cannot imagine my life without you. Without your children. I know I am their guardian. But they mean more to me than that. I want you all, as my family. I want more children with you." 

She giggled, for the first time since he arrived in the library that night, and all of the tension lifted. "How many more, because you may have to carry them yourself." 

"As many as you will give me," he grinned down at her his lips brushing her for a brief kiss. "But first," he gave her another kiss. And then another. And she felt that familiar heat pool in her stomach as she always did when he had her in his arms. This was familiar territory, and for once she wasn't terrified of what came next. She leaned up and wrapped her arms around her neck gently bringing him down to her again and he let out a low growl as he increased the pressure of his lips on hers. 

"The things I want to teach you, my precious love," he moaned into her ear. 

"Like how to bring you to your knees," she laughed which quickly turned into a moan as his mouth made his way down to her chest and bosom, leaving wet kisses as he went.

He reached inside her robe and pushed it to one side. He looked up at her. "Is this, ok?" 

She nodded and he continued his attack at her chest, moaning when he took a full breast in his mouth. She was still nursing Josephine, it helped her sleep through the night, and she still was not convinced she would have another child, so she wanted Josey to need her as long as possible. 'Though' she thought, "if he kept doing what he was doing to her body, she was sure she wouldn't find the act of reproducing so vulgar with him." In fact, she quite liked what he was doing to her now. 

"You taste," he moaned and pulled down the other side of her robe, immediately taking the other breast into his mouth. "I never," he gasped. "Oh God." 

"Are words failing you, Lord Bridgerton," she teased. 

He looked up at her, a wicked smile on his lips and a gleam in his eyes. "Are you up for an adventure, my love?" 

"What kind of an adventure." 

"My room," he grinned as he adjusted her robe back to it's original position, letting a hand linger for a moment longer than necessary. 

"Scandalous," she laughed.

"Oh, my love," he laughed as he picked her up in his arms, dousing the candles on the way to the door. "You have no idea." 

Kate knew of the intimacies that occurred between a man and a woman, but never had she felt this way before. The way he held her, kissed her, talked to her. The way he moved between her legs as she found a release she had never felt before. The way he made sure she felt that way three more times before he found his. The way he kissed her gently as she found comfort in his arms after. The way he caressed her as she fell asleep in his arms. 

She was quite content to never leave his bed again. 

She was able to sleep through the storm in his arms. 

 

Sneaking out of Anthony's room the next morning made her feel like a young woman again, not that she had ever done that before. But after having woken up in his arms to his kisses. After he made her feel that release two more times before he even allowed her to leave.  The way he pushed her up against the door and demanded she be back in his bed tonight. 

"Who am I to deny the master of the house," she teased. 

He growled and attacked her neck. "Go woman," he groaned as she squeezed his backside which forced him to press into her. "Before I change my mind and ravish you soundly in the hall and wake everybody up." 

"So scandalous." 

"Only with you," he gave her one last kiss. "I will see you at breakfast, my love." 

She reached her room and found her bed. It was still dark out, and there were a few hours left until daylight. The giddy relief she felt after having spent the night in Anthony's arms. He loved her. He worshiped her. He wanted her. He desired her above all others. 

She fell back asleep with a smile on her face, until her maid woke her up. 

 

Violet eyed her son suspiciously at breakfast. He was at the opposite end of the table, Josephine in his lap as she usually was at the table these days. Henry was on his left and Kate to his right. They almost looked like a family as they listened to Henry chatter about the litter of kittens they had found in the stable. 

"Mama," he exclaimed. "We have to make sure that their mama is still with them because she needs to feed them." 

"I am sure she is," Kate grinned and shared a secret smile with Anthony. "Now eat your breakfast, and we can check on them before your horse ride this morning." That was all the encouragement he needed it seemed, and she watched again as Kate and Anthony shared another secret look. And then another. And then he leaned into whisper in her ear, causing her giggle at something he said softly, before he pressed a kiss to her cheek. 

She looked to her right at Lady Danbury who was watching the exchange too and laughed quietly. "You know she went to his bed last night." 

"So, it would seem," she laughed. 

"Are we going to say anything."

"No, we are not." 

"Good," Lady Danbury said. "Last time we interfered they got married to the wrong people. I will not do so again." 

Violet looked down at the opposite end of the table again, a fond smile on her face. Maybe her baby boy would be ok after all. She looked around at the rest of her children. Benedict and Sophie. Colin, Eloise, Francesca, Gregory, Hyacinth. Daphne and Simon rounding out the table with Auggie and Amelia.  The fresh country air was doing them all a world of good. 

They all turned to the door when they heard a commotion at the doorway, and the housekeeper rushed in with a quick curtsy. "My Lord. My Lady," she began nervously. 

"What is it Mrs. Williams," Anthony's voice rang out across the table as he bounced Josey on his knee. 

"My Lord," she began nervously. "I, -." Before she could finish her sentence, Violet saw and stood quickly as Edwina flounced into the room. 

"My dear family," she exclaimed. "I have missed you!" 

 

Chapter Text

Flashback to Kate's wedding; Anthony's POV. 

 

He couldn't breathe. He was dying, he was sure of it. Kate was getting married, and he could do nothing to stop it short of throwing her over his shoulder and running away, causing a great scandal. She looked beautiful, every bit the future wife a peer of the realm in her white gown, her hair half down and tumbling down her shoulders. He inhaled deeply as he stole another look. Lilies. 

He had to walk her down the aisle as her next of kin. Something he didn't even think about when he consented to her marriage. And every step they took brought them closer to her future husband and farther away from him. He didn't want to let her go. He watched her from the corner of his eye. She played the gracious bride today, smiling to family and friends on both sides of the church. 

Months ago, he vowed to love, honor, and cherish Edwina in front of God and all, while never taking his eyes off of Kate. And now she was reciting her own vowels to the man who would have her future, and she never spared him a glance.  

Edwina sniffed at his side as they watched the ceremony, bringing a handkerchief up to her eye to wipe a stray tear. Across from him, his sister Daphne watched him, pity in her eyes. 

It took every ounce of restraint not to object. 

It took every ounce of restraint not to be ill. 

And then she was no longer Miss Kathani Sharma, rather she was Kate the Duchess of Lancaster in front of God and everyone. 

She wasn't his, but in his heart she always would be. 

Since the day he met her, he never imagined a day of his life without her, and now she was another man's wife. 

 

Anthony felt Kate stiffen at his side as Edwina pushed her way into the dining room. He quietly put a hand on her thigh under the table and squeezed gently. He would be damned if he let Edwina ruin this morning for her, not after such a great night. He gave her a reassuring smile then looked to his side at Henry. Edwina was hugging Violet right now, telling her that she'd missed her. She had yet to notice Kate or her children. Henry, though he was doing better, he didn't take well to strangers. 

"I missed you all so much. Italy was amazing, we should all take a trip there sometime, I think. Oh mama," she exclaimed as she ran to Mary. "You're here." 

Anthony Bridgerton was never at a loss for words, if you didn't count basically anytime Kate set him down with an insult, like after she stole his lucky mallet. But he really had no words right now. He leaned over to Henry, Josephine was now standing in his lap clinging to him, Edwina was very loud. "It's ok, my darling," he ran a hand through his dark curls. "You are quite safe." He kissed Josephine's cheek and then handed the startled baby to her mother who accepted her with a hint of relief, almost as if Josey was a piece of armor Kate could use to shield herself with. 

His guard was up. This was unfathomable, and he was angry. He would never directly go and ban Edwina from his homes, not when Kate was here and involved. The plans he had for himself, Kate, and the children, would place Edwina directly in his life for the rest of it. That didn't mean that he had to like it, but he would tolerate it for Kate. 

But Edwina was acting like nothing happened. 

He knew she was used to being the center of attention and during the entirety of their marriage he allowed it because it gave him less to do. Now though, it was nothing but awkwardness as his family sat in stunned silence around the table as Edwina made her rounds. 

She let out the biggest squeal when she noticed Kate and ran to her, causing Josey to jump and cry, and Henry jumped into his arms. "Didi! My sister! I have missed you! It seems you have been busy enough though. You have children. You are so blessed! Lady Danbury always said that you were probably travelling a lot as well. I was so inspired to travel myself." 

Kate was attempting to do double duty, settling her children and wrapping an arm around Edwina as she did so. Anthony stood with Henry and motioned to Eloise and Francesca who were close by, "Can you take the children?" He would not have this woman making the children uncomfortable, and if Henry saw any discomfort in his own mama he would not stop worrying for her. He passed Henry to Francesca and watched as the little boy leaned his head on her shoulder. They passed Violet on the way out who placed a comforting hand on his back, murmuring to him gently before they left. Eloise grabbed Josey quickly before doing the same. 

"Bon," Kate gasped and released her arm. "You are back."

"I had to," she shot a wink at him and sat in Henry's chair next to him. "I heard that you had lost your husband, and I had to do my sisterly duty and come and be here for you. And of course, I missed my family." She grinned at him, and he felt sick to his stomach. "Your children are beautiful, Didi. Such a shame that they will not grow up without a father. Though you did and look at you," she leaned across the table and took her hand. "A duchess." 

"Edwina," Lady Mary said warily. "Edwina, my dear. Come sit by me. Tell me about your travels." 

"Travels," Benedict sneered. "Is that what we are calling it now." 

Kate gasped and looked at him. Benedict had the most generous and kind heart out of any of the Bridgerton family members, and had been quite warm in his welcome to her. They'd become quite close. 

"Benedict, dear," Violet interrupted, "Can you pass the eggs." 

"Are we seriously going to sit here and pretend to be ok with this," it was Colin this time. 

"Didi, you must tell me what you have been up to these last years," Edwina said ignoring the chaos. 

Kate looked at him again, eyes wide and terrified and he shook his head. Kate did not owe her any explanation, and if she wanted to, she could do it on her own time in her own way. 

Edwina turned her gaze back to him and smiled. "How have you been, My Lord. I do hope that the pressure of hosting this large party has not overwhelmed you. But I am back now, and may be of assistance, yes." She grinned again at Kate. "Aubrey Hall has become quite the getaway destination in recent years." 

"Miss Sharma," Anthony snapped having enough. "Enough. You are not the hostess for this party, my mother is. You are no longer the Viscountess Bridgerton, in fact you are no longer a Bridgerton. You rescinded that title when you ran away." 

"I made a mistake, yes but surely we can, -." 

"You made your decision," he interrupted, and I made mine. "The only reason you are allowed in this house is because of your sister and Lady Mary and I do not want to see them uncomfortable but clearly, -."

"Why should you care for them if I am no longer your wife, My Lord." 

"You may have made your decision to no longer be a part of this family, but they have not. They are still my responsibility." 

"My intent was never to not be a part of this family," she said. 

"Your intent was to humiliate this family and bring scandal and shame," Benedict interrupted. 

"Did your funds run out," Colin sneered. "Is that why you are back?" 

Edwina stared at them and then turned back to him. "That was never my intent, I just needed to get away." 

"And you did," Anthony snapped. "You cannot expect me to be okay with continuing to finance your tour of shame with what was his name, Simon?" He turned to his brother-in-law at the other end of the table. 

"Mr. Bagwell," Simon input smoothly. 

"Exactly. I paid for your trip to Greece and Italy. Two countries, I myself never got the chance to see, having to inherit the responsibility of a title, my mother and my seven siblings at the age of eighteen. A title and a family you took advantage of and when it became mundane, you ran away." 

"It was never mundane!" 

"Let us all take a moment to calm down," Lady Danbury interrupted. "There are still children at the table. Miss Sharma, perhaps you can come sit down by your mother. See your sister's children are very particular about their seating arrangements while they eat, and they have a big day ahead of them, so they need to finish their breakfast. Can we all agree to hold our tongues until the youngest and most innocent around us have their nourishment?" 

There was a silent agreement between those still remaining at the table. He motioned to Mrs. Wilson. "Please direct my sisters to bring the children back so they can finish their breakfast. 

"Yes sir." The housekeeper curtseyed and moved swiftly from the dining room. He watched Kate carefully. She was distressed to be sure, but otherwise she seemed ok. He reached for her thigh under the table for another squeeze, and was rewarded with a brief smile which relieved him greatly. 

"I'm sorry," he whispered softly enough so that only she could hear.

"It is fine, Anthony. I'm fine." 

She wasn't fine. None of them were fine at the moment. The entire table was filled with people with such conflicting emotions that he was sure it was a matter of time before some exploded. Edwina found her way back down the table in an empty seat by Mary, just as the children were escorted back in by Francesca and Eloise. Henry ran up to his mama quickly and held his hands up to her in a sign that he needed her comfort. 

Kate and Henry's relationship was something he envied. As much as he loved his own mother, he never had that type of relationship with her. Eloise sat Josey down in Henry's empty chair, and he helped pull the chair in. She stood in the chair and started eating from his plate with her hands. 

"It is almost a waste to teach you manners," he scolded lightly, and the entire table chuckled, tension breaking for now. "You have your own plate," he motioned to her plate that he had moved in front of her, and she wrinkled her nose and pushed it away towards Eloise next to her. "No." 

"I think she likes your food better, brother," Benedict laughed. 

"So it would seem," he grinned and gave in like he always knew he would. He couldn't resist the precocious child. If this was a glimpse of his future, then he had to love the way it looked. 

 

Breakfast ended quickly, and Kate excused herself and the children to get them ready for the day. "Darling," Mary said. "Do you need assistance?" 

"No mama," she smiled as she held Henry's hand. "I am quite able to do it myself. The quicker we get ready the quicker we get to go see the new kittens, right Henry." 

He nodded seriously and then looked back at Anthony. "And then I ride horse with Antney." 

Of course, she wanted to visit with Edwina now that she was here, but the spectacle she caused with her interest, and ensuing argument with Anthony had caused a lot of tension. Benedict was still glaring daggers in his former sisters-in-law's direction, and she was quite sure Colin was plotting something with Hyacinth, but she couldn't hear what. 

Plus, Edwina really showed no interest of being introduced to her niece and nephew at all, beyond a "How sweet. He is just like you Didi with his love of horses." Which was probably all the better because Henry was not in the mood to be introduced to his aunt either, it seemed. 

Anybody he had met in this family had immediately sensed his hesitation. They'd gotten down to his level and waited for him to make the first move. Henry's scars from his own father weren't the visible kind, but they were there. As much as she tried to protect her little boy, she couldn't protect him from everything. Grey House was huge but Henry's world was small and revolving around three people. 

"I can help him get ready, Kate." Anthony stood and walked in their direction. "That way we can be sure he sees his kittens." 

"But My Lord, I wanted to speak to you," Edwina stood. 

"I am busy," Anthony snapped before lifting Henry into his arms and carrying him from the mood. 

"He certainly takes an eager interest in your children, Didi," Edwina stated as she sat back down. 

"Is it not sad that Anthony knows their name, and their likes, and their dislikes. And that they turn to him, to us all really for comfort, and yet their mother's own sister doesn't even know their names?" 

"Benedict," Violet said, a warning in her voice. 

"I'm just saying mother. The first person she wants to talk to is Anthony. The man who divorced her without a second glance back. Not the sister she hasn't been able to see these last five years or her own niece and nephew. Seems mercenary to me." 

"You know nothing," Edwina sneered and Kate took that as her queue to leave. She heard the voices raise in the dining room behind her. 

"Well," she tickled Josey's tummy. "We can certainly say that your aunt knows how to make an entrance. 

 

Henry had named his kittens in the barn, Grey, Smokey, Hazel, Midnight, and Josey. They had a feeling that Josey was not going to like that when she got older, but nevertheless, he was adamant on that name for the orange and white kitten. He enjoyed their horse ride and was becoming quite proficient in handling the reigns while cantering. The pride he felt while training him overwhelmed him, as much as if Henry were his own child. 

He wasn't stupid. He knew that he was filling that paternal roll for Henry and Josey with his actions of late, but it would be much more satisfying when he could make it official. When they would be legally theirs. It seemed too far away, so he embraced every opportunity he got to make sure they knew that he was going to be here for the rest of his life for them. 

He left Henry in the nursery with his sister and pulled Kate out with him. 

"Come with me," he whispered with a smile. He needed her. Needed to hold her and comfort her. He needed comfort from her as well. He pulled her into the library, a room he dreamed of having her in and shut the door, locking it behind him. He walked to her slowly and lifted her chin with his hands to meet her gaze. "Are you ok?"

"Has she always been that immature? Where did I go wrong?"

"That is not your fault, Kate. Your sister is spoiled and likes to be the center of attention. But that's because we give her too much credit because of who is she is by her birth, not by what she has actually done. You did an admirable job raising her. But at some point, you have to let go. If you need further proof that you are an amazing mother, look at Josey and Henry." 

She nodded and sighed. "Thank you. I needed that." 

He kissed her gently and lifted her onto the desk, lifting her skirts as he did." 

"Can you think of anything else you may need?"

She opened her legs to him and pulled him close. Clearly, she was done talking. 

 

There was something about the way Kate shuddered into his neck as she found her release that had him wanting more. "I needed that," she whispered. "Thank you." 

"My pleasure," he pulled up his trousers and helped her situate her dress and hair. She wore it down more so than up than she did when he first met her. It was the perfect blend of length and curls, and he couldn't resist tangling his fingers in it while he brought her pleasure. 

She helped him fix his cravat before she deemed him suitable enough to be in company again. "There," she whispered. "You are perfect."

"Am I," he grinned. 

"You are," she laughed and leaned in for another kiss which he was more than happy to return. "Perfect to me, at least." 

"Precious love," he moaned and kissed her again. "If you knew what you were to me. I would put Shakespeare to shame." 

"Finally a man of poetry, my lord?" 

"Only for you," they both laughed, and he placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. "I love you. You know that." 

"I do," she nodded and looked up at him. Her eyes shone with a debt of feeling he could drown in. "I love you too. I think I always have." 

He sucked in a breath and then leaned in to kiss her again. She didn't need him to make a big deal about her words of love, she needed to trust him with her vulnerability, a side Kate had a rather difficult job showing. "Come, my love. Before they miss us." He led her to the door and gave her another gentle kiss. "I'll meet you in the nursery before lunch," he asked, and she nodded. He let her go with one more kiss and made his way back to his desk. Not that he would ever be able to get any work done on it after what they had just done to christen it. 

 

"So, was she always your mistress? Is that why we never heard from her? Are those your children? That sure explains why you never came to my bed anymore," Edwina glared at her from her spot leaning against the doorway. "I never imagined in a hundred years that my own sister could betray me like this. But then again you two always seemed to hate each other a little too much." 

"You know nothing," he snapped. "You see nothing beyond the rose-colored lens of your own imagination, when the facts inconvenience you. I never went outside our marriage. That was you. I never took a lover. No, that was you as well. Your sister has been through hell and back these five years, and yet here you are, more concerned with issues you need to make up to ensure you feel better about yourself so you can make me the villain of our failed marriage."

"You failed in your duty to me and our marriage when you refused to come to my bed," she sneered. "Does that not make you the villain, my Lord?"

"Because I do not love you," he raised his voice. "Because we were completely incompatible with each other, and I realized I made a mistake."

"And bedding my sister is what, a conquest? Someone to warm your bed until you move on to the next one." 

"You will do well to watch how you speak of Kate in my presence," he gritted his teeth, his knuckles white as he clenched the desk in front of him. 

"Oh, she's Kate now, is she? My, my. You two have gotten close. Seems she has gotten quite close to your family too in my absence. They cannot say enough about her and the children. "

"She has earned the respect of my family. You threw it away." 

"I came back to try and start over!" 

"You came back because I shut off your funds! You came back because you hoped that your sister, who has always done everything would help bankroll you as well! I know all. You think I did not send men after you? I will do everything I can to protect my family from mercenary people." 

"And my sister is a part of that family now, is that right," she sneered. "My sister who you claim has not been your mistress, though it is quite obvious to me. You could not wait for me to leave so you have her." 

"Your sister is a part of my family now. Her and the children. I am their guardian and next of kin.  And one day she will be my family. Whether I will allow you to be a part of hers, or her children's, that is another question."

"You have no right, -.' 

"I have every right to protect the ones I love. You will do well to remember that before you try to create another round of lies to make yourself feel better about your guilt for ruining your own life, Miss Sharma. You forget yourself. I am master of this house. I am master over it all. You will receive the rest of your settlement from our marriage agreed upon before our marriage. Other than that, I need not and would be quite happy to not see you again."

"And you are a gentleman?"

"Well you are no lady," he said before walking past her leaving the room. Feeling like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. 

 

Chapter Text

Edwina walked down the long hallway walking to her husband's study. Her former husband's study that doubled as a library. She didn't know why he used the library as a study, Aubrey Hall was large enough. She needed to talk to him. This scandal that she was set to endure, granted by her own actions she knew, was going to be overwhelming, and Anthony had always been one to meet scandal on headfirst. He always fought hard for those he cared about, and while she was probably very low on that very short list of his, which included all of his family and few friends, she was still family, and she hoped to plead to his kindness to help her. 

She made it to the study, but the door was locked, and she heard her sister's voice through the door. Anthony's too. And it was very clear that they weren't talking. Dating back to their courtship Anthony and Kate's conversations were borderline hostile. They argued more than any two people she ever knew, and sometimes it was hard to keep up. Her sister's wit was razor sharp, and Anthony was the only one who could match her it seemed. 

She heard her sister gasp and then moan, and she knew. No, they weren't talking, not with words anyway. 

Any visits her husband deemed to pay her in their marriage were never passionate enough to make her feel anything really. He was gentle to be sure, never cruel, and the encounters never lasted long. It wasn't a marriage she expected with affection and companionship. 

She loved her husband. Deemed him a good man able to be changed by love. 

But then she realized he never really loved her. Her sister had been right all along. 

But now her sister was enjoying her time with Anthony it seemed, which was a stark difference then what she remembered of them. And the encounter seemed to be lasting longer than any of her own encounters with the man. 

A flash of jealousy bloomed in her chest.

Had they been together all along? Is that why he never seemed to be able to connect with her? Were her sister's children his? 

She had wanted children, as many as Anthony wanted, whatever that number was he never said. But after the first year of marriage, she knew the reality of her dreams of having children was a thing of the past. 

She was not innocent in the dissolution of their marriage, far from it. She antagonized him. Spent too much money in revenge for him not loving her. 

But this, this act of betrayal of sleeping with her own sister. Of treating her sister physically better than her ever had his own wife. 

She moved to the side when she heard her sister cry out his name and winced. His own shout was not far behind. She would confront him. She had to. She was not one to be trifled with and Anthony owed her answers. Her sister owed her answers. What seemed like hours later but in fact was mere minutes she heard the door open, so she shrank deeper into the shadow. Anthony had never been that tender with her. He'd never been that loving, and she had been his wife.

She watched her sister glide gracefully down the hall, an etiquette she must have picked up from her years as a duchess, she thought bitterly. 

Kate could have an illicit affair because she was a widow. She had children, and she had been married and outlived her husband. Now she was one of the wealthiest women in London if the scandal sheets would be believed. But that didn't excuse her of this betrayal. She would talk to her later. Anthony would face her wrath first. 

 

Kate found her way to the sitting room, humming happily to herself as she walked. Her Mama, Violet, and Lady Danbury were all sitting down for some tea. "Have you all seen Edwina? I was hoping to talk to her now that the children are playing."

"We have not seen her, darling," Mary said and motioned to the seat beside her. "Sit with me."

"Her entrance left much to be desired," Lady Danbury was saying. "And the family does not seem to be amiable to reconcile either."

Mary sighed. "I hate this. I raised my daughter better." 

"No," Kate said. "I raised her better. You were inept and grieving when appa died leaving me to deal with the fallout. She was spoiled. I told you all with the exception of Lady Bridgerton, that their marriage was a bad idea. I told you that he could not love her the way she desired or deserved. I told you and yet you were concerned about the exclusivity of the match. All of you. Heeding to Edwina's hopeful desires about marriage without grounding her in reality. You did the same with me. At least Edwina had the benefit of being married to a honorable man," she spat. "I do not blame the family for not being amicable. She embarrassed them. My children have to deal with this scandal because she is their aunt and he is their uncle. It was not bad enough that they have who they have as a father, they will have to deal with this too." 

"Kate," Violet soothed. 

"No," she snapped. "I am not in the mood to be soothed. I am not in the mood to be coddled. I am a grown woman, and I have lived through hell. While you were living in your luxury and attending lavish events, I was fearing for my life and trying to protect my children as best I could," she looked at her mother. "Did you even look for me? The day Edwina left that letter saying she ran off; you guys were all talking about search parties and finding her, but I suppose that I was not afforded that luxury, was I." 

The room stayed silent and Kate nodded. 

"I see," she walked to the door. "Coddle her some more. I am sure that will make her feel better of her actions. But I will tell you now, I will not recognize her. And spend some time with the children. I depart for Grey House tomorrow," she left the room in silence, coming face to face with Anthony. 

"You are not leaving," he asked, his eyes wide. "You cannot leave." 

"I am afraid I must, my lord."

"Not this again, Kate," he moaned and whispered. "Kate we just had," he sighed. 

"Did you look for me," she asked. 

"What?" 

"Did you look for me," she asked again. "After I married when you received no correspondence as to my well-being or whereabouts." 

"Kate," he said again. 

"That would be a no. Let me ask, if Daphne married then all but disappeared from the face of this earth, would you have just let that be, or would you have searched for her?" 

His jaw dropped open and then snapped shut before he reached for her arm and pulled her into a nearby room that wasn't being used and shut the door. "Of course, I looked for you. How could I not. Any inquiry I got back as to your whereabouts was that you wished not to be disturbed and that you were in good health. I figured you had just washed your hands of us, of me. I wanted to respect your wishes. Kate where is this coming from? I understand you are hurt and I have done a lot of terrible things that I will spend the rest of my life trying to make it up to you. But you have to know that I am on your side, do not push me away like this." 

She stared at him for a moment then collapsed into a nearby chair, her face in her hands as she cried, crying even harder when he rushed to her and kneeled in front of her. "Precious love," he whispered and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. "Talk to me. Tell me what I need to fix." 

"It's not you," she whispered and wiped some tears from her eyes. "The moms were in the sitting room discussing Edwina and I just snapped. I have been through hell, Anthony," she started

"I know," he whispered. 

"I've been through hell, not of my own making, and I am terrified of going back there. Of enduring another season. Edwina comes back after causing a scandal of her own, and she has no such thoughts. Why do I deserve to live with these memories when I did nothing but choose to marry and to live in the marriage that I chose?" 

"Because you are a mother, my love. You have always been a mother, to Edwina, to your children. You plan things ten steps in advance. You live your life based on your loved ones and the concern you have about your decisions and the effects it will have on them." 

"I will never be loved by Mary the way she loves Edwina." 

"And Edwina was never loved by me the way I love you, Kate." He kissed her gently. "I hope I can be a substitute at least." 

"When you are not vexing me," she sniffed. 

"That is how I show my love." 

"Well, you should find new ways then." 

"Like a half other ago in the library," he grinned and stood, lifting her from the chair, before he himself sat and pulled her into his lap. He arranged her legs over his and wrapped his arms around her, placing a tender kiss into his shoulder. "Edwina thinks that you were my mistress, by the way," he chuckled and she gasped. 

"What," she exclaimed. "Why on earth would she think that?" 

"Well, apparently we were not as quiet as we needed to be earlier, not that I would wish to ever be so. There is something about the way you scream my name when you fall apart," he grinned. "I have grown quite found of that sound."

"Shocking," she laughed. "You are no better." 

"Well, I've been screaming your name every night in my dreams these last five years. Forgive me if the reality is even better."

She pushed his shoulder and laughed. "You cannot talk like that!" 

He leaned in and nuzzled her neck, "Lift your skirt. and I will not be talking anymore." 

"That is not true," she laughed as he gave her a quizzical look. "Darling, you are very verbal in your love making. You say some of the filthiest things I have ever heard. And then the way you hold me," she sighed and gave him a kiss full of longing before standing up and lifting her skirt. He understood and made quick work of his trousers and pushed them down. "We have to be quiet down here." 

"Oh, I can be quiet," he grinned. "Can you," he challenged as he pushed into her. 

She moaned in relief and dropped her head back. No, she didn't think she could. A couple of days ago she was fearful of ever being intimate again. And she was quite sure the man moving above her had quite ruined her. 

And she was quite sure she was ok with that.

 

Dinner was a tense affair with all the children doing their best to ease the tension they didn't know existed. The conversation that Auggie and Henry were having across the table pointing out their oddly shaped potatoes put a smile on most of the adults faces, but all she could do was glare at her sister at the opposite end of the table next to Anthony, and tonight he seemed to be taking special interest in her conversation this evening, as he held her daughter. She remembered the duke and looking at Henry was like looking at a live image of him. Henry was definitely not Anthony's child. Josephine too had the duke's eyes so she wasn't his either. 

However, that didn't explain why Anthony acted so besotted around those children, when he had years to have his own with her, and he had barely even tried. She knew he was good with children; he was a great uncle to Daphne's and was on the floor with Auggie more often than not. Not only Anthony but everyone really seemed to have a good relationship with Kate's children. Benedict was currently helping Henry cut his meat while glaring daggers in her direction. 

She and Benedict had always tolerated each other. He was much too much of a loose cannon for her taste. But now it seems their relationship was non-existent. In fact, the only Bridgerton sibling that seemed to want to have a conversation with her was Hyacinth. Even Violet preferred Kate's conversation to her former daughter-in-law's. 

She had left and Kate had replaced her in a family she had worked hard to find her place in. It took her years to establish what Kate had in months. 

She hadn't been able to find Kate this afternoon, but she had found her mother and Lady Danbury and Violet in the sitting room who saw fit to give her a few set downs and rules to follow now that she was here. She no longer had access to the Viscountess rooms. She no longer was in control of the menus, of the planning, of anything relating to her old duties as the Viscountess Bridgerton. 

She accepted that freely, until she heard Violet say she wanted to discuss tomorrow's menu with Kate before she made any decisions. And apparently there was to be another Pall Mall game, another game which Kate excelled at, and she did not. If stubbornness and competitiveness was what it took to be a Bridgerton, then Kate had the in spades. 

The decision was made at the table for an early retirement to prepare for the long day tomorrow, and she had to hold back all the vitriol that threatened to burst forth when Anthony kissed Kate's cheek, and ushered her children out of the room, not before they each gave her a hug and a kiss. Violet had asked to speak with her so they left the room together. 

"I hope he marries her," Colin was whispering to Benedict and Sophie. 

"I really like her," Sophie said. "She puts him in his place, which is what he needs." 

"And she listens to him," Benedict added. "Plus, the children bring out this completely different side of him. It's like how he was before father." 

"I always liked Kate," Eloise said. "She never looked down on me for not wanting to be the standard debutante." 

"Nobody should be looked down on for being who they are," Benedict said and reached for his wife's hand. "We know that better than anyone." 

"You know, to be able to survive what she survived," Sophie started. "She told me that the only reason she was here now was because of her children. And I cannot imagine because Kate has so much will power and determination. To get to that point where you do not want to live anymore. I mean we all saw her the day after, but she had been going through that for years."

"Anthony would have lost it if she had not," Colin said and Benedict nodded his head in agreement. 

"At the beginning I always said that his divorce was for the best," Eloise said. "Perhaps trying to convince myself in an attempt to get through this scandal. But every day I see them together and I truly believe it."

"Anthony has done so much for us since father died," Benedict said. "It is only fair that he finds his happiness." 

Edwina ran from the room and made her way outside and into the gardens. The resentment for her sister grew. She had always loved her former husband but there was something that would not let him return her affection. Something was in the way, and it was clear now that it was her sister. And she had been played the fool. She wandered around the garden before slowly making her way upstairs. She saw them, Anthony and Kate outside of his rooms, whispering to each other. She'd been eavesdropping on conversations all day, so she figured what was one more? 

"Josey nursed," he asked Kate. 

"Nursed and is out like a light," she laughed quietly before running a hand through his hair. "And Henry is still demanding a horse ride in the morning." 

"I will remember," he laughed and took her hand, removing the glove he placed a lingering kiss into the palm of her hand. "I love you, darling." 

"I love you too," she pulled him closer and pressed a kiss onto his mouth, leaning her body into his and wrapping her arms around his waist. 

"My room or yours?" 

"Your bed is more comfortable. And bigger," she laughed. "And apparently I am too loud." 

He laughed and pushed the door open, "And that better not change."

She watched as they walked through the door, and he closed it behind them. She saw nothing but red. She had never slept in the viscount's bedroom. Anytime that they were intimate he visited her in her room and then left. She was his wife and yet her sister who for all she knew was acting as his mistress got everything from him that she had not. Because she could. Because unfortunately her husband had died. 

And now her sister had one more thing that should have been hers. 

She had his love. 

And that betrayal was something she was sure she could never forgive. 

Chapter Text

Kate had a maid summon Edwina to her room before breakfast. Today was reserved for horses and Pall Mall, but she really hoped to talk to Edwina before having to spend a whole day around her in silence again. She'd spoken to Anthony this morning about what she was going to say to her, but truthfully, she couldn't find the words. Even here now, after she had summoned enough courage to have a maid direct her here, her courage was failing her. 

She had to speak to Edwina about her misconceptions. She couldn't let that linger. Once upon a time her sister was the closest thing in the world to her. And now she felt like she barely knew her. She hoped once all of the scandal and the aftermath of the divorce, and her own grief settled that they could find that connection again, but it would take some time if they were both willing to work for it. 

Right now, she was having a tough time of deciding where her loyalties lie. She loved Anthony with her whole heart. The way she could be herself around him. The way he let her vent her frustrations. He was the first person in her life that actually told her that that what she wanted actually mattered, even if she didn't believe him at the time. 

"It doesn't matter what I want." 

"I don't believe that's true." 

Something was happening to her recently that her past seemed to be hitting her in waves. She had had a nightmare last night, but for the first time it wasn't about her late husband, but of Anthony leaving her. She woke up in a panic attack that shook her to her core. Anthony had done a good job of calming her down and holding her for the rest of the night. He listened to her fears in a way that made her feel like she was the most important person in the world to him at that moment, and maybe she was. 

These past months she had found solace in his family. She had always gotten along with them, but she found true comfort in Colin's teasing, and Benedicts sweetness. Even Sophie who had embraced her as a sister after listening to her story, after telling her own story of her untraditional courtship with the second eldest Bridgerton brother. 

Violet had even taken her aside yesterday evening and ask her if she was ok following her outburst that morning. She had taken her in her arms and assured her that if she ever needed to talk that she would always be there. It was probably the most needed embrace of her life. 

Speaking to Anthony last night in bed about it she told him about it. "She loves you." And that's the only thing he would say about it. Maybe that was all she needed to hear. She heard Edwina enter her room before she saw her. 

"Edwina," she said. "Do you want to sit down?"

She said nothing and continued to stand so Kate let her be. "I wanted to talk to you," Edwina scoffed. "I haven't had the chance since you arrived yesterday and that's my fault. My children consume a lot of my time." 

"Your children. Right." 

"Edwina," she said calmly. "I am trying to have a reasonable conversation with you now." 

"This reasonable conversation is happening about five years too late." 

"Edwina," she sighed. 

"You are having an affair with my husband, and you expect me to be reasonable." 

"Edwina," Kate exclaimed. 

"Tell me, Kate. Is marrying a duke and becoming a duchess not enough? Is having two children not enough?"

"Edwina," Kate started. "I did not call you here to fight." 

"No. You used a maid to summon me. Acting as the lady of this house, a privilege I apparently no longer have, because I went outside of my marriage to be happy."

"Edwina! You left! What did you expect him to do? To be ok? To be happy that you left the family in such scandal?"

"Scandal," Edwina yelled. "And how is my transgression any different than you sharing a bed with him?"

"I am a widow," Kate snapped, her tone cold and hard. A tone she had never once used on Edwina before. "I am a widow, and he is an unmarried man. Anything that has happened between us physically was done after the divorce. I am not perfect, and I will never pretend I am. But you Edwina. You are selfish. You cannot even see what you had right in front of you. Marriage to a good man."

"A good man who could not even be bothered to visit his wife in the same way he has you in the five years we were married." 

"Need I remind you, Edwina. Before your marriage I warned you that he could not love you. But you chose to marry him anyway. You chose your own fate, even after that disaster of a dinner with your grandparents. And you chose your own fate when you chose to leave your husband in the middle of the night. He is not your husband anymore, nor does he have any interest in being so. It pains me as your older sister to see you in this pain. I wanted nothing but the best for you. But your choice in a husband was always that, your choice. Never mine."

"How dare you say you wanted nothing but the best for me, when it is perfectly clear now that you always wanted him all for yourself." 

"You want the truth, here is the truth. If I wanted him, I could have had him. We have loved each other for a long time. The morning after the dinner with your grandparents he was going to call off the wedding and I convinced him not to, because for the life of me, all I wanted was for you to be happy. I was to go to India, but I stayed for you. I married a duke and stayed for you. Do not lecture me on wants or needs when I have spent my entire life before these last years giving you everything you ever desired you spoiled, selfish, little girl!" 

Kate walked to the door and yanked it open. "It is clear that this conversation is going nowhere.  I will not let you ruin my day like you ruined my life. So, I bid you see your way out." 

 

Anthony found her soon after, as he normally did and walked her down to breakfast. He had already gone on a horse ride with Henry, and the children would be breaking their fast in the nursery while the adults prepared for the events of the day. Edwina was sitting at the opposite end of the table having what seemed like a serious conversation with their mother. She watched as Benedict rolled his eyes and looked up at her. "Kate. What is your strategy for today's game," he asked with a mouth full of food. She didn't mind. Manners and etiquette had their place, but at a family dinner table you were allowed to be yourself.

"Well," she grinned. "Well I am going to get my lucky mallet and win." She sat down in her chair while the Bridgerton boys laughed at her response. 

"My lucky mallet," Anthony said. 

"You have a lucky mallet. Anytime I've played against you, you have lost." 

"Because the most maddening woman on earth seems to make her sole mission to make me lose." 

"A wise player plays their opponent," she looked down the table at Daphne. "Isn't that right, Daphne?" 

"Right you are again, Kate," she laughed. 

"Why is it that every single one of my family members cannot take my side for once," Anthony demanded. 

"They like me better, Anthony," she laughed as he glared at her. 

"I adore you," he leaned in and whispered in her ear. 

"I know," she smirked and returned to her tea. 

 

"Woman," Anthony roared as she sent his ball flying backwards so much so that he had to jump out of the way. "The wicket is in the opposite direction!"

"I realize that. But you are getting too close to it." 

"I thought you were on my side!" 

"I never said that," she smirked and moved so she could allow Benedict to take his turn. "Benedict does not hit my ball into mud puddles. I like him better right now." 

"I am so honored," Benedict drawled. 

"You should be," she laughed as he wrapped an arm around her shoulder and gave her a quick squeeze. 

"I am," he said sincerely and laughed when Anthony pushed between them leading her away with a scowl. 

"Find your own woman, brother," he called out and led her in the direction of his ball as Daphne took her turn. 

"What was that," she asked amused. "Do not tell me that you are jealous of your brother. He is married. And he's my friend." 

"I am jealous of anyone who shares your attention. Minus your children, my lady. 

"Come on, Bridgerton," Simon bellowed. "Take your shot!"

"In a minute," Anthony yelled. "I had to rescue Kate from Benedict."

Anthony stopped her where he wanted her to stand, just at his side and she rolled her eyes. He knelt down to line up his shot and she giggled. 

"Who would have guessed the former Capital R Rake was one for theatrics. You must be taking lessons from my daughter, My Lord. You know just yesterday she fell and just sat there. Then she realized that nobody was paying attention to her and twenty seconds later started to cry." 

Anthony stood up quickly and looked over at her. "She faked that," he exclaimed. 

She nodded, "And you took the bait."  Anthony had thrown down his winning hand of cards automatically forfeiting his turn to Benedict who won the round by default, and raced across the room to lift her into his arms. She watched as Anthony continued to glare at her as she laughed at him. 

"Stop laughing." 

"Stop being so dramatic, my love. It does not suit you. But you better take your shot before Colin comes and beats you with your lucky pink mallet. 

Anthony lined up his shot again and swung. His ball hit the giant flower vase and veered to the opposite direction of which he wanted. He let his head fall back and swore. "I do not understand, my love. I thought you were good at this game." 

He glared at her again before her gathered her into his arms pressing a rough kiss to her lips. "This is entirely your fault. First you steal my lucky mallet. Then you taunt me and throw my game off. And then you distract me by running that mouth of yours that has me so bewitched. Anything you say to me, no matter how insulting comes off us poetry to my ears. Body and soul, I am yours." 

She ran a hand through his hair and pressed another gentle kiss to his lips and sighed. "I know. But I am still going to beat you." She laughed and skipped up the hill to join Eloise to take her shot next while Simon went and stood by him. 

"It is a wonder," he said. "I never thought I would ever see Anthony Bridgerton completely under the control of a woman." 

"You joke, but I see you with my sister." 

"I was talking about Josey." 

Anthony glared at him as Simon left to join the rest of the crew. 

 

They had spread blankets out across the lawn after the Pall Mall game which Benedict won thanks to Kate's help. Kate was sharing a blanket with Sophie and Benedict and Anthony was helping Henry get some food. Josey was on Sophie's lap eating a piece of fruit and making a mess but nobody minded. 

"You know," Benedict was saying. "That was the first time I have won in years." 

"That is because you are far too nice," Kate teased. "Sometimes I think you are too nice to be a Bridgerton. And then you run your mouth and sound just like Anthony."

Sophie giggled and handed Josey another piece of fruit.  "I do not sound like Anthony," he exclaimed. 

"That is exactly the same type of thing Anthony would say." She looked around for him and her son and found them talking with his mother and Lady Danbury. Looking over towards Edwina and her mother, she found that for once Edwina was glaring at her but at Anthony and her son. Benedict, who was very intuitive, followed her gaze. 

"Have you spoken to her," he asked. 

"Briefly this morning," she sighed and looked down at her plate. "It did not end well." She shifted a little and looked directly at Benedict. "Anthony has given me a rundown of their marriage, but he is one side. I do not think I will ever be able to get her side from her without being attacked." 

"It was definitely a two-sided issue," Sophie spoke up. "It was obvious to me when I first met the family." Benedict nodded. 

"There were fights," Benedict added. "They never turned violent; Anthony would never do that. She did throw a crown at him once. She wanted a child, which is understandable. If she had lovers before this Bagwell fellow, she was very discreet."

"She shopped a lot and spent a lot of time redecorating, and then re-redecorating. It was turning a lot of the staff against her. Anthony was livid when five maids quit in a month because she was being so demanding."

"She also blamed your disappearance on him," Benedict said quietly. "Which of course did not settle too well with him, because you're... well, you're you."

"But she never really questioned why you left, I do not think. At least according to Daphne and Eloise." 

"One time she screamed at Hyacinth because she had one of your old dresses and she tried it on. That started another fight," Benedict said and accepted a piece of fruit from Josey who was holding a grape up to his mouth. 

"She screamed at her," Kate asked in shock. Hyacinth was precocious just like Josey, but she couldn't imagine ever being upset with her simply for trying on a dress. "Why?" 

"We never found out. But Anthony and my mother were on her about it for months."

"They fought at our wedding. I think it brought back memories to their own wedding day and how the marriage failed at the beginning." 

"He said he never went outside his marriage," Kate said. 

"I do not believe he did. He spent most of his time in the study and avoiding her when he could. She would often barge in and yell at him for not paying attention to her, but there were times when he tried, and she did the same thing he was doing," Benedict said. "He always felt guilty that he could not do his duty. He always wanted children. Our father was his hero. He wanted to emulate him by being a hero to his own children." 

"Five years and no children," Sophie shook her head. "That has got to be tough enough." Kate and Benedict shared a look. There were no children because the marital bed had become nonexistent in their relationship, if it had ever existed in the first place. 

She felt for both Anthony and Edwina. Her own children were her blessings, and if she had known what she knew now about how her own marriage would turn out, she would do it all over again for those perfect kids. She would never ever wish they were conceived any differently, only that they would have had a more capable father. But their father had demos he could not exercise, and she bore the brunt of his disapproval. 

She did not love him when she married him. They understood each other and made each other laugh. They had a matching wit and a sense for sarcasm that she found refreshing. And they shared a distaste for the restrictions of society. When he said they would spend most of their time at their country estate, Haven Valley, she was most receptive. Living in the country meant not having to be in town where Anthony and Edwina would most likely be the stars of the ton in their newlywed state. 

She would never know. The first beating came on their honeymoon, when he had imbibed too much. She pushed it off as an accident. But then they continued. Every time he left bruises on her she felt a little piece of her die. The only time they would stop was when she was pregnant. She was thankful he never touched the children. 

She smiled at Josey who was waving her hand around at Benedict who was playing with her. She had a grape in her hand, and she was holding her hand still until he tried to grab the fruit from her hand with his mouth, and then she would move it again. She'd grown much these three months since her papa had died. They all had but they all had their scars. Josey's was wearing the name a father she would never know. The duke was highly respected in the ton, and despite the way he died, Anthony and Simon were able to keep most of the events of what occurred out of the scandal sheets. Henry and Josey would not pay for the sins of the father. 

But for the mother? She would be the first to admit that her actions here at Aubrey Hall were absolutely reckless. But she could not bring herself to care, and that is what terrified her. She knew that Anthony's family would never, ever open up to the outside world. What happened behind closed doors, remained so. They would never betray one in their family. But she was not a part of their family no matter how you looked at it. 

Neither was Edwina anymore, and Edwina knew. And she was bitter. Putting the blame entirely on herself was unfair. She loved Anthony. She loved being with Anthony, not just in his bed, but just being around him made her world a little better. The way her smiled at her, and held a conversation with her, and never talked down to her. The way he was with her kids. 

Henry let out a squeal and they all turned their attention towards the sound. Colin was chasing him and Auggie after they took a pastry from his plate it seemed. It was all in good fun, Colin was a great uncle. Simon and Anthony were egging the boys on, and Edwina looked on wistfully. 

It wasn't fair that she was sitting here and feeling sorry for her sister who all but called her whore earlier this morning, but she supposed such was the life of being the older sibling. She wondered if Henry would ever feel that way about Josey. She hoped not. She hoped she would always be around to ease his burden as he grew into becoming the Duke of Lancaster. Suddenly she felt wholly inadequate. She was raising a Duke and a Lady, but to her they were just kids. She wanted them free from the burden of societal pressure. She wanted them to laugh and play and run on the lawn being chased by loved ones. That was her hope when she had her first born at Haven Valley. 

If Aubrey Hall was large, Haven Valley was palatial comparatively. The grounds were full lush and green, and in the winter, they looked peaceful and serene. The home was at one with nature and though was large was actually a haven. She had missed it recently especially when she got sentimental. Both children were born there. 

If there was one thing besides children that she got out of her marriage that Edwina never got out of hers, it was growth. She knew exactly who she was. She was strong, and confident, and broken, and she would freely admit to that. More than that she was ok with being all those things, because she was alive. Anthony had asked her one time if she had any regrets, and she really hadn't. 

"I would marry him again and again because I am not ashamed. I know I did nothing wrong." 

"But he could have killed you." 

"I did nothing wrong." 

And maybe that was the difference between her marriage and Anthony and Edwina's. She had no regrets, and they had many. 

 

Edwina watched Henry run with wild abandon from Colin straight into Anthony's arms and sighed. "It is not right that he gets to act a surrogate father to children that he did not even want to have in the first place," she said to her mother as she sipped her lemonade. 

Mary hummed. "It is good that he has Anthony to care for him like that, given his father was mainly absent from his life." 

"Hmm," Edwina said. "Just like Anthony in our marriage." 

"Edwina," Mary sighed. "I am not excusing him from what he did that lead to the fallout, but you have to admit to taking some responsibility too. The blame is not entirely on his shoulders."

"No. It is on Kate's as well. She was the third party in our marriage, I just did not know it at the time. She was always there. Every time he rejected me. Every time we fought."

"This is not on Kate either, Edwina. And you would do well to start recognizing your own bad behavior as well." 

"I did what I had to do to catch his attention," Edwina said. "I wanted children. I wanted a family. It was not enough to watch Anthony playing with our niece and nephew, but he was good with them mama. He showed he had a heart. It is what I saw in our courtship. It is why I wanted to become his viscountess." 

"But not his wife," Mary looked her straight in the eye. 

"Mama!"

"It takes more in a marriage than to become a title. A viscountess handles the social aspects required of the family, but a wife handles the personal aspects that come with being married. And personal will always outweigh anything socially related, especially with a family such as the Bridgertons. And you knew that."

"But I wanted a family! I wanted a marriage with children! I tried!"

"A marriage needs to be exactly that. A marriage. It is a joining of two people who are wanting to spend their lives together. A marriage is more than just children Edwina. It is helping him with estate issues. Visiting tenants. Sharing the burdens of the world with the one you trust. It is wanting the best for the other person even when you dislike them. That is a marriage. Children are amazing, but without a stable marriage, there will only be suffering." 

Edwina scoffed. "Like my sister sleeping with my former husband three months after her own husband passed away. That sounds really stable," she rolled her eyes. 

Mary shifted uncomfortably, "You know not what you speak."

"I know plenty," Edwina snapped. 

"You know nothing about Kate's relationship with the duke, and you will do well to remember that. You have been hostile towards Kate since you have come back and therefore you have not had the time to bond with her since. She was away for five years, Edwina. Five years. And it was not due to her own desires. Your marriage was bad, yes. But hers was worse. And if you want to know more. If you want to realize how lucky you actually are. You can talk to your sister, like an adult, and set this pettiness aside, because frankly I am getting tired of it. I want to play with my grandchildren, but I have to coddle you because nobody wants to talk to you because you are being unpleasant. You are my daughter and I love you. But I will not let you live in this denial and self-pity for much longer." 

 

In a way it happened quickly. She had been standing there talking to Simon and Daphne when she felt a hand grip the back of her arm and the world went dark. The voices around her faded and the world blurred. The hand was much too small to be her husband's she realized but it was too late. Her breathing became labored, and her eyes went wide. 

"Mama?" 

"Kate?"

"Your Grace?!" 

"Can you hear me?!"

"MAMA?! I HERE!"

"Darling, look at me." 

A baby cried in the background, and she couldn't breathe. She could not breathe. 

"Mama!" 

"Anthony get over here!" 

The world around her was a blur and she held her hand to her chest as she stumbled backwards into what felt like a table. 

"Kate!" She felt a pair of arms circle around her and she tried to push them away. "Love, talk to me." 

"Mama hurting!" 

She felt her head move back and forth as she tried to catch her breath. She could hear Henry screaming for her, and Josey crying. 

"Kate, sweetheart. I am here. You're safe."

"No. No, I'm not," she panted. "I cannot see." 

"You're safe. You are Kate. You are at Aubrey Hall. We just ate lunch, and we were all about to go walk to the lake. Henry is here next to you. Josey is here. I am here. And we love you. Come back to us, my love. Breathe." 

She struggled but took a deep breath. 

"That's it. Breathe. Slow breaths in and out." 

She saw the colors of the world become vivid again and heard Henry's cry. "Mama, talk to me. I scared." 

She struggled to find her footing as she sunk into his embrace. Anthony. He was here. 

She felt Henry's little hand tug on her arm. "Mama?'

"Sweetheart," she heard Anthony. "It is ok. Your safe. Come back to me." 

She was not ok. It was not ok. 

All she could do was cry. 

 

 

*******************************************************************

A glimpse of Haven Valley.

 

This image may contain College Grass Plant and Slope

 

Chapter Text

Lady Danbury had seen many things in her well-lived life, but never had she been so shaken then when she saw Kate lose control over herself. It was almost as if she lost control of all her senses and there was nothing else but to hyperventilate. One minute she was smiling and talking animatedly to Simon and Daphne, the next she was gone. Henry was beside himself to see his mama like that and no matter how many times she tried to pull him out of the way, he clung to her arm. 

"Thank heaven that Anthony was there," Violet said as she stood with her cup of tea in the upstairs sitting room that they had all gathered in. The room was quiet except for a few quiet conversations, all in concern about the Duchess. "He seemed to know what to do. Has she had an episode like that before?" Violet and Lady Danbury looked to Mary who was standing at the window looking out across the grounds. 

"She had a fear of storms when she was younger," Mary said quietly. "In fact, she may still have that fear, I do not know because my eldest daughter is so stubborn and independent that she likes to hide things from her mama, because she feels the need to protect me. It is nonsense obviously. I do not need protecting. But Kate has always had it in her mind that she has needed to pay me back for being her mother, which is absolutely nonsense because even I have failed her at that." She looked down at her hands. 

"I thought she was doing better," Sophie said quietly. "She seemed to be doing better. She lets people touch her now. She laughs." This was breaking her heart. Sophie and Kate had become quite close recently. They shared a commonality of feeling like outsiders even in the best of moments. Sophie the illegitimate daughter married to the second son of a nobleman. Kate the daughter of a commoner who rose to the title of duchess. Benedict wrapped an arm around his wife and pressed a small kiss to the top of her head. 

"Where are the children," Mary asked quietly. 

"They went with her and Anthony," Violet responded. "I did not have the heart to separate Henry from his mother, poor child. So distraught." 

"He is connected to her in such a way. He is almost her protector," Lady Danbury said. "He has had to grow up far too much in his short life."

"Kate has tried to protect him," Mary defended. 

"I did not say it was Kate's fault. She is an excellent mother. But children hear and see far more than we ever give them credit for." 

"I do not understand what is going on," Edwina said to no one in particular. "Everyone is acting as if she is dying. She isn't dying." 

"Why are you even here," Colin snapped. "I have been wondering that for days."

"Colin," Violet exclaimed. 

"I seriously would like to know as well," Benedict sat forward on the sofa. 

"I am here," Edwina snapped. "Because the viscount and I have issues to work through." 

"Issues," Colin smirked. "That is what they are calling it now, Ben. Issues." 

"I am happy to know that." Benedict laughed and then turned to face Edwina. "But you are lying." 

"Ben," Sophie said quietly and squeezed his hand that she was holding. 

"No," he interrupted his wife. "I have a right to know. We have the right to know," he motioned to the room. "Anthony has done everything for this family since he was eighteen years old. He was a father to all of us. A protector. I am ashamed of myself for not stepping up as the second son and being the support, he needed for as long as I did. We were the hardest on him more so than any other in our family, and yet he offered us his best. He may not have been the perfect husband, but he did the best he could under the circumstances." 

"What circumstances," Edwina hissed. "All he did was throw money at his problems to make them go away. He threw money at me to make him go away." 

"The circumstance that he felt guilty for proposing to you when he was in love with Kate," Benedict exclaimed. "He married you out of the obligation that was made when he proposed. He tried to call it off, but your sister convinced him not to break your heart. Do not be mistaken Miss Sharma, my brother should have called it off. We could have survived the scandal, and I wish he would have. But he could never deny Kate anything she wanted, and she wanted you to be happy. Granted I learned all of this after the wedding, and maybe if I had been a better brother I would have realized and stopped him. He would not have married you and Kate would not have, -" he trailed off. "No matter. It no longer matters. Kate is here now, and he is happy. That is all that matters to me." 

"You do not even care that he could be ruining your name by having an affair with, -" Edwina started. 

"I think," Simon interrupted. "I think that that is enough of this conversation." 

"Simon is right," Daphne said. "We should be focusing on Kate and her well-being," she shot a significant look in Edwina's direction. "And besides. We all know what you are doing here. You are scared about losing your status, your friendships, your lavish homes. You thought it would be easy for you to run away because Anthony is about honor and not embarrassing his family, so you could have your fun, and no one would be the wiser. But Kate came back into all of our lives quite unexpectedly, and Anthony remembered what it was to be strong."

"You have no right. I love him."

"You loved the lifestyle he offered you," Simon said. "You did not love Anthony the man," he squeezed his wife's hand. "Daphne is right. We should be focusing on Kate right now. And the children. Henry was beside himself." 

 

Anthony had Josey on his hip and Henry clinging to his leg when he shut Kate's door behind them. She was distraught but he had convinced her that it was important to rest. The argument with Edwina this morning had rattled her, she had admitted as much. But a lot of it came with the distinction that their own relationship took this week, their new level of intimacy and that was on him. He had been so relieved to finally have her in his arms, in his bed. He should have paid more attention, that was his failing. 

"Mama alright," Henry asked, his dark brown eyes wide as he looked up at him.

He knelt down to meet the child's gaze. "Your mama is fine, my darling. She just needs some rest." 

"I hurted her," the boys eyes filled with tears. 

"No, my sweet," he said soothingly. "You did nothing wrong. Mama just needs some rest. And then when she gets up later, we will all be together again. You know your mama loves you very much." 

He nodded but he did not look convinced. Another failing of his absentee father, a title that Anthony was desperately trying to fill for him. But Henry's scars were connected to Kate's. Henry had seen much, though he hadn't known what he had seen. All he knew was that his mama was hurt, and his papa was the villain. Anthony had hopes though, that as he grew in the bosom of his family that all of their love and adoration for him would help him to forget he ever had a father who hurt his mother and in doing so hurt him as well. 

He stood and reached for his hand again. "Let us go find the others."

"It not my nap time?"

He grinned down at the boy. "We will not tell mama that you and Josey did not have a nap today." 

"A secret?"

"A secret," he chuckled. Kate would know by the end of the day. Henry was terrible at secrets. And Josey might still fall asleep yet if her head resting against his neck was an indicator of any kind. They made their way down a long hallway past the family rooms and into the sitting room his mother used to entertain when she was still viscountess. A room Kate could utilize if he had his way in a few months when her mourning period would be over, and he could promise her forever. He could take care of her and love her. He could be the husband to her that she always deserved. 

He could be a father to her children. 

All of his deepest desires centered around Kate and her children and any future family that they might have together. 

They finally reached the sitting room and walked in. The whole room turned to them in the doorway and Henry hid behind his leg. His mother walked up to them at that moment and Henry reached up for her. She lifted him into her arms and placed a gentle kiss into his hair. She smiled a shaky smile and reached for his hand. "Are you alright, my darling?" 

He nodded and inhaled a deep breath. "She is resting, which is what she needs." 

She nodded and rocked Henry a little bit, who was begging to look about drowsy himself. Leave it to a mother to know exactly what a child needs at the moment. "I am glad that she is alright. But I want to know if you are alright. I love Kate. I adore her even. One day she will make me an excellent daughter," she smiled, and he smiled back. "The woman who my son's heart cries out for, and her children are the best things to happen to us because she makes you smile. She makes you laugh. She loves you Anthony, which I all I ever wanted for you. You have always been there when we needed you, and we have all been less than grateful. You knew exactly what Kate needed today, and I cannot imagine how terrified you were for her. Let us be here for you now. How are you doing?"

"I am fine," he said. "I am a little shaken, but that is expected I think." He handed Josey over to Mary who had walked over to them. Josey was a tiny girl, long and lean much like her mother, but he had been holding her this last hour, and his arms were grateful for the break. Josey resisted at first, wrapping her arms around his neck, but eventually settled into Mary's calming embrace. 

"Would you like some tea, Lord Bridgerton," Lady Danbury asked as they moved away from the door and further into the sitting room. He found a seat by Hyacinth. He wrapped an arm around her and brought her to his side for a hug. He nodded in appreciation as Lady Danbury handed him a cup and took a grateful sip. 

"Is Kate alright," Hyacinth looked up at him, her eyes wide and fearful. Her voice quiet.

"She is fine, my sweet," he reassured her. "She is resting." She nodded and settled into his side more. Out of his youngest siblings he was closest with Hyacinth. In a way she was the one that prepared him for fatherhood. The reason he knew of Josey's different types of cries, and Henry's own quirks. And she was a lot like Kate with her rambunctious independent nature. He looked around the room. "Has everyone been waiting here this whole time?"

"We were worried about Kate, brother," Sophie said. "But if she is alright, I suppose we can disperse. I myself find myself much in the need of a nap. I can speak to Kate later."

"She is alright, Soph," he smiled at her. Now his only sister-in-law, she had been a breath of fresh air for the Bridgerton family these last two years. He would always be grateful for the way she accepted Benedict, whole heartedly without hesitation. "You go rest. I will have Ben let you know if anything happens." 

He watched as his brother stood and held a hand to his wife to assist her out of her chair. Sophie was as petite as Kate was tall, but both women carried themselves with a grace that was hard to find in society. She gave him a brief hug on her way out. "We love you brother," she whispered. "We are here for you, just like you have been for us. Always." With a smile she was out the door.

Edwina soon followed and the tension he felt lifted. 

"What was going on before I came in here," he looked at the room suspiciously. He watched as Ben and Colin looked down, and Violet looked away. Daphne met his eyes head on though, and smirked. 

"There was concerned expressed as to why Miss Sharma is back, and though she gave no answer, we all know why it is." 

"You need to end this," Simon said as he walked across the room. 

"We are divorced. I do not know how much clearer I can be, Hastings."

"What Simon is saying is that as long as Edwina lives in her delusions, she will constantly be a source of tension in this household. In this family. Now I am not saying you should throw her out. That would do more harm than good. And we do have Kate and Mary to think about," Daphne looked up at Mary and smiled at her. "You need to have a conversation with her and explain to her that under no certain terms will you remarry her or give her any more than she deserves which is her settlement from the marriage agreement."

"I have talked to her," he defended. 

"You have argued with her. You allowed your anger to get the best of you, and I do not blame you for that. What she was accusing you of was terrible. But you did not have a conversation with her. You need to sit her down and air your grievances. She will try to turn it into an argument, but you must not allow it. The sooner you do this the sooner Kate will feel better about accepting your suit. She needs to know that the only reason she is still allowed at any of our homes is because of Kate. She needs to hear it from you."

He looked around at the others in the room and they were all silent but the matriarchs, including Mary seemed to be in agreement. 

"I am well aware of my own failures with my daughters. One I coddled too much and one too little. But she will not listen to me." She sat next to him on the other side, still holding Josey who was sound asleep at this point. "Anthony, she has not even so much as held these children, and they are her niece and nephew. She is definitely not here for Kate. She is here for you."

He broke down a little inside. Kate who had sacrificed so much of her own happiness for Edwina, and Edwina would not give her a second glance except for heated glares, and nasty words. He had never had more regrets than now for how he had treated Kate during his courtship of Edwina. 

Every rose has its thorn, indeed. 

His stomach dropped and he had to sit forward. He treated her horribly. Sure, she had enough of her verbal wit to counteract it, but that did not signify. It started with Dorset. To the way he demanded she tell him about her feelings for him here at Aubrey Hall, to the very next day making her watch him propose to her sister and hold her sister's glove as he slipped his mother's ring onto her Edwina's finger. A ring that should have always been hers. A ring she would never accept from him. The way he cut her off after she asked to speak about the events here at Aubrey Hall as he declared nothing between them. His jealousy over her and Dorset. His jealously over her and the duke. The way he treated her after she became engaged. All of it. 

It was all his fault.

He felt sick. 

Kate would always bravely claim that her decisions were her own, but he knew better. She never would have married that man had she been given another choice. She never would have been hurt. She never would have feared for her life or for her children. She would have known the love and joy of a physical connection from the beginning like she deserved. 

He would never forget the way her eyes widened as she reached completion for the first time in her life with him the other night. The way she cried in his arms after, clinging to him. He had to assure her. Tell her that this was what she deserved, to be touched in that way by a man who adored her. A man who would always love her. To be touched by a man who would never think about hurting her physically as she had been. 

"Anthony," Violet looked concerned from her seat. Henry was asleep in her lap, his head against her chest. "Are you alright?" 

No, he wasn't alright. Quite the opposite in fact. He knew how to calm Kate down today because all those years ago in the garden after a bee sting, she calmed him down. She was injured and she calmed him down. He stood abruptly, causing Hyacinth to almost fall over. "I need a moment." He walked quickly out of the room and down the hall, fighting the threat of tears. 

I am sorry, Kate. I am so damn sorry. 

But the tears eventually rebelled and fell.

 

Edwina walked the long hallway between the dining room and the ballroom, pausing at the area where her own portrait with Anthony use to be. It was now just a blank space. She had no idea how long she had been standing there staring at a blank space on the wall, but she felt someone beside her. 

It was Eloise. 

She and Eloise were never the best of friend's even during her courtship with Anthony. Kate had more of an impression her, she was ashamed to admit. 

"You know I never really liked you," Eloise said. "I never disliked you either. You were just kind of there. You did not fit in during Pall Mall, you preferred cards and dancing to anything to do with the mind. And of course, you never saw the real Anthony." 

"I did so," she protested. "We were married." 

"You did not," Eloise interjected. "Anthony put on a front the entirety of your courtship. I am afraid you found that out soon after your marriage."

"Nobody saw fit to tell me," Edwina snapped. 

"I know Daphne did," she said. "Kate did as well. You did not listen to them. And the more I think about the more I feel like my sister is right. And I really do despise you for making me say that." 

Edwina looked away. 

"You see. You did want the title, not my brother. And I do not blame you for that. My brother is a good man. I have been out these past five seasons and realize just how rare that is. But you see, you also blame Kate for it. And I have always liked her. And I have a problem with that." 

"Why would you have a problem with that? She is my sister." 

"Because she married a man, she did not love just so she could stay in the country for you. A man who took her away from her family. A man who beat her even on his best days. A man who almost killed her. A man who would have killed her had not Simon killed him first in that duel." 

Edwina gasped. 

"You see Miss Sharma. The world does not revolve around you so much that you get a pass because of hurt feelings over a disastrous marriage that you yourself left. At least not from me. And not from anybody here. You can be mad at my brother all you want. But ultimately it was your decision to marry him. Not your sister's. And it was your decision to leave him. Not your sister's." She looked up at the blank space. "She needed you that day that the duke died, and you were not there. She asked about you. You were the first one she asked for. And yet you treat her with scorn because your feelings are hurt because my brother did not love you enough to stay with you through your indiscretion. I think you well know that Benedict, Colin, and I are through with your games, sister," she sneered sarcastically and looked back up at the wall. "I think the wall looks much better here blank, do you not think so," she asked then walked away. 

 

Anthony let himself into Kate's room quietly and locked the door. She was beautiful while she slept and today was no different. He spent the last hour riding to clear his thoughts. He couldn't be around Kate when he was that distraught though he knew she would frown at him if he ever told you that. He would have ridden longer if his horse had not been exhausted by two rides today, and his heart had been calling out for her. 

He removed his boots and crawled under the covers behind her. Her back was against his chest, and her hair was down. She was breathing deeply enough for him to realize she was definitely still asleep. He placed a gentle kiss to the back of her head. "I have you, my love. I will always have you." 

"Anthony," she mumbled. 

"Yeah, my darling." 

"You are too loud, and I was sleeping." 

He chuckled lightly and gave her another quick kiss pulling her in closer. "I am sorry, precious love. Go back to sleep while I hold you." 

She signed deeply and turned to face him, burying her face in his chest and quickly fell back to sleep. 

He had a lot of making up to do. 

Chapter Text

There were many things that Anthony wanted to do this morning. Chase Henry down the hall. Break his fast with Kate. Play with Josey. Join his brothers on their hunt. So many other things. 

Talking with his former wife was not one of those things. In fact, he would be content not to speak to Edwina every again. But Daphne had gotten into his head. As had Kate when he told her in the middle of the night after an exhausting round of lovemaking. He hadn't wanted to bring up her sister post haze, but Kate was the woman he trusted most in the world, and her opinion meant everything to him. 

Plus, he was trying to establish a relationship built on honesty. His failure of a marriage was due to him not being honest during his courtship of Edwina. Not to Edwina. To Kate. To himself. And Kate deserved to know everything on his heart, just as he demanded on her. He absorbed her random bouts of anger because that was his duty to her, as her friend, as her lover, as her future, that she needed to know that he would love her through all of the trauma of her past without repercussions.  He demanded the truth from her about her feelings. He demanded her to yell when she was angry, cry when she was sad. If she wanted to beat her fists into his chest then so be it, at least she would not be holding back. 

She kissed him as they left her room this morning, they really should be more cautious, but neither one of them could bring themselves to care. He had loved her for so long and she him that it was freeing in a way to be able to hold each other at the end of the day, and to wish each other luck at the beginning. 

So she was on the way to her children, and he was on his way to the sitting room downstairs, that wouldn't be occupied, but was close enough to the dining room that should Edwina attempt anything untoward, somebody could be there quickly. 

He did not think she would, but Edwina wasn't herself lately. 

Or maybe she was exactly herself right now and everything else had been a front? He didn't know really. He didn't really know his wife, another failing of his, but he could not bring himself to care. He had summoned her as he was getting dressed for the day. Better to get it over with. He would not be able to ride with Henry today, but Benedict had volunteered to do it. Henry didn't deserve to have his routine altered because the adults in his life couldn't get their acts together. 

He walked in and she was already there standing, looking out the window. She was shorter than Kate, much like Sophie. Her hair was up and immaculate as it always was, and she was in a light pink day dress he recognized. Every bit the society woman she was groomed to be. Right down to the way she held her hands in front of her. 

She wasn't Kate. 

Kate who preferred purple and jewel hues. Who preferred her hair down mostly or in a braid. Kate who rebelled against the rules of society and who rose to an even greater society position than even her 'perfect' sister the diamond, without so much as lifting a finger. 

That is one thing the duke had over him. He saw Kate's value much faster than he. Though Kate had paid the price. 

"I asked them to bring some breakfast," Edwina's voice broke into his thoughts. "I know you haven't eaten. Neither have I." 

"I thank you," he nodded and motioned for her to take a seat. She chose the blue sofa in the middle of the room, and he too the seat across from her and helped himself to a plate of food that was on the middle table. 

"Why am I here, my lord," she glared at him wearily. 

"I figured we need to talk," he began. "Not fight, but really talk." 

"Well how grateful I am that you can drag yourself away from my sister to find time to speak with your wife." 

He sighed and ran a hand over his face. "Edwina, you know you are not my wife anymore. And the only reason you have access to this house is because of Kate and Mary. That is it. I had much rather you not be here. I do not wish to see you. But here we are. And I plan on being in Kate's life for a long time. And you are her sister. So I am trying to put our relationship to rest so that we might move forward."

 "You hate me that much," she said. "That all you can think about when I left was divorce? We were married and we planned a life together. I thought you would come after me. To bring me back home. Instead, I read in Whistledown of my own divorce. I did not have a choice in the matter." 

"We were married. I will agree with that. But we did not have a marriage."

She winced as his words hit their target, and he had no guilt over it. "We did not have a marriage because Kate was always in the way." 

"Maybe she was," he shrugged. "I have loved her from the first moment I saw her, but by the time I realized, it was too late and I had already proposed to you." 

"So, you say you did not love me, but you did not end it. Why?"

"Because of Kate. She begged me not to break your heart. You see, your sister is self-sacrificing. Back then she would do anything to make you happy, even at the expense at her own happiness."

"I never asked her to."

"She is your older sister, and she practically raised you. I know from experience. I have the same experience. It is a duty to the family, just as yours was to marry well." 

She looked away. 

"I am sorry," he said. "Edwina. I truly am. I should have never led you on. I was determined to marry for duty, and nothing more. You leaving me was a relief. All I could think about when I read your letter was how relieved I was. But believe me when I said, I never wanted to hurt you. I went into that season with the best of intentions." 

"You know," she scoffed. "Kate did tell me that she did not think you were a good match, now that I think about it. I hate to admit it."

"Because you are mad at your sister." 

"Well," she paused. "Yes I am. She gets to see a side of you that I have never seen. You smile at her. You hold her." 

"She knows me better than I know myself," he smiles. "She always has, and she has always called me out on it, which is what I desperately need apparently." 

"But you chose me. I do not understand. You chose me. Why?" 

"Because you were a means to an end. I needed to marry, and you were available." 

"You also needed to have an heir." 

"I am sorry I did not give you children. But I am glad it did not happen because now," he motions between them. "Had we had children when you ran off, it would have been tough for them to overcome that scandal." 

"I did not think of that," she admits. 

"I did not think you would." 

"And Kate?"

"What of her," he asked. 

"You would have a child with her?" 

He thought for a moment. Henry and Josey were enough for him. He always had Benedict to fall back on, unless he could letters patent his legacy to Josephine. But the thought of Kate giving birth to their own child, a little of him and of her, flipped his insides in the most pleasurable way. Right now he was taking every precaution to prevent her from becoming with child, but it was getting harder every time. He wanted to possess her. The thought of coming inside of her, leaving a little piece of him inside her as she went about her day was enthralling. He wanted to claim her. To own her. 

"If Kate decides she wants to have another child, I would be more than willing to give her one. But it would have to be her decision." 

"It is not fair." 

"I know," he said.

"Her children already are the wealthiest children in the country. And what will my child have," she mumbles. 

He looked at her with narrowed eyes. "Your child?"

"I am pregnant," she whispers and nods. 

"The child is not mine," he said. 

"Well obviously. You have not bedded me in years." 

"But you had hope, that if the child was born during our marriage, that you would have the protection of my title for life," he snapped. "You intended to cheat my family out of their inheritance for your love child?"

"It is not so big of a deal as that," she said with a wave of her hand. "It is just a baby." 

"Do you not see the gravity in this situation," he exclaimed and stood up. "You are not married. And now we have a child to contend with. Not only that, but we have to deal with the fact that Henry and Josey could be affected by this too." 

"How?" 

"Because you are their aunt," he yelled. "And what makes you think you are even prepared to be a mother? You have not so much as even held your sister's children since you have been here." 

"Because their mother is sharing a bed with my former husband." 

"And you shared one with this Bagwell fellow probably not even two weeks ago before you arrived back on land. I wonder at you being a hypocrite."

"I am not a hypocrite." 

"You are. Here you are mad at me for planning a future with your sister, who I love. Whose marriage ended honorably. Who did not share an intimate moment with me until after our divorce. And here you went outside our marriage, during our marriage. And you reserve your harsh words for your sister, and not yourself."

"Because you are giving her everything I never got, but always wanted. I wanted intimacy with you. I wanted passion with you. I wanted everything my sister has with you and you never gave it to me." 

He looked at her for a minute, deciphering her words. "You know what is interesting. Your sister has not known passion in the marriage bed until recently because her relationship with the duke was not a good one. I wonder how long you spent desiring those things, passion, intimacy? And how long you desired those feelings with me, because I certainly never, and it pains me to say this. I never gave that to you. So how are you here saying you desired that our entire marriage when I was your teacher?"

She stared at him, eyes wide, and her cheeks grew pink. 

"Tell. Me. NOW." 

"There is nothing to tell, other than your overactive imagination." 

"I do not think that is true," he seethed. "There were others before this Bagwell guy then." 

She sighed and walked to the window. 

"MADAM," he yelled. "ANSWER ME!"

"FINE YES," she snapped. "There were others. I was lonely and they were there." 

"And had you gotten to be with child during our marriage what was your plan?"

She sniffed and stared out the window. "I had no doubt that in time you would love them as your own, just like you do with my sister's children."

"Your sister is not one for tricks and mind games," he seethed. "I was their guardian first. And your sister never tried to pass them as mine. You and I were never intimate after the first year of our marriage, damn you." 

"You do not get to be angry!" 

"I HAVE EVERY RIGHT TO BE ANGRY," he yelled and stomped to the door. 

"Where are you going," she asked. 

"Away from you!"

 

Kate saw Anthony storm out of the sitting room on her way to the dining room for breakfast and called out to him. He stopped, his shoulders tense and his hands balled into fists. Something had to have happened because he was in a great mood this morning. She called his name again. "Have you eaten?"

She saw him relax a little and turn, he gave her a small smile and held his arm out to her. His eyes were hard though she could not tell why. "Breakfast sounds like a good idea, my love," he said, his voice. low. 

"Have I done something wrong," she asked. 

"Never," he shook his head, and bent down and gave her a sweet kiss on her cheek. "My anger is solely for your sister at the moment. But I will try to calm down for you." 

"I do not want you calm," she scolded and stopped their advancement to the dining area. "Anthony. I want your truth. I want you tell me your feelings, even the bad ones." 

"I am trying to protect you," he said. 

"I do not need protecting." 

"Kate," he soothed. "You have been through so much." 

"Yes, I know," she said. "And you are not doing me any favors by coddling me." She pulled him into a little room off of the dining area. "Anthony, you demand me to be open with you for every little thing, even in the bedroom. I only think it is fair to be your confidant as well. I can handle it. Please trust me," she begged. 

He reached up and pushed some hair behind her ear, caressing the side of her face as he did so, and she took a deep breath "Edwina is pregnant."

Her jaw dropped. "Yours?"

"No."

She knew that. He had admitted to not being intimate with her for years.  "What does she plan on doing?"

"I do not know. Much was revealed that I have been blind to over the years that I will fill you in on later."

"You promise," she whispered. 

"I promise," he smiled, and lifter her hand to his mouth for a kiss. "Just like I promise now," his face took on a wicked gleam. "I promise to do that thing with my tongue you like so much a little later too." 

She blushed and shushed him. "Shhh! Do not speak like that." 

"Nobody is here to hear us, my love. "

"Still," she rubbed her hands furiously across her red cheeks as he looked on amused. "It is not lady like to enjoy such an act."

"Hmm," he moved closer, and she backed up, hitting the wall behind her swallowing hard. "I wonder what the 'ladies' would think if they heard the words coming out of your mouth just this morning, while I had my way with you between your legs." 

"Anthony," she gasped. 

"Yes, my darling?"

"You must stop."

"must stop," he asked with a grin. "Why must stop? I quite enjoy you like this." He began to lift her dress. 

"Anthony," she moaned as he lifted her against the wall. "We are in a closet." 

"I locked the door." 

"But someone could pass by," she gasped as she felt him press into her. 

"Then you must be quiet." 

 

Anthony watched as Kate furiously fixed her dress and hair. Truthfully, she was not that disheveled, except for the tell-tale signs on her swollen lips, she did not even look like he had just finished ravishing her. "I cannot believe we did that in here," her eyes were alight with exhilaration. The risk of someone walking in or hearing them had added a whole new dimension to their lovemaking, and Kate actually enjoyed it. 

He shrugged as he fixed his own clothes. "I am here for you anytime you want to try something like this, sweetheart. You need only say the word." 

She bit her lip and watched him for a while. "I should exit first." 

"You should," he grinned. "Though I am afraid we are hardly fooling anyone anymore."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean," he said as he reached for her arm to pull her against him again. She leaned up for a gentle kiss. "We have not been exactly careful." 

"We could cause a scandal." 

"A scandal how? I am not married, and you are widowed with children. The only scandal I am living through right now, is my damn divorce." 

"And now her pregnancy," she sighed. "I almost feel bad for her. But then I guess I know why she came back now." 

"You do?" 

"She was hoping your marriage would save her from having a child out of wedlock."

"When did you get to be so smart?"

"I have always been smart," she grinned. "You just never could keep up with me until recently." 

"I would say something, but after that performance just now, and the performance last night, I think you might be right. I am not as young as I use to be." 

"Nonsense, you are perfectly fine." 

He stared at her a moment, taking her in. Her eyes were wide with amusement. "How much longer is your mourning period?" 

"Another six months," she said. 

"Damn." 

"Why," she asked. 

"Six months is much too long for me to wait to make you mine."

"Well," she said. "You have always been a rulebreaker, Anthony Bridgerton. Perhaps it is time to embrace some scandal for once. I mean, we are going to have to with Edwina anyway." 

"You might be right," he chuckled. 

"I am not with child." 

"But you wish to be?"

"The process to make them is much more fun to me now," she giggled. 

"I have corrupted you," he leaned down for a kiss. "Though I would not have you any other way." 

Chapter Text

Wedding flashback; Kate's POV

"I want you to be happy, Kate. That is all I wish for you," he leaned in to kiss her cheek before taking her arm to walk her down the aisle. "And I am sorry that I could not provide that for you." 

"Happiness," she asked. 

"That," he gave her a resigned smile. "And everything your heart desired."  

The ceremony took place at St. George's Chapel. The aisle was long, which gave the bride much time to reflect while holding onto the arm of her brother-in-law as he led her down the aisle. Her hand clenched around his in the most painful way because she knew when she let go, she would never be able to touch him again. 

She would have no need to. 

Kate had requested more trees and less flowers to decorate the ancient church. She didn't want her wedding to bring comparisons about to Edwina's and in a way, though Kate's was more intimate, hers was grander. 

She took her curtsey to the Queen, rising slowly as she looked her in the eyes, as the Queen smiled and nodded her approval. The regent was also there, a school friend of the duke's so she dropped a curtsy to him as well and received a nod.

They made their way the remaining distance to the front, and Anthony had lifted her vail, as instructed, and placed a lingering kiss to her cheek, letting out deep breath and whispered. "Be happy, love." He gave her once last look and moved to his spot beside his wife, as she took the duke's arm. 

And then she was no longer Kathani Sharma. 

 

Edwina had no idea how she long she had been sitting there since Anthony left the room, nor did she care. She was ruined. And for the first time in her life, she couldn't blame her sister, nor could she talk to or seek comfort from her. Kate had always been her voice of reason, the one who could get her out of trouble when necessary. The one who would tell her that she was being a stupid and complete mess. 

She heard a knock on the door and then it opened it. She turned and saw her sister peaking in. "Can we talk?"

Edwina's natural reaction was to roll her eyes. Of course, he would now send her, because he was too much of a coward to face her himself. "Do I have a choice?"

Kate pushed the door closed and walked across the room. It was the first time that she actually got to look at the changes these last five years have brought to her elder sister. Kate who had always been so tall, and lithe even, her form always betraying her athleticism, a trait Edwina herself had always envied. Her eyes were always so full of wisdom and maturity despite her youth. Her chest, smaller than Edwina's more ample bosom. She had always carried herself in a way that portrayed her confidence despite the weight of the world being on her shoulders. 

Now, Edwina watched as Kate glided across the room, as if the weight of the world were off her shoulders. She bared more curves than previously seen due to the birth of her children, and motherhood. Her hair, which was always beautiful, was longer than she kept it previously, glossier and curls hung down her back, as she wore half of her hair in a half braid, tied into a knot on her head. Kate had never been one for the restrictions of wearing one's hair up, and it gave her headaches when it did. The freedom her marriage offered her, though she had been told that it was bad, had put Kate into a position that despite the rigid restrictions of being closely buttoned up, nobody cared that the duchess bent the rules, especially a duchess of good standing. 

And Lancaster, despite being a terrible man, was still in good standing with the realm. Very powerful, and very rich. The very thought sent chills down her spine. Kate survived a marriage with one of Britain's most powerful men. She had scars to be sure, if the breakdown they all witnessed yesterday was anything to go by. But she had survived. Kate was strong enough to survive a bad marriage that would kill her. She herself wasn't strong enough to survive a bad marriage that would have her living in comfort for the rest of her life. 

"I am nothing to Kate," she thought. 

She watched as Kate filled a plate of food from the side bar and glided across the room to take a seat. Did they give lessons to be a duchess? She was sure they did because the way Kate moved was in no way the same way she remembered. She had always been graceful, but now watching her, it was like watching some sort of ballet at the Russian theater. Even the way she sat down with her plate in her lap was full of grace and poise that reminded her so much of the Queen. 

"I am famished," Kate chuckled despite the awkwardness. "But yes, I think we do need to talk." 

"Let me guess," she huffed. "He has already told you about my pregnancy." 

Kate watched her for a moment and then turned to her plate. "He has." 

"And you're here to tell me that I am wrong."

"I am here to tell you that I understand you. Are you wrong? Absolutely. But I am not judging you in anyway, bon. In a way I have no right to." 

"You're pregnant," Edwina gasped in surprise. 

"No," she chuckled. "I am not. I am still nursing Josephine and Anthony and I are being careful." She said it like it was nothing. That her being intimate with her sister's former husband was the most natural thing in the world, and Edwina seethed with jealously. Kate seemed to see the look in her eyes when she continued. "I have far more freedoms than you do, and I know it does not seem fair, but we cannot turn back now." 

Edwina huffed and took the seat across from her. 

"I want to apologize to you," Kate said much to her surprise. "I should have never allowed your wedding to take place. I knew what you wanted, and I knew what he wanted. And I knew you had blinders on when it came to him because he dazzled you. I knew that as much as you claimed to be happy, and that he was all you wanted, that after the wedding when reality set in, that it would break you. And that was never my intention." 

"Why didn't you," Edwina asked. "Stop it, I mean?"

"Because you said you loved him," Kate said and put her plate on the table in front of her. She crossed her legs at the ankle moving them to her side and clasped her arms in her lap. Edwina tried to emulate her but found she couldn't and that frustrated her. The viscountess, though lower in rank to a duchess, should always have the same grace as one, right? Though she was not the viscountess anymore, it was just another failing of hers that she realized much too late. "And I was truly happy for you both. You wanted marriage to him and his lifestyle, and he wanted marriage of duty. Nothing more. You both were getting what you wanted."

"But I did not want duty. I wanted him to love me." 

"Mama filled your head with thoughts and words that perhaps his affection could change in due course, and maybe in some cases that is true. She coddled you and gave into your every whim. But Anthony has a specific trauma in that he watched his father die, and his mother all but disappeared on him. Anthony was left running the household much to young and being a father to his younger siblings." 

"He never told me that." 

"Did you ever ask," Kate asked and Edwina looked down in guilt. No she hadn't. 

"The day I got stung, Anthony was there at that moment, and he nearly broke down. I had seen people break down like that before, so I knew how to calm him down. Later I questioned him further, and I received the answer."

"But you hated him then," Edwina insisted. 

"No, not at that moment. After the Pall Mall game, I began to understand him. But of course, I could not let him know that because Anthony has an ego that needs taken down a few notches, and that's before I would ever admit that he was right." 

Edwina couldn't help herself, she let out a giggle and Kate followed. "Anthony has an ego?" 

"Oh yes. He still has one. And he needs someone daily to remind him of his own insignificance." 

"You do that?"

"Daily," Kate said, and poured herself a cup of tea. Anthony had brought in all of her favorite spices, but none were present. "I still despise English tea," Kate said, disgust written across her face. "For what it is worth. Josephine tells him daily too, by her actions. The other morning, she was running in his direction, so he bent down to give her a hug. But she ran right past him and straight into Benedict's arms."

"I bet he was ill mannered for the rest of the day," Edwina laughed. "He cannot stand losing to Benedict." 

"He cannot stand to lose period."

"When did you start to see him differently," Edwina asked. 

"When I got stung. I started to realize that perhaps his actions up until then were because of some underlying guilt and duty. In that we were much alike. I felt the same way keeping the Sheffield situation from you, but my duty was to get you married. You see. I adored you, Edwina. And I wanted nothing more than your happiness."

"Even at the expense of your own?"

"Yes," Kate replied. "Because I am your elder sister. Even now, I would do everything in my power to secure it." 

In every situation since she arrived a few days ago and found out that her sister and former husband were being intimate together, her sister was always the villain in the way of her happy ending. She was quite put out by Kate's words now, and simply did not know what to say. What could she say with Kate being so damned earnest? 

"When did you realize that you loved him," she asked. 

"At my wedding," Kate took in a shaky breath and let it go. "He was walking me down the aisle, and he told me that all he wanted was for me to be happy." 

"I see," she looked down at her hands that were now in her lap, holding a cup of tea. 

"You see, Bon. When you love someone, all you want is their happiness, even at the expense of yours." Kate took a sip of her disgusting English tea and continued. "He wanted me to be happy despite him not being happy at all about our situation."

"He had no right to not be happy for you," Edwina exclaimed. "He was married to me." 

"I agree with you," Kate smiled. "And I remind him daily." 

Edwina smiled and looked down again. Hope blooming in her chest for the relationship with her sister, her soulmate. It would never be the same between them. But they could work with that, right? She hoped so. "I am sorry about your husband," she whispered. "Not that he is gone. But what he did to you. I did not know." 

Kate nodded. "You know as much as I dislike what my husband did to me and who he was, I would go through it all over again. Because of my children. That is the beauty of motherhood," she nodded in her direction. "Perhaps something you can now look forward to." 

"Do you not hate him for what he did?"

"I do not hate my late husband at all. I cannot, because he gave me two of my greatest joys. Did I fear him? Yes. Did I wish that he would go and leave us be? Absolutely.  But hating him would mean I would have to hate my children in a way and a CANNOT do that ever. In fact, if he were alive now, I would not give him half the grief that I give Anthony daily." 

"Why," Edwina asked, genuinely wanting to know. 

"Because the duke never claimed to love me. I certainly never loved the duke. But Anthony did claim so. As I said before, bon. I was happy for you when you married him, honestly, I was. But a small part of me hoped that he would at least fight for me. And he did not. No amount of passion between us recently will help me to get over that. And he knows it. So, he is working to earn my forgiveness. And he is working hard. I have put him through the fire. Some part of me gets some sick pleasure in seeing him on his knees, begging for me to understand. He knows that too. But he is humbling himself. I can see he is. That is what his love for me is causing him to do. That and the way he is with my children," Kate sighed wistfully. "You would never know that they were not his."

Edwina nodded. Anthony in a way was a great father to Gregory and Hyacinth, even she had noticed that. "They cling to him when you are not around." 

"He is the only father figure Josey knows. But Henry, he was there for me in ways that you could not imagine. It is why he was so terrified yesterday when," Kate swallowed. "Anthony has worked hard to build trust with my little man, and Henry has a better life for it. Henry can now see what a father should be." 

"Did he ever hit the children," Edwina asked quietly. 

"No never," Kate said. "I would find some way to leave if he had. I could not bear it." 

"Why did you not leave?" 

"Because that was my children's home. Grey House. Haven Valley. They deserved to know their heritage." 

"Do they speak Hindustani," she asked. 

"Henry does," Kate beamed proudly. "Of course, I am going to teach Josephine."

"I hope my child will speak it." 

Kate stood and walked over to her, sitting next to her, she placed a soft hand over her own and gave it a squeeze. "Your child will be the most wonderful thing to happen to you. I speak from experience. But it will be hard. And painful. And double that of normal because of the situation. Who is the father?"

"Bagwell," Edwina said softly. "Though I am not sure he wants anything to do with me anymore. I came back because," she inhaled. "Well, you already know why." She watched Kate nod. "He is a scholar, and he listens to me. He loves philosophy." She laughed as Kate wrinkled her nose. Kate despised philosophy still, it seemed.

"That sounds dreadfully boring," Kate said. 

"He could talk for hours, and I'd never get bored." 

"Why did you run off and not speak to Anthony about this?"

"Because," she said. "What could he do? We were still married. And look at the scandal we have made just for our divorce." 

"The Bridgertons are an ancient family, bon. Though they are not as highly ranked as the Grey's, they can withstand scandal with a fortitude that other families, like say, the Featheringtons cannot. You underestimate them and overestimate the gossiping hens of the ton."

It hit Edwina in waves. "Oh, damned it to hell. My nephew is a duke." Her eyes grew wide as she looked at Kate in horror. "I have ruined him. And Josephine." 

Kate let out a laugh. "You have not ruined them. I promise. All will be well. But you do know you need to write to this Bagwell fellow. There needs to be a wedding. Maybe we can get the record backdated. How long do you think you are?" 

"I am two cycles gone."

Kate nodded. "The beginning months were my worse with both of my pregnancies, despite the happiness I felt at carrying my child. I was tired, moody, and emotional." She gave Edwina a knowing look. 

"Did your bosom ever feel sore?"

Kate let out another laugh. "My bosom has never been the same. Henry liked to bite at feeding, and Josey just likes to gnaw at them between breaths."

"That sounds terrible."

"That is a connection that I built with my children because I could not imagine anyone bonding with my children in that way. But each mother prefers something different." 

Edwina nodded and looked away. "I am terrified," she whispered. 

"I know." 

"And I am sorry for what I said to you, didi. I truly am." 

"I know that too, bon." 

 

They were all outside under the canopy set up, enjoying the last of their dessert, as the children ran and played in the yard. He had found a double seat to share with Kate, and despite the impropriety, to which he did not care, he pulled her into his arms and watched. The torches lit the night, and the air was cool. He felt her shiver. "Are you cold, my love?" 

"No," she whispered. "I have always just dreamed of you holding me like this." 

"Have I not been holding you enough lately." 

"You have but not like this. This almost feels like our relationship is not forbidden." 

"Our relationship is not forbidden. It is just ahead of its time. Are you having regrets?"

"Only that my mourning period has to continue for another six months." 

"What is six months to a lifetime," he asked. 

"When did you get to be so reasonable," she teased.  

"Since I started sharing a bed with the most amazing woman on the planet. I think she is passing some part of her intelligence to me."

"Through our love making," she laughed. "How shocking." 

Their attention was turned back to the children who were shrieking as they took turns chasing each other. Josey and Amelia were the two babies of the four, and their little legs could not keep up with their elder brothers, which led to Amelia walking over to Simon, arms raised as she whined for him to lift her up. "Papa up." 

Josey watched the whole thing, then walked over to Anthony, lifting her arms in the same way. "Papa," she mumbled. Her words jumbled in her baby babble. Amelia had four months on her. But her words were clear to everyone around them, and Anthony froze.  Kate's eyes widened and her mouth opened in shock. Violet sniffed and took out her handkerchief. 

Josey looked around, most likely not understanding Anthony's hesitation. Anytime she reached for him, he immediately went to her. She whimpered. "Papa," her arms still up and her hands opened in closed. 

They had not talked about this, though Kate had mentioned that it would probably happen at least with Josey eventually, as long as they continued to remain with the Bridgertons. He felt Kate nudge him gently, probably hoping to make him act before Josey's whimpers turned into a full-blown tantrum and breaking him out of his reverie. 

He never imagined being called Papa would mean so much to him, and now, a child that was not his own, had defined that role in her life, and he was it. 

"Anthony," Kate whispered, smiling. There were tears in her eyes. There were tears in many of the woman's eyes, and also in Benedict's. "She is talking to you, my love," she continued. 

He took in a shuddering breath and nodded, wiping at his eyes as he leaned over and lifted the toddler, pulling her close as she laid her head onto his shoulder, copying Amelia as she had done with Simon. He rubbed her back in tiny circles as he whimpered words of comfort into her ear. "It is alright, sweet girl. I am right here." 

Kate looked towards the matrons and rolled her eyes, her smile betraying her. "Figures that that would be her first word. Never mind that I carried her for nine months, and she still bites me when she feeds." The group laughed, breaking the tension. He even noticed that Edwina wore a smile. 

Kate was not angry at him. In fact, she seemed happy for him. It was all he could do to embrace the moment. 

Chapter Text

Two days later, she found Anthony in his study hunched over his desk, going over a bunch of numbers. She almost felt guilty, almost. She had kept him distracted recently. But if she were honest, she loved him just like this. Working hard to provide for the family he loves. He had been in heaven recently since Josephine had declared him her 'Papa' and nothing could wipe the smile off of his face.  She watched him work from the doorway, the sleeves of his shirt rolled up. She admired the way the muscles in his arms moved as he worked through paperwork.

"You are staring, my love," he said, not even looking up from his paperwork. "Either come in, lock the door, and remove that dress. Or come in, lock the door, and lift the dress. I have no preference as long as I am buried inside of you."

"Shocking," she laughed. "I actually came to find you and see if you needed anything."

"I need nothing but you, at the moment." 

She laughed and closed the door, making sure to lock it behind her. She had no intention of bending to his will at the moment, she truly wanted to talk. But she was only human. And she was a woman. And five years did nothing to diminish the devastation he could wreck on her with a smile and those dimples. She watched as he stood and made his way to her. He was always so charged with her in this room. 

"Say you do not care for me. Tell me you feel nothing, and I will walk away."

"I did want to talk to you," he had reached her and had lifted a hand to her cheek. If she and the duke had had a proper honeymoon, and had loved each other, she was sure what she was going through with Anthony right now was it. She could not get enough of him. She moaned as he kissed the side of her neck. "I really did want to talk, Anthony."

"What about," he mumbled into her neck. "Give me a few minutes and I will have you talking. Screaming in fact. " 

"Anthony," she laughed breathlessly. 

"Kathani," he moaned as she pulled back from him with as much strength it took to give birth to her children. 

"I am serious." 

"So am I," he practically whined, clearly taking notes from Josephine. "It has been a whole three hours since I have seen you writhing beneath me." 

She blushed but ignored that comment. She led him to the chaise across the room and they both sat down. "I think that it is time I returned to Haven Valley."

"Absolutely not," he exclaimed. 

"Anthony, I think it is necessary. Edwina has written to Bagwell, and he cannot come here. It would cause too much scandal for them to marry from here." 

He sighed and looked across the room. "I liked you a lot better when I thought I was getting a daytime tryst." 

She laughed out loud, her head falling back as she did. "I am trying to protect you, my love. This is a tricky situation. Edwina is not your family anymore, she is mine, and my responsibility. Plus, Henry's horse is at Haven Valley, and I know he would love to see him again." 

She got him and she knew it and it made him angry. If he had a weakness that was not her, it was her children. 

 

Flashback to yesterday morning: Breakfast. 

Henry had been staring at him all morning. He had been pretty distant, but he was also exhausted due to the late night the night before so they thought nothing of it. 

"How come Josey call you papa," he asked Anthony as they sat down for breakfast. "How come you not my papa?" 

Anthony looked at him for a few moments before responding. He got down to his level and looked him in the eye. "If you want me to be your papa, I will be your papa. But only if you want me to, ok my darling?"

"You not hurt my mama?"

"I would never hurt your mama."

"Ok," the little boy seemed ok with that answer and turned back to his food. 

Anthony winked at her and returned to his meal. 

 

"I cannot be without you, Kate. Without the children. The irony is not lost on me that when marrying your sister, all I thought of was me traveling and her staying at home with the children. I used to be far more independent and then you returned to my life."

"I was thinking we could all just make our way to Haven Valley and continue this family event we have going on here. The home is large, and I know that they would want to be there in support." 

"Not of Edwina," he scoffed. 

"Of me," she chuckled. "She is my sister, Anthony. You both have done some terrible things. But for me, please try to get along with her."

"For you I would do anything, you know that. But this," he sighed. "You are wanting to put a settlement on her."

"She is my sister." 

"Kate. You cannot keep bailing her out like this." 

"Anthony," she sighed. "I have more money now than I will ever need."

"Yes, but you can save that to use for your children's settlement. Our future children's settlement."

"You know that nothing would make me happier than to have your children. But I also know that as their father you will have that taken care of. Just a minor settlement for Edwina. Nothing more. I depend on you for so much Anthony." 

He sighed and sat back, running a hand over his face. "The house is staffed?" 

"Yes. Fully staffed and highly efficient." 

He nodded and pulled her to him. "I adore you." 

She kissed him lightly on the lips. "Dress on or off?"

"Off. I need to show you my full appreciation." 

"You have thirty minutes," she laughed. 

"Give me an hour and you have yourself a deal. In fact, take it all off. I wish to ravish you in the way I, I mean you deserve."

 

Edwina led Josey by the hand through the orangery. The little girl was cooing as much as she was trying to keep up with her elder brother ahead of them. Edwina was trying to spend as much time as she could with her niece and nephew, and she had to admit that they were pretty amazing. Henry pointed to an orange that he wanted, and Mary lifted him up to reach it. Josey reached for Henry's orange, but he moved out of the way which in turn cause Josey to stomp her feet and cry. She knelt down and lifted the baby into her arms. "Shh. Don't cry, sweet one. We can pick you an orange too. Perhaps we can share one." Edwina carried her over to a tree with a low branch hanging down. "How about this one." She motioned for Josey to reach for it, which she did and pulled it from the branch.

"Josephine Grey," Mary chuckled. "You do not even like oranges." 

"She doesn't?"

"She does not," Mary laughed again and tickled the baby's tummy and she let out a giggle. 

"So she is competitive with her elder brother then," she raised an eyebrow at Josey who giggled again. "My goodness, Kate's children are exactly like her, are they not?"

"Exactly like her, it is quite terrifying," Mary laughed. "But I suppose I would rather them be like her than the opposite." Mary helped Henry peel his orange and sat down on the stone bench beside him. 

"I suppose Anthony taking over for them is much needed," Edwina said quietly. 

"Yes," Mary cleared her throat. "From the beginning. He was the first-person Henry warmed up to that morning. Josey took a little bit longer but she content to be held. That was before she started crawling and walking and becoming an absolute menace!" 

Josey pointed to her and said, "NO," while the adults both laughed. 

They heard Kate's voice before they saw her. "I think my daughter's vocabulary as of late is meant to keep me on my toes. 'No' and 'Papa.' What about Mama," she reached down and lifted the little girl into her arms. "Say mama," Kate tickled her. 

"NO."

"Well, I tried," Kate laughed as she sat on the bench next to Mary. Edwina watched her and knew from the way she glowed that she had just been visiting Anthony. Kate wore Anthony's love like a cloak around her body, and oddly for the first time, she was ok with that.  Her sister deserved every happiness, even if it was with the one man who ruined her own life. "I spoke to Anthony. And we are in agreement that we should move the party to Haven Valley."

"You both are in agreement," Mary smirked. 

"Well, I suggested it and did not give him he the option to say no," Kate shrugged innocently, though the two other ladies knew there was nothing innocent about it. "In fact, he was quite enthusiastic about the idea after we were done conversating. He is preparing to send word to open the house up. Plus, it will be good for the children to be back home. We have not been there since before," she trailed off. "It will be good to be there."

"It would make more sense for Edwina to marry from there than here, I suppose," Mary agreed. 

"Exactly," Kate said and turned to Edwina. "So, do write to Mr. Bagwell and let him know. Have you received word back from him yet?" 

Edwina nodded and swallowed. "Just this morning. We have a lot to work through. I have hurt him pretty badly. But he claims to still love me, and we want to make this work."

"Excellent," Kate nodded in satisfaction. "You will marry from Haven Valley, and where will you live?"

"He has a house in town." 

"Anthony is working on a settlement for you," Kate said. 

"That is not necessary for him, -" 

"It is from me," Kate interrupted. "He will be giving you the rest of your settlement agreed to upon your marriage, and I will supplement it. But you will not be able to live like you are used to Edwina," she warned. "Of course, I will never see you destitute, but you have a child now to think of, and Bagwell, I do not know what he does, but he was so agreeable to live upon the funds you took from your husband when you guys ran off together. That is not honorable."

Edwina nodded quietly. Kate's criticism was well deserved. None of her actions of late had been honorable and she was too tired to argue her perspective. 

 

Violet watched as Kate left Anthony's study and shook her head. She wouldn't scold them, but she did want them to hurry up. She wanted Anthony happy and settled in love. She wanted Kate's children as her own grandchildren. She wanted more grandchildren even. Anthony and Kate would make beautiful babies together as they made a beautiful couple. 

She walked into her son's study, just as he was fixing his cravat. He looked up and gave her a smile that was so reminiscent of him being caught doing something naughty as a boy, and he was about to talk himself out of the trouble he was about to be in. Her little boy had to grow up much too fast, and she wasn't here to scold but to encourage. 

And to scold. Just a little bit. 

"You know if you would ask her to marry you, already. You could have a proper honeymoon, and these clandestine meetings could happen on more agreeable circumstances. For instance. You could give me more grandchildren."

"Mother." 

"I am not scolding you for your actions, far be it from me to be a hypocrite," she said. 

"Mother! I did not need to know that," he moved behind his desk. 

"Well," she grinned. "You were born eight months after my marriage to your father. It happens when two people are in love."

"Mother believe me, I would marry her tomorrow if,-" 

"Then why do you not?"

"Because she is in her mourning period! It would cause a scandal." 

"Hang the damn mourning period! She is not in mourning. Never once has she wore black and the entire ton knows. Whistledown has even reported it! She has been out at events, some even on your arm! She is not with child from the duke, else we would definitely know by now. What are you waiting for?"

"It is complicated." 

"No, it is not complicated," Violet argued. "You are a Bridgerton, she is a Grey. Two of the oldest most influential families of the ton. The Queen granted you a divorce because of the Grey influence. The archbishop is a part of the Grey family, and wouldn't hesitate to offer a special license. So no, this situation is on you. What are you afraid of." 

"I do not deserve her," he whispered.

"What," Violet asked in shock. "What do you mean by that?"

"I have been trying to make up for my actions that led us all down this path, and no amount of groveling before her will ever amount to what I did. What I took away from her." 

"But look at those children and look at what you gave her," Volet insisted. "Look at who she is now. Her title. She is one of the most influential women in London now, even though she was barely in town!"

"Kate cares not for such things." 

"But her children will! Your children will!"

"This is not the time to discuss this mother," he said as he sat down. 

"I think it is the perfect time to discuss it!"

"Mother," he sighed. 

"No. You are not a child anymore. You have not been since you were eighteen and became the Viscount Bridgerton. But that does not stop me from always wanting the best for you. That does not stop me from being your mother, and you will listen to what have to say, Anthony. Understand?"

He nodded and sat back. 

"You are playing with fire. Josephine and Henry have already defined who you are in their lives. Josephine the other night when she called you her papa, and Henry just this morning when I was bringing him down for breakfast. He asked where his 'papa' was at. So what, are you going to let these two children, these perfect angels, live in that lie, while their mother continues to be nothing but a mere dalliance to you?"

"Kate is not a dalliance," he roared. 

"You are treating her as your mistress. Kate does not seem to mind, which is why I have not said anything until now. But as this continues Anthony, without a promise from you. An engagement at least, it will eat at her, so much so that it might ruin her opinion of you. She could take her children and beg to never see you again. Then you would lose both her and the children you claim to love so much. You have always been one for duty and honor. And I am not questioning your honor. If you are perfectly happy pushing the viscountcy onto your brother, then so be it. But you and I know that Benedict is not prepared, and Sophie doesn't have the mettle to stand in the ton as the Viscountess Bridgerton. That role, as much as I hate to admit I was wrong in not contesting you on your marriage to Edwina, that role has always belonged to Kate, and we need her in it now."

He stared ahead, fidgeting with the watch his father gave him, lost in thought. 

"I love you, my precious son. You are my first born, and a grown man, but you will always, always be my baby. I want nothing but the best for you, and that is Kate. The duke even saw it. How could he not, after proposing to a young woman, whose only connection to nobility was her sister. He took her into a family who is more powerful than our own because he knew she would be a credit to him. Never mind what he was like behind closed doors."

"He saw her worth, and I did not. Is that it? I married a diamond because of expectations. Because she was what diamonds are. Rare and unattainable."

"A diamond is rare, my son, but a ruby or a sapphire is rarer still. Though they are not considered the standard to evaluate a wife's potential because of their rarity. A diamond title from the Queen is no more worthy than any other." 

"Your daughter was a diamond," Anthony said. 

"And had I known the truth about her relationship with the duke from the beginning I would not have allowed it to proceed. Despite the love match they have so clearly found now. But you found that love match before your marriage to Edwina. And I told you to get out of it. I should have said something. Lady Danbury and I could have done something to prevent the scandal of a broken engagement, and Kate could have been the Viscountess Bridgerton from the beginning as she should have been."

"She would not have accepted," he whispered. "I would have hurt her sister, and she would have hated me." 

"There is a thin line between love and hate, my love," she moved around the desk and ran a hand over the top of his head. "She possibly would have rejected you. But I have a son that does not accept the word no especially when it's something he wants. Is that not how your courtship with Edwina came about?"

"Mother," he sighed. 

"Listen to me my son. A fulfilling marriage. One with love and children. Going to sleep every night with the one you love. Sharing your day with her. Your life. Working together when the frustrations of parenthood become too much. That is the type of marriage I have always wished for you. I love Kate. She has become like a daughter to me. We all love Kate so much so that I think Benedict and Colin are willing to renounce their relationship as your brother if it means they get to keep her. Hyacinth too." 

He gasped. "Not Hyacinth. The traitor!" 

She laughed. "Well Kate has the children," she leaned down and gave him a hug. "Your grandmother's ring is in the family vault. It is a sapphire, and I expect it would be perfect for Kate."

"You would not want her to have your own?"

"You gave that to Edwina. And Kate is forgiving, but she may castrate you on the spot if you propose to her with that one." They laughed and she ran a hand over his hair again. "But no matter. It does not matter what ring she gets. It is the marriage that it will bring around that is most important."

"I understand mother," he stood and pulled down his waist coat. "Now if you will excuse me. I have to talk to my baby sister."

She laughed as he walked to the door. 

"HYACINTH!" 

 

"Anthony," Kate said breathlessly as she struggled to keep up with him as he moved to a secluded spot in the garden. "I am not making love with you out here. There are insects." 

"Not many."

"They bite." 

"One of these days, I will make love to you outside, and I guarantee you will enjoy it immensely." He laughed at her as she shrugged and looked away acting nonchalant. He had enjoyed being her teacher these last weeks, and truthfully, she was quite adventurous. Moreso than he would have thought her to be. There wasn't a locale or a position that he couldn't talk her into, as long as he explained the benefits very thoroughly. And she was always greedy for more. 

It had been a week since his conversation with his mother. He had been wrestling all week with how to propose to her. How did one propose to the love of their life without becoming ill?  He wasn't ready but they were due to leave for Haven Valley on the morrow, and he knew he wanted to propose to her here. The home that would be hers for the rest of her life. 

He found a stone bench and they stood in front of it. She stared out at the night sky, the torches creating waves of light across her face in the newly dark sky. "It is beautiful out here. I shall miss it." 

"We will be back," he whispered and pulled her into his arms, wrapping them around her back as she laid her head on his chest and wrapped her own arms around him. The top of her head fit perfectly into his shoulder and neck. He placed a gentle kiss there and rocked them both gently. "I adore you." 

"I know," she whispered. "And I you." 

"I love you," he said. 

She looked up at him with a mischievous smile. "I love you too. But we still are not making love out here." 

He laughed and pushed a piece of her hair from her face. She wore it down today, except for a small part clipped back. "I have so much to atone for in regard to our relationship." 

"Anthony," she admonished. "We do have a lot to work out. I agree. But as you said, we have the rest of our lives to do it? Do we not?" She looked up at him and bit her lip worriedly. 

He smiled at her reassuringly and reached for hand. "That is precisely my hope." He knelt down on one knee and secured her left hand in his as he heard her gasp. She moved her other hand to her mouth and her eyes filled with tears. "I wanted to do this in front of our family, but you mean more to me than that. You deserve my undivided attention when I tell you that you mean everything to me. That you are my world, my stars, my sky. That I cannot imagine my life without you. You deserve every ounce of poetry from me, every flower, every romantic gesture. You deserve to know that you are the first thing on my mind when I wake in the morning, and the last on my mind before I sleep. You are the heavens and the earth. The way you move, the way you talk, the way you call me out on my ego, it is all poetry. And in the realm of all you deserve, you deserve more than me. I am imperfect, I know that. But I will humble myself every single day to become worthy of your love. I am saying now that I cannot imagine my life without you in it and I do not wish it so. I know you are in mourning, but I find I do not care. You said to me a couple weeks ago that it was time for us to embrace scandal, and create our own path forward, and I find I quite agree. I want you as my wife. Your children as my children. I want more children. I want to build a life that suits us both and I want to build that with you, together." 

She squeezed his hand as she continued to cry. 

"Kathani Grey," he said as he reached into his jacket for the ring. 

"Anthony," she whispered. 

"Will you make me the luckiest man in the world and accept my hand," he asked. "Will you marry me?"

"Yes," she whispered as he grinned and slipped the ring onto her finger. "Yes, I will my love." 

He smiled as he stood and lifted her into his arms, spinning her around. This is what it felt like being engaged to marry the love of your life. 

This is what true happiness feels like. 

 

 

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Round Daisy natural blue sapphire engagement ring vintage

Chapter Text

In all fairness, he couldn't be mad at his fiancé. She had warned him. She'd warned him that he possibly would want to share a carriage with his mother and sister for these three days of travel instead of the luxurious Grey carriage with her and the children. But he had wanted some alone time with his soon to be family and he thought nothing of it. The first leg of their travel went great. He assisted Kate into the carriage, and then handed her Josephine, before picking up Henry and placing him in as well. The Grey carriage was roomier than the Bridgerton one he always used, prompting him to turn to his steward before entering and telling him to get one ordered for the Bridgerton family. The line of carriages down the driveway at Aubrey Hall was long. Simon and Daphne had three alone for their family and servants. The Bridgerton's had three for the family alone, and two for their servants. And Kate had the five she arrived with after requesting one more to be sent to make room, one for Edwina and Mary, the other for their use, and the other three for the remaining servants. It would be a long three days of travel to Haven Valley, but they as a family were actually quite excited to see the historic house. 

They were to drive until lunch time, have a quick respite, and then be back on the road again. Henry, who was still very sleepy after having to wake so early laid out on the bench next to him. Anthony had removed his coat and placed it over him. Josey slept in Kate's arms. It gave the adults plenty of time to just talk about their desires, and their hopes to come with their impending nuptials. 

"Do you want a large wedding, my darling," he had asked, as he stroked Henry's arm.

"Is that necessary? My first wedding was large. I prefer a smaller one with friends and family if possible."

Of course, it was possible. He intended to give her all the desires of her heart, even if it meant standing up to overexcited mama's who have been planning their nuptials for months it seemed. When the kids awoke, they were in much better moods. Kate had brought some toys along for the both of them to play with at the center of the carriage, so Anthony had switched sides to sit next to Kate and watch the children play. 

"See," he grinned down at her. "This is not so bad." 

"You wait, Bridgerton," she yawned. "I warned you." 

She had. She had warned him. 

The rest of the morning passed by agreeably by all occupants of the large carriage. And then they stopped for lunch at a local inn in the village they were passing by. The servants were gracious in providing them sustenance and an area to stretch their legs and relieve themselves. The children were in amazing moods. 

And then..

They had to handed back into the carriage. 

He should have listened. 

That little ounce of freedom the children got to run and play had not nearly satisfied their energy, and they let them know it. The crying wasn't so bad. The screaming however. 

"Has she always been this loud," he exclaimed as he moved his face out of the way of a tiny fist that was flying as he tried to comfort the little girl. 

Kate had looked at him with amusement but said nothing. 

"How can you be so calm," he demanded, and she shrugged. 

"I have been a mother almost four years now. You will learn. If not, they will eat you alive." 

She had warned him. She really had. But what she had NOT warned him about was that she was going to let him take over some disciplinary actions. That was not a part of their agreement, thank you very much. He was much happier being the guardian that spoiled them rotten and handled them at the best of times. He supposed eventually he would have to become stricter, but he figured that would come when they were older and not babies. 

"Anthony," she scolded. "You cannot let him speak to you like that."

"What do you expect me to do," he asked. 

"You let him know who the parent is, you cannot cajole him every single time."

He preferred to cajole him, it was easier, and didn't make him out to be the bad guy. Thankfully they had made it through their first day of travel, and when he exited the carriage and reached up to hand Henry out and then Josey, he let out a bone-weary sigh of thanks that it was over, that had Simon laughing and Violet smirking.

"It is not amusing!" 

"Bridgerton," Hastings laughed and said nothing more because he was gasping so hard for air due to his laughter. 

Even Kate seemed to be holding back her laughter. 

The second day of their trip, he met with more trepidation. Again, the morning was alright, but the children were still tired. Though he found himself more tense, he sat himself by Kate the entire morning. 

"I am surprised you did not choose the other carriage today, my love." 

Truthfully, he was too, but he couldn't let her claim victory. This time it was personal. 

Apparently, it was personal for Henry too because the normally sweet-tempered child turned into an absolute monster, and he felt no guilt for saying that. So, this is what mother meant by being a team against your children. And Josephine would only calm against Kate's breast. 

He didn't blame her. Kate's breasts had calmed him down on many, many occasions. But it also meant that Kate spent most of the trip with her bodice down as the baby nursed, and he could not do anything about it. It did not help that he and Kate did not share a room last night for the first time since they had started to be intimate with each other. They had even shared one during her bleeding. Far be it from him to be turned away by nature. Those nights of just holding her proved almost as satisfying as the nights he spent between her legs. 

On the third day, they planned to arrive to Haven Valley in time for their mid-day meal, and the past two mornings had been relatively calm so he actually looked forward to the last leg. Until Henry decided he was done traveling and through the tantrum to end all tantrums, and ended up hitting his sister. 

"Henry Grey," Kate scolded. But Anthony had finally had enough. He lifted the child into his arms, ignoring his protests. 

"That is enough, Henry," he scolded the child and sat the boy on the bench next to him. "Gentleman do not hurt their ladies, and gentleman do not throw tantrums."  Whether Henry was shocked at being talked to like this by Anthony, or just in shock, he stared up at him with tears in his eyes, and his mouth quivering. Anthony continued, "Furthermore, you will apologize to your sister and mother for not behaving as a gentleman should. And you will sit here, until we make it to the house. Am I understood?" 

The little boy sniffed and nodded. 

"Apologize," he nodded to Kate and Josey across the bench. 

"I sowwy mama. I sowwy sister." 

"Now," Anthony reached beneath the bench and found a children's picture book and handed it to the little boy. "Behave as a gentleman should, and when we eat lunch, we will go say hello to your horse." 

Anthony had looked over at Kate, afraid that he had overstepped, but she simply smiled at him, and then went back to comforting Josey. When they arrived at Haven Valley, Anthony felt nothing but relief as he handed his family down. The staff were waiting for them on the steps, obviously happy to see the duchess and children again. The housekeeper rushed down the steps and pulled Kate into an embrace, and then bent down to coo over the children. Henry obviously had fond memories of the lady and embraced her fondly. 

Kate made the introductions of the whole family, even introducing him as her fiancé, to which the housekeeper responding with every enthusiasm that he did not expect, considering that the duchess was the widow of her former master. 

Lunch was already ready, and he commended the staff for their efficiency. Kate pulled him aside when the party all migrated towards the dining area and took his face in her hand. 

"Are you well, darling," she whispered. 

"I am," he said. 

"I meant with the situation with Henry."

"Oh that," the guilt had been slowly eating away at him since that moment in the carriage this morning, and Kate seemed to recognize it. 

"It is hard," she said. "The first time I had to punish him, he was all but two years old, but he was being mean to his cat. I felt so sick. But it needed to be done. He needed to see that his behavior was unacceptable."

"I just was not expecting that." 

She leaned into kiss him gently. "You are his papa. He has not really had one, and he does not know what to do. The papa he had was not a father at all. The discipline fell to me. I am used to it. I can be the disciplinarian if it is too much." 

"I cannot allow you to do this on your own, my love," he gave her another kiss. "They are my responsibility too and I will rise to the challenge. I just, anytime I have had to discipline children, they were not actually my own. It is odd, is it not." 

She laughed. "I know what you mean. Becoming a mother was indeed most surreal. But I will be here right next to you. And we will do this together, yes?" 

"Always together," he gave her one more kiss before leading her back to the dining room. 

 

Making love to the mistress of the house was actually quite thrilling when he thought of it. But what he loved most was ridding the love of his life from those awful memories of having to share a bed with her former husband. The first couple of times they actually cried together, whether out of relief for finally moving forward, or the overwhelming feelings from her of finally being able to put this part of her past behind her, he did not know. In fact, their love making had taken an inventive turn, a forbidden romance, playing out in her chambers, where she was still married to the duke and he her sister, which elevated their union to a level of pleasure he himself never thought possible. 

It was so this night when he held her down as she came so forcefully, screaming his name that he almost didn't remove himself from her in time. He gathered her body into his arms, both of them drenched in sweat, cool in the night air. Their breathing heavy and in sync as they kissed through the aftershocks of pleasure. 

"I never," Kate breathed. "I never thought this possible. It would have been a shame to go through my whole life not knowing that this is, well this." 

"It has never been this good for me, my love," he admits. 

"Truthfully," she lifts her head and stares down into his eyes.

"Truthfully," he kisses her again and then growls as he flips them over and he settles between her legs again. "Though we must marry quickly. I am finding it harder to protect you now that you are wearing my ring." 

"A month," she breathes. 

"Less," he grins as he pushes into her again. "Two weeks. We can marry before Edwina." 

"Our mama's will not be happy," she sighs. 

"Our mama's will be happy at the possibility of more grandchildren sooner rather than later." 

"How much sooner, you were with Edwina for a year and nothing." 

"My precious love, it does not signify. I have already had you far more times than Edwina." 

"How shocking," she laughed. "No wonder." 

He shrugged and moved inside her. "The only way I could was by picturing you, and if I could not have you than what was the purpose?" 

"To have children, Anthony," she moans as he hits a particular spot within her. "You wanted children." 

"I want your children." 

"I will have you know I am not a dog that you can breed anytime the need arises. Though apparently I become with child extremely fast." 

"Less work for me," he grins, and she slaps his shoulder. "But I will say, the thought of you swelling with my child is extremely arousing." 

"Oh," she laughs. 

"Yeah," he lifts her hands above her head and bends down to kiss her chest. "Especially with the thought that these will not go away anytime soon," he moans. "Two weeks." 

"Two weeks," she moans her agreement as he speeds up again. It was to be a long night for the both of them. 

 

"I am convinced," Anthony said the one morning as the men gathered for a hunt. "That parenthood is not for the faint of heart, and mothers are saints that should be worshipped. I am exhausted." Josephine woke quite early that morning wanting to nurse, and he and Kate had only been asleep for an hour before the knock sounded on her door. It was his fault. He was truly insatiable, but Kate did not complain once. She nursed the baby between them, until they all fell back asleep. 

Hastings clapped his back and smiled. "I will drink in agreement to that one Bridgerton. May the mothers in our lives live forever so us fathers need not live in torment!" 

Benedict laughed at the two of them, "Is it truly that bad brother? You seem to love the children." 

"I love them with all my heart," Anthony sighed. "And Kate and I will definitely be having more. But there are moments, like when you really want to sleep, that parenting takes precedent no matter what." 

"Or when you want to do other things," Simon said slyly. 

"Need I remind you that you are married to my younger sister, Hastings," he growled, and Simon threw up his hands. "But yeah, at those times too," he admitted, and the men all laughed. 

"That is what the honeymoon is for, Bridgerton," Simon said. 

"I do not know if we will take one without the children. Josephine still needs Kate, especially, and it would not feel right to take one and not the other." 

"So, you have one at home," Simon shrugged as if it wasn't a big deal. "Have one at home, stay in your chambers, have the kids brought to you when they need you." 

"You have thought of this then," Anthony said. 

"Daphne and I did not really have a honeymoon. It has been on my mind as of late." 

"Are we going to sit around here all day and talk about the joys of matrimony or are we going to hunt," Colin interrupted, looking quite perturbed. "Some of us are not so lucky as to have a lady in our life." 

 

Mr. Bagwell was a different sort of man, shorter than she imagined, with blondish hair. And he seemed terrified of her, to which she felt no responsibility for correcting him. 

Of all the situations she expected when meeting her sister's fiancé, she never thought she would have to choose sides. Deciding between protecting her sister and protecting her fiancé. Five years ago it would have been her sister, no questions asked. Now though, she made it clear to both Edwina and Bagwell that her loyalties were with Anthony. The marriage would be in a month and she would do everything to support it, but she would be by Anthony's side in the process. 

Her own wedding was in a few days, and the staff were hard at work, executing the plans with an excitement she had never seen from them before. 

Anthony's own meeting with Bagwell before they went over settlement papers was not what she was expecting as well. What she was expecting was downright hostility from Anthony, and instead he seemed almost relieved. When she asked him about it his answer was generic almost. 

"He got me out of my marriage." 

She didn't question him further.

The ton had met the news of their marriage with excitement, she assumed in large part it was due to Lady Whistledown. 

The road to matrimony never runs smooth, dear readers, but I do hope you join me and wishing the sincerest of congratulations to Lord Bridgerton and the Duchess of Lancaster, whom after much tragedy, have found their way into each other's healing arms and are to be married from Haven Valley in the coming weeks. Rumors are that it will be a small ceremony, and the bride and groom will spend their honeymoon there with the duchess' children. The scandal could be that Lord Bridgerton is marrying his former wife's sister, but sources are saying that the duchess is much better equipped for the viscount, and that it is a true love match. Here is to many, many years of love and happiness. 

 

Their wedding took place on a beautiful Friday morning with their families gathered around them. Henry had walked her down the aisle, most likely not knowing the significance, but he was the man of the Grey family, and though they were an untraditional couple, they wanted to involve the children as much as possible. After Henry stood next to Anthony mimicking his stance with his hands behind his back and his shoulders up, earning chuckles from the audience. Josephine watched from Lady Mary's lap, a treat in her hand to keep her quiet.

All in all if you asked her after what was said during the ceremony, she wouldn't be able to tell you. Once she saw Anthony and he saw her there eyes never left each other. 

She was sure they promised to love each other and care for each other eternally. But the only thing that mattered to her was the bishop introducing them as Lord and Lady Bridgerton and their first kiss as husband and wife. 

She had been married before, but she never felt more alive. 

 

 

Chapter Text

Anthony rolled off of his wife's body early the morning after the wedding with a groan and shot his wife a disgruntled look as she began to laugh. The loud "Papa," coming from Josey outside of their bedroom door. "Papa, up!" It had been a long night full of everything he desired. He spent the night sampling the delights of his wife's body in ways he has never been able to do before. And when he was finally able to release inside her for the first time, the feeling of possessiveness overwhelmed him. She was finally his and he was hers, and nobody would ever be able to separate them again. He ran a hand over her abdomen now and placed a gentle kiss there before moving upward to kiss her mouth again. 

"Our daughter demands your presence, my lord." 

Our daughter.

"Can she not see that I am busy on my honeymoon," he groaned. "The sun is not even up." 

"You will find that the sun is meaningless to infants, and if you are wanting more, your free time is going to be sorely limited." 

He chuckled and kissed her gently again, before rolling off the bed, and finding his trousers and shirt. "PAPA!" 

"I'm so sorry, my lord, my lady," the muffled voice of Josey's night nurse came from behind the door. "She would not go back to sleep, and she was waking the children." Anthony chuckled and reached in the wardrobe, reaching for one of his riding shirts and tossed it Kate to put on. 

"Just a moment," he called out and he heard Josey gasp. "Papa!"

"She probably will nurse and go right back to sleep," Kate said softly as she pulled his shirt over her head. 

"Funny," he shot her another look. "I did not think I would ever have to be in competition over my wife's body with my own daughter."

"Well, you are lucky she is not so demanding as she was when she was born, my love. Every four hours she was fed when she was newly born," she laughed. "Henry too." 

He groaned again. "Even in my pain, she still teases me." 

"Do not be so dramatic and let our daughter in before she wakes the entire house." 

He opened the door and Josey catapulted from the night nurse's arms into his own. "Papa!"

"I am sorry again, my lord," the night nurse dropped a nervous curtsey. 

"It is no matter," he said. "Go get some rest." 

He watched as she dropped another curtsey and went down the hall. "A bye," Josey yelled and he tickled her belly causing her to erupt into giggles. 

"You are an absolute menace," he laughed. "You say papa, up, no and bye, and yet you still will not say mama." He carried her back to their bed, to which the baby almost threw herself into her mother's embrace. He could not be mad. 'Papa' may be her favorite word, but she was definitely her mother's daughter, especially lately. "She definitely wanted to nurse, did she not," he laughs as she roots through the shirt Kate wore and finally latches onto a full breast. 

"She must have had a dream," Kate murmured as she pushed some dark hair out of the little girl's face. "Just needed some comfort." 

"Well, that is something her mama offers in spades," he crawled into bed beside them. 

She looked at him pensive, the moonlight lit her face making her look like a goddess. Everything he ever desired right before him wrapped up in some amazing woman who changed his life, wrecked his plans, and stole his heart without lifting a finger. He watched her as her eyes traveled somewhere far away. "Talk to me, my love." 

She smiled briefly, sniffed, and looked away. "My children were everything to me, they saved me. I have told you that before," he nodded. "I never had this," she motioned between the two of them. "He never watched me nurture our children, he never held them, except to show them off. He was proud of them, I assume so at least, he never said. But he was always showing them off to associates and touting their accomplishments he only knew they possessed from passing. You are here now, and you watch her eat with such tenderness," she wiped a tear from her eyes. "I never had intimacy. I never had someone to share this with. I was hurt a lot, but he never touched me during my pregnancies. And I hated being intimate with him, it hurt, but all I could do was hope that he would continue to visit me. That I could continue to have children, because that was the only time in my marriage that I felt safe." 

He pulled her close and kissed the top of her head, encouraging her to keep talking. 

"I never regretted my decision, Anthony. To marry him. How could I when I got Henry and Josey out of it? But here and now," she sobbed. "I wish they were yours. I wish I could have seen you earlier. I wish I would have been brave enough to stop the wedding."

"Sweetheart," he sighed and pulled her closer. Careful to not disturb Josey who was falling asleep at her breast, just as her mama predicted. "If I could go back in time, I would a thousand times over. To be with you, to learn to be a husband with you. To watch you grow with child. But God and his mercies, he gave us a second chance. These are my children now. And you are my wife. You were brave enough to accept my hand when you knew what kind of a husband I was to your sister. There will always be regrets. But here and now, I would not change a thing." 

She nodded and he pressed a kiss onto her tearstained cheek. 

"I hate to see you cry, Kathani Bridgerton," he whispered. Her new name suited her. "And I will endeavor to do what I must to see that it never happens again." 

"You are not, God," she laughed shakily. 

"No. But I am your husband. And if I hold half of the same power over you as you do over me, I know it can be done."

 

Edwina watched from the open door from the sitting room as Anthony chased after Josey, with great amusement. "You have been up since the middle of the night," he yelled affectionately to the baby as she ran in the opposite direction that he needed her to go in. "How are you this awake," he exclaimed. Anthony had always been good with children, at least from what she saw as his wife with his niece and nephew. Bagwell chuckled too as he sat beside her. 

"Seems like their wedding night was interrupted," he said with some level of glee behind his words. She never understood the competition he had with Anthony. He had been the one sleeping with Anthony's wife. 

"It seems so," she murmured as she took another sip of her tea. It had grown quite cold. She and Bagwell had been in the sitting room for a half hour trying to talk about their upcoming nuptials, but if she were honest, her heart was not in it. When she had written to him about the baby nothing could stop her excitement. She had wished for a baby for so long now, and it was a dream come true. His positive response filled her with relief, and she automatically agreed to the proposed hasty nuptials from her sister's now her nephew's estate. And she had been certain she loved him; he filled her heart so on their adventures to Italy. But something her sister had said before they had come here to Haven Valley had stuck with her. 

He was so agreeable to live upon the funds you took from your husband. 

That is not honorable. 

Kate herself had been sharing a bed for her now husband for months, and she never came up pregnant. Any child they had now would be born at a safe time within their marriage. Anthony had protected Kate. 

Bagwell had not protected her. 

And all of the sudden her past mistakes were front and center. Sure, she could blame Anthony for pushing her into Bagwell's arms, and Bagwell showed her a passion Anthony never had. But she had walked in upon many passionate embraces, none so graphic as the one she had first heard in his study, between her sister and former husband, even here at Haven Valley these last couple weeks, and her sister certainly seemed to enjoy his attention, even if it was just a passionate kiss. 

Maybe it was her that was uninspired? This should be the happiest time of her life. Her sister had said she could not wait to be pregnant again, it was when she was happiest. Maybe there was something wrong with her. She turned to her fiancé. "Why does it amuse you so that their wedding night was interrupted. What is it to you?"

"Well," he chuckled and set his teacup down on the saucer in front of him. "For a while he was my competition for your affections." 

"Because I was his wife." 

"Well," he paused. "Yes."

"That was not his fault."

"That he could not take care of his wife emotionally, physically even," Bagwell growled. "Yes, it is his fault." 

"Why are you upset with him when it is you that I ended up with?"

He started to speak then stopped and she shook her head. 

"Clearly there are other issues we must talk about, but I am too exhausted to even care right now." She stood and crossed the room to the door, ignoring him calling her name. 

This was simply too much all at once. 

 

Anthony looked up to the door in his makeshift study. He didn't have the heart to use the actual one because it would be Henry's one day, but he needed a place to do his work. Correspondence from Aubrey Hall and Bridgerton House needed his attention after weeks of being away. And correspondence from Grey House and Haven Valley's stewards needed documents signed for the purchase of some land that duke had started before his death, and as Henry's guardian, now father, the duty fell to him to sign for him legally until he was eighteen.

The thought broke his heart. Henry essentially would be destined to the same fate as he himself had been, becoming a man far too soon. He would do everything in his power to ensure he had all the help he could, and of course he knew Kate would not be absent as his own mother had been. He sighed, rubbed his face, and sat back in the chair. Kate had asked if she could help, but the children had called her away, and there was nothing Kate loved more than being a mother. It was something she needed, even back before their lives became so complicated, she had been the quintessential mother to Edwina. Henry and Josephine needed her in a way that most women in the ton would find unfashionable, but why shouldn't they want her for comfort versus that of a nurse maid. Is that not what mothers were for? Comforting your hurts, and joyously celebrating your happiness as their own? 

Henry and Josephine were his life now, but he could not wait to see her swelling with child, to watch her as she carried his child, to be there for her when she gave birth. He was already a father, but he was greedy enough to want more. A noise propelled him to look up at the door, and he smiled when he saw Henry holding his picture book, in his night clothes. His hair tussled from a fresh bath. He looked so much like Kate that he choked up for a moment. He pushed away from the desk and stood. 

"Hello, sweet boy," he walked to his son who immediately lifted his arms up for him to pick him up. "Are you ready for bed then?"

He nodded a little drowsily. "Papa, read me? Please?"

He had a stack of paperwork on his desk that needed attending to but none of that mattered more to him than Henry needing him. And with the way the toddler was looking, he knew he'd be carrying him off to bed soon anyway. His aunts and uncles had worn him out today, much in the same way as Josey had this morning with her running all over the place. 

Children were supposed to walk before they ran, but Josey had skipped that step entirely. She was pure energy, even when her energy needed resupplying. He carried Henry over to a chaise in the corner of the room and sat down with him in his lap. 

It was a picture book that Henry had picked out, there were no words to read, but Henry loved it when he pointed to the pictures and made funny voices, pretending to know what they were saying. His laughter was contagious though, and soon the boy was laughing so hard, that Anthony himself could not help but follow suit, the book completely forgotten. Henry turned and wrapped his arms around his neck, his head on his chest as he dozed. He understood then what Kate knew herself already. 

It was not fashionable to be so involved with one's children like this. But this moment would live with him for the rest of his life. That Henry felt safe in his arms to trust him as he rested was something that he would work to never lose. 

"Papa," Henry whispered drowsily. "I glad that you my papa now." 

Anthony fought back a wave of tears that always seemed to be at the surface these days, and kissed the top of the boy's head, holding him tighter, and gruffly said, "I'm glad I am your papa now too." The boy nodded gently. 

"And mama safe now. She not cry no more."

"And your mama is safe now. So, you can rest, ok my love." Another nod. "I will look after her for you from here on out." 

"Cause you a papa."

"Yes," he chuckled. "Cause I'm a papa."

That answered seemed to settle him, at least for the time being, he adjusted as Henry nestled his face against his neck. His breathing slowed as he fell asleep, and his body went limp. He couldn't bring himself to take Henry to his room though, content to just hold his boy as he slept. A feeling of warmth spread as he looked up at the door way where Kate and a very drowsy looking Josey now stood. 

"The menace looks tired," he teased. "Finally." 

Kate nodded, chuckling softly. "She is in a milk coma. I did wonder why she has been so hungry these last days, but then I tried to get her into her favorite nightgown just now, and she is too big for it." She smiled sadly. "She is growing much too fast." 

"They usually do," he whispered and motioned for her to join them. Josey had taken a bath too; her dark curls were still damp. Josey watched him from her mother's arms as she sucked her thumb and twirled a piece of her hair, a clear sign of her exhaustion. He shifted gently as Kate sat beside them and opened his arms to pull her to his side. Josey found a comfortable spot between them, managing to sit on both of their lamps much to their amusement. Kate reached over and rubbed their son's back.  

"He had so much fun today," she smiled. "I, -" she started and then choked up. "Your family has been so welcoming to us. To my children, -." 

"Our children," he stopped her. "And why would they not be?"

"I made mistakes." 

"We all made mistakes, my love. None more so than I. I knew what I felt for you after that first race in the park, and after I finally met you again," he stopped. "I should have fought harder for you instead of doing what duty compelled me to do. Even though duty was really compelling me to you. Every stolen moment with you I fell deeper. Pall Mall, after you were stung, after the ball. I was fighting against what duty wanted for me, because I did not want love. And I knew, from the very moment I met you, that I could not have you as much as I wanted you. Because that was the decision that my heart made."

"But still," she started. 

"You did nothing wrong. That was Edwina and me. We made the mistakes, not you my precious love. And I do not want to hear more about it. Understood?" She sighed but then nodded quietly. He leaned over to kiss her head, careful not to crush Josey who was playing with her foot trying to put it in her mouth. They both laughed at her quietly. 

"You know Lady Bridgerton," he said quietly in her ear. "I would love to test out your flexibility tonight, but that would involve getting these children to bed, and you wearing a lot less clothing. 

"Lord Bridgerton," she laughed. "You are particularly naughty when it is close to bedtime." She gave him a gentle kiss and then leaned back. 

"I am particularly naughty at all times, my lady. You just are nice enough to not call me out on it." He gave her a wink, before extracting himself from Josephine, and standing up with Henry in his arms. He shifted the boy to one arm, and lifted his daughter into his other, who immediately copied her brother's sleeping position. His paperwork could wait until morning his wife could not. He leaned down and whispered, "I will put these two to bed, and then I will meet you, viscountess, in our chambers, preferably with no clothes on." 

"Shocking," she laughed. 

 

The next morning the viscount woke up refreshed, and moved with ease, even if his wife could not. He chuckled to himself. It possibly was his fault for having her more times than he could count, in more positions he could count but it was her fault for being so damn irresistible. He had helped her into a hot bath this morning before sending for a breakfast tray to be sent to their chambers for her and letting the nursery staff know that she was not to be disturbed until she called for her children. He had some paperwork to finish up this morning, but he would endeavor to get through it quickly to spend more time with his family. This was his honeymoon after all. The children hadn't even awoken yet, so he still had time. 

A quiet knock on the door startled him from the letter from the Lancaster steward had sent. He looked up expecting to see his stubborn bride but found his former one instead. 

"Miss Sharma," he said. He was impressed with how steady he kept his own voice. Most of the time he was borderline hostile with her. But what she had done had led him to his greatest happiness, so he was trying hard to be more understanding. He was technically her brother now, though he didn't like to think much about that considering their circumstances. "Did you need something," he asked. 

"Can we talk, my lord," she asked quietly and looked unsure of herself. 

He looked down at his letter then sat it down. He would have to draft a response later. He motioned to the chair in front of the desk for her to sit, and she did so demurely. He laughed internally. There was nothing demure about his former wife. Not even when they were married. It was an act of the most practiced debutante, one Edwina mastered perfectly, and Kate mastered not at all. There was the difference. Kate cared not for the ton's opinions, and Edwina cared too much. "What do you wish to speak about?"

She looked down at her lap, then to the door. The door was open, and he would see that it was kept that way. He did not think Edwina one for games now, especially considering her circumstances now, but one could never be too sure. She took in a shaky breath and then looked him straight in the eye. "I am having a hard time," she admitted. "With Bagwell. When we were together in Italy, it was everything I dreamed. But something Kate said shook me, I did not want it to, but it did." 

"What did Kate say," he asked. 

"She was worried about how he was content to live off of your money, and not his own while we were in Italy. I even paid for our trip home entirely. And now I am having a child with him." 

"Well, you wanted to run away with him, Edwina," he replied coolly. "But I do agree. I have no experience in the matter of convincing a lover to run away, but I would assume the man would pay for the trip. It is odd." 

"It was all his idea," she sighed and looked away. "Though I do agree that I share some of the blame. And then yesterday, he was almost gleeful that your wedding night had been interrupted after we watched you chase after Josephine," she shook her head. "I asked him about it, and he gave some typical generic answer expected of him. But I feel like he is competing against you. Like maybe that was his only reason for being with me was because it bested you."

Anthony watched her intently with a frown and she continued. 

"And if that is the case, who is to say he will not go after Kate?"

Anthony broke his pen and stood abruptly. "Has he said anything about her," he demanded. 

"Nothing at all," Edwina admitted. "It is just something that I thought about after talking to him yesterday. I do not know if it was true. And Kate rarely talks to him anyway. She likes him way less than you it seems, but I think it is because of the situation that we got ourselves in and not him exactly." Anthony nodded; Kate had told him those exact words. "In fact, I think he is quite terrified of her."

Anthony wrestled with his thoughts for a moment before turning a smile upon her. "I am sure it is just nerves. You are getting remarried and have a child on the way. It is a new step for both of you." 

"Were you nervous," she asked. "Marrying my sister and taking her kids on as your own?" 

Was he nervous to marry the love of his life? Anxious yes. Relieved most definitely. But not nervous. Never nervous. The smile on his face must have given her the answer to her question. 

"Did you ever love me as much as you love her?" 

"You will not like the answer," he said honestly. 

"Right," she cleared her throat. "You married for duty, and not for love." 

"If I knew then what I know now I would not have put us through any of this," he admitted. "I would have fought for her from the start." 

"I see," she nodded quietly. 

"It is nothing against you," he said softly. "It is that feeling of even in my darkest of days, and my darkest of times, all I can see is her. And I cling to that. Perhaps it is not the healthiest of ways to cope, but it is what I had, even back then." 

"It was the Pall Mall game, wasn't it," she laughs. 

"She definitely proved herself to be a Bridgerton in disguise that first game," he laughed. "Stealing my mallet and knocking my ball out of contention and forcing me into a a bog which ruined my favorite pair of boots. But honestly, she took my breath away long before that. But I had it in my head that I did not want love in my relationship, and I ended up hurting us all. You and I, we looked good on paper, the viscount and the diamond. And I may have been upset with how things ended between you and I, but I will never be upset that our relationship actually ended." 

"I understand." 

"And if you are truly feeling concerned about Mr. Bagwell's intentions, just talk to him. I am sure it is just a misunderstanding."

"You are probably right," she admitted. "Maybe it is just the emotions and everything becoming so overwhelming." 

"Maybe," he said, and sat back down and disposed of his now broken pen. But now even he was not too sure.

Because in the scheme of things; Kate was a much wealthier woman than Edwina. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Kathani Grey Bridgerton had gotten to know the staff of Haven Valley rather well over the years. At some points they had become some of her dearest friends. Hiding in corners, assisting her when husband was being particularly cruel. They were efficient, and able to blend in the shadows really well, and the housekeeper in particular handled the staff with a very tight rope, though no one minded because they were paid very well. 

That being said, the extra footman in the hall, pretending not to follow her. The extra maid in the sitting room. The way when she rang for assistance was deemed completely unnecessary because the help was already there before she could reach for the rope. This last week was as suffocating as it was when she was married to the duke. And she absolutely knew who to blame. 

She marched down the hall to her husband's makeshift office, snapping at the footman pretending not to follow her, "I can manage the door myself!" She pushed the door open and stood before her husband, hands placed on her hips as she stared down at her husband who was startled from his correspondence. "Lord Bridgerton." 

"Viscountess," he looked at her wearily. "What can I help you with." 

"Would you mind telling me why you have footmen and maids following me everywhere in my own home," she snapped. "I have lived here these last five years and I know it inside and out. I need no assistance managing on my own."

"Kate," he sighed and stood. 

"NO," she snapped. "No. You gave the order; they would not listen to anyone else. And I demand to know why!"

"They are there to help, my love." 

"Do not patronize me, Anthony."

"I am not, -."

"And now you are lying to me," she exclaimed. 

"I have my reasons." 

"Reasons you cannot tell me," Kate snapped. "Even though they affect me." 

"Sweetheart, -."

"No," she slammed a fist on his desk. "Lancaster did this exact thing. He made sure my every movement was monitored and I will not stand for it again, Anthony. I will NOT stand for this!" 

"Kate," he said appealingly. 

"Call off your dogs," she exclaimed before marching to the door and slamming it shut. After she turned to the footman and snapped, "Do not follow me!" 

 

All morning Edwina had been concerned. The cramps she felt were like nothing she felt before, but she tried to brush them off. Until she couldn't anymore. Her wince must have shown across her face because her mother looked at her with concern. 

"Edwina," she said. "Are you alright?" The rest of the ladies of the room looked up. Violet had been holding Josephine, and for the first time in months actually looked at her with some sort of concern. 

"I think," Edwina breathed. "There are cramps." 

The ladies sat up straighter. "Cramps," Violet asked and Edwina nodded. "Painful?" 

"Nothing I cannot manage. But they do not feel good." 

"Should we call for the doctor," Mary looked toward Violet with concern who nodded. 

"Perhaps," she stood with Josephine in her arms who had fallen asleep. "I'll ask the housekeeper. Get her up to her chambers." 

When she stood, she felt a sharp pain rip through her that caused her to bend and grasp her stomach in shock. 

"Edwina," Mary exclaimed. 

"Something is wrong," she gasped. "Something is wrong." She cried as she clung to her mother before blacking out. 

 

Kate stood in silence in the sitting room they were all utilizing while they had waited for word on Edwina's health when she noticed Violet come up and stand beside her. "She is going to lose the baby," Kate said softly. "Is she not?"

"I do not know, my darling," Violet took her hand and squeezed gently. "She was not in a good way." 

"She was happy," Kate choked back a sob. 

"These things happen, my love," Violet soothed her as she pushed a piece of hair from her face. "There is no rhyme or reason. All we can do is help her through it." 

"How is Bagwell doing?" 

She watched as Violet narrowed her eyes and they both looked in the direction of Edwina's fiancé who was looking in their direction. "Surprisingly, he does not seem to care one way or another."

She watched him for a few more moments before shaking her head and turning back to her mother-in-law. "I know not what to make of him." They slowly made their way across the room to the tea service cart. "He does not seem in a hurry to marry, yet he does not seem to want to let her go." She felt a tug on her dress and looked down. It was Henry who was looking up at her with wide eyes.

"Mama," he whispered. "I have some food?" She looked at Violet who smiled down at her newest grandson and began to make him a plate. Kate bent down so she was looking her son in the eyes. 

"Of course, you can have some food," she leaned forward and kissed his cheek. "Are you alright, my love?" 

He nodded. "Everyone sad. I want to play wif Auggie outside." 

"We must wait for word on Aunt Edwina's health, my love." He nodded again, and happily accepted a plate from his grandmother. 

"Thank you, grandmama," he smiled at her and walked away, finding a spot between Benedict and Sophie, who were fast becoming some of his favorite people. 

Violet sniffed as she watched. "Are you alright," Kate asked. 

"I just never expected to become a grandmother by Anthony. After two years, of course I had no idea how bad their marriage truly was, I gave up hope. And now, because of you," Violet took her hand. "I have two more perfect grandchildren to adore. And I could not be more grateful." 

Kate smiled and squeezed her hand gently. "You are an amazing grandmother to them, they love you." 

Violet blinked back tears and looked down. Kate had gotten to know her really well these last months, and she had always had a strict handle on her emotions. She had cried at their wedding a couple weeks ago, but she usually had a everything in check. It was a testament to how much she wanted Anthony to be happy. And happy Anthony included a great love, and a family. 

"You are so good for him," Violet said. 

"Well," Kate laughed. "Hold that thought because I am currently very angry with him at the moment." 

"Why?"

"He has decided that I am absolutely helpless and stationed footman and maids everywhere." 

"Well," Violet looked in Anthony's direction. "I have no doubt that my new daughter will knock him down a few feet. That might be good for all of us really." They both chuckled softly as they filled their plates and found a couple of seats together. "Have you talked of more children?"

Kate laughed again softly. It felt good to laugh and not worry about Edwina's health for a moment. "We are actively working on creating another grandchild for you." 

Violet bit back a smile, but it soon lit up her face. "I did not know if you would want to. Josephine is still an infant." 

"Well, she will have nine months to grow further when I do become with child," Kate teased. "I must say, that having a choice to have a child with my husband this time around is really empowering." 

"You did not before?"

"No," Kate said. "I was pregnant with Henry so soon after my marriage began, and while I was relieved, at that point when I found out, I was contemplating running away. I would have been ruined but being poor and back in India was my preference. But then I had my Henry, and my life was all the better, even when it was not. I knew instantly that I was pregnant with Josephine, however."

"Were your pregnancies difficult?"

"No," Kate smiled at Henry who was attempting to wake up Josephine who was asleep in Anthony's arms right now her head resting on his broad shoulder. He was admonishing their son softly. "They were relatively easy. As were their births." 

"Why she sleeping so much," they both looked in Henry's direction as he spoke to Anthony. 

"Because she is growing," Anthony whispered back. 

"I growing too, but I not sleep so much," he wrinkled his brow and Anthony chuckled. "I want her to play wif us." 

"She can play with you when she awakes." 

"But I want her awake now," Henry pouted. 

"You will gain no sympathy from me, my son, even should you cry," Anthony chuckled as their son scrunched up his face into his most precious pout. "Not even when you do that." 

"Papa," Henry whined. 

"Henry," Anthony said and turned back to Benedict and Sophie to continue their conversation. 

Henry looked around to make sure no one was looking then turned back and reached to pull on Josey's arm, but Anthony was quicker and grabbed his hand which shocked the toddler. "Do we need to have a conversation, son?"

"No, papa," Henry pouted. 

"Then do as I say and go play." 

Violet chuckled softly as she watched. "He is a natural."

"Yes," Kate smiled. "He is. He is good with them. Henry has longed needed a father who cares, and Anthony is that father." They watched Henry as he slowly made his way to them, the pout on his face perfectly adorable. 

"I cannot resist him," Violet said with a soft laugh. "You must help me."

"Grandmama," Henry said with a small voice. "I sad." He raised his arms for Violet to lift him into her lap. "Papa not let me play wif Josey." 

"Did papa give a reason why," Kate asked amused as Henry stared at her from Violet's lap, his face in her chest. 

"He say she sleeping." 

"And what is wrong with that," Violet asked. 

"Well because she not awake to play wif me," he said the statement so matter-of-factly that both women had to laugh which seemed to offend him further.

"My love," Kate soothed. "Your papa is right. Josey is napping. She is still a baby and needs to rest." 

"But I a baby too," he stuck his thumb in his mouth. 

"Well then you must nap too," Kate said and held her arms out to her son who stared at her for a moment then decided that he wanted to be in her arms and went to her. She took him and cradled him gently, rocking him. 

"I not tired," he mumbled, despite the very big yawn that came with his words.

"I know my sweet boy," Kate whispered. "You do not need to sleep, just close your eyes for a few minutes."

"Ok," he mumbled and Violet chuckled. 

"Well done," she said quietly. 

"I know my son, and he is as predictable as any man." 

"That will suit you well in the future," Violet said. 

They all looked up as Mary came through the door and motioned to Bagwell to follow her. He left the room but Mary found her and went to stand before her. "She is losing the child," Mary nodded then left. Violet looked at her with sadness. 

"A grave situation indeed," Violet said. 

Kate nodded and kissed her sleeping son's forehead as she felt the entire room's eyes on them. She could not say anything at the moment because she knew not what she felt. She grieved for Edwina and the loss of her child. But she also felt a sense of relief because Edwina now had more options. She saw Anthony looking at her with concern, but she shook her head and sat back into her seat. 

 

Kate moaned as Anthony pinned her against the wall later that night, panting. What was meant to be a bath for one, had turned into a bath for two, which turned into him lifting her from the tub and taking her against the wall. "Just because," she panted as he found a particularly sensitive spot behind her ear with his tongue as he continued to thrust into her. "Lord Bridgerton," she continued. "I allow you to take liberties does not mean I am not still angry with you." 

"Lady Bridgerton," he panted into her ear. "I have no doubt about your anger, and only seek to make you feel good. Nothing more." 

"Then Lord Bridgerton," she gasped. "Oh God," she moaned. "You must know that you are going much to slow," she laughed as he sped up, he reached for her hands in pinned them above her. 

"You talk too much," he mumbled. 

"Perhaps you are not doing your job right, Viscount Bridgerton," she teased. "If I am still able to communicate adequately." He pulled back and stared at her in astonishment. She had never criticized his love making before, but tonight she was feeling quite feisty, and still very, very angry. 

"Viscountess, you wound me."

"Is that what I am feeling right now," she asked. "Your," she paused. "Wound?"

"Damnable minx," he laughed and bent to take a full breast in his mouth, which caused her brain to black out almost. If Anthony had one weapon in his arsenal, it was her breasts and he chose to utilize it against her many, many times. And of course, as much as she tried to deny him the pleasure of leading her to that peak, he knew her body better than she, and her body betrayed her as he led through her climax, spending inside her shortly after. 

If seduction was an art, Anthony Bridgerton was a master. He held her up, her legs still wrapped around his waist, their breaths coming in gasps as they tried to find their balance. He would have her screaming his name a few more times before they slept, she had no reason to deny it. She moved her head to the side as he kissed her neck, sucking and biting on it gently. He had not left her body yet and still she wanted more of him. 

Her husband was absolutely sinful. 

"Anthony," she sighed as he kissed behind her ear. "Anthony we must talk." 

"Then talk," he said softly. "Speak your heart, my love." 

"I am still mad at you," 

He sighed and pulled back, but still maintained their connection. "Kate."

"I am not an invalid." 

"I would never, ever think that, my darling," he insisted. "That is not why I have done this." 

"Then tell me why," she demanded quietly. 

He sighed and looked her directly in the eyes. "Your sister said something to me the other day and it shook me. I just want to keep you safe," he admitted. 

"What did she say," Kate asked and ran her hands through his hair, enjoying the feel of it.

"Bagwell. I guess he seemed overly interested in our honeymoon being interrupted and seemed overly happy about it. Edwina mentioned she was concerned about him accosting you. She is afraid he might have some sort of grudge against me," he sighed. "He can attempt what he wants with me, Kate. But if he were to ever even try to lay his hands on you, I would not be able to live with myself." 

"But he seems so harmless," Kate said. "Sure, he stares more than I am comfortable with." 

"He stares at you," Anthony demanded. 

"Focus," Kate said. "But I think he is quite terrified of me. I think he is harmless." 

"Kate," he began. "He convinced your sister to run away with him, using her husband's bank. He is not as harmless as he seems. And while you have more sense than your sister ever will. It took you months before you were comfortable with me touching you without your permission. Henry touched you a month ago, and it sent you into shock. I have no doubt, absolutely none, that you can handle yourself. But I also have no doubt that should the situation arise, we would have no idea how you would actually react." 

She had to give him that. As much as she would like to say that if the situation did arise, she would rise to the occasion, it could send her flashing back to the duke. "Why did you not tell me," she sighed. 

"Because I am your husband," he said. "And I did not want to worry you unnecessarily. I realize I went about it the wrong way and I apologize. We have invited a relative stranger into this home because of Edwina, and that is my failing. I should have vetted him more. I am in the process right now. But you and I both know that he does not seem particularly interested in the actual wedding. And after today, who knows." 

She nodded in agreement. 

"You are my life Kate Bridgerton," he leaned forward and kissed her gently. "I would never forgive myself should anything happen to you. And if it was something I could have prevented," he inhaled shakily. 

"Anthony, you must tell me these things," Kate said. "I must know so I can watch out for myself."

"I am trying, my love. I am not used to having a wife I consider my equal in all ways. I am learning. In the meantime, I will tell the staff to back off, but they will still be there," Kate nodded, knowing better to argue with his need to protect her. "And please try not to be in a room alone until I have all of this sorted."

"I am sorry I doubted you," Kate whispered. "And I am sorry I compared you to Lancaster. 

"It is no matter, my love," he said. "I was an ass, yes?" 

She giggled as he resumed his attack on her neck. He moved them from the wall and walked them across the room to their bed. She fell back on the bed with a laugh, and he immediately moved on top of her. Of all the positions that he had led her through, him being on top of her and controlling their movements was her favorite. The powerful and masterful way he had her body in this position had led to many daydreams that led to her seeking him out. She was a woman who had to have some sort of control over every aspect of her life, so letting Anthony lead her in this was a way for her to let go and just enjoy herself. And enjoy herself she did many, many times. 

"Mrs. Bridgerton," he moaned as he pushed inside her again. 

"I should not be this happy when my sister is going through so much," she said softly. 

"You are allowed to be happy even while being sad for her, my love. You are allowed to feel for yourself, and you should, after putting everyone's needs before yours for so long. You are allowed to live." 

"Life cannot be this good," she moaned. "It can't." 

"It can," he leaned down to kiss her gently. "You just have to allow it. Now let everything from this day go and allow your husband to take care of you." 

"Anthony," she whispered as she took his hand. He intertwined their fingers as he moved with her. "I love you."

"And I you, my precious love."

 

 

Chapter Text

Kate was quiet when she entered Edwina's room the next morning. She didn't want to linger, she just wanted to ensure that Edwina was ok, and to see if she needed anything. The room was dark, but for a few candles and elegant in style. It was one of the few rooms she had to redecorate in her time as the duchess, as the style was too outdated. She nodded to Mary who was at her side, and Bagwell who was in a chair across the room. She made sure to keep her distance from him on the way to Edwina who was lying in bed. The entire mood was somber, and instantly Kate felt ill at ease. 

"Edwina," she said quietly. "I am so sorry," she sat in the chair on the opposite side of the bed as Mary. "Do you need anything? Can I get you anything?" Edwina did not respond, she only stared straight ahead. Kate continued on. "I cannot imagine what you are going through, but I am here if you need me." She looked across at Mary who was shaking her head sadly, so they just sat in silence. There was nothing they could do to make this better and Kate really couldn't imagine what her sister was going through. Losing babies early in pregnancy was common, but it wasn't something she had ever experienced. Looking at it now though, imagining her life without Henry or Josephine was something she could not fathom. In that, she did understand her sister. 

She didn't have an idea how long they all sat there in silence, but it must have been a while because she could here Henry calling for her down the hall, his voice distant and concerned. "Mama? Where at?" 

With a nod to Mary, she stood and turned to walk to the door when Edwina spoke. "Can I hold him," she whispered. "Can I hold my nephew?"

"Of course you can," Kate said quietly. "Though I do not know how long he will be still for you," Edwina chuckled quietly. Kate moved quickly to the door, calling to Henry. "Come here my darling. It took five seconds before she heard his little boy footsteps race down the hallway and he launched himself into her waiting arms. "Good morning, my darling. Did you have a good ride with papa?"

"Mmhmm," he said into her neck as he embraced her tightly. "Papa say I a good horseman, like you mama." 

"Did he say that?"

"Mmhmm," he pulled back and flashed her a dimpled smile. "He says that you can go riding wif me tomorrow." 

"I will think about it, ok my love. I have been really light-headed lately, and I would not want to fall off." 

"Oh no, mama!"

"I will be fine, my love," she soothed. "But right now, your aunt Edwina wishes to hold you for a few minutes."

"Hold me and not Josey," he asked. 

"I think you give better hugs at the moment, yes," she laughed. 

"She is really wiggly," he laughed. 

"She is," she lifted him to her hip and carried him inside. 

"It really dark in here, mama," he whispered, perhaps sensing the somber feeling in the room. He wrapped his little boy arms around her neck in a tight hold. "I don't like it."

"It is alright, my love."

They made it to Edwina's bedside, Kate ignored the feeling of being stared at. Edwina was more important. "Hello auntie," Henry said with a small wave. "You sick? How come you not out of bed." 

"Henry," Edwina smiled softly and reached for him. He hesitated then went into her arms. "I will be alright eventually." Henry settled at her side, sitting in her arms. He was perceptive even before, and for now he was content to sit in silence. 

 

Flashback: Two weeks after Edwina and Anthony's wedding. 

He had avoided planning a honeymoon, hoping to spend as much time as possible with Kate before she left for India. The family had all gathered at Lady Danbury's house for her dinner party. Kate was stunning in a cream dress, her hair half down. It was not lost on him that he could not even remember what his own wife was wearing this night. Not that it would matter. In the two weeks they had been married, they had shared a bed once, and it lasted about as long as it did when he was a schoolboy. He got up and left right after, going to his room, and drinking the night away. 

But no matter how much he drank that night; it never stopped the pain in his chest. Kate had ripped his heart from his chest, and he would never be the same. It would always be hers, so what right did he have to ask for it back? He could never ask her for it anyway. It belonged to her. 

Kate was talking to a man he recognized as one of the Regent's friends that Lady Danbury had invited to this dinner. He hated the feeling of jealousy that arose watching her laugh at something he said, or how she watched him intently as he talked. She never looked in his direction once. When dinner was ready, the gentleman had the nerve to escort her to her seat. She was seated beside him that night, he watched as he seated her and then took his own place at the head of the table. He was the highest ranked gentleman there that night. He was nobility. 

"Is that not nice," Edwina smiled at him. "Perhaps she will stay. She seems to enjoy the duke's conversation." 

The duke?  He gave his wife a tight smile and looked at his plate. Of course, she would attract the attention of a duke. She was one of the most beautiful women in London. To hell with it, she was the most beautiful woman in London. The duke knew better than to go after some generic diamond.  

Kate deserved to enjoy herself. But even that thought would not stop the continuing pain in his chest. 

What had he done?

 

Kate and the duke's official wedding portrait haunted him every time he passed it. Most of the time he could not look, but today was different. He looked up at the portrait. The duke behind Kate who was sitting in a chair. Her posture making her almost look regal. Her hair half down in an elegant style. The purple in her dress bringing out the tone in her dark skin. She looked beautiful. 

Stunning.

This portrait would hang in the hall along with that past and future generations of duke and duchesses. He and Edwina's portrait had been removed from Aubrey Hall, and truthfully the duke and Kate looked more affectionate than they ever had. But he and Edwina had divorced. That was the difference. Kate would long have that over him. A successful marriage, at least to the eyes of the outside. She had produced an heir and a spare, as the Lancaster dukedom was one of the few that allowed the female line to inherit. 

But damnit, he was proud of her. She did what he could not possibly do. She had lived with her decision and emerged the victor. 

He heard Mary before he could see her. 

"I see this picture, and all I feel is regret," she said. "But then I see Henry and Josephine, and all I feel is pride. My daughter did that."

"Yeah," he whispered. "Me too." 

"I know you have regrets, Anthony." 

"Those children are the air I breathe," he admitted. "But I should have been there from the beginning."

"And you will before the next one," she took his hand and looked deep into his eyes. "Henry and Josephine know a father's love because of you. And when you and Kate are so blessed, hopefully soon," she chuckled. "They will know the exact same love. Henry eventually will never remember a day when you were not there."

"I hope so," he said. 

"I know so. You are a part of every single thing he does. You are the most important man in his life."

"I hope that I am up to it." 

"What makes you think you will not be," she asked. 

"I made mistakes," he said. 

"We all make mistakes. We all do. You made mistakes yes, but you have made up for them. Our children are not expecting perfection from us. They are just expecting us to be there. Something I am still trying to do for my eldest." 

He chuckled. 

"She is stubborn, opinionated, and far more capable than I ever will be," she laughed. "Sometimes I wonder how my two girls turned out to be exact opposites of each other."

"Mary my marriage to Edwina," he began. 

"I know. I should not have allowed it. I was blind and relieved that she had made a good match, I did not see what it was doing to my other daughter. But I do not blame you for how it ended."

"I apologize for all the hurt I have caused." 

"Well, that is one thing that you have done that Edwina has not," she placed a hand on his cheek. "There is nothing to forgive, my son. Just love Kate as I know you do."

"Where is she," he looked around. "I have not seen her since we left our room this morning." 

"Well, she was with Henry and Edwina earlier but Henry can only stay stationary for so long," they both laughed and she looked at him. "Shall we go and try to find my grandchildren then?"

"That sounds like a good idea," he grinned down at her and offered his arm to escort her, only briefly looking back at the portrait once more. He was raising a duke in a long line of dukes in a family more ancient and noble than his own. 

He only hoped he was up to the task. 

 

Kate entered Anthony's makeshift study to find a book she had been reading last night before her husband so rudely interrupted her perusal of said book for more pleasurable pursuits. She was shocked when upon entering that Mr. Bagwell was also there going through papers on his desk. "Mr. Bagwell," she said with an air of authority. "Are you lost?"

"My lady," he looked up in shock. "I was just," he stopped. "I lost my copies of the settlement papers, and I was hoping your husband had a copy."

"Why do you not just ask him," she asked. "And I thought the wedding was postponed. Should you not be at Edwina's side right now?"

"We were, ah," he started. "We were going to go over them together."

"Perhaps Mr. Bagwell," Anthony said from the door. "You do not have copies of the settlement papers because there are not settlement papers to have copies of right now anyway. So instead of lying to the viscountess again, you would do well to exit the way you came." 

They both watched as he left, and Anthony closed the door, locking it behind him. "I told you not to be alone with him." 

"Oh please," she scoffed. "I was not expecting him to be here in your study, I just came in here for my book." 

He walked up to her and placed a soft kiss on her shoulder, before kissing up her neck. "My love, I just want you safe." 

"I know you do," she took his hands in hers and lifted them to her waist. "And I promise. But truly I was not expecting him in here. Why would he be? That was odd." 

He hummed in agreement. 

"I do have something to tell you though," she grinned. "Something that I think is going to make you happy. Very happy, in fact." 

"You're not wearing a chemise under this dress," he asked. "That would make me extremely happy." 

"Anthony," she moaned. "That is not what I was going to say." 

"Ok," he pulled back. "Tell me." 

She took a deep breath and inhaled, looking him deeply in the eyes. "It seems that we are going to be having a baby. It is early yet. But my body is betraying its existence," she looked at him. "Anthony, darling?"

She watched him fall apart in waves. His eyes were wide and unbelieving. His hands shook. His breath came in gasps. And then, the most magnificent smile spread across his face as he swept her into his arms. 

 

Sophie laughed merrily as she watched Benedict chase their nieces and nephews across the expansive lawn. She never dreamed that this would be her life. That she would have this family. A husband who loved her. Brothers and sisters who adored her. A duchess as a sister-in-law. Two duchesses as sisters-in-law. A duke as a nephew. And now a baby who she could cherish as much as she did them all. 

The game was tag. Whoever got tagged had to do the chasing, and currently Benedict was losing. She watched as he got close enough to Henry, and then pretended to collapse, sending the kids into uproars, and Josephine and her little girl legs, toddling over and collapsing on top of him.

A few months ago, she had discredited Kate as being as unfeeling as her sister. She had never gotten a long with Edwina. Edwina liked to pull rank, a lot. There were serious arguments in the month leading up to her wedding to Benedict, ones that almost threatened to sever Benedict and Anthony's relationship. There were flowers they could not use because they were used at her own wedding. She could not wear that style of gown. She couldn't wear her hair like that. Violet, bless her soul, had tried to act as a mediator, but Edwina never regarded anything she had to say with a grain of salt. It took Anthony yelling as she had never heard him before to stop the foolishness. 

Kate had never pulled rank on her. She had been kind to her from the start, even going so far to ensure that during that first month when everything was wildly crazy, that Sophie felt recognized. Kate was the first she told about her and Benedict's baby, and she gave a lot of helpful advice. 

She supposed she did feel bad for Edwina losing her baby, in a way. But in most ways, she was relieved. Most of the family was. Edwina was still carrying a torch for Anthony and all he offered, no matter how cruel they were to each other, and Mr. Bagwell was acting a character, staring at Kate and herself whenever they were in a room with him so much so that Anthony and Benedict have expressed concerned about them being in rooms by themselves, and had hired extra footmen to accompany them. Kate hated it, being as independent as she was, but she understood. She hoped in a few weeks this Edwina and Bagwell situation could be resolved and they could all go back to being a normal family. 

She watched as Benedict gently tossed Josey up in the air, causing the baby to erupt into a fit of giggles. Yes, she hoped for normalcy soon. Because God forbid, this situation ever started to affect their children. 

 

Kate looked in on Josephine who was sound asleep in the nursery, leaning against the door as she watched her little girl's chest move up and down as she clung to her bear Benedict had given to her earlier that day. The waves of love she felt for her baby never ceased to calm, only to lengthen. And now, God willing, she would have a little brother or sister to play with in eight months.

A voice startled her out of her reverie, "You make beautiful children, your grace." She jumped. 

"Mr. Bagwell," she exclaimed, holding a hand to her chest. "I did not see you there. What are you doing in the family wing?" 

"Forgive me. I got lost and I saw you. I was hoping you would point me in the right direction." 

She motioned to the staircase in the center of the wing. "It is downstairs Mr. Bagwell, as you well know. You have been here a month." 

"Well then, perhaps I was looking for some entertainment." 

"I beg your pardon," she demanded. 

"Well, your sister is recovering, and I, -." 

"You what," she asked angrily. 

"Well, you must know that I have not been able to keep my eyes off you. That I desire, -." Bagwell was interrupted by Anthony who had either arrived too late or just on time. She watched as her husband put himself in-between them and then pulled back and landed his fist to Bagwell's jaw. She gasped as Bagwell reeled and landed on the floor. She had enough sense to close the nursery door so Bagwell's curses would not disturb their daughter. 

Anthony turned to her a moment later and placed both hands on the sides of her face. "Are you ok," he murmured. 

"Yes," she said. "Just a little shaken." 

He growled and kissed her cheek. Two footmen had arrived from down the hall. "Take him to my study, and do not let him leave. I'll escort my wife and grab my brother's. Mr. Bagwell will be leaving tonight so prepare his carriage." 

 

Anthony could not breathe. Flashes of what could have been kept running through his mind. He had been to check on Henry and was heading to check on Josey before making his way to their bedroom, when he heard Kate's voice, angry and frustrated. And Bagwell's voice, low and seductive. It was all he could do not to kill him on the spot. 

He pulled Kate down the hall and into their room where he intended to document ever single part of her body to determine that she was unharmed. "Are you hurt? Did he hurt you?"

"I am unharmed, Anthony," she whispered quietly. "Shaken, but unharmed. You made it just in time." 

"If something had happened to you Kate, -."

"Nothing happened, my love. Because of you," she leaned in and kissed him gently which quickly turned into a kiss of desperation. Before she knew her dress was ripped open and on the floor, and she was on their bed with him above her. 

"The baby," he gasped. 

"It's fine," she said. "We cannot harm him." 

That was all the reassurance he needed before pushing into her.

 

Anthony waited until Benedict and Simon were there before walking into the study. The footman had Bagwell in a chair at the far end of the room and he lunged for him again, but Simon held him back. He would not risk a duel, not when he had so much to lose. But he had every intention of destroying him. Kate was fine, but to even think that she felt one ounce of fear in her own home, a fear that he promised she would never have to feel again. 

"I should have kicked you out a month ago, Bagwell," he growled. "It was only my wife's kindness that allowed you to be here." 

"Your wife," Bagwell sneered. "You mean you actually know how to be a husband, Bridgerton. I know Edwina would have something to say on that matter." 

Anthony hissed and lunged towards him as the man smirked, but this time Benedict pulled him back. "Brother," he said. "You must remain calm." 

"He tried to accost my wife!"

"He was not successful," Simon said. 

"If it had been yours, you would not be allowing me to hold you back," he yelled. 

"This is what he wants, brother," Benidict implored. "He wants you to make a mistake." 

"Let him try," Bagwell said. "He knows his beautiful wife will tire of him eventually and leave him. As Edwina did. Or Siena." 

This time his brothers weren't quick enough to hold him back, and he knocked the bastard out of his chair. 

"Bridgerton! Stop!" 

"No, no," Bagwell laughed. "Continue. Perhaps Henry would like to see how close in temperament Bridgerton is to his father," he spit. 

Anthony pulled back. "Get him the hell out of my son's house. He isn't worth it." He walked out the door and down the hall. "He isn't worth it." 

 

Chapter Text

"No, no. Continue. Perhaps Henry would like to see how close in temperament Bridgerton is to his father." 

Anthony watched from his study as Bagwell was thrown into his carriage from the window in his study. He had checked in on the children and his wife who were all sound asleep before making his way back to watch Simon unceremoniously toss him into the carriage, and Benedict pay the driver for him having to be up so early in the morning. It was four. They should all be in bed. He should be holding his perfect wife. But he was dealing with the fallout of having let the man become too close to his family. A man who did not know, and it would be something he knew he would always regret. 

He couldn't let Bagwell's words worry him. They were just words. He would never hurt the children, or Kate. He wasn't that type of man. Bagwell just wanted to rile him up. That was it. That was it completely. 

Wasn't it? 

 

Flashback: After Kate's engagement dinner.

He had gone over her settlement papers a hundred times, looking for one thing to criticize. One thing that he could show to her that the duke wasn't worthy of her attention. She could call off this crazy engagement and stay at Bridgerton House forever if he needed. 

Of course, then he saw how unfair that was. He was a married man, and he knew Kate returned his affections. To live in the same house as him and Edwina might prove too much for her. It is the sole reason why she chose to stay with Lady Danbury instead of moving in with them in the first place. 

No, she would probably return to India. He didn't know which would be worse. 

He heard a knock on the door and saw his muse peek her head around the door, and immediately felt a surge of anger towards her. 

She was leaving him. Abandoning him. Leaving him to face the ton alone. Leaving him with a wife he held no affection for, to go and abscond with a duke. He could give her everything a duke could, she needed to only ask. She never had. 

"Anthony," she said softly with a smile. "We are leaving. I am only here to bid you farewell and goodnight."

"It's Lord Bridgerton," he snapped. He had no idea why. 

"What." 

"My name is Lord Bridgerton, to you," he continued. "Is it not? Are we not to remain indifferent acquaintances now that you are marrying his grace?" 

She looked at him with a blank stare and nodded gently. He'd be lying if the tears pooling in her eyes did not affect him. She only nodded.

"Very well," she said quietly. "Lord Bridgerton. I bid you goodnight." And then she was gone. 

He'd gone after her, but she had disappeared rather quickly. 

 

Kate had never singled him out again before her wedding after that moment, until her wedding day. Only because he was to walk her down the aisle. His words had hurt her, he knew it. He hadn't meant to. In fact, later that week he had called on her to apologize, but she wasn't home. Or perhaps she wasn't home to him specifically. Even when she was marrying the duke, Edwina was still the center of attention. The newlywed diamond. All eyes were on her. Except Lady Danbury. 

Perhaps that is why Lady Danbury took her silence so hard. She and Kate had become quite close those last few months, and they were scarily similar. Even Mary couldn't be bothered with wedding planning half the time, when she was helping Edwina learn to manage the Bridgerton household. Kate must have felt like she had no one to lean on. It was no wonder she had not fought harder to reach out to them. The Kate he knew before, would have. But she'd been beaten down so much, even before her marriage, by her family, by him, that perhaps she didn't realize how worthwhile she was. 

It was the least he could do when Lady Danbury announced at a dinner the week before Kate's wedding, to which Kate was not present, that the duke wouldn't allow Newton, her most beloved pet to travel with them. They had to find him a new home. He volunteered immediately. He would keep Newton safe, despite him and the dog being arch enemies. 

Edwina had not been happy. 

 

Flashback: Post-dinner; the week before Kate's wedding. 

"What do you mean we are keeping Newton," she exclaimed. "Are we not going on our honeymoon? You promised me a trip to Italy."

"Plans have changed," he shrugged. "I am needed at Aubrey Hall for the harvest, and he is your sister's pet. She has done everything for you. The least we can do is take the dog." 

"I do not want to take care of a dog on my honeymoon!" 

"It has been nearly six months, Lady Bridgerton," he snapped. "The honeymoon is well over; do you not think so?" 

She had stomped out of his study, most likely going to tell Mary of their most recent argument. There had been plenty of them by that time. Most of the centered around him not visiting her bed enough. The last week had made number five. She wanted a child. He understood. He wanted one too. It was something that he thought would save their sham of a marriage. He'd visit her, bed her, and leave immediately. It made him feel sick. He had treated his wife worse than he had treated his mistress. 

"Bridgerton," Simon's voice called from behind. "He is gone." 

"Thank you for your help," he rasped. 

"Do not let him get to you brother," Benedict implored. 

"Too late for that," he huffed. "I will see you gentleman in the morning." 

Try to get some sleep, Bridgerton," Simon said. "Things will look better in the morning." 

He highly doubted it would. 

 

Flashback: One month after Kate's wedding. 

It had been a month, the most miserable month of his life, and Kate had not sent a single letter. He supposed a delay could be expected, and nobody had any idea where the duke had whisked Kate off for the honeymoon. But her not writing at least to Edwina, was highly unusual. 

"Perhaps she is having the time of her life travelling," Edwina said to the room where all the Bridgertons and Mary were gathered after supper at Aubrey Hall. "It is called a honeymoon for a reason, is it not." He knew she was glaring at him without having to look. 

Benedict chuckled and laid down his hand of cards. "Pay up brother. That is five games in a row." 

Truthfully, he hadn't been paying attention since Edwina and Mary had started to talk about Kate.

Truthfully, he didn't' deserve to hear about Kate's life anymore. Newton whined at his feet, so he leaned down and gave him a piece of biscuit. He sniffed it and left it where he laid it. 

He understood. 

Kate being gone made the world a little less steady and a little less bright. For both of them. 

 

He had to face it. Sleep was going to be non-existent for him, so he might as well make himself useful. He sat down at his desk to catch up with the correspondence neglected from the day before. Spending time with Josephine and Henry was much more important at the time. That was what being a father was, right? He was a good father, at least he liked to think so. Kate though so at least. 

He simply tried to emulate his own father. 

Truthfully, there wasn't much to communicate with any of the stewards over any of the houses he presided over. He had been managing well. He stared at the letter to him from Grey House's steward. The house was run efficiently, and the staff dedicated to the Grey Family, mostly due to Kate. The former dowager duchess, Henry and Josephine's grandmother, had spent more than necessary every month to supply the dowager house but additional money was being moved Haven Valley's account to the dowager house account to close it up. Kate had no need of it, and the staff there would be moved Lady Josephine's house, which would be kept closed until next season, but it needed some upkeep. 

 

Flashback: Six months after Kate's wedding. One year into Anthony and Edwina's marriage. 

She had to be back from her honeymoon by now, right? The duke had to be in London for the start of the social scene. Why was she not returning anybody's letters? Lady Danbury was practically beside herself in anger. 

"Ungrateful child, after everything I've done for her." 

Mary didn't seem bothered. 

"Perhaps she's busy. I hear Grey House is quite large."

Edwina romanticized the whole situation. 

"Perhaps they are still on their honeymoon. Her and the duke always had a deep affection. I mean he did convince her to stay in England and not go to India, did he not?" 

Mary had nodded in agreement. 

Later that same evening he was in his study, avoiding his wife lamenting that he never went to her bed anymore when the footman delivered the note. It was from the Duke of Lancaster. 

'She is well, and wishes not to be bothered as she settles in.' -Lancaster

It was like a blow to the heart. Nobody imagined Kate having to settle in as a duchess on her own, in fact Lady Danbury had plans to go and stay with her to help her. Even Daphne had needed help, and she had been raised to be one. 

Not only that but not one word to send for Newton. 

And she hadn't bothered to write to him herself, she was still that upset with him.

He deserved every single word of hate thrown to him that night as Edwina stormed into his study.

"You know she probably does not write to us because you could not get along with her," she spat. "You treated her cruelly. You mocked her. I should have listened to her. Perhaps she knew the truth that you are truly inept at being a husband." 

"Watch your tone, madam." 

"Or what," she laughed. "You have nothing to offer me, and still, I love you." She stomped out of the room, as was her want lately. 

 

He had mocked her, hadn't he? He toasted to his brother's cruel toast about taming his bride's sister. He had dropped to one knee after demanding her to admit her feelings for him, feelings he knew existed. "Oh god, Kate," he moaned softly. 

Why had he done that? She was perfect. Perfect for him, and he had treated her with contempt, even more so when he started to develop feelings for her. Why had he done that? 

 

Flashback: Two years into Kate's marriage. 

"Anthony," Hyacinth said softly. "Newton will not eat anything anymore." She had tears in her eyes. She had become quite close to the dog since he had come to live with them at Bridgerton House. "He's breathing hard, and he will not move." 

"Bring him," he said softly trying not to let his emotions overwhelm him. Newton was his last connection to Kate. And Kate had gone silent. She hadn't responded to any communications for two whole years, and the family as a whole had given up on ever seeing her again. Anthony removed his coat and sat it on his chair. He moved to a corner to make room for the dog. 

Hyacinth brought the dog in, carrying him in a soft blanket, and one of Kate's old dresses that Edwina had obtained from Danbury House shortly after Kate had married. Of course, she wouldn't need her old clothes. She would be expected to dress grander, but these were the clothes Newton knew her in. Hyacinth was crying in earnest now. "I tried, brother. But I think he misses her." 

He nodded in agreement and pulled his little sister to his side. "You did nothing wrong, Hy. Here. Lay him down. Careful. That's it." The dog made no noise not even a whimper, as brother and sister sat by his side, petting him softly. His breaths were shaky. They tried to supply him with water to keep him hydrated, but he would attempt to drink nothing. He would not move. He lost track of the hours, until Hyacinth was pulled by her governess because it was time for bed. 

"Promise me brother, to wake me should anything happen," she hiccupped.

"Of course, sweetheart." 

He settled in for a long night. Hoping and wishing on every star and deity he could to bring Newton back to them. He promised to be a better man, a better husband, a better son, and better brother. But Newton's breathing had gotten worse by the hour. He soon laid on the ground next to the dog, petting him softly. 

"I know you miss her," he said softly. "I miss her too. I'm sorry. This is all my fault," he sobbed. "I made mistakes." The dog didn't respond except for a whine. "I know buddy. It is ok to let go. You've been a good dog." 

The pain he felt in saying goodbye to Newton was unbearable. He failed Kate and her dog, and only had himself to blame. 

Newton had lasted two more hours, he passed away shortly after two in the morning. The dog who had once been his arch enemy had become his lifeline, his only connection to the love of his life, and now even that had been severed.

He gave the dog one final kiss on the head and whispered. "Good boy." 

He decided to let Hyacinth sleep through the night and told her in the morning. The young girl was inconsolable, and only accepted comfort from his arms. They buried the dog at Aubrey Hall by their father's grave.

It was what he deserved for being such a good friend.

 

Anthony inhaled deeply as the memories assaulted him. Losing Newton was one of the toughest nights of his life. He compared it to the day he lost his father and that was saying something. 

 

Flashback: Two years into Kate's marriage. 

"I've heard news of our wayward duchess from an acquaintance in town," Lady Danbury said. "Apparently she has newly delivered the next Duke of Lancaster."

The table erupted into smiles and glances.

"Oh, that's wonderful," his mother exclaimed. 

The news only cemented the pain in his heart after losing Newton. She had a child. 

He barely registered Edwina glaring at him all the way across the table.

He no longer cared. 

 

"Anthony," he looked up from his desk, blinking away the tears in his eyes at his wife's voice. "Why are you not in bed?" 

"I was doing some work, darling," he smiled at her. 

"It looks like you have been crying. Is anything wrong?"

"Nothing at all," he lied. "What are you doing up?" 

She knew he was lying. He could tell by the look on her face. Eventually she would call him out on it. 

"You were not in bed. I have gotten used to you holding me." 

 

Flashback: The day after Anthony and Edwina's wedding. 

She wouldn't look at him. Things had fundamentally been changed between them due to his damn wedding night. A wedding night that was as unspectacular as it was brief. 

"You will not look at me," he murmured. 

"It is better that I do not, my lord." 

"Anthony," he whispered. 

"My lord," she said. "Please leave me be." 

"We can be friends, can we not," he asked hopeful. 

"That is impossible." 

"Why?"

"You already know." 

"You asked me to marry her. I did everything you asked." 

"You did," she agreed. 

"Then why all of this now?"

"Because you did everything I asked. And you did not fight for me."

"Kate," he started.

"It is no matter, my lord. I am used to being second to my beautiful sister." 

He wanted to object, but she had walked away. She made quick conversation with Daphne, smiling at something she said. 

 

"You are beautiful," he said as he stared at her.

"Anthony," she sighed. "What is it? What is going on?"

He stood and closed his account book, before snuffing out the candle. "There is nothing wrong, my love." He walked to her and pulled her in for a kiss. "Other than I am explicitly happy that you are my wife."

"Why do you lie to me," she sighed. 

"I am not lying to you, my darling. Come. Let me hold you as we sleep." 

 

Flashback: Sometime last year. 

Kate was on horseback, and he was following her, calling out her name, but she didn't not respond. The rain was pouring causing his vision to blur, but still she raced ahead like it was nothing. 

She was a consummate horsewoman but here now, the grass was slick and dangerous. Her was loose down her back and her cape whipped behind her as it caught in the wind and downpour. 

She was coming upon the ravine she jumped easily when they first met. The day where she had changed his life for the better. The day he had ruined his life for the worse. She was going to jump it. 

"Kate! No! Stop!" 

But it was too late. He watched in horror as the horse reared up, knocking her off. She fell in slow motion, hitting her head on the rock next to her. He wanted to race to her. To help her. To make sure she would survive, but something was holding him back. The duke on his left, and Edwina on his right. 

He sat up and gasped her name. It had been a dream, but his body was drenched in a cold sweat. 

It had been four years, and still, he could not forget. He would write to her again in the hopes that she had forgiven him. That she would become some part of his life again. That she would breathe life back into him. 

But any hope he had of reconnecting was dashed the next day when the letter was returned from Grey House unopened. The Lancasters were on Continent on vacation. 

It did not matter. He didn't deserve her forgiveness anyway. 

 

"Anthony," she said, as they both crawled into bed. "You are starting to scare me." 

He froze. "I scare you." 

"No," she said. "I said you are starting to. Why will you not talk to me. What happened? What did I do?"

"You did nothing," he reassured her as he crawled in beside her and pulling her close. But he knew his answer did nothing to satisfy her. 

"Do not lie to me," she sobbed. "Is it Bagwell? You have to believe me, I did nothing, -."

"I do not blame you for Bagwell," he soothed. "Get some rest, my love. All will be well in the morning, I promise." 

"And still you lie," she said angrily. She turned away from him for the first time in years and moved away from his arms. "Goodnight, my lord." 

He reached for her hand, but she pulled away and he sighed, "Kate." 

"If you cannot be honest with me, then do not speak," she hissed. 

He had promised to never hurt her. Clearly, he was failing. He wasn't any better than the duke. 

"I love you," he whispered but she said nothing, and the pain in his chest was nothing short of devastating. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Flashback: Two years ago; Grey House

"KAAAATE!!!!" She heard him yell before she heard the door slam and the panicked servants around him tried to appease him loudly. He was always like this after a night spent at his club. Kate would much prefer him to attend his mistress, but perhaps she may never get that lucky. 

The housekeeper caught up to her. "Your Grace," she whispered frantically pulling her in the opposite direction of the duke's bellowing. "He is in his cups again." 

Henry was in her arms. "Mama," he looked like he was about to cry with all of the jostling. 

"Come along, young Master Grey," the housekeeper hushed him quietly. "Follow me and keep quiet." She pulled them along the servant's hallways, and into an unused utility closet. "Here ma'am," she said. "Stay in here. I will come get you when it is safe." She pushed them both gently inside and shut and locked the door. 

Light came through the bottom of the door, lighting Henry's face. He was too young for this. To be a part of this and yet here they were. 

She held her son close to quiet his sobs. "Shh my darling," she whispered, pressing kisses to his cheek and head. "It's alright. It will all be over soon."

 

Kate startled awake in a cold sweat. She hadn't dreamed of her husband like that since before he had passed away. She looked over and saw that Josephine was sleeping peacefully on Anthony's chest, probably waking earlier this morning and he had decided to manage her himself. She ran a hand over her daughter's small back and climbed out of bed quietly.

She was furious with Anthony like she never had been before, and she had no idea why. He had his secrets he needed to keep for the family, and she shouldn't push. But something was not right. Something had happened. Something not relating to anything family secrets. He had been fine until he had his meeting with Bagwell. She was sure that it had something to do with that, but with Anthony being the giant ass that he usually was, he felt it was his duty to shelter her, to protect her. 

And damnit she was tired of having to be a damsel to a husband!

She went through her toilet with relative ease despite wanting to be as loud as she possibly could to wake her husband. He didn't deserve to sleep in, anyways. But she would never do that to her daughter. She slipped into her purple day dress and slipped on her slippers and made her way back to the room. Josey was stirring her eyes blinking against the morning light. She walked over to Anthony's side of the bed with a soft smile for her daughter. "Good morning, sweet girl," she said softly, lifting her gently off Anthony's chest, cradling her in her arms as she rocked her awake gently. Soon she was cooing softly as she rooted through her dress. "Not now my love," she said. She felt a smirk spread across her face. "Let us wake up papa, shall we?"

Without a second thought she ripped the blankets off the bed and Anthony, startling him awake. "Time to wake up, husband," she said angrily and walked to the door. 

"Kate please," she heard him roll out of bed and run after her. He met her at the door. "I know you are angry," he breathed. "You have every right to be. But believe me when I say that it is nothing but me battling my own demons." 

"I do not wish to believe that," she said. "And I will not. I am your wife and you're keeping things from me. You may be the head of this household, but this is my family too. I spent five years yielding to the wishes of my husband, and I do not wish to do so with you." 

"And I would not wish it so." 

"Especially now, Anthony," she said. "We have children. We're having a baby. In a few weeks my body is going to start acting all out of sorts. I will be sick. I will be moody. I will be tired. Not only that but I also have to wean our daughter and that breaks my heart!"

"Then don't wean her," he said and grabbed her free hand, looking down into her eyes. "If it offers her and you comfort then do it." 

"Anthony, I cannot nurse two babies!" 

"My love. Josephine nurses for comfort and sleep now. I have a feeling she will not be nursing long. She will probably stop it on her own. I also know that it probably brings you more comfort than it does her. She is your baby, no one else's, so you do what you feel is best." 

She wasn't going to cry. 

She was mad at him. 

Angry at him. 

He could not be this sweet when she was so angry at him.

Damnit now she was crying. 

He pulled her into his embrace, his strong arms wrapped around her and their daughter like it was nothing to him. "Hey. They are our children, and we will raise them how we wish. Henry and Josephine are about to experience a big change, bigger than me coming into their lives as a father. They are about to have a sibling that will take your attention from them in different ways. And I promise to be there every step of the way. We need not conform to societal pressures, my love. You already do not for nursing our daughter, and I admire you for it. She would not have received the nourishment she needed had it not been from you. I will be there handing you babies if we need to." 

"Then you need to tell me, Anthony," she begged. "Tell me what is going on! Because I want to help. I want to be there for you. I want there to be no secrets between us. I cannot live again in a marriage where there are."

"Kate," he whispered. 

"Anthony, please," she cried. 

"I never want to be the one to cause you pain," he admitted. 

"Then tell me." 

He sighed and took Josephine from her arms and led them both back to the bed. He helped her into it gently then climbed in beside her. They allowed Josephine to play between them. "It was something Bagwell said."

"What did he say," she demanded. 

"I got carried away Kate," he said as he caught Josey before she could launch herself off the bed and onto the floor. "Stop," he admonished their daughter softly. "I hit him. He said something about you, and Siena. And I lost it." 

"Siena?" 

"My mistress," he said. 

"You have a mistress," her voice grew hard. 

"No," he exclaimed. "God no Kate! I haven't had a mistress since before we even met. I was honest with you. I never went outside my marriage. And after my marriage was over, it was only you. It was only ever you." 

"Then why did he bring up your mistress?" 

"I do not know. Perhaps he knows her," he ran a hand through his hair in frustration. 

"What does that have to do with your mood last night?" 

"I hit him. If Simon and Benedict had not been there, I probably would have killed him. To imply that you," he stopped. "Benedict and Simon pulled me back. That is all that matters. But he compared me to the duke, and I lost it." 

"What did he say?"

"He told them to allow me to continue so Henry could see how much I was like his father."

"You are his, -." 

"The duke, Kate." 

She took his hand and intertwined their fingers. "You are nothing like him, Anthony." 

He shook his head and caught Josey again. "I could have killed him. He said that about you and all I saw was red." 

"But you didn't." 

"But I could have," he insisted. 

"But you didn't. Anthony, I lived through it with the duke. You could never raise a hand to me." 

"I would never."

"I had a nightmare, last night," she admitted with a nod. "He had come home in his cups. The housekeeper at Grey House has always been my greatest ally. I had Henry in my arms, and she rushed me to the servant quarters and hid us in a utility closed and locked the door. I have no idea what the servants did to deter him. But I had Henry in my arms. He was one, and I had to stop him from crying because he was scared. That was a good night, Anthony. The bad nights were the ones when he got to me first. There were nights when it was all sexual. It hurt so bad. He hurt me, but that was acceptable. The nights when he would go out with his friends from school, was when I knew to expect a bruised body the next morning."

"Kate," he whispered in horror. 

"Yes," she nodded. "You would never do that. And you even believing that you are even somewhat like him breaks my heart."

"Kate, I, -"

"Let us get our children some breakfast. We can talk more later. But please do not pull away from me." 

He nods before leaning in for a kiss, that turned into a little more before Josey crawled in-between them. "Mama," she whimpered. 

They broke apart with a laugh. 

"I will go get dressed," he said. 

"I will go see if our son is up," she stood and held her arms out to Josey who happily bounded across the bed and jumped into them. "You are already exhausting me, child," she said as she carried her out the door. "Is it nap time yet?" She heard Anthony's deep chuckles as she closed the door behind her. 

 

Lady Danbury was the one to notify Edwina that Bagwell was no longer on the premises and was no longer allowed at any of the Bridgerton and Grey Estates. She was still in bed recovering, and now this. 

"He tried to accost Kate," she asked slowly. 

"Late last night, as we are told. Lord Bridgerton stopped him."

"What was he doing on the family floor anyway?"

"We never got the answer to that. Kate had been checking on Josephine, and he appeared behind her" 

Edwina nodded slowly and looked towards her mother who was avoiding her eyes. 

"So, I guess he never really wanted to marry me then," she said. Her voice small. 

"Edwina," her mother said quietly. "There will be others, -"

"There will not be others," she snapped. "My husband is now married to my sister. My fiance wants my sister as well." 

"Edwina, -" 

"No, mother! The only thing good in my life I have now lost. So, excuse me if I do not feel like seeing the brighter side of things!" She didn't mean to snap at her mother. It was not her fault. But Edwina didn't want to be rational right now. 

More importantly she wanted to know...

Why did the men she loved prefer her sister?

 

Benedict nudged Simon as they both filled a plate at the sideboard for their wives. "Have you seen Anthony this morning?"

"No," Simon said quietly. "I have notified Lady Danbury to notify Miss Sharma about Bagwell though." 

"Good," Benedict nodded quickly. "I do not think Anthony would be in the mood to." 

"I do not think he is even on speaking terms with Edwina at the moment, anyway."

"He is in his head right now. And it is not good when Anthony is in his head." 

Simon nodded in agreement. "We need to get him out of the house. Either that or get something set up with the children. Henry and Auggie. Maybe something with the horses." 

"The pond," Benedict suggested. 

"It is going to be warm," Simon nodded. "I'm sure the boys would love to play in the water." 

They looked up when they heard Anthony walking in carrying Henry, next to Kate and Josey. The dark shadows under his eyes were apparent, as was his inability to stop touching his wife. 

"I am going to guess that he fucked up," Simon mused. 

"How can you tell?"

"He will not let his wife go for two seconds. She probably laid into him." 

"Well, he is now married to a woman who terrifies him," Benedict said in amusement. "It is kind of funny." 

"Yeah. It would be even funnier if our own wives did not terrify us just as bad."

"Yeah," Benedict agreed. "Yeah, there is that."

 

Kate sat next to Sophie so she could talk to her quietly. Sophie had not announced her pregnancy to the whole family yet, so Kate felt a sort of kinship to the younger woman. "How are you feeling today," she asked quietly. 

"I am currently trying to put on a convincing performance to show the family that I am enjoying this breakfast, even though I am nauseated beyond belief." 

Kate winced in sympathy. She understood completely. "Ginger always helped me. I can speak to cook for you. It might help. We can be discreet." 

Sophie looked at her in tears. "You would do that?"

"Of course," she smiled and leaned in. "Besides. I will need it myself in a couple of months."

Sophie's eyes widened almost comically. "No way," she whispered excitedly. "You are? My baby will have a cousin the same age," she exclaimed quietly. "Kate that is amazing!" 

"It is still early yet," Kate whispered with a wink. "But I just wanted you to know that you are not alone." 

"I am so happy for you and Anthony. You guys both deserve this." 

Kate looked over at Anthony who was in a deep conversation with Henry. Apparently, the boys would be going to the pond this afternoon. Henry could swim rather well, and she knew Anthony would not let anything happen to him. But Henry was ready to go now, forgetting that he absolutely needed to eat.

"Papa," Henry was whisper talking furiously. "I want to swim now though!" 

"You must eat," Anthony insisted. "We will go to the pond later this afternoon." 

"But what if the water leaves?"

"It will not." 

"But what if the ducks are gone?"

"We need to leave the ducks alone anyway."

"But what if, -" 

"Henry you must eat."

"But Papa," Henry's eyes were so wide it was comical. Kate and Sophie both hid their chuckles in their napkins. 

"No Henry, you must eat. So, you have energy." 

"But," Henry said. "But I too excited to eat!"

Simon chuckled across the table, and Anthony shot him a glare. "I know, my love. But still we must." 

"But what if the sun leaves." 

"It will not."

"But papa, -" 

"Henry if you do not eat, we cannot go swim." 

Henry's eyes widened even more if that was possible. "Paaaaapaa," he whined. 

"Henry," Kate interjected. "You heard your papa, you must eat." 

Henry mumbled as he looked down at his plate as Anthony sent her a look of thanks. Henry was growing and testing the boundaries of his and Anthony's relationship. It was only natural, and she knew it was important for her to back him up. It felt good to have a partner in parenting, and that is what she had in Anthony. It made her even more excited to be carrying their child. She reached under the table and took Anthony's hand in hers and he gave her a smile. 

She knew the demons he was facing, and she knew based on her dream early this morning that she was facing some of her own. But she felt confident that she could lean on him, so she would make sure he felt the same way about her. 

 

Kate was putting baskets together with Sophie for the tenants, something that Anthony was sure that the two of them would do a lot when back at home at Aubrey Hall. The two women were becoming quite close. Josey however, was not so good at leaving the items in the baskets, so a frustrated Kate summoned him before their outing to the pond. She asked him to take their daughter to sit with Violet and the rest of the matriarchs. Josey was not happy, she preferred clinging to Kate, and so it was Anthony who had to carry a screaming Josey across the large house to her grandmother.  

Josephine was unhappy. 

Josephine was extremely unhappy.

"My goodness, sweetheart," Violet soothed as soon as they entered the room. "What is happening?" 

"Can you keep her entertained? Kate and Sophie are working on the tenant baskets." 

"Do I mind watching my granddaughter," she asked. Anthony knew she got a thrill out of Kate's kids finally being her own grandchildren. She held her arms out to the crying girl. "What is wrong sweetheart?"

"She wants Kate. She has been glued to her, but Kate needs to work." Anthony pried the little girl's hands out of his waist coat but it was breaking his heart. Whenever either of the kids cried it was like he always tried to do everything he could to make sure they were ok. But he did not have time for that right now, because Henry was waiting on him and he didn't want to disappoint his son. His mother must have seen the conflict in his face because she squeezed his arm in sympathy.

"It is hard, is it not? You want to do everything you can for them to keep them happy, but sometimes that means disappointing them in the process."

"I never want to disappoint them." 

"I never wanted to disappoint you, my love. But I know I have several times," she said and brought a hand up to his face. "Our relationship has not been the same since your father passed away and that is on me. I will spend every day of the rest of my life making it up to you. Starting with this piece of advice. Go spend time with your son. Josephine will cry and she will fall asleep. She will have her mama soon enough. But these opportunities with your son are going to be few and far in-between especially if you and Kate decide to have more children. He is only going to be three once. Go be with him."

"Are you sure it is alright?" 

"Your little girl will be fine, Anthony. I promise." She smiled as she passed the screaming girl to her grandmother. He leaned in and kissed cheek. 

"Please send someone if, -" 

"We will be fine, Anthony," she said amused as she bounced Josephine in her arms. 

 

As much as Anthony wished he could split himself in two and be with both of his children, he knew his mother was right. Watching Henry have the time of his life in the water, it was the first time he watched his boy just let go and be a child. Henry had played before, but most of the time he would stop and look for Kate to be sure she was alright, and then run back and join the fun. Only to run back and check on his mama again a short time later. Henry paid no attention to the adults as he ran with Auggie, and played with his uncles Colin and Gregory, who was newly arrived from his trip on Continent. The kids were soaked. The adults were soaked. Fun was being had by all. 

Later he was ashamed to reveal that he hadn't thought of Josephine at all. And then his mood returned. 

What kind of father could forget their daughter even for a moment? 

 

Kate sat in the sitting room as she talked to Violet and Lady Danbury and Sophie, a cover over her chest as Josey nursed. She felt bad, Josephine's crying fit last longer than they all imagined. Violet eventually gave up when she, Mary, and Lady Danbury could not calm her. Josey was almost one, and it was the first birthday they would celebrate as a family. Henry would be four in a couple more months. Anthony wanted it to be special. Kate didn't particularly care one way or another because she knew Josey would not remember it. But it would be special to Anthony and his family. Kate wasn't one to plan extravagant parties, though she supposed she should get used to it now that she was a Bridgerton. But Violet and Lady Danbury were very excited to plan the little girl's birthday dinner, so she was happy to let them do it. 

"What is her favorite food, Kate darling," Violet asked. 

"Anything off of Anthony's plate and my body apparently," Kate said and they all laughed. 

She felt Sophie sit next to her quietly while the matrons talked. "Was it your choice to nurse your children?"

"Yes. I demanded it, and the duke listened. Though he was never really involved with the children." 

"That is so sad," Sophie said quietly. 

"It just means that they were able to avoid his wrath. Which I am grateful." 

Sophie nodded and looked around the room before turning back. "Does nursing hurt?" 

"It did at first. And of course, it hurts when she bites me. But I actually feel closer to my children because of it. I was able to provide the nourishment when I couldn't guarantee their safety. It made me feel a lot less worthless."

"You were never worthless to them, Kate." 

"I could not keep them safe. I should have left. My own fears and the duke's threats kept me there. I should not have listened."

"What could you have done though, Kate? You had no idea." 

"I have no doubt that I could have gone to Lady Danbury. Or Anthony. Though I suppose if I had gone to Anthony then we would not be here now." 

"Why?"

"Edwina would have never left, had I been there." 

Kate was sure of that. She and Anthony would have spent the rest of their lives as they had in the weeks leading up to his own wedding. Either that or they would have spent the rest of their lives like they had the weeks leading up to hers. Silent and angry with each other. 

"I do not know much about your guy's history. But I like to think that things would have worked out either way."

It was sweet, the hope she had in happy endings, probably because her own happy ending came so unexpectedly. But Kate was a realist. And Anthony hadn't fought for her leading up to his own wedding. Why would he have fought for her after? And she was at fault as well. She put Edwina up on a pedestal, thinking her happiness was paramount. She still thought Edwina deserved happiness, and she was avoiding a conversation she desperately needed to have with her. But she knew that Edwina probably wanted nothing to do with her now. She told herself she was giving her some time to come to terms with her new situation, but she really knew she was only doing it to give herself time. She never used to be this way. She used to be confident and so sure of herself. Like Josey and her fierce demands for her mother's attentions today. 

"I used to think so. I adore my husband. But there was a reason why we never were together." 

"Edwina?"

"No," Kate said quietly. "My husband didn't find me suitable at the time." Kate shrugged and lifted the blanket to look down at her child asleep at her breast.

 

 Anthony found himself climbing on top of his wife later that night. She had been quiet most of the evening and he had a feeling that her disquiet was deeper than their morning argument. He watched as her eyes opened and stared up at him. He leaned down to place a gentle kiss on her lips before leaning in and kissing her neck and behind her ear. She sighed and ran her hands through his hair. 

"Anthony," she whispered. 

"You have not been yourself tonight," he whispered back. 

"I have not been myself in years, I realize." 

He pulled back and looked at her in confusion. That was not what he expected. "What do you mean?"

"I used to be fearless, and independent. I went for what I wanted. I was everything my daughter is now."

"You changed," he said. "People change, my love. And it is not always bad."

"I know that."

"You know what I felt guilty about today?"

"What?"

"I felt guilty that I went out and had fun with Henry. I did not think of Josephine's mood once."

She nodded like she understood. "You cannot allow one to control the other. Josey is still a baby, so it is easy for me to say that her demands come first. But then I realize, how much I hurt Henry by doing that."

"That dream shook you up, my love." 

"I should have been a better mother." 

"You are a great mother!"

"I am not so sure," she shook her head. "I could have left. I could have just listened to my heart and left in the middle of the night. I could have gone to Lady Danbury."

"As long as he lived, he would have had some claim to you and his kids," Anthony said. "And worse he could have allowed you to leave, but demanded his children to be taken from you, it would have been his right. You had no choice. I would have done everything in my power to help you, of course, but, -" 

"But Edwina," she said softly. 

"Yeah." 

"She would have never left had I came back." 

"No probably not." 

"Then we would not be here now."

He rolled off of her and laid at her side. He didn't want to think about that, mainly because he knew she was right. He could sit here now and say he would have done everything in his poser to help her, and he probably would have. But it would have been a torture to keep his distance from her as a married man. "If I could go back in time and change everything, -" 

"But you cannot," she said. "We cannot." 

"I should have fought harder for you after our first meeting."

"I was not what you were looking for, Anthony." 

"You were everything I was looking for," he insisted. "I was just too stupid to see it." 

"I was not suitable. You wanted someone to match your standards." 

And there he saw it. The haunted look in her eyes that he was the sole cause of. Kate was the strongest woman he knew, but her scars ran deep, and they were mainly caused by him. The duke could have beat her within an inch of her life and still it was he that had caused her the most pain. For her to think that he chose her sister because she herself was not suitable was unbearable. But he said as much through his actions in the past. He could say she was wrong until he was blue in the face, but everything he had said or done in the past was a vast contradiction. 

It was another of his number of failings that was blowing up in his face lately. 

He understood now why it was so important to her this morning to know everything about his mood. She wanted to understand him. She wanted to help him. He knew because that is what he needed from her now. He reached over and pulled her into his arms, embracing the way her head naturally found his shoulder. As much as Anthony enjoyed their physical intimacy, and as much as their physical intimacy was a necessary part of their communication with each other, he found he enjoyed this even more. He could hold her for hours, playing with her unbound hair as he listened to her speak about her day. 

"I have loved you for a very long time, Kathani Bridgerton." 

"I love you," she mumbled into his shoulder and her grinned.

"We have a lot to work through."

He felt her sniff against his shoulder. "I am a mess." 

"No," Anthony corrected. "We are imperfect, but as long as we are together, we can get through this. Agreed?" She nodded. "Tell me more about the duke," he said quietly. "Tell me all from the beginning."

Chapter Text

Flashback: Two days post wedding. 

The carriage was quiet as it carried them away from London to Haven Valley. From there they would travel for their honeymoon. The duke had been keeping the location a secret. 

"Are you alright, my dear," his deep voice rumbled across the carriage. "Only a few hours longer than you shall see the beginnings of our lands." 

"I hear it is very vast," she mused. 

"Yes," his chest puffed up proudly. "Though I must say even were it not so, the natural beauty would make up for it." 

She nodded quietly and fiddled with her wedding ring. The diamond was much bigger than she would have liked it to be, but the Duchess of Lancaster was the role that she had signed up to play and play it she would. She always played her part. The besotted sister that wanted everything for her sister and none for herself. That was her role. Though now she was in a higher position in society than either Anthony or Edwina and she should feel proud. Her revenge was complete. Revenge on Edwina for dare taking the man that she loved, and Anthony for not fighting for her. 

That was what this was, wasn't it? 

She didn't love her husband. He knew it and she knew it. He didn't love her either. This was a marriage of convenience. "Two equal minds meeting," he had said. They would marry and do their duty. They would have babies and live out their existence and peaceful solitude.  She wasn't one for titles of nobility, or balls and parties, or playing a role in society that was nothing like her. But children, she had always loved children. When Edwina had married Anthony her thoughts of her having children had gone away. She would be a great aunt and treat her nieces and nephews as her own. But then the duke came, and he was interested in her, not Edwina, but her. It was her beauty that he praised. 

"Your sister is a diamond, without a doubt," he said one night. "But she will faulter under the pressure that society puts on her. She is too willing to please. She is beautiful, yes, but she is without an aura of mystery that men crave. Beauty is only skin deep. You are stunning however, inside and out.  A perfect ruby to compliment the many jewels from my family's vault that will sit upon your neck. Do not forget who guided your sister into being a diamond. Edwina has no experience in forming a lady of society that she claims to be. Our daughters will be ladies, set to marry dukes and princes, and I would not trust her to guide them, even a little. If you ask me, the world should be well rid of this tradition of diamonds. It only leads to disappointments." 

He said all the right things. 

He did all the right things. 

He brought her tulips, her favorite. 

He brought her jewels that would complement her instead of outshining her. 

The first gift was of a ruby necklace that sat on her neck. Edwina had saw it and had a fit.

"I thought I was the one that was supposed to elevate our status," she sneered. 

"Perhaps if your husband saw fit to dress you such, but alas the diamond seems to be cracking under the pressure," the duke sneered back, and Kate was shocked. Nobody had ever defended her against one of Edwina's tantrums before, not even their mother. 

The duke did not hide his dislike of her sister, no matter what Kate tried to do. It was something that bothered her a little until Lady Danbury had said, "Child, turning away the duke in favor of your sister is quite possibly the stupidest thing you will ever do. You will see her maybe what, once or twice a year? Have a life. Have children. You deserve that too. It is not as if Edwina showed any concern over your dislike of the viscount."

 

"He did not like, Edwina," Anthony asked. 

"He did not like any of my family. My mother was not present, and Edwina was the center of attention. I assume he thought that when he married into a family that of course he would be the most important member of it." 

"You were the most important member of the family," Anthony said and Kate snorted. 

"Lady Danbury planned my wedding because Mary had to help Edwina settle in at Aubrey Hall."

He had noticed the complete lack of disinterest in the details surrounding Kate's wedding, but he had been so upset with her at the time, hurt that she would leave him, that he never commented. But now he knew how bad he truly had hurt her, and it didn't settle well in his stomach. 

Would he never stop paying for his past mistakes? 

 

Flashback:

"You are a duchess now and you will not yield to your families demands," the duke growled as he read a letter from Mary that had beaten them there. Mary was feeling ill and was hoping a trip to see her new home would settle her. "We are on our honeymoon."

"I will write to her directly, -" 

"No," he snapped. "I shall."

"They are my family." 

"I am your family now. I shall inform Bridgerton that he is to curb that dreadful wife of his and his mother-in-law's whims." 

"Your Grace," she gasped. "They are still my sister and mother." 

"From what I saw these past weeks, they are more interested in themselves than you." 

 

"I received that letter," Anthony admitted. "I had no idea of the context."

"Well, that was it," she said. "He wanted me to accept the power that came with my new role, and I had no idea how to do it. Especially at the expense of my own family. My sister was vain yes, but I knew she loved me." 

 

Flashback:

The slap came out of nowhere. She had hoped to pass through Kent on their way home from Italy, to see her family, but he would not allow it, wanting to get home and see the tenants. He was a good landlord. Perhaps she shouldn't have argued, but it had been six months. The longing to see Anthony was nowhere near what it was, in fact, it was quite gone which was a relief. Perhaps now they could be indifferent with each other. But she really wanted to see her family. 

The slap hurt. The way he grabbed her arm and pulled her back to their carriage hurt even more. The hand mark he left on her arm had her startled. He had never been the gentlest of men, but he had never hurt her like this before. 

"I am your husband, and you will do as I say. I am of half the mind to not allow you to communicate with them ever again if this is the response I am to get. We have tenants to see. A harvest to oversee. We do not have time for your family's nonsense." 

He seemed distraught the next morning at the bruise he left on her arm. 

"My wife," he said mournfully. "My god, I am sorry." 

 

"He was always sorry the morning after. Always. And at first, I always believed him. I believed he was just carried away in his emotions. He was half Spanish after all. They are a passionate bunch."

 

Flashback:

"You are not with child yet because I have not done the thing that I need to do inside you to beget you with child," he said with tender amusement. We have been traveling, and I wanted to keep you comfortable and safe during your pregnancy. I know how hard it can be." 

The bedding process had not been all distasteful, but it was never fulfilling. Though last night something had changed, and it was quite brutal and painful. She had asked if that was it. If that was how she became with child. If that was the difference.

 

"It was not," she sniffed. 

"Oh, my darling," Anthony cried. 

"I did not want it anymore, but he insisted."

 

Flashback: 

"You want a child do you not," he growled. "And I need an heir."  They were back at Haven Valley. Tomorrow they would journey to London to begin the season, but they would not attend to the season with her family. They would be in the Regent's circle. They would be at palace functions mainly. A far cry from her last season. She didn't know if she was up to it.

"You are up to it, because you are a Grey. I do not make mistakes."

She endured two beatings after returning to London. One after a night where she had pled for him to let her see his family. She had received a black eye and a swollen lip. Of course, he had apologized the day after. And she was not seen in society for a couple weeks. 

The other was when she bled, which served as proof that she was not with child. 

"What are you doing wrong," he roared. 

But the bleeding was not normal, and she was in pain. Enough pain that it had worried him. He'd called a doctor, and the doctor had confirmed she had lost a child.

 

"He was different after that," she admitted. "Apparently me getting pregnant was not an issue. Me getting beat was." She shook her head. "I was pregnant the next month after and he never touched me during that time." 

 

Flashback: 

The duke had been quite doting. He even went as far to buy her a new horse. 

"A present for my dutiful wife," he grinned. "I will allow you to ride it if you promise to find me first, so I can ride out with you." 

And he heeded her every whim.

 

"Every time I wanted to ride out, or to go to a party, or to a ball. Any time I had a craving for a food from India, he made sure we had it in bulk supply," she said. "But I never asked to see my family. I knew what that would do, and it was not worth it. Besides, nobody had written to me except Lady Danbury. Even from her I received one letter. She called me ungrateful. I was not ungrateful. I just could not write to you all." 

"I understand," Anthony murmured. "We all understand." 

 

Flashback: 

The pain was excruciating. She had been in labor for sixteen hours. The baby did not want to come. And then he was there. The duke had been by her side through it all offering encouragement. The baby was handed to him first.

"He is perfect, wife," he said. "Absolutely perfect."  He handed the baby to her with a "You did very well," and a kiss on the forehead and then left the birthing chamber.

 

"Lancaster was there," Anthony sounded surprised. "In the birthing room?" 

"For both of the children," she nodded. "He held them first and then handed them to me." 

Anthony tried not to let the sense of jealousy flood his body. She didn't need that, and it wasn't right. He wasn't there. The duke gave her comfort during a difficult time. He had not been there. He would be there now. "I want to be there for you."

She looked up at him in surprise. "Oh, ok. If you would like."

"I would," he nodded. He wasn't sure he could endure it. But if the duke could do it, he could.

"Well, the duke did not want another child right away. 

"Did he keep a mistress?"

"No. I do not believe so. I am sure it would have been in Whistledown, or some other society papers." 

She had a point. The duke's public reputation was impeachable. His financial reports were clean, and he certainly had not been hiding money anywhere. 

"Was the only time he hurt you when your family was involved?" 

"No," she said. "Well, no." 

 

Flashback: 

She had not wanted to attend the country party at the Cavendish estate, but alas they had to go to keep up appearances. There was much she could do at Haven Valley, and Henry was still only six months old. Thank goodness the Canvendish home was a short drive away. She nursed Henry before they left, and hopefully he would be down for the night. 

"Are you nervous," the duke asked quietly while the carriage carried them down the road. 

"No," she said quietly. "I miss our son." 

"This will be good for him. And for you," the duke took her hand, avoiding her flinch. "He will be a good man because you are a good mother. But you deserve a night out with friends as well." 

She had to admit she was having a good time. She danced with her husband two times, and she could almost forget the pain he inflicted on her just two nights before. She danced with a couple of other men as well, both were married, but she could see her husband's countenance darken from across the room. 

Later that night when he visited her room, he was rough, and held her down by her neck as he took her.

"You belong to me," he panted. "You are mine, and no one else's. I will not share." 

 

"That night terrified me," she swallowed. "At the end I could barely breathe." 

"Sweetheart," he moaned. 

"Of course, the next morning he was all apologies. But I did not buy them. I think he realized too. He went to town the next day for a couple of weeks." 

 

Flashback: 

He was back home with a carriage full of tulips for her and toys for Henry. Toys the boy could not even play with, but they were his nonetheless. 

"My apologies for being away for so long," he smiled at her, and placed a gentle kiss to her cheek and then to their son's in her arms who was cooing at a new rattle that his father was holding above his head. The little boy reached for the shiny object and squealed when his father moved it out of his way. 

"He has grown," he said. "He will be a bright boy." 

She gave him a tight smile as they both gazed upon their son, whom they both were in agreement was quite perfect. Though the duke was rarely around he did spoil him. "He has two teeth coming in."

"No," he exclaimed and looked at his son who was still in his arms. "Now show papa your new teeth." He reached a finger in his mouth and felt around. "Well," he looked at her amused. "Yeah, there they are." 

"Yeah," she grinned. "He has been biting me while feeding." 

"No," the duke gasped. "Not these." He reached down and palmed a full breast. "I love these. Are you sure you do not wish to hire a wet nurse?"

"I am sure." 

 

"It was not always bad. Sometimes I truly desired him. He was handsome. And he could be sweet when he wanted to be. And he seemed to truly desire me which is all a woman ever wants from her husband. The sex was never what I experience with you. But he could hold me and kiss me, and sometimes I wished he would never let go." 

"That is valid," he said quietly. "We are human, touch is imperative. I do not know how I lived without it for so many years in my marriage."

 

Flashback: Henry's First Birthday

The duke got their son a horse for his birthday. One that would grow with the young Marquis Grey. "It will do him some good," the duke grinned. "Especially now that he is walking."

Henry had taken his first steps a couple days ago in the presence of his father. 

 

"He was so happy. It was the most time he had spent with the boy. His second birthday he could not be bothered. By then Henry did not even want to go to him." 

 

Flashback: 

She put some salve the housekeeper had obtained from the apothecary over her busted lip. She had only wanted to return to London for a brief visit. Henry had yet to meet Mary and Edwina, and she was so proud of him that she wished to present him to Lady Danbury. Granted she hadn't heard from any of them in years. Perhaps they weren't even in town. 

Her question had led to a blow to the face, his ring connecting to her lip. He was tired of her asking. 

Henry was two now. She and the boy passed the day quietly. And when the nurse brought the boy to her that night, she had clung to him crying. "Mama hurt," the boy asked quietly. The boy was intuitive and strong. He reached up with both hands on either side of her face staring up into her eyes. "Mama hurting." His eyes watered. 

 

"I never wanted him to see me like that," she sniffed. "That was not for him to see. I am his mother."

"And you are a good mother," he insisted. "He adores you." 

"I wanted to get away after that. I wanted to leave." 

 

Flashback: 

The duke was laughing as she stood before him in his study. 

"You wish to leave? With my son?" 

"Perhaps if you had any interest in your son then I would feel some sort of remorse." 

"You are more than free to leave," his eyes grew dark. "But I will find you. And I will find my son. Do not think that I do not have the resources to find you." 

"All I wish is for a clean start. This is not what I anticipated," she said.

"No, nor I," he stood and met her at the front of her desk, lifting her dress, and then sitting her upon it. "But I think perhaps it is time for another child. Maybe a little girl?" 

"I do not think so," she mumbled. 

"I think so," he said as he pushed into her. "Then all this talk of you leaving will go away." 

 

"I get pregnant so easy," she moaned. "I did not want another child. The moment he said that I knew I would become so. After I lost the baby, a month later I was pregnant. That is just how my body is. Look at us," she motioned between us. "We have been married a little over a month," she sighed. "And it devastates me to feel so because Josephine is my world."

"He did so to keep you with him," Anthony seethed. 

"Yes. Though there was really nothing I could do," she admitted. "He even said as much. I could not leave even should I wish it." 

"I could have helped." 

"You had Edwina, Anthony," she snapped. "You chose her. Do not knight yourself for sainthood at my situation, when truthfully what you did to me hurt me far worse than what he did." She sat up. 

"Kate," he said. 

"No," she said. "No. You do not get to speak. You were not there for me. I lost a friend because you did not like my choice to move on. You do not get to feel bad about this. I have given you a pass on so many things Anthony Bridgerton, but this I will not do." 

"And that is fair, Kate," he said. "Do not give me one! I will spend the rest of my live groveling at your feet should I need to." 

"You do not get to do that either," she hissed. "I am so angry with you!"

"Sweetheart," he reached for her. "I know. I am angry with myself! I am!" 

She pushed herself from his embrace. "No," she said angrily. 

"Darling," he said. "Come here. we should be talking." 

"I have been talking all night," she snapped. 

"Then let me hold you," he insisted. "Let me do something." 

She rubbed her head. "I am so confused. My head is throbbing." 

"Let me help," he pulled her back into his embrace, placing a gentle kiss to her lips. He laid her head in his lap and began to rub her temples. 

"What is wrong with me," she whispered. 

"Nothing, absolutely nothing."

"Are you sure? I am not so sure." 

 

Flashback: 

Lady Josephine Grey made her entrance into the world around three in the morning, much easier than her elder brother. Again, the baby was handed to the duke and then passed to her. "See," he whispered. "She was just what we needed." 

The baby looked like her, though she had her father's eyes. Henry met her with wide-eyed amazement and a thumb in his mouth as his nurse maid led him into the birthing room. 

"Come, my son," the duke called. "Come meet your sister." He lifted the boy into the bed and Henry automatically crawled to her other side, away from his father. 

"Mama," he said quietly. "You ok?" 

"I am fine, my love," she smiled and pressed a kiss onto his head. "Meet your sister. This is Josephine." 

"Jopine?" 

They both chuckled and the duke said, "Close enough." 

 

"I never understood why he never spent time with them. He was a good father in those moments. The children were spoiled from a distance, he just never got close to them."

 

Flashback:

She was nursing Josephine, when he walked in. "You look good with our child in your arms. Would that I could keep you that way forever." 

"Forever is a long time, your grace." 

"Perhaps," he said. "But it will be fun trying." 

 

"It was fun for him perhaps."

 

Flashback: 

"You must cover this," he pulled away from her panting. She had gotten use to just laying there and letting him have his way with her. She didn't have to ask what he meant. She felt the pain. "We have to go to the opera tomorrow," he continued.

If she wore a high enough cut and some powder, she was could possibly cover it. She was surprised he even wanted to attend. She knew none of her family was attending. He vetted the guest list very well before they attended any events in the ton. It was why they hadn't run into anyone from her former life at any of the events. 

She had spent hours making sure everything was covered to satisfaction. The duke had given his approval. 

 

"I was in shock seeing Simon and Daphne there. And he was furious."

"I can imagine."

 

Flashback:

She just had to endure this. The opera had not been her fault. Her husband panted in her ear. "I love you," he panted. "God help me, but I do. And I know you do not love me, and that is my fault. I am a cruel man, who cannot contain his jealously." 

She looked to the side as he finished inside her.

"I am a dead man tomorrow. The duke is a hell of a shot. But I love you. I cannot die without you knowing." 

For the first time he had stayed in her bed all night, holding her close. No matter what she attempted he would not let her go. Eventually she fell asleep, only waking when he kissed her cheek. 

"Goodbye, my love." 

 

"He left a letter," she sniffed. "I never read it."

"Why haven't you?" 

"Because what could he write that would take back every single bad thing he put me through?" 

Anthony thought for a moment, still running a hand through her hair. It was morning now; they had been up all night. "I tried to start a letter to you so many times those years, and all I could start with was begging for your forgiveness." She huffed and he smiled. She was everything he desired. Even when she was angry at him. 

"I am not sure it would make a difference," she said. "He even left a couple for the children." 

"I will forever hate him for what he did to you," Anthony admitted. "But I do not wish the children to remember him that way. I was looking at your painting the other day. You looked beautiful. He may not have been involved with them, but he was good to them. And he did what most father's did not. He left a legacy still standing for his children, and he left you well cared for. You did not need to remarry. Though I am glad you did," he chuckled and so did she. 

She sat up and wiped her eyes. "I should go check on the children. I assume your mother has gotten to them first this morning." 

"She does love being a grandmama," he stood and stretched and then walked to her. "I am glad you trusted me with your story. I adore you. And I hope you will meet me back here after lunch for a nap." 

She grinned and nodded as she accepted being pulled into his arms for a lingering kiss. 

"My beautiful viscountess," he growled and lifted her up. She squealed and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. He carried her back to their bed and laid her upon it. "We are not finished here yet," he chuckled as she stared up at him, wonder in her eyes. 

"Anthony," she moaned. 

"Nobody can say my name the way you do," he grinned and crawled back down her body, bending her knees, he settled between her legs. "Give me one hour." 

The couple didn't emerge from their room for another three. 

 

Sophie watched Benedict play with Josey. He currently had her lifted her in the air and was flying her around the room. The baby's laughter was contagious and had the adults that were in the room all laughing. 

Violet was still laughing when she found a seat next to her. "She is without a doubt the most joyful baby," she sat and held a plate for Sophie to take. "I take it she is happy with Benedict because she has not seen her mama as of yet, this morning." 

"No sign of the lovebirds yet," Sophie said amused. 

"Good," Violet said. "Perhaps I will get more grandbabies sooner rather than later." 

Sophie chuckled quietly. Violet still had no idea that she was expecting, and she certainly was not expecting anything from Kate and Anthony as of yet. 

"You know," Violet continued talking. "He will make a good father when the time comes," she motioned to Benedict. "Anthony was the one who stepped up after Edmund passed away, but I think Benedict stepped up for him in the many ways I failed as a mother to Anthony. I am glad he had Ben." 

"Yeah. Benedict told me. It sounds like it was a tough time. I am sorry I could not be there." 

"Kate has said as much as well," Violet said. "I honestly wonder what would have become of my boys had their ladies been there for them during that time." 

"Perhaps they would have turned out exactly the same," Sophie said. "Just much earlier." 

Violet grinned and they turned their attention back to Ben and Josey. Benedict had Josey cover her eyes with her hands and then dove behind the couch out of her site. When she uncovered her eyes and looked around and when she could not find her uncle right away, her lower lip started to tremble and her eyes started to water. 

"Ben, -" 

"Benedict," Violet said. Benedict's head popped up over the back of the sofa, saw the little girl's tears, and cursed as he dived back over the sofa taking the baby girl into his arms. 

"Damnit," he exclaimed. 

"Benedict Bridgerton," Violet scolded him. "She is a baby! Watch your language!"

Benedict all but ignored his mother's scolding. "Uncle Ben is here," he said as he gathered Josey into his arms and her head rested on his shoulder. "Do not cry, my darling." 

The Bridgertons looked up as Colin walked in with Henry. Since Anthony was still in his room, Colin had volunteered to take the boy on his morning horse ride.

"Henry," Violet exclaimed happily. 

"Grandmama!" They watched as Henry ran and jumped into his grandmother's arms. "Uncle Colin take me on horsey ride!" 

"Yes," Colin said as he filled a plate with treats and sweet breads. "I hope when I have children they are girls, so I do not have to go through that again." He flopped down on the couch. 

"Was it humbling getting bested by a child on a horse, brother," Benedict. 

"Humbling is one word for it," Colin said and threw a biscuit at Benedict. "Are we sure that he is not Anthony's? That child is far to competent on a horse than I am. Only Anthony's child would be that competent." 

"He is Anthony's child in every way that counts," Violet grinned down at the boy who was picking some food off of her plate. "But you know his mama is a horsewoman too." 

"Mama love horseys," Henry exclaimed. 

"You know, I am just excited to hear you talking of having children eventually." 

"Do not forget, Colin," Sophie interjected. "Josey loves horses as well. She just started riding with Anthony recently." 

"Mmhmm," Henry nodded seriously. "Josey good at riding horsey with papa." 

"I cannot win," Colin groaned. "I am his uncle. I am supposed to help teach him and raise him, but it is like they are raising me." 

"That is what children do," Violet said, amused. "They come into your life and they learn and they grow and they teach you to become the best version of yourself." 

"So that is why Anthony is so altered," Colin said. 

"That and because his wife has him by the leash." 

"Benedict Bridgerton," Sophie exclaimed. 

"I love the leash you have me on, darling. Honestly I do." He grinned at her and then went back to playing with Josephine. 

"I may never get married," Colin groaned. 

"You will too, I will force you down that aisle should I have to," Violet said as she looked down at Henry again with a grin. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Anthony found his mother in the downstairs sitting room the next day enjoying a moment of solitude, that Anthony was sorry to interrupt. "Anthony, darling," she exclaimed as he walked in. "What are you doing here. I thought you were out riding with Henry." 

"I was," he said.

"What happened," she asked, noting the look on his face. "Is he ok? Did he get injured?"

"No. He is unharmed. He is just upset with me at the moment." 

"Why?"

"Because he would not listen, the horse was spooked, and it nearly bucked him off." Violet gasped and he nodded. "I have never been so scared."

"I am sure." 

"Apparently my son has other moods other than just unbelievably happy all of the time. And when he is upset, he is exactly like my wife and yells at me in Hindustani." 

Violet covered her mouth to suppress a giggle. 

"It is not amusing," he exclaimed. "He looked like a miniature Kate, standing there with his hand on his hips like that." 

"It is a little amusing." 

He sighed and flopped down onto the sofa behind him. "I try my best by them every day, I try to be what they need. To be a good father. I hate making them upset at me." 

"You are being exactly what they need, Anthony," she moved to sit next to him and took his hand. "You love them unconditionally and that is what they need from their father."

"I will never be half the man that father was," he sighed. 

"You give your father too much credit," Violet said softly. "He was not a perfect man. He had his faults." Anthony snorted. "He did. You simply did not notice because you idolized him."

"Father was the perfect father." 

"Nobody is perfect, my love." she said. "Not your father. Not," she paused. "Me. When your father passed, Anthony. I spent so many years comparing the job you were doing to your father, and I should not have done that. You took everything on yourself. You were eighteen and you became a father to your siblings when I could not manage. When all you needed was a mother to guide you. You never got to enjoy the freedom of being a young man that Benedict, Colin, and even Gregory got to enjoy. You stayed with your family, and you fought for everything we have. And I never thanked you for that." 

"Mother, -" 

"No Anthony," she said. "I am perfectly serious. Sometimes I wonder, going back to your marriage to Edwina. If I had not failed you, and showed you love at your darkest times, would that have encouraged you to follow your heart sooner. Henry and Josephine would be yours entirely, not that they are not. But you would have been by Kate's side from the first day they were born. Had you not decided you did not one love for yourself because of my faults."

"Mother it was my fault that I did not pursue Kate when I knew I should have." 

"These things run deeper than the surface, Anthony. As you well know. You would not expect Henry or Josephine to react differently if they shared your experience. I admire you and Kate for how you are raising them." He looked at her in surprise and she continued. "I love my children. I loved raising my children, and as much as I enjoyed the hands-on approach with my children. I always yielded to society norms. I see Kate and the way she expects her children to have access to her regardless of the situation, and the way her staff responds. I watched her nurse her daughter the other day because it was the only way that Josephine could calm down. Most women would just hand their daughter off to a nurse maid." 

"I am still learning to not depend on the staff when it comes to the children." 

"And you have a better relationship with your children because of it," Violet nodded and squeezed his hand. "You need not compare yourself to your father, Anthony. You have far surpassed him. You have led this family to and even higher standing in society. You have followed your heart. And you have brought us out of scandal time and time again without so much barely a scrape. You have done a good job, and we as a family recognize it. It is about time you recognize it too." She stood and leaned down to kiss his head. "I am going to go see if our little man is over his tantrum." Anthony chuckled. "I do hope to see that temper of his sometime. It sounds perfectly adorable." Anthony snorted and she laughed as she walked out the door. 

 

"Josephine, you have to let mama work," Kate said frustrated as she worked with the housekeeper to put together the menu for tomorrow's dinner. It was nothing special, but since they arrived, they have been having one formal dinner a week, and she wanted this dinner to be on par. The little girl was fussing even more lately, and she had to wonder if Josey knew. Her own body had yet to see the changes her pregnancy would yield, but for a mild case of nausea, and no monthly courses, but it was not nearly enough to make an announcement as of yet. Sophie was farther along than her and she had yet to make one herself. 

Josephine whined some more and clung to her neck, refusing to let go. "Mama, no." 

"Josey," she sighed and looked up at the door as her three-year-old stomped in in a way that reminded her so much of herself. It was truly uncanny. 

"Papa tell me I not riding anymore today!"

Kate frowned and watched her son. If Anthony told him he couldn't ride anymore today, then something must have happened. "What happened?"

"I just riding my horsey," he raised his hands up like it was nothing. 

"And what else," she asked. 

"Nothing." 

"Henry Grey," she said amused. 

He looked down at the ground playing with his hands and circling his foot. She knew he got into trouble for some unknown reason that he was not telling her. It would have to be big if Anthony had stopped their horse riding for the day altogether. "I in twouble," he mumbled. 

"You got into trouble with papa?"

He nodded sullenly still looking at his boots. 

"And you came to mama hoping to get out of trouble." Another nod. "Well, if papa says you are in trouble, Henry, you are in trouble with mama as well." 

"But mama," he whined. 

"No Henry," she scolded gently. 

"I wanna ride my horsey."

"Well then you better behave and talk to your papa. He is the one doing your training." 

Henry burst into tears and ran to her. Now she had two crying children in her arms, with Josephine trying to push Henry away. "No. No." 

She sighed and the housekeeper looked at her in sympathy. "Ma'am. If you would like. I can put a menu together myself. I know the guests like and dislikes by now. I can bring it to you for approval before we begin executing it." 

"Thank you so much, Betsy," she said with a sigh. "I am sorry. I must see to these two." 

"It is no problem, ma'am. I quite understand." 

She lifted Henry onto the hip that was not holding Josey, to which the little girl protested vehemently. "Josephine Grey. That is enough," she scolded, to which the little girl screamed louder, and Kate walked them to the door. 

"My goodness," Violet's voice rang through the hall. "You look like you could use some help." 

"Yes, please," Kate pleaded. "I need to go lay her down for a nap. Do you mind taking Henry?"

"Just the little one that I was searching for, actually," Violet smiled at her grandson and held her arms out to him, to which he went to willingly, burying his face in her shoulder. "I heard from your papa that you have been quite naughty. Even yelled at him in a different language." 

"He WHAT," Kate exclaimed and Violet nodded. "Henry!" 

"I thought it was quite amusing. Makes up for all those times Anthony was a pain in his younger years."

"You reap what you sew," Kate said. "Is that it?" 

"Yes, my dear." Violet reached up and caressed her right cheek. "Now go take care of my menace of a granddaughter," she leaned in and kissed Josey's cheek. 

"Menace is one word for it," Kate mumbled and started to the staircase. "If you see Sophie, can you tell her I will be late for tea?" 

"Of course, my darling," Violet smiled and headed in the opposite direction talking to Henry still in her arms. "Now you tell me why you have been so naughty this morning."

 

Flashback: 

They waved goodbye to the newlyweds from Danbury house, and he clung to Benedict, as he had been all morning after the wedding, because he could not stop the lightheadedness from drinking all night. He stumbled inside to the study, where Benedict and Simon followed closely with concern. She was married. She was gone. She was not his like she was in all of his dreams. She had left him. 

"Brother, are you ok?" 

"Bridgerton, -" 

"She's gone. I cannot, -"

"I know," Benedict held him as he dry heaved over a potted plant. 

 

Anthony woke with a start, looking around he was still in the sitting room. 

"Bad dream, my lord?" It was Edwina, sitting across the room with a plate of food in her lap. He sat up startled. He had not seen Edwina since before she lost her child. It was a stark difference from her smiles before to notice the dark circles under her eyes. She had definitely lost weight. "Miss Sharma," he said. "It is good to see you up and well." 

She snorted and looked out the window. "You seem to be a very good liar, my lord." 

"I do not lie," he exclaimed. 

"You did to me for five years," she said. "You played me the fool. I finally found happiness and he too wanted my sister." 

"Miss Sharma, -" 

"NO," she said. "No. I do not want to hear it. Maybe this is my penance for being a terrible sister. I never asked Kate what she wanted. Ever. I just took and took without question. And you," she said. "And you ruined my life." 

"If you will allow, -" 

"You do not get to play the hero now, my lord. The only reason I do not put you on blast for the whole of the ton is because of my sister and my nephew and niece. You are not the hero in my story. In my story you are the villain, the black knight, who come in, stole my innocence without so much of a qualm as to how I would feel that my husband, the man I fell in love with could not love because he was in love with my sister. I admit to many faults, my lord. I went outside of our marriage to receive love. I ran off with a lover. I was not the quintessential viscountess you were expecting. But your betrayal makes you no better." She stood. "I have spoken to Kate. I am to return to family in India. I need to heal, and to do that, I need to be far away from you. It is a shame because I will not get to see my niece and nephew grow. And that is your fault as well. I hope you are very happy with the damage you have wrought. And I hope you spend the rest of your life groveling on your knees before my sister because she is better than us both, and she deserves better than you." She walked out the room. 

He didn't keep track of how long he sat there in contemplation. The guilt was eating at him. There was a commotion at the door and Kate walked in smiling with Henry holding her hand. 

"Hi darling," she exclaimed. "We have something we would like to say. Is that not right, Henry?" He watched the little boy nod as he stared at the ground. 

"I sowwy, papa," he mumbled. "I not listen to you and I sowwy." 

Anthony opened his arms and the little boy raced into his embrace sniffing. He had grown so much, in a few more months he would be four. Anthony absorbed his weight and lifted the little boy onto his lap. 

"Is something wrong, my love," Kate asked. 

"Edwina came and talked to me."

"I see," she said and sat down next to them. 

"Everything she accused me of I have already felt guilty about for months, but I never said anything." 

"Talk to me," she whispered. 

"After your wedding I had a meltdown," he admitted. 

"Yeah," she nodded. "Benedict said as much." 

"I'll kill him," he hissed. 

"You will do no such thing. And watch it. Our son is right there," she said and reached out for his hand. "Talk to me." 

"I stopped going to her bed all together. I could not," he swallowed. "My mother said something to me earlier today. She said my father was not perfect." 

"Nobody is perfect, Anthony. I have been trying to warn you that you are much too hard on yourself trying to live up to this ideal that you have built up of your father. It is immeasurable and impossible. I would not have married you if you were perfect." 

"Truly?" 

"Truly," she laughed. "Because I am not perfect. That would be an impossible standard to live up to." 

"You are pretty perfect to me." 

"Lord Bridgerton," she gasped playfully. "You already have me in your bed. You need not lay it on so thick anymore." 

He laughed and leaned back. Henry had turned in his lap, his back to his chest, he looked as if he were trying not to fall asleep. Anthony ran a hand over his head gently in a way that he knew soothed the little boy in the many times Henry had fallen asleep on his lap. He looked up at Kate who was smiling at them both. 

"Sometime I want Benedict to paint you with the children," she said. 

"We do need to have our portrait commissioned," he agreed. 

"Enough," she said. "Talk to me." 

"Newton was my final lifeline to you," he said. "After he passed, Kate, I was lost. Hyacinth too. All I could do was regret every single choice I ever made starting with the day I decided to pursue Edwina and not you. I should have pursued you. I should have gone after you, to explain everything that you had overheard. From the moment I met you, I knew you were different. You captivated me in a way not other woman had. And when you insulted me, I could not let it go. And then I had to one up you in my pursuit of Edwina and we both lost. I hate that you had to watch me marry her, because I know what it was like for you to marry him, and he was not even my relation. I cannot imagine, God Kate. How did you bear it?" 

"Everything I did was for my sister, Anthony. She was happy." 

"You should have thought of yourself." 

"I did. That is why I married the duke," she said. 

He nodded and looked down. "My sister spent that whole season telling me how stupid I was being, and I never listened. My father would have been so disappointed." 

"I think he would have been proud." 

He looked up in shock. "Really?" 

"I do," she said. "You did your duty to your family. You took on children that were not yours as a father and treated them with kindness and loved them with a passion that their own father could not do. You are the son he raised you to be. He would have been proud." 

"I never thought of it in that way," he admitted. 

"No, I do not believe you would. But lucky you have me to point it out in the midst of your stupidity."

"And yet you love me still," he smirked. 

"A lapse of judgment, I assure you." 

He leaned in and gave her a gentle kiss, careful not to disturb their son. "Choosing to love you was the best choice I have ever made." 

 

Benedict knocked on the door to his study, causing him to look up. Henry was playing in the corner with his wooden army, commissioned by his uncle the Duke of Hastings. Henry looked up and gasped and ran to his uncle. 

"Uncle Ben," he exclaimed and wrapped his around Benedict's legs. 

"It is almost as if I did not just see him at supper," Benedict laughed and Anthony grinned. 

"Embrace it while you can. Soon he will do it for the last time and you will not even realize it until it is too late." 

Benedict lifted Henry into the air, causing the little boy to laugh. He sat him on the ground, and Henry ran back to his toys. He loved having Henry here with him while he worked on paperwork. Benedict sat at a chair across from him. 

"Can I assist with anything?"

"No," he said. "I was just about to clean up, actually. Henry needs a bath." 

"No," the little boy exclaimed. "No bath time!"

"You must bathe," Anthony insisted and Henry pouted causing Anthony to shake his head. 

"I was hoping to talk to you," Benedict looked down and fiddled with his hands, causing Anthony to sit back in his chair. 

"What is it, Benedict?"

"Sophie is having a baby," Benedict said. "Well, we are both having a baby."

Anthony frowned. Benedict and Sophie had been talking about wanting a baby this last year, but here and now, Benedict didn't seem thrilled at the thought. "Well, that is a good thing, right? You have been wanting a child for a while."

"I do not know if I am ready." 

"What do you mean," he asked. 

"I see you with your children," Benedict said. "And I want that. I want my son playing in my study, and my daughter riding horses with me." 

"That is something to strive for." 

"But I also see how stressful it is, and how humbling, and how much it has changed you, and I do not know if I am ready to share my wife." 

Anthony narrowed his eyes in confusion. He had not changed that much, had he"It is all of those things. And as much as I wish I could have had a proper honeymoon with my wife, I could not imagine leaving our children for any amount of time when so much is changing at the moment." 

"Truly?"

Anthony nodded. "I adore my children. I cannot imagine my life without them. I have always loved Kate, as you well know. These children took care of her when I was not there to do so. They are lifechanging that is true. I cannot do half of what I could do just simply being married, but I do not miss that. I would much rather read Henry his bedtime story or force him into a bath then stay up late with a smoke and drink. And you will too. I promise." 

Benedict nodded still looking a little unsure but more confident. 

"Since we are telling secrets," Anthony began with a smile. "I have one too." 

"What is it," Benedict looked intrigued, his need for gossip had not faded since his marriage. 

"Kate and I are having another child too," Anthony could feel his smile take over his face. "It is early yet, but it is there." 

"My God," Benedict exclaimed and stood up and moved around his desk, embracing him in the type of embrace only Benedict could give. "That is amazing news!" 

"We are keeping it quiet until she quickens." 

"I am guessing my wife already knows," Benedict said. 

"Kate and Sophie have become the best of friends, so we can assume that your assumption is correct." 

"We did want wives who were close," Benedict said amused. "Did we not?"

"And my wife knows about Sophie?" 

"That would be correct." 

"Do you think that should something befall us that they would miss us?" 

"I suppose the first few days," Benedict laughed. "I cannot guarantee anything more than that." 

Chapter Text

Edwina watched as her mother paced back and forth in her room. She was nervous about something, and she had a small inkling as to what it was. Since announcing her trip home to India her mama had been distant, and every time Edwina saw their mother look in Kate's direction, a faraway look would take over her face. Her mother was planning on making the trip back to India, so she wasn't alone. But she wouldn't be alone. They had extended family there. And her lady's maid was attending to her as well. 

"Mama," Edwina said. "You are making me dizzy. Please sit." Mary looked at her startled and it broke her heart. The things that she had put her through these last years. Making her choose between her two daughters. Making her choose the wrong daughter. 

"Edwina," she said. "I was just thinking." 

"I know. You are thinking about my trip to India. I told you not to worry about that." 

"You are my daughter, Edwina. Of course, I am going to worry. I am just trying to figure out what we need for our trip, so Kate has time to purchase -" 

"No," Edwina interrupted. "No. Mama, that is not why you are so fidgety. You are so fidgety because you are torn about leaving." 

Her mama looking at her with tears in her eyes would stay with her for the rest of her days, Edwina was sure of that. "I do not want to leave Kate. I do not want to leave my grandchildren." 

"Then do not," Edwina said. "Do not leave. Mama, I keep thinking about the weeks leading to Kate's wedding to the duke. I kept you at my side because I thought I needed assistance. Perhaps I did, but so did Kate, and I made you choose. I do not want to be the one deprive my sister of her mother's love again. As much as I hate it, she and Anthony are married. They are going to have more children. You deserve to be here for that. My trip to India is not forever. I will be back. But I need to do this for me." 

"I have failed both my girls," she whispered. 

"No," Edwina said with conviction. "I have spent these last months putting the blame on everybody but myself for my actions. Anthony told me that he would not love me and I took that as him being an honest and truthful man who could grow to love me with time. That was on me. He is at fault for a lot as well. But not you, never you mama. I will not allow you to think that. Kate would not want that either. You deserve to be happy as well, mama. And clearly that is here, with your grandchildren and your friends." 

"You have matured, my darling." 

"I have excellent role models in a mother and sister who adore me. It was only a matter of time I think," she stood and wrapped Mary in a hug. 

Two weeks later before boarding the carriage, she her niece and nephew in a final hug. It would be well over a year before she would see them again and by then they would be much grown. Henry sniffed into her hair, and for once Josey was not crying for not being in her mother's arms. 

"You coming back right," Henry asked, his little boy voice betraying his tears. He adored all of his family and he hated to say goodbye. Daphne and her family had to return home last week to Clyvedon and Henry took it about as well as he would have had you told him that his horse was dying. "I love you." 

"I will be back, my darling," Edwina kissed his cheek and buried her face in his little boy neck. "I love you too, my love." She kissed Josey again who giggled. "I love you too, my little menace." She stood and handed Josey back to her sister who wrapped her in a hug. It had been a while since she had felt like a little girl again. And it would be a while before she would feel safe in her elder sister's arms again, so Edwina wrapped her arms around her and squeezed. 

"You will write," Kate whispered. "As will I. And you must take care of yourself. Be careful, bon." Edwina nodded into her shoulder. 

"You as well, didi. Take care of my niece and nephew. And do not let your husband be stupid." Kate laughed. 

"Sometimes you cannot stop what is natural, bon," Kate said. "But I will try." 

Edwina nodded and pulled back. "I love you." 

"And I you," Kate wiped some tears from her eyes, and Josey looked at her in confusion. 

"A bye?"

"Yes, my darling," Edwina laughed and took her little hand, shaking it gently. "But I will be back." 

"You better get in, bon," Kate said softly. "So you can make it to the inn before night fall." 

Edwina nodded and gave Kate one last hug. "I will write." 

"I will look forward to that," Kate pressed a kiss into her head and then reached down for Henry's hand who was trying not to cry. Edwina waved to the remaining family on the steps, and flashed a brave smile to her mother then boarded the carriage. 

"Bye Auntie Wina," Henry cried. 

"Bye, my darling," she waved to him from the carriage. 

"A bye," Josey waved and Edwina laughed and waved again, as the carriage set off. 

Edwina inhaled and smiled to her lady's maid who sat across. "A new adventure awaits." 

 

Preparations were being made to return to Aubrey Hall, and Kate was looking forward to settling in for the season. They would have to be in London for a majority of it for Eloise and Francesca, and there was something going on between Colin and Penelope, but Colin was in complete denial. Sophie and Benedict would reside in Aubrey Hall, their own cottage was not far from the estate, but they had gotten use to being around the family, and Anthony could not deny them. The house was big enough. 

Francesca had been looking forward to Kate guiding her through this season as Edwina had barely helped with her last, throwing random suitors her way without so much as a thought as to who she was and what she liked. Francesca was quiet and needed a man who understood that she would never be the belle of the ball, regardless of her diamond status. She was not Daphne, she was not Hyacinth, though the thought of Hyacinth's debut in a few years had Anthony struggling to breathe at times. She was not even Eloise, who was still filling up names on her dance cards and seeking to remain on the outskirts of the ballroom, and Anthony couldn't blame her. Kate knew his sisters now in a way that he didn't and he was relieved they were confiding in her when they could not in their own mother. 

Sophie and Benedict had announced their baby news a few days after Edwina had left and Violet had been over the moon. Their baby news was not enough to distract her from his own lack of news though. Most of the time he and Kate could just smile and bear it, enjoying that their news was just their own for a time. And Benedict's. And Sophie's. But if there was a couple that they could trust to keep their secret it was Ben and Sophie. Daphne would be crowing it to the entirety of the ton. 

Sophie was in her fourth month now, and Kate in her second, by their own calculations. Their babies would be two months apart, God willing that they were healthy and born safely. He was also in complete agreement with Kate that Josey knew something was going on, because her clinginess had increased ten-fold. She was trying to nurse even more so now, when they had been so close to weaning. Children had a sense about these things, he knew, but it was getting difficult to put off announcing because of Josey and their situation. 

Closing up Haven Valley would be easy as the staff were so well maintained that they basically ran it themselves. The staff had an unwavering loyalty to Kate and the housekeeper ran the house with an iron fist. As much as he was looking forward to being back home at Aubrey Hall, he would miss this place. His son's home. It was still odd, the toddler who threw a tantrum at the breakfast table this morning because he was still tired, actually outranked him. He was raising a duke. He was raising a Lady. 

He was a father. 

Something he had wanted for so very long but had actually never imagined he would ever have. He looked up and caught his son standing in the doorway staring at him. "Henry?"

"Papa." 

"What is the matter, my boy?" 

"I can't find mama," he said, his voice teary. 

"She was laying Josey down for a nap," he watched amused as Henry perked up and ran off, clearly not wanting anything from his father. Shaking his head, Anthony returned to his paperwork. 

Hyacinth found him next. She made her way into the room with a confidence that even Daphne didn't possess at that age. They were in trouble with this one. Josephine reminded him so much of Hyacinth, and that was another hair-graying thought to be studied later. 

"Brother," Hyacinth said as she sat in his lap, something she had not stopped since she was a baby and he was not looking forward to the day when it would stop. 

"Sister," he smirked. 

"Kate said that I was in need of some new dresses."

"Did she now," he asked amused. 

"Mmhmm," she said non-committedly. "And I have been thinking, -" 

"God help us all," he chuckled. 

She hit the back of his head. "Hey! That is not very nice." 

"Continue your thought, Hy," he laughed. If he was a good father now, it was because of the years he had with Hyacinth and Gregory. They were his surrogate children, and he would always be there for him. 

"I was thinking that maybe I could join the Pall Mall game this year," she said. 

"Well, provided you stay away from my lucky mallet, I think it is a grand idea." 

"You mean Kate's lucky mallet?" 

"No. Mine." 

"Are you sure it is not Kate's," she giggled. "She is far better at using it than you are." 

"My own sister betrays me for my wife," he sighed. 

"Well perhaps I will stay away from it, but only because Kate scares me more." 

"And I do not?" 

"No," she giggled as she stood. "Your wife is much more ferocious, I think," and she skipped out the door. "By the way, Kate found a new Newton! She said he was coming home with us. His name is Milo!" 

"Son of a," Anthony hissed as he stood, knocking over his decanter of brandy in the process. "Kathani Bridgerton!"

 

"I meant to tell you," Kate said as they watched Henry and Josey play on the grass next to the corgi puppy that so happened to be delivered after lunch this afternoon. The adult's smiles were just as big as the children's. 

"Did you," he said. "You told our son first so you could be sure I would not say no." 

"I would never do something so low-handed," she insisted. "I simply told him first so he would tell you." She shrugged as if that explanation was perfectly sound, and truthfully it was. Henry was terrible at secrets. "There was a breakdown in communication." 

"You realize we have to train the puppy, and we have a baby on the way." 

"Pssh," she waved his concerns away. "We have seven more months to go. We will be fine. Henry has always wanted a dog and Josey will be a one-year-old in a couple of weeks. I figured this was as good as time as any." 

He would never deny his son or daughter anything they desired within reason. And a dog was pretty reasonable. And his wife was being so damn reasonable that it was pissing him off. "Stop that," he hissed. 

"Stop what?" 

"Stop being so damn reasonable," he seethed when she laughed again. 

"Darling, I must be reasonable when you are not so. Is that not in our vows?"

"You vowed to obey me," he said. 

"Did I? I do not recall that." 

"Yes, you did." 

"An oversight, I assure you. Had I known I had vowed that, I would have had them strike that part out," she said. 

"It is too late," he said amused. 

"You and I are proof that nothing is too late." 

"You cannot keep using that!" She laughed at him. She laughed at him. If he was not so damn in love with her, he would be throwing the world's biggest fit right now. "Do not laugh at me," he exclaimed. 

"You remind me of our daughter. And Hyacinth. And Daphne for what it is worth." 

"I do not!"

"Do so," she retorted. 

"Do not!"

"You can keep denying it, but it will always be true, my darling. You do not like when people catch you off guard. You make it your habit to predict my every move, and while that may work in our bedchamber, to which I am grateful for, by the way," she smirked. "You cannot keep me on a leash as you did Edwina, and I think that unnerves you." 

She had a point. Edwina would not have the nerve to do something like this without his permission. And yet here he was in love with the one woman who could knock him out at the knees and continue on like it was nothing to her. 

"Papa look," Henry shouted when he saw him. "It's a puppy!" 

He could not help but to smile. Henry was so happy as was Josephine who was running around as fast as she could, squealing with laughter, causing the adults watching to laugh. "I see that, pal!"

It dawned on him that his wishes weren't the only things that mattered anymore, something he knew the moment Kate came back into his life. But it just dawned on him now that Kate was actually his wife. Of course, she had been for a couple of months now legally, but in her dealing with Eloise and Francesca, the children, making plans for the season, she was actually the Viscountess Lady Bridgerton. She was taking control of their lives in a way Edwina never could, and she was doing it in a variety of ways he never thought possible. He had a wife now. Someone who could stand on her own and make a decision without deferring to him or worrying about his reaction to it simply because she knew it was the right one. 

The puppy was just another example of her not only being a mother but the head female of the family. Hyacinth's joy of the new puppy was only matched by Henry and Josey, and in a time where they were preparing to have all eyes on them, this being the first season after his divorce, and her first season as his viscountess, the family was feeling the pressure in a way they hadn't in years. And here Kate was at the lead, preparing them for battle by boosting their spirits. Dress shopping for Hyacinth. New sheet music for Francesca. Eloise was more confident in her approach to the season than she had ever been. Even his mother seemed to be more relaxed. 

He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pressed a kiss onto the side of her head. "I love you, Lady Bridgerton. 

"Mmm," she smiled. "I love you too. But we are still keeping the puppy." 

 

Kate pushed her husband onto bed later that night and climbed on top of him. "Wife," he mumbled into her neck as he reversed their positions and pinned her to the bed. He reached for his cravat which had been discarded hastily in Kate's haste to remove his clothes. He used it to tie her wrist together and to the bed post at the end of the bed. 

"Husband," she panted excitedly. 

"It just dawned on me that I have not given you a proper welcome into marriage." 

She gasped and wiggled a little. Attempting to bring him closer, but he denied her. "And what does that entail?" 

"Do you trust me," he asked. 

"With my life," she moaned. 

"You will not be able to touch me," she cried out as he sucked on a pulse point in her neck. "But trust me to get you there. Give up control." 

"I do not think I can." 

"You can," he grins. "Let your husband take care of you." She was lost. He knew it, and he would never take advantage of the power he had over her body. She had consent over everything that he did to her. Out of all his experiences in his adult life sexually he had always been in control, regardless of the situation. Kate had a power over him that was inexplicable, and it terrified him sometimes. when he had heard of her experiences with her husband in their marital bed, it nearly broke his heart. He was far from a generous lover when it came to Edwina, and the handful of times he had bed her were brief, and more about procreating than anything, and it involved a large number of spirits on his part to get through it. But Kate, his beautiful Kate, deserved the world. For all her sacrifices, she deserved all the pleasure and sensation that her body could offer her. And since her pregnancy, since their marriage when the fear of begetting a child out of wedlock went away, their love making had become more adventurous. 

She never said no. 

"Why can I not touch you," she groaned. Touch was her way to keep her anchored to reality, and he wanted her to soar. 

"Because I want you to fly, my love." 

 

It was the last day before their trip back to Aubrey Hall, and he was meeting with the steward one last time before they closed the house up for the season. They were walking down the hall talking about the planting when they heard Henry's cry. He knew Henry's cries like the back of his hand. He had one for when he was tired, hungry, upset, and angry. But this one had his heart beating out of his chest as he raced down the hall. "Paaaaaapa!" 

Kate must have been of his like mind, because he saw her bounding out of the sitting room. "Where is he," she asked. 

"I think the staircase," he said breathlessly and raced in that direction with his wife following close behind. Henry could manage the stairs, but he had been a bundle of energy lately because they had been planning their departure so they couldn't ride in the morning. Henry's horse was on its way to Aubrey Hall. He stopped when he saw Henry sprawled out on the second flight of stairs. 

"Oh my God, Henry," Kate moved around him and down the staircase as fast as she could. "Baby!" 

"Mama, my leg," the boy exclaimed. "I hurted it."

Anthony followed his wife, and beat her to their son, lifting him gently, he barked out orders for the doctor to be summoned. It didn't look like his leg was broken, which was good. But even a sprain or a twisted ankle would take a few weeks to heal. He brought the boy to his shoulder and turned to his wife. "Let us get him to his room." 

She let out a shaky breath and a nod, unshed tears were in her eyes. 

"Papa, I hurting," the boy cried into his shoulder and wrapped his arms around his neck. "I sorry for running down the stairs." 

"It is alright, son," he said gruffly. "You will be fine." They made their way to his room, and he laid the boy on his bed. The bed was big enough to sleep a whole family. He removed the little boy's boots and socks. He looked at Kate. "His ankle is definitely swollen. No riding horses for a while." 

"Nooooooooo," Henry cried out and Kate rubbed a hand over his head. 

"My love," she soothed. "You must give it time to heal." 

"But I want my horsey," he sniffed. 

"And you will have him, when you are healed," her tone left no room for argument, and he was impressed that Henry didn't try. He propped his son's foot on a pillow he obtained from the bed. 

"You will not be able to ride anyway, as we will be traveling," he reminded his son. 

The doctor was quick, to which Anthony was thankful and Kate held their son still as the doctor completed his exam. The doctor had a soft spot for the Grey children as he had delivered them, Kate had told him later, even bringing Henry a sweet to munch on after his exam. It was just a sprain, a bad one, but not a break. Henry would be fussy as he had to be holed up for a few weeks, but other than that he would be ok. He held Kate as she cried tears of relief after the doctor left. This was the first major incident either of the children had suffered, besides bumped heads and scrapes from falls. 

He was a little shaken as well but held it together for his family. Henry was cleared to travel, and they would add extra bedding to their carriage to keep him comfortable. Hopefully only Josey's rambunctiousness would be the only cause for distress on their trip home. 

Josey and Milo's.

 

 

Meet Milo Bridgerton!!

24.+Corgi+Puppies.jpg (1024×819)

Milo's name is in honor of Kate and Anthony's second son from the book, Miles. Kate and Anthony will have four children and Miles was named for Kate Sheffield's father in the books. I don't think Kathani Sharma's father's name was Miles. Ergo... We Have Milo. 

Chapter Text

"Josephine Grey," he scolded his now one-year-old daughter as best he could, even though he was highly amused. "No." 

"Yes," she holds up a small glass paperweight from his desk. "Papa?" 

"No," he took it gently from her hand and sat her back on the ground. "Go play." She was one and into anything and everything, and more than one nurse maid could be seen chasing her thought Bridgerton House each day as he and Kate prepared for the new social season. He made a mental reminder to give the nursery staff a bonus in their next checks. Instead of playing naturally, she went around his desk and climbed into his lap. Henry was still held up after he reinjured his ankle, sneaking down the stairs to steal sweet treats from the kitchen staff who were so charmed by the young master that they couldn't resist. Which meant that sadly he couldn't ride, and they had been at Bridgerton House for three weeks now. Josephine's energy was boundless due to her brother's injury. They were used to chasing each other all day. 

They both looked up as Colin walked into his study, bringing in a bundle of nervous energy with him. "How is your wife's mood today?" 

"Better than the weather outside, I'd imagine," Anthony pointed to the stormy clouds gathering, darkening the London sky. "But that can change, as you well know." Colin nodded and grimaced. 

"So would it be better to hold the baby when I ask a request of her or not? She cannot kill me with her daughter in my arms, right?" 

"I do not know," Anthony chuckled. "She is a hell of a shot." Colin swore. "Colin!" He reprimanded his brother and covered his daughter's ears, who fussed until he removed his hands. He placed a kiss on top of her head. "Papa's sorry, baby." 

"Anthony," Kate walked in. "Have you seen, Sophie," she stopped when she noticed Colin. "You," she glared at him. "Cook said you ate the rest of my lemon cake." 

Colin looked at him wide-eyed in fright and fidgeted nervously with his cravat. Anthony looked on amused. Kate was in her third month of pregnancy now, and the family still did not know. Sophie had recently shared her news when she could no longer hide her baby's presence behind clothing. Their baby was just a precious bump, settled safely inside, for only it's mama and papa to see. But Kate's mood had affected everyone, particularly his brothers, or Colin more specifically. They were sure Violet and Lady Danbury knew, but they respectfully said nothing. Anthony sat back in preparation to watch his wife hone her sword against his younger brother. Honestly it was highly amusing. 

"Sister," Colin decided charm was the way to go, which had Anthony rolling his eyes. The only charm Kate fell for was from their son. "I have been meaning to talk to you. I had a favor to ask." 

"I am not sure I am in the giving mood," she said as she looked at a paper in her hand. Probably this week's menu. "The quintessential viscountess", Anthony thought. He kissed Josephine's head again, as she stuck a finger in her mouth. Mama was in the room, and mama was not holding her. The toddler did seem to realize that her mother was preoccupied at least. 

"I need you to host a dinner party for the Featheringtons." 

"You ask too much," she said. 

"Is that not your job as Lady Bridgerton," Colin asked. 

"Wrong move," Anthony thought quietly with a wince. 

"Is your job as Mr. Bridgerton, to annoy me and eat my lemon cake?" 

"I did not know it was yours!" 

"You did not ask!" 

"Please," Colin persisted. "I need you to invite them over so I can talk to Pen." 

"Leave that poor girl alone, Colin," Kate waved her hand at him. "She can do much better than you after what you said." 

"Those words were not meant for her to hear!" 

"But you said them," Kate hissed. Anthony looked on confused. Clearly there was much to the story that he did not know. 

"Please, Kate," Colin pleaded with her. "I just need to make things right." 

"Oh, here's an idea. Why not just apologize." 

"She will not see me." 

"Smart girl," Kate mused. 

"I just need you to invite them to dinner, then we can talk." 

"No," Kate said. 

"Why not," Colin whined. Anthony looked at Josephine who looked up at him and giggled. The sound her Uncle Colin just made was highly amusing. 

"Because I can host a dinner party for the Featheringtons, and it would be amazing. We would all go through the motions of being gracious hosts. But at some point, I am going to have to entertain Portia Featherington, something that I have managed to avoid quite easily since I have arrived in London seven years ago except for a conversation which was worse pain than childbirth in my opinion," Kate shuddered. 

"I will assist," Colin said. 

"You will not," Kate laughed. "You will do as gentleman do and depart after supper. You cannot lie to me Colin Bridgerton." Colin looked to him with imploring eyes to which he shook his head. He was with Kate on this. He liked Penelope well enough, but an evening with her mother and sisters was quite beyond what he wanted to attend, no matter how brief. Kate managed their invitations quite shrewdly and he loved her for it. "You know what," Kate said. "I will do it. It will be a dinner party, in your honor," she said with a smile and a gleam in her eyes. 

"No," Colin said. "That is not, -" 

"I will issue your name on the invitations alongside mine. You will host. I think that is fair," she looked at her husband for the first time since she saw Colin with a smile. "Is it not, my darling." 

"I think so," Anthony said with a smile. 

"This is not necessary," Colin exclaimed. 

"It is my duty to make sure my family is entirely satisfied," Kate winked at him. "We shall have it tomorrow. I will get with the housekeeper and get the invitation out." 

"Tomorrow," Colin's voice cracked. "Not next week?" 

"I am terribly efficient," Kate smiled. "And bitter. I will get started straight away." She blew a kiss to Josey, who tried to blow one back as best she could and left the room. 

"Mama, a bye," Josephine looked up at him. 

"Yes," he smiled. "She is busy." He looked at Colin who hadn't moved from his spot. "Well, you got what you asked for," Anthony chuckled. 

"I did not intend, -" 

"No, but she is the lady of the household, and you asked this of her." 

"Your wife is terrifying," Colin said. 

"That she is," Anthony would not deny that. "As is her daughter when she has not had lunch." Anthony stood with Josey on his hip. She played with the ring on his finger as he held her. "I wish you the best. Portia Featherington is,-" Anthony shuddered. "Good luck brother." 

 

"Josey," Violet warned her small granddaughter as she made a plate for her daughter-in-law. "You cannot ride Milo. He is a baby." 

"Baby," Josey looked up at her, her brown eyes wide. 

"Yes, a baby," Violet said amused as she handed Sophie her plate. "How are you feeling, darling?" 

"Like I swallowed a ball," Sophie laughed. 

"Benedict was a big baby. Much bigger than Anthony but not as big as Colin," Violet said. 

"That does not ease my mind at all." 

"No, I do not suppose it would. But you will be fine. And Benedict will be there the entire time, I am sure." 

"Kate has been helping as well," Sophie smiled. "I am glad to have a sister such as her to rely on." 

"I am sure she is too. She is a phenomenal mother. And I am glad she will have you to rely on as well when she delivers her newest." 

"What," Sophie's eyes went wide and Violet smiled at her indulgently. "How did you, -" 

"I know my son, Sophie Bridgerton. He is not subtle. Even if I were not a woman and could not see all of the signs that Kate is showing. Anthony would be a dead giveaway." 

"He has always been besotted." 

"Yes," Violet smiled as Josey climbed into her lap. "Even before when he was courting Edwina. He could not take his eyes off of her. She challenged him as no woman could. It was amusing I suppose," Violet said quietly. "If only I had seen the damage it was doing. I should have insisted he open his eyes. It is no surprise Kate captured the attention of a duke. She is stunning and most men her season were blind to it in favor of Edwina because Kate could speak her mind. Anthony was never blind to it, he was simply not interested in a love match."

"And now they will have a baby," Sophie smiled. "It is a complete circle. I am happy for Anthony." 

"He has been a father to his siblings for so long. It could not be helped. Of course, I love seeing him with Henry and Josey. There are his in every way. But to see with a newborn. To watch him meet his newborn? I cannot wait." Violet smiled. "I cannot wait to see both of my boys to meet their new babies."

The ladies looked up as Colin rushed into the room. "Mother. You have got to help me!" 

"Colin what is the matter," Violet exclaimed as Josey giggled from her lap. Sophie smiled at her young niece. After a rough few weeks after wanting no one but her mama, Josey seemed to be calming down. They all associated it with growing pains, and the girl was back to being her darling self, when she wasn't being a menace. Which was always. 

"I may or may not have asked the new Lady Bridgerton to host a dinner party for the Featheringtons and she may or may not have accepted." 

Sophie winced and immediately attempted to come up with a list of excuses as to why she could not attend. 

"So, what is your issue," Violet asked. "You got what you wanted." 

"My issue, mother. Is that my brother's new wife is diabolical and has issued the invitations and made me the host," Sophie giggled and Colin sent a glare her way. Sophie looked to her mother-in-law who she could tell was trying not to laugh herself.

"Well," Violet began. "Actually, I have no words. That is bloody brilliant." 

"Mother," Colin exclaimed. 

"Well, Colin. You should have known! Kate is a consummate hostess, but she can only suffer fools so often." 

"I only asked because I need to speak to Pen," Colin sat down with a sigh. 

"That girl has really done a number on you, has she not," Sophie laughed. "And she did it by not even speaking to you. Now that is bloody brilliant." 

"She has not," Colin protested. 

"You protest too much," Violet laughed. 

"She is only a friend!" 

"Just admit you love the girl, Colin and put us all out of our misery," Sophie said. 

"You are as bad as Anthony. Can I not have a son that falls in love normally? Is Gregory to be my last hope?" 

"I do not love Penelope!" 

"Please," Sophie rolled her eyes. "And you know it serves you right for eating the rest of the lemon cake that the cook set aside for Kate and I." 

"You ate the cake," Violet asked. "No wonder. I would not be surprised if Kate has something else in store for you as revenge. She was quite irate." 

Colin's eyes widened as he stood and ran back out of the room and the ladies laughed. 

 

Kate pushed her husband against the wall as she jumped into his arms. Clothes littered the floor of his office for the last few hours, and still she hadn't had enough. She couldn't recall a time in her former pregnancies that she had ever felt this way, but then she probably didn't know what her body demanded of her. She was lucky to have a husband who was more than willing to meet her demands, his hunger for her was just as furious. 

"We have to stop meeting like this, Lord Bridgerton," she said breathlessly as she leaned down to kiss him. "I have duties." 

"You also have a duty to your husband, Lady Bridgerton" he laughed. "Which you are fulfilling magnificently, might I add." 

"My duties are important to me," she giggled. "Though this is not what I would consider one. It feels too good to be considered a duty." 

"I will take that as a compliment," Anthony carried her across the room, and laid her across his desk. He leaned over her and kissed her gently. 

"Just shut up and remind me of why I married into this family in the first place," she laughed. "After Colin's dinner party, I may seek a divorce." 

Anthony laughed, "You can seek it all you want, but you shall not have one. I will not allow it." 

"Oh so you think you can control me, now." 

"I have spent the last two hours in this office proving that I can in fact do that, my love." 

 

"Bridgerton," Simon found him later that evening. "I found out Bagwell's connection to Miss Rosso." 

"Do I wish to know," Anthony asked. 

"I am not sure that it matters as he is long gone. But it does clear up some loose ends." He handed him a letter. "It seems like dear Mr. Bagwell has a thing for the women you have a romantic history with. Which is probably why he decided to foolishly go for Kate. Most women fall for his charm. Rosso. Edwina. There was that other woman you had after the opera singer. He has bedded them all." 

"Are there truly men like this?" 

"We were men like this," Simon said amused. "Until we met our wives." 

"I cannot imagine Josephine ever having to deal with a man like I was. It is unfathomable." 

"Well, we will do everything in our power to ensure that that doesn't happen. That is my fear for Amelia as well. She is the light of my life, and if she were to ever get hurt, I would not be responsible for what I might do." 

"Does it get easier, do you think? I adore both of my children. Henry is everything. But Josephine," Anthony paused. "I would do everything for each of my children. Josephine though need only ask, and I would fight a war for her." 

"It is the same for me, old friend. Auggie is my first born, but Amelia is my daughter. She is delicate, and precious. Though it is odd that Daphne sees Auggie as I see Amelia." 

"I think Kate sees Henry the same way," Anthony laughed. "Maybe Benedict will have a daughter and join this hell with us." 

Simon laughed. "He would deserve it. If anyone deserves a daughter first, it is Benedict Bridgerton. I am still not over him one-upping my anniversary gift to Daphne with his gift to Sophie." Benedict and Simon shared an anniversary a day apart, quite by accident. Benedict's marriage was laced with so much scandal that the marriage was necessary and not a minute or day later. The last two years, Simon and Benedict spent each and every milestone attempting to outdo the other. Things hit a boiling point their last anniversary when Simon gave Daphne her heart's desire in a new diamond bracelet that had each of her children's name engraved in it. Benedict however, wrote Sophie a poem that left all the ladies weeping, and Daphne irate at her husband that he was not as romantic to his wife as her brother was to Sophie.  He had yet to celebrate an anniversary with Kate, but he was glad that she was not one for poetry. She preferred actions, and he was fairly certain that he could perform adequately. 

"Must we attend this Featherington dinner party for Colin," Simon asked. "I can't imagine a fate worse than that." 

"You know what my wife will do if your absence is noted." 

"She will show up on my doorstep and drag me by the ear until I am there. The new Lady Bridgerton is as terrifying as my godmother." 

"I think Lady Danbury is giving her lessons." 

"She has no need for such lessons!"

"I quite agree. So, I just show up and do as she demands, and she lets me live in peace." 

"Peace," Simon grins. "Is that why you were late to fencing today?" 

"There were many moments of peace," Anthony grinned. "Like four or five at least." 

"Aww to be newlywed again." 

"Oh, come one Hastings! I did not need to know that. You're married to my sister!" Anthony poured himself a brandy and gulped it down. Some things were best left unsaid to elder brothers even if the proof of the existence of such relations were in the existence of his sister's children.

 

Henry was carried downstairs by his Uncle Benedict, so he could sit with the family for supper. He was not happy to be in his room all day. His mama and papa did their best to visit him throughout the day, but Milo had become his best friend. The puppy in his quiet moments was a great companion. But he still missed his horse, and asked his papa to visit it every day for him with a carrot and an apple.

"Hello Henry," his grandmama Violet exclaimed as she saw him and took him from Benedict's arms. "Oh, grammy missed you today." 

"I draw with Uncle Ben." 

"You did," she exclaimed. 

"He is actually quite good, my little apprentice," Benedict smiled at Henry and found his seat next to Sophie. "He drew a horse." 

"Wow Henry," Kate exclaimed. "I cannot wait to see it!" Henry laughed. 

"I need to color it," he said. "I color it like my horsey's color." 

"Then we will have it framed for my study," Anthony smiled at his son, as he took his seat. "How is your ankle feeling, my darling?" 

Henry was torn. If he said that he was feeling fine, he could ride his horse with papa tomorrow morning. But he was still in quite a lot of pain, and he was sure his papa would notice it when he walked. Plus, both his mama and papa told him that he must be honest at all times to be a gentleman. He couldn't lie to his papa now. "I walk on it today," he grimaced as his papa sighed. 

"Henry, we told you that you must rest it." 

"But I busy papa," he said. "I have so much to do!" 

"Who are you," Kate asked amused. "Henry," she said gently. "Your papa is right. You have got to let it heal." 

"But it boring in my room, mama!" 

"Well, what if we carry you out to the sitting room during the day then. As long as you promise to keep it elevated." 

He nodded eagerly. "I promise!" 

"Ok then," she smiled at him, and pushed his plate to him. "Now eat your dinner, my sweet love." 

"He is really good at drawing," Benedict said. The pride in his voice unmistakable.  "It might be something that he can excel at on the side." 

"He can do whatever he pleases," Anthony said and Kate nodded in agreement. 

"Colin," Benedict turned to his younger brother. "Why on earth would you invite the Featheringtons and only the Featheringtons to dinner tomorrow? Will we not see enough of them during the season?" 

Colin winced as the conversation turned back to him. 

"Mama, do I have to go," Hyacinth asked. 

"Yes, you must go," Gregory said.

"Shut up, Gegory," she said. "You are not our mother." 

"And you are not a gentleman!" 

"Children," Violet scolded. 

"I am not a child," Gregory exclaimed. 

"Then do not act as one," Kate said. "And quiet the both of you. Your niece and nephew are watching." 

Hyacinth stuck her tongue out at Gregory who in turn kicked her under the table. 

"Stop it," She exclaimed. 

"No, you stop it!" 

"Hyacinth! Gregory! Enough," Anthony exclaimed. 

"She started it!" 

"And I am finishing it. Be respectful," Anthony said. 

"Colin has a thing for darling Penelope," Sophie giggled and Benedict turned his eyes to Colin again.

"What," he exclaimed. "How did I not know this? Anthony? Are you hearing this?" 

Anthony nodded and refilled his wine glass and directed his gaze to Eloise who had been quiet. His younger sister had not talked of Penelope for a while and had not even been back to see her since they returned to town. He looked at Kate who noticed his gaze and shook her head. Now was not the time to talk. And he was sure that Eloise would open up to Kate when she was ready to. 

"Eloise," Kate said. "Perhaps you might dine with the children tomorrow night to keep them company?" 

"Oh, thank God," Eloise exclaimed. 

"Not fair," Benedict exclaimed. 

"Hey," Hyacinth yelled. 

"Well, there goes my plan," Sophie said and Kate grinned at her. 

"If I have to be there, my dear sister, you must be there to keep me sane. Or at least away from the sharp cutlery." 

Sophie laughed. "I credit you your self control." 

"Mama," Henry looked at her. "Does I have to go?" 

"You will be dining with your Aunt Eloise, my love." 

"Yay," he clapped. Eloise helped him get into mischief more often than not. 

"I better not find more glue in my shoe," Gregory sulked. 

"Do not worry about that, Gregory," Eloise's smile was deceptively sweet. "I think Colin should worry the most about that." 

Colin allowed his head to fall to the table. This was not the plan and it had been a very long day.

 

Chapter Text

"Do you know that our spouses have a secret hiding spot," Benedict walked into the sitting room where the rest of the Bridgerton clan were sitting, enjoying time together with the children before they had to prepare for the dinner later that evening. It was rare that they were all together like this, but they fell easily back into their patters of banter and teasing each other. Currently Colin was at their mercy. 

"No," Daphne looked in Anthony's direction, her eyes wide. 

"Repeat," Anthony demanded. 

"Yes. Simon, Kate, and Sophie have a secret spot that they all gather in, whether here or at Aubrey Hall to get away from us Bridgertons. They are all there now." 

"Where," Anthonny asked. 

"I do not know," Benedict exclaimed. "Your wife is very good at putting a bunch of words together to confuse me into not asking anymore questions." 

"So what, " Violet laughed. "Do they just sit there and commiserate about being married to Bridgertons?"

"And apparently drinks and cake are involved." 

"That is brilliant," Violet exclaimed. "Why did I not think of that?" 

"Mother," Daphne exclaimed. 

"We are not that bad," Anthony said. 

"You are my children and I love you dearly. But there were times where I wish I would have just dropped you all off at the closest orphanage and run away and changed my name." 

"Mother," Colin exclaimed this time, temporarily forgetting his misery over his hosting duties tonight. 

"Marrying into the Bridgerton family is hard work! It is good that they can rely on each other." 

The married Bridgertons all looked at their mother in absolute betrayal. 

"It is not amusing," Anthony said. 

"Not at all," Daphne tossed her head. "It is not our fault that we are a little competitive." 

"I would not call it competitive," Colin said. 

"Bad sports," Benedict asked. 

"No." 

"Rebellious," Anthony said. 

"No." 

"Teasing," Daphne asked. 

"No," Colin said. 

"Trouble," Violet said matter-of-factly. "You all are trouble." 

"Mother," Daphne exclaimed again. "We are not trouble. We are just, -" 

"Different," Colin said. 

"Yes, different." Daphne shook her head. "No not different." 

"The fact that you cannot agree as to what you are further cements my pride in my son and daughter-in-laws for creating this group," Violet said. 

"You are supposed to be on our side, mother," Benedict said. 

"I am," Violet insisted. "I am just on their side too. And right now, their side is winning," Violet shrugged and turned back to the book she was reading Henry. "I hope that one day Henry, when you find the love of your life. I hope that she is not as troublesome as your aunts and uncles. I hope she is a sweet girl, just as you are a sweet boy." Henry giggled and pointed to the picture in the book. 

"Read please, grammy." 

"We will get them for this," Daphne turned to her brothers. "They cannot get away with this." 

"How are we going to outwit a duke, who is an excellent spy. A former duchess who can make the smartest man in England tongue tied with just a glance. And the sweetest woman in the world who has the protection of them both," Benedict asked as he turned to Anthony.

"Oh no," Anthony shook his head. "I went five years without a woman in my bed, and I refuse to do anything that might change that again." 

"Wimp," Daphne said. 

"Call me what you want," Anthony shrugged. "I know where my bread gets buttered." 

"And your wife terrifies you," Benedict laughed. 

"I will not deny that," Anthony said and picked up his discarded hand of cards. "Daph, your turn." 

 

Every room in the Bridgerton townhouse was lit up. The Viscountess Bridgerton had truly outdone herself in a short amount of time, though she would give credit to the excellant staff that house employed. The heads of the household stood in a line in the foyer, waiting to greet their guests, and Colin stood to Kate's left, acting as a host. Henry stood in front of his mama, holding onto her hands as he rocked back in forth in boredom, and Josephine was in Anthony's arms playing with his cravat. 

"Mama, this itchy," Henry looked up at her. He wanted to look like his father tonight, which included a cravat, and he rather didn't like the offending neck garment. 

"Just a few more minutes, my love, and you'll be back in the nursery and you can take it off." She looked over at Josephine. Her baby soft hair was braided back from her face so it wouldn't fall into her eyes. Her white dress bunched up as she sat on her father's arm. "Both of my babies look darling tonight," Kate said with a sigh. 

"They do," Anthony smiled at her and turned to his fidgeting brother. "What are you doing, stop messing with your clothes." 

"I cannot help it." 

"You wanted this dinner party," Kate laughed. 

"I would prefer a sister that I can outwit." 

"And I would prefer a brother who does not eat my cake, but alas I have no such one," Kate sighed wistfully and laughed at Colin's glare in her direction. 

The housekeeper announced their guests arrived and the party straightened up. Kate leaned down and whispered in Henry's ear to behave and he nodded, still holding her hand. 

"Lady Featherington, and her daughter's Prudence and Penelope." The housekeeper dropped a curtsey and disappeared.

Colin cleared his throat before speaking. "We are delighted you could come," he said, his voice still horse. 

Kate nodded and smiled. "Indeed. Especially at this last minute. It is good to see you again Lady Featherington, and you ladies as well." 

"Lady Bridgerton," Portia Featherington was all sincerity and fake smiles at the same time. "It is good to see you again. And thank you for your kind invitation. We were in despair at the loss of your company at the end of the last season." 

Kate smiled and held her tongue. She hadn't seen Portia Featherington since before her marriage to the duke, and even then it was not long enough. "Indeed. Might I introduce my children. This is my son Henry, Duke of Lancaster, and my daughter," she nodded to the little girl in Anthony's arms who was staring at the bright color adorned lady. "Lady Josephine Grey."

"Your grace," the guests dropped a curtsey to Henry and then to Josey. Henry stared at Portia for a long while before looking up at his papa confused, and then back to the lady. 

"Why you dress like a bird," he asked, as Kate covered his mouth much too late. Penelope snorted a laugh from behind her mother and sister and she saw Anthony looking away trying to hide a smile. 

"Perhaps the children should return to the nursery," Anthony said and motioned to the nurse maid there to take them back.

The girl took Josey into her arms and took Henry in her other arm to get him off his ankle, who looked up at her whispering, "But she have a lot of feathers. Like a bird!" 

"Might we all go to the sitting room until dinner is ready," Colin said and offered his arm to Lady Featherington who took it with ease. Kate pushed Anthony forward to escort the two Featherington girls. 

The sitting room was quite quiet for Bridgerton standards, or loud for normal family standards. Hyacinth and Gregory were arguing over a horse they saw at the market yesterday. Benedict and Sophie were talking loudly of baby names, and Daphne and Simon were trading barbs about the married Bridgerton's secret hiding spot. 

"Tell me," Daphne demanded. 

"I shall not," Simon took a large swig of his drink. 

"Tell me." 

"No." 

"Simon!" 

"Daphne!"

"Lady Featherington," Violet's voice cut through the chatter. "How lovely to see you!" 

"You as well, Lady Bridgerton. I see your new daughter-in-law is the consummate hostess. A true Bridgerton indeed." Violet winced at the clear cut against Anthony and Edwina. She looked to Anthony and saw that he had figured it out too. 

"She is indeed," Violet smiled at Kate who was making conversation with Penelope and Priscilla. "We are looking forward to hosting many events during the social season." 

"I await those invitations then with bated breath," she said as she took a seat next to Daphne. "Your grace, you simply must tell me about those adorable children of yours. Are they much grown?" 

Anthony found Violet as he was seething in anger. "To call me out like that in my own home." 

"Anthony, now is not the time," Violet soothed. 

Colin found his way to Kate and the girls who were laughing of something which quieted as soon as he stood beside them. "Ladies. I am glad you are here." 

"Mr. Bridgerton," Prudence simpered, as she normally did. "Thank you for the kind invitation." 

He nodded and turned to Penelope who was glaring up at him. Kate tried to hide her chuckles. "Pen. It has been a while." 

"Mr. Bridgerton," she smiled. "Not long enough, it would seem," she walked off towards her mother and Daphne and Prudence stared at them wide eyed.

"Well that was quite rude," she said. 

"It is no matter, Miss Featherington," Kate put her at ease. "I am not offended so easily, you see. If I were, I would never survive the ton." They all laughed and dispersed to conversate with others. 

"Lady Bridgerton," Portia called to Kate as she walked by. Her voice sent shivers down Kate's spine. She steeled herself and turned to the elder woman. "I see that your sister is not here tonight. The former Lady Bridgerton." 

"She is not, my lady," Kate smiled despite wanting to slap her. 

"Hmm," Portia smiled. "I wonder at her absence." 

"You need not. She is in India. A well-deserved respite." 

"Are you ready for the season, Lady Featherington," Daphne asked. 

"Yes," she sighed. "I despair of ever finding my girls a match. They are not so witty as you, your grace, or her ladyship indeed. I rather despair at them finding a match." 

"Do not despair," Kate sat down. "You would rather them make a good match, rather than a quick one full of pain." 

"I would rather them just make a match. My Phillipa made one her first season out. Though she has no children yet, poor child," Portia shook her head. "But I suppose we cannot all be beautiful Bridgerton children, capable of making a match even in scandal."

Kate clenched her jaw, and Daphne glared. "I think your girls are beautiful, Lady Featherington. And if the men of the ton cannot see that, then that is their own loss." 

A disruption caused the women to look over towards the fireplace where Gregory had dropped his glass of lemonade. "Gregory," Violet scolded. "Are you in your cups?"

Kate smiled at the women before standing up. "Pray, please excuse me." She headed in the direction of Gregory, Anthony, and Benedict, who was doubled over laughing. "Must I watch you as I do my own children," she hissed. "What is going on?" 

"Gregory took Colin's tea," Benedict wiped his eyes. 

"What tea," she demanded. 

"The tea that causes my idiot brothers to lose their minds on occasion," Anthony hissed. 

"That only happened once," Benedict held up three fingers. "Or four times." 

"Benedict," she exclaimed. 

"Apparently Colin took some to calm his nerves," Anthony said. 

"Of course he did," she sighed as Gregory put his arm around her shoulder. 

"You are absolutely beautiful," his words slurred. "You let me know when you want to leave this punk, and I will be there with the getaway horse." 

Anthony swore under his breath and stepped forward.

"Enough," Kate exclaimed. "Benedict, take Gregory to his room and freshen him up. Anthony, please keep Colin in your sights." 

"She is absolutely stunning, Ben," Gregory was saying as Benedict led him away. "I love her." 

"She is married to our brother," Benedict said. 

"Our brother was stupid enough to let her go once, I am confident he will again," Kate shut the door as Anthony went to follow his inebriated brother. 

"Do not." 

"Kate!" 

"Stop. Go help Colin," she ordered. 

Kate let out a sigh of relief and leaned against the wall and Violet looked on in sympathy. "If it helps, you are doing rather well. Much better than I would be doing in your state." 

Kate stared at her, her eyes wide. "How did you know." 

"Kate you are stunning always," Violet took her hand. "But you are ethereal lately." Lady Danbury nodded as she walked over in agreement. 

"I agree," she said. "And might I say bravo in handling Lady Featherington's snide comments. I would have wacked her with my cane." 

"I do not doubt it," Kate laughed. 

The call to dinner was issued, and the participants all moved slowly into the dining room. Anthony pulled out her chair. He would be sitting by her tonight, as Colin was acting as host, to which she was grateful. "Colin?"

He shook his head. "He is his own worst enemy." 

She sighed and leaned into his hand on her cheek briefly. The dinner Kate planned was phenomenal. A mixture of her Indian culture, and the English one they all shared. Their cook was enjoying experimenting, and the guests were benefiting. Lady Featherington was in love with the curried lamb, though she was constantly drinking her water deal with the spice level. They were on the third course when Colin stood to make a toast. 

"Oh no," she heard Hyacinth say. 

"I am so happy to," he paused and held up his glass and knocking back the rest of his wine. "Oh damn, now I am out of wine." 

Benedict laughed and Violet sighed. 

"What I mean to say is friendships should be cherished, and family is," he paused and scratched his head. "Ben, what is the word I am looking for? Oh! Friendships should be cherished. Oh wait I said that." 

Hyacinth giggled and Violet shushed her. "Colin dear," she began. 

"I have this mother. Where was I," Colin held up his empty glass. "To Pen the best friend a guy can ask for." 

Kate groaned. Sophie hid her face in her hand. Violet took her glass in her hand. Anthony stood up holding his own glass. "I think what my brother means to say is. Friendships like ours are rare in this town, and we are honored that you are ours." 

"Here, here!" Benedict raised his glass as did Simon, who was looking on amused. Anthony sat down with a sigh and a small smile at Kate. 

"Could have been worse," he whispered. 

"I do not think so, my love," she laughed. "But keep telling yourself that." 

"It cannot be so bad as that," Lady Featherington was addressing Penelope who was obviously distraught. "Even the eldest one chose the sister first." The table fell quiet and Anthony's face reddened in his anger. 

Kate stood quietly and the rest of the table followed suit. "Well then. Shall we commence to the drawing room," she said with a weak smile betraying her hurt. It would seem that no matter how far she had come, she was always to be reminded of her failures. 

 

Anthony quietly crawled in behind Kate in the bed they shared later that night after all the guests had returned to their respective homes. The dinner party was a success and Kate was due all the credit. She had not spoken to him since the end of dinner however, and it was starting to bother him. 

"I know you are hurting," he whispered as he attempted to gather her in his arms but she pulled away. "I will never stop being sorry, Kate. Know that." 

"Everything I try to do, she is there in the shadows. She has had all the firsts and I will never outgrow that." 

"You know that no one believes that!" 

"Portia Featherington believes that! And as she is one of the most notable gossips of the ton, I assume others do as well." 

"Since when do you care about what the ton thinks," he asked. 

"Since my children have to grow up in it," she snapped. "Sometimes I wish you had just let me go. Sometimes I wish that I had the strength not to fall in love with you again. It only caused pain and heartbreak when I loved you first, and it still does." 

"You do not mean that," he insisted. "You cannot mean that." 

"I do mean that."

"Kate," he said quietly. "I was lost without you. My life was not one worth living." 

"But you chose that life because that was what you wanted. No matter how hard I tried to get you to stop, you persisted. Actions have consequences." 

"And I paid for mine," he said. "I continue to pay for mine. I hurt you. I hurt your sister." 

"No," she said and shook her head. "I paid for them. You lived a life. It may not have been one that left you fulfilled, but you had choices." 

"I told you not to marry him," he hissed. "You made that choice yourself." 

"It was marry him, or return to India." 

"You could have lived with us! I could have bought you a home." 

"So what? So I could see you everyday, and be reminded of what I lost?" 

"You told me to marry her," he pleaded. 

"And we are back to that." 

"You did," he said. 

"Yes I did! I told you that because it was far too late to back out at that time, Anthony!" 

"We will never stop fighting over this, will we," he asked quietly. 

"I suppose not," she responded just as quiet and sat up. "I think I'm going to sleep in the viscountess rooms for a while." 

"No," he sat up alarmed and reached for her arm. "No Kate, stop. It is just a fight. We need to talk. You are too angry for me to let you walk away now. That is how it starts." 

"How what starts," she demanded and pulled her arm from his grasp. 

"The end," he whispered. 

She stared at him a moment as he pleaded to her with his eyes, imploring her to stay. "Anthony, I know of no way past this. Perhaps I should not have jumped as quickly into this than I did." 

"You did so because you love me. And I love you. We were to fight the dragons together."

"And when the dragon is your past with my sister?" 

"You do not understand," he ran a hand through his hair. "I knew the whole of my marriage to Edwina that she could possibly leave me. And I would have been ok with it. I was ok with that. It caused me no pain. But the thought of you leaving me, Kate. I know you can. Once you are divorced once, you become very aware of your own failures. I know you can leave me, and you have more of the means to do it than your sister did. But the thought of you leaving me? It is like a pain I have never felt before in all my years of life. Not even when my father passed. I was a shell when you married, and I would become even worse if you ever left me again. Worse because of my children." 

"I would never deny you the children," she said quietly. 

"And now you speak like you are," he nodded softly and let her hand go and she sighed and looked away. 

"I am so lost Anthony," she said quietly. "I love you so much, at times it scares me. But then I think of all that I lost in your marriage to my sister, and it devastates me." 

He nodded quietly. "But we are having a baby together. That is something I have never experienced." 

"But you tried to," she said with a sad smile. "It just did not happen." 

He looked away. "I thought we were ok," he said. "I thought we were good. Why did you not say anything? I could have relieved your fears." 

"These are deep fears, Anthony. Fears that I have had since you started your courtship with my sister. A thorn on a rose, I believe you said." 

"I did not mean it!" 

"You did," she smiled sadly. 

"I was stupidly competitive. A Bridgerton all the way through." 

"Anthony if someone did that to your daughter. If someone did that to Josephine, what would you do?" 

He was quiet again. 

"I wish I could give you everything I took from you, Kate," he whispered. "Tell me what you want me to do and I will do it. I would give up anything for you. I would do anything to be with you. I would do anything to stop this hurt I have caused you."

"Me asking you to do anything like that would be hypocritical." 

"No, it would not! Make your demands Kate! My God! Fight for me! Fight for us," he exclaimed. "For our children!" 

"I have been fighting for us," she hissed. "I have been trying to be the perfect viscountess, preparing the house for this season. I have two balls already organized. I am pregnant! And all I want to do is relax, but I cannot do that because I have duties to attend to as your wife. I have to make calls, and visit modistes, and pretend to care about the newest fashions and gossip." 

"I demand none of that from you!" 

"I demand it of myself because I must prove to the people of the ton that I am not my sister," she yelled. 

"You have to prove nothing!" His chest heaved from breathing too hard. "You think you have to prove yourself to earn my love and respect? You think you have to prove yourself to earn the ton's respect? Hang the damn ton! Everyone who matters to our family already knows that you are everything that you need to be! And I would be happy to never have to deal with the damn ton again! It is not you that they point their derision to it is me and your sister! You just are in the way at times because you do so damn well at being a Bridgerton that it offends their sensibilities. My family is ancient. And if I did not think we would survive the scandal of a divorce, I would not have done it. But I did do it. And I got you. And I am the happiest I have ever been in my entire life because of you. You think it matters to me if you show up to every function society has to offer? No. In fact, I would be glad should you decide not to attend! Like it or not, you are a Bridgerton. And the invites will always be there. And the Portia Featheringtons and the Lady Cowpers of the world will always look to you as their guide because of who you are, and they cannot stand that it is not them." 

She stared at him with watery eyes and held his hand. She was exhausted. Emotionally. Physically. Mentally. "I do not know what is wrong with me," she cried. 

"Sweetheart," he sighed and moved close to her, pulling her into his arms. "You cannot keep pulling away from me like this. You have got to learn to trust that you can lean on me. I could have helped with this whole dinner party. I can help with the season, that is why I am here! I too am the head of this household. I do not expect you to do everything." 

"I tried so hard," she sniffed. "I tried to do everything." 

"You succeeded, my love. You did everything and more. But you are not alone. Lean on me. I am here for more than just to slake your physical needs. If you need something, you need only ask, and I would move the mountains to get it." 

"I did not mean to make you feel as if you were only there for certain needs," she sobbed.

"I rather enjoy those needs, as I have the same. Kate, I have not had my needs met in five years. You think I would turn you away now," he chuckled. 

"Perhaps if you would seek me out sometimes then I wouldn't feel so bad." 

"Darling, you do not want to give me that power." 

"Why not," she asked. 

"Because you would never leave your back." 

"How shocking, sir," she laughed. 

"Perhaps," he leaned in and placed a gentle kiss to her mouth, then used a hand to wipe her eyes. He kissed her again. His arm cushioning her neck as he laid her back. "But I am convinced if you knew the full extent of how much I need you, then you will never want me again." 

"Is it so bad?" 

"I have not had you on a horse yet, wife. And that is the tamest desire I have of you that I can think of." 

"How would that work," she laughed as he unlaced her nightgown, while placing a kiss to one full breast. 

"I assume we would be riding." 

"Fast," she panted. 

"No doubt," he focused his attention to her other breast as his hand wandered to the juncture between her legs. "I also have other voyeuristic fantasies that may or may not involve me taking you in public and making the men jealous as you scream my name." 

"I have never screamed your name," she moaned, and he chuckled again. 

"Keep telling yourself that, my love." 

"I am a composed, lady. That would be beneath me." 

"Well, it happens most of the time when you are beneath me." 

"You scream my name too," she said breathlessly. 

"I am not the one in denial, my love." 

"I cannot help it," she said. 

"That means I am doing my job right." 

"So it is a job now," she wiggled against his seeking fingers. 

"A job that I thoroughly enjoy." 

"Anthony, stop. I cannot think," she moaned. 

"That is the plan." 

"I need to focus." 

"You need to let go," he said. 

"I am mad at you." 

"I know." 

"I love you." 

"I love you too." 

"You are not getting away with this so easily," she said, and he laughed. "I mean it Anthony Bridgerton! This is not over!" 

"I do not doubt it." 

"Anthony," she said quietly. 

"Hmm?" 

"Hold me." 

He took her arms and pinned them above her head, as he knew she liked to be pinned down by him as she found her release, screaming his name. He made quick work of the rest of his clothes, before pushing into her, happily absorbing the aftershocks of what would the first of her many orgasms that night. Though she would again thoroughly deny screaming his name again in the morning as he took her again. 

 

 

Chapter Text

Anthony walked up behind his wife in her suite as she prepared for the day. She was staring at herself in the full-length mirror, her hands cradling her round belly as she sighed loudly. He took her in his arms and inhaled deeply. Lillies. She only recently just started to use the scent again after he told her about his obsession with her in those early days. 

"Lillies," she laughed. "Anthony. Really?"

"Do not judge me," he chuckled. "I might be an animal but it's entirely your fault." 

"How am I this big already? I look like I am near confinement, not five months along," she sighed again. Truthfully, she still looked small in his eyes. Sophie for what it was worth was much bigger than her. The poor girl had to be carried by Benedict in and out of rooms if she wanted to escape her own. Though Kate was tall, she was svelte. Her lithe form haunted his good dreams for those years he couldn't have her. And then when he finally saw her again, the additional curves added by motherhood had him taking himself in hand more times than he could count until he could have her. She was large enough to tell the family because the cut of her dresses needed to be adjusted, and everyone was ecstatic, especially the matrons. 

His mother would not let him go for a full hour and a half after their announcement, though she confirmed she already knew. Lady Danbury had done the same to Kate, probably because she had continued to beat herself up for her part in Kate's marriage to the duke. It was the new beginning that the family desperately needed, that couldn't come from Benedict and Sophie. It had to come from him. It had to come from Kate. 

Lady Whisteldown had been kind to Kate. 

It seems that our dear duchess, has done a world of good to ease the scandal enfolding the Bridgerton family. A task she seems to have taken upon herself all her own. Not only has she been present for many of the social events offered by society's highest ranks, but she has also been present at the queen's side, ensuring her new sister-in-law, the diamond Francesca Bridgerton, has all that she needs to navigate society's shark infested waters, all but rendering her husband, the viscount moot. It takes a special kind of woman to wrangle the Bridgerton family and it seems that Kate Bridgerton is indeed that woman, filling the shoes of a sister who cared too little to be bothered. It is a wonder what the viscount saw in her in the first place. 

Anthony was a strong man but coming off of Kate's insecurities about choosing her second he had to admit that that specific sheet had hurt. He placed a gentle kiss to her neck. "You look as stunning as you did the day I met you. More so in fact, because you carry my child." 

"You have to say that," she mumbled. 

"I do," he nodded. "But I do not have to mean it. And this I do mean. You are beautiful." He laid his hands on top of hers. He had always dreamed of her body changing as his child grew inside her, but his imagination brought him nowhere close to reality. She was stunning. Not only in her looks, but the way she glowed and carried herself when she was with child. At times raging jealously would fill him that Henry and Josey were not his by birth. That the duke got to see her filled this way first. He was very aware that the duke adored her, after reading the letter that he had left her. She'd allowed him to read it and burn it. He loved her. But she hadn't loved him. And in that there was a friction that the duke couldn't stand which caused him to make choices that would restrict her from ever leaving him. Because when you had a woman like Kate, the fear was there. The fear that she would some day wise up to the fact that he was unworthy of her. But he would never lay a hand on her. Beg, grovel, plead, kneel before her and worship at her feet, most definitely. But he would never physically harm her. 

He turned her in his arms and kissed her gently. "Listen to me Kathani Bridgerton. Not a day goes by when I don't think that you are the most beautiful woman in the world. You know how many times I had to threaten a gentleman at last weeks ball." 

"Seems the new viscountess does you credit, Lord Bridgerton," Lord Fife said. "I should have snatched her up before that blasted duke did." 

"She is blooming," Lord Hamilton said. 

"What I would not do to, -" 

"That is enough. She is beautiful and she is my wife. Do not think I will not hesitate to call you out if you overstep." 

Kate giggled. "You did not." 

"I did," he laughed. "So did Benedict and Simon." 

She shook her head. "It is hard to believe that when you spend your whole life elevating a beautiful sister."

"And still I only saw you," he whispered. "What are your plans for today, my love?"

"To survive," she laughed. "No. Violet is handling Francesca's suitors today, so I do not need to head over to Number 5, so I may just hang out with Sophie. I am glad you convinced her and Benedict to stay here for the season. I would be going insane if she was not here." 

He was too. Benedict had become irreplaceable to him this season, riding back and forth for him to Aubrey Hall to see to tenant issues while he was at Parliament. And their bond grew as they dealt with their wives and marriages, and first-time fatherhood. 

"Will you be at Parliament today?"

"No. I just have some accounts to settle around town. I'll be back before noon to take Henry on his horse ride." 

"Oh good. You did not yesterday, and he was not happy with you." 

"I know," he laughed. "He let me know when I was reading him his bedtime story last night. He has his mama's angry face." 

"He does not," she pushed him gently.' 

"He does," he kissed her gently. "And I hope our baby has it too." 

 

Kate was in the drawing room. The house was quiet. The children were down for their naps, and Sophie was as well. She'd found a book about some Greek adventure, but truthfully she was only skimming through it. A lot needed to be done before the dinner party next week and all she wanted to do was relax. Anthony would tell her to resource it out, but she felt better about herself when the decisions came from her. 

She looked up when she heard a knock on the door. It was Eloise. "Kate can I talk to you?" 

"Of course, sweetheart," she sat her book down on the side table and motioned for her to have a seat beside her. "What is on your mind?" 

"I have concerns," she began. "About Penelope and Colin." 

"You mean their lack of relationship," Kate said and Eloise giggled. 

"No," she said. "I mean that I found out last season that Penelope is Lady Whistledown." 

Kate choked on the tea she was sipping, and Eloise patted her on the back a few times. "I am sorry. Oh my gosh, how embarrassing." 

"Are you alright?" 

"No," she coughed again. "I mean yes. I mean. I kind of assumed, but to hear it confirmed." 

"How did you know?" 

"My first season, she printed something that she told me word for word in the sheet," she shook her head. "She talks like she writes." 

"I never noticed until I noticed, you know," Eloise said quietly. Kate slid closer to her and wrapped her arms around her sister-in-law. Eloise laid her head on her shoulder. "I feel like I lost a friend. A sister." 

"I know," Kate ran a hand over her hair. "I know exactly what that is like."

"You do," Eloise looked up at her.

"I have loved your brother from the moment I met him. And he chose someone else, my sister. Half of the reason I married the duke is because I knew that we would not be around as often. He ran in different circles. I lost a sister the day they married."

"I did not know," she whispered. 

Kate inhaled deeply. "It is something your brother and I are working through on a daily basis. It is something that you and Penelope will need to work on as well. Especially if Colin is persistent in his pursuits. But between you and me, that man does know up from down right now, so you have time."

Eloise giggled. 

"And I think you should talk to your brother," Kate continued. "I will not betray your confidence." 

"What would Anthony be able to do," she asked. 

"He takes his duty as your protector very seriously, Eloise Bridgerton. And if Penelope and Colin are not fully honest with each other and the family especially about her scandal sheet. Then he will not sanction the marriage. Colin has an inheritance, but Anthony has been supporting him and will continue his support. You know your brother." Eloise nodded and sniffed. 

"I was always so hard on him."

"He knows you love him," Kate sat back and held Eloise to her side. Eloise giggled as she rested a hand on her belly. 

"It is hard to believe that my brother is going to be a father, again." Eloise laughed. "I mean I never imagined. Daphne of course was fit for motherhood from the beginning. But I see Anthony with Henry and Josey and it is like he is a changed person."

"He is. And soon you will have two more little nieces or nephews running around here to help care for," Kate laughed and Eloise groaned. 

"I forgot about Benedict. A little Anthony and Benedict running around. They were monsters when they were children." 

"You have met your niece, Josephine, right?" 

"Touche," she laughed. "She is a menace."

"She absolutely is." 

 

Anthony handed the footman his coat as he walked into the foyer of Bridgerton House. He walked past the staircase heading to his study when he heard a quiet voice. "Papa." He looked up to the top of his staircase and saw Josephine sitting there. She knew better then to attempt the stairs on her own. 

"What are you doing, little girl," he exclaimed quietly as he made his way up the stairs. She reached out to him whimpering. 

"Papa." 

"Did you escape from the nursery again," he lifted her onto his hip and she laid her head on his shoulder. She was tired, that much was clear. "You have got to stop doing this. It scares the nursery staff." 

"No, papa." 

"Yes, sweetheart," he rocked her side to side gently and she yawned. He would be lying if he said he wasn't impressed with her creativity. She reminded him so much of Kate, of whom he imagined Kate to be as a child. Mary had told him stories, and he had reveled in them. He would be so lucky if the baby was just so. The perfect mix between Henry and Josephine. He saw from the corner of his eyes a tiny face peaking out from his bedroom. Henry was up from his nap. 

"Hi papa," he grinned. 

"Go get your riding boots, son."

"No," he said. 

"I beg your pardon," he raised his brow at his son who straightened up. 

"Yes," he ran back into his room. 

Shaking his head he handed a sleeping Josey back to her frantic nurse who was all apologies. "I am so sorry, sir! She just slips out!" 

He raised his hand and shook his head. "I am well aware of my daughter's antics. Lady Bridgerton and I will see to the children's care tomorrow. You have yourself a well deserved day off." 

She inhaled a shaky breath and with another curtsey, just a little one as Josey was in her arms, she took the toddler back to the nursery. He looked away and down to the bottom of the staircase to see his mother watching with a small smile. "Fatherhood suits you, my darling." 

"Remind me to give her a bonus," he chuckled and his mother laughed out loud. "Did you just arrive?" 

"Yes. Francesca's suitors have finally dispersed. I really missed you there today, darling." 

"I trust Francesca's mind more so than any of my other sister's," he laughed. "She knows what she wants, and she will have it or not marry at all." 

"Much like your father," Violet mused. "And like you." 

"Well I must admit I take the long way to get to where I want to go."

"You do," she smiled. "But the wait was rather worth it, don't you think?" 

Kate, Henry, Josephine, a marriage of love, and laughter with children. He could only nod. 

 

It was Violet's idea for the entire family to get out and enjoy a picnic at the promenade the next day. It was a way for the little ones to run their legs, and for Sophie to get some much-needed fresh air. Their family's tent was close enough to the pond so that they could feel a small breeze, but far away enough to discourage the little ones to jump in. 

It seemed the entire ton was there that day enjoying the fair weather. Things were going well until Cressida Cowper decided to make her way to the family. Cressida was out these last seven seasons and had still made no match. That wasn't saying much to Kate as Kate recalled her as being a truly terrible girl. It seemed she was here for Sophie today. 

"Mrs. Bridgerton," she all but sneered. "I see you are taking advantage of your most advantageous match. It is a wonder why you are out so late in your confinement. Surely you cannot feel comfortable with the eyes on the ton on you." 

"Miss Cowper, -" Sophie began but Kate was having nothing of it. Sophie was having a good time, and she would be damned if she allowed Miss Cowper to ruin it. 

"And where is your husband," she continued. "I think I saw him acting the fool chasing a couple of small children around earlier." 

"Miss Cowper," Kate stood. "I wonder at you coming over here on by yourself and choosing to insult her, as if our family would ever condone or agree with you." 

"Lady Bridgerton, -" 

"Furthermore," Kate continued. "I hardly think you can speak of matches as you, yourself have not made one these last seven years, and you were to be one of the prime catches of your season?"

"I beg your pard, -" Cressida's gasp was so loud she was attracting attention. The wrong attention. 

"Do not interrupt me when I am speaking," Kate snapped. "You insult my family, and you insult my children, and I will have no more of you. Now pick up the dignity you have left that you dropped on the ground and walk away. We do not want you here. Claiming to be a lady and acting the fool," Kate held up her hand and turned her head. "No wonder no one will have her," she muttered to Lady Danbury who was looking on in amazement. "Foolish girl, indeed." She looked up and realized every eye of the ton was on her, as Cressida walked away. And then the sound of the applause was heard across the park, most of the men staring at her in awe and lust, and the women demanding an encore. 

She only cared of Sophie though, who was looking at her in awe. "That was," she started. "Thank you, Kate." 

She nodded as she saw their husbands run over. 

"What in the devil happened," Benedict exclaimed. 

"Kate got rid of the trash," Violet said and squeezed her daughter-in-law's hand, then turned to her youngest three daughters. "Take note girls. That was a performance for the ages." 

Kate felt Anthony pull her into his side. He kissed the side of her head. "That was a remarkable performance, my beautiful wife. But next time could you do so in more of a remote location. I am already having to fend of men who are already in love with you. I do not know how much more I can take." 

She laughed and gave him a gentle kiss. "My heart only beats for you, Anthony Bridgerton." 

 

 

Chapter Text

Sophie was in labor. Her screams filled the family suites, so it was a good idea to keep the children distracted, and he hadn't the heart to send them to Daphne's. So as Kate helped their sister-in-law through her first labor and kept Benedict from being a pile of clothes on the floor, he was on father duty. And Colin was helping. 

More like Colin was plying the children with so much sugar he was sure that bedtime was going to be a real mess. 

He would be lying if he didn't admit that Sophie being in labor wasn't making him anxious. It meant that Kate only had a few months to go. 

Benedict burst into breakfast this morning just when Kate and Anthony had finally convinced Josey that her eggs were not out to get her, and that she needed to eat them. One incident with Milo accidentally getting on the table and running across her breakfast plate which in turn landed in her lap, had apparently scarred her for life. 

"Sophie is pregnant," Benedict yelled. 

"Yes, very good Benedict," Kate laughed. "The poor girl can barely walk, but I credit you for figuring it out before she gave birth." Anthony snickered and took a sip of his water. 

"Kate," Benedict gasped. "No. I mean she is in labor." 

"Ok," she spooned another bite of eggs into Josephine's mouth, who whined. "Do not spit those out, young lady," she scolded their daughter. "Why are you here?"

"Are you not going up to attend her?" 

"Yes, I will eventually. But I hardly think she needs me now." She smiled at Henry, completely unbothered. "Now why are you here and not with her?"  Josephine removed the food from her mouth with her hand and put it on the table next to her plate and Kate sighed. "Menace." 

"Gentleman cannot be in the birthing chamber," Benedict looked affronted and looked at Anthony who looked at his wife confused. "It is not done." 

"Kate, -" 

"And why should they not be," she glared at Anthony. "Your brother will be, I will give him no choice." 

"Kate," Anthony sputtered. "What?" 

"You were there at the creation," she turned to Benedict. "And you can be there at the culmination." 

"Anthony," Benedict looked to his brother for help who only shook his head. 

"I know better than to go against my wife. And it does make sense brother." 

"You and Sophie never talked of this, at all," Kate demanded. 

"Never." 

"Well, that girl is going to receive some proper training from me when this is all over. Honestly." 

Benedict just stood and stared. 

"What are you waiting for," Kate asked. "Go! I will be there shortly!" 

Benedict was gone in a flash and Kate calmly went back to feeding their daughter. 

"You really want me there with you," Anthony swallowed. "To see you in that much pain?" 

"The duke was there for both of the children's birth. It was his idea. And as much as he hurt me, having him there with me holding my hand brought some comfort. Plus, he got to see them when they were brand new." She smiled at both of the children, and tapped Josephine's nose, who giggled. "I cannot imagine you not wanting the same for your own." 

Well, when she put it that way. He'd be damned if he let the duke outdo him. "Well then I will be there." He was going to make her birth experience ten times better than her first two. He would win this war. He was a Bridgerton who thrived on competition. 

"It is not a competition, Anthony," Kate stared at him, correctly summarizing his thoughts as only she knew how. 

He cleared his throat, "I never said it was."

Kate went back to feeding Josephine and Anthony went to his thoughts. Surely there was a book about this somewhere?

"ANTHONY BRIDGERTON," his wife's voice interrupted his thoughts. "It is not a competition!" 

"Of course not, darling," he patted her hand gently and took a bite of his eggs, smiling at Henry who giggled. Victory would be his. 

 

They were in the back yard enjoying the fresh air. The children loved it back here. Playing in the flowers in the garden that Grammy Violet had started, running along the fountains, and playing on the swings. And he loved being back here with them. At times he and Kate and the children would take dinner back here and enjoy the calm and just be a family with no responsibilities.

Colin was currently pushing Henry on the swing, and Josephine was bending over the flowers, most likely determined to pick some for her mama as she had seen Henry do yesterday. She was basically his shadow at the moment, and though Henry didn't much care for it, he let it happen without complaint. He walked over to her slowly, watching his little girl. Kate hadn't had the time to braid her hair back, so the ribbon holding her hair flopped over into her eyes as she looked down. Her tan skin on display in her white dress and she had taken her shoes off, because of course she was difficult and would not keep them on. One day he hoped to commission a painting of her exactly as this. She would only be this little for so long, but Benedict would remember. The children were quite handsome the both of them, and Josephine was a beauty. Take all that and the way she wrinkled her nose when she didn't want or like something. Or the twinkle in her eye when she was about to do something naughty. He was going to be in a world of trouble when she grew up, if she hadn't sent him into an early grave by then. 

In a way it happened in slow motion. The low hum of the buzz, signifying a bee nearby, Josephine standing and waving her hands in front of her face, the Josephine screaming and falling down as it stung her. He forgot how to breathe, and in the months he had been a father, he had never felt more like a failure. He ran the rest of the way to his little girl. He had never been so panicked. Colin asked briefly what was wrong and he demanded him to keep Henry away from the area. It wouldn't do for the little boy to get stung too. 

He recalled the hopelessness all those years ago, watching Kate get stung and he could do nothing to prevent it. This was exactly that. Only now he had to be strong for his baby. He could not panic on the outside, because then Josey would panic. He fell on his knees in the grass in front of her. "Josephine," he breathed. "Look at papa, baby." He checked for any signs of discomfort. The bee stung her on the arm, but it wasn't swelling, and she was crying enough to confirm that she was breathing properly despite her face being red and full of tears. She reached for him and he couldn't deny her. 

"I know, little one," he took her into his arms, ignoring her dirty dress. "Let papa see your arm, my love." She raised her arm to him, her lips curled into a pout as he took her arm and check again for any signs, but confirming there were none, he placed a gentle kiss over the sting. "There now," for the first time in a minute he felt his heart rate begin to settle. "It was just a bee. You scared papa to death." He kissed her tear-stained cheek. 

Colin raced over his face as white as a sheet. "Is she ok," he asked. 

"She is fine," he smiled down at Henry who was looking up at them confused as Colin examined Josey's arm for himself.

"It is not swollen, and she is breathing. That is a good sign, right," he asked. 

"A very good sign," Anthony said. "But I'm ok with not testing fate again and playing away from the flowers for the rest of the day, yes?" 

"Yeah papa," Henry looked relieved. 

"How about," Anthony crouched down to his son's level while still holding Josey. "How about we all go for a ride? You can ride with Uncle Colin, and Josey can ride with papa." 

"Yeah!" 

He placed another kiss to Josey's arm, who giggled in return, already feeling better, most likely to do with all the gentleman's attention on her and only her, and just the thought was enough to make him want to crawl back into bed. He already had grandfather's and father's pushing for arranged marriages with their grandsons and sons, when they came of age. They were coming for Henry too, the poor lad. He placed a gentle kiss to the side of her head and whispered, "Stop being so adorable." Then they were off to the stables, with Henry on his Uncle Colin's shoulders laughing happily. 

 

Sophie's labor was long and grueling, and Benedict fainted no less than three times, which means she lost the bet to Simon. But after twelve hours of labor, and an hour of pushing, Benedict and Sophie were the proud parents of a quite large, newborn, baby boy. Charles Bridgerton was his father's twin and his mother's sweetness. Kate had the honor of placing the baby in Benedict's arms for the first time, and the look of awe that transformed his face into something she wished she could capture on canvas. Of all the Bridgerton brothers, she was closest to Benedict. His tender heart was something that had always enraptured her. When she first met him, she demanded, much to his amusement, how it was possible he was even related to Anthony. In another life she could have fallen in love with Benedict Bridgerton. But this life she needed someone to push her so she could push back. She needed someone to compete with. She needed someone to fulfill her every fantasy. And all of that had been fulfilled by the eldest Bridgerton brother.

She closed the door and headed downstairs to the drawing room. The family had been there for supper, and Anthony said that he would save her a plate, to which she was grateful. Everyone stood as she entered, and her children ran up to her. 

"Mama," Josey squealed. The ribbon was no longer in control of her black curls as she flew to her. 

"Hello, baby," she exclaimed. She bent and opened her arms, as both her children raced into them. She would never get tired of this. The way they ran to her when they hadn't seen her in a while. She dreaded the day when it would no longer happen. 

"Well," Violet stood, her eyes wide as she played with the wedding ring that hadn't left her finger since before Edmond had passed. 

"A boy," she smiled and the whole room clapped. "They named him Charles. He's a big boy with a healthy pair of lungs, but quite handsome." 

"Oh," Violet's hand went up to her mouth as she chocked back a sob. 

Kate smiled at her. "I am sure that the baby is anxious to meet you," she gave her mother-in-law permission to leave, and she took it immediately. Racing out the door leaving an amused room full of her children in her wake. 

Anthony pulled her to his side, "I have some cold meats and cheeses saved for you." 

"I love you," she grinned. "What did you all do today," she looked down at Josey still clinging to her skirts. 

"We played outside, and went for a ride," he smiled. "Josey got stung." 

"What," Kate exclaimed and looked down at her little girl. She lifted her up onto her hip as best she could despite her stomach. "Is she alright?"

 Anthony gently took the toddler's arms and showed Kate the little spot that was slightly red, but still not swollen. "She is perfectly fine. It scared her more than anything. And her papa too." 

Kate gave him a sad smile, and reached up to cup his cheek. "I am sorry my love, that must have been hard." 

"I gave the order to tear out every single flower in the back yard, but my mother overrode me." 

Kate laughed. "I knew Josey got her flair for the dramatics from someone." 

"Just what are you implying," he demanded. 

"You know exactly what."

 

A new baby in the family was a cause for celebration. After Anthony had met his new nephew, and congratulated Sophie on a job well done, he only wanted his wife. After baths for the children, and multiple bedtime stories for Henry thanks to Uncle Colin from earlier, Anthony found Kate in their bed by the time he was done kissing the children goodnight. It did not surprise him as she tired easily these days, but he had other plans.

"Lady Bridgerton," he mumbled as he climbed in behind her. He had had her like this a lot recently, accommodating their child's growing home. It would be easy to lift her gown and slip inside.  But she recently hadn't been feeling desirable so he was certain a fair amount play was going to be needed. And he was very up to the task, in more ways than one. 

"Lord Bridgerton," she mumbled. 

"I need you," he whispered. 

"How can you desire me like this?" 

"You do not wish for me to answer that question." 

"Why not," she asked. 

"Because I would have to tell you that it gives me great pleasure for every man in the ton to see you and realize that I did this to you."

"How perverse," she laughed, and he shrugged reaching for the area between her legs and feeling a little shock at how ready she was for him already. He reached for a pillow to place under her to give her a little extra support and comfort. He loved this part of lovemaking while she was pregnant. He could make her scream his name in a way that he had never been able to with another woman. He put effort into their encounter in a way that he had never before. He could make her sing, moan, gasp, scream, and cry out with relative ease, though she did love to challenge him when she denied her own completion, making him work for her that much harder.

She was truly a magnificent woman. 

Lovemaking during her pregnancy was allowing him to get creative. He had to make her comfortable in order to make her feel good. And the two had embarked upon hours upon hours of experiments to find which position worked best, now that he couldn't be in their favorite position with him on top of her. Dominating her. Holding her down as she found her release and demanding more from her until he found his own. 

"Lift your leg, sweetheart," he whispered in her ear, and she yielded to his demand, both of them moaning in his relief as he pushed into her finding home. One arm found its way, cradling her head, and the other found its way to her hand that was cradling her belly where their child slept. "Promise me," he whispered. "Promise me that we will always have time for each other. For this. Despite our exhaustion with having three children. That we will ensure that this is our time." 

"I promise," she whispered back. There were moments between them sometimes that felt so intimate that he himself felt like an intruder, and this was one of them. The quiet intimacy they had with each other as they took each other to new heights was something he never experienced, and it was something he was never letting go. 

He knew she was close when her hand squeezed his firmly. "Let go, sweetheart. I am right there with you." 

"Anthony," she whimpered. 

"I know, sweetheart. I know." 

They often found release together, but most of the time he would deny himself to make sure she could reach maximum pleasure. Tonight he could not. 

She inhaled deeply as she turned to kiss him which he returned quite passionately. He leaned his forehead against hers as he fought to control his breathing. 

"That was, -" 

"Incredible," he finished for her. 

"It is always incredible," she admitted. "But that was almost like our first time." 

He would never forget the first time he had her, the first time they had each other. Aubrey Hall. The windows open as the breeze blew into his room while he took her in any way that he could. In his bed. Up against the window. On the floor in his dressing room. 

"Do you regret we did not wait?" 

"No," she said immediately. 

"Are you sure." 

"I needed you. What you gave me. The way you held me. The way you helped me forget." 

"You helped me forget too. The divorce. The scandal. You gave me life when every one of my responsibilities were overwhelming me."

"Anthony," she whispered. 

"I would like to name him Edmond," he said. "If it is a boy, I mean. I would be happy with either. I hope it is a girl, though of course eventually I hope we can have both. But if it is a boy, I would like to name him for, -" 

"Your father," she finished with a nod. "That is a perfect name for our son." 

"You do not object?" 

"Why would I object," she asked. 

"Just that maybe you wanted to name him for your own." 

"I am not English, my love," she chuckled. "I am Indian. We do not follow these naming traditions as you do. Sometimes we do, but my father lives on in my children. I see it in Henry's laughter and Josey's precociousness. I cannot wait to see what this little one inherits." 

"I am in awe of what you had to do to bring our children into the world and I confess that I am looking forward to being by your side through it all." 

"And what of a girl, my lord. Do you have any ideas for a girl? Violet for your mother?" 

"Benedict and Sophie have a claim to that name," he laughed. "I was thinking Lily." 

"Lily," she asked surprised, and he nodded. 

"You already said we cannot name her for you, so I want to name her with the thought of you in the back of my mind. I was hoping for Lilibeth or Liliana. I do not know. I found a name in a book." 

"Liliana," she tried the name on her tongue. "That is a beautiful name, my love." 

"It goes well with Josephine, I think." 

"Liliana Bridgerton. Lily Bridgerton. I mean we are a family full of flower names," she laughed, and he followed. 

"Hyacinth would be happy to know that she is not alone. She always has said that our mother's name does not count. We do have a distant cousin named Rose, I believe, but we have never met her." 

She moved to her back. Their baby made its presence known to him just the other day. Kate had been feeling movement for months, but Anthony could not which frustrated him to no end. After a particularly wild round of lovemaking, their baby had decided to voice their objection. 

"So, we are in agreement then. Edmond or Lily." 

"Edmond or Lily. Hopefully eventually we will have both." 

"Mmm," she stretched in the most delicious way. "Do we have any more of that oil that helps prevent those marks? I could really do with a massage." 

He chuckled and reached on his stand for the jar. A gift from Daphne who giggled when she gave it to them. Kate's skin was flawless, always using some kind of oil to keep it soft. She carried very few marks from her previous pregnancy. He demanded to know why his sister would laugh when giving a gift, but he soon found out. Massaging the oil into her skin was a new kind of love play. They had been through four jars already, and he wasn't even sure if it was actually needed. 

"Talk to your child while you do it," she laughed. "He just woke up." 

"Well she definitely is like her papa, is she not?" 

"You better hope he does not have any of your nocturnal tendencies!" 

"I seem to recall a few nights you kept me up yourself," he laughed as he saw her blush in the candlelight. He opened the jar and put some of the oil in his hands, warming it before massaging it into her belly. 

She only thought that she was going to sleep after this. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Anthony found his way to the sitting room after breakfast after a brief meeting with his steward. The children were distracted by chasing Milo around, so he found a seat beside Benedict and reached for his new nephew, he had yet to hold. 

"Hand him over," he said with a grin. "He needs to know his Uncle Anthony." 

"I feel he already does," Benedict laughed and handed the baby over gently. "He is two days old, and time is already flying too fast."

"I know the feeling," he took the baby in his arms, he crossed his ankle over his knee and propped the baby against his thigh so he could get a better look at him. "He looks like Colin did when he was a baby." 

"You sound like mother." 

"Well, it's true," he laughed. "He is all cheeks and rolls." 

"He is a big boy, for sure. My poor wife," Benedict chuckled. "Uh oh, brother. It seems your Josephine is a bit green."

Anthony looked up and saw that Josephine had abandoned playing with Milo and was staring at him across the room. Her tiny nose was scrunched up her face showing her displeasure. "Josephine," he called to her. "Are you not playing with Milo." 

She huffed and ran as fast as her tiny legs could carry her across the room, she climbed onto the sofa beside him. "Papa, no," she tried to push the baby away. "Papa," she whined. 

"Josephine, you must not," he used the arm not securing the baby and pulled her to his side. She stood on his thighs and buried her face into his neck and started to cry. "Josephine," he sighed. 

"Papa noooo," she cried. He saw his mother look up and give a sad smile. They were expecting this. Josephine had been the baby of the family these last months and she thrived as the center of attention. 

"Papa is just holding the baby, darling girl. He is your cousin. Do you want to meet him?"

"Nooo papa," she sniffed and refused to remove her face from his neck. He rubbed her back to sooth her. 

"Baby," he sighed. 

"Josephine, do you want to Uncle Ben to hold you," Benedict, bless his soul asked. "We can go get some sweet ice." 

"Ice," she looked at Benedict who nodded.

"Come," he held his hand out to his niece who fell into his embrace. "Let us see if we can scare some kitchen staff." Benedict moved the girl to his hip and carried her from the room, Henry running after them. 

"I coming too," Henry exclaimed and followed them out, Milo following close behind.  

Violet moved to sit beside him. "It is good that little Charles is here now. It will help her prepare for when your new little one arrives." 

"We expected some jealously." 

"I would be surprised if you had not," she chuckled and ran a hand over her new grandchild's hand. "I cannot wait to meet your baby. I always looked forward to becoming a grandmother, but your father and I were always looking forward to meeting your first little one the most. Of course, that is Henry. Your father would have adored him. But we did not get to meet him like little Charles here. Josephine of course was an infant still. I wish we had been there." 

"I know," he sighed sadly. "Me too. They could have been mine." 

"They are yours," she smiled. "Josey would not be so green if they were not." 

"I worry, mama," he said, and she gasped. He had not called her that since before he was ten years old. If she had known the last time he called her mama would be the last time, she would have savored it. 

"Why do you worry, my darling?" 

"Of what Kate has to go through. I remember you with Hyacinth. I cannot let her go." 

"Then do not," Violet said. "Kate has been here in this exact moment. Her body knows what to do. Keep her calm. Keep her loved. Keep her motivated. All will be well. And you forget. She has something to fight for. You and her children. Do not underestimate her." 

"I would never do so," he smiled. 

"Never for Kate," she laughed. "That would be impossible." 

 

Kate was trying to braid her squirming daughter's hair back for dinner tonight, but so far, she was unsuccessful. "Josephine, my love. You must sit still." Of course, Josephine whined. She had not been in a good mood since her nap this afternoon. "I am sorry that you are my daughter and you have a lot of hair. that is your lot in life." 

She looked up and saw Anthony leaning against the door way, chuckling quietly. "Having trouble?" 

"She will not sit still," she motioned to their daughter, who was playing with a book, fidgeting in her seat. "Which means I pull her hair. Which makes her angry because it hurts. Which leads me to tell her to be still. Which lasts only ten seconds. And then the cycle starts all over again," Kate sighed and reached for some oil, and rubbed it along her daughter's head. 

"She does rather have a lot of hair," he mused. When Kate shot him a look, he held his hands up in surrender. "I wonder if our own daughter will inherit your hair," he stood behind her, wrapping his arms around her, and pressed a kiss to the side of her forehead.

"You better hope not," she attempted to redo the braid on Josephine's left side, who turned and whined. "Josephine!" 

"Let me hold her while you finish." 

"Thank you," she let out a deep breath. Anthony took their daughter into his arms and sat her sideways across his lap. She leaned into him, playing with the ring on the his finger. He watched as his wife expertly managed their daughter's dark tresses into a braid and tied it off with a ribbon so that the girl had two identical braids going halfway back her head on each side. The remainder of her hair was down, and contained Kate's signatures curls. He kissed the top of her head and sat her down. She ran and jumped on their bed before they could get onto her about rumpling her dress. 

"She is a child Kate," he kissed her gently. "It is alright." 

"I still cannot believe that Lady Danbury invited them again. And that we are to attend. They despise me."

"You no longer need to fear them," he whispered. "They are far outnumbered. It would not do for them to insult you. Your mother just wants to give them a chance to see their great-grandchildren."

"And you agree?"

"I believe in second chances. If I did not, we would not be here." 

She huffed. 

"And do not forget, that your own son outranks them in every way. They have no other children. Everything they own should and will pass to Mary when they are gone. We have to support her."  

"At least we can leave if they become too much," she sighed into his chest. "This may be my last party before I reach my confinement." 

They looked over at their bed where Josephine was currently removing her slippers, she sighed. "Must my daughter be so much like me?" He laughed and moved to the bed to capture their wayward daughter. He put her slippers back on her feet and lifted her to his hip. 

"Let us go get Henry, who is hopefully behaving much better." 

 

Lady Danbury's home was imposing as it was beautifully situated. It always brought Kate a sense of calm when she entered. It was her first home in England, and she would always be fond of it. Tonight's dinner party would contain the Bridgertons, minus Benedict and Sophie, Lady Danbury, Lady Mary, and the Sheffields. 

Anthony handed his wife down, then Henry, and then Josephine all but jumped into his arms, giggling all the way. This was a new game that they had taken to play. Henry took his mama's hand and Josey was on Anthony's hip. He looked to his own mother who nodded, her face grim and serious. She too remembered the Sheffields. She had been completely unhappy with Kate that evening but had soon forgiven her. Edwina had chosen her own path to the viscount and Kate had objected at every turn until the very end. She also remembered how they treated her new daughter-in-law, and had talked to Anthony about it last night. She would be damned if she let them treat Kate that way this time. 

Of course, Kate was a completely different person now than she was back then. And if it was Lady Sheffield versus Kate, they would bet good money on Kate. 

The butler let them in and led them to the sitting room where they would wait for dinner to be served. The Sheffields were already there and glared at the newcomers. 

"Ah Lord and Lady Bridgerton," Lady Danbury's voice rang out. "And the rest of your family too! Welcome! I believe you all know each other." 

"Lord Bridgerton," Lady Sheffield's voice rang out across the room. "Last I heard, you were married to our granddaughter. Imagine my surprise when we come back to London and hear that a switch has been made." 

"I hardly think this is the time, mother," Mary snapped. "If you cannot be pleasant than you need not bother to be here. Kate is a duchess, her son a duke, and thereby outranks you in every way. And she is your granddaughter, whether you like it or not. If I could go back in time to make that choice all those years ago, I would choose my husband and Kathani every single time. I have hopes of you knowing your granddaughter and great-grandchildren. They are beautiful and they are mine. But if you cannot control yourselves, you may leave. Am I understood." 

Anthony looked to his wife who was staring at her mother like she had grown horns from her head. Lord and Lady Sheffield both looked at each other and nodded quietly. "Very well," Lady Sheffield spoke and looked again at Anthony. "I suppose an introduction is on order." 

Kate nodded and stepped forward with Henry who hid in her skirts. "It is alright, my love. This is Henry, Duke Lancaster. And," she motioned to Josephine who was staring at the strangers from her father's arms, her head tilted in confusion and a finger in her mouth. "Lady Josephine Grey. Henry, Josephine, these are your great-grandparents, Lord and Lady Sheffield." 

Henry looked at them in confusion, but then managed a proper bow they had been working on with him. Hyacinth giggled. "He is so cute," she whispered and Violet shushed her.

"Hyacinth!" 

"The Greys are a very powerful family," Lord Sheffield said. "I was sad to hear when the old duke passed. You have my condolences."

The entire room shifted uncomfortable, but Kate put a smile on her face anyway. "I thank you." 

Lady Danbury stepped forward and took Josephine from Anthony, who immediately started playing with her necklace. "It is time for supper." 

"The children are to eat with us," Lady Sheffield asked. 

"They have to eat as well," Lady Danbury said. "Do they not?" 

Anthony rolled his eyes and offered his arm to Kate who took it. She still had Henry's hand in hers as they all walked to the dining hall listening to Lady Danbury talk with Josey. 

"I hear you have been particularly naughty lately," she smiled at her adopted goddaughter. "Your hair looks beautiful today, Lady Josephine." 

"Mama." 

"Your mama did your hair," she asked the toddler. "Did you behave today." 

"No."

"I thought not," Lady Danbury chuckled as did the rest of the Bridgertons. "No. Keep your slippers on." 

They reached the dining room, and each found their assigned seats. The seating chart was simple and for the comfort of the guests, not so much rank and title tonight. Kate was next Anthony and Violet. Lady Danbury at the end of the table with Josephine on her right, and Henry to her left, next to Violet. Josephine sat next to Colin who was seated by Hyacinth, who was next to Gregory. Lady Sheffield sat at the end next to her husband who headed the other end of the table. Lady Mary sat next to her father, than Francesca and Eloise was next to Anthony. 

Eloise had come to lean on her elder brother in recent weeks since her discussion with Kate, and the duos relationship was stronger than ever. Eloise would not hesitate to run her mouth if needed. 

"There is to be another child," Lord Sheffield directed his question to Kate. 

"Yes," Kate smiled at Anthony. "Our first together, in a few months." Violet smiled. 

"We are all excited." 

"I wonder why Edwina never had a child?" 

Anthony looked down at his plate and Kate squeezed his thigh under the table. 

"Sometimes it is for the best when one does not have a child," Violet said and took a sip of her wine. 

Josephine stood in her chair, and Lady Danbury whispered to her. "You must sit down, my love." 

"Yeah Josey," Henry said. "Be a lady." 

Josephine pouted at Henry and pointed. "No!"

Violet leaned over and whispered to Henry. "We will handle it, my love." 

"She a mess," he rolled his eyes, ever the gentleman. Still Violet had to bite back a chuckle. 

Josephine took off one slipper and put it on the table next to her plate, then the other. Lady Danbury sighed a long-suffering sigh and took her slippers and placed them presumably in her lap. Anthony chuckled. 

"At least they know our suffering," he whispered to his wife and Kate smiled back. They watched as Josephine used her hands and picked up a piece of meat and put it in her mouth. 

"At least it landed in her mouth and not someone else's plate this time," Colin joked and the whole table laughed, the tension automatically broken. Even Lady Sheffield was looking at the little girl wistfully.

"She reminds me of you when you were younger, Mary," Lady Sheffield said to her daughter. 

Colin leaned over to his niece. "You must sit down, sweetheart. We do not want you to fall." 

She looked at him "Fall?"

"Yes, fall." Colin said. "You must sit down and eat your food." She stared at him for a moment, then a smile spread across her face. She leaned over and threw her arms around his neck and climbed into his lap. "That is not what I meant," he groaned, but his smile betrayed him. He pulled her plate closer and she reached for it with her hands. Kate shook her head. 

"We have a long way to go with this one," she said to Anthony and the whole table broke into laughter.

 

"Henry," they heard Colin exclaim. "You cannot climb the tree! You could fall." Anthony was helping Kate be mobile. She'd grown quite a lot these last two weeks, and she was slowing down as the end came nearer. 

"What is our son doing, now," she huffed quietly. 

"Terrorizing Colin," he chuckled. 

"Should we help him?" 

"No," he said. "Colin and I have a bet going. And I am winning." 

"A bet over your children." 

"A bet I can easily win. He thinks it is easy. He will learn to respect what Benedict and I are going through." 

He helped her sit down on a bench and she shook her head. "You Bridgerton boys are too much sometimes." 

He said nothing because he couldn't disagree. 

 

The storm came on suddenly and kept them awake. Kate had mostly gotten over her fear of them since she had children, but sometimes they still left her unsettled. They were in bed, her back against his chest as he held her from behind. He remembered long ago their conversation in the library in this very house. Aubrey Hall was full of memories of Kate. Forbidden memories that haunted him during his marriage to Edwina, he now gave himself permission to remember with pleasure. 

"I wish I had kissed you that night," he murmured into her ear. "That night during the storm and I saw you in the library. I wish I had taken you in my arms like I wanted and never let you go." He remembered it all. His confession about his father and how he had never felt more vulnerable. 

"I wish so too," she said, and squeezed his hand. 

This was something that they would have to live with for the rest of their lives. The span of time that felt so wasted when they could have just been together if they weren't so damn stubborn. The stolen moments, and touches, and laughter, where somehow, she had become the dearest person in the world to him even as she was vexing him. They heard a sound at the door, and then light flooded the room from the candles still lit in the hallway. The staff would put them out in an hour to ensure the occupants reached their rooms safely. 

He looked over his shoulder to see his son, holding his sisters hand. Josephine looked tired and confused, and he briefly wondered how the boy snuck her out of the nursery. 

"Josey was scared of the storm, so I went and got her," the boy explained, and Kate chuckled quietly. "Cause I a good big brother and I not want her to cry." 

"Was she crying," Anthony asked gently. Amused. 

"No," he shook his head solemnly. "Cause I was there." 

Kate sat up as quick as she could with her belly to manage. Josephine stood there still, twirling her hair and sucking on her finger, half asleep. No Josephine wasn't scared of the storm. But they would let Henry keep his story. "Come here, my loves. You can sleep with mama and papa tonight." 

Henry took off to their bed at a run, then probably realized that he was not the one who was scared and went back to get Josephine. "Come on. You don't need to be scared now." Kate and Anthony shared a look. Anthony climbed out of bed and lifted both children up on it. Josephine immediately found her spot by her mother, curled in tight at her breast. She hadn't nursed in weeks, but she still took comfort there when Kate was rocking her to sleep. 

Henry stayed close to his papa. "I did good, right papa? I protected her." 

"You did great, my son. Look. She feels safe now. She is asleep already." 

"MMhmm, cause I always protect her." 

"I hope you do." He shared a smile with Kate, who was rubbing the top of Josephine's head soothingly. "I hope you always remain as close as you do now." 

 

Kate knew that day when she woke up that there would be a new baby Bridgerton born. She remembered the contractions as if she had just gone through them yesterday, not over a year ago. She knew they would start out mild, and then grow stronger as the baby grew closer to being born. Her last two deliveries, though tough, were without complications. She had been able to walk through the first part of her labor with assistance, and then spend the rest of her labor in her birthing room. But these contractions were like nothing she experienced. They were tough and fast, and had Violet and Mary not been near her, would have taken her to her knees. 

"Call Anthony," Violet demanded the footman. "It is time." 

"Breathe, Kate," Mary implored. 

"This is different," she gasped. She bent over and clutched her stomach. They were in the upstairs sitting room. They would use the viscountess rooms as the birthing room, just as Violet had for every single one of her children. Her child would be born in the same room his father had been. 

"What is different, sweetheart," Violet asked gently. 

"This pain. It never started this way." Kate tried to remember Josephine's birth, but her thoughts were failing her. 

"Let us get her to the room," Violet told Mary who nodded. They led her out into the hallway which had a bunch of maids running back and forth to the rooms, bringing warm blankets and towels to prepare for the arrival of the newest little Bridgerton. The viscountess rooms had been cleaned and redecorated when Kate and Anthony had married, and they were at Haven Valley, though the room was to never be used except for the birth of children now. 

They made their way down the hall slowly, Violet and Mary on either side of their daughter, when they heard Anthony's voice at the bottom of the staircase. "Kate!" 

"Up here," Violet called to her son, and immediately heard footsteps coming up the stairs. She watched her son skid to a stop in front of his laboring wife. 

"It is time," he asked breathlessly. "Is it not to soon? I thought the doctor said another month." 

"Babies rarely listen to reason, my son," Violet huffed. "It is late enough that the baby will be alright." 

He swallowed; his eyes wide as he stared at his wife. "Kate," he whispered. This was his fear. For her to be in so much pain, and he couldn't take any of it onto himself. She huffed and then let out another cry as another wave hit her. 

"Anthony please," she cried. He immediately gathered her into his arms and carried her to the room, Violet and Mary followed close behind. Kate had wanted both of them there, and Lady Danbury. And they all knew that Anthony would be there as well so there wouldn't be any friction or demands that he exit. Mary helped Kate into a loose gown as Violet moved the chairs around the bed, so they could all sit, and help Kate be comfortable in-between contractions. 

"I need to stand," Kate moaned. "I need to walk." 

"Then let us walk," Anthony said quietly. 

"I cannot," Kate cried. "It hurts too bad." Lady Danbury walked into the room, and air of calm about her. 

"I hear a baby is coming," she took her seat next to Violet. 

"She is having trouble breathing," Violet said quietly. 

"Then we must get her to breathe," Lady Danbury quickly stood from her chair, and walked to Kate who was on the bed. "Kate you must relax." 

"This is too much. It was never this way," she panted. 

"Nevertheless, it is. Each labor is different, and this is your third one. Sometimes as you go your labors are quicker. But you need to breathe, darling." 

Another wave of pain hit her, and she hunched over into Anthony's arms. "I.... Can't!" 

"Kate," Anthony murmured. "You must. Come on. Inhale."

"Anthony, it hurts too bad," she held her breath as another contraction hit. "Damnit that hurts." 

"She is fighting the labor," Mary said and stood. "Kate, you must breathe, my darling. It is the only way through this. If you do not, you can harm the baby." 

Kate stared at her, tears filling her eyes. "I do not want to hurt my baby." 

"Then breathe, my darling. Through your nose." 

"It hurts," she whimpers. 

"I know," Lady Danbury. "But still, you must." 

Kate set her eyes on her husband, who looked terrified. He held her hand as he sat next to her on the bed, having kicked his boots off, and thrown his jacket onto a chair across the room. He looked as handsome as the day she met him, and now here they were, about to bring a new baby into the world. She felt another wave hit, much quicker than the last, and she finally inhaled. 

"There," Mary exclaimed. "See! You must do that again!" 

She inhaled and exhaled deeply three more times before the pain wore off, and feeling much calmer than she had, she laid against the pillow. 

"Are you alright," her husband asked her quietly as he sat beside her and pulled her into his arms. The matriarchs were talking of something in this week's Whistledown and Kate felt she had no interest in finding out what it was. 

"This is different," she whispered. "These pains. I usually feel this way at the end of my labors. These hit quick." 

"You felt nothing before?" 

"Just twinges in my back, but I have felt those for days." 

The midwife found them an hour into her contractions and examined Kate properly. "She is far advanced. I would say within the next two hours you should have yourself a baby." 

"Should we not call a doctor," Anthony asked his wife quietly. 

"Mrs. Connor will do just fine." 

"But, -" 

"No, Anthony," she shook her head. 

Anthony was becoming a bit stir-crazy. He would help her through each contraction, but immediately after he would feel useless, and it would read across his face. There was a pain she couldn't describe that would show. He was used to being the strong one for his entire family. Something that was born the day his beloved father passed from this earth. This he could not help in, and he didn't know what to do. 

Her next contraction hit her with a force that she had never felt before, and she immediately tried to bear down, causing the midwife jump up from her seat, and look under the sheets to see for herself what she already knew. Anthony coiled back in shock, and the three mothers, all sprang from their seats to gather around the bed. Even the maids seemed to become more alert. 

"It is time," the midwife nodded at Kate over the sheet. "When you feel the next one bear down, and breathe," she sent her patient a warning look. And so, Kate did. Anthony climbed behind her, holding both of her hands as she used his strength to help her sit, collapsing back against him after every strenuous push. Mary held one leg, and Violet held the other, while Lady Danbury kept to her side, her commands to "breathe," never ceasing, as Kate continued to push. 

"I do not think I can do this," Kate fell back to Anthony gasping. 

"You can," he insisted. 

"You do it for me," she whined, and he chuckled. 

"I wish I could." 

The midwife looked up, her face on alert. "I need to check something, my lady. Do not push." Kate felt everything, as the midwife felt inside her, as the contraction hit. She did everything she could trying not to push. She felt the lady remove her hand and the pressure lifted, just a little. "I think there are twins." 

"Twins," Kate demanded. 

"Twins," Anthony's voice sounded like he might faint. 

"Twins," Violet and Mary squealed and Lady Danbury shook her head in amusement. 

"It would explain why you are early, my lady. Twins tend not to hit exactly on their due date. No matter." 

"I cannot be having twins," Kate exclaimed. 

"Well, I do not believe there are three in there," the midwife said. "But there is definitely more than one." 

"Three," Kate breathed. "Is that even possible." 

"Quite possible," Mrs. Connor said matter-of-factly. 

Kate glared up at her husband. "You did this to me." 

"Me," he exclaimed. 

"Well, it definitely was not me. My first two pregnancies were normal!" 

"Kate I, -" 

"Ok, my lady," the midwife demanded. "Let us get this first one out." 

"First one," Kate's his turned into a groan. "Oh my God! Anthony Edmond Bridgerton, I swear you are never touching me again!" 

Anthony looked over at his mother in shock who bit back a smile. She had made that threat seven times and it never had worked. Nevertheless, she was glad that her son was in his wife's birthing room. It would show him to have a little more respect when he made demands on her time from here on out. 

"That is it, my lady," The midwife praised Kate. "We have a head," she motioned to the closest made to bring her a towel. Lady Danbury moved to the base of the bed to see, her eyes watered, as did Mary and Violet's as they looked. 

"Oh Anthony," Mary said amazed. "It looks like you." 

"That is not fair," Kate exclaimed. "I made them!" 

"Ok, my lady. Another push. Let us get these shoulders out so we can meet your baby whole, shall we." 

Kate gritted her teeth and bared down again. And then, relief. Her baby was held up over the sheet, crying and kicking their legs in frustration over the absolute terrible treatment it was receiving. 

"A boy," my lady. 

"Edmond," Anthony murmured and kissed her head. "We have a son. Another son!" They watched as their baby was handed off to the nearby maid, who began making quick work of cleaning and clothing him, when Kate felt another wave and squeezed his hands as she bore down again. 

"His sibling should not be too far behind. They were holding hands," the midwife chuckled. 

"Anthony," she groaned. 

"Yes, my love." 

"We are not doing this again." 

"Whatever you wish," he said and kissed her again. He looked up and winked at his mother who shook her head in exasperation. There would definitely be more Bridgerton babies. 

"Here we go," the midwife demanded another towel. 

"Definitely another Bridgerton," Lady Danbury chuckled. "Looks almost like Hyacinth." 

"A girl," Kate asked breathlessly.

"Not sure," she said amused. 

"Give me one more big push, my lady. Let us see if this is in fact all there is." 

"Better be," Kate groaned. 

If their son was born loud and despising his treatment, his sister was soft spoken, only crying a few times before blinking at her many doting grandmothers and besotted parents. "She does look like Hyacinth," Kate said in awe then pinched Anthony who winced. "Do I not get a say in how our children look?" 

Their son and daughter were brought to them together as the midwife dealt with the afterbirth. "It is better to keep them near each other as much as possible. Twins have a special bond, and it helps them to thrive when they are near one another." 

"Do we have names," Violet questioned quietly. Anthony had moved out from behind her and had sat beside her, as both babies were placed in her arms. They were both tiny in a way that confused her because she had gotten so large. Anthony looked stunned as he watched his newborns lay in his wife's arms. 

"We had decided on Edmond and Lily," Anthony looked to her in question. They had decided on the names when they were only expecting one or the other. But now that both were here both names were needed, and both names still fit. Edmond was very much his father's son, right down to the very wrinkle in the middle of his forehead when he was stern or concerned about something. And Lily did resemble her aunt Hyacinth, but she also resembled all of her aunts in a way. She had Daphne's long fingers, and Eloise's wide set eyes, and Francesca's quiet beauty. They were both tan like their elder siblings, something they got from her. And long, something they may have gotten from both of them. Lily had inherited her father's dimple. "Edmond Anthony and Liliana Sophia Bridgerton," he asked, and she nodded. 

"Those are beautiful names," Violet breathed and Mary nodded in agreement. 

She handed the children off to their father, who had to adjust his hold before he stood. Kate needed to be put into a bath, and the sheets needed to be changed to prevent infection and childbed fever. It was nearing four in the afternoon, and it dawned on Kate that the children had gone to the village with their aunt and uncles. Nobody would have known that she had gone into labor and the labor had gone by so fast. She had like that part of it. The quickness but only the quickness alone. 

"Anthony," she said quietly. "The children." 

"Leave that to me," Lady Danbury said, as Violet and Mary helped Kate to stand. "They should arrive back home soon. I will give you a few hours to adjust, then I shall bring Henry and Josephine to meet their newest siblings." 

"Josephine is going to throw a fit," Kate mused. 

"Oh, I know," Lady Danbury all but cackled. "And then I shall be her favorite. And she will have to come live with me!" 

"You truly are the worst," Anthony said amused. 

"And don't you forget it, Lord Bridgerton." 

 

Chapter Text

As soon as Kate was done with her bath, and installed in their bed, Anthony absolutely refused to allow her remain in the viscountess rooms for longer than the birth and had ordered fresh linens for the viscount rooms. Violet and Mary remained, holding the newborns as Kate prepared to feed them. Mary held Lily and Violet stared down in awe at little Edmond. Anthony propped another pillow behind Kate's back and gave her a gentle kiss. "I'll give you a few minutes and then I will bring up the children. Maybe I can sweeten up Josephine a bit, if Lady Danbury has not corrupted her yet." 

Kate laughed out loud. "I think we need to face the facts that our daughter is a terrifying little menace who has her own mind. IF she were not my daughter I would be quite proud." She paused then let out a soft chuckle. "I am still quite proud." 

"You would because you are a menace," Anthony pressed a kiss to her temple and stood. He pulled on his boots but left his jacket off. He could be informal around family, and with another kiss to each of his newborn's cheeks he walked quietly out the door. Mary handed Lily to Kate to nurse first. 

"You know," Kate said. "I do not know how I am going to do this when they are both hungry at the same times. I knew Bridgertons were fertile, but this takes the cake." Violet laughed at her daughter-in-law and sat softly on the bed next to her, still holding her newest grandson. Kate expertly got Lily to latch much to the relief of the hungry little girl. If they were going by personalities so far, it seemed that Lily had Henry's reserve, and Edmund took on Josephine's temperament. But they were babies and it could easily turn around. Violet cooed at Edmond as she stared down at him in her arms. 

For all that she was, hugely with child, the babies were quite small. 

"He looks so much like Anthony, I cannot look away," Violet said quietly with a soft smile. "My relationship with my son has not been without its fair share of tension and heartache. But he was still my first. And I will never forget the first time I laid eyes on him. I love all of my children equally, and Hyacinth is my youngest. But Anthony is my baby." 

"I quite understand. Henry is so special. The first time I held my baby, I knew everything would be right in the world," Kate said softly. "That somehow, somewhere, someone blessed me enough to be that little man's mama. There is nothing quite like it." 

Violet stared at her for a moment before leaning in and kissing her softly on the head. "I shall cherish my grandchildren. All of my grandchildren," she said softly. "But I shall cherish you more, my precious daughter." Kate felt a wave of emotion she quickly tried to push down. "It is amusing. Bridgertons are a competitive bunch. Leave it to Anthony to one-up his younger brother who just had his first son but having a son and a daughter." 

Kate laughed. "I wish he would tell me about his competitive plans."

Mary laughed. "I highly doubt he was thinking of twins when you guys conceived these two. I highly doubt he was thinking at all." 

Violet laughed and Kate blush. She and Anthony were not subtle about their love for each other and each other's bodies. It was becoming a running joke in the family over how long it would take each other to lay a hand on each other's body, whether it was a shoulder, an arm, a kiss to the cheek. "My son is not subtle. Neither was his father. That is why I had eight." 

"We are not having eight. He will be lucky if he gets even one more. Although now that I know he is capable of twins, he probably will not even get that." 

Mary laughed. "You are just as bad as the viscount, Kate," Kate blushed deeply. 

"Well, if he would stop being so damn irresistible, I would not have a problem, would I," Kate demanded as she shifted her daughter as she fussed quietly in that way that newborns do. "He flashes those dimples, and I am like a puddle on the floor." 

Violet chuckled. "Yeah, you are having eight children." 

"Yeah," Kate sighed. "Yeah, you're probably right." Kate looked back down at her daughter, resigned to her fate. 

 

Anthony smiled as he heard Josephine demand another candy from her brother outside the drawing room door. 

"You did not say please, Josey," Henry said. "Papa said you must always say please." 

"More pease," he heard her little voice say. He could imagine him handing out her hand to her big brother, accentuating her demand with her fingers opening and closing until he placed another piece in it. 

He pushed the door open and was automatically greeted with a squeal as Josephine forgot her candy and raced to him. "Papaaaaaaa," her voice waved as she ran, her arms held out to him. He caught her with a laugh and tossed her gently in the air. Her giggle was infectious, she was in one of those rare good moods that she had, and he had a feeling it was not going to last long.

"Lady Danbury said that Kate is in labor," Sophie said quietly from the corner window where she was holding her own infant, now over two months old, and who had rolls upon his rolls. Thank goodness, the twins were smaller than little Charles. He had a feeling Kate would never forgive him if they had been. He looked to Lady Danbury and she nodded with a smile. She hadn't told them the news yet. 

"She was," he smiled and sat Josephine back down who immediately returned to her brother's side, demanding her candy. "She has delivered safely. She is well," he looked at Benedict with a smirk who stared back in confusion. "As are the babies." 

"Babies," he asked. 

"Babies. Twins," he'd be lying if he said his chest didn't puff out a little with pride. "A boy and a girl." 

Benedict gawked at him and Colin burst out laughing. "Well, I think Anthony won that little bet, quite easily." 

"What bet," Sophie asked her husband with a glare and Benedict looked down. 

"There was no bet," he mumbled. 

"There was a bet," Colin said with glee. "Between these two idiots. Who could have a boy and a girl first. Josephine and Henry did not count." 

"Benedict Bridgerton," Sophie gasped. 

"Well," he said, eyes wide. 

"It was Benedict's idea," Anthony said with a smirk. 

"It was not!" 

"You asked. You wondered how quickly you could become pregnant again after the birth of a child safely!" 

"You came up with the terms," Benedict exclaimed. 

"You compared the ladies to livestock!" 

"BENEDICT," Sophie exclaimed. 

"Not you," Benedict rushed to her side. "Never you!" 

"Does Kate know about this?" 

"No," Colin smirked. "She would most definitely castrate him, and then he would have never had the chance to win. Too bad he already won before she knew." 

Anthony glared at him then noticed the smirk on Lady Danbury's face then baked down. "Yeah, you are probably right." Colin burst out laughing and Anthony snapped. "What is going on with you and Penelope? Find new ways to insult her again?" 

Colin immediately stopped laughing. "Who told you?" 

"Gentleman, -" Lady Danbury interrupted what was looking to become a brotherly spat. "I think there may be more pressing matters." She nodded to the children. 

"Oh," Anthony said and Benedict chuckled. 

"Scared of your daughter, brother?" 

"Which one," Anthony snapped back petulantly and Benedict glared back at him. 

"No Josey," Henry said. "No more. Papa will be mad if we upset our stomachs with too many sweets." 

"No," she pouted and kicked her legs against the sofa she sat on beside him. Anthony knew he would need to interfere before it became a full-blown tantrum and made his way over to his children. He knelt down in front of them. 

"What is going on," he asked them gently. 

"Josey wants more candy, and I say no more candy," he motions to the candy he put on the table away from Josey's prying hands. 

"You are such a good elder brother, my son," he said, and Henry smiled proudly. Josephine huffed and threw herself back onto the couch. "Little girl," he said amused. "If you were not so much like your mother, you and I would be going a few rounds." She stared at him as she always did when she was seeing if she would be able to get away with something. Like she assessed the situation to see if it would best suit her to try to throw a temper or not. She must have decided against it because she gave him a big smile that lit up her face. 

Either that or she was taunting him into submission before she made her move. Her mother had the same move. The last time she used it she ended up with a sapphire bracelet to match her ring, commissioned by the private jeweler the Bridgertons always used. 

"Henry," he said quietly. "Mama had the baby. Mama had two babies." 

"Two babies," his eyes widened. Henry was actually excited about becoming a big brother again. He adored Josey. It wasn't Henry who was going to be the problem.  "This many," he asked holding up two fingers. 

"Exactly that many," he chuckled. 

"Where they come from," he looked around. 

"Well, they came from inside mama's tummy." 

"How they get there," he asked, and Colin laughed and then tried to cover it up with a cough. 

That is a conversation for another day," he helped the boy down from the sofa. "Go stand by the door, and we will go see mama and the babies shortly." He watched as the little boy ran excitedly to the door. He looked at Josey who was staring at him, that same smile still playing on her face. Oh, she was definitely up to something. "Hey." She giggled and caught her foot in her hand and showed it to them. He ran a finger down the tiny limb tickling her and she giggled widely. "We have to go meet the new babies." 

"No." 

"Yes." 

"No baby," she pointed to Charles as she said it and wrinkled her nose. Charles was noisy and demanded a lot of attention. Attention that took the light off of her. 

"Mama's baby," he corrected. "Mama had the baby." 

"No," she said and looked at him like he was an idiot. It was humbling getting that look from your eighteen month old. "I mama's baby." 

"Yes," he chuckled. "You are. As is Henry. But Mama had another baby. Two babies." 

"No." 

"Yes," he corrected. "Would you like to go meet your new brother and sister." 

"No tank ooo," she said and turned her head the other way. Lady Danbury let out an undignified snort. she rolled over and tried to slide down off the sofa and he caught her and laid her over his shoulder which caused her to squeal, then let out a serious of giggles that had the whole room laughing. He moved to the door where Henry still stood, waiting patiently. The boy deserved something for how well he behaved. He didn't know of a more well-behaved little boy. Even six-year-old Auggie was a bit of a nuisance compared to his four-year-old. He made sure Josey was secure over his shoulder before reaching for Henry with his other hand. "Come. Let us go see mama." 

"No, mama," Josey squealed. She was determined, this one. 

"What the baby names," Henry asked. 

"You have a new little brother named Edmond, and a little sister named Lily." He looked down as they made it to the staircase and Henry looked weary. 

"I hope Edmond helps with Lily, papa," he shook his head seriously. "Because Josey makes me tired." 

He tried not to laugh; the poor boy looked positively exhausted now. Josephine was his shadow, and he never complained once. "You are a good big brother, my love. I am sure you will teach him how." By then they had made it up the staircase and he stopped and knelt down in front of him, making sure Josey's kicking legs were out of reach of her brother. "I am so proud of you," he kissed his cheek gently. A lot of times Josey outshined her elder brother because she was so rambunctious. He and Kate did their best to make sure he felt cherished and adored. "You know mama and papa love you very much." Edmond and Lily's birth would always hold a special place in his heart. But Henry would always be his first born, regardless of blood, he adored this little boy. Henry nodded quietly. 

"I go see mama now?" 

"Of course," he smiled. "Let us go see mama." 

"And the babies," Henry said. 

"And the babies." 

"No, baby," Josey shouted, still over his shoulder kicking her legs. Henry shook his head. 

They reached the door, and Anthony knocked gently to alert the room that they were there. Henry was used to Kate nursing. That wasn't the issue. They wanted both babies in Kate's arms when the children saw them first. He pushed the door open, and Henry rushed in excitedly, making it all the way to the bottom of the bed before he slowed down, his eyes widened, and he stopped. 

"Papa say you ok, mama," Henry said, his voice small. Of course, Henry was concerned about his mama's well-being first and foremost. He smiled and moved Josey down to his hip, who looked at the bed then looked away and sniffed. A thumb went to her mouth. 

Kate assured their son that she was indeed well, and he bounded to the best the rest of the way. "Wow, mama," he said as Violet helped him onto the bed gently. "They little babies, I think." Violet chuckled and Kate looked at her eldest son with adoration. 

"They are, indeed," Kate said quietly. "Do you want to hold one?" He nodded quietly, and Violet helped adjust him, before she helped Kate gently laid Edmond in his arms. It was really a good thing that they looked quite different. He had heard stories of twins switching places. He already had Josey to contend with. He didn't think he would survive that as well. Kate stared at their son, and he could tell from his spot that his wife had tears in her eyes. They had fought so hard to blend their families, but nothing would show their success as much as this. Henry bonding with his siblings. Josey was always going to be difficult, regardless. But Henry was to be a very powerful man as the Duke Lancaster. Edmond would be the Viscount, and head of the powerful Bridgerton family. Regardless of their birth fathers, this is what Kate wanted, and he in turn as well. A sort of fluidity between both lines because blood was not the only thing that created a family. 

They had done it. They had actually done it. And he felt himself fill with pride as he watched as Henry talked to his baby brother. 

"Hello," he said quietly. "You look like papa, I think. You lucky cause papa always your papa. But papa love me too. He told me," he looked up at him and smiled. Anthony bit back another wave of emotion. Kate pressed a kiss into his curls. Henry looked back down at his brother. "I your brother and I always protect you and Lily," he kissed Edmond's head. "Mama so nice, and she love us all. And grammy Mary, and grammy Violet. uncle Colin always have candy. Oops," he looked up at Kate. "I not supposed to say that." He giggled. "And uncle Ben and Auntie Sopi," Anthony chuckled at Henry's nickname for Sophie. "And Auntie Daphne and uncle SiSi. And uncle Greggy. And auntie Wina. And auntie Lelowise. And auntie Frannie and HyHy. Oh and Milo. Oh and Auntie DeeDee," he smiled and nodded as he mentioned Lady Danbury. "And Auggie and Melia, and Charlie." He looked with wide eyes at Kate. "That a lot of people to love, I think." 

"That is," she murmured her agreement softly. "We are lucky, are we not?" 

"Mmhmm," he nodded his agreement seriously. "And Josey too, but she a mess. But you help with her when she gets bigger, alright." Violet bit back a chuckle and Mary coughed to disguise hers. 

"No," Josey pointed at her brother. "No baby." 

"You were a baby like this too, Josey," Kate said softly. 

"No. I baby."

"Come," Kate motioned for Anthony to bring her forward. Anthony sat her gently on the side by the arm that was holding Lily and all of the sudden Lady Josephine Grey had a dilemma to solve. Kate was absolutely her most favorite person in the world. But Kate also held archnemesis number one in one Liliana Bridgerton. If she tried to move to the other side, that would be close to archnemesis number two, Edmond Bridgerton, and three, Henry Grey, who betrayed her by holding her archnemesis number two. But if she moved down the bed, it would be too far away from her mama, who was still her favorite person in the world. And if she didn't stay close to her mama, the invaders could take over, and that wasn't ok either. Of course, she could stay in her papa's arms, but her papa brought her into this mess, so she refused to look at him. Grammy Violet was smiling at Edmond and Grammy Mary was playing with his hand. 

So, the choice was to sit by mama, and remind her that there could only be one princess in the family, and that was her. Or make her way off the bed and too the door, and demand someone open it and she could be free. But if she left the invaders would win. She looked at her mom with her angry face scrunch and plopped down beside her. She stared at the baby. She didn't look as annoying as baby Charles, who would not stop crying. At least this one wasn't making much noise. And if she looked at her closely, she kind of looked like mama. 

"Who dat," she pointed at the baby. 

"This is Lily." 

"Why," she asked. 

"Well, we loved that name." Josey nodded and moved closer to get a closer look. She touched the baby's hand and it curled around her finger. She giggled. "She like me." Her mama smiled and nodded. 

"She does." 

"Soft." 

"She is soft, is she not," Kate laughed and looked up at Anthony with a smile. This was the best they could hope for. 

Josey kissed the baby's forehead and sat back and held out her arms, copying her elder brother. Kate shifted softly so Josey was partially in her lap, so she could assist if needed. She gently laid Lily in her arms and Josey giggled. "Doll." 

"No not a doll," Kate corrected gently. "Sister." 

"Sister?" 

"Yeah. Your sister. Can you say hello to her?" 

"Hewwo," she put a finger in the baby's hand again and giggled when Lily's hand grasped it in reflex again. She looked over at Henry and the other baby. "Who dat?" 

"That is your new brother, Edmond," Anthony said quietly. 

"Papa," she pointed at the baby. 

"He does look like papa, doesn't he," Kate asked. 

"Mmm," Josey said and looked down at Lily and then looked back up. "Candy?" Everyone chuckled and Violet stood. 

"Come, my love," Kate took Lily from Josey and the little girl crawled across to bed towards her grammy and Henry and the other intruder. She touched this one's forehead as well and he was just as soft as the one she was just holding. 

"Can you give him a kiss," Violet asked and Josey nodded.

"Bye baby," She kissed his forehead and then reached up for her grammy, who lifted her onto her hip. 

"I will take her downstairs," Violet nodded at Mary who signaled that she would follow them. "We will let Henry get to know his new brother and sister." Kate smiled and nodded gently. Anthony replaced his mother at Henry's side as the three ladies left the room. 

"That went better than I thought it would," he murmured quietly, and Kate nodded her agreement. He looked down at Henry. "Would you like to hold your new sister?" 

The little boy nodded, and Henry took Eddy into his arms as Kate shifted Lily over. "Hi Lily," Henry said quietly, almost as if he were in stunned awe. Henry adored Josey and he could see that same adoration settle across his heart. "I your big brother, and I always protect you." Josephine was a stunning child, and they could already tell that Lily was going to be the exact same way. Kate made beautiful girls. He really wished she would stop that. Visions of debuts and diamonds and suitors. He was already convinced that Josephine was going to send him into an early grave and now he had two of them. He would definitely be thinking "boy" thoughts from here on out when making love to his beautiful wife. 

Who was he kidding? At this rate he would have beautiful girls from here on out, and if he was sent to an early grave, it would be all Kate's fault for giving them to him. But then again, he could never do that to Henry and Edmond. Leaving them to suffer his same fate at inheriting the responsibility of running the family at a young age. He knew he would do everything he could to help his sons avoid that fate, so he supposed he would have to suffer through it. 

But he would not like it. 

And Kate would owe him her favors for a long time to come. 

Ok, he could get back on board with that idea now. 

"She quieter than Josey, I think," Henry looked up at him with a grin. 

Anthony chuckled. "Right now, she is. But that can change." 

And it would change. Josephine was six months when he first met her and now, she was almost two. The time was flying, and he wanted it to stop. It was unfathomable that Henry was already four. It was one of the reasons why he wanted so many children, because even if he would deny it vehemently if pressed, he was his mother's son. He grew up in a big family, and always enjoyed having a ton of siblings to hang out with on any given part of the day. Even little Hyacinth who liked to toddle around his office while he worked and reviewed accounts. He never wanted to marry for love, but he always wanted a big family. 

And then Kate came into his life, and it was like a whole other section of his heart opened that he didn't know he had. It expanded his need. Kate only thought they were through having children. 

 

Henry found his way back downstairs and it was just Kate and Anthony. Anthony held Lily and Kate held Eddy as they sat side by side, they stared at their new babies in awe. "Are you happy," Kate asked him softly. 

"More than you can ever know," he smiled but didn't remove his eyes from Lily. "They are perfect." 

"They are." 

He leaned over and kissed her softly. "Thank you. With everything you went through and for me to have such joy, I feel like I should buy you a continent." 

"That sounds expensive," she mused. 

"It would be worth it." 

"You forget something, Anthony." 

"What did I forget?"

"As much as I gave them to you, you gave them to me. You had just as much of a hand in their creation as I did. You made my pregnancy comfortable. You rubbed my feet. You gave me massages. You allowed me to seduce you whenever I needed," she chuckled, as did he and she continued. "I could not have done this without you. I mean look at Eddy. He is your twin," she yawned. "I am sorry. I am just tired." 

"Sweetheart," he shifted and gave her a gentle kiss, before quietly removing Eddy from her tired arms. "You deserve to sleep. Leave the parenting duty to me. I will wake you if they are hungry." She sighed and shifted down into the blankets, the adrenaline leaving her body, and the aches and pains settled in, she groaned. 

"You are such a good papa." 

"I always hoped to be." 

"Your wish came true," she smiled at him again before she closed her eyes. She laid on her side, facing him, a hand on his thigh as he sat their holding their infants. 

"Sleep, my love." 

She nodded gently. 

There were a million things that raced through his mind as he sat there and stared at his children. Was he good enough, was always at the forefront. Kate was the person he trusted most in his life. And she had deemed him worthy enough to be the father of his children. She had deemed him worthy enough to have more children with him. 

He was good enough. He finally believed that now. 

 

Chapter Text

Lady Bridgerton, 

I congratulate you on the birth of your new little ones and send my regards to young Henry and Josephine. I look forward to seeing you when you return for the season. I hope Henry and Josephine enjoy these gifts and that you are blessed in abundance this coming year. 

Always, 

Charlotte

Violet sat down in shock after reading the note five times. "The Queen sent gifts to my grandchildren. The Queen knows of my grandchildren," she said in a daze.  

Kate looked on amused as she nursed her infant son. Well, we became quite close during my marriage. The duke was close with her son. 

"They were both at your wedding," Violet said quietly. 

"Yeah, they were." Kate looked down at Edmond. 

 

"Come on Josephine," Hyacinth said as she took her baby niece's hand in hers and led her across the room. "Show your papa and mama how you can curtsey now." 

"No." 

"Yes," Hyacinth insisted. 

"No." 

"Just once, please." 

"Ok," Hyacinth had been working with Josephine on her curtsey all morning, something Hyacinth took upon herself after teaching Henry to bow. If there was one aunt who matched his stubborn daughter's will it was Hyacinth Bridgerton. He watched her walked the girl over and they stood in front of them as he held Kate in his arms as they lounged. She had bent his will this morning. The twins were four days old, and Kate was going a little stir-crazy in their room. The babies were down here with the family anyway, so he had agreed only if she allowed him to carry her down. It was a testament to her level of exhaustion that she allowed that without argument.  She was four days post-pregnancy, and he could not keep his hands or eyes off of her. She was radiant. 

Hyacinth finally managed to get the little girl over to her parents. 

"Lord and Lady Bridgerton," Hyacinth said with a sparkle in her eyes. "May I present my niece Lady Josephine Grey." 

"Ooh," Kate sat forward and looked at her daughter, who was giggling up at her aunt. "It is nice to meet you, Lady Josephine." 

Josey, as best as she could, put one foot behind her other, and accomplished a tiny dip. Hyacinth clapped excitedly. "Yeah Josephine!"

Kate and Anthony cheered on their daughter. "That was so good, my darling," Kate held out her hands and Josephine ran into them. Anthony looked on a little choked up. She was too young to be curtseying. "Was that not great, papa?" She looked at Anthony as Josephine climbed into her lap. 

"That was great, my love," he said quietly, and Kate frowned gently, asking with her eyes what she could not with her mouth in the presence of family. He shook his head. "Later, my love." 

Colin came up to the family with a plate full of cake. "So have you heard about the bet yet, Kate?" 

"What bet," Kate asked. 

"Bet? There was no bet," Anthony sat up straight. 

"The bet between Benedict and Anthony," Colin said and shoved some more cake in his mouth and Anthony wanted to shove it down his throat. 

She turned to Anthony, "What bet?" 

"Benedict," Anthony yelled across the room to his brother.

"Anthony," Kate said. 

"There was no bet. No money was changing hands," Anthony insisted. Benedict found his way over with Sophie. "Tell him, brother." 

"You compared your wives to livestock," Colin laughed. 

"What," Kate exclaimed. 

"I did not say that! Benedict did," Anthony exclaimed. 

"What," Benedict took a step back his eyes widening. "No Kate, I did not mean that about you." 

"Then who did you mean by it," Sophie looked at her husband, her eyes narrowed. "Because yesterday you said it was not about me. And as Kate and I are the only wives involved in this bet." 

"I do not wish to speak of it," Benedict glared at his wife. 

"What bet, Benedict Bridgerton," Kate asked. 

"It was nothing," Anthony insisted. 

"They had a bet over your confinements, and who could have a boy and a girl first. Henry and Josephine not included." 

"COLIN WHY ARE YOU STILL SPEAKING," Anthony exclaimed and looked to Kate, eyes wide. "It was nothing, really." 

"What is going on," Violet asked as she joined the group, Lily in her arms. 

"Apparently there is a bet," Kate said. 

"And Benedict called Kate a cow," Colin. 

"FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WHY," Benedict exclaimed then turned to Kate, terrified. "I would never." 

"Then why did you," Colin laughed. Anthony who was standing now slapped the back of Colin's head causing him to drop the plate and run and Anthony chased after him followed by Benedict. 

"I expect the same amount of sons to return as I had when I woke up this morning," Violet called out to her children as they raced from the room. "I cannot have any more!" 

"You seriously did not know about the bet, Kate," Sophie asked as she reached for Lily. Josephine was so quiet and still in her lap that she was sure that she had fallen asleep. 

"I knew," Kate smiled as she kissed the top of Josey's head. "They made it in front of Henry and Henry tells me everything." 

Sophie turned to her nephew who was holding baby Edmond with Mary. "Henry. How come you did not tell your aunt Sophie about your Uncle Ben's bet." 

"I dunno," he shrugged and shot her a heart stopping smile. Well damn. That started early. Was rakeness contagious. Sophie was practically melting. Looking up at her mother-in-law she could see that Violet saw it too if her wide eyes were to go by.

"Holy God in heaven," Violet breathed. "He is Anthony and Edmond all in one," she whispered in awe. 

They all looked up as Colin let out a shout in the foyer. "They caught him," Kate said with a laugh. 

"Colin really needs to start watching his mouth," Violet said amused. "Pretty soon it is going to be him with a wife, and Anthony has years of blackmail. In fact, Colin has been so terrible to Anthony in the past, I hope that he uses everything in his arsenal against him." Kate looked at Violet stunned. Violet and Anthony's relationship was not perfect, but recently they had been working hard to reconnect. Anthony knew his mother would always have his back, and Violet knew that she needed to step back and that she in the family had always been in the best hands possible. Nobody could have stepped into the viscount role as Anthony had, and despite it taking years for her to realize and respect that, Anthony forgave his mother. It was the best possible conclusion to their story. 

At that time Colin tumbled into the room, hair askew, waistcoat in tatters. "Mother," he gasped. "Make them stop!" 

"You asked for it Colin Bridgerton," Violet laughed. "Maybe next time you will not let your mouth run off with you."  Anthony appeared at his side and Colin groaned. 

"Excuse us a moment," the viscount was all politeness and smiles as he yanked Colin back out. 

"I love him," Kate sighed dreamily as she stared at the spot Anthony had recently vacated. 

"Eight children, for sure," Violet laughed and Kate groaned. 

 

Sophie knocked gently on their door, later that evening as she nursed Lily. Anthony was asleep, his white shirt open and loose on his body as he held his son asleep on his chest. He was only to rest until supper, but Kate took pity on him and allowed him to sleep through it and called for a tray to be brought to their room. These last four days with the babies were a different kind of exhaustion, and he had been up with her every single time they woke. They had yet to hire a night nurse, they each preferred to care for their infants on their own. Sophie made her way to the bed and stopped at her side. 

"I hope you do not take this the wrong way, but I might be just a little infatuated with your husband at the moment," Sophie said with a smile. Kate laughed. 

"I am not offended, but do not let him hear you say that," Kate shifted her daughter to her second breast and helped her latch. "His ego is big enough by having a wife that finds him irresistible." 

"I do not blame you. I heard all about these Bridgerton boys when I was still, -" she paused and swallowed.  

"They made a name for themselves, for sure." 

"Why did you allow him to marry Edwina? It is clear that he belongs to you." 

"At the time, breaking my sister's heart was unfathomable. I put her on a pedestal. And all I cared about was making sure they were settled." 

"But could she not have married someone else," Sophie asked. 

"She wanted Anthony," Kate said with a sad smile and shook her head. "And he wanted her too. He had this list of a perfect viscountess and Edwina checked every box." 

"Oh Kate," Sophie whispered and Kate shrugged. "But surely you knew." 

"I knew he desired me. But I did not know he loved me." 

Sophie winced. Benedict had never made her feel that way. Even when it felt like they never had a chance to be together, Benedict made his affections clear. 

"Their wedding was the hardest day of my life," Kate said quietly. "He had become my best friend after and then I got engaged and he rejected me. We did not talk for weeks leading up to my wedding. Even when I came back, and he was so kind, and caring to me and the children, I could not trust it. Even now, I love him so much, but I am just waiting for him to change his mind. I was not who he wanted when I was strong. Why would he want me broken?" 

Sophie sat down next to her quietly and wrapped her arms around Kate's shoulders. "He would sooner stop breathing then to give you up. Benedict was there through it all, Kate. Anthony was a shell. I had never seen him so alive until you. I cannot imagine your sorrow." 

"We still fight about it," Kate admitted. "We probably always will." 

"Because he chose your sister," Sophie nodded. "That is understandable. That is valid. Why did you marry the duke?" 

"Edwina had convinced me to stay in London. But I could not stay in this family. The duke promised a good life and a lot of traveling. Even if he had not alienated me from my family, I would not have been around much. It would have been impossible." 

Anthony had destroyed their family. Even now, though her mother was here, and she was trying her best, she gravitated to Lady Danbury more as a maternal figure. But even she had pushed for the match to Edwina. It was easy in hindsight to forget it all because she had beautiful children, and now she had the love of her life, but the anger and resentment she held for her entire family would sometimes fester, and she would have to take time for herself and hide in a random closet in the house and cry. Daphne had found her one time and spent an hour embracing her. She had promised not to tell Anthony, though she was pretty sure Simon knew. She knew she should talk to everyone about it but anytime she worked up the courage she only felt like she wanted to yell and scream, and well, that did nobody any good. 

"With the duke," Sophie whispered. "Did you love him?" 

"I love what he offered me," Kate said. "He took me away from my heartbreak. And that is all I wanted." 

"And the children." 

"I could never regret Henry and Josephine." 

"They are beautiful children," Sophie agreed and Kate nodded. 

"They are the only ones that get me through the day sometime," Kate smiled sadly. 

 

Anthony had heard it all. Each admission from Kate to Sophie. He waited until Sophie left and the door clicked shut. He sat up gently, careful not to disturb the sleeping infant. "Kate," he said quietly. 

"Not now, Anthony," she responded. 

"Kate we should talk about this." 

"We will. Just not now." 

"I would never change my mind about you," he said. 

"You have before," she whispered. "Just leave it be, Anthony. Edmond will need fed in a few hours, and I desperately want some rest before." 

He could only stare at her back as she closed her eyes. He loved her in every possible way that he could. He tried his best for her every day. But he still could not give her what she desperately needed and would never admit to wanting. She was not his first wife. She filled a spot vacated by her sister. He could give her everything her heart desired. Money, clothes, jewelry. But he could not give her that. 

And he wasn't sure that she would accept it if he could, because at the time, the man he was not good enough. It took him beating her down for a season for her to accept a marriage proposal that was not based on love but removing her from their lives. He would never stop fighting for her or their family. 

And he would do everything he could to ensure she felt the same. 

 

Chapter Text

The twins were as stubborn as their elder sister Josephine, if the past two weeks were anything to go by for the rest of their lives. Correction: Edmond Bridgerton  was as stubborn as his elder sister Josephine, if the last two weeks were anything to go by. He was unbelievably cute, and looked like his father and his namesake grandfather, he had her temper, though she would vehemently deny it, and his uncle Colin's appetite. He was long, and wiry in form, and from the sounds of it in the middle of the night, had developed a healthy set of lungs. 

It was saying something that the babies were two weeks old, and they could already distinguish their cries apart. Lily rarely cried, in fact, she reminded them all of her uncle Ben in personality and elder brother Henry. But Eddy-

"Stop it," Josephine snapped as she sat up in the middle of the bed and pointed in the direction of the crying infant. "I seeping!" Josephine's hair was a mess and her nightgown was all but off her tiny body as she tossed and turned most nights. She had taken to sleeping with her and Anthony since the twins were born, as they couldn't deny her. 

"Josephine," Anthony groaned. "He needs mama and papa. Be nice." 

"No," she said and flopped back next to Anthony who had just woken up. "You my mama and papa." 

"We are his as well."

"No." 

"Yes." 

"No." 

"We need to teach you some new words." 

"Anthony," Kate interrupted their argument. She was drowsy and her whole body ached. It was at this moment she wished that they acquired a wet nurse. 

Where did that come from?

Kate shook it off, "Can you bring him, please?" 

"Of course, darling." 

As Anthony handed her the infant gently, she helped the baby latch and he sucked furiously kneading her breasts in the meanwhile to help the flow.  "Wonderful nature," Anthony said in awe. He had watched her nurse Josey before she was fully weaned. Her nursing was not new to him. But watching the infants learn to nurse to obtain their food was a different thing entirely. Lily was a fussy eater who had to be coaxed at her breast, sometimes forcing Kate to squeeze a breast a little to express some milk to coax Lily to start suckling. Eddy was another thing entirely. Josephine threw herself back onto the bed in a huff. She definitely was having a hard time adjusting, even going so far as to try to pull Kate's dress down to nurse herself after feeding Lily one afternoon. And just as they thought, Henry was the quintessential elder brother, who enjoyed holding both of his baby siblings and attempted to coax Josephine out of her stupor. More often than not he was successful. 

Anthony sighed and went to his side of the bed. He held his arms out to Josey, helping her to stand up. He helped her adjust her nightgown. "You know your brother needs to eat to get bigger." 

"No. I bigger." 

Anthony chuckled and Kate rolled her eyes fondly.  "Lay back down," Anthony pressed a kiss onto her cheek before helping her back under the comforters. Kate stared at her eldest daughter with tears in her eyes. She had grown so much in the last year. In fact, this time last year, the duke was still alive, and Josephine was just learning to crawl and walk after the duke's passing. She was taller, much of her baby fat had disappeared as she prepared to transform into a two-year-old. Her hair was longer, it was time for a cut. And her vocabulary had increased, though her favorite word was definitely the word "no." Anthony must have noticed her melancholy because he walked back around to her side of the bed and sat beside her. "Are you alright, my love?" 

Kate shook her head. "I just feel, nostalgic," she said, not even sure if that was the answer to what she was feeling. 

"How so?" 

"Josephine a year ago was just learning to crawl." 

"Time does go by quickly," he said while running a finger down her cheek. "You and I have a couple more months until our first anniversary." 

"Anniversary?"

"A year since we have been married," Anthony looked at her amused. "Do not tell me you have forgotten." 

She looked at him for a long moment, then looked down at the baby. "I have not." 

"Kate," he whispered. "Look at me," when she did, he continued. "Do you not wish to celebrate?"

"Celebrate what?" 

"Our anniversary," he said exasperatedly. 

"That is done," she asked confusedly. "You do such a thing? Celebrate an anniversary of a marriage?"

"Of course," he said. 

"That was not my experience." 

He sighed and settled deeper into her side. "I know. I am trying to give you everything you should have experienced in your first marriage." He felt guilty. That was why he was doing this. 

"Anthony, you know you do not have to." 

"Kate." 

"No. We will always have that hanging between us."

"But I do not want it," he exclaimed. 

"We have no choice," she snapped, and he stared at her in the dim candlelight with wide eyes. "Did you celebrate with Edwina?" 

"Kate," he sighed. 

"Exactly. I am doing my best. I do not need another reminder that she was here first. I already have enough of them as it is." 

"I too am trying my best," he whispered. "I am trying to give you everything you never had. Everything that I dream of giving you to let you know how much I love you. Everything I do, I do for you. Lately," he swallowed. "You have barely let me touch you since they were born." 

"You know we cannot." 

"You are well aware that that is not what I meant," he looked at her and moved away. "I have not kissed you in four days, and even that was on the cheek on my way out for a meeting." 

"I cannot yield to your every whim," she snapped. 

"I do not ask you to," he said. 

"Then what do you expect me to do? I cannot help the way I feel." 

He sighed then looked away. "Nothing. I expect nothing." He moved back around to the other side of the bed and crawled in beside Josey who was now back to sleep, her nightgown already half off again. 

"Anthony," she sighed. 

"No," he said. "It is fine Kate. Let me know when he is done, and I will lay him back down." She looked at him, he had his back to her facing the wall. She knew she messed up, but she couldn't bring herself to apologize. And that was the problem. 

Something was wrong. She just didn't know what or how to fix it. 

 

Violet found Anthony in his study the next day. She had been excited since her conversation with Anthony a few days ago when discussing plans for his first anniversary with Kate. She wanted to throw a ball, or a dinner party. She was sure that Kate would prefer the latter. With their closest friends and family in attendance. A way to celebrate Anthony and Kate and show them how much they meant to the family. Anthony had been on board with the plan and agreed to talk with Kate.

Anthony seemed to be hard at work, his brow was furrowed as stared at a piece of parchment. "Anthony," she asked as she pushed the door open. 

"Mother," he looked up, surprised to see her, it seemed. 

"I came to talk to you of your anniversary plans," she said. 

"Aah," Anthony frowned and laid the paper back down. "Right." 

"Have you had the chance to talk with Kate?" 

"She does not want to celebrate," he said quietly. 

"But why," she asked. 

"All of my energy is being spent on not asking that question," he huffed and stood up from behind his desk. 

"I figured she would at least like a little dinner party." 

"She does not want to celebrate at all, mother," he said quietly. 

"Perhaps if I talked to her, -" 

"Do not," he said with a sad smile. 

"Anthony?" 

"I messed up," he said quietly. "I married Edwina. And I have been trying to make it up to her ever since. If there is one thing that Kate and I fight about the most it is that." 

"Well, I know, but I thought, -"

"My wife is the most important person in my life. I gave my heart to the one person who has full control over it, and she is the one person who can break it at the same time. I do not think I can ever make up for what I did to her. And what is worse, I do not think she cares." 

"Why would you say that?" 

"Because when we fight, I am the only thing that stops her from walking away. Divorce was never a reality for me, until I went through it, and that was from a woman who depended on me for everything. Kate does not need me." 

"Divorce," she gasped. "Anthony you cannot mean, -" 

"No," he said quickly, and she let out a deep breath in relief. "I would never allow it. But she does not need me. I have always been relied on, by you, or my brothers and sisters, and now I have a wife who does not, and it's the most exasperating thing. This should be the happiest time of our lives, and my wife has not let me touch her in weeks."

"It is too soon for that, Anthony." 

"Not that. Even an embrace mother. The last time I kissed her was five days ago and that was just on her cheek as I was leaving." 

Well, that was not good. Anthony and Kate were the most affectionate couple she knew, so much so that it was a running joke in family. And what's more was they did not care about what other people thought of it. It was no shock that she fell with child so quickly. "You cannot lose her, Anthony." 

"I am doing everything I can mother to ensure that I do not. But what if I do," he asked quietly. "She would never keep me from my children. I messed up. I should have listened to you, to Daph. I should have stopped focusing my attentions on Edwina. I should have seen Kate. She always says it does not matter. But she has a very real insecurity about being second to her sister. And what did I do to assuage that?" 

"Anthony," she sighed. 

"I proposed to her sister right in front of her. I made her second. After everything I put her through, I denied her reasoning when she begged me to reconsider, and I did it anyway. I understand her logic. I understand her holding this against me. I would never ask her to forget my foolishness. But I had hoped that she would forgive me eventually. Maybe we fell into marriage too quickly."

"Oh Anthony, no. There are no two people more right for each other than you and Kate," she said, and she meant every word. She had three children in relationships with spouses they adored. But Anthony was a physically changed person with Kate. That was what Kate did to him. She opened him up like no other could. 

"Then why will she not forgive me, mama," he whispered. "What can I do to make her do so?" She reached for him, and pulled him into her arms. 

"I do not know what you should do. But I do know that you need to be consistent. And it sounds like you have been." 

"She does not want to celebrate our marriage," he said quietly. "She acted as though the thought was an inconvenience. That I am an inconvenience." 

"Anthony. That is not true. She loves you," she said, and he huffed in disagreement. And there was another problem. "When I was delivered of Colin," she said. "Your father and I went through a dark period." He looked at her in surprise. "It is true. We hid it well from you and Benedict, but we were close to the brink, so many times. I could not control anything that came out of my mouth when he irritated me, and the vitriol was out of control. You think your Kate has a way with words," she chuckled and he smiled. "I would put her to shame. That is probably why I understand her and adore her so much. I love all my in-laws, but Kate is everything." 

"I know you love her, mother." 

"I do. Just as I understand what your Kate is going through. This situation with Edwina, you are right, it will probably never go away. Not only for what you did, but also because of those actions, their relationship was irreparable. They were so close growing up. Not only that but her relationship with Mary. Mary has been trying to be there for Kate, and sometimes Kate just does not respond the way Mary hopes she will." 

"I messed up," he whispered. 

"But after you have a baby, your body changes. It is like a wave that keeps crashing into you, drowning you in emotions, and those ugly dark feelings just keep rising to the top, and you have no control over them. There were times when I could not leave my bed. And it was not that I was in pain, but that I physically could not leave it. Colin was brought to me, as were you and Benedict from the nursery. There was a time even when I could not even look at Colin, and that was a final straw for your father." 

"What did he do?" 

"He left for Bridgerton House. He was gone and I had too much alone time with my thoughts. I could not bear him being away, so I followed him. Daphne was born nine months later."

"I cannot leave her mother." 

"No. Your situation was much different. But you see. Your father gave up on me. In a sense, you are much stronger than he was. And I admire that." 

"But what about Kate," he asked. 

"Like I said. The Edwina situation will not go away. And it might be worse when she comes back. But you need to let her yell and vent." 

"When she does that she walks away." 

"Then you follow her. Make sure she knows that you are there. I see you do that so often with Josephine when she throws a tantrum," she chuckles. "Not that Kate is throwing a tantrum. But it is the same idea. Josephine throws a tantrum and runs off to a corner, and you and Kate follow her to make sure she does not hurt herself, and make sure she knows that her mama and papa are still there and that she is still loved. Maybe your wife needs to know that you would follow her to the ends of the earth should she decide she needs to leave. That your love is not fragile, and that you know her feelings are valid and that her emotions are something you can handle without argument." 

"And if she does not return," he whispered. 

"She will return. Kate loves with her whole heart. She loves her sister so much that she gave you up for her. She loves her children so much that she did not leave the duke. She loves you so much that she overlooked the scandal surrounding our name and joined her family to you anyway when she could have lived her life out in comfort without you. She adores you. But this is the first time I think she can show her unhappiness in a relationship, and that is a credit to you, my son. She was not allowed that when she was married to the duke. She is able to be her true self around you. That is the woman you fell in love with." 

"You really think that she is so down lately because of the babies?" 

"Not the babies," Violet said. "The post-pregnancy changes to her body. It messes with your mind and your body. It does not happen every time. I was fine after you and Benedict. Thankfully after Daphne was born, I was able to recognize the signs, and I was able to communicate with your father effectively. If Kate has not experienced this before she would not know." 

"She has not said anything." 

"Just watch her sweetheart. Watch for signs. Withdrawals from the children, from you. It should be easy because she is very connected to them and you. But it will not be easy to go through the experience, and I am sorry for that. But you can only love her through it. And I will be here the whole way."

"I hope you are right. I would not survive if she chose to go on without me." 

His words broke her heart. That Anthony was connected so whole-heartedly to his wife was a great source of happiness for her. But she knew if something ever happened to Kate, that he would never walk away from it. She was as key to his survival as water and food. Sure, he would always make sure that his children were well cared for. But he would be living in name only. And she knew how that felt. "You would survive because you have four children who share her soul, who depend on you just as much. Just as you did when your father passed away. You are the strongest of all my children. The bravest. The smartest. And the one who has the capacity to love more than any other I know. And I realized that far too late. The day you met Henry and Josephine, I knew. You cared for those children instantaneously, not because they were Kate's children, but because they needed a father, and you were the only one who could be that for them." 

"I love them." 

"They are easy to love, and Henry is much like you in so many ways. Josephine though," she shook her head amused. "It takes my breath away seeing you with her. The patience you have for her. The adoration. Seeing you with Henry, teaching him, it reminds me of you and your father. But you were always my little boy, just as Henry is Kate's. Josephine however, is your little girl. She may be a mama's girl, but you are Josephine's papa, and she does not let anyone forget it."

"Even the babies," he chuckled. 

"She is a menace, let us be honest. I have a feeling Hyacinth is only going to be a steppingstone as to what we will experience with Josephine."

He groaned and leaned back into sofa. "Mary says that Josephine reminds her of Kate. And just remembering the fire Kate put me through is enough to send me into an early grave." Violet laughed out loud. 

"I think you helped add fuel to the fire." 

"Indeed I did not!" 

"You got so competitive over her taking your lucky mallet that you ended up covered in mud." 

"Well, -" 

"You got insanely jealous over a man showing her attention that it landed you in the serpentine." 

"That is different!" 

"How," she exclaimed. 

"Well for one," he held up one finger. "I did not know you knew I was jealous." She laughed again and he scowled. "And two. She was paying attention to Dorset to vex me!" 

"Was she?" 

"Well she would never admit to it, but I know she was!" 

"How is that?" 

"Because she is always vexing me. Always stealing my lucky mallet and beating me at things she has no idea she is beating me at. Always making me desire her above my duties and she does not even have to try." 

"And that is called love in a marriage. It is the greatest most exasperating thing on earth. But it also the most worthwhile and lovely thing to come from human connection. Just look at those two new babies. Look at Henry and Josephine and how they are thriving. That is what you need to remember when these moments of grief and vexation happen. Think of everything good to come from your relationship and go after what you want. Explain to her why you want to celebrate your anniversary. I know Kate, and she would do anything for you. You need only ask." She patted her son's hand as he grasped hers for comfort. 

She loved being a mother. But she really loved being able to mother her firstborn, the boy who made her a mother to begin with. The fact that he would always need her was a source of comfort to her. She had no favorites when it came to her children. But if she did, and she would never admit to it, it would be Anthony. Her firstborn would always be her baby. 

 

Violet waved him over to her side, laughing quietly. She and Lady Danbury were spying on something through the sitting room door, and since they were at Aubrey Hall, he knew it was not one of Francesca's suitors. 

He looked through the door and almost burst into laughter. His daughter was sat on the sofa, and he could see that she had some type of chocolate frosting around her mouth. Colin was on Josephine duty that afternoon, and apparently, he had failed. They watched as Colin kneeled in front of his little niece who was playing with her stocking'd foot, staring at him. 

"I need you to answer one question for me, Josephine." 

"Ok," she nodded. 

"Did you steal your Uncle Coco's chocolate cake?" 

"No," she smiled then turned around to slide off the sofa. He caught her and sat her back down. She huffed and wrinkled her brow. 

"She is so cute," Lady Danbury said quietly. "I love her." 

"Josephine, this is serious." 

"Nu-uh." 

"She got that from Hyacinth," Violet whispered. 

"Josephine. I'm going to ask you again. Did you steal Uncle Coco's cake?" 

"Mm no," she smiled. The chocolate that rimmed her mouth telling another tale. She attempted to slide off again, but she was caught on Colin's hip now. "Coco, no." She pointed at him with a frown. 

The eavesdroppers all looked at Lady Danbury who sniffed arrogantly. "I may have taught her a thing or two." 

"What is this chocolate on your face," Colin asked his niece. 

"Yummy," she rubbed her belly with a grin. 

"So you did eat Uncle Coco's chocolate cake." 

"No, Coco. My take." 

Colin looked at his niece exasperated, and she giggled at him and kissed his cheek, smearing the frosting onto his cheek and causing him to sigh. The three of them burst out laughing and pushed through the door. 

"That is a very good look on you, Colin. Perhaps a shade lighter next time," Anthony teased as he reached for his little girl. "Let us get you cleaned up, my love." She practically leapt into her father's arms away from her uncle. 

"She ate my cake," he complained. 

"I am sure it was delicious," Anthony tickled Josey's stomach who laughed as he carried her out to get her cleaned up. 

 

Anthony found Kate in their room later that night. "We need to talk." 

"Anthony," she sighed. "Now is not the time." 

"You do not have to speak, but you do need to listen." He turned her to face him, noticing for the first time, the dark circles under her eyes. "You need to know that I love you and that I am not going anywhere. And that if you need me, I will always be here. But I need some things from you as well." 

"What," she asked quietly, wearily. 

"I need to be able to touch you. It grounds me. I need to know that you will not leave me over something stupid that I am sure that I will do in the future, or something I have done in the past. And I need to celebrate our anniversary." 

"Anthony, -" 

"No," he interrupted. "I will do anything you ask of me. We can keep the celebration minimal. But this has been the best year of my life. You. The children. Us. I want to celebrate us, our love. I want the world to know that we made it. And I need you to know that you have been the only women that I have ever loved." 

She started to cry, and he felt his heart sink. He reached with her, expecting resistance, but she came easily into his arms. "I do not know what is wrong with me," she sniffed against his chest. "It is like I cannot be happy. And I do not want others to be so in front of me." 

"I have no idea what you are going through, my love. But you will not succeed in pushing me away. I will be here the whole time helping you through this. But I need one more thing from you," he said gently, bringing her eyes up to meet his gently. 

"What's that," she asked quietly. 

"Tell me you love me." 

She laughed softly and leaned up to press a gentle kiss to his lips. "Of course, I love you. I can't unlove you." 

He pulled her tightly against him, wrapping his arms around her body. She had lost most of the weight she had gained with her pregnancy, he could feel her breasts against him again. Her touch always grounded him, stimulated him in a way. But this was different. This was healing. Because whatever she was going through, he was going to go through it with her whether she liked it or not. He leaned down and took her lips with his for another lingering kiss, this time sighing when her hands found their place in his hair. 

"I have you, baby," he whispered against her lips. "I will always have you." 

Chapter Text

"Do you think if I hold Josephine in front of me when I ask a favor from Kate that she would not attempt to kill me," Colin asked his brothers as they sat down for a game of cards. 

"First of all," Benedict said. "She is three weeks post delivering those twins so what are you doing asking a favor of her in the first place?" 

"And second," Anthony said. "Yes, she would kill you." 

"Ugh," Colin threw himself back in the chair and downed his glass of port. "Why did you have to marry a woman who is so terrifying." 

"Why do you need so many favors," Anthony retorted. "Is this about Penelope." 

"Not everything is about Penelope," Colin snapped. "But yes." 

"Well Sophie is taking over duties for Kate until she is a little better," Benedict added.

"Oh good," Colin jumped up. "Your wife is nice." He ran out of the room leaving his brothers behind. 

"She is not so nice now that she is best friends with Kate," Benedict said. "In fact, she can be quite terrifying herself." 

"He'll learn," Anthony leaned back and dealt out the cards between them. "Between you and me though, between our wives and Josephine, I'd be more scared of the baby." 

A minute later Colin returned, his hair a wreck, and his arms were tied behind his back with his cravat. 

"Oh yeah," Benedict laughed. "She is really good at restraints. Taught her that myself," his chest puffed out in pride and Anthony nearly spit his drink out. 

 

Anthony found Kate reading in the study. She had done this the past week when it all became too much. He hated seeing her this quiet and resigned. But she was still getting up in the morning. She was still trying to maintain her connection with the kids. She was still trying to maintain her connection with him and that's all he could ask of her.  "Hey," he said quietly, shutting the door behind him. She looked up at him, but her smile didn't reach her eyes. "Oh love," he sighed and took her in his arms. 

"I should be happy," she sobbed. "They are perfect, and beautiful, and healthy. They are yours which is all I ever wanted! And still, I cannot stop crying. And all I want to do is fall asleep and never wake up. I am rested but I am tired all of the time. I do not have energy to play with Henry and Josephine. I have it all and I feel like I have nothing." 

"My darling," Anthony kissed the top of her head. "We spoke to my mother about this, and she said this can happen, remember? What you are feeling is completely valid. Your body just carried and delivered two healthy, beautiful babies. One baby in and of itself is traumatic, but you delivered two. Allow yourself some grace and see how amazing you truly are. See yourself the way I see you and every single other person in this family sees you."

"Why do you put up with me," she sobs into his neck. 

"It is not putting up with you," he chuckled softly. "I am here for you because being without you is like being without air. You are everything I breathe for. Everything I live for. You gave me the greatest gift of your love and four amazing children. How could I not want to be here for you?"

"I want to be better," she said quietly. 

"You will. And I will be here every step of the way." 

 

Sophie held Josey as she ate her piece of lemon cake that cook had prepared for Kate. "Ok sweetheart. You are going to take your papa's mallet for your auntie Sopi." 

"OK," Josey exclaimed and clapped and Sophie sat her down. 

"Do you remember which one," Sophie asked. 

"Black one," Josey nodded. 

"Good girl," Sophie exclaimed and kissed the girl's cheek while peaking around the corner of the shed to where the mallet stand was standing front and center in the middle of the lawn by Simon and Daphne. Anthony couldn't get mad at his own daughter taking his mallet. "Ok, it's right there by uncle SiSi. Go get it for Auntie Sopi." 

She watched as the little girl took off, her hair ribbons flying behind her. It amazed her that this was that little six-month-old she first met all those months ago when Kate was a stranger and not her greatest friend in the world. Watching her made her ache for a little girl of her own. She adored her son, and she would love more sons, but Josephine made having a girl look so appealing, she was already jumping Benedict every time she could. She wanted a rambunctious, fearless, beautiful little lady who was strong and courageous and not afraid to stand up for herself. 

It was something that she was learning to do herself and it felt empowering. She had Kate to thank for that. 

Josey made it to the stand and Simon looked down at their niece in amusement. Josey reached up and pointed at the black mallet and his laugh filled the air. He took it from the stand and handed it to Josey. For a brief moment Sophie saw the flaw in her plan, the mallet was twice as long as Josey was. But Josey was a problem solver, and she took it by the handle and dragged it behind her up the hill to Sophie. A quick glance in Anthony's direction told Sophie that he was none the wiser. She watched as the little girl made her way over, giggling the whole way. 

Sophie clapped when Josey reached her. "Good job, sweetheart!" Josey dropped the mallet and clapped her hands. 

"Yea," Josey jumped up and down in excitement. 

Yeah, she adored this little girl. 

 

Kate was still recovering, so she took her place with the matrons in watching the pall mall game. Lily was in her arms, and she was sure Eddy was in Violet's. Edmond Bridgerton II was the apple of his grandmother's eye for the fact that he looked so much like his papa alone. She of course loved all of her grandchildren, but there were times when she could not take her eyes off of baby Eddy. 

Lily was heaven sent. She was beautiful, and dainty. Her hair was dark, just as Josephine's was, and she had more of it then Josephine had at that age. Her fingers were long, and she had her papa's famous dimples. She was going to be devastating when she got older. 

A shout rang out from below breaking Kate from her reverie. Kate looked down and saw Benedict standing between Anthony and Sophie. The latter was waving the black mallet in her brother-in-law's face in glee. Kate burst out laughing and it felt good. Anthony must have heard her because he shot her a radiant smile before turning back to his menace of a sister-in-law.  

"Sophie got the mallet," Violet looked amazed. "I figured with you being out he would have a chance." 

"He is losing his touch," Kate murmured. 

"He threatened to beat Colin one time and he simply touched the mallet." 

"I heard," Kate smirked. "And I have a feeling I am going to hear about it tonight as well." 

 

"You realize that is my mallet," Anthony seethed. 

"Kate said as much," Sophie laughed. 

"So, give it back," he held out his hand. 

"I will do no such thing," Sophie giggled. "In fact, I might enjoy pall mall immensely using this mallet." 

"Brother," Anthony yelled. "Come control your wife." 

"I have no more control over mine than you have over yours, brother," Benedict laughed and stood between them. "She got the mallet fair and square." 

"She stole it." 

"Technically, Josey grabbed it. She just dragged it to me," Sophie said with a smile. 

"My daughter would never betray me like that," Anthony exclaimed. 

"Your daughter would do anything for a piece of cake," Sophie raised an eyebrow as Anthony let out a string of curses. 

"Fine. Keep the mallet. I will still claim victory," he took the pink one and stomped away.

"He really is a sore loser isn't he," Sophie laughed.

"Well, he is not really a gracious winner either," Benedict said.

 

Lady Danbury kept a running commentary of the game that was borderline amusing and scandalous. 

"I think she has some money on this game since you are not playing," Violet whispered to Kate and Kate smiled. 

Henry was keeping entertained by standing by his papa during the game. 

"Oh hit that one Papa," he exclaimed as Colin's ball landed near Anthony's. 

"He has no interest in his father winning the game, just of his father knocking all the balls away and his aunt and uncles shouting at them." 

"A true Bridgerton," Kate laughed. 

Josephine was keeping close to Colin, whom they were sure was supplying her with sweets to keep here there. Henry jumped up and down as Anthony knocked his ball through the third wicket, putting him in the lead. "Yeah Papa! You the best!" 

"Yeah papa," Josey exclaimed and clapped. 

"Hey," Colin looked down at his niece. "You are supposed to be cheering your uncle Coco!" 

"Yeah papa," Josey grinned and Anthony laughed. 

"She is a papa's girl, Col," Kate called out. "There is no trying to change that." 

Josephine crouched down and started picking at the grass, her hair falling in her face. 

"Hey Bridgerton," Simon called. "How can I get Auggie and Amelia this invested to cheer me on?" 

"It involves a lot of love and attention," Anthony smiled at his two eldest fondly. "But it is worth it." He shot a wink in Kate's direction. 

"Your children have no interest in cheering you on, Hastings," Daphne said as she shot her husband's ball away from his next wicket. 

"Woman," Simon yelled and Josey fell onto the grass laughing hard. Simon turned to her, "After everything I have done for you, Josephine Grey!"

They were caught up in the laughter they didn't notice Henry making his way to the ladies. "Hi mama," he said quietly, so quietly that it nearly broke her heart. He was upset about something. She shifted over on the chair so he could climb up beside her. He leaned over and kissed Lily on the head. "Hi sister." 

Lily was awake for the time being, enjoying the cool breeze that was coming across the lawn from the lake. Henry leaned against her shoulder and watched the chaos on the lawn. Anthony and Sophie were neck and neck, but only because Benedict was doing his best to help Sophie win. The other's had resorted to taking each other out of contention every chance they could. 

"Mama," Henry said quietly. 

"Yes, my love." 

"How come I not Brigeton?" 

"What," she looked down at her son in confusion. "What do you mean?" 

"Papa is Brigeton, and you, and Eddy, and Lily. But Josey and me are not Brigeton. How come?" 

"Oh honey," she said with a sigh. "You are a Bridgerton. But you are more than that. You are special because you chose your papa and your papa chose you. And you love your papa, right?" 

"Mmhmm," he had his finger in his mouth. 

"And your papa loves you, so much." 

"Papa always be my papa now?" 

"Papa will always be your papa, yes." 

"Papa always love me," he asked. 

"Papa will always love you. He loves you so much, Henry." The young boy nodded. Her answer was satisfactory, at least for now. She was sorry, sorrier than Henry would ever know. He could have been a Bridgerton had she not been so stubborn.  She sniffed and Violet rubbed her hand gently. 

"Henry," Violet leaned over and whispered to her grandson. "How about if from now on we call you Henry Bridgerton-Grey," Kate looked at her in shock which abated when the look of pure joy spread across her young son's face.

"And Josey?" 

"And Josey as well," Violet smiled. "Lady Josephine Bridgerton-Grey. Does that sound good?" 

"I like that," Henry clapped. "Then we can be like papa!" 

Kate smiled and mouthed a 'thank you' to Violet. She had had many tough conversations with Henry over the last year. None were as difficult as Henry not understanding why Anthony was not his papa first. It was simply a fact that he quite adored Anthony. Anthony was his world, and Kate could not be more thrilled that two of the men she loved the most in the world had the incredible relationship they built from scratch simply because they wanted to, not because they had to. 

"It is not your fault," Violet whispered. "Get out of your head. Henry does not understand." 

"How can you say it is not my fault?" 

"Anthony had equal measure in the reason you two were not together, as did Edwina. You simply were caught in the middle." 

"I pushed him," she insisted. 

"Anthony is rarely pushed into something he does not want to do." 

And there it was again. That ugly black cloud that hung over them every time her sister was brought up. He did not want her at the time. That was why they were not wed. 

"Kate," Violet said. "Are you ok?" 

"He didn't want me, did he," she whispered. 

"Kate," she sighed. "He was a shell. I did not know what was going on in the marriage until Edwina ran off, but I do know my son, and I do know he was not happy. He married because he wanted an heir. That was it. There were a few fights. There was one about Hyacinth that Benedict had to get in the middle of. My son would never lay a hand on any woman, but he was terrifyingly close. And that was just a fight I saw. She would threaten to run away, and Benedict said one time he actually offered her the door. There is no comparison. If you left, he would not survive. And the reason I know that is because he only started to live when you came back into his life. You taught my son to laugh again," Violet smiled a watery smile. "He is my eldest, but he is my baby. I messed up seriously after Edmond passed away. Anthony held our lives together and he continued to. Nobody held him up though, until you. There is not a day that goes by now that I am not relieved that Edwina ran off. Daphne once said that you came back into his life and taught him how to be strong again, and I thank the Lord every day for that." 

Kate sniffed. 

"I also thank the Lord every day for you, Kate. I thank him for keeping you alive and making you strong enough to survive. I thank him for bringing you to us. I thank him for Simon and his courage to come to your defense that day. I thank the Lord for Henry and Josephine for helping him to open up. And I thank the Lord that you, for all that my son has done, love him just as much and accepted his hand." 

"I do love him," she whispered. "It is just hard. I am always reminded." 

"He is too," Violet nodded and Kate looked at her in confusion. "He may never forgive himself for what he did to you and Edwina. But he is trying." 

"I do not wish this to hang over us for the remainder of our lives," she said. 

"It will always be there, my darling," Violet smiled. "But you can choose to change your reaction to it. It will not happen right away, but as the years go by, and your children grow, and you have more children, and more responsibilities, this hurt will fade and eventually be a distant memory."

"You think so?" 

"I know so." 

Kate nodded and looked down at her newest little girl, blinking back the tears. "Everything in me hopes that what you are saying is true." 

"It is. You just have to learn to lean on him and trust him. You are his world." 

"What would I do without you?" 

"I am your mother," Violet smiled. "My job is to be here and guide you out of your darkest moments." 

"It seems like everything is dark lately," Kate whispered. 

"I know that too. But there is light in that too." 

"What," Kate said. "How?"

"Because you are feeling that way because you made these two perfect angels," she motioned to the twins currently sleeping in their arms. "I know as a mother I would walk the darkest alleyways for my children. And I know you would too." 

"You are right," Kate squeezed Henry to her side who was cheering on Anthony as he claimed victory over Sophie. "I would, absolutely." Horse hooves sounded in the gravel and the group turned toward the drive. 

A man on horseback, that Kate recognized to be from a neighboring estate, led a young mare up the drive and Anthony grinned. "Josephine! Come!" 

Josephine was still crouched down searching for bugs in the grass. She was a singular little girl. After hearing her father's command, she stood up and grinned, then ran to him with open arms. 

"What is he doing," Kate asked. 

"I have no idea," Violet said. 

"How come she does not listen to me like that," Colin complained. 

Kate shook her head and watched as her daughter jumped into her father's arms and he carried her up to the drive. The man had slid down off his horse and was leading both horses towards Josephine and Anthony right now. Simon too had joined them, shaking the man's hand. The only thing suspicious to Kate was that the young mare had a saddle and no rider. 

The men's conversation did not last long before Anthony pulled away from the group, Josephine on his hip, and he carried her to the mare. The girl had been around horses before, she loved them. They watched as the young girl ran a small hand over the horse's muzzle. Anthony said something to her, and she squealed and clapped her hands. 

"He did not just buy this girl a horse," Lady Danbury said. "I was going to buy her a horse. It is my birthright as her godmother!" 

Kate laughed. There was no way Anthony would let anybody other than himself by his children their first horse. Though she was just as surprised and could only watch in awe. 

They watched Anthony lift the girl onto the saddle, "Yay horsey," she squealed. They watched as Anthony instructed her to hold onto the horn and she did so immediately. "Ok papa. I not let go!" 

Anthony took the lead from the man's hands and started to lead her around the graveled path in a circle, his face bursting with pride as he caught her eyes. His smile took her breath away. 

"I widing," Josey exclaimed. "Mama look! I widing!" 

"Good job, Josey," Henry was standing in his seat beside her watching and clapping. 

"Papa," she squealed. "I widing!" 

Kate smiled with tears in her eyes. Anthony led her back where Simon and the other gentleman were standing. Simon looked at his niece with pride. Amelia was still quite afraid of horses; she preferred her dolls and ribbons. Josey loved her dolls and ribbons, but she also loved dirt and bugs and playing pranks with her uncle Greggy. Josephine spent a lot of time with Anthony on a horse, but never on her own. They had talked about getting her on one, but they couldn't come to a consensus as to which one in their stable yard would be good for her. Anthony clearly had found one though, and she could not be more thrilled. And for the first time that day, Kate felt something lighten in her chest. 

 

Anthony smiled at Kate as he closed the door to their bedroom later that night. "She did not want to sleep. But I wanted to hold you tonight, so she could not sleep with mama and papa. I am sure we will have a visitor in the middle of the night." 

"She was so happy," Kate said quietly. 

"Are you," he looked at her worriedly. "I know I did not ask." 

"I am happy, Anthony. I trust you. You are her father. There are times when you will need to make decisions for her without consulting me first, and I am ok with that." He swallowed hard and she felt bad.  "Anthony you are their father. I know I have a hard time letting them go, but that is only because there was a time that they were all I had. You have more than stepped in and helped me realize that you only have their best interest in hand. I am more than ok with this horse. Josey looked beautiful on it, and the horse handled her exuberance very well. You chose well for our daughter." 

He nodded and placed a kiss to the top of her head. "And how are you feeling," he asked quietly. "You were smiling today." 

"Well, between Sophie taking your mallet, Josey's horse, and a much-needed conversation with your mother I had a good day, I think. The sunshine helped."

"What did my mother say?" 

"She said as mothers we would walk the darkest alleyways for our children. And I quite agree. I may not like it, but I know that I would not change anything. We made two beautiful babies and I am determined to enjoy them." 

He kissed her shoulder. "All I ask is that you will communicate with me. Whatever it is that you are feeling. Happy, sad, or angry." 

"I promise," she kissed him gently and it felt good. It was the first time she had initiated any form of intimacy since she had begun to feel so low. "I do want to talk to you about something though." 

"Oh?" 

"Henry talked to me today, and he was upset." 

"What about," Anthony asked and sat up straight. "Is he ok?" 

"He asked me why he was not a Bridgerton, like you, and the twins." 

"Oh," he said quietly. "My mother told me." 

"Is there anything we can do legally. Henry is a Grey. He deserves his inheritance. He loves Haven Valley. But he adores you. And I do not want him growing up feeling like he is different because he does not share your name. I share your name." 

"I have spoken to Simon and we will do everything in our power to come up with some legal avenue to help, my love. I promise you. I feel Henry's pain. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of him as my own. But to have to introduce my son, my eldest son as a Grey when I know that that man does not deserve it, to have a son like Henry to carry on his false legacy, it kills me. In the meantime, I will explain to my family, and we will just call him Bridgerton. There is no harm in that." 

"I can ask the Queen," Kate whispered. "I have a good relationship with her." Anthony stared at her like she was growing horns from her head. "Never mind. That is a bad idea." 

"It is just that," he started. "Kate. The Queen has been more than nice to me. She granted my divorce from her diamond when she sanctioned the marriage to begin with. But Kate, she would need an explanation. And I am not sure that you would be comfortable giving her one." 

Kate stared at him and then inhaled deeply. "I would do anything for my children." 

"I will talk to Simon. But in the meantime, I want you to think about it seriously. It could attract gossip and scandal." 

"Is that not what we do," she asked. He chuckled. 

"Fair point," he pulled her close again. "Now shush. I want to kiss my wife until my son needs her." Kate moaned as she leaned back in his arms as he claimed her mouth with his own. "Lady Bridgerton," he moaned softly. "You are my world. I hope you know that." 

She did know that. And at the moment she felt like the luckiest woman in the world. 

"You know she named her horse Coco," he mumbled into her neck. 

Kate burst out laughing. It was the only thing she could do. 

Chapter Text

Colin was sitting on the sofa, Josephine standing beside him, leaning against the back, her new riding boots a clue that she and Henry were going to be picked up by their father soon for their lessons. If Colin wasn't so desperate, he would find her quite adorable. But Josephine was nineteen months old, and her attention span was sorely lacking. But she owed him for naming her damn horse after him. Henry sat across from them in the other sofa, watching in amusement. The boy was pure Anthony that if Colin wasn't sure that Kate had been kept away for her whole marriage, he was sure Henry could be Anthony's due to some kind of infidelity. 

"Do not laugh at me," he glared at the boy who just laughed at him harder. The children were not listening to him today and it was rather annoying. He turned back to the one who could be manipulated by sweets and smiled at her sweetly. She of course, was just like her mother and had the nerve to laugh at him. "Josey. We have to practice. Penelope will be here today." 

"Nu-uh," she faced the back of the sofa, put her hands on the back and jumped up and down. He should correct her behavior, but Anthony was on his list for allowing the girl to name her horse after him. He held up a plate of cake that quickly got her attention. She reached for it, and he pulled it back and she sat down with a huff. She was definitely Kate's daughter. 

"What do we say when Penelope gets here this afternoon?" Penelope was visiting, alongside her family from their neighboring estate. Sophie was hosting because the twins, being three weeks old, were still making a lot of demands on their mama. They still were not sure if Kate would attend. Better for him if she wouldn't so he could utilize her daughter's cuteness for his own gain. 

"Unca Coco sowwy, Penelpe," her voice was filled with such remorse that he almost fell for it himself. 

"Very good," he handed her a bite of cake. "And what next?" 

"Your mama look like a birdy," she shook her head seriously, and Henry burst into laughter. 

"You," he glared at the boy which only made him laugh harder. "Stop teaching her different things to say." 

"Stop telling her what to say, Uncle Coco," Henry said with a voice he heard from Anthony so often. 

"Ugh," he turned back to Josey. "No. Josey, you do the face. Remember?" 

She held out her hand. "Cake." 

"Do the face," he shook his head. 

"Cake." 

He sighed and gave her another piece. "Now do the face." 

Josey stuck out her bottom lip into a pout as she said, "I wuv, Coco."

"Good girl," he gave her another piece of cake just as his mother walked in. 

"Are you coercing my granddaughter into helping you apologize to Penelope without you having to actually apologize to Penelope," she walked over to Josey and held out her arms to her, who happily went to her grandmother. 

"Well," Colin said defensively. "Henry wouldn't do it." In fact, the boy laughed in his face and told him he was not being a gentleman. But she need not know that. 

"Colin," she sighed. 

"I told him grammy," Henry jumped up. "I told him papa always say that a gentleman apologizes to their ladies." 

"Very good, Henry," she ruffled the top of his head fondly. "And you are absolutely right. I raised you better than this, Colin. What is going on?" 

"That woman is the most frustrating woman of my entire existence, and I would know because I happen to have Kate and Sophie as sisters-in-law." 

"It is ok to admit that you love her, Colin. In fact, I would appreciate it if you did. Penelope is a good girl. She has been a good friend to this family for so long. I would prefer you marry in a more traditional route compared to your brothers." 

"I do not know what I feel for her right now," Colin admitted. "All I know is that I hate that she is mad at me." Violet hummed in response, and kissed Josey's cheek. 

"Well you cannot use Josephine to make your apologies." 

"I can if you will let me finish coaching her." 

"Her papa is on his way to pick them up," Violet said. "They are going to go ride their horses" 

"Yea horsey," Josey clapped. Violet looked at her fondly. 

Anthony and Benedict came in, wearing only their training clothes, white loose shirts and trousers tucked into their long boots. "What's going on in here," Anthony asked as Josephine practically swam her way through the air into her father's arms. 

"Colin is trying to use your daughter to apologize to Penelope."

"What is going on lately with everyone using my daughter lately. First Sophie with my mallet," he growled and attacked Josephine's neck with playful kisses as she burst into giggles. "Do not think I did not forget that little girl. And then I found out Benedict used her to help him cards last night," he sent his brother a glare who had the grace to look ashamed. "And now you." 

"Oh you sound just like your son," Colin whined and Anthony looked down at Henry, who was holding his leg.  

"I told him to be a gentleman," Henry declared proudly and Anthony ruffled his hair. 

"Good job, my son," he bent down and kissed his cheek. He stood back up. "Mama is coming to watch today." 

"She ride with us," Henry asked excitedly. He loved riding with Kate, but she hadn't been able to ride with them much in her late pregnancy. 

"Not today, my boy. She is still healing. But maybe in a few weeks?" 

"Oh," he looked dejected. But then perked back. "Maybe we go on picnic then when she gets better." 

"I am sure she will like that very much," Anthony nodded. "You are going to train with uncle Ben, and Josey is with me today. Is that ok?" 

"Mmhmm," he nodded. "I love Uncle Ben." Anthony looked over as Benedict cleared his throat, clearly caught up in emotion. Benedict adored all of his nieces in nephews. But he had grown closer to Anthony since his marriage, the two brothers practically inseparable. It was his greatest joy that they would be able to raise their children so close together, and that Sophie and Kate were as close as sisters. Benedict held his arms out to Henry who jumped into his arms. 

"Shall we," Benedict asked and Anthony nodded. 

 

Kate and Sophie made their way slowly down to the stable yard where the horses where the new horses were being trained. Typically, Anthony would take Henry out into the open field for their ride, but since this was Josephine's first lesson on a horse by herself, Anthony felt safer in the training pens, where he could keep the lead in his hands, and walk the mare around in circles. Not only that but the mare was new to area, and it would help her get to know her new home, and bond with Josey as her owner. 

Henry was in one pen with Benedict, who had a lead on, but was allowing Henry to basically trot his horse around the pin on his own. Kate burst with pride. Henry's love of horses was ingrained in the fabric of his being. He could handle his horse well, but was still to small to reach the stirrups to actually stop the horse quickly. 

"I love the country," Sophie sighed and Kate looked over. Her look was dreamy and far off and in Anthony's direction as he led their daughter in a circle around the pen. Sophie had confessed to harboring a little crush on her brother-in-law lately, and truthfully Kate couldn't blame her. Kate knew Sophie's heart belonged to Benedict and Benedict only, so she was not offended. She did however burst into laughter. 

"Benedict is wearing the same thing, Soph." 

"It's not the same," she sighed. 

Kate snorted and turned back to her husband and daughter. Josephine was fearless. Kate and Anthony's fear for Josey wasn't that she would be timid, but that she would be too excited and overtly fearless. She would take risks. So Kate and Anthony wanted to make sure she knew from the beginning that she could get hurt if she was not careful. 

"Hold the horn, Josephine Aahana," Anthony commanded as Josey got distracted with the horse's mane. 

"Ok, papa," she called back to him. Anthony found her and shot her a grin to which she had to smile back. Her husband was looking particularly ravishing today, and Kate was actually feeling really good today. She had woken up this morning and the dark clouds were there, but then Edmond had stayed awake longer than normal after his normal meal and she was able to play with him and coax a few smiles out of him as well. Anthony's trademark dimples that both of the twins inherited, highlighted his sweet face that already looked so much like his papa. 

"Try to get your boots into his side as hard as you can Henry, without kicking him," Benedict told his nephew. "Let us see if you can slow him down on your own." Kate turned to watch her four-year-old as he listened to his uncle. Benedict was on a box in the center of the ring, as Henry rode circles around him, while Benedict maintained the lead. 

"I bet Ben cannot wait until little Charles is ready for his own horse." 

"It is all he can talk about," Sophie laughed. "He has adored being with your children these last months, Kate." 

"They love him. And you. I noticed your coerced my daughter into stealing a certain mallet yesterday." 

Sophie had the decency to blush. "A lot of good that did me. I still lost!" 

"Be glad you did, because Anthony would be brutal." 

"He is not brutal to you if you win!" 

"Yeah, but he is scared of me," Kate laughed. 

Sophie looked at her friend for a moment before replying. "Are you ok, though? I know it has been difficult, since the birth." 

"I am so ashamed that I feel this way," Kate admitted. "And it is not even consistent. There are days when my whole day is in a fog. Then today I woke in a fog, and now I feel amazing. Violet said she has gone through this before. I just want to feel normal again."

"And things are good with you and Anthony?" 

"He is the love of my life," Kate sighed and turned her gaze to her husband, who was correcting their daughter's posture. "There are times I want to strangle him because he vexes me greatly. And then last night he held me in his arms, and we talked about our day, and he listened to me. He fights for me, Sophie. And I have never had that. And I do not think that I deserve that." 

"You absolutely do deserve that, Kate," Sophie exclaimed quietly enough so that the men couldn't hear, and she took Kate's hands looking up at her in earnest. "It is the most incredible feeling be vulnerable with the man you love. It is freeing! And intoxicating." 

"It is hard to let go. I was always the one running things. And then with the duke, I was not allowed to do anything but to sit still, make fashion choices, and make him look good. Anthony comes to me with everything. The finances, the estate business, everything. It is everything I wanted in a marriage, but never hoped to have. And now that I have it, I do not know what to do with it. It is overwhelming. And then I feel guilty because he is always willing to change. He is not the man I met six years ago. He was unyielding and demanding, and absolutely sure he always knew best." 

"And then he proposed to your sister," Sophie said quietly. 

"Yeah," Kate said. "And as much as I love him. I am having a hard time letting that go. And I want to! God help me I do! Violet said it will get better, and I hope she is right." 

"Violet is very knowledgeable. She sees things differently." 

"She is incredible," Kate nodded and turned back to watching Henry. Her son was having some success in slowing his horse down by himself. 

"Good job, buddy," Benedict exclaimed. 

"Papa," Henry yelled. "I am doing it!"

"Great job, son," Anthony called back proudly before turning back to their daughter who was holding her hands in the air as they moved, laughing. "Little girl, hands! Now!" Josephine giggled then put her hands back around the horn. Anthony shook his head muttering something they could not hear. And she heard Sophie sigh dreamily again. Kate laughed. 

"Does Benedict know that you have a crush on his brother?"

"He absolutely does," Sophie laughed. "I may have told him that you have a crush on him as well." 

"But I do not," Kate exclaimed. 

"Shh," Sophie said. "He does not need to know that." Kate laughed again and turned back to the pens. Anthony was helping Josey adjust in her saddle. 

"Papa, I hold this," she held up the reigns. 

"Not yet, my darling. I need you to hold onto that horn at all times. Just like when you ride with papa, ok." 

"Ok," she kissed his cheek then moved her hands back to their correct positions. 

Anthony turned to her and waved her over. "Sweetheart. Come here for a few moments." 

Kate smiled at Sophie and then made her way over to the closest training pen. She opened the gate, and let herself in, closing it behind her. She made her way to her husband and daughter. 

"Hi mama! Look. I widing!"

"I see that, my love. You are doing so well." 

Anthony greeted her with a deep kiss and a knowing look. "Can you hold her lead? This saddle is too big. She is much smaller than Henry was when he first came. Can you lead her around while I go get the one we used for Hyacinth?" She nodded quietly and he pressed another kiss to her mouth, before jogging to the side closest to the stable barn. He climbed the fence and jumped over. 

She heard a sigh from across the yard and looked over at Sophie who was blushing furiously because Benedict had also heard her and started to laugh. Kate turned to Josey and whispered. "At least your Uncle Ben does not seem threatened." Josephine stared at her like she was nuts. 

"We wide, mama," she asked. 

"Of course," she began to slowly walk Josephine in a circle around the perimeter of the pen, as Anthony had been doing, paying attention to her rambunctious daughter to make sure her hands stayed in place. She actually had a pretty good seat, a natural horsewoman. When they made their way around the second time, she noticed, Anthony had the saddle he needed, he had it placed on the top rung of the fence as he climbed back over. He motioned for her to walk Josephine back over to him. 

"You look good in the training pens, Lady Bridgerton," he said flirtatiously as he handed Josephine down and told her to stand by the fence, and not to move. It was a testament to how much she loved her horse and being outside, that she actually listened. 

"I would not mind you climbing the fence a few more times, Lord Bridgerton," she said, and a slow grin spread across his face. 

"Viscountess," he said quietly. "The midwife said six weeks, yes?" 

"Well, she said when I felt healed." 

"And do you feel healed," he asked as he looked deeper into her eyes. "I will not have you in pain because of my needs. I can wait." 

She bit her lip. "I do not think I can." 

He leaned in and pressed a wet kiss into her neck, sucking gently before quickly pulling away. "I will be gentle. I promise." 

"I have no doubts, my lord." 

She watched as his muscles flexed as he expertly got the saddle off the mare and put the smaller saddle on. It did look better. Anthony had said Hyacinth was three when she started her lessons, only because Anthony had to spend a lot of time training horses at the time. Aubrey Hall at the time was renowned for horse breeding. Racehorses, labor horses. You name it, and it was done. But it was not beneficial for him to spend so much time at Aubrey Hall with the program when he had to be in town most of the season for Parliament. And Benedict, while he loved horses, had no interest in the breeding program. Anthony had told her it broke his heart to let the program go, because his father had built it from scratch, but he would not be happy if he could not throw his entire being into it, and he had made the right choice. Now the viscountcy was as profitable as it had ever been, and that was a testament to Anthony and his well-researched investments. The Bridgertons, while always a very powerful family in the ton, had not been able to move from a viscountcy to an Earl title, and truthfully, Anthony had no interest in that. However, he did have an interest in showing that his family was not to be messed with and money held a lot of influence. His brothers did not need to marry for money because of Anthony's influence. His sister's dowries were doubled in the time since Anthony took over the title. And his own children would look forward to the same thing. There was never a wonder why scandal barely touched him during the divorce and the scandal that did was from the lesser families of the ton, like the Cowpers and Featheringons, and they could raise that to jealously. Lady Cowper had wanted her daughter to be a Bridgerton for years. 

Anthony called for Josephine who ran back over quickly, and he lifted her onto the saddle. It was a much better fit. 

"Not teaching her side saddle, Lord Bridgerton," she teased. 

"I would not dream of it," he laughed and took the lead from her. She placed her hands on his chest in the area where the shirt opened showing part of his chest and kissed him gently. 

"Good job, papa," she grinned as he swallowed hard, and she turned and made her way back to Sophie. 

Sophie laughed at her as she closed the pen. "Violet was right. Eight children. And no one would blame you at all."  

Kate glared at her before bursting into laughter. "Aren't you hosting the Featheringtons tonight?" 

Sophie stopped laughing and bit her lip. "Yeah, ok. I'll stop teasing now." 

"It will be fine. Just make sure Colin stays away from his tea. And make sure that my son is within arms distance at all times so you can cover his mouth when he calls Portia Featherington a bird." Sophie burst into laughter. 

"You cannot even be mad at him for that." 

"He is my son," Kate admitted. "Who knows. Maybe she will dress like another animal today. Maybe a cow." 

"Oh Lord," Sophie gasped. "Can you imagine." 

"With Portia anything is possible." 

They watched the men work with the children in silence for a few before Sophie turned to her and said, "Can you just say you have a crush on my husband, so I do not feel so guilty coveting yours." 

Kate burst into laughter. "I'm sorry Soph," she teased. "Anthony Bridgerton is the only man that can get my heart racing." 

 

"Are you sure you do not want to be down there at the dinner party," Kate asked him quietly as he sat beside her in their private sitting room later that night. "I feel bad. Josey and Henry are." 

"Benedict has them well in hand," Anthony murmured as he played with a loose curl at the base of her neck. "I need to be with my beautiful wife tonight." 

"It is entirely unfair," Kate complained. "That you should look this good after a full day in the sun." Anthony laughed and Kate glared at him. "Do not laugh at me," she exclaimed and pushed him gently. 

Anthony made a show of trying to temper his laughter and pulled her close to him. "Honestly, how are you feeling?" He had taken to ask her that question twice a day now. And she knew he truly wanted to know. 

"I am fine right now," she bit her lip. "It was a good day. I got to take a nap with the babies." 

"Well deserved," Anthony murmured. 

"Edmond is developing such a personality already." 

"Like Josephine. I noticed." 

"Lily reminds me of Benedict." 

"Trying to tell me something," he asked, and she giggled. 

"I am not the one you have to worry about." 

"Ah," Anthony sat back and took his boots off. "Yeah. Benedict told me about Sophie," he grinned back at her over his shoulder. "Feels good to be lusted over. My own wife is too beautiful to care." 

"Shut up," Kate laughed. "I gave you twins."

"Mm," he murmured non-committedly as he stood and removed his jacket and waist coat. "Making them did not require me being handsome. It required me knowing how to possess your gorgeous body." 

"You know I think you are handsome," she giggled. 

"Do you lust after me, my love," he teased and turned back to her. He pulled her up and buried his face into her neck. "Do I drive you to distraction when I am around, so you have to think of something distasteful to stem your arousal. The number of times that I have had to think of Cressida Cowper since you gave birth is alarming." 

"Anthony," she exclaimed laughing. He lifted her nightgown over her head, and she moaned as he found a breast. "I thought we were eating first," she breathed. 

"I am," he moaned as he fit his mouth over a breast, and she nearly cried with relief. He looked back up at her. "Are you hungry, my love. Or can you wait." 

"It can wait," she panted, and he grinned. He lifted her and carried her back to their bed, gently placing her on top. 

"Are you sure you feel ok?" 

"Yes, do not stop." 

He found her breast again and sucked. She felt the familiar pull she felt with her babies as they fed, but this was different. More intimate, and strangely arousing. His hands quickly found a familiar rhythm between her legs and they both groaned when he made contact. 

"I will be gentle," he whispered. 

"I trust you," she breathed, and his lips found her mouth again. The familiar taste of Anthony along with the newer taste of her milk on his tongue filled her senses and made her moan in pleasure. 

Time stood still as his body joined hers for the first time since the birth of their babies. He was slow and deliberate in a way that he had never been before, and his eyes never left hers the entire time. She found her release within minutes of their joining, breathless, screaming his name, as their eyes never left each other's. He followed soon behind her, spilling into his handkerchief. His valet would not be happy that they were back to that for a while, and she giggled. He looked at her in confusion. "Your valet," she pointed to the soiled cloth, and he too was bursting with laughter as he pulled her close. 

"How do you feel," he asked quietly. 

"Good," she said. "Very good, actually." 

"Perhaps you'd like to go again," he teased. 

"Most definitely," she stretched. "But we should eat. And Lily will need me in an hour. I definitely feel full." 

"Mm," he placed a kiss to one of her breasts. "You look full too. It is incredible." 

"You seemed to like it." 

"I loved it. I should have tried it when you were nursing Josey. It is incredible. But then it is you, so I am not surprised. Would that I could keep you like this always." 

"Mm no. They get painful when they get too full. The midwife showed me how to express some when it happens when they are not feeding but it kind of hurts. I have to squeeze them." 

"Did it hurt when I did it," he asked, concerned. 

"No. You read my body like a book. It is magic." 

He smirked and then placed another kiss to her mouth. "Shall we eat then? I would love to have you again before our baby girl needs you." 

"I am quite hungry now," she laughed. He handed her her robe and helped her out of their bed. Finding his and putting his on as well. He led her back to their sitting room that connected the viscount and viscountess rooms. He led her to the sofa, clearly not ready to let her leave his side anytime soon. 

And truthfully, she was feeling the same way. She almost felt healed. 

 

"A letter for you, your majesty," Brimsley bowed and then handed her the missive. "From Lady Bridgerton." 

"Ahh," Charlotte took the letter with fast interest. She had been waiting on this letter for almost a year since her handmaiden's cousin had joined her staff from Grey House with some interesting tales to tell. Though they quickly found out that they were not tales at all. And Charlotte was all for loyalty, and the Duke of Lancaster was one of her son's dearest friends. But Charlotte was also a sucker for love. She did not tolerate disrespect. And she would not have tolerated James Grey treating his wife with anything less than respect had she known. 

And what is worse is that she had sanctioned the marriage. Lady Bridgerton was as a daughter to Lady Danbury as well, one of her closest friends. She had known that the duchess had not been present to her family since the start of her marriage, but she had chalked it up to the business of helping to run a duchy. Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined that the details would be much more sordid. 

It was why she had quickly sanctioned the divorce of one Lord Anthony Bridgerton to her diamond Edwina Sharma. And after talking with her dear friend, she had quickly sanctioned the love match and marriage of the duchess and Lord Bridgerton. 

It was a shame that Lord Bridgerton was raising another man's children who had no business being a father in the first place. Even more of a shame that the Bridgerton family had never risen past the viscountcy given to them so many generations ago. 

Kathani, Duchess of Lancaster had become as dear as her own daughters to her so many years ago when she proved her mettle of being sharp, and witty, and she suffered no fools except for an abusive husband to which she had no choice. But she had survived and that was something to admire. 

And now her children needed their Queens help. 

And that was something that she was more than willing to give. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Lady Danbury had been expecting this summons for a while, since Kate had told her that she had sent the letter. She took her seat next to Charlotte, as usual and watched with a feigned level of indifference, though her heart was racing. 

"How is she," Charlotte asked. 

"She is well. Back to her old self, though having some post-pregnancy complications. Other than that, she is happier than ever." 

"And the children?"

"They are happy, healthy, and safe." 

"Is he good with them?" 

"He is their world," Lady Danbury smiled. "Their whole world revolves around their mama and papa." 

 "Tea?" 

Lady Danbury nodded, and the conversation was over. She expected big changes soon in the Bridgerton-Grey families. 

 

Kate's day started off in the most amazing of ways, after an amazing night that between the twins and her husband was basically sleepless. She hadn't realized how much she had missed his touch. He had told her a few weeks ago that he needed to touch her to ground himself, but she feared she needed his touch to bring her to reality. She craved it. And waking to his head between her legs had unleashed the inner vixen in her, she had flipped him and ridden him to completion three times before she allowed him his. 

He'd made a joke in the afterglow about her being ready to ride a horse again, and then she had to take him again. She hadn't been this insatiable since she was in her fourth month of pregnancy. She could barely walk, and it was worth it. He had to carry her down for an early breakfast. The family hadn't been up yet because of their late-night party, so it was just the two of them. He then had his steward cancels his appointments for the rest of the day and week, confessing he wanted to be with her. 

They hadn't been able to have a honeymoon, and now they would try to rectify that, he had said. Despite having children to care for, they would be with each other for the next week and allow the family to take over when they could. She still would need to nurse, but Ben and Sophie and Violet could manage the children other than that. They were in the sitting room after breakfast, curled up together in the most improper way, but they couldn't bring themselves to care, and Kate felt absolutely giddy. He had his arm around her shoulder, and his face pressed into her neck as he murmured sweet nothings and erotic sentiments into her ear, causing her to giggle and blush. His other hand was on her legs that were draped over his, squeezing occasionally when he would press a kiss into her neck. His tongue sucking at the pulse point behind her ear, causing her to have to catch her breath. 

They looked up when Benedict walked into the room, who looked at the scene and started to laugh. Anthony sent him a glare, but they did nothing to disentangle from each other. Kate laughed too. 

"I thought the honeymoon was over," Ben laughed. 

"Mm no," Kate sighed and laid her head on his shoulder and squeezed his hand on top of her leg. 

"You two are disgusting," Benedict said, though his smile betrayed him. Anthony made a show a placing a long-exaggerated kiss into her neck and Benedict groaned playfully. 

"We are on our honeymoon," Anthony growled. "Which brings you into the picture. We need your assistance. And Sophie's." 

"The children?" 

"Yeah." 

"I do not mind, and I am sure Sophie will not either." 

"And mother will be here," Anthony added. "And we will still be here, Kate still has to nurse. We will just be missing." Kate giggled. 

"This is not going to go well with Josephine if she cannot see you every day," Benedict said. "Henry too." 

"Oh, we will see them, but only when they need us," Anthony said. "The rest will be up to you." 

"Hyacinth will probably want to help too," Benedict said. 

"Yeah," Anthony said. "She is great." 

"And Colin." 

"Please refrain from allowing him direct access to Josephine without supervision," Anthony said seriously and Kate burst into laughter. 

"You do not know the half of it," Benedict laughed. "You missed a great party last night," he said sarcastically.

They looked up as Sophie walked through the door and squealed at Kate and Anthony. "You guys are too cute!" Kate playfully rolled her eyes, and Anthony laughed when Sophie wacked his shoulder. "How come you never hold me like that anymore," she exclaimed as she sat down beside him. 

"I do not have to prove my love to you anymore," Benedict laughed and then hissed as she pinched his ear. "Ow!" 

"Ben was just about to tell us about the dinner party last night," Kate said and laid her head back on Anthony's shoulder. 

"Oh," Sophie stifled a giggle. "Might I say that your children are my favorite children in the world." 

"What about our son," Benedict asked. 

"He is not funny yet," Sophie tossed her blonde hair to the side and reached for some grapes on the table in front of her.

Anthony groaned and brought Kate in closer to him. "What did Josephine do," he asked. 

Benedict tossed his head back and burst into laughter. "How do you know it was Josephine." 

"It is always Josephine," Anthony said. 

"Well to be fair," Sophie said. "I think young Henry eggs her on." 

"He most definitely does," Kate agreed. "What happened. 

"So," Sophie began. "I had the children dressed beautifully. Henry looked so handsome in his clothes, he even kept his little cravat on all night," she glared at Benedict. "Which is more than I can say about some gentleman. And Josephine, I did her hair, and she wore that new pink dress that Violet got her, the one with all the flowers sewn on. She looked stunning. I could not get her to keep her slippers on though." 

"That is always a lost cause," Kate snorted. 

"Unless it is her riding boots," Anthony laughed. 

"They were the perfect children," Sophie continued. 

"Until Uncle Colin got ahold of her." 

"Henry stood in front of Sophie and Josephine was in Benedict's arms as they prepared to greet their guests." 

"This again, Aunt Sopi," Henry looked up at her. "I hungwy." 

"We will eat within the hours, my love," she ran a hand over his head gently, and pinched his cheek gently. 

Colin was pacing behind them; he didn't have to host this time. Benedict nudged her gently.

"I wish he would make a move already," he whispered. "This is getting quite annoying. At this point these dinner parties are just parties for people we barely like. Pen is a sweet girl, but their mother," Ben shook his head. 

"We are Bridgertons," Sophie said. "We have to keep up appearances."  Benedict sighed dramatically and Josephine copied him causing them to laugh. She really was stunning tonight.

"Josey agrees with me," Benedict said. "Do you not?" She responded by taking of one slipper and throwing it over his shoulder, then the other. Violet let out a long-suffering sigh behind them. 

"Josephine Bridgerton-Grey," she picked up the slippers and attempted to wrangle them back on her, but Josephine protested. 

"No gammy." 

"This dress is beautiful, Violet," Sophie said, and ran a hand over the material of Josephine's dress.

"Thank you," Violet smiled. "I got Amelia a matching one in sage. Pink just goes with her skin tone. I adore it on her," she ran a hand over Josey's head. "You look beautiful tonight, my love." 

"Tank you," Josey grinned and wrapped her arms around Benedicts neck, her face in his neck as she giggles. 

"At least she is in a good mood," Violet said. "I was concerned with Kate and Anthony not being here, how she would react." 

"Well, the night is still young," Benedict said. The footman announced their guests and Portia Featherington walked in in a feathered mess of glory. 

"It's the birdy," Henry whispered, his eyes widened as he looked up at her. Sophie put a finger to her mouth to shush him. 

"Not now, sweet boy. Be a gentleman like your papa, remember." He nodded and straightened up, tugging on his jacket in a way that they have seen Anthony do a hundred times before. 

"Just like Anthony," Benedict whispered fondly. 

"Ah," Portia Featherington had reached her hosts. "Mr. and Mrs. Bridgerton. Thank you for having us tonight. It seems in times such as these, friendship can be a real balm to the soul." She looked down at Henry. "Your grace," she dropped a curtsey and Henry returned with a perfect bow that had her stunned. Henry had gotten used to being introduced with his title, though he had no idea why people deferred to him first usually. It was a testament to Anthony that the child did not have to care about such things yet. 

"Hello," Henry said, all politeness. "Welcome to our home." 

"Thank you, your grace," Portia smiled at the boy. "You are all kindness." 

Benedict sat Josephine on the ground in front of him, holding one hand so she wouldn't take off. She had a finger from the hand he wasn't holding in her mouth. She swayed gently, admiring the way her skirt twirled around her. 

"Lady Josephine," Portia said and dropped a curtsey. Josephine looked up at the stranger with wide eyes, finger still in her mouth, she looked up at Benedict in confusion. 

"Can you curtsey," Benedict asked. 

She managed a small dip before bursting into giggles when the two girls behind Portia did the same. Penelope chuckled at the little girl fondly and Prudence just smiled. 

"We have been practicing," Benedict said as he looked down at his niece fondly. "Though she is quite stubborn." 

"Well, she is doing admirably," Penelope said. 

"Hewwo," Josephine waved, which caused the girls to both squeal this time. 

"We are so glad you could come," Colin stepped in and held his arms out to Josey, who went to him willingly. Benedict shook his head and picked up Henry, who was still staring at Portia and her insane number of feathers. The hope was that if he could hold him, he could be quicker to cover his mouth rather than to have to race across the room to do so. 

"Shall we move to the sitting room," Violet asked, as she took Hyacinth's arm for an escort. "Kate has redecorated, and it looks much improved. Quite natural and spacious now."

The sitting room already contained the rest of the Bridgertons minus the Hastings and Gregory. Eloise, Benedict noticed, made no move to go see her friend. A rift between the two, perhaps. And the room was relatively calm comparatively. Anthony had laid down the law to his family a couple hours before, and demanded they be respectful. It seemed the Bridgertons, tonight at least, were determined to obey him. 

Colin made his way in by Penelope, still holding Josephine. But Penelope it seemed had refused an escort by him. What was it with the Bridgerton men courting strong-minded women? Minus Edwina, but Kate more than made up for her sister in everyway. 

"Unca Coco sowwy, Penelpe," Josey was saying as Penelope stood near the fireplace with them. Violet let out a long-suffering sigh. Her second of the night. 

"That boy," she whispered furiously. 

"Oh, is he now," Penelope smiled, charmed by the little girl. "What is he sorry for?"

That stumped Josey, who turned to her uncle in confusion. Henry burst into laughter, causing Colin to shoo him away. 

"Well, ugh," Colin stammered. "You know." 

Penelope turned to Josephine. "Josephine, who is your favorite uncle?"

The whole room silenced and turned to the little girl. "Mmm, papa!" The room burst into laughter and Josephine clapped and giggled. 

"That was a very diplomatic answer," Penelope cooed. 

"You not birdy," Josey said and turned over Colin's shoulder and called to her brother. "Henny! She not birdy!" 

Colin groaned and Violet who had made her way over to them by then took her from his arms. "Be a gentleman," she demanded in an angry whisper. They watched as Penelope smirked up at him, then curtseyed before making her way over to Francesca who was playing piano with Henry adding a not here and there. 

Benedict found Colin and clapped him on the shoulder. "Perhaps now is the time to be honest with her?" 

"You know nothing," Colin hissed. 

"Surely you are not under the illusion that we all do not know that you are in love with the girl." 

"I am not!" 

"Keep lying to yourself, and you'll end up miserable. Remember our brother's marriage to his first wife." Colin shuddered. "Exactly." 

"Where are your slippers, Lady Josephine," Portia was asking as Violet sat with her granddaughter next to Portia. 

"She will not keep them on," Violet said and Portia chuckled quietly. "It is better that she does not wear them, else we would have shoes in our food at the dinner table." 

"Penelope was the same way," Portia laughed. "We could not keep her dressed. Plus, she has skin sensitivity to certain fabrics, so it was hard. My other girls would changes clothes four times a day." 

"Amelia is the same way," Violet said fondly. "It is amazing. Two daughters of dukes, and they are so different. Amelia is all for frills and ribbons. Josephine prefers horses, mud, and grass stains." 

"She will do well with a boy when she is elder." 

"I do not want to think about her having to raise a baby," Violet moaned. "Let alone get married."

"And where is his Lordship," Portia looked around. "I thought he would make an appearance." 

"He is assisting Lady Bridgerton with the babies tonight. She is quite tired." 

"A father as involved with parenting as he. How singular." 

"Both of my sons are singular in their parenting styles," Violet looked at Benedict fondly who was now holding Henry who was done playing the piano. "And I could not be prouder." 

"I was surprised to hear just how involved he is in the duke's children's lives." 

"I am not," Violet said sharply causing Portia to set back. "They are as much his children now than anyone's and have care how you speak. Josephine knows no other father, and Henry needs no reminder of the past." 

"I meant no disrespect, Lady Bridgerton." 

"Whether you did or not, I will not have you disrespecting my grandchildren's roles within this family. They are Bridgertons as much as Charlie and the twins. As much as my own children. And they will have our full protection."

"I will remember," Portia said quietly and Violet nodded in satisfaction. Josephine watched with wide eyes, then turned to the strange lady. 

"Why you birdy," she pulled at a feather on the arm of Portia's dress just as Henry burst into laughter. "Henny! She birdy?" 

Dinner found Benedict at the head as host, and Sophie at the other end, two positions that they were glad to not have to be in regularly. Josephine was on his right next to Violet, and Sophie was maintaining Henry at the opposite end. He seemed to be doing well, other than needing his meat cut, which Sophie did dutifully. As usual Josephine stood in her seat, though this time she didn't have her father's plate to pick food off of, so she had to settle for Benedicts plate. The staff was fully aware of Josephines propensity to not want her own plate, so they just placed an empty one in front of her now, so she could put whatever she pulled off of her father's plate, or in this case, her uncle's and grandmother's, she could set down between bites. 

The dinner went well, other than glares shot across the table between Penelope and Colin. 

"Why they mad at each other, Auntie Sopi," Henry asked loudly and Sophie shushed him gently. Speaking to him gently in hushed tones she answered his question to his satisfaction. "Oh," he said and looked around. "Where mama at?" 

"Mama," Josey stopped and looked around. "MAMA!" Violet sighed.

"Mama is resting, Josephine. You know this." 

The toddler looked around, and then promptly burst into tears. 

"Oh Josey," Benedict sighed as she went to his arms. He rocked her gently as laid her head on his shoulder, crying her heart out. 

"That lasted longer than I expected," Violet joked and the table laughed gently. Truthfully everyone was just concerned that the girl was ok, her sobs sounded devastating. 

"Josephine," Benedict whispered to his niece softly, and Violet looked on in pride. "You must eat sweetheart. You will see mama and papa tomorrow, ok." 

"I not hungwy," she cried. 

"I know baby, but you must eat." She turned in his arms and reached for his plate. He put a piece of meat in her hand, and she nibbled on it slowly, still crying softly. The crisis had been averted with relative ease. 

"You said you would never dream of courting me," Penelope hissed angrily under her breath at Colin across the table from her. 

"That conversation was not meant for your ears," Colin hissed back. 

"Oh you only said it in a public ball, in my back yard, in the middle of a crowd, where anybody could walk by." 

"It was just guys talking!" 

"Gentleman do not behave that way." 

"Do not tell me how gentleman do and do not act." 

"Perhaps you can take lessons from your eldest brothers, Mr. Bridgerton," Penelope seethed. "It seems that with you the bar was too low." 

"You are speaking nonsense!" 

"And to use your niece to apologize," she said. "It does not surprise me that you are unable to apologize yourself when you cannot admit that you did nothing wrong." 

"Perhaps you should not jump to conclusions!"

"Perhaps," Penelope began but was interrupted by Henry who stood in his chair.

"Stop it," he exclaimed. "You making my sister cry!" 

The table turned to Josephine who was watching with tears in her eyes and her ears covered. Colin swore and burst out of his chair, rushing to her side. 

"I am sorry, sweetheart," he kissed her cheek. "Uncle Coco is so sorry." Penelope had the decency to look ashamed and her mother gave her a hard look. 

Sophie pushed away from the table. "I know tensions are high. But we wanted a nice dinner amongst friends and family. Can we all just push whatever tensions we have aside and enjoy the rest of our evening together?" She shot a look at Colin and then Penelope who seemed to slink back into her chair.

"I agree," Portia said. "We should not be fighting. We should be enjoying this time away from the crush of the ton in this beautiful home." 

The table murmured in agreement. Sophie looked at him as the rest of the table went back to their dinner plates and shook her head. She had no idea how Kate did it. She was exhausted. She checked on Henry to make sure he was ok as he checked on Josephine. 

"I do not like fighting, Auntie Sopi," Henry looked down at his food, dejected. "It scares me." 

 

"Oh baby," Kate sighed. "He was doing better." 

"It probably brought up some memories," Anthony said quietly. "I will check with him today." He pressed a kiss into her head. "I am proud of him for standing up for her though." 

"The consummate elder brother," Benedict agreed. "I was so shocked. I should have stepped in." 

"It is always hard the first time it happens," Anthony said. "I remember when I had to do it at eighteen. I had to take control of the room where I felt like I had no business to have control over." Kate squeezed his hand, still laying her head on his shoulder. 

"You always made it seem easy," Benedict said. 

"It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, apart from saying goodbye to this woman," he whispered. 

"Anthony," Kate said quietly. 

He shook himself out of the darkness and squeezed her to him. "I learned a lot about myself when I took over after father. Mostly that I was wholly unprepared." 

"Well, I think you did an amazing job," Benedict said. "And I know the family has not been as supportive as they should be. But know that we appreciate everything you do for us." 

Kate smiled at Benedict, grateful for his kind words. She smiled up at Anthony and whispered into his ear, "I want you." Anthony kicked into motion, standing with her in his arms and Benedict laughed. 

"You two have no shame," he said and Sophie hit him in the back of the head. 

"Be quiet," she laughed. "I think it's sweet." 

 

Violet was so mad at Colin last night that she had torn Josephine's dress while getting her ready for bed. The little girl in turn burst into tears, inconsolable, that she decided to allow her to sleep in her room. With that she allowed Henry too. 

Henry. That precious child. She supposed it was only a matter of time before he had a setback, but never had she thought it would happen like that. Family was supposed to be his safe space. So, with a grandchild clinging to her on each side, she laid in bed awake all night as they slept. She would need to tell Anthony and Kate. 

And she needed to talk to Colin. 

"Colin Bridgerton," she said angrily as he walked into the breakfast room warily. 

"Mother," he sighed. "Do not start." 

"I will start it. And I will finish it. Your behavior yesterday was beyond the pail. You not only acted most unseemly, you hurt your niece and nephew." 

"That was not my intention!" 

"I do not care," she snapped. "Now I do not know what is going on between you and Penelope. Nor do I care at the moment. But enough is enough. Apologize and be a damn gentleman, Colin Bridgerton. Your father would be ashamed of you." 

"Anthony raised me," Colin snorted. "Perhaps you should be angry at him." 

"Anthony is raising a son who behaved in the most gentlemanly manner yesterday when you could not. Anthony is not the problem. Apologize to Penelope and apologize to Henry and Josephine. I demand it. Your behavior was unacceptable, and I told you to let it go." She threw down her napkin, ready to go check on the children when Hyacinth came running in. 

"Mama," she waved a pamphlet. Whistledown. Oh Gods what now? "This is extraordinary." She handed the pamphlet to Violet who had sat back down. 

 

Gentle readers, 

Let me tell you the most extraordinary tell. Rumors surround the palace that our dear Bridgerton family is about to go through a big change. Lady Bridgerton, the former Duchess of Lancaster, has been delivered of the new Bridgerton heir, who am told is named Edmond for his late grandfather, and a twin sister name Liliana. It is said that the children are whole and healthy and resemble their Bridgerton relations. More so, Lady Bridgerton has done what her sister could not in record speed. As Lord Bridgerton prepares to celebrate his thirty-fifth birthday next week, and as the viscount and viscountess prepare for their first wedding celebration in a couple months, the Queen has been busy, preparing estate documents for transfers into the Bridgerton name, namely for Kate Bridgerton. 

Rumor has it that her first marriage was not what it seemed on the outside, and the Queen took offense to that. The Queen favors a good love match which is why she approved of the marriage between Lord and Lady Bridgerton in the first place. She also has favored Lady Bridgerton even before she married the duke. The lady proved her mettle and stood up to the queen's challenge in a way that even her diamonds can never do. The concern though is Lady Bridgerton's children from her first marriage. 

Henry, the firstborn, the new Duke of Lancaster is only three. Lady Josephine Grey is nearly two. They are being raised by their mother's husband, who if stories are correct, is more of a father to them then the late duke himself. And the Queen takes issue with that. So much so that she is making some interesting rearrangements.

The Duchy of Lancaster will remain named so, but the family will no longer be named Grey, but Bridgerton. Namely Kate before her marriage is considered the heir to the estate, and it passed onto her first son. The Queen seems ruthless in removing the duke's legacy from the history books, and she will book no opposition. Henry will be titled Henry Bridgerton the first Duke of Lancaster. Josephine will be Lady Bridgerton. Their inheritance will remain the same. 

And what of our beloved viscount and his family? The Queen seems to admire his fervor in raising children as his own that are not his own. The viscount's title is being raised to Earl. Namely. The viscount will be titled the first Earl Bridgerton and his lady the Countess Bridgerton. A remarkable achievement as the Bridgertons have not moved up in rank despite being very powerful for generations. Edmond Bridgerton now becomes the new Viscount Bridgerton and Lady Liliana Bridgerton follows behind him. 

"Oh what a tangled web we weave," gentle readers. I for one am enthralled in drama developing and I cannot wait to see the where this leads. The Bridgertons have never been one to flash their titles around, which is to be respected, but never has the Queen been so involved in a family's dynamic that is not her own.

If there is more to this story be sure that I will have it for you here first. 

Until then, do not forget what is given can be taken away, as proved to whatever Grey family remain. 

All for the love or our Queen. 

 

Violet sat back in her seat as she read the pamphlet another three times before she handed it to Lady Mary who read it and gasped.

"Extraordinary," she breathed. "Henry will be a Bridgerton. That is all he wants." 

Violet nodded and then a smile lit up her face. 

Her son, despite everything, loved with his entire being. He wanted nothing more than for Henry and Josephine to be his in every sense. And now he was getting his wish. 

They would have his name. 

Chapter Text

Kate moaned into Anthony's mouth as her back hit the wall as her husband took her, accenting each furious thrust with a grunt of his own. She briefly tried to remember how they got here, naked, and in the horse barn. Completely lost in each other. Through the fog and haze of her passion she was pretty sure they had snuck out of the house, past the breakfast room where their family was breaking their fast. 

"Josey be a lady," Henry yelled at his little sister. They couldn't see them through the door, but they could imagine the look on his face. 

"No you lady," Josephine yelled back. 

"We are not having any more children," Benedict groaned. 

"Should we help them," Kate whispered as Anthony kissed his way down her neck. 

"No," he moaned softly then pulled her away. "Come." 

They were supposed to be getting her back on a horse today, but the only riding they seemed to be interested in right now was each other. Day two of their honeymoon was starting off with explosions and Kate could not mind especially when her husband hit that spot that made her cry out his name. "Anthony!"

"God above, Kate," he panted into her ear. "You are incredible." She briefly hoped that none of the stable hands were there, then he hit that spot again and found she did not care. 

"We are not having eight children, Lord Bridgerton," she demanded weakly, succumbing to every sensation he was arousing in her, quite expertly. She briefly wondered at her body's absolute betrayal of her senses. 

"Never, my Viscountess," he chuckled in her ear. "More like nine or ten." 

"Anthony," she dug her nails into his back in protest, but he hit that spot again and it came out more like a whimper.

She would not concede defeat. 

She would NOT concede defeat. 

 

Violet Bridgerton handed the pamphlet to Benedict as he walked in, Josephine on his arm, and she had to admit, her second son looked good with a little girl on his arm. He sat down with her in his arms and read the missive. 

And then read it again. 

"Astonishing," he exclaimed before handing it to Sophie who had just entered with Henry. "How does this woman know all this before we even receive word of it?" 

"That is not the point," Violet exclaimed. 

"The viscount is becoming an earl," Benedict said casually. "Anthony is still Anthony, mother. Nothing will change. Though I do suppose we can be grateful that the children's names are changing. Josey Bridgerton has a nice ring to it, doesn't it sweetheart?" He tickled her stomach and she giggled. She was in a much better mood now than she had been when she woke up this morning, demanding her mama and papa. Only the twins had seen Kate and Anthony this morning. And the family was determined to allow them to enjoy this week as childfree as possible. They needed time to be alone together, and the children needed to bond with their family more. 

"Well, I do not want to tell them yet," she nods to Henry. "Kate and Anthony should know about this first. And they should be the one to tell them. Especially Henry. This is all he has wanted." 

"Well, we will keep it a surprise then," Sophie nodded as she filled Henry's plate with eggs and fruit as he liked in the morning. She put a little piece of toast on there for him to add some strawberry preserves on. "In fact, Anthony's birthday is next week, right?" 

Violet and Benedict silently nodded their confirmation. 

"I was thinking since they are doing this honeymoon thing and they will be distracted; we could throw Anthony a party next week. We'll get the Hastings here. And a couple of his friends from town. Make it special," she said. 

"I think that is a grand idea," Benedict said. "But forget the friends from town. Anthony is at his most comfortable around his family. And this is a celebration of him and his children. I think just family is a great idea. Maybe get Lady Danbury here," Benedict looked at Violet who nodded. 

"I agree," she said. "Anthony has a ton of friends, but he will feel like a host if we invite anybody other than family. I do not think he will like that for him or for Kate." 

"Fair point," Sophie conceded. "So just family." 

Truthfully, they were all good with the "family only" aspect of a party. Anthony was a social man, but all he truly cared about were his wife, children, and the rest of his family. 

"I will talk with cook and come up with a menu," Violet said. "But until then. Keep this pamphlet out of sight. Nobody tell them if you see them. And no talking about it in front of the babies. Understood?"  

Everybody around the table nodded their agreement. 

"I still want to know who she is," Benedict grumbled and Eloise snorted. 

Violet looked at her second eldest daughter suspiciously. There was something strangely familiar with the way Lady Whistledown wrote about their family. 

 

"Where is my stocking, Lord Bridgerton," she panted as she tried to make her day dress at least look presentable and now like it had just been on the ground in a barn while her husband had been working her over for the last hour. 

"If you think I am giving it back to you, Lady Bridgerton, you are mistaken." 

"It is highly improper," she exclaimed. 

"And since we do we care about doing things the proper way," he raised an eyebrow in her direction as he carelessly tucked his shirt into his trousers. He looked good and she wanted to jump him again. Never mind the fact that he had just finished spilling on the ground for the third time that morning. She had to admit her first time with making love outdoors was a success. And her husband was looking quite smug. 

She huffed and tugged on her dress one last time. "Shall we ride?" Her husband's grin grew impossibly large as he leered at her. "Horses. Shall we ride our horses? You are insatiable!" He burst into laughter. Her husband was impossibly handsome. He was tall, fit, and had a smile that made her melt even when she disliked him all those years ago. And his dimples, heaven help her, they caused her more trouble than good. She knew his body better than she knew her own. She knew his scars, and where he was ticklish. She knew where to touch to make him the most amorous. He loved it when she wrapped him in a hug from behind and laid her chin on his shoulder. He loved when she buried her face in his neck and whimpered through her release. She knew he loved to dominate her in bed, and she was more than willing. She knew of his darkest fears, and hidden desires. She also knew that as much as she tried to run, he would always catch her.

She knew she was tired of running.

He didn't deserve her ire. After everything he had done for her. After claiming his children as her own and making sure they were healthy, safe, and cared for. She had been holding this grudge for so long that she was sure she would never be able to get over it. He must have sensed her melancholy because he made his way over to her and looked into her eyes. 

"Hey," he said quietly. "We do not have to ride. It is ok if you do not want to." She shook her head. 

"It is not that," she sniffed and wrapped her arms around him and stared up into the face she loved so much. "I am just overcome."

"Why? What happened," he asked. "Did I do something?" 

"No, my love," she smiled and rose up to place a gently kiss onto his lips. "I just realized something." 

"What," he asked quietly. 

"I love you." 

"That is a good thing," he smiled. 

"And I am sorry," his smile turned to a frown. 

"Sorry," he asked wearily. 

"I have blamed you for my past, for Edwina, and have threatened to run so many times." 

"You cannot leave me," he whispered. "I will not allow it." 

"I do not want to leave you. I just wanted to apologize. I do not want to be angry with you anymore. I want to love you, and our amazing children. I want to live happily with our family here by our sides. I want to raise our children with their cousins and watch them play on this lawn as they grow. I want all of that with you." 

"It is alright to be angry with me Kate," he said quietly. "I am well aware of everything I messed up. You barely have a relationship with your mother and sister because of me." 

"If my mother and sister actually paid attention to what was bothering me during that time, I am convinced nothing would have happened. They were very involved with the glamour of all you had to offer that they ignored me and my warnings." She looked down. "My mother did not even help with my wedding." 

"Oh Kate," he pulled her close into his embrace again.

"That was not your fault," she teared up into the open part of his white shirt, breathing in his scent. Sandlewood and something a little spicier. 

"Kate," he pulls her in the direction of a work bench towards the back of the barn and lifts her onto it. She has to look down to see him now, but his eyes are clearer than ever. "We never talk about that time between my marriage to your sister and your marriage to the duke. I am aware that I hurt you badly during that time. We were barely talking, and I could not fathom you leaving me. Not that I had the right. You see, at that time my marriage was already a failure. I was a shell. And then the duke came. I could not fathom you not being near me. My thoughts were less than honorable. I thought of you to get through my wedding night, for God's sake, and my performance was less than stellar. But I do know that most of the hurt came from your mother and Edwina. I knew you were hurting by their inattention, and I did nothing to stop it. I wanted to hurt you too for leaving me. I tried to apologize multiple times and you would not allow it, not that I blame you. My marriage was over the day you got married. If I had the courage to do it I would have marched up that aisle, thrown you over my shoulder, and ran away with you. I would have risked it all. That is what you are to me, Kate. You have occupied every single one of my thoughts since the day I met you and you beat me in that damn race." 

"So, you admit I beat you," she giggled. 

"If you tell anyone, I will deny it," he pressed a kiss into her neck. "I do not jump horses. Every time I woke up, you were there in the sunlight streaming through my windows. Every time I closed my eyes, I dreamed of you next to me. You were everything that I breathed for, and I was stuck with your sister. Your sister who could not even gain the respect of my brothers as you had. I resolved myself to my fate. I would not have children, and I would live out my days here in Kent. When your sister left, I had no plans of even calling her out. I was just going to let it be. She wanted to explore, and I could come up with plenty of excuses as to why she was absent. I did not want scandal. What good would it have done? You were not around, and I deserved no better than what I claimed for myself, all because of my damn duty. And then you showed up, and God forgive me, I was relieved she was gone. I was happy, Kate, that she left me. I was thankful that in my melancholy during my sham of a marriage that I had enough business sense to expand my coffers so I could afford a divorce should scandal ravage my family. You were there, and heaven sent, and went through the worst possible situation imaginable and all I could think of was you, as a mother. All I could see were the changes in your body while you walked. The way you commanded the room. The way you listened to your son's concerns as if they were the most important concerns in the world, because to you they were. The way you demanded your children be present for supper because they were deserving of respect. The way you fought your way through your inability to be touched. And I knew if you could survive everything you had been through, I could survive the drama and scandal of a divorce."

"Anthony," she whispered. 

"I made mistakes, Kate. And you should blame me for them because you were hurt in the process. I did not realize how hurt you must have been until you accepted the duke's proposal. And by then it was too late. I beg your forgiveness, but I do not ask you to forget."

"Do you forgive me," she asked quietly. 

"My love, you did nothing wrong." 

"I begged you to keep your word to Edwina." 

"I am a man, my angel," he said. "If I wanted to get out of it, I would. I did not fight you on it because it was just easier that way. I did not want love, and I realized too late that I needed it. I needed you. I do not want you to forget, sweetheart. But I ask you to stay with me. If you are angry then fight me, I can take it. If you are upset, then tell me so, so I can hold you. But turning off your emotions and walking away resigned, that scares the hell out of me. That evening in the library before we," he swallowed. "Before I had you for the first time. I could not let you leave because I knew if I did, I would never be able to get you back again." 

"Anthony," she cupped his cheek with her hand. 

"You would leave me, and I knew it could only be my fault," he flashed a watery smile. "Throw in the children and my whole reason for living would be gone. All because I could not stand the thought of love leaving me grief-stricken eventually." 

"You did not want love because of the eventual grief of losing the one you love," she asked quietly, and he nodded. 

"I am a broken man, my love." 

"Not broken," she kissed him gently. "You are just human. I did not think I deserved love. I was always second to my beautiful sister, and my mom did nothing to convince me otherwise. As long as Edwina was happy we could all be happy." 

"Edwina is a beautiful woman," Anthony agreed. "But Kate, you are stunning. I could not take my eyes off of you from the first day I met you. Lady Danbury and my mother, even Daphne caught me staring at you multiple times. Even Benedict and Colin enjoyed looking in your direction when they thought I was not looking. You were stunning then but God above, now? Now that you are a mother and you've swelled with child. You are breathtaking." 

"No," she shook her head. 

"You are," he insisted. 

"You are making it really hard for me to apologize to you," she wrapped her legs around him as he drew nearer. 

"I do not want your apology," he murmured. "I want a promise."

"A promise?" 

"A promise that when you feel the need to run, that you take me with you. Deal?" 

"Deal," she nodded and kissed him softly. 

"You still should not lift," he pressed a kiss to the side of her head. "So you wait here and I will get your horse saddled." 

"Can I watch," she smiled. 

"And you call me insatiable," he teased as he helped her down. She felt lighter than she had felt in ages. 

 

Kate pushed Anthony into the wall of the servant's staircase as they made their way back to their room, kissing him furiously as she pulled his shirt over his head. "I cannot get enough of you," she panted. "You must stop." 

"I must stop," he asked breathlessly. "Just what are you implying, viscountess?" 

She shut his mouth with another kiss, this time climbing into his arms. He lifted her easily, his athletic pursuits paying off. She still had more weight on her body than she normally carried, and she was briefly self-conscious until her husband proved she did not need to be. He began to carry her up the stairs. This staircase would exit the closest to their room. "I dropped your shirt," she panted as she pulled back from him again. 

"Leave it," he demanded and continued to walk. How he managed to find the balance to carry her and kiss her at the same time while making his way up the winding staircase would always be a mystery. Why she was so insatiable was the bigger mystery especially since they had made love again as they stopped to rest the horses out in the open pasture. 

"Is this what a honeymoon is like," she asked. 

"I don't know," he ripped her dress off her shoulder as he pushed her into the wall at the top of the staircase. "I have never had one. But if it is, I never want it to end."  

She had one, but it was nothing like this. Restrained was the best word to describe that. And all of the sudden he had her against the door. 

"Open it before I take you right here in front of God and everyone," he panted. She reached down and found the handle, twisting it. The door opened and he walked them through it. He kicked it shut. He made it as far as the fireplace before he brought them to the ground, laying her gently on the rug. "I cannot wait." 

She couldn't either. 

"This dress," he moaned as he ripped the rest of the dress off of her body and threw the tatters across the room. She was relieved she hadn't bothered with her corset this morning as it would have proved useless. He finished undressing himself and then used his knee to push her legs open and she complied easily. He crawled between her legs, kissing up her body, taking her arms and raising them above her head. He wanted her to comply, and she was more than willing. "Is this, ok?" 

"Take me," she breathed. 

He pushed into her more gently than what she imagined he would, but it was effective all the same to draw a moan of relief from them both. He dominated her slowly taking her to the brink multiple times but not letting her reach it. Teasing her. Tantalizing her. Making her weep as he stared into her eyes while he climbed that hill with her. 

This was the Anthony Bridgerton that nobody got to see but herself. And as much as she tried to refute the teasing their family sent their way about how they could not keep their hands off of each other, she hoped that they never could. Because she had been without Anthony Bridgerton's touch for five long years, and there was no way she could live without it again. 

 

Chapter Text

Daphne was holding her newest niece when Josephine ran up to her. "That Lily?" 

"It is," Daphne smiled as Josephine climbed onto the sofa beside her. They were all there for Anthony's birthday celebration. The twins were a month old now, and they still seemed smaller than even Amelia was when she was born. She also knew that her precocious niece wasn't too fond of her little brother and sister, but she had her moments. 

"She soft," Josephine said, stroking the infant's forehead gently. "She have hair like mine." 

"She does. It is beautiful." 

"Like mine?" 

"Just like yours." 

The twins were pure Bridgerton. Edmond favored her brother so much that she almost had to take a step when she first saw him. She had marched into the sitting room as she always had, and stopped cold when she had seen the infant lying in her brother's arms. The baby was Anthony's twin with tanner skin. 

Lily on the other hand favored Hyacinth's dainty features. She had Anthony's dimples. She was long like her brother, with dainty fingers, and of course her caramel skin was perfection. Her hair came from her mother, and she had a lot of it. Amelia was almost bald when she was born, while Lily already had a headful of wavy dark hair. 

Both babies were absolute perfection, just as all the children, including Henry and Josephine, in the Bridgerton family were. 

"She don't cry like baby Charlie," Josephine said thoughtfully. 

"Oh she doesn't," Daphne chuckled. 

"No," Josephine shook her head. "He cry a lot of time." 

"I wonder why," Daphne said and Josephine huffed. Charles Bridgerton was a point of contention for Josephine. Benedict was her favorite uncle, much to Simon's dismay,  and now she had to share his attention as well. 

Daphne looked around the room as her mother came and sat next to her, lifting Josey onto her lap. "Is she not beautiful," she motioned to the baby. Daphne hummed her agreement. Anthony was going to have trouble when she was older, when both his girls were older, and she was going to enjoy every minute of it. She watched her brother as he walked the room with Edmond in his arms, soothing him to sleep after his meal. 

"He is a natural," Daphne murmured. Truthfully, they all already knew that. He had raised Hyacinth and Gregory, though nobody ever said that out of respect for their mother. And he had taken to Henry and Josephine like he had taken to breathing. 

"They both are," Violet nodded towards Kate, who was holding Henry as she talked to Simon and Sophie. Probably their Married Bridgertons Club meeting that Daphne couldn't seem to get an invite to. "Last week to themselves was good for them." 

"I heard. They never got a honeymoon, and it is necessary, I think." 

"It is. I should have forced them to take one right away, but we were at Haven Valley." 

"Speaking of," Daphne said. "Nobody is saying anything about this announcement in Whistledown?" 

"They do not know." 

"What," Daphne exclaimed and the whole room turned to her. She lowered her voice. "What do you mean they do not know." 

"They were preoccupied when it came. I am assuming the Queen sent Anthony some sort of formal correspondence that he has not had the time to respond to as of yet. Or Kate. We just let them be. They visited the children every now and then, and of course she kept the twins fed, but that was it." 

"So they both have no idea? How is that possible? Bridgertons are the worse secret keepers, especially if it is among family!" That was true. Amongst themselves they were terrible, but amongst the ton they closed ranks. They were notorious for it. And now the family was to grow even more powerful within society and they would need to lean on each other more than ever. 

Violet shrugged. "I thought Benedict would have spilled something by now." 

"Or Colin." 

They watched as Anthony, who was still holding Edmond, was standing by the window talking with Benedict. Colin was filling his plate for a second time. Josey looked up at Violet. "Grammy? I have cake?" 

"You just had some, my love." 

"More cake?" 

"How about some tea," Violet asked and Josephine wrinkled her nose. "How about your mama's special tea?" 

"Ok!" 

Violet stared at her granddaughter for a minute with amusement. "You are your mother's daughter, aren't you?" 

"What," Kate said loudly and looked towards Anthony who turned in her direction in confusion. Simon looked confused, and Sophie looked guilty. "What do you mean?" 

"You did not know," Simon said. 

"Does it sound like I know," Kate demanded. 

"We just wanted you to relax last week, Kate," Sophie said quietly, trying to bring her friend back down. 

"You do not think that I would, that we would want to know something as important as that? These are our children?" 

"What is going on," Anthony called out across the room. 

"Bridgerton," Simon began. 

"Did you know," Kate demanded as she turned to her husband. 

"Know what," he asked wearily. 

"About this title change thing," Kate asked. She stood with Henry on her hip. The little boy looked confused probably at seeing his mama so upset. 

"Mama," he said quietly. 

"What title change thing," Anthony asked. 

"It was in Whistledown," Hyacinth called out. 

"What is going on," Anthony raised his voice with authority and the whole room grew quiet. 

"There was an article in Whistledown. The Queen is promoting your title, and changing the title for Henry." 

"What," Kate exclaimed. "That is his inheritance!" 

"And it still will be," Violet reassured her. "He still will be. The dukedom will belong to the Bridgertons. And the viscountcy is moving up to Earl." 

"Mary, mother of God," Anthony blasphemed as he sat down stunned. Benedict had to removed Edmond from his arms as he stared straight ahead in a trance. 

"The Queen is rather fond of Kate," Violet reminded her eldest son. "We knew that." 

"I only sent a letter," Kate said. 

"According to Lady Danbury, it was a letter the Queen has been expecting from you for over a year." 

"This is not what I wanted," Kate insisted. 

"You got what you wanted, Kate, and that is a good thing. But she also gave you more," Violet moved to sit next to her daughter-in-law hoping to calm her down. "This is the Queen showing an incredible amount of faith in you in Anthony." 

"I left a copy of the pamphlet in your study, brother," Benedict said. Anthony nodded and stood. Crossing the room to his wife, he held out his hand to which she sat Henry down and promptly placed her in his, and he pulled her from the room. Leaving Henry confused and trying to follow her. 

"Mama mad at me," he said, his lips quivering as he tried not to cry. 

"No sweetheart. She just got some big news, and her and papa need to go figure out what is going on," Violet soothed her grandson, opening her arms and he ran into them. 

"That could have gone better," Benedict sat down with Edmond. 

"Yeah," Daphne said. "You should have told them." 

 

Anthony pulled his wife into his study and shut and locked the door behind them. Promptly he went to his desk and sorted through the correspondence that he had received through last week and not had the chance to look through. His mother kind of sprung a house party for his birthday celebration on him and Kate when the joined the family for breakfast this morning, and Daphne and Simon had arrived soon after that. He had just been relieved that Benedict and Sophie were playing host again. 

"Anything," Kate asked. Looking up at her beautiful fast, she looked terrified. "Anthony what are we going to do?" 

"Sweetheart, do not fear. We will handle this. But first we need to figure out exactly, oh. Got it. It's directly from the Queen. She sent one to you as well." He held up two letters. His steward was told to pass all correspondence to Benedict for the last week, so he couldn't blame Benedict for not wanting to bother them. It was a good plan, if not poorly executed. 

Kate took her letter from his hand and opened it, greedily skimming the contents. His letter was much thicker. After opening it he found it contained legal documents pertaining to the title change, that had already occurred. A birth decree from St. George's Chapel, the church that Kate and the duke had wed, and therefore their children were christened, for Henry James Bridgerton born to Anthony Edmond Bridgerton, First Earl Bridgerton of Kent and Lady Kathani Bridgerton, Countess Bridgerton of Kent. Another decree pertaining to Josephine Aahana Bridgerton born to Anthony Edmond Bridgerton, First Earl Bridgerton of Kent and Lady Kathani Bridgerton, Countess Bridgerton of Kent. The more he read the more he needed to sit down. 

They were his. Legally, physically. In the eyes of God and Queen and Country. They were his! His greatest wish come true, and he could only read the decrees in stunned silence. The title change was all good and well, but all he really wanted was to be able to claim Henry and Josey as his own. He looked up at his wife who had her hand over her mouth and tears in her eyes as she read her letter. "Anthony," she whispered stunned. And then the most brilliant smile spread across her face. "I cannot believe it! Look at this!" She handed her letter to him, and he skimmed through it. 

It contained the same info, in a much-condensed version. The Queen was happy to assist and would always have a soft spot for Kate. But she had done more than that. She had given his children everything they were entitled to and more. Henry would still be a duke and be able to live in his beloved home whenever he saw fit. Josephine was still a lady entitled to her own land. And now Edmond would inherit way more than he would ever dream possible, and his beautiful Lily claimed the same title as her elder sister. It was too much and not nearly enough because nothing would ever be enough for his children. But this was more than he ever dreamed. "Are you happy?" 

She looked up from one of the birth decrees she was reading up with a smile. "More than that. Are you?" 

"It is my dearest wish come true," he admitted. "To have Henry and Josephine legally be mine. And all because of you. You are the best mother in all of England. In the world in fact. For you to face your fears and do what you feel is necessary for the good of your children at the risk of everything. There is not a woman who can match you. I am so lucky to have you by my side."

"I would not want to be anywhere else." She picked up the title change document. "What do you make of this?" 

"I hardly care," he admitted. "Only that it will benefit our children greatly, and give them more choices." 

Kate hummed. "More responsibility." 

"And more ways to pass off that responsibility," he grinned, and Kate laughed. 

"Well happy birthday to you, my lord." She smiled and walked around the desk and found her place on his lap. 

"Henry is going to be so happy," he said quietly as he kissed her temple. "Countess." 

"Yeah, that is going to take some getting used to." They both laughed. 

 

To say that Henry was happy was an understatement. He was so happy he was inconsolable.

"You my papa now?"

"I am your papa now, and always."

He didn't really understand what was going on, but all he knew was that now he would go by Henry Bridgerton when he was introduced, and that was good enough for him. He spent two hours crying in his papa's arms, until he eventually cried himself to sleep. 

They had told Josey as well, but it was meaningless to her. She would never know her former life, though they were sure they would have that conversation with her at some point. But in her eyes, Anthony had always been her father. 

 

Mary found Anthony laying Henry down in his room when she asked to speak to him quietly.

"Is everything alright," Anthony asked. She just smiled and accepted his arm for an escort. He found a quiet area in the library that he and Kate had christened in just last week. 

"I am struggling," she quietly admitted. 

He stood straighter in alarm. "Is everything alright? Did something happen?" 

"No," she said quickly. "I just," she paused. "Edwina is coming back." 

"Yes," he nodded. "Kate told me." 

"I had hoped by the time she had that Kate and I would have come to some sort of understanding." 

"Ah." 

"As it is, she barely talks to me." 

"Well, there are still some hurt feelings there," Anthony admitted. Kate had told him as much. "But she loves you. And loves having you here." 

"My daughter has always been an enigma. I am well aware that I made mistakes." 

"You forgot she existed after I married Edwina," he said. "You left her to plan her wedding alone, in a time that should have been the happiest of her life, she was terrified and she did not have her mother to lean on." 

"I was helping Edwina," she said. 

"And Kate did not need help? She was to be a duchess." 

"And you were there helping," Mary snapped then backed down and shook her head. "My daughter never asks for anything. How was I to know she needed help?"

"You listen in other ways. Josephine and Henry are not always articulate in asking for what they need. Henry especially when he is tired and overwhelmed. But I listen to them. We watch them for signs and clues. The duke noticed your inconsistency. It was a point of contention in their relationship." 

"How do you know that," she demanded. 

"He wrote me. And Kate admitted as much." 

"I do not understand how you get a pass over everything that has happened. How she can forgive you so easily. And yet I, her own mama, am not afforded such generosity." 

"I worked to earn her forgiveness," he hissed. "I am still working to earn her forgiveness. You are here because she wants you here. You are in her house. She is funding Edwina's travels. She may not be the most communicative or expressive with you but at least she does so in small ways. I was for her cutting off funding to Edwina, but she insisted. She does not want to see you destitute. Which is more than I could have done had I divorced Edwina and left you to fend for yourself." 

"I still have not forgiven you for pitting my girls against each other." 

"I have not forgiven myself. But that was Edwina and I's fault. Not Kate's." 

"You blame Edwina for your lack of feeling," Mary said in astonishment. 

"Edwina knew that I did not want to marry for love. I told her multiple times." 

"Most men say that," she exclaimed. 

"And I meant it. It is not my fault that you refused to listen to Kate and filled Edwina's head of some grand expected love story to come out of our marriage. It was never going to happen." 

"But you never rebutted her." 

"And I should have. But I did not. But that still does not mean that I did not tell her." 

"She was a good wife," Mary said quietly. 

"She was a good viscountess. She was a wife in name only. I asked nothing of her, and she gave nothing in return. She took her lovers and lived her life." 

"Lovers," she gasped. "How dare you imply, -" 

"It is not an implication. She told me herself." He watched his mother-in-law deflate before his eyes. He knew she had not been happy. His own mother was more of a mother to Kate lately. If Kate had a question she went to Violet of Lady Danbury. Not Mary. Never Mary. Kate's own relationship with Edwina, though cordial, was still not to where it was had he not gotten involved with her, he was sure of it But, maybe not. Kate had admitted to being jealous of Edwina after their wedding, and that marriage to the duke was a way to seek some sort of revenge. Whether it was on Edwina or him, he had yet to be sure. But had she had a normal marriage where the two families were involved, Kate would always be the more sought-after lady in society. 

"I just do not know where I went wrong. Growing up they were as close as if they were born together."

"Well, in a time when she needed her mother, you forced her to grow up and be a father. She had to shoulder all of the responsibility and be a mother to Edwina. You did nothing. She got you here. She prepared Edwina for her role as viscountess. And when she needed you most, you weren't there. I hate to be blasé, but there it is."

He did not like this conversation, and he wanted it to be over as soon as possible. He wanted to be with his wife. The honeymoon they had been on last week was not nearly enough. He craved her presence more than anything in the world. He did not want to be here and appease his mother-in-law. To hear her blame him for all their past mistakes was irrelevant. He hardly cared. But for her not to take fault in her own sins against Kate? There was a reason that his own mother was so close to Kate now, and it was because of communication. Violet adored Kate and vice versa. Violet demanded for Kate to speak up when she needed something, and Kate appreciated it. It could have gone so wrong, Kate marrying into the Bridgerton family. Violet had been heavily involved still with the Bridgerton family affairs, more often than not leading Edwina into doing what was expected of her. She had yet to have to lead Kate anywhere, and in fact, Kate had made more of a name for the Bridgerton family, than any one of them had in years, including Daphne. 

"I think you need to speak to your daughter," he said. "But I also think you need to make sure she is ready to speak of such things. She is happy and I would not see her upset." His voice held a clear warning. He would not see his wife hurt. 

"And what are you going to do when Edwina gets back," she said. 

"I need to have a conversation with Miss Sharma, that I have been putting off for months. And I will have it. But other than that, I do not desire her presence here, and only allow it for Kate." 

Mary nodded. 

"But if she disrupts my family, I will have no qualm in shipping her north to Hertfordshire to stay with the Sheffields." 

 

Two Gentleman were shown into the foyer at Aubrey Hall. The old house had been around for generations, and they had not stepped foot in it since their days at Cambridge. Those previous years the house was formidable and quiet, almost eerie. Now though there was children's laughter and people walking to and from rooms off the foyer. A little girl with a blue dress and dark hair flying behind her ran from the room squealing. 

"You tan't get me," she exclaimed as an olKader gentleman chased after her. 

"Josephine," he sighed as he caught up with the little girl. 

"Ahh so that is Lady Josephine," Fitzwilliam whispered. "Formidable little girl. That is not Bridgerton though, who is it?" 

"The second eldest." Darcy said. "Benedict." 

A tall woman appeared at the bottom of the staircase; her dark skin accented by the blue gown she wore. And her hair was plaited halfway back, the rest hung down her back. She moved with a grace that had Fitzwilliam catching his breath. 

"Mary, Mother of God. Tell me that is not Lady Bridgerton, because I will get down on one knee right now." 

"One look at a pretty face has you throwing out your whole plan to wait for matrimony," Darcy said amused.

"That is not just a pretty face." They watched as the woman took the little girl into her arms and scolded her gently. The little girl looked so remorseful, whether it was for her actions, or for making the woman, they assumed was her mother upset with her, they would never know. Another man joined the group and seemed to demand what was going on. 

"She is just being naughty, as usual," the woman said. 

Darcy nodded at the new man. "That is Bridgerton." 

They watched as Anthony spoke to the little girl, they now knew was his daughter gently. "You must listen, Josephine." He looked up in their direction. "I cannot. Papa has visitors." He nodded to them. "No bring her as well. Perhaps she can utilize some manners at some point today." He escorted the woman over as he made his way to them. 

"Damn," Fitzwilliam said under his breath. "I knew it was too good to be true." 

"Gentleman," Bridgerton greeted them with a bow. "I am sorry I took so long. My son needed me. Might I present my wife, Lady Kate Bridgerton. Kate this is Fitzwilliam Darcy, of Pemberley in Derbyshire. And his cousin, I believe. Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam." The woman curtseyed than sat the little girl down. The men bowed in return. 

"And our daughter, Lady Josephine," the man said fondly and looked down at his little troublemaker as she mimicked her mother. 

"Hewwo," she said, and then immediately turned into her mother's skirts, burying her face there. 

"She is only shy when she first meets people," Kate said in amusement. "And then you only wish she was shy." 

The men all chuckled and Anthony nodded in agreement. 

"Derbyshire," Kate said. "You are a long way from home then, Mr. Darcy. What brings you to Kent?" 

"My aunt. She resides at Rosings." Kate nodded. 

"The formidable Lady Catherine," Anthony said in amusement as he lifted his daughter into his arms. "Is she still hoping to form an attachment between you and Anne?" 

"Well, since you had to go and marry yourself off, the scheming has fallen back to me," Darcy cracked a smile as Anthony shuddered and Kate shot her husband a look of amusement. 

"Well then, you best marry before she can sink her hook into you as well." 

"I am not sure I am ready." 

"I told myself that," he kissed his daughter on the cheek. "As it turns out, marriage is the best thing that happened to me." 

"I hear congratulations are in order, Lady Bridgerton," Darcy said. "You recently delivered twins." 

"Oh yes," she said, a radiant smile spread across her face. "They are pure joy. Speaking of, I should go and check on them. Are you planning on staying then? Anthony's birthday celebration is tomorrow." 

"Oh," Fitzwilliam exclaimed. "I do love parties,-" 

"But we must be going," Darcy interrupted. "We only bring a letter from the Countess of Matlock. She desires your company for an evening when you are back in town." 

"Oh, perhaps another time then," Kate took the letter. "I will respond to her directly." She curtseyed to them before turning to her husband. "Should I take her?" 

"She is fine," he smiled and pressed a kiss to her cheek. It was clear that he adored his wife, and it was clear that he did not care if people knew. "I believe your mother is looking for you." 

She sighed and dropped another curtsey. "Gentleman." And then she was off. 

"I hope you take no offense to this, Lord Bridgerton," Fitzwilliam said. "But how did you come to marry someone as stunning as her? Surely it was trickery." 

"Are you saying that I am not stunning," Anthony laughed as did Darcy. "I simply married her before she could come to her senses." 

"Oh, that is how you do it, Darcy," Fitzwilliam teased his cousin. "Be charming until you can put a ring on her hand, and then when she comes to realize how much better she is than you, it will be too late." 

"You have someone, Darcy," Anthony asked, surprised. 

"No," Darcy exclaimed. 

Anthony's eyes widened in understanding. "I see. Well, I will say this. It is pointless to go against your heart. I did it, and I was unhappy for five miserable years. Putting my duty before my heart only caused pain for my family, for her family, for me. If there is someone, do not hesitate. It matters not what the ton thinks. Kate was not raised in the peerage, and now she is the most formidable among them." 

The two men watched as Darcy's eyes wandered to some far-off place. 

"Indeed," Anthony murmured. "Well, if ever you are on this side of Kent again for more than a day, you are more than welcome to stay here. We might even get a Pall Mall game going." 

"Still protective over that damn mallet," Darcy laughed. 

"My wife makes it her one goal in life to ensure that I never play with that mallet again," Anthony said and the men chuckled. "God, what a woman." The men laughed uproariously as they made their goodbyes. Josephine even managed another curtsey before running back into her father's arms. 

"He seems happy," Fitzwilliam mused. "Not at all like his reputation these last years." 

"Yeah," Darcy said quietly. 

"It would be nice to have a child, I think." 

"Yeah," Darcy stared out the window as the carriage took them away from Aubrey Hall. 

Kate was not raised in the peerage. 

Kate was not raised in the peerage.

He had some amends to make, starting with Bingley. 

 

Kate found him in his study, the candlelight was burning low, and he was in his shirtsleeves almost caught up with all the correspondence he missed. She stood behind him, wrapping her arms around him. Her wandering hand found the inside of his shirt to his chest. She used her mouth to nibble at his ear, and he was overwhelmed with sensation. 

"Do you not want to come join you wife in bed," she asked. She was teasing but she was serious. She had made it clear to him last week that she expected him in bed with her when she was ready to sleep. No more late night benders no matter how much work he had to do. "I have a pre-birthday present for you. Daphne brought it from the modiste with her today. I am surprised it fits." Instantly she had his attention. He loved it when she was playful like this. "But alas," she sighed dramatically and pulled away. "It does not seem the Earl wants to play, so I will have to just find a different way to pleasure myself tonight." She barely made it to the door, when he gathered her into his arms with a growl. 

"There shall be no pleasuring yourself," he hissed into her ear. "That is my job. My right as your husband. And I would take great insult if you had found the need to do so." 

"Perhaps if you were not too busy," she said breathily. 

"I am never too busy for you." He closed the door to their bedroom, locking it behind them. He laid her on the bed, after dispensing of her robe. Her nightgown was see-through in all the right places but left an air of mystery to the delights of her body he knew hid beneath. He had always desired Kate's body. Her legs were the first things that possessed him as he saw her riding astride that first fateful day. They were long and lean, and he'd imagined them wrapped around him in a variety of ways. Many of which they tried last week. 

"How do you want me," she asked breathlessly. 

"Right now," he laughed. "Just like this. Next time, on your knees." 

"Next time," she laughed. 

"You must be insane if you think I am letting this outfit go to waste." 

 

"Did you speak to your mother today, my love," he asked, as he pulled her into his arms, embracing the feeling of her naked body next to his. 

"No," she sighed. "I am ashamed to say that I avoided her as best I could." 

"You do not have to speak to her if you wish not to." 

"I know. But I despise subterfuge." 

"Tell her how you feel then," he kissed her gently. 

"Tell her that I feel like she is not my mother? That any hope that I had in being loved by her just as much as she loved Edwina, was gone the instant Edwina and you wed? That she used me? That she was cruel? That I only wish her near because she is the last remaining connection to my father?" 

"You are not one to hold back. God knows I know that better than anyone," he chuckled. 

"She is just going to become defensive," Kate said. "What if she leaves?" 

"Then she leaves, baby," he said softly. "This is your family, not hers. And we will be there for you. Let me tell you, no one believes you are at fault for the destruction of this relationship." 

They heard a knock on the door and Josephine yelled through it. "Mama! I need you!" They sprang apart before laughing out loud. "It is as if we are sneaking around again." He tossed her her robe and found his. He made his way across the room and opened the door for their daughter who raced in and climbed onto the bed beside Kate. 

"Mama, tory," she held up the book she brought in. 

"It is the middle of the night, my love," Kate said softly taking the book from her and placing it on the side table beside the bed. The bed dipped as Anthony climbed into bed beside her. 

"No tory," she pouted. 

"It is time to sleep, my love." 

"Nooo," she whined. 

"Yes," Anthony said softly. "Especially if you want to ride tomorrow." 

"Horsey," she gasped and then immediately climbed under the covers. "A night." 

"Good night, sweetheart," Kate and Anthony both laughed. "We must remember that one. Horses overrule everything." Anthony said as he pulled Kate against him, kissing her neck. "I must admit, as much as I loved our honeymoon, I did miss being a father." 

"Me too," she sighed. "It is my greatest joy, being your wife, and our children's mother." 

"Me as well," he whispered. 

"That Mr. Darcy is remarkably handsome. How come he is not married?" 

"I would be jealous had you not just rode me into oblivion," he whispered. 

"You know you are the most handsome man in the world to me." 

"Hmm," he chuckled. "Darcy is much like me. He has a younger sister that he became responsible for and an entire estate at a young age. But his family is famous for making matches that are based on rank." 

"His aunt had you in mind?" 

"Both of them actually," he said. "Lady Matlock too has a daughter who is my age. My father refused her demands to make a match much to my relief." 

"He wanted a love match for you." 

"He did. Lady Catherine is formidable, but she is mostly a blowhard. She is all talk and no bite. Anne is sickly and was never an option. Especially since Rosings belongs to Anne, Lady Catherine just refuses to yield it to her. I cannot imagine a mother-in-law such as that." 

"So now she wants Darcy?" 

"I do not know why," he laughed. "Darcy is just as stubborn as I am, if not more. And the first thing he would do would be to put her in the Dowager House." 

"But Darcy has his own estate, as do you." 

"Clever girl. You see the flaw in her plan. I know Darcy has been keeping Rosings afloat for years." 

"How much is he worth," she asked. 

"10,000 a year. Most likely more." 

"Not too bad for someone who is not titled," she hummed. 

"Not too bad at all," he laughed. "Darcy was a great friend, once upon a time. We run in different circles, but sometimes we see each other at White's. He is an honorable man. I just hope that he follows his heart and not his head." 

"Is there someone?" 

"I think there is," he laughed. "And I hope she knocks him out at the knees just as you did me." 

Chapter Text

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.

 

 

Chapter Text

"Kate," Hyacinth said as she sat next to her. They were going over plans for her and Anthony's first wedding anniversary celebration. And while she really didn't want the fuss, she would do anything for Anthony. 

"Yes sweetheart?" 

"Do you think Anthony will dance with me at your party?" 

"Of course," she pulled the younger girl into an embrace. "He would do anything for you." The young girl beamed. In a way, Anthony was her father, and she absolutely adored him. Hyacinth lit up in his presence and would do absolutely anything go get him to laugh or smile. She had always been fond of Hyacinth, even more so since she has gotten to know her better since her marriage. In a few years she would be planning and escorting her through her debut. She had a feeling Hyacinth was going to be the most beautiful debutante. In fact, Anthony was already dreading the day. Definitely a diamond in the making. 

"What is your favorite flower, sweetheart," Violet asked her. 

"Tulips," Kate responded, looking up from the menu she was going over. "But Anthony likes Lily's." 

"So that is where Lily came from," Hyacinth mused. 

"Yes," Kate laughed. "It fits her, I think." 

Violet laughed and nodded, "Indeed. Beautiful name for a beautiful girl."

"Have you spoken to your mama since last week," Lady Danbury's voice rang out across the room, and the entire room shifted uncomfortably. 

"I do not know what she wishes me to say," Kate said softly. Francesca handed her Edmond who was in need of sustenance. She quickly made work of her stays and found a blanket to observe her modesty should any of the gentleman walk in, though they were all well use to nursing women by now. 

"Speak your heart, darling," she said. 

"I try, but she grows defensive. And then I grow defensive, and we are back to square one." 

"And now Edwina will be back," Violet said quietly. 

"It is not as if I wish her back," Kate said. "It is awkward enough that Anthony's treats me vastly different than he ever treated her. She did nothing to deserve that. But the way she reacted to that is what everyone is upset with. I yell at Anthony about it all the time. But then I cannot say that I am not happy that their marriage ended the way it did, and then I feel guilty." 

"Take heart in the fact that none of it was your fault, Lady Bridgerton," Lady Danbury knocked her cane a few times against the hardwood. 

"I do know that if I am ever going to be able to have a relationship with my sister that Anthony is going to have to speak to her and apologize." 

"Yes," Violet said. "He was a fool," she leaned over the cradle containing Lily who was cooing as she played with her hands. "But he makes such beautiful grandbabies," she exclaimed as she lifted the infant from her bed. 

"I would like to think I helped," Kate interjected, but smiled at Lily who was trying to turn her head in the direction of her voice. "Hello little girl. Mama's over here." Violet brought her near and sat next to her. "My goodness you are awake, aren't you?" 

"She is a beautiful girl, like Josephine," Lady Danbury said as she moved closer. "Speaking of Miss Bridgerton, where is my little menace?" 

"Against my better judgement she is with her Uncle Coco," Kate admitted and the ladies laughed. "Anthony said we are not going to have any more girls, so Josephine and Lily are all you get." 

"Pfff," Violet laughed. "It would serve him right to have more girls." 

"Indeed," Lady Danbury arched a brow. 

"In fact, I hope the rest of your eight, nine, or ten are girls," Violet's eyes gleamed. 

"No, one or two more. That is all," Kate said. 

"I see the way you look at my son, Kate Bridgerton, and I know how old you are. One or two more is not going to be possible. I had Hyacinth when I was thirty-eight." 

Kate keened. She never liked it when this conversation went in this direction. Mostly because she knew Violet was right.

 

It was Anthony's idea to speak to his mother-in-law, and Kate only agreed because he had her against a wall. Literally. He almost felt bad for having important conversations with her when she was ill-equipped to retort and throw his words back in his face. In fact, some of his favorite moments with Kate were of her throwing everything she got into arguing with him, which more often than not led to her having his way with him. And he was always a more than willing participant when Kate controlled his body in any manner that she wanted. 

Nevertheless, he was not looking forward to this conversation, but it needed to be had. Mary wasn't hostile. In fact, she seemed quite fragile at the moment. 

"I guess I will start," he sighed. "I am concerned about your relationship with Kate, especially with Edwina coming back." 

"Is it even that, Lord Bridgerton? A relationship implies communication, which my daughter and I are sorely lacking at the moment." 

"I will admit that I know that it has been difficult, and I do not wish to make it more so. In fact, I am not here to speak for Kate at all. I am only here to make my opinion known." 

"Of course." 

He was borderline hostile at that. But he tried to remain calm. This was the love of his life's mother, the only mother she knew. Also, his children's grandmother. She would be in their lives for the remainder, and it was important for him to open the line of communication, at least between him and her. Kate was going to take a while, the hurt was still there and like a wound without treatment, it had festered for years. 

"I do not wish to be hostile, or to cause an argument. You are the mother of my wife, and I respect you. You are the grandmother of my children, and you are great with them. What you aren't being is realistic." 

"How so?" 

"Kate was in a world of hurt. You were barely even there when her father, your husband passed, and I know what that is like. I lived that for years. She was forced to raise a sister and let go of everything she ever desired. Now that she finally has her heart's content, you wish to live in the past." 

"That is not what I want," Mary exclaimed. "Quite the opposite, in fact!" 

"Is it not," he asked. "Do you not wish for your daughter's to be as they once were. Where Edwina was the center, you had no responsibilities, and Kate had the struggles. My wife is strong, and beautiful, and independent. She is one of the best women I know. She is the best of wives and the best of mothers, and I credit you that. But only because she had to grow into who she was by herself, not because you were ever involved. She never had someone looking out for her best interests. Until now. And I will tell you this now, things will never go back to what it was. She is my wife. The lady of this house and of this family. I will not allow you or Edwina to ruin the progress she has made. She is in the middle of one of the most difficult things in her life right now and she does not understand it, and it is very traumatic. I will not have you accosting her in the hallway to have a conversation that she clearly is not ready to have. Kate will talk to you when she is ready to talk to you. And I hope you give her the grace to listen when she does." 

"I know how to speak to my daughter, my lord." 

"I am not sure you do, or else, she would not have spent the afternoon of my birthday crying in my arms," he said, and Mary inhaled sharply. "If you feel you cannot be here, I can set you up a house in town. I was planning to do so anyway when we all make our way back to finish the season. Francesca is getting married and will need the space. And I will not allow Edwina to live with us in town either. It might be beneficial for us all if you accept the offer." He looked up and saw Henry standing at the door. "Yes Henry?" 

"Papa," he said quietly. "Uncle Coco teaching Josey words." 

"What kind of words," he asked wearily. 

"Uncle Coco teaching Josey to be naughty," Anthony sighed and stood. 

"If you will excuse me, Lady Mary. I need to have words with my brother." Josephine already knew how to be naughty. She didn't need any more help. He stopped at the door. "All I ask is that you be patient with her, Mary. She has been through so much and she does not know exactly what to make of it. She wants you in her life. She just needs to figure out at what capacity she wishes it so. 

 

Colin brought Josephine into the foyer, leading her by the hand, hoping to sneak her up the stairs and get her cleaned up before either of her parents noticed. 

"What in the world happened to my daughter, Colin," Anthony exclaimed as he made his way down the staircase. Too late. Josephine just sat there grinning from ear to ear. She was caked in mud from head to toe, their fishing adventure had ended not as they had expected, or perhaps Josephine had expected it, but he had done his best to keep her clean. 

"Fising, papa," she exclaimed and clapped. 

"Your mama is not going to be happy that you ruined this dress," Anthony said seriously, and Josephine had the decency to look remorseful. She did so now when one of her parents were getting onto her lately, not so when it was an uncle or aunt apparently. 

"Mama not here," she twirled around, and Anthony sighed and looked at Colin.

"Take her to the nursery," Anthony commanded. "And you can explain to your sister-in-law about how the dress was ruined." 

Well Colin did not like that thought at all. 

 

Sophie sat next to her as she was feeding Lily later that night. "If your husband was not so handsome, I would be beating him right now."

Kate laughed and took a finger to gently wiped a little milk that had escaped from the baby's mouth and made it to her face. "What did he do now?" Truthfully it could be anything. Sophie and Anthony had developed a unique brother/sister relationship since they had gotten married. Plus, Anthony thought Sophie's little crush on him was hilarious and he used it to his advantage. Benedict did too now, they realized. Especially when he wanted something from their relationship that Kate and Anthony already had. Brothers talked apparently. About everything.

"He is making being a father to girls look like so much fun, and now Benedict has it in his mind that he needs a girl now. So, we are again now, trying for a baby. He has even told me to think 'girl thoughts'. What does that mean, even," she exclaimed, and Kate burst out laughing, startling the baby at her breast. She helped the baby relatch and looked back at her sister-in-law. 

"I am sorry," Kate said, biting her lip. "Anthony has wanted children for a long time. It was his main purpose for getting married to Edwina. It is impossible to get him to stop beaming. He just lights up." 

"Well, I wish he would stop. He is already attractive enough without being so damn good with his children." 

"Yeah," Kate said. "I wish he would stop too. Violet has it in her head that we are going to have eight children, and truthfully, I think she would be ok with a dozen. And I am definitely not ok with that. But he smiles at me. And he has those dimples. And I just go weak. Like I do not have brain in my head, and it only comes back when he is done making me forget my name," she sighed. "My first marriage was nothing like this, Sophie. And sometimes I feel like I am going insane. I love him so much. The way he makes me feel, it is like I am not complete unless he is by my side." 

"That is how I feel with Benedict," Sophie said dreamily. "You are right. Benedict's smile lights me up. And the way he can just hold me to a wall, and it is the safest I have ever felt because he is right there holding me up." 

Kate nodded. "Wall. Bed. Desk. Staircase." 

"Staircase," Sophie exclaimed. "That is a new one." 

"I highly recommend it," Kate giggled. "The barn was fun too. And the lake." 

"The lake. You mean," Sophie blushed. "Outdoors?!" 

"Oh yes," Kate bit her lip at Sophie's reaction. "Even in the lake, in the shallows. God Soph." 

"I thought Benedict was the rake of Kent. He has been holding back on me." 

"My husband was a rake as well," Kate laughed. "Only his venues were more original. He told me he gets to act out all of his desires with me, and I am more than willing to do so." 

"What about the kitchens," Sophie asked and Kate blushed. "No!" 

"He said I was dessert," she shrugged innocently. "I think some poor maids think it is haunted now." Sophie burst into giggles before turning serious. 

"You do not mind that we are living with you, do you? We have our cottage, but Benedict and Anthony's relationship is, -" 

"Truthfully, I am grateful that you do. Nobody cares for my children as well as you and Benedict and Anthony and I adore little Charles. This house is enormous, so we have space. The townhouse as well." 

"I just do not want you to feel that we are taking advantage of you." 

"That is not the case at all," Kate exclaimed. "I adore you! You have been here for me in the most trying of times! And you are correct. Anthony and Benedict are inseparable. They were not so when I first met them." 

"I am glad they have each other. Benedict took a lot of flak for marrying me. Anthony was always supportive. He never had a negative thing to say about me. He even dowered me which was unnecessary."

Kate took her hand gently. "Anthony can be a bit prickly to the outside world. But when it comes to his family, he does all he can for them. It got him into trouble when his marriage to Edwina became solely about duty. But his heart was always in the right place. There is not a doubt in my mind that if Eloise decides to never marry, she will remain in his care for the remainder of his life, and then Henry and Edmond's. Or if Hyacinth wants to run to Gretna Green to avoid a large wedding, he will provide the carriage."

"And now he has his own daughters." 

"Oh, he said they are not debuting until they are at least thirty, and even then, might be too early." 

"My goodness," Sophie exclaimed and her eyes widened as Josephine walked in with a pout on her face. She looked freshly bathed and Colin was following two paces behind her wearily. 

"What happened," Kate asked as Josephine crawled onto the seat between them. She stood and buried her face into Kate's neck. Kate's long hair hiding the toddler's face. "Josey." 

"I in twouble." 

"Why," she looked at Colin. 

"We ruined her dress," he admitted quietly. "Mud by the lake." 

"What," Kate turned to her daughter. "Josephine! Your brand-new dress?!" Josephine stared at her mama for a few seconds before bursting into tears and Kate sighed. "Josephine. It's alright." 

"Mama, I sowwwwwy," she cried. 

"It is alright, my love. It was just a dress. Baby you must stop crying." 

"I sowwwy, mama." 

Kate shifted gently so as not to startle Lily at her breast. She looked into her daughter's teary eyes and pushed some hair off of her forehead. "You are so tired, my darling. Did you have fun with Uncle Coco?" 

Josephine nodded. 

"Did you catch some fish?" 

Another nod. 

"Then that is all that matters, ok? Stop these tears. Here," she patted the seat. "Sit down, sweetheart. Lean against mama and close your eyes." 

Sophie was only surprised that Josephine listened without complaining. It was a testament to how tired she actually was. She was asleep in less than a couple minutes. "My goodness, she was tired," she said quietly, and Kate nodded. 

"She has been lately. Her nurse calls it growing pains," Kate looked under the blanket at Lily again. She shifted the baby to the other breast then resumed. It was amazing she made breastfeeding look so effortless. Sophie struggled with her own son, and she only had one! "I recall Henry going through the same thing. He was just constantly eating and napping. We are almost to that age with her where it is absolutely terrible. Henry was two when he just would not listen. He was always good when the James was around. But I suppose he knew that I was a safe space for him to throw his tantrums around." 

"I cannot imagine Henry ever throwing tantrums," Sophie admitted. 

"It did not last long. But Henry was always milder in temperament than Josephine. So, I am a little frightened about what to expect with her." Anthony then walked into the room and Kate called out to him. "Darling, can you take her to her bed?" Anthony caught a glimpse of Josephine and his face softened. He made his way over and placed a gentle kiss to Kate's lips. 

"Is she alright," he looked under the blanket at his other little girl. 

"Just eating," Kate grinned and he smiled back at her. This was what Benedict wanted, Sophie knew. That easy intimacy that Kate and Anthony had regardless of where they were. And they were unapologetic about it. Anthony kneeled in front of Josephine and wiped a remaining tear off of her cheek. 

"Was she crying," he asked. 

"Her dress," Kate said. 

"Ah. Yes," he gently pulled the girl into his arms. Her head found her papa's shoulder and her arms and legs hung down. "I do not wish to part from her so I will hold her," he admitted. 

"That is fine. So long as she is comfortable," Kate smiled and he nodded. He leaned down and gave Kate another kiss before standing and winking at Sophie. He walked back across the room where Colin was dealing out a hand of cards. 

"Ok I get it," Sophie sighed. 

"Get what?" 

"The whole 'wanting a daughter' thing Benedict is so hung up on lately," Sophie grumbled and Kate laughed. 

"Well, if he doesn't get one, Violet just this morning wished upon Anthony a whole bunch of girls for penance. So, he might have an abundance of nieces to dote on." She reached beneath the blanket again, presumably adjusting her clothing as Lily seemed to be done eating. She lifted the infant to her shoulder just as Benedict walked in. Spotting her he made his way over for a brief kiss to the cheek. 

"Ladies," he kissed Sophie again and then nodded at Kate. "Is she done," he asked while holding his arms out to take the infant. 

"She is all yours. But she needs burped." 

"I can do that," he smiled softly before taking the baby into his arms, a small rag on his shoulder under the infant's head as he walked across the room, patting her back gently. Kate sighed. 

"Yeah, I might just have a tiny crush on Benedict." 

Sophie beamed. "It is about time!" 

Chapter Text

"You have truly outdone yourself, Lady Bridgerton," Lady Danbury mused to her friend as she walked into the ballroom the evening of Anthony and Kate's wedding celebration. "This looks absolutely magical." 

"Do you truly believe so," Violet smiled and looked around while adjusting a vase of flowers. The place looked truly romantic, something out of a fantasy that her mother had read to her a young girl. Small trees, roses, tulips, lilys, peonies, and violets decorated the room, with lanterns strung across the ceiling. "It is what my baby deserves." She smiled softly. The children were already dancing to the eight-piece orchestra in the middle, their happy laughter accenting the magic as they held each other's hands and spun around in a circle. Amelia and Josephine looking beautiful in their purple dresses, and Auggie and Henry looked like little gentleman much like their own fathers. 

"I never would have imagined a party as this with children, until I met Kate, and now I can't imagine one without them," Lady Danbury said. "I truly am not looking forward to getting back to town. The prospects sound dreadfully boring." They both laughed and looked at the kids. 

"They are family," Violet said, beaming. "I cannot imagine them not being here." Hyacinth was dancing Benedict at the moment, and Francesca was dancing with her own fiancé. Colin had even managed to pull Eloise onto the dance floor, who seemed to be enjoying herself in the comfort of her family's bosom. She had thought to invite the Featheringtons, but Anthony gave a hard no. 

I want Eloise to be comfortable. 

She had yet to be able to get more of that story out of her daughter, but she trusted her son's judgement. Plus, it was his party. She had invited their neighbors to the west though. Lady Catherine was a temperamental tyrant, but Mr. Darcy she recalled was always a consummate gentleman and they were hosting guests. 

"Where are the Earl and Countess," Lady Danbury asked. "Oh, that was strange to say?"

 "That was strange to hear," Violet laughed. "I can only imagine what they are going through," Josephine came running up to her and jumped into her outstretched arms. 

"A mama and papa at," she pushed some hair from her face. Violet had tried to braid it as Kate usually had it, but she wasn't as efficient at it yet.

"They will be down in a few minutes, my love." 

"Josephine," Lady Danbury said. "Are you having a good time?" 

"Mmhmm," her eyes sparkled as she nodded her head. "I dancing." 

"You are such a good dancer, my love," Violet kissed her granddaughter's cheek. 

"I dance wif papa tonight," she nodded. "He tol me." 

Violet nearly melted, of course Anthony would promise his daughter a dance. She was so distracted by Josephine's conversation that she nearly missed Anthony and Kate's entrance. But Josephine had not. 

"Mama! Papa," she squealed and wiggled down, and ran as fast as she could to her parents as if she had not seen them just a couple hours ago. Anthony and Kate looked relaxed and radiant in blue. Kate lifted her daughter onto her hip and embraced her as she pressed a kiss onto her cheek. Josephine giggled the whole time. The family slowly made its way to the happy couple, offering congratulations and happy wishes for many more years. If there was ever any doubt that Anthony and Kate had cemented themselves as the hearts of the Bridgerton family, there weren't anymore. And it happened so quickly. 

"It is hard not smile when I see them," Lady Danbury laughed quietly. 

"I know," Violet said. "Their happiness is contagious." The matrons then slowly made their way towards Anthony and Kate offering them hugs and Violet kissed them both on the cheek, surprised Anthony actually allowed it. 

"Dance, papa," Josephine exclaimed. 

"It would be my honor, Lady Josephine." Kate sat their daughter down and watched as she giggled when her papa bowed to her and offered her a hand to escort her to the floor. Henry watched the whole thing then turned to Kate. 

"Mama," he bowed and offered his hand. "Would you like to dance?" 

Utterly charmed, as all the ladies in the circle, Kate curtseyed and offered her hand to her son. "Of course, your grace. I would absolutely be obliged to!"

"What just happened," Daphne exclaimed as Henry pulled his mama to the floor. "And how do I teach Auggie to be so charming?" 

"I think it's a Bridgerton thing," Eloise exclaimed. "Or maybe just an Anthony Bridgerton thing." 

The rest of the group joined the dancers. Josephine stood on her papa's feet as he guided her around, her laughter filled the ballroom, causing everyone to laugh, and soon Simon was doing the same for Amelia. They heard Kate's gentle instruction to Henry as they glided around as well. 

"Circle around," she said. "Very good, my love!" 

"Like this, mama," he asked. 

"Exactly so, my sweet!" 

If there was something Henry Bridgerton was good at besides being the sweetest soul and the apple of his family's eye, it was acting like his father. He watched Anthony like a hawk and mimicked all of his actions. The way he treated Kate was always at the forefront and would bear witness as to how he would treat his own spouse one day. Of course, he and Josephine always got into sibling arguments, but that was expected, and he was never mean, and he was never physical, and actually corrected a lot of her behavior, which of course, Josephine did not like. 

The dancing finished just as their newer guests arrived. Anthony encouraged Josephine to run off with Amelia, they had some toys in the corner of the ballroom to entertain themselves with in-between dances. The two little girls joined hands and ran off. Henry stayed glued to his mama's side as Anthony escorted them over. 

"Darcy," he exclaimed, releasing his wife's hand, he locked arms with Darcy in greeting. "So glad you could make it." 

"Lord Bridgerton, Lady Bridgerton. Thank you for the kind invitation," Darcy said. "And might I say congratulations on your anniversary," he turned to Kate. "Lady Bridgerton, might I introduce the remainder of my party," at her nod he continued. "My cousin, you already know. This is my aunt, Lady Catherine De Bourgh of Rosings. Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn in Heartfordshire, and Mr. and Mrs. Collins of the Rosings' Parish in Kent. And Mrs. Collins sister, Maria Lucas of Heartfordshire." 

"It is a pleasure to meet you all," Kate smiled at the group. "This is our son Henry, Duke of Lancaster," the little boy bowed, and Violet could see the younger Miss Elizabeth melt a little. 

And then they all watched in stunned silence as the little boy went right up to the lady and offered his hand. "Miss Bennet, would you like to dance?"  Elizabeth blushed before allowing herself a small curtsey and placing her hand in his. 

"My what a gentleman you are. Of course, your grace. I would be honored," Elizabeth breathed and allowed Henry to escort her to the floor. 

"Definitely a Bridgerton," Darcy muttered to Anthony who laughed. 

"Indeed," Anthony turned to Mrs. Collins. "Mrs. Collins," he held his hand out. "If you please." Charlotte seemed utterly charmed as well before accepting his hand. 

"Mrs. Bridgerton," Lady Catherine did not seem to be in the mood but Kate interrupted her. 

"It's Lady, actually Lady Catherine," she said, all politeness as she usually did before she was about to deliver a sit down. "You are at my wedding anniversary celebration, are you not? This is my house. My husband is a viscount, an earl now actually, and I am his lady. I am well aware of you and your reputation, and your dearest wish to secure my husband for your own daughter, but you did not, and I am here now. Does the daughter of an earl who married an honorable outrank the wife of one?" 

Lady Catherine turned red, and Mr. Collins sputtered. Colonel Fitzwilliam burst into laughter and Darcy smiled. 

Violet beamed at her daughter-in-law and looked at Lady Danbury in amusement. 

"Please do not act as if you are too good to be here, Lady Catherine. My husband has been looking forward to this night for so long and I will not have you ruin it for him. As it is though, you are not the highest among us. Our sister is a Duchess and our son a Duke. Please refrain from snide comments and glares, and do enjoy yourself." 

Darcy cleared his throat before stepping forward holding out a hand. "A dance, Lady Bridgerton?" 

"It would be my honor, Mr. Darcy," Kate curtseyed gracefully to the speechless Lady Catherine, whom Violet had actually never heard be quiet. Nor had Lady Danbury if the look on her face was to go by. Darcy led Kate to the floor. 

Kate would be a fool indeed if she had not seen the glaring looks that a certain Miss Bennet was sending across the room towards Mr. Darcy. They were much the same looks she herself sent a certain Anthony Bridgerton across a Pall Mall field once upon a time. She also could see that Mr. Darcy was eyeing the young miss wearily. 

"Are you well, Mr. Darcy?" 

"Quite well, thank you Lady Bridgerton. This is a magical setup." 

"All credit is due my mother-in-law," she chuckled. "I am not one for celebrating. Well for celebrating my own accomplishments. I am quite proud to celebrate my children's and husband's."

"And when you and your husbands are one in the same?" 

"Then we fight it out, and he usually wins the battles of sentiment," she laughs. 

"I have never seen him thus," Darcy admitted. "He looks as if he is about to burst with happiness." 

"I am glad to have that effect on him, as it is clear he does the same for me," she chuckled. "And you Mr. Darcy?" 

"Me?" 

"I am not blind. I see the looks that you have been sending a certain young lady since you arrived this evening. If I had to guess, I would assume your aunt does as well. But I also see the looks Miss Bennet sends you." 

"She looks at me," Darcy said and looked in her direction. 

"More like glares at you," she said and Darcy deflated. "What did you do?" 

"Nothing," he exclaimed. 

"Mr. Darcy," she sighed. "I do not know her well, but she seems like a perfectly reasonable young lady, not prone to flights of fancy. So you either did something or you are a great actor." Darcy took her hand and spun her around. Looking around she saw Josephine dancing with Benedict who looked like he was over the moon to be doing so. Josephine was grinning up at her uncle and squealing as moved her around, before he gave up completely, lifted her into his arms, and spun her around. Her little girl giggles filled the ballroom. 

"She despises me," Darcy admitted, while watching the little girl wistfully. "I did something unforgivable." 

"Nothing is unforgivable when it comes to affairs of the heart, Mr. Darcy," she said. At his look of confusion, she continued. "You are well aware that I am not my husband's first wife. My sister was. He confessed to loving me, and then proposed to my sister. I still have a hard time accepting that. That he didn't value what I could bring to a marriage as much as what my sister could, all because of the rank of my birth. We were miserable. He begs my forgiveness every day. But I love him. And I could not imagine my life without him. He is his true self around me, and I him, because that is what marriage is. I love him and he loves me, imperfections and all. That is what marriage is Mr. Darcy, a partnership. It is not perfection. It is not pretending perfection. It is sharing your miseries and triumphs and still wanting to be together because you cannot imagine life without the other." He stared at her, his mouth hanging open. He probably had not ever had a woman be this harsh with him. "Do you feel that way about Miss Bennet?" 

"If she would give me a chance I would spend the rest of my life trying to make her happy," his voice cracked. 

"What did you do?" 

"I separated her sister and my best friend from each other. I could not sense any true feeling between the two of them." 

"And what right did you have to do that," she questioned. 

"I had no right," he admitted. 

"So what are you going to do to fix it?" 

"I have already sent a letter to my friend in apology. I can only hope he forgives me." 

"And Miss Bennet," she asked. 

"I have been trying to beg her forgiveness, but she always finds ways to avoid me." 

"Well, lucky for you, you all will be here for a few days, and my mother-in-law is a hopeless romantic," she laughed and he grinned. "As is everyone else in this family. As long as Eloise does not get her hooks into your Miss Bennet, you should be fine." 

"Miss Bridgerton?" 

"Oh, she is a fearsome creature. I absolutely adore her. Cupid is going to hit her hard when the time comes, and I cannot wait." 

Darcy laughed and she followed. 

"I meant to say, Lady Bridgerton, your children are delightful. I was surprised to see them here, this evening." 

"We are a singular family. Our children are involved. Though even if we did not allow them down, I am convinced Josephine would have found a way to be involved. She is our little menace." 

"It will do her good when she is on the marriage mart." 

"If she is allowed to ever be on one, Anthony keeps pushing the age back."

"I have one sister, Georgiana, and she is painfully shy. She will be making her debut next year, if the Countess our aunt has anything to say about it."

"And what does Miss Darcy have to say about it?" 

"She wants a couple more years," he admitted quietly. 

"Would that be so bad?" 

"No," he said. "And in fact, it would do my heart some good to have her near for a couple more years. But the ladies in my family are demanding, and I have a hard time of telling them no. Especially since I really have no idea on how to raise a girl."

"Yeah," Kate laughed as the music came to a stop. "You need a wife." Darcy let out a laugh that rang out across the ballroom. Kate noticed Miss Bennet looking absolutely shocked in their direction and Kate chuckled. 

 

"Might I have everyone's attention please," Anthony stood in the middle of the ballroom as the entire room centered their attention on him. 

"Papa," Josephine exclaimed and raced to him, colliding with his legs, as he bent down to embrace her, the room laughed. 

"I am not one for poetry, as everyone in my family knows. But I would be remiss if I did not speak of the reason we are all here. And that is my beautiful wife," he motioned to Kate who was standing near Daphne and Miss Bennet. "She gave me a chance when I had given her no reason to. She has brought so much joy and chaos and love into my life that it is hard to imagine a time before when I was not this happy. And it is due to her. You, Kathani Bridgerton, gave me a reason to breathe when I was drowning. You pieced my heart back together when it was broken.  You gave me back my life, my family, my children. Everything I am today I owe to you. You are the love of my life and my dream come true. And I look forward to spending the rest of my life with you by my side." 

"Here, here," Benedict exclaimed as the rest of the room broke into applause. Anthony found his way to her side, pulling her into a kiss and then a passionate embrace, not minding the others around them. Not that he ever minded. 

"You say you aren't one for poetry and then proceed to put Shakespeare to shame," Elizabeth sniffed and they all laughed. 

"He only says that because then it is not expected of him. His brother however is always reciting some sort of sonnet." 

"His wife must be a lucky lady," Elizabeth grinned. 

"Indeed," Kate agreed, and Anthony elbowed her gently before bringing an arm around her waist. 

"Hey now," he said. 

"He does not compare to you in my eyes, my love," she kissed his cheek and the ladies laughed. She turned to Elizabeth. "I am glad to make your acquaintance Miss Elizabeth. It is refreshing to find a lady of the ton who is not for all this pomp and circumstance it brings." 

"I am a country girl at heart, Lady Bridgerton." 

"Indeed," Kate smiled. "And please call me Kate." 

"Then you must call me Elizabeth. I do love that this is not so formal an evening. Your son is such a gentleman. Lady Catherine appears beside herself, and I find that amusing." 

They all laughed. "Lady Catherine is a lady disguised as a beast that has no bite," Anthony said to another round of laughter.

"She certainly will not be coddled here," Daphne said. "I am surprised she came." 

"You know her," Anthony said. "She cannot stand to be left out of things." 

"We are to play a game of Pall Mall tomorrow, Elizabeth," Kate said. "Perhaps you will join us." 

"Oh yes," Daphne exclaimed. "We may have to get the other set of colors out." 

"Providing everyone stays away from my lucky mallet, I have no issue," Anthony said. 

"You have a lucky mallet, my lord," Elizabeth grinned. 

"Your lucky mallet," Kate asked. 

"Yes," he said. "My lucky mallet. Just because you keep on stealing it does not mean it is yours." 

"My husband would let you think that I am no better than a common thief, Elizabeth." 

"When it comes to my mallet, absolutely." The group laughed. 

"You have yet to beat me in a game," she said. 

"That is because every time we play, you are able to steal it out from under me, but no matter. I have it well hidden." 

"You had it well hidden," Kate smirked and Anthony pulled away from her. 

"What is that supposed to mean?" 

"This is also my house, Lord Bridgerton. I know it well, and I have eyes and ears everywhere. And Josephine is not the greatest of secret keepers." 

Anthony swore and the ladies burst into laughter. "What did you do to my mallet, woman?" 

"I took my mallet, and I hid it in a place you will never find." 

"Is that a challenge, Lady Bridgerton?" 

She leaned up and whispered into his ear. "As we are at this celebration for our anniversary. And I have plans for you tonight that will keep you occupied and drained. I have no reason to fear that you will ever be able find it." 

"I could ask the children," he said. 

"I am a smart woman, would you not say, my lord? And I am smart enough to not let them know." She giggled as Anthony growled in her ear. 

"Sophie then," he said. 

"You're kidding, right? One grin or wink from you and she would be a puddle on the floor. I told no one." 

"My wife makes it her life mission to ensure I lose every game I play," he said while glaring at her. 

"That is not true! I cheered you on that last game." 

"You were not playing!" 

"I cannot help it if I am such great player," she shrugged. "You should have known that when you married me." 

He could only grin at her and wrap his arms around her from behind. 

"You will have to excuse them, Miss Elizabeth," Daphne said in amusement. "Sometimes it is like they are the only ones here." 

"I do not mind," Elizabeth smiled softly. "I envy their love. It is a once in a lifetime thing." Colonel Fitzwilliam approached then and offered her a hand to dance. 

"A dance, Miss Bennet," she smiled and accepted. 

"You realize that Mr. Darcy is completely besotted by her," Kate asked and Daphne listened in interest. 

"Darcy," Anthony exclaimed quietly. "I knew he was hiding something." He turned to his sister and bowed. "Will you excuse me as I pull my wife for a dance?" 

"By all means," she grinned as her besotted fool of a brother pulled his wife away. Henry filled his spot and bowed. 

"Will you dance with me Auntie Daphne," he asked, his smile all that was charming. 

"Of course, my love," she curtseyed and accepted his hand. "You have been quite the gentleman this evening, Henry." She looked down at her nephew and saw that he was grinning. 

"Papa say to never leave a lady by herself at a ball if you can help it." 

"Did you dance with auntie Lelowise?" 

"Mmhmm," he nodded seriously as he concentrated on the steps. He really was getting it down. "She happy tonight." Daphne looked around and noticed Amelia dancing with Benedict and Josephine dancing with Colin now. Sophie was standing up with Simon, and their mother was standing up with her future son-in-law. 

"Where is your cousin, do you think?" 

"I dunno," he shrugged. "I told him that gentleman need to dance with our ladies, but he laughed and went to play." 

Of course, he did. If Henry was ever the gentleman her son was turning into his own father before marriage, and she would have to do something about that.

"You have to spin, Auntie Daphne," Henry said. 

"Oh," she gasped. "You are right, my darling." She took her spin then crossed behind him then back following the steps of the dance. 

"I have to dance with grammy next, I think," he said. 

"I am sure she will love that, my sweet." 

He nodded again, his sweet face going back to counting his steps. 

 

"Darcy is dancing with Josephine," Anthony said amused to Benedict and Kate as they gathered around the refreshment table. 

"How sweet," Kate sighed. "And Elizabeth is all astonishment. Maybe tonight will be good for them as well." 

"Playing matchmaker, sister," Benedict teased. 

"Absolutely not," she grinned. "I know my strengths, and matchmaking is not one of them."

"But telling him he is being stupid is," Anthony said. 

"Absolutely." 

"A dance, dear sister," Benedict asked Kate. 

"Oh, absolutely," she grinned. 

"You will bring her back," Anthony called out to them as they walked away. 

"Perhaps," Benedict teased, and Anthony growled as he made his way to Miss Bennet. 

"Miss Bennet," he said. "I would be remiss not to ask you for a dance." 

 

The evening wore on and the only sign that the hour was getting late, or rather early, were the children's exhaustion. Josephine found herself curled up in her papa's lap, as Henry found himself in his mama's, after spending a whole evening dancing, as soon as she returned from nursing the twins. Lady Catherine retired early, and Violet was pleased to see that the handsome Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet were finding some common ground. She and Lady Danbury would have to keep an eye on that pairing the next few days. 

Her own children looked radiant. Francesca basked in the glow of her fiancé. Even Eloise seemed to find some common ground with the Colonel, who was ever charming. And Mrs. Collins was an amusing young woman who basked in the glow of conversation that did not include her idiot husband. Who knew that a parson would fall all over himself to make sure his patronage was satisfied? She felt sorry for her but would never express it because that would diminish the dignity of her choice. 

And Kate and Anthony were at the center of it all, finding solace in the seating that was afforded them in the ballroom. 

"This was the most fun evening I have been a part of in the longest time," Lady Danbury admitted quietly. "Since our debuts at least. Your sons all afforded me a dance, and Henry too." 

"He is utterly charming in every way," she smiled at her grandson who was sound asleep in Kate's lap as she talked to Sophie. Sophie had little Charles who had just finished nursing. 

"Her grace is quite beside herself that her son did not afford the same courtesies to the ladies that Henry did," the lady said, and Violet laughed. "He is much like his father." 

"Anthony was much the same way. Kate changed him whole-heartedly." 

"Edwina will be here in a few weeks." 

"I am not afraid. Anthony has already told me that she will have her own place. I believe Mary said she will be staying with her." 

"That might be for the best. I know Mary is hurt by the distance between her and Kate, but this might be better for both of them." 

"I agree," Violet said. "As it is, Kate is already struggling with this post-pregnancy mindset. Anthony was sure yesterday morning that she would not be at the celebration with the way she woke up. She did not want to rise. She does not need another dilemma now. She needs to heal and concentrate on her family." 

"And Francesca's wedding." 

"She already has plans started for that." 

"The consummate viscountess," Lady Danbury said. "Excuse me. That is not correct anymore, is it?" Violet laughed and shook her head. 

"I know. Somebody called her Countess tonight and I had to do a doubletake." 

"I think they are more excited about the children being Bridgertons." 

"What did the Queen say to you," Violet turned to her friend in question. 

"She simply asked if she was happy and if the kids were cared for. Of course, I told the truth." 

"It was the greatest gift, for all of us really. But especially Anthony. Today he was rocking Josephine for her nap. He was just in awe, I thought he was about to cry."

"I am not ashamed to admit that I actually did cry," Lady Danbury admitted. 

"Oh, I did as well. Like a baby," Violet said with a small laugh. "And then I refreshed and cried again." 

 

Anthony shut the door behind him gently, locking it as he did so. Josephine and Henry were asleep. The twins were fed. It was four int he morning, and he finally had his wife alone. 

"I have to admit," she said as she undid the back of her dress. "I am glad we celebrated." 

He walked to her slowly and batted her hands away as he reached to help her undo her laces. Pressing gentle kisses to her back as more skin was revealed, and her dress was pulled away. He reached around her from behind, bare hands caressing her abdomen as he kissed a trail from her neck to ear, pushing her hair aside so he had access to the back of her neck as well. He would never tire of holding her like this. When the clothes and finery were stripped away, and she was just there. Her body was his oasis, a place he worshiped at quite frequently. And as much as she complained at what pregnancy had done to it, she would always be the most beautiful woman because of what her body had done for him. 

"Anthony," she sighed softly as her head fell backwards onto his shoulder. 

"Are you tired," he whispered as he removed her half corset, letting it drop to the floor as he reached up with both hands to cup a breast. 

She turned in his arms and started to work on his buttons as his hands roved all around her back and backside. He pushed her undergarments down and she stepped out of them just as she managed to push his jacket off. "You are overdressed." 

"Indeed I am." 

"I need you," she whispered. 

"I need you as well." He managed to dispose of the rest of his clothing in record speed. He lifted her up and she wrapped her long legs around his waist as she leaned down, kissing him passionately as he travelled them the length of the room to their bed. He laid her down gently then covered her body with his own. "It is amazing, is it not. How my body craves yours, even after it just had you not twenty-four hours ago." 

"I do not think I will ever have enough of you," she panted. 

"Then we are in agreement," after checking that she was ready he reached between them and pushed into her abruptly causing her to gasp and then moan. "We will never be able to have enough of each other." 

"Even when we are old and grey," Kate whimpered. 

"Even then. I will always want you," he grinned as she cried out. It would be the first of many cries tonight if he had his way. 

And he usually got his way. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The next morning dawned clear skies and a cool day, which is exactly as Kate preferred it. She preferred the cool fall weather in England compared to the hot summers. The summers were hot in India, but India offered comforts in clothing that the English would not allow. Every year she had been here she felt she grew more accustomed to the summers, but then fall would hit and the sense of relief that would come with it always followed. Not to mention the colors were her favorite to watercolor. 

Kate woke up refreshed despite barely sleeping, the celebrations with her husband continue to the early hours of the morning. She donned a simple day dress (purple her favorite color) and prepared for the day. She braided her hair into a side braid, and left the rest down, as she preferred as did her husband. Josephine was brought to their room early, already dressed. She found herself staring at her daughter, who had grown these last months, her baby arms and legs grew longer and lankier, but she still maintained her baby face. Her hair had been trimmed recently, but you wouldn't know it. 

"Let mama braid your hair and then we will be off," Josephine huffed and laid in the spot recently vacated by Anthony as he had gone to bathe after much prodding and a promise to reward him for his good behavior later. Kate went into the dressing room she shared with her husband, just off the viscount room to collect some oil and ribbons for Josey's hair. "Darling, Josephine is in here," she warned her husband so he would know to don a robe when he was finished with his bath. Most of his baths ended with him coming into the room naked and pinning her to their bed as he had his way with her. 

"How is she," he called. 

"The usual," she said, and he chuckled. "She is Hyacinth trapped in a little girl body." 

"That does not bode well for us, I think," he said. 

"At least we have Henry," she laughed, and he followed suit. She collected her items and took them back to their room. Josephine was sitting on Anthony's side of the bed looking at his night table. "Josephine?" She looked up; her face was all covered in chocolate. She gasped. "Josephine Bridgerton! Did you eat your papa's favorite candy?" 

"No mama," she smiled and held out her hands. "I nothing." 

"What is that around your face?" 

"Candy," she grinned and held her hands up to her. "Up." 

"Your papa is going to be very upset, little lady." 

"Papa is going to be upset about what," Anthony asked as he walked in, tying his robe. He stopped when he noticed his daughter and sighed. "I thought if I kept them safe from Colin then they would be fine." He walked over to Josephine and wiped her mouth with the corner of his robe. "You are a menace." 

"I sowwy, papa." 

"I know," he smiled and kissed her head, that was still a mess from her sleep. "It is hard to resist." 

Kate motioned to the end of the bed. "Josephine, come." Josephine crawled over slowly, a sense of foreboding in her manner. She did not like to get her hair braided, especially by her mama who was good at making the braid stay for the entire day. But she also did not like her hair in her face and threw a tantrum when they had her get the slightest trim recently. "How do you want it today, my darling?" 

"Baid all way, mama," she sat on the edge of the bed, seemingly resigned to her fate. Kate took the brush and gently brushed out her tangles, she was barely pulling when Josephine started making her faces, causing Anthony to laugh. 

"You are a consummate actress, my darling," he said, and Kate chuckled. 

It was easier to braid her hair all the way back because she didn't have to worry about getting the two braids even at the halfway mark to tie off the ribbon. And she was able to braid it quickly. "All finished." 

"Yeah mama," she clapped. "Papa look!" She shook her hair around, her two braids kept perfectly in place. 

"You look beautiful, just like your mama, my darling," he grinned, and she giggled as she slid off the bed. 

"I eat beffast," she ran to the door and opened it. 

"Be careful with the stairs," Anthony called out the warning. 

"Coco," Josephine called as she closed their door. "Help me, peese!" Kate shook her head and went to put the hair oil and brush back on her vanity. Anthony was dressed by the time she made it back to the room. She walked over to him and reached up to help him adjust his cravat, before running her hands through his damp hair. 

"There," she said quietly. "Perfect." 

"Am I handsome enough by your standards, my lady," he grinned. 

"Always," she breathed before leaning in for a kiss. 

"Will the twins be making an appearance out of doors today?" 

"If Lady Danbury and your mother have their way, absolutely. It will be easier, as luncheon and every event are also outdoors today." Another kiss. 

"I keep trying to remember a time where I have been happier than I am right now. Even before my father. And I cannot." 

"Me either," she smiled and stepped away. "Do I look alright? I had this dress commissioned before I was pregnant." 

"Ravishing as usual, Lady Bridgerton," he smiled and pulled her in for a hug. "I know what you are attempting to do." 

"What?" 

"Distract me so you can steal my lucky mallet out from under me and pummel me at Pall Mall." 

"Darling," she stepped back from him with a grin. "I already have your lucky mallet, and you have yet to beat me." 

"Because you are always distracting me!" 

"All is fair in love and war."

 

The second mallet bin was brought out as a necessity to accommodate the many players that were playing. Many of their house guests too wanted to play, and none of the normal Bridgerton players would give up their spot. The mallets were different colors as well, but none compared to his lucky mallet, which currently was in his wife's hands. Damnable woman. If he didn't love her so much, he was sure he would be irate right now. 

He in turn was stuck with the pink mallet, again. It was a cruel fate. His siblings ribbed him endlessly even Sophie. Apparently, his face wore his disdain so much so that Simon had to question his wife. 

"How do you put up with him," he asked. 

"It is a talent few possess," she bent down to retrieve her ball. "But I adore him when he is in this mood. Reminds me of our daughter when she is told no." 

"Woman," he growled, and Simon and Benedict laughed. 

"Definitely met your match, Bridgerton," Simon slapped him on the back. 

"The rules of the game are simple," Daphne was explaining to the newcomers. Anthony held out his hand and took hers, leading her over to the group. "The first player that gets their ball through every wicket wins." 

"There seems to be a catch," Elizabeth pointed out. "That wicket is over a tree root." 

"Ah, so you have noticed then," Daphne's smile turned to a gleam. 

"For a woman with child," Kate whispered. "She sure is confident in her Bridgertonness sense of betrayal." 

"That is the Anthony special," Daphne explained. "That and the one by the lake." 

"What if the ball goes in the lake," Charlotte Collins asked. 

"Then you go in, or forfeit," Colin said. Josephine stood by him holding his ball. "Is that not right, my darling," he looked down at Josephine. 

"Yeah Coco!" 

"Why does she get to be on your team," Anthony called out?

"Yeah," Kate seconded it. Josephine was good at being a distraction. "I birthed her!" 

"Early bird and all that," Colin shrugged and pulled Josey closer. The group laughed. 

"So, I take it this game is all about sabotage," Darcy implied. 

"I knew you were more than just a handsome face," Kate laughed as Darcy blushed. "Are you up to the challenge, Mr. Darcy. Or are you honor bound by rules and such nonsense?" 

Darcy sputtered and the Colonel laughed. "I believe I should like this game if it leaves him tongue-tied like that." 

"Me too," Elizabeth sent a smirk in Darcy's direction to which he responded with a glare. 

"I can play the game," he insisted. 

"We shall see," Kate tossed her hair and marched over to the starting line. 

"Word of advice," Anthony said. "She is brutal. Ruthless even. She is more of a Bridgerton in this game than any of us." Benedict muttered his agreement and Eloise followed. 

Darcy muttered something about strong-willed, temperamental women as they all walked to the main group. 

Kate went first and ended up knocking her ball rather close to the first wicket. She had excellent aim, which Anthony was convinced was only made better because of his lucky mallet. Her glowered at her as she walked by with a smirk. 

"Do not look at me like that, Lord Bridgerton. Perhaps if you had more creativity when hiding my lucky mallet, you would not be in this predicament." 

"If you are so good, then why do you need my lucky mallet?" 

"Because it makes you angry, and I have not done my job in this game unless I have made you angry." 

"Competitive lot, aren't they," the colonel said. 

"You have no idea," Benedict said. "If God made everyone their perfect twin in the opposite sex, it would be near impossible to distinguish them apart." 

"You are no longer handsome to me," Kate tossed and Benedict stuttered, and Sophie laughed. 

"Hey now," Benedict replied. "I am plenty handsome!" 

Elizabeth took the next shot followed by Charlotte who accidentally knocked Elizabeth's ball out of the way, and instantly started to apologize. 

"Lizzy," Charlotte exclaimed and Elizabeth laughed at her. 

"It is fine Charlotte. It is a part of the game," she turned to Darcy. "I do believe Mr. Darcy that is your turn. Try to keep up." 

"Don't you worry about me, Miss Elizabeth," he said as he stepped up with his mallet. 

"Is Elizabeth a younger sister then," Kate asked the colonel who was standing near her waiting on his turn. 

"Yes," he said. "The second of five girls, I believe." 

"My goodness," Sophie exclaimed. 

"No sons," Kate asked with a wince. 

"No sons," he shook his head. 

Darcy's shot went wide hitting Elizabeth's shot further out of contention much to Elizabeth's displeasure. 

"I have seen you shoot, Mr. Darcy. You are a better shot than that," she stomped off and he grinned following her. 

"They are going to be one to watch." 

"Yeah," Benedict laughed. "They are almost as bad as you and Anthony." Kate hit him in the back of his head as did Sophie. "Ow!" 

"Do not tease," Sophie laughed. "If I recall, you offered for me to be your mistress before offering actual marriage," she hissed, and Benedict blushed. Kate laughed. 

The game proceeded with Kate in the lead and Anthony in second, cursing her at every turn. Elizabeth and Darcy's turns ended up taking them so far out of contention that the game was a becoming personal, especially when Lizzy's ball ended in the lake and Darcy had to help her fish it out. 

"You would not have to, Mr. Darcy, if you were a gentleman and left my ball alone," she said with an annoyed grin. Truthfully, she was only annoyed because she was not winning, and Darcy smiling was doing things to her heart that made her uncomfortable. 

"You laid down the gauntlet, Miss Elizabeth, and I accepted. If I were not a gentleman, you would be fishing this ball out by yourself." 

"Are they always like that," Anthony asked. 

"You have no idea," Charlotte and the Colonel said. 

Anthony's next ball landed just ahead of Kate's and faced in the direction of the forest. "Do not do it," he said. "I will make your life miserable." 

"How so, my lord," she called his bluff. 

"Well," he stuttered. "I do not know, but I will think of something." 

"All is fair, no?" 

Anthony swore as she walked past him with a smirk. He had two more wickets and one miscalculation was going to cost him the game. 

"How does it feel to have a wife that bests you in everything," Colin asked. 

"When you can actually have an intelligent conversation with the woman you love, then you can speak of such things," Anthony retorted. Colin glared at him. 

Josephine was not being a very good distraction, in fact, she was getting distracted by all the people that she didn't really know. Mr. Darcy was tall and imposing and could see over the crowd. She spent a good portion of the game sitting on his shoulders in-between turns.

"He would do well with a child or two," Violet whispered to Lady Danbury. "Either that or Josephine makes everyone look good with a child in their arms." 

Lady Danbury laughed out loud. "And who pray tell do you imagine to mother his children?" 

"I think you know." 

"They would make a handsome couple," Lady Danbury said. "But she does not have a dowery." 

"So," Violet said. "The Darcy's are famous for being good investors and thrifty. He hardly needs one." 

"They are also famous for having few children, so that would help." 

"She hails from a large family, though," Violet said. 

"And Kate hailed from a small one, and she has four already," Lady Danbury replied. 

"Ah yes, to my everlasting good-fortune and they are the most beautiful babies," Violet laughed as did Lady Danbury. 

"We will watch them, and then we shall know how to proceed. Perhaps we can issue a longer invitation. Aubrey Hall seems to breed romance." 

"And contempt," Violet laughed as Kate sent Anthony's ball flying into the woods. As he yelled at her and she stood there laughing at him, bent over her mallet. Anthony was pointing in the direction of his lost ball, obviously upset that his wife was relishing in his loss. He took his mallet and hit her own ball in the same direction causing her to become irate. 

"ANTHONY BRIDGERTON! IT WAS NOT YOUR TURN. AND YOUR BALL WAS NO WHERE NEAR MINE," she yelled at him as he stood there smirking. 

"All is fair in love and war," he retorted as she stomped by. He turned in their direction his eyes widening. "I'm going to pay for that later, aren't I?" His shoulders slumped as he followed his irate wife as she stormed after her ball. 

"IF COLIN WINS, I AM NEVER LETTING YOU HEAR THE END OF IT!" 

"Wow," Charlotte Collins said as she watched the domestic scene turn dark. "This does get ugly, does it not," she asked Sophie, who simply smiled. 

"If there is one thing that gets under Lord Bridgerton's skin, it is his wife besting him. And if there is one thing that gets under Lady Bridgerton's skin, it is Colin winning." 

"Hey," Colin exclaimed. "Knock her ball into the mud one time over six years ago and suddenly I'm paying for it for the rest of my life." 

 

Luncheon was a casual affair, with Kate able to claim a narrow victory of Colin, despite her husband's help. And her husband was indeed, out of her good graces, and he was doing everything he could to get back in them. 

"Lemon cake, my love," Anthony asked as he stood near the table. 

"I can get it myself, thank you," she huffed as she reached passed them. 

"Kate," he sighed. 

"Lord Bridgerton," she snapped and walked back to her seat. 

"You messed up," Benedict smirked at him. 

"Hush you," he said as he stared at his wife. If there was one thing he knew about his wife before marriage it was that she could hold a grudge. Before they were married, he found it amusing. But now, he was terrified. He knew he took it too far the second he let her ball fly. It wasn't his turn, and she used her turn to trounce him fair and square. He loved that about her. He knew he was not the most gracious of losers, but still he tired of her besting him. And she was the only one in the family that could time after time. 

She held Lily in her lap, who was as alert as ever, watching her mama's face as Kate talked to her. Elizabeth sat near watching the scene with a tenderness she hadn't displayed since he had met her, which wasn't saying much since he only met her last night. 

"She is a beautiful baby, my lady," Elizabeth said. 

"Thank you," Kate smiled. "She looks like her father and aunt. It is almost as if I had no input whatsoever."

"She has your eyes," Elizabeth said. 

"You think so?" 

"Absolutely. She definitely shares that feature with you." 

"I guess it is only fair that I could get my children to inherit some of my features," she laughed, and he smiled. Lily was indeed a Bridgerton. But she was also a miniature Kate. The long limbs and dainty fingers that curled around any hand that was close to her. She had eyes that you could get lost in, just like her mother. Anthony and Kate spent a good portion of their honeymoon week with the twins. Counting their fingers and toes and cataloguing their features. It was generally agreed upon that both of the children were mere copies of the Bridgerton bunch, but Kate showed up in other ways. And every time he looked at any one of his children, he could only be in awe that they had come from her body. Her body was his place of worship and it had nothing to do with the ways that she was able to please him physically, and everything to do with the fact that it was their children's first home. 

The baby let out a sharp cry, signaling her hunger, and Kate excused herself. She was used to breastfeeding in front of family, using a blanket over her and the baby for modesty. Sophie did it now as well. But with their guests, she most likely deemed it unwise. He motioned to his mother for Edmond, so he could follow her in. He would need his mama soon enough, and perhaps he could use the moment alone to apologize to her. 

He found her in the downstairs drawing room. The baby already nursing quite furiously, her tiny hands kneading Kate's breast as she ate. Kate had a look of peace upon her beautiful face. 

"Hey," he said quietly as he shut the door behind him. She looked up at him wearily but said nothing. He sat down beside her, Edmond's head bobbing at his shoulder. "I am sorry about the game. I shouldn't have done that. I got caught up in the moment." 

"It is fine," she said. "I won anyway." 

"Colin is upset," he laughed quietly. 

"Yeah," she said. 

He studied her for a moment. "Are you sure you are alright?" 

"Yes, Anthony, I am fine." 

"Then why will you not look at me?" 

"Because I cannot," she admitted. 

"Why," his heart dropped, and she sighed. 

"I know your competitive, the whole family is. I am and I will admit it fully. That was not it. It was the look on your face as you did it. It was so reminiscent of him when he took away my control," she shook her head. "It sounds silly, I know." 

"It does not," he said quietly. "Nothing you feel is stupid. I acted a cad. I never intended to hurt you like that." 

"But you did not hurt me," she said. 

"Perhaps not physically," he said. "But emotionally hurting you is the same thing, my love." 

"I just want this to be over," she sighed. "I want these nightmares to end. I want these mood swings to stop. I miss the days when my only issue was balancing books and looking out for Edwina." 

He moved closer to her, settling Edmond into one arm, as he pulled her close with the other. She rested her head on his shoulder. "Tell me when I do something that jars you. So I know to fix it." 

"This is the first thing," she said quietly. 

"Well that is good," he nodded. "But still tell me." 

"Do I ever remind you of Edwina?" 

"You have similar mannerisms," he admitted. "But that is it."

"Even when we fight?"

"Especially when you fight," he laughed. "Edwina tries to throw insults she thinks will hurt you the most. She takes your darkest moments and tries to use them against you. Between her and I it was usually children."

"How do I fight?" 

"You," he kissed her head. "Are truly terrifying. You either stay silent and allow me to come up with my own conclusions, which usually have to do with my own worst fears. Or you lay it all out on the table, and throw my words back in my face as only you can do. It is truly masterful." 

"And what do you fear the most?"

"Honestly? That you will wake up one morning and realize that I do not deserve you," he admitted quietly. "Or that I will walk up one morning and find this all to be a dream." 

"Anthony," she said quietly as she reached up to caress his cheek. 

"I know. But those are my fears, and I am working hard to get over them. I do not think I ever will honestly, and that is my own fault. But you did nothing to deserve that fate. And it is not fair that you may have to deal with those fears pertaining to him for the rest of your life. But if you will allow me, I will be here with you through all of it." 

"How did I get so lucky," her eyes welled up and her smile was watery. 

"I am the lucky one," he kissed her gently. 

They heard a commotion in the hall and turned the door. 

"They made up already," they hear Benedict exclaim. "I won the bet! Colin pay up!" 

"I cannot win today," Colin exclaimed. 

They heard Simon say something unintelligible in the background. Anthony shook his head. 

"Brothers." 

"They love you." 

"They live to annoy me," he mumbled. "Go back outside before I thrash you all!" 

"Hey," Benedict yelled back. "No messing around in the drawing room! We all use that space." 

"It is my house I can do what I want," Anthony responded. 

"These things lead to babies, Anthony," Colin chided and they heard Simon laughing in the background. 

"What would you know of these things, Colin," Anthony retorted and both Benedict and Colin let out jeering "oooohs." 

"Bridgerton is trying to keep up with me," Simon teased. 

"I despise you, Hastings," he called back good naturedly. "And I have four, you only have two." 

"Three!" 

"Not born yet. and I hope it is exactly like you! Annoying." 

"You wound me, Bridgerton." 

"Leave us! All of you!" 

Kate shook her head laughing as they heard Benedict mumbling as he walked away. 

"Maybe Kate did not allow him anything this morning," he said. 

"I heard that," Anthony exclaimed. 

"You know," Kate said. "If I did not share everything about our bedroom activities with Sophie, I might feel offended that your brothers know so much." 

"They barely know, -" he stopped and looked at his wife. "What do you tell Sophie?" 

"Oh, you know," she said casually. "Places mostly. The stables are taken for the next week." 

"Anywhere else," he grinned. 

"The lake." 

"Damn," he sighed. "That is one of my favorite places." 

"You know we never tried the forest. Or even the room I stayed in when I first came here." His eyes widened in realization and his mouth went dry. 

"Oh Miss Sharma," he growled. "You know if you play with fire, you are liable to get burned." 

"I am well aware, Lord Bridgerton," she grinned. "And still, I think it is quite worth the risk." 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

There were two things that Elizabeth Bennet was sure of. One; Lord Anthony Bridgerton, while being devilishly handsome, and having a former reputation as a libertine, was an honorable man that adored his wife and children and could surprise you at every turn. He was a man of duty and provided for his family so they would be taken care of at every turn, and he did his utmost to carry the burdens of those he loved and made it look effortless and he treated his wife as his equal. And two; Mr. Darcy was the exact same breed of man that Lord Bridgerton was. While he never made appearances in Lady Whistledown for rakish behavior, in essentials he was entirely similar, and she didn't know if she relished that fact or despised the fact that she only saw this side of Darcy after she assumed the worst of him. 

And now, two of the most powerful men in the ton, though Darcy was not titled, his family held a lot of political sway, were on the floor on the rug in the drawing room, Lord and Lady Bridgerton's infant twins, and nephew were on the floor between them, and they were speaking to the babies in the most ridiculous manner that nearly every woman in the party were charmed and every man rolled their eyes. Baby Charles was a jovial lad and he laid on his belly, holding his head up as his uncle talked to him cheerfully. Even eliciting a few coos and high-pitched shrieks that had the ladies giggling. The twins were fascinated by the broody Darcy hunched over them as he talked to them. They laid side by side and even managed a few smiles as they kicked long legs in a manner as only infants can. 

"Rather ridiculous, is it not," Kate managed to sneak up on her at the most inopportune times. Most of those times she had caught her staring at Darcy in one way or another. Kate was rather new in Whistledown's papers, but from what she knew of the woman, she could be rather ruthless. And Elizabeth rather prided herself on being able to read people, though she was quite troubled by her ability as of late, but she was unable to read Kate. She could read Lord Bridgerton rather easily. He wore his heart on his sleeve. Kate however was going to be a tough woman to crack in society. And she had a feeling many of the peerage was not going to like that. Lady Catherine did not like that, although that amused her greatly. 

Kate had delivered set down after set down to Lady Catherine this afternoon, giving a masterful performance, and most likely would serve as a precursor as to what they would see in society once the Bridgerton's returned to the ton for the remainder of the season, whenever that would be. Elizabeth wished she could be like her. She liked to pretend that Lady Catherine's barbs did not hurt, but she could not temper their sting at times, especially considering the words of Darcy's failed proposal. And she did not want to put Kate on a pedestal, she was sure that Kate had her issues as did everyone else, but Kate was someone to strive to be like. 

"That two grown men can behave in that manner for a baby," Elizabeth replied. "It is eye-opening, that is for sure." Kate giggled. 

"The first time I saw Anthony on the floor with Josephine, I could not believe it. I knew he had a hand in raising Gregory and Hyacinth. And of course, Henry was three, so they bonded a little differently. But Josephine was so reserved when she was an infant, much like Lily. And I swear he could get her to laugh over the littlest things. Of course, I could not." 

"Do not girls gravitate to their fathers?" 

"Well," Kate looked in Josephine's direction and bit her lip. "I think so. I know I certainly did. But Josephine definitely gravitates more to me if there is a decision to be made between me and Anthony. Henry is more the enigma, and it depends on what he needs. If he needs affection or to be held he will come to me. If he needs to play or to talk he will go to Anthony."

"Can I ask you a question," Elizabeth asked. 

"Anything." 

"I know you had no need to remarry after your husband passed away," Elizabeth began. "Public opinion was hoping you would, of course, second sons and all that. In fact, Mr. Bingley's sisters were all but ready to stage a compromise should they have had the opportunity to meet you then." Kate laughed. "You were, you are I guess still. But you were one of the richest women in the ton, you had an heir so you would always have security. Why did you choose to remarry? I do not understand. If I were in your shoes, I do not think I would abide it." 

"You are making it seem like I had a choice," Kate said. 

"You mean he, -" Elizabeth's eyes went wide. 

"No," Kate laughed. "I am well aware of the many, many men who were attempting to seek my hand in that time. It was overwhelming, believe me. I was supposed to be in mourning, but ever man was chomping at the bit to get near me when I went to events in society. I knew Anthony before, of course you know the whole sordid story. But in that time, it was one of the worst in my life. I was a mother who had to raise two children alone. And I was a widow that had done her job by society in having an heir to carry on the line. And in that time, Anthony became my best friend. I wanted to be near him all the time and strangle him at the same time. I still do. He vexes me greatly. But I am convinced that the only reason he vexes me is because I adore him and allow him to do so. I love him. There are many women in the ton who are exasperating, Lady Catherine included." Elizabeth giggled. "But I am able to let what they do go. It affects me for a few minutes, and then it is gone. Not so with Anthony. Anthony can leave me fuming, and sometimes I can let it go. And sometimes it can lead to some knock out fights. We fight a lot. Sometimes it is over nothing, and sometimes it is over things that happened last year or five years ago. I vex him just as much. But fighting means that the passion is not lacking. Fighting means we care. I did not have a choice because choosing to be without him would have been like choosing to live without a part of my soul."

"Wow," Elizabeth said softly. "That is an interesting way to put it." 

"Love and hate run a thin line," Kate said then turned when she heard her daughter yell. She sighed. "I am sorry. I must go and control my menace." 

Elizabeth giggled. "She is not that bad." 

"Do not let her fool you. She has the constitution of the most vexing man of my existence."

"I heard that," Lord Bridgerton called out. "And no, she takes after her mother." 

"You will live to regret those words, Lord Bridgerton," Kate called as she moved to Josephine who was in the corner with something in her hand, Elizabeth could not see. 

"Already regretting it, my love," he called back with a smile. 

Elizabeth was left with her thoughts. Lord and Lady Bridgerton were so open with their affection with each other. And she could not help but think that maybe she wanted that with a man who vexed her greatly. She looked in Darcy's direction, before noticing him staring back at her as he always did, and she looked away immediately. 

Well this would not do at all.  

 

She was supposed to be getting ready for dinner, but she found she did not care. And she was not entirely sure where her tears came from. She had fed Edmond and Lily so they could be in the nursery during supper. They would feed a couple more times throughout the night. She was going to get ready. Then go get her children ready. And they would all attend dinner in the dining room. They had all passed an agreeable afternoon both outside and inside. The company was delightful, even the broody Mr. Darcy was found laughing more often than not. Her tears made no sense. 

She continued to wipe at them, taking deep breaths to try and calm down, but nothing was working. 

"Oh Kate," she heard her husband before she saw him. He wrapped his arms around her as he sat down beside her. 

"I do not know what is wrong with me," she sobbed. 

"Nothing is wrong, my darling." 

"Then why am I crying?" 

"Sometimes we need to cry, my love," he said softly as he ran a hand over her hair. "And that is ok." She laid her head on his shoulder. She hoped he was right, but she wasn't so sure. 

"Do I need to send for a tray," he asked quietly. "You are still recovering, my darling. And no one would blame you for needing to stay in."

"I do not wish to seem ungrateful," she said. "This celebration is for us." 

"It is," he smiled. "But I have no doubt that people will be forgiving. We cannot control how our bodies feel at any given moment. And I have kept you up a lot this last week, as have the twins." 

She blinked slowly as she turned and looked into his eyes. She always had something of an infatuation with his smile. She was sure the twins were conceived because of his smile But there were times, mostly during their lovemaking, when his eyes were like the windows to his soul, and that was a place that he only allowed her into. "Elizabeth asked me today why I remarried," she said quietly. 

"Oh," he said. "And why did you?" 

"I told her that you were my soul, and I could no sooner choose to live without a part of my soul." 

"Is that the only thing that contributed towards you saying yes," his face wore a smirk. 

"I also told her you were the most vexing man of my existence." 

He laughed and pulled her close for a kiss, slipping his tongue into her mouth gently. She responded by laying back and pulling him on top of her. He expertly moved her up the bed without breaking their kiss. There were times when her need for him overwhelmed her, and this was one of those times. And her husband might have been a rake, but he could also be slow, and methodical, and calculating in his lovemaking. He could take her apart, piece by piece. She was never too proud to admit that she could be too independent at times. It vexed her greatly when she had to rely on someone though. And even admitting that it vexed her, vexed her. But never in their bedroom. She could give up all control to her husband, and she never felt like it was too stifling or that she was giving up a sense of herself. He allowed her the freedom to just feel for a change and to let go without reservation. She preferred him on top of her always, though sometimes she would take control. And she preferred him holding her down in some way, rather with his hands or his body, she did not care. If that was the only time she could give up control then she would not be picky. 

At times she felt she was too reliant on him in that way, and she had spoken to him about it, but he hadn't minded. And in fact, he seemed to enjoy it. Because although their relationship was equal, he had confessed, that she usually got her way because she was usually right. Their lovemaking to him gave him the same rush in opposite. It allowed him a level of control he didn't have outside of their bedroom but needed in their private time together. She had rewarded him handsomely for his confession despite feeling that she emasculated him in everyway but he read her like a book and told her to stop. 

"I would not change who you are, because I fell in love with you as you are. I fell in love with you berating me and claiming victory of me in every way. Do not for one minute believe that I would change any aspect of our relationship. My mother and father's relationship was much the same way. They made their important decisions together, just as we do, of course. But other decision made in the interest of the family, my father tended to follow my mother's direction. I could not when he first passed as my mother was absent. And then she was not anymore, and I had to give up control that I had become use to and it cause us friction. It still causes friction. You are my wife. You are the mother of my children. In that sense, you spend more time with our children than I do. I trust you to know their needs and report them to me should something need to be done to meet them. It is not emasculation, but a partnership. Which is what I have always needed but I never knew I wanted until you." 

She felt him remove her gown with expert ease despite her being laid down. "You will stay here tonight," he whispered into her neck below her ear. "I demand it." 

"Ok," she sighed. "I must confess to being quite tired."

She gave little resistance when he removed the rest of her clothing, and his. He moved over her with a gentleness that always reminded her of the first time she shared his bed. This very bed, actually. That was a time when she believed that physical intimacy was painful and rushed, but that night he showed her that it wasn't the case. And he made her feel as if her body could fly for the first time. And she had been flying ever since. 

He pulled her close after, holding her body as they both panted in an effort to catch their breath. 

"You will ensure that Josey does not irritate Mr. Darcy too much," she said quietly as she kissed his chest. "Though a little irritation might do him some good." 

"He actually adores her, and Henry. He mostly seems stunned by the freedoms we allow the children." 

"That they are not in the nursery all the time," she laughed. 

"Indeed," he murmured against the top of her head. 

"You never questioned me on that. My need to have them close by at all times. At meals, or during the day." 

"Why should I question their mother who only wants and does what is best for them?" 

"But you were their guardian, now their father. You do have that right." 

"And what would I have done," he asked. "Demanded they take their meals elsewhere and away from us? Josephine was already a picky eater and Henry needed you close. They would not have thrived, and they would not be who they are today had I done that. Our children are my absolute joys. And the fact that I can care for their needs gives me more peace than I could ever hope to have. Why would I want someone else caring for my daughter's scraped knee, and making sure that she was ok when I know she calms better with me instead of her nurse?"

"It is why I insisted on nursing them," she said and wiped a tear from her eye. 

"I will confess that seeing you nurse Josey that first time was jarring," he said with an impish smile on his face. 

"Why?" 

"Because, you adjusted her one time, and I caught a glimpse of what was hiding under the blanket." 

"Shocking," she laughed and reached up to slap his hand that was currently on a breast. 

"It only happened one time," he laughed. "But it was quite a reveal." 

 

"Josey Bridgerton," Violet said across the table. "You are not to feed Milo food from the table." 

"I not, gammy," she held up her hands. "See?" 

"Because you already fed him." 

"He hungwy," she insisted. 

"He has already been fed, sweetheart." Anthony handed Josey another piece of meat off of his plate that he had cut into pieces. He was used to it by now, sharing with her, because most of the time, unless it was something sweet, she refused to eat off of her own plate. "Eat it, my darling."

She slowly raised her hand to put the piece in her mouth when she realized that her father was not taking his eyes off of her. "Papa no," she whined as she chewed and Violet laughed which caused the rest of the table to turn to the head of the table where father and daughter were having a battle of wills. 

"I promised your mother that I would make sure you ate," he said. 

"No." 

"Yes." 

"No." 

"Yes," he said and handed her another piece of meat which made her whine in indignation and kick her feet under the table. "Josephine Bridgerton," he said quietly. He never used that tone with her unless she was in trouble, and she seemed to realize it, which caused her lower lip to quiver. 

"Here it comes," Colin said quietly and Sophie smacked him in the back of the head. "Ow," he exclaimed. "Sharp ring." 

Josephine started to whimper, and Anthony pulled her into his arms before her cries became full blown screams. "Enough," he said quietly. "Josephine that is enough." He held her in one arm and adjusted her dress that had bunched up and pushed some hair out of her face as she had undone her braids that Kate had done this morning. "You must eat. You are growing and you must eat my love." 

"I not hungwy," she whined. 

"Just a few pieces of meat and some potatoes, and that is it, ok," he kissed her cheek. She wrapped her arms around his neck and laid her head on his shoulder. 

"Speaking of, where is Kate," Colin asked. 

"She was out of sorts," Anthony said as he coaxed Josephine to eat another piece of meat before taking a bite himself. "I demanded she stay in for the night." 

"You demanded," Colin laughed. "And she listened?" Anthony glared at him, and Sophie hit him for the second time that evening. "Woman," he exclaimed!

"Thank you, Soph," Anthony smiled at her before returning Colin's volley. "My wife has had the busiest month of her life, and what have you done?" 

Colin shrank down into his chair as Simon ribbed him good-naturedly. "It almost seems that every verbal spat you start, you lose. I am curious," Simon laughed. "Do you like to lose?" 

Elizabeth giggled, "Is it always this entertaining?" 

"There is not a single dinner where I can recall there was not some sort of tiff," Daphne laughed as she helped Amelia with her own food. "It has become more chaotic now that there are children involved." 

"It is a rather large family, especially as we all get married," Benedict said. 

"Grammy," Henry said. "I feel sick." 

"Oh no, my darling," Violet felt his forehead. "You are a little warm, my love. Anthony," she caught her eldest son's attention who was still dealing with Josephine. "Henry is not feeling well." 

Anthony's eyes widened. Henry never got sick. He beckoned his son to him. 

"Go see papa, my darling," Violet helped Henry from his chair. 

"What is going on," Anthony asked his son quietly as he felt his forehead. Apparently coming to the same conclusion. He stood to excuse himself. "Many apologies. I must see to my children. Mother will you, -" 

"Of course, my darling." 

He had Josephine in one arm and lifted Henry into the other and carried them out of the room. 

"Oh, what a sweet little man," Elizabeth said. "I hope he is ok." 

"They were outside a lot today," Simon said. "Perhaps he needs some rest and fluids." 

"Is he usually involved so deeply," Darcy turned to Violet and questioned her quietly. 

"Yes," she smiled. "He and Kate are involved of every aspect of care for their children. When they cannot I myself take over, or Benedict and Sophie. It is how our family works. It is the same with Daphne's children, as well as Benedict's." 

"I never had that," he admitted. 

"Many in the ton do not," she said with a gentle smile. "It is not deemed fashionable." 

"Indeed," Elizabeth murmured from across the table. "When I have children, I should like to be involved. My mother was involved, and despite her being more excitable than most women, I never doubt that she loves me." Darcy winced and went back to his plate. 

"I think I should like to meet your mother, Miss Elizabeth," Sophie said, a sweet smile on her face. "She sounds like a good woman." 

"She is. With five daughters to raise, and an entail, she worries more than most, of course. But that is the way of our society, I think. Women cannot inherit an entail. And we must learn to take advantage of any situation life presents us with." 

"Indeed," Sophie said and raised her glass. 

 

By the time he had gotten the children up the stairs and into Henry's room Henry had started to cry. "Papa my head." 

"I know, my darling. Hold on." He sat Josephine on the ground and Henry on the bed. He went to Henrys chest and pulled out a cool night shirt that he could wear. He helped Henry out of his clothes and into the shirt. He pulled the blanket down and helped him climb into bed. "Does your stomach hurt?" 

"No, papa." 

That was good then. He reached for a glass of water that was on his side table. "Drink some water, my love." They looked up as Kate pushed the door open quietly. 

"Is he alright," she asked, anxious. 

"Just a headache, my love," he reassured her, and her shoulders dropped in relief. 

"Hi mama," Henry said quietly. 

"Hello, my love," she said as she sat on the bed beside him. She took the water glass from Anthony and helped him to drink. "Is your head hurting." 

"Mmhmm," he winced. "I am sleepy." 

"Then you should rest, my darling," Kate whispered as she ran a hand through his hair gently. 

"Should we call for the doctor," Anthony asked quietly. 

"Perhaps, if when he wakes, it is still not gone. He has had a busy day today, I do not recall him drinking much, do you?" 

"My attention was elsewhere; I am ashamed to admit."

"And he did not nap. It has been quite a busy few days. Perhaps it is all catching up to him as it is to me." 

That made him feel better. It was logical and could explain why Henry was not feeling well at the moment.  "I will tell you that when he said he was sick, I panicked." 

"Me too," Kate sighed and leaned against her husband, as she continued to caress Henry's head as he fell asleep. "It is the worse feeling." 

"Mama, I tiwered." Josephine walked over to them. 

"Well, that is new," Anthony pulled Josephine onto his lap and she immediately found her spot at his shoulder. 

"Perhaps that is what we all need at the moment. Rest," she turned to Henry. "How are you feeling, my love," she whispered. 

"Better, mama. I'm sleepy." 

"Then rest my darling. You can play with your friends in the morning." 

Anthony nudged her as she continued her ministrations. "I would never trade this for an evening of revelry and drinks." 

"I wouldn't have married you if you would," she smiled. "It is amazing how when you become a parent everything in your life just suddenly changes. And despite you being prepared for change, you are never prepared enough." 

"Every day is a new challenge."

"And I love it." 

"Me too," he kissed Josephine's head who was asleep on his shoulder. "And you as well." 

 

"Mama," Edwina said in surprise as she walked into her new London townhome, fresh off the ship from India. She was not expecting people to greet her as she was sure that Kate would either be near the birth of her baby or newly delivered and needing to be at home. "What are you doing here? I thought you would be with Kate." 

"She is in Kent. She will be there another month," her mother said quietly. 

"So she delivered then?" 

"Twins," Mary smiled. "They are beautiful. Edmond and Lily." 

"Oh, I bet Lord Bridgerton was ecstatic," Edwina said sarcastically but her mother frowned. "Mama. What is wrong?" 

"A lot has changed since you have been gone, my darling." 

"Well, I would assume so. Having twins is a pretty big deal. I assume Sophie had her baby as well." 

"Yes," Mary nodded. "A little boy named Charles." 

"And how is Kate?" 

"Oh, she is perfectly fine and content with everybody except me." 

"What do you mean," Edwina asked. 

"I had hoped that we could use the time you were away to rediscover our bond, and yet all I have been able to do is manage a few brief conversations with her, that usually end in uncomfortable silence. Lord Bridgerton and I are better at communicating than your sister and me. And it is just a reminder of how badly I failed." 

"You did not fail, mama." 

"Did I not. I encouraged you to accept Lord Bridgerton's courtship despite Kate's warnings. I failed to be there for her with the planning of her wedding. I failed to be there for her at all since we had come to England. I understand my failures. But I do not believe your sister believes me to be genuine in my concerns over our relationship." 

"He is not encouraging her to make amends?" 

"He is supporting her in whatever she decides," Mary said. "He has made his stance perfectly clear." 

"He can be quite vexing," Edwina mumbled. 

"We had a good relationship when you two were married. He knows that I am not cruel." 

"No," Edwina said. "Just unflinchingly ruthless at times." 

"His relationship with you is quite different than his relationship with her, I must confess. And it is quite fascinating. He relies on her for their decisions in a way he never did with you." 

Edwina was quite offended, but knew, despite everything, that Kate would not be in a relationship with him if he treated her any less than his equal. She was a woman who could demand what she wanted because her lot in life left her rich and with an heir, and if Anthony wanted her, he would have to fight and give up things to win her. And that is what he did. Edwina could respect that in him, despite her wishing that her sister fell in love with anyone else other than him. It would serve him right if she had. 

"She is happy?" 

"I believe she is," Mary said. 

"And the children?" 

"Oh, they are legally his now. Bridgertons I mean. The Queen issued a decree. Henry and the dukedom all belong to the Bridgerton family. And the Queen moved Anthony up to earl." 

"So, he is an earl now, and Henry is still a duke. Is that even possible?" 

"And Edmond the viscount, yes. And it is the Queen. Anything is possible." Edwina snorted. 

"Don't I know it. She ruined my life by granting Anthony his divorce." 

"Edwina," Mary warned. "Do not start. You know that your actions led to consequences."

"Am I to pay for them for the rest of my life, when my former husband who used me gets to live happily ever after? I am well aware of my mistakes. I own up to my mistakes. But it does not seem fair that he gets a pass out of his own, simply because he is a man." 

"You will not cause any more scandal, Edwina. I have had enough." 

"Oh, I will not cause any more scandal," she said. "But I will not hesitate to call him out for his hypocrisy."

"I simply want to fix my relationship with Kate. And if you get in the way of that, I will not forgive you," Mary warned. 

 

Chapter Text

The next morning Violet extended the invitation for the Rosing's party to stay another week. She and Lady Danbury had seen enough to know that it was warranted. Much to Lady Catherine's displeasure who voiced her opposistion most vocally and commanded her lady to pack as they were leaving that morning, she was shocked to hear her beloved nephew accept and not join her. But it was too late for her to change her mind. Mr. Collins too objected, but was waylaid by his stubborn spouse, as Elizabeth also accepted, but would need to write to her father to put off her departure from Aubrey Hall instead of Rosings parsonage. Hosting duties were becoming quite blurry for the family at Aubrey Hall, as Kate was still recovering, so Violet and Sophie and Benedict took up where she and Anthony could not. 

The heads of the Bridgerton family had yet to make their way below stairs, but Anthony had sent word that Henry was alright, if a little grumpy and they would be downstairs to break their fast within the hours. Knowledge that they had come in the way of Henry's cries as Anthony carried him down the stairs. The little boy was not having any of the comfort that his father and mother were offering. 

"My goodness, angel," Violet cooed. "What is going on?"

"He barely had any sleep," Kate sighed and then they watched as Josephine made a beeline, chasing Milo through the foyer, where she ran straight into Darcy's legs, giggling the whole time. Kate sighed and Anthony winced. "And she had too much sleep." Violet laughed as Kate walked straight to her wayward daughter, apologizing to Darcy. "I am so sorry, Mr. Darcy. It seems my daughter is a magnet for disaster." Darcy had lifted Josephine into his arms, and she laughed. 

"Do not trouble yourself Lady Bridgerton," Darcy's smooth baritone rang out and caught the party's attention, Violet noticed. Especially one Miss Bennet's, who was eyeing him and Josephine wistfully. She wasn't the only one who noticed; Lady Danbury had too, as well as Mrs. Collins. Anthony too, but he shot his mother an exasperated look then went back to dealing with his son. "What kind of world would it be if children were not allowed to play in their own homes?" 

"Indeed," Kate smiled and took Josephine into her arms. "Can you apologize to Mr. Darcy for running into him," she asked her daughter who nodded, and then her face turned remourseful. 

"What a little actress," Lady Danbury said as she sidled up next to her. 

"I sowwy," Josephine fiddled with the bracelet on her wrist that was a gift from the Queen as Darcy stooped to her level. 

"It is quite alright, Lady Josephine. You did me no harm." Josephine giggled, utterly charmed and then ran back to her papa. 

"Josephine," Kate called. "It is time for breakfast." 

"No." 

"Excuse me?" 

"No beffast." 

"Josephine Bridgerton," Kate scolded. 

"Mama Bigeton," the girl giggled and put her hands on her hips, mimicking Kate. 

"Uh oh," Benedict whispered as the foyer fell silent. 

"Repeat," Kate dropped her gaze, her eyebrows narrowed. "Did you tell me no?" 

"No, mama." 

"Anthony it might be time to save your daughter," Benedict nudged him forward. 

Kate pointed to the dining room; "Josephine. Breakfast. Now." 

"No!" 

"Come again," Kate's voice was low and ominous and Josephine must have realized because she shrank back. 

"Yes," the little girl shouted and made a beeline to the dining room. "It beffast time! Tome mama, tome!" 

Kate followed her daughter slowly into the dining room and the entire foyer could breathe again. 

"The angels protected that little girl today," Colin quipped and Benedict nodded. 

"The lord and his mercies, indeed," Lady Danbury smirked as they made their way to break their fasts. "She was touched by an angel there, Lady Bridgerton." 

"Those second-year troubles are starting early I think," Violet laughed. "Luckily Kate has the mettle to stand against them."

 

Henry sat in front of Anthony in his saddle as the men rode their horses in an attempt to catch some fresh air. Normally Henry would be on his own horse next to him, with Anthony holding onto his lead, but the boy was much too tired. Josephine sat with Benedict, as she had nearly torn the house down when they told her she couldn't go. She was becoming a little too much like Kate, and somehow Eloise, for her own good. She was happy now, playing with Benedict's horses' mane as the cantered ahead. 

"I envy you, Bridgerton," Darcy said as he moved alongside him on his own horse. Darcy's were well-known for their horse breeding just as the Bridgertons had been and he wanted to take the opportunity that the next week would provide to talk to him. He wanted something of his own. Benedict had his art. Colin his travels. He was good for signing paychecks and paying bills. Horses were always something he shared a love of with his father. And now he was passing it down to his own children.

"Hmm," Anthony looked up. "I am sorry." 

Darcy chuckled and shook his head. "I said, I envy you." 

"Whatever for?" 

"You seem to have life all figured out," Darcy said wistfully. "You have the woman you love, your family, your children," he nodded to Henry, who was half asleep, his head falling back against his chest, as the horse's movements lulled him to sleep. "I doubt I should ever be so fortunate." 

"And why is that," he questioned. 

"Because I already messed up." 

"Did you propose and marry her sister," Anthony asked. 

"What! No," Darcy exclaimed. 

"Then you have time to make things right," Anthony quipped. "Do not envy me. I made a mess of things, and I am still paying for them. There are times when my wife cannot even look at me, and I have to accept that because I made the world's most colossal screw-up and married her sister because I thought I could do without love. The woman I loved was torn and beaten for years because of my own decisions and I live with that every day. There are times when I touch her when she is not expecting it, and she freezes up and I lose her for hours. She says she forgives me because she is an angel sent down from God above, but it is impossible to forget, and I do not wish her to. Every day I wake up and try to be the best I can be, and I say it is for these children, but it is really for her. Because once you lose the love of your life and by happenstance she comes back to you, you realize how easy it would be for her to leave. So, I spend my days praying that she doesn't, and if she does choose to do so, I pray she takes me with her. Because I could not survive without her again. I may look like I have it all together, my friend, but our relationship is far from perfect. I have seen the way you look at her, at your Miss Elizabeth, and I can tell you that she is far from indifferent, but she is exactly like Kate. She has a shield. Kate's shield is her armor, and she wields it as a weapon, and you saw this week that your aunt and Mr. Collins felt the brunt of it. Kate spent a consummate amount of time yesterday defending your Miss Elizabeth from the sly hidden barbs of your aunt. Though do not mistake me, everyone heard them, even Josephine asked why she was so mean. You spent the time being embarrassed by your aunt, but you never contradicted her. You did not fight for Miss Elizabeth, and now your path is more difficult, just as mine was because I did not fight for Kate. Truthfully," Anthony paused. "I envy you. Because you have the chance to make this right and marry the love of your life from the beginning. My first wife hangs like a shadow over me, and I cannot forget her because she is Kate's sister. I ruined their relationship." 

"Do you speak to Kate about your fears," Darcy asked quietly. 

"All the time. My wife and I have no secrets. And she tries to appease them. But that is impossible as she has her own fears." 

"Such as?" 

"If I loved her so much, how could I get through marrying and bedding her sister in the first place? It is a fair question to which I have yet to come up with an answer for." 

"Duty?" 

"Nonsense," Anthony shook his head. "Miss Edwina, Miss Sharma now, she was a good viscountess. But she was too young to be my wife. Kate in the last year we have been married has brought a level of calm to our chaotic world that Edwina could never. And I knew that. We are Bridgertons. Edwina was too passive, and she had stars in her eyes, and I showed her what I wanted to show her to get her to agree to a betrothal. Meanwhile Kate was fighting me the entire time, and proving her mettle, and that she belonged in our family more than anyone, even Simon could boast. Edwina could not even make it through a game of Pall Mall." 

"Surely not," Darcy chuckled. "You did not marry a woman who could not get through that game." 

"I did," Anthony said as he kissed Henry's sleeping face. "And then I blamed Kate's insufficient connections for a reason why I could not choose her." 

"Did she not marry a Duke?" 

"For all that he did to her, and I hate him for it. He saw her worth from the start. He gave her these children. Something I could not even try to give Edwina. Bu for all that she is, she fell in love with me again. She decided to love me. And I decided to marry her. And she may run, and I will pull her back every single time because it was our decision to love each other again. And to marry. And to have these children. And I have no expectations that my marriage will be perfect. But what I do know is that my marriage is strong, because we can fight and love each other at the same time. She has seen me at my worse and I have seen her at hers. That is marriage. Not some storybook romance that you ride into the sunset for. It is work. And decisions to make it work. And to love each other despite everything that life throws at you." 

"I should talk to her," Darcy said quietly. 

"I learned a lot about Kate after her husband passed because I asked questions. She never had an avenue to vent her frustrations because she lost her mother at so young an age. Her father remarried quickly. And she felt she had to earn her place in the family. Her father's failing was that he never corrected that feeling, nor did her stepmother. So, she put everything she had into fostering the relationship between her and her stepmother. Between her and her sister, even. She did not know a love without a price tag. I gave her that. I gave her an avenue to be angry without repercussions. She can angry around me, even if it is not about me, and she knows I will never leave her for it. Perhaps Miss Elizabeth, from what I can tell, idolizes her elder sister, and she feels like she isn't enough. Just like Kate. Give her that avenue. Because a love without repercussions is the greatest gift you can have. Kate can be mad at me for all my past mistakes, but I know at the end of the day she still loves me. And I realize that makes me the luckiest bastard alive." 

They had reached an open area, more often used for shooting. Colin helped Benedict with getting Josephine off of the horse, though the little girl wanted to stay on. 

"No Coco," she said. "I wan stay." 

"Josephine, you need to run." 

"No." 

"Josephine Bridgerton," Anthony called out a warning to his daughter. "Go run with Amelia and Auggie." 

"No Henny," she pouted. 

"Henry is sleeping." 

Anthony handed a sleeping Henry down to Darcy, so he could slide off the horse himself. He handed the reigns over to Benedict, and took his sleeping son back into his arms. "He rarely sleeps this early in the day." 

"I am glad that he at least feels better," Darcy replied. 

"It is the worse feeling when your children are sick," Anthony admitted, as the group found some shade under a large tree and sat down, leaning against it. "He loves riding, and handles a horse very well, actually." 

"I would expect no less," Darcy smiled. "You said you wanted to get back into breeding?" 

"Bridgerton, you're thinking about breeding horses again," Simon asked. "My stables would appreciate it if you did." 

"It is something I am contemplating but I have made no decisions." 

"Is Lady Bridgerton ok with it," Darcy asked. 

"She is more than ok with it," Anthony laughed as did the rest of the group, minus the colonel. "Kate is an avid horsewoman. We actually met on horseback for the first time." 

"Where she slaughtered you in a race," Benedict smirked. 

"She did not slaughter me. She simply won," Anthony defended. 

"That explains Josephine's fearlessness around horses then," the colonel input. 

"Yeah, that is a problem because she does not fear them at all, so we are trying to teach her that horses can hurt her if she is not careful around them," Benedict said. "She tried to stand up on hers last week during training while moving." 

"She has her own horse, already," Darcy questioned with a smile, and Anthony knew. As soon as his firstborn, regardless of if it was a boy or a girl, that child was getting a horse. 

"I bought one for her last month. She named her Coco." 

Darcy looked at Colin and laughed. 

"Yes, yes," Colin said. "Laugh it up." 

"It is only because she loves you," Benedict smiled. "If I recall there is a cat around here in the barn that is named Josey." 

"Yes," Anthony laughed. "Henry named it that last year when they first came to Aubrey Hall, and he found a litter of kittens. "Josey found out a couple weeks ago, and she was not happy." 

"She yelled at the poor thing," Benedict laughed. 

Henry stirred in Anthony's arms, and then settled back in, his arms wrapped around his waist. His head rested against his chest in a way that if he were awake, he would be looking up at him. Anthony shifted and stared at his son with complete adoration, and everyone was polite enough not to laugh at him for it. Darcy even gave him a wistful smile. 

 

As the gentleman were out, Kate had a chance to hold both of her babies in the sitting room. She threw all sense of decorum and propriety aside and nestled against the side of the sofa, Lily and Edmond were propped against her bent legs, and they were awake. Kate spent a good half hour talking to them and making them smile, and the rest of the women allowed her that time. Sophie sat next to her, doing the same with little Charles. 

"It is a wonder where Josephine gets that temper," Lady Danbury laughed. 

"From you," Kate said from across the room. "Do not pretend to be affronted. I know you have been giving her lessons." 

"Hmm," Lady Danbury turned to Violet. "Can you believe she would accuse me of such." 

"Yes, I can," Violet laughed. "You have spent a lot of time corrupting my granddaughter."

"Why I never," Lady Danbury exclaimed before she burst into laughter. "Well, it is not only me." 

"I know nothing of what you speak," Kate said. "I am a delight." 

"A delight who can scare the living daylights out of just about anyone in the ton," Violet raised a brow at her daughter-in-law. 

"Well, if you will not, I will." 

The gentlemen were noisy in their return. Henry was slowly waking up and sat with her, so she had three of her babies in her arms. She kissed his head. "Are you hungry, my love?" He slowly nodded and she turned to her husband who was across the room. "Anthony, can you make him a plate of food?"  

"Of course," he smiled and made his way to the table by the window that contained a variety of cold meats and cheeses and fruits. 

"The babies are awake," Henry mumbled. 

"They are," Kate smiled. "And they are looking at you." 

He nodded and then yawned. "I am sleepy, mama." 

"I know you are, my love. And you can sleep again at nap time." 

"It not nap time, yet?" 

"No honey." 

Anthony handed him a plate of meat and cheese then slowly bent and placed a gentle kiss on her lips. "Do you want me to take one of them?" 

"Whichever one you want." 

He carefully lifted Edmond from her arms and motioned to Darcy as he had just gotten Miss Elizabeth to agree to a conversation in private, and Violet agreed to be their chaperone. 

"Why do you wish to speak, Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth was asking as they walked out the door. 

"I do not want to live a life of regrets, Miss Elizabeth. And I beg you to give me a chance to explain myself." 

Anthony turned back to Kate with a grin. "He is smitten." 

"Oh," Kate said, and ran a hand over Henry's head, pushing some hair back from his face. "What did he say?" 

"That he envies me." 

"And what did you say in return?" 

"I told him not to. And then told him not to mess it up." 

Kate smiled up at him and pulled him down for another kiss. "Every day with you is a new adventure. And one I cannot wait to go on." 

"Even with our thirteen children," Anthony teased and she pulled away. 

"I agreed to no such thing, Anthony Bridgerton," she exclaimed as her husband walked away laughing. 

 

 

Chapter Text

Kate wasn't exactly surprised when a carriage bearing Edwina drove up the drive at Aubrey Hall just after breakfast. They knew she was in town. She was a little surprised that she came so soon. But she hadn't seen her little sister in almost a year so she couldn't complain. 

She had missed her. And judging by the expression on her face as she threw her arms around her, Edwina had missed her as well. "Didi! Oh! I have missed you!" 

Kate laughed and returned her embrace while escorting her into an unoccupied drawing room. "How was your trip?" 

"Long. But worth it. The food. The comradery."

"And now you are back." 

"Of course," she laughed. "As much as I love India, I have gotten use to the stuffiness of the English society. Plus, my nieces and nephews are here as well." 

"Oh," Kate exclaimed and hurried to ring the bell, to have the staff bring the children. "You probably want to see them." 

"Mama said you had twins!" 

"I did," Kate laughed. "A boy and a girl. Quite a surprise but they are wonderful additions to the family." 

"And how are Henry and Josey adapting?" 

"Henry is amazing as he always is. He holds them every day and tells them stories. Josey is taking a little longer to warm up to them, but she has her moments. I think she is mainly happy that they are not as loud as Charles." 

"Charles?" 

"Oh," Kate gasped. "Sophie and Benedict's little boy. He is a couple months older but has quite the pair of lungs." 

"As does Josephine," Edwina giggled. 

"Oh yes," Kate agreed. "Josephine is quite the loud one." 

There was a gasp at the doorway and then squealing as Henry ran in. "Auntie Wina! You are back!" The little boy ran to his aunt and collapsed into her arms, clearly feeling much better than he did yesterday.  

"Oh my goodness," Edwina exclaimed. "Who is this big boy who just suddenly threw himself into my arms?"

"Auntie Wina," Henry laughed. "It is me! Henry!" 

"You are not Henry! Henry was a little boy when I left him!"

"I growing up," he puffed out his chest. "I big now!"

"You are," Edwina pressed a kiss to the top of his head. "And so handsome! And tall! My goodness, you are going to be taller than me in a few years!" They looked up and noticed Josephine at the door, hanging onto her nurse's hand, a finger in her mouth. She didn't really remember Edwina, but Kate knew she would warm up quickly. Josephine noticed her mother and ran for her. 

Kate pulled her onto her lap. 

"And who are you," Edwina smiled at her. 

"That Josey," Henry laughed. "You remember, Auntie Wina!" 

"That is not Josephine," Edwina tickled her nephew. "Josephine was a baby the last I saw her!"

"She growing up too," Henry exclaimed. 

"Do you want to go see your Aunt Edwina," Kate asked her little girl, who was staring at her aunt cautiously. 

"She is stunning Kate," Edwina watched the little girl in awe. "She reminds me of you."  

Josephine noticed Edwina's golden bangle shaking on her wrist and immediately overcame her shyness. She slid off her mother's lap and slowly walked to Edwina on the sofa opposite Kate, a finger in her mouth belaying her only nerves. She pointed to the bangle. 

"Dis."

Edwina shook her wrist. "Do you like this," Edwina asked and Josephine giggled, reaching for the bracelet, her own golden chain bracelet sparkling in the early fall morning sun shining through the windows. "You have a bracelet too," she pointed to Josey's. "This is beautiful and what," Edwina gasped. "It has your name!" 

Josephine laughed and shook her wrist. "It was a gift from the Queen. Lily got one too," Kate said. 

"My lady," the twins nurse maid came in and gave a small curtsey. "Master Edmond and Lily are sound asleep. Shall I wake them?" 

"No Miss Clarice. Just bring them when they wake," she said with a smile. She gave another curtsey and backed out of the room. "We are still trying to get them on a schedule, but it is more difficult with two." 

"I can imagine," Edwina smiled as Josephine climbed into her lap, besotted with that bangle. 

"Auntie Wina," Henry said. "Are you staying here again?"

"Well not here," Edwina smiled. "But I will be in town. So I will be able to see you more often." 

"What do you mean by that," Kate asked. 

"By what?" 

"Are you planning on staying at Bridgerton House?" 

"No," Edwina said. "Your husband set mama and I up in a townhouse of our own." 

"He what," Kate exclaimed. 

"You did not know?" 

"He never said," Kate's voice trailed off. 

"Yeah, he wrote to me in India, detailing those plans." 

"Hmm," Kate stared at the window as Edwina continue to play with her niece and nephew. They had talked about setting Edwina up in a town house but they had never come to a mutual consensus. The fact that he did so without talking to her, rubbed her the wrong way. She should be thrilled that he thought of her family, but it just seemed a more convenient way to avoid an argument. 

"Kate, have you seen, -" Anthony stopped. "Miss Sharma. I did not know you were here." 

"She arrived a half hour ago," Kate said. 

"Yes," Edwina smiled at Josey. "I was too excited to wait to see these little ones. I missed them so!" She kissed Josephine's head. 

"Yes," Kate said quietly. "Edwina was just telling me about the town house you set up for them in town," Kate looked at him and his eyes grew wide. 

"Ah." 

"Yes," Edwina tickled Henry. "It is quite lovely." 

"That is not the point," Kate hissed. "The point is, Lord Bridgerton, that we had not discussed it yet." 

"Kate," he sighed. 

"But clearly, as she knew about it before she left India, you had planned for it in advance." 

"I did not want you to have to worry," he said. 

"They are my family," she glared at him. 

"As am I. And I thought it was the right decision." 

"It was a decision that we should have made together," Kate said, her voice raising. 

"We had discussed the possibility." 

"But we never made a plan," she stood and he followed. "How would you like it if I made such arrangements for Eloise?" 

"She is a Bridgerton," Anthony laughed. "And this is her home." 

"Wrong answer!" 

"Hey," Edwina interjected. "Let's us not do this in front of the children." 

"Do you have a problem, all of the sudden with my family living with us," Anthony asked. 

"You know I do not," Kate said. "And that was not the point. The point was that you would be upset if I made these decisions for your family without consulting you." 

"Well," Anthony said. "As I manage the finances, I am sure I would have known!" 

Edwina winced and looked at Kate, who's eyes were narrowed angrily. "You guys, -" 

"You stay out of this," Anthony snapped. "This does not concern you." 

"Do not talk to her like that," Kate exclaimed. 

"She is here for thirty minutes and we are already fighting!" 

"We are fighting due to your actions for not including me on these decisions," Kate exclaimed. 

"Mama," Henry whimpered and Kate sighed and pulled for the nurse again. Kate went and crouched down in front of her son. 

"I am sorry, my love. Papa and I just need to talk. So go play with your cousins and Josey, alright." He nodded and took Josephine's hand and led her to the door, closing it behind them. "We are fighting because we agreed to make these decisions together, Anthony Bridgerton." Edwina snorted. 

"I was doing what I thought was best for my family," Anthony hissed. 

"And we all know what happens when you do that," Edwina laughed and sat down on the sofa. 

Anthony froze and turned in Edwina's direction slowly. "You do not even know me." 

"I was married to you for five years, Lord Brigerton," she sneered. "We have had plenty of fights. But every time, you could walk away and go stay at your bachelor lodgings which you kept and thought I knew nothing about. Because our marriage was not worth enough to you to work through things. But no matter, we have already discussed that. I moved on. You moved on. But what we did not discuss was you. And the fact that you lied to me throughout our marriage." She stood, and Kate sighed wearily. 

"I never lied," Anthony said. "Need I remind you, that it was you that went outside of our marriage." 

"Oh yes," Edwina said with a laugh. "I went outside our marriage to seek intimacy that I was promised by my husband when I agreed to marry him. But come to find out. After years, and years, of contemplating what was wrong with me. After wondering where I went wrong. After crying myself to sleep because my husband who promised me friendship and affection could not bear to look at me. He was going outside our marriage the whole time."

"I never, -" 

"Your affections were with my sister the whole of our marriage," Edwina said. "Do you deny it?" 

Kate sat down and Anthony's eyes grew wide. 

"You see, my lord. I learned a lot in India, the short time I was there. I made mistakes in going outside our marriage, and I can admit that. I sought men's affection physically. But emotionally is just as bad, Lord Bridgerton. You were emotionally absent from our marriage, and that is just as bad." 

"Edwina," Kate said quietly. 

"You dare defend him," she snapped. "I am your sister!" 

"And I am her husband," Anthony exclaimed. 

"Stop it," Kate exclaimed and inserted herself between the two of them. "Stop! Ok. It is clear that you two need to talk. I cannot have you both here and constantly fighting with each other, -" 

"Kate," Anthony started. 

"No, Anthony. You and I will discuss this town house situation, endlessly. But I will not choose between you two and it is unfair of you to ask me to. You are my husband, but she is my sister. And she is right. You have not listened to her since the divorce. She was hurt too." She turned to Edwina. "I am sorry for my hand in the hurt that you had during the marriage. I honestly thought I was doing the right thing. You said you loved him, and I wanted you to have your heart's desire. And I am sorry that I didn't contemplate what my marriage to him would mean to you, -" 

"Didi," Edwina whispered. "I am not angry at you. Not anymore." 

"But you are angry that I had a part in it, and that is ok. But I need you two to get along. Bon he is the father of my children. And I love him," Kate turned to her husband. "And she is my sister. And I love her. I cannot choose. And it would be cruel for you to make me. Anytime she has had to have this conversation with you, you have turned defensive and thrown her words back at her. But I well know that you were at fault for this as well." 

"Kate, -" 

"No, Anthony. You know you were." He sighed and then nodded. "I am going to make sure that Henry is ok. We probably terrified him." She walked to the door, closing it quietly behind her. 

Edwina turned to Anthony and then shook her head and sat back down, facing the window. Anthony took the sofa across from her, his elbows on his legs as he stared straight ahead. "I do not wish to speak of this." 

"Well, I wish I had not married you, so I guess we both shall not get what I wanted." 

"Edwina," Anthony sighed. 

"You ruined my life," Edwina said. "You promised me a life. You promised me children. Affection even." 

"I never promised you love." 

"Not love, but you never dissuaded me from it either. You let me live in fraudulent belief because the diamond would elevate your status as Lord Bridgerton. And you would do your duty to your family. I was a pawn in your chess game. I was being used, and I had no idea. Of course, Kate had warned me, but I appreciated your honesty. And to be truthful you never promised not to love me. I understand why Kate did what she did. I will never understand why you did. Because not only did you hurt me, but you hurt Kate. And Kate was my very best friend, and I lost her. And had I known the real reason she chose marriage, when her greatest wish was to be there for me and my children, I never would have gone through with it, -"

"I never meant, -" 

"Of course you did not. You never do. But you did not think and we both lost her to that monster. And what is worse is that had I known, I would have stepped aside for her. Kate never expressed a love for any man except our father. They never understood her. She was too vocal. Too opinionated. And do not pretend that I do not remember that little setup you did with her and Lord Dorset. She seemed genuinely interested in him, and he seemed to take an interest in her. My sister is beautiful but she is not reserved and that always caused the gentlemen to gravitate towards me, despite her being ten times the woman that I will ever be. So she was used to men conversating with her to get to me. And I appreciated her for doing so, despite losing herself, and her dreams in the process. And Lord Dorset showed interest in her despite who I was. But that was fraudulent as well, wasn't it my lord," she said. "Because you decided you had to win. And your victory was me." 

"I never meant to hurt her," Anthony said. "Believe me, I am paying for that every single day. I have no excuse for my behavior." 

"There is no excuse. You spent the entirety of our marriage lying to me. You made me feel like something was wrong with me. That I did something wrong to encourage such distance between us. We had our fights, and I did some wrong things, but you had promised me that we would work through the ton together. That was the marriage that I signed up for."

"You are right," he said quietly. "I have no excuse at all, and I am sorry. I am sorry that you felt so alone in our marriage. That was not my intention. I went into that season with the best of intentions. And I did not want a marriage without love. So I had decided earlier on before I even met you, that I would marry the diamond and take the love aspect out of it. I did want children, but Kate affected me so." 

"Why did you not propose to her? Instead of letting me believe like a fool that I was the one you wanted?" 

"Because, I was falling in love with her, and that terrified me." 

"So you made her watch you propose to me."

"I am not a perfect man, Edwina," he winced. "And I am fighting hard for her every single day because I love her so damn much. When you have been divorced once you realize how easy it would be for a woman with even more resources than you had, and a true friendship with the Queen to do so. Only now she has my children. We fight all the time. Mostly about this exact thing. About you. And I know what she felt like when she watched you and I marry. And I tried to be her friend, but I screwed that up as well and snapped at her for daring to make a decision for her own happiness. I am not that man anymore. I have grown and I hope that eventually you can see that. And I hope that you and I can come to some semblance of a relationship. Not for us, but for her. Because I am sure that both of us do not wish to lose her." 

"I would not stand for it," Edwina agreed. "And for what it is worth. I am sorry for my actions in our marriage. I have thought about them endlessly, and I know that I acted less than honorably." 

"I am sorry too," he smiled tightly. "I realize now that my actions had consequences, and I just did not want to see that. I wanted to keep my pride."

"I guess I understand that as well," Edwina laughed. "And if you introduce me to my newest niece and nephew, I might just begin to forgive you," Anthony laughed. "A little bit." 

"Deal." He offered her his arm for escort. "Lily is as stunning as her mama. And Edmond likes to talk up a storm. Kate thinks she understands him." 

"She probably does," Edwina smiled. 

"Yeah," Anthony grinned and looked ahead. "Yeah, she probably does." 

 

Kate would never admit it out loud, well perhaps to Sophie, but angry lovemaking was the best kind of lovemaking. She loved slow and tender. She loved fast and rough. But there was something in the way that your adrenaline kicked up in the middle of a fight, that all you wanted to do was jump your partner and rip his clothes off. And that is exactly what she did. And lucky for her, her husband was a quick study. Once he had her undressed, he tossed on the bed and then slammed into her roughly. 

"I am sorry," he panted in her ear. "Forgive me."

She could only pant, and cry out his name, and remember to breathe. Over and over again, in that order exactly. She could only hear him, and the bed cadence against the wall as he moved against her. She could only feel him, and it was never quite enough. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders as he continued to move her up the bed. She whimpered when she felt him leave her body with a growl. He pulled her up roughly and sat on his knees, and then situated her on his lap, her legs wrapped around his waist. He pushed into her with a force that she had never felt before. 

"Anthony! God!" 

"I have wanted to do this to you since the day I met you, countess," he panted. Her head fell back, and his lips found her throat. 

"I am still angry with you," she whimpered. 

"I know," he chuckled. 

"I cannot breathe," she gasped. 

"Good," he said. "Then that means I am doing it right." 

 

 

Chapter Text

Kate found Anthony in his study staring up at the place where his father's portrait used to hang. It was a sign of him becoming his own that he even took it down and she was proud of him. She knocked on the door frame before going in and shutting the door softly behind her. He looked up at her with a weary smile and it nearly broke her heart. Today's fight had been tough on him. The conversation with Edwina as well. 

"Hey," she smiled at him softly. "I know your busy, but I felt we should talk. Especially after that, -" she blushed, and Anthony smiled. Because he knew exactly what he did, and some of the sounds that came from her from the things that he did to her earlier were unnatural, unhuman even. "Edwina is gone. Heading back to town." 

"Oh," he said. His voice was just as quiet. "Is she not staying the night." 

"She has not the patience for Mr. Collins and Fordyce's Sermons, I'm afraid. and I do not blame her." 

"That man," Anthony groaned and lent back in the chair. Kate laughed. 

"She did say something to me though," Kate paused as he looked up at her confused. "She said something about how, once you've been divorced once, that you are aware at how easily it could happen again." 

"Oh," he said quietly and looked to the window. 

"She and I are not as close as we once were, and Edwina and you, I hope have come to some sort of resolution," she walked around his desk and hopped on it, facing him. "But she does wish for our marriage to be successful, for all that she does not like it. She was concerned." 

"I did not intend for her to take it literally." 

"Then what did you intend by saying it," Kate bit her lip as she asked. "Because I thought we had resolved this. I told you I have forgiven you." 

"I do not wish for you to forgive me, Kate," he exclaimed as he rose out of his chair and ran a frustrated hand through his hair. "I messed up!" 

"We all messed up! The goal is to have these painful conversations to move forward." 

"And yet I am still doing everything that I promised you I wouldn't!"

"Like what," Kate asked. 

"Like making decisions behind your back," he said. "I knew you would be hurt by that, and I did it anyway. Just like I knew you would be hurt by watching me propose and marry your sister, but I did it anyway!" 

"You do know I was not mad at the decision," she asked. 

"Yes," he said. "I know why you were mad. And you had every right to be. I just did it to avoid a conversation that I know I needed to have, and I know Edwina was right! I blamed her because it was easy for me. Because I could get away with it, but she was right! I promised her the world and I failed." 

"You did, but you realize that now. You are not that person anymore." 

"Then what was that fight earlier," he asked as he stopped and looked at her. 

"We made up!" 

"Kate," he laughed and sat back down. She hopped off the desk and planted herself right in his lap. She wrapped her right arm around his shoulder and used her left hand to force him to look up at her. 

"I promised you I would not leave, and I meant it," she said quietly. "I could not leave you if I tried. And I would never dare take your children away from you. Anthony. We fought for this. The Queen," she exclaimed. "They have your name now. They adore you! They are as much yours as they are mine, and I would never do that to you or them. And I have lived without you for five of the longest years of my life. And I could not do that again." 

"Did you love me," he whispered. "All that time?" 

"I could not," she admitted just as quietly. "Because I was hurt. And it was easier not to when everything was happening. Because if I had, it would be the worst thing to think that the man I loved sent me to that future." 

He winced. "That is my point." 

"But I tried to not fall in love with you again," she continued. "Believe me. I did not want to remarry. I knew the wreckage you could leave my heart in. And you were so good to me. And the children. And I could not help it. I saw a side of you that Edwina never saw, and you had made her those promises, and I started to feel guilty. But still. I could not help but to. I will not live without you again, Anthony Bridgerton," she kissed him gently. "It is unfathomable." 

"I would not survive," he said. 

"Nor I," she gave him another kiss then pulled back. "So tell me, what is really going on?" 

"You do not need me," he said. 

"What! Yes I do, -" 

"You don't," he interrupted. "I have always been needed since I was eighteen years old. My brothers and sisters rely on me. My children. Even your family. My mother. But you do not. And I guess that bothers me." 

"But I do need you. I do not understand." 

"Tell me, when your father passed, what did you do? You managed everything, right? Just like I did. If I were to put my brother, even Benedict, in charge of the estate, I am very convinced he would run it into the ground. But If I left you in charge, it would thrive. I am sure of it." 

"So that would be a bad thing?" 

"No! It's just," he paused. "Everything that I do for you, you can do for yourself. Well almost everything," he managed a smile.  "And I have come to realize that I need to be relied on." 

"Oh." 

"And it is not your fault," he shook his head. 

"But if it something you need, why did you not tell me before," she asked passionately. 

"I did not want to bother you. You are going through so much." 

"And what do you always tell me? You asked me to tell you all my needs, and I had hoped that you would reciprocate. Anthony if you need something, then tell me!" 

"And how would you go about fixing this particular need, Kate," he exclaimed. "Be something other than who you are. I am immensely proud that you can do this. That you can manage an estate. That you can be frugal. That you can be the sharpest woman in the ton, and the gentlest woman in my bed all in the same day. You are the best wife and the best mother. Our children want for nothing, and you never deny me, and I ask for it a lot! I am aware! But how can I ask you to do what is not your nature." 

"But I do rely on you," she said, and he scoffed. "You laugh but I do. I need you. You once told me that I was the air you breathed, and you are that to me as well. You were not in our bed this morning, and I was desolate, because I have become so used to you waking me up with a kiss and encouragement to start my day. I cried, Anthony. And that is not something I want you to feel guilty about. But I do need you to know, that I may not rely on you for those larger physical things, like managing an estate, only because you do it so well. But I do rely on you. For affection. For companionship. For those dark moments that I keep experiencing and I cannot shake. For the quiet moments when we rock our babies to sleep, or Josephine makes us want to pull our hair out. Or when Henry discovers something new and he gets so excited about it, and I get sad that our little boy is growing up too quickly. We have an assortment of family that could help me with all those things. But they are not you. I can look at you in a dark moment and you smile and it's the sun shining. That is who you are to me. I cannot be who I am not, you are right. I am not Edwina. I know she relied upon you in a way that you are used to, and it was easy for you to put a boundry between you as a result. I have lived a life. I lived in a marriage where I had no control. I told you about Josephine. I love her, I adore her, but it was not my choice to have her. I did not want another child in that environment. You gave me a choice to have the twins, Anthony. You gave me the choice to write to the queen about the children. You give me everything I have ever desired in a marriage. You give me freedom."

"My family better not be waking you up with a kiss," he laughed slightly and she pushed him gently. 

"Ridiculous man! Who am I going to kiss, Colin," she laughed, and his narrowed. "I am sorry I yelled at you earlier." 

"Me too. I did not mean what I said, about the finances coming through me. I was just angry that you were willing to call me out like that. In front of her." 

"Are you angry about that?" 

"No. I am glad that you did. It forced me to confront some painful truths that I have been avoiding." 

"I will not force her presence, but she is important to me. And to the children. She fell in love with Lily and Edmond." 

"Who doesn't," he laughed. "Darcy has six children already planned, much to Miss Elizabeth's dismay, and they are only courting." He began to nuzzle her neck, placing soft open-mouthed kisses in a line down to the neckline of her dress, causing her to moan. 

"Anthony," she said quietly. 

"Hmm?" 

"We are not making love again now. I am a little sore," she admitted, and he pulled back looking up at with glassy eyes and a prideful smile. 

"Well then," his grin turned mischievous. "Get all the rest you can between now and tonight, because I will not be denied a second time." 

"When have I ever denied you," she pulled back and tried to think. 

"You never have," he laughed. "I am a little spoiled. I am well aware." He kissed her again and then stood with her in his arms.

There was no lovemaking, but the kissing was just as good, especially when it was on parts of her body that were hidden by clothing. 

 

Kate and Anthony were met with a few whistles from the men, his brothers, when they met the family in the drawing room before supper. Kate rolled her eyes and ignored them, but Anthony admonished them with a slap to the back of both of their heads. Kate found Sophie immediately. The party from Rosings had yet to make an appearance, because the Bridgertons had set this up to have some time for themselves before they did. 

"Benedict said he heard a scream upstairs this afternoon, and told me to ask you about it," Sophie grinned like a child who just got her favorite candy. Kate blushed profusely. "So tell me about it," she said eagerly. 

"Are you sure I have not corrupted you?" 

"Benedict likes it when I talk to you. He says I have become more adventurous." 

"So, I have corrupted you," Kate laughed and Sophie waved a hand in dismissal. Kate looked up and smiled at Anthony who was holding Henry while it seemed like they were in a deep conversation, and Colin was the center of it. She shifted in her seat. Thinking about this afternoon, she had immediately accused her husband of holding out on her. "It was incredible." 

"Details," Sophie pressed. 

"Sophie, -" 

"Don't you get modest on me now, Kate Bridgerton," Sophie exclaimed and the whole room turned to them causing both of them to shrink back and Kate to blush again. She looked down in her lap before leaning to whisper in her ear. "No," Sophie said excitedly. 

 

Anthony watched the girls after Sophie's exclamation and leaned towards Benedict. "I am guessing you heard something this afternoon and have pressed Sophie to ask about it." Benedict's grin was all the confirmation he needed. 

"So the girl's talk and it benefits me." 

"When is it going to benefit me," Anthony asked. 

"Well, I would assume it did this afternoon, repeatedly." Benedict laughed as he ran away. 

"You funny, papa," Henry laughed. 

"Oh," Anthony looked at his son in his arms. "You think so?" 

"Mmhmm," he nodded seriously. "And you the best papa, I think." 

"Well, that is because I have the best children." 

"Like me," he exclaimed. "And Josey. And Lily. And Eddy." 

"Exactly," Anthony tickled his neck causing him to shrug and giggle. 

"And mama the best mama, I think." 

"Mama is the best mama, I agree." 

Josephine ran into the room just then, Violet chasing behind her, looking completely worn out. "I forgot what it was like to have an energetic child who takes an extra-long nap that she does not really need." The room laughed and Josephine immediately ran to Kate, holding her arms up to be pulled into Kate's lap. Benedict had recently commissioned four painting for him. One each of Henry and Josephine. Josephine while she picked flowers in the garden, and Henry as he led his horse. Kate and Anthony's wedding portrait was as intimate as any could be, both him and Kate refusing to cling to society standards, they both sat, she flung her legs over his, her head was on his shoulder as he looked down at her. And the last one was of all four of them as a family. He would have to commission a couple more when the twins got a little older. But his brother was great at capturing moments. And Josephine and Kate were always a moment. 

Josephine, while she had the duke's eyes, particularly the color, hazel which turned to green-brown, and at times were just as dark as Kate's own, was Kate's literal twin. Kate complained that the twins didn't get a single thing from her, and it was most likely because Josephine stole all Kate offered. And more recently, Josephine, while she was always a mama's girl, she looked at Kate like she hung the stars and moon, and maybe in Josephine's world she did. 

She would be two in a couple months, and if that was not enough for Anthony to get on his knees and beg God for time to stop, it was her growing body that would settle it. She was getting taller and outgrowing those little girl dresses they had commissioned for her at the start of the season. The white dresses of her innocence when she just turned one, were slowly changing into color pastels, and even deep gem colors as Kate often prepared. Not because it was done, many children still in the nursery were dressed in all white every day. It was done because Josephine demanded it. And that was another contention. Her vocabulary was vastly improved, as expected, she still had her babytalk. But her likes and dislikes were becoming more settled. She loved horseback riding, and Milo, and swimming in the lake with her papa. She absolutely despised having someone read to her, preferring to look at the book herself and to make up her own story. She loved playing piano, or attempting to, with Francesca. She loved playing ribbons with Hyacinth. She loved playing pranks with Eloise. And she loved cake. Any kind of cake. She hated the harp, and covered her ears when Sophie would set to play it, and the color green. 

She loved to help her mama and papa with the babies, but if it was someone else, they were on their own. And she hated having to sit to get her hair braided but hated not having it braided. A walking contradiction, Anthony could only beam at her with pride. She was exquisite. And she was a Bridgerton. They both were.

Henry too was growing up but was much milder mannered than his feisty little sister. He the quintessential elder brother. He shared more features in common with the duke than Kate, but as he grew, he had her eyes. And Henry was always up for anything. He was the peacemaker between the cousins, even sometimes stepping in-between Auggie and Amelia fighting. His favorite thing in the world was his horse and being with his family. To be honest, Henry reminded him much of Benedict in manner. He was calm, and really only showed some of Kate's famous temper when his little sister was being especially ridiculous. 

Anthony was having a hard time believing he would be five by the end of the year. And then the twins would follow because one month can fast become twelve months. He looked at Kate wistfully. He would have to talk to her. Because if God did not hear his prayer to stop time, there would have to be more children. 

And he would not have children with any other than her. 

Chapter Text

Anthony and Benedict were on opposite ends of the sofa when Kate walked into the drawing room and found them. Both men had chairs pulled so they could prop their legs on them. And both men had their babies propped against their bent legs; Benedict with Charles and Anthony with Lily and Edmond both. Charles was cooing and giggling at the funny faces his father was making at him. The infant's hands gestured wildly, and his feet kicked against his father's stomach as he did. He was still a little bald, and was quite possibly ate a little too much, but it made him that much more adorable in Kate's opinion.

Lily and Edmond were the opposite of their cousin. Both fit comfortably in their father's lap and were still very small at six weeks old. From what she could tell from the doorway, they were both staring up at their father, completely enraptured at the funny faces he was pulling. "No laughs for papa then," Anthony said with a light chuckle. "That is alright, we will get there eventually." 

Kate laughed from her spot in the door frame and both men looked up at her; caught. "Do go on. I was enjoying the show." 

Benedict blushed and Anthony looked at her as he always did. She could feel the heat of his stare from all the way over there. "Lady Bridgerton. If you insist on staring, you could at least be closer." 

Kate laughed again and shut the door behind them. They were preparing for more guests. Elizabeth's family were coming in celebration of her and Darcy's wedding. Derbyshire was too far north for Lizzy's mom to travel at the moment, and Darcy's family was in London for the season anyway, so Kent was a mutual place for both of them. And it could not be at Rosings. Truthfully, Kate was relieved to pass some of the chaperoning duties to Lizzy's parents and Darcy's Aunt. She would never go that far to say that another man was as handsy as Anthony Bridgerton, but Mr. Darcy of Pemberley and Derbyshire could give him a run for his money. And Lizzy? Being in love must have done something to her self-control as well because she instigated as much as he did! 

And Kate was not one to judge. But she we would not be surprised if there was an eight-month baby down the line in their future. Some of the moments she has walked in on were enough to make her blush, so much so that she sent a laughing Anthony to chaperone Lizzy and Darcy's morning walk this morning. And she was a married woman!

Anthony had come back from the walk a changed man and begged her to relieve him of chaperoning duties in the near future. She almost gave in. Almost. 

She made her way to the gentleman and sat down close to Anthony, laying her head on his shoulder, she stared down at their babies. He had asked for another a few weeks ago after that heartfelt conversation, and she made a deal with him to wait until the twins were one, so she could be sure that she was done breastfeeding and so they could be sure they actually wanted another. 

He was adamant that he would want another even then. 

She pointed out that it could be another girl. 

He in turn spent the rest of the night in his study researching ways to be sure to conceive boys.

There were none. So, he agreed to wait. 

He placed a lingering kiss to the top of her head, and she wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned into him. "I adore you," he whispered. 

"Me too," she grinned up at him, and then looked back down at their babies. Benedict had gone back to making funny noises and baby talk at Charles who was reciprocating his father with coos of his own. Anthony looked on longingly before turning back to the twins. "Embrace them when they are this little. Henry and Josephine were this little once. Well not this little. But they are all grown up now. I miss them like this." 

"I wish I could have seen them at this age. Especially Henry. I bet he was a handsome lad." 

"He was the most adorable baby I had laid my eyes on. I am biased, I am sure." Anthony went back to making faces and talking to the twins. Lily seemed to enjoy it. She kept one hand up to her mouth, as infants do, and kept her eyes open and focused on her father. Eddy's attention was all over the place, switching to the ceiling, then his mama, and then his papa and then back again. 

The door opened. "What is about babies that turns normally sane men into bumbling fools," Colin said as he walked inside. "Can you not talk to them normally. They are human." 

"We cannot even talk to you normally," Benedict said and Anthony laughed. 

"Why are you here? I thought you were going to the Featherington's today," Anthony said, not removing his eyes from his children. "Or did you make her angry again." 

"Penelope and I are getting married," Colin said quickly and suddenly had three pairs of eyes on him. "Or we need to get married." 

"What," Anthony exclaimed, finally looking up. 

"How did that happen," Benedict asked. 

"What do you mean, need," Kate asked. 

"Did you compromise the girl," Anthony demanded. 

Charles fussed at the lack of attention from his father, so Benedict shifted his son to rest on his shoulder. His head bobbed around, and he focused on a glass vase a little way behind him and out of his reach. 

"No," Colin exclaimed. "Well," his voice trailed off.  

"What does that mean," Kate asked. 

"Well, if you will let me finish, I will tell you," Colin snapped. 

Kate opened her mouth to speak, but Anthony beat her to it. "Colin, I am prepared to help you deal with whatever is going on. But if you talk to my wife like that again, I will not hesitate to call you out." 

Colin's shoulders sagged and he looked at Kate. "I am sorry. I did not mean it." He continued. "I visited the Featheringtons last month. They invited me to supper. After, Penelope and I were in the garden and, -" he trailed off. "It just happened ok. It was not intentional. I did not mean to compromise her. But now she might be with child and, -" 

Benedict gasped. "What?!" 

"You did not even protect the girl, Colin," Anthony demanded and Colin winced. 

"That is not the point, Anthony," Kate said quietly and then looked up at Colin. "Is she quite sure?" 

"Nobody can be quite sure until the quickening," Colin said as he sat down. "But she has missed her bleeding." 

"How long?" 

"Two weeks." 

"It could be nothing," Kate said and looked at Anthony who stared at her with hopeful eyes. Colin too. "Or it could be something. It is too soon, especially since she has not been with child before, and would have no idea what to look for." 

"What about sickness," Colin exclaimed. "She does not have that!" 

"It would be too early," Kate said, and Colin shrank back down. "She could have some soreness or tenderness, but even that was different in all my pregnancies." 

"So you have to marry her," Anthony said resigned. "Have you talked to Eloise?" 

"I do not know why Eloise refuses to talk to Pen, let alone with me about Pen." 

Kate looked at Anthony and sighed. This could be a good thing or a bad thing. And right now, she was leaning towards bad. The Queen had it out for the scandalous writer of the most notorious gossip sheet in all of England.  She was friends with the Queen, but even she could not ask that of her. Kate had her own feelings for Penelope. Generally, she thought the girl was shy and sweet. But when she first came to England, her words against Kate's person were very harsh. Spinster. On the shelf. Shrew. The list went on. She only protected Penelope's sister because of her love for Eloise. And she had hurt Eloise. Badly. 

Anthony on the other hand had his own issues. Penelope had nicknamed him a rake. A man who whored about. And shared all of his exploits for all to hear. Anthony had been upset when he had heard. He had considered Penelope a sister. And Anthony, though he was not particularly close to Eloise as Ben was, adored his little sister and her spunk. He hoped their daughters grew up exactly like her. Questioning everything and rejecting those who claimed authority over her. He loved Eloise and he was insanely protective of her. It was one reason why he was not forcing her to pick a suitor, much to Violet's dismay. 

Having Whistledown in their family was going to be a fight of its own, not only with Eloise. They would have to talk to everyone. Even their close friends. They would have to talk to Penelope. And it seemed that even though she and Colin had gotten quite close, he still had no idea that she was the scribbler. 

"So what do you want us to do," Anthony asked. 

"I do not know. Pen and I are still talking," Colin said. 

"Well you have to make your decision quickly," Kate said and Colin slouched down in his seat with a groan. 

"Have you told mother," Ben asked. 

All they got was another groan. 

 

"You must stop," Kate hissed on the other side of the training fence, as Anthony watched Henry ride around the pen in a circle, calling out minor corrections in his seat, and praise for how well he was doing. 

"What must I stop," Anthony leaned with his back on the fence, arms and legs crossed. "Henry, try to get him to stop, like Uncle Ben told you how." 

"You must stop dressing like this." 

"These are my training clothes, Countess," he motioned to his dark trousers and white shirt, with long boots. He never took his eyes off of their son. 

"It gives me ideas," she hissed and she could see a smirk light up his face. Still he never took his eyes off of Henry. 

"Well write them down and we will put some to good use tonight," he beckoned to Josephine. "Come little menace. Let us get you seated on Coco." 

The little girl squealed and ran to her papa, her arms up the whole way until she reached him. He lifted her up on his hip and beckoned for Kate to keep an eye on Henry. 

She would be lucky if they made it a year. 

 

Mrs. Bennet was brash and unashamed, and Kate and Sophie found her amusing and delightfully refreshing. When she got over Anthony and Kate's title, the fawning part at least, she was an open book of knowledge. She spoke her mind and did not care if it offended anyone. Elizabeht had apologized profusely when she first arrived, but Kate would have none of it. Even Anthony had encouraged her impertinence, finding it amusing himself. 

"It is rather upsetting that being in town during the season is considered the fashionable thing, when one can barely stand any of the people they are to be in company with." 

"I agree, Mrs. Bennet," Anthony lifted his glass of wine. "The company in society is rather miserable. I despise pretenses." 

"Anthony Bridgerton," Violet gasped. 

Jane Bennet was a beauty, much like Daphne. Though she rarely spoke. She was engaged to Mr. Bingley who was quite amusing himself as he had two very severe elder sisters who raised their noses at the Bennets despite their wealth being made in trade. The Bennets, though not as wealthy as the Bingleys, were landed gentry. And that was a goal of Bingley's. He spent a lot of time talking to Anthony and Darcy about it since they came. Benedict too was a part of the conversation, but he grew quite board with the math of it all. 

Caroline Bingley reminded them all of Lady Featheringon, and most of the Bridgertons had to cover Henry and Josephine's mouths at any given moments. 

"Why are you dressed like a bird," Henry asked.

"I bet your pardon?" 

"Yeah Henny," Josey pointed. "Birdy!" 

And Mr. Hurst was a drunk who could not stay awake. Sophie and Kate spent a lot of time stopping the Bridgerton men, minus Colin who was dealing with his own issues at the Featherington estate, from doing things to the poor man as he slept it off. 

If that was even possible. 

Kate walked into the room where the men were having an after dinner drink and was surprised to find it almost empty. Only Anthony, Benedict, Simon, and Mr. Hurst remained. Mr. Hurst was asleep and the other three men were trying to see who could get a grape in his mouth the fastest. 

"Really Anthony," Kate demanded hands on her hips. 

He ran up to her, shushing her on the way, grabbed her arm and pulled her back to the group of them. 

She didn't even act ashamed when Sophie caught them all ten minutes later. She was proud to say that she came the closest. 

Elizabeth's younger sisters were another matter entirely. If the two eldest were refined and comported themselves well in company. The three youngest were wild and uncaring. Mary was reserved, but made fast friends with Eloise. And Kitty and Lydia were very loud, so much that Josephine yelled at them one time. 

Lydia and Kitty came running into the drawing room, back from an afternoon walk, giggling loudly and tossing their bonnets on a nearby settee. All the women were in there, including the babies, enjoying a rest after the heavy lunch they had. 

"Be qiet," Josephine exclaimed. "My sistewr seeping!" 

Kate wished she could say that she could see their manners improving, Mary's definitely was. But with the youngest two, despite them being completely intimidated by Anthony, needed work. Darcy had made plans to send them off to school after his marriage to their sister, and Mr. Bennet accepted eagerly.

And Mr. Bennet. If she had found a kindred soul in Elizabeth, she also found one in Mr. Bennet. He was amusing. He loved his family despite him not being present. But he was always around for a kind word, even for her. They had many talks in the four days since they had arrived, and Kate had already told Anthony that he was much like her father. He made her that comfortable. 

"You miss your abba, don't you sweetheart," he said as he held her last night.

"I do," she sighed. "He would have loved you. He would have loved what we have become. He would have loved our children. Spoiled them rotten." 

"I understand. My father would have adored you and his grandchildren. It was his greatest wish." 

"I like to think they both are here. Eddy's smile. Lily's eyes. Henry's laugh. Josephine's mischievousness." 

"Was your father mischievous?" 

"He loved a prank. And he loved doing the unexpected." 

"My father was much like Gregory. And me. A perfect mixture I think." 

"A serious fool then," Kate teased and Anthony tickled her before rolling over on top of her. 

"I am no fool, countess. I married you." 

"Oh, I meant Gregory," she sighed as he leaned down for a kiss. 

"Do not speak of my brother when I am in this position, Lady Bridgerton," he moaned. Soon there were no more words other than each other's names in the heights of their passion. 

 

Colin called the family meeting a week before Lizzy and Darcy's pending nuptials. Violet who was still acting as hostess, made sure their guests had plenty to occupy themselves with while the Bridgertons all met in the viscountess' upstairs sitting room, so they would be careful not to be disturbed. 

Colin was agitated when they all walked in, and Kate shared a quick glance with Anthony, who took her hand and led her to a seat. She sat in his lap. 

"Colin what is going on," Daphne demanded. Her pregnancy was making her moody. "We are not cattle that you can heard to any given space at your beck and call." 

"Colin," Violet said wearily. "What is it?" 

Hyacinth and Gregory were not present, neither were the children much to Josephine's displeasure. So something was going on.

Colin took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair, looking widely at Anthony before looking to his mother who was sitting beside Lady Danbury. Lily was asleep in her arms.  

"Penelope and I are getting married, and, -" he said quickly before his mother could jump up in her excitement. "She is Lady Whistledown." 

There were ten seconds of silence before the room erupted into pandemonium. 

Chapter Text

Kate buried her head in Anthony's neck and focused on his steady breathing, and the smell of the soap from the bath they shared earlier this morning. It calmed her. He calmed her, he always did, even during this chaos. She briefly glanced over at Lily, who was no longer in the spot she last saw her. She was about to ask where their daughter was, when Lady Danbury forced the baby into her arms and then joined Violet in questioning, yelling at Colin. 

"You must be out of your mind, Colin Bridgerton," Violet yelled and Colin shrunk back. 

Kate looked down at Lily, who was a little startled it seemed, but calmed by her mother's embrace. Anthony too stared down at his daughter and ran a finger over her forehead. 

"Do you have any idea what this could mean for your family," Lady Danbury demanded. 

"She nearly ruined us," Violet exclaimed. "What about Eloise?" 

"Eloise," Daphne gasped. "You would marry a woman who did such a thing to your sister?" 

Kate looked at Eloise who looked like she wanted to be anywhere but in the room at this moment. She briefly wondered if they should have done something to dissuade Colin pursuing a courtship with Penelope, but Colin was a Bridgerton man, and they were as stubborn as they were handsome, but they were never fickle. Anthony fell in love with her and loved her for years before he could have her. Once Colin's heart was affected there was no going back. She and Anthony had talked about that. But what they had forgotten was that if Colin and Penelope had married, that Lady Whistledown would be a part of their family. And they were an open family full of affection and secrets, and they closed ranks amongst the ton. They held each other's secrets like a carefully guarded vault. Having Penelope be a part of that was as good as saying that they would need to keep their secrets closely guarded, which bothered her to no end.  

"I do not know, Anthony. I don't think we thought this through," Kate said quietly. 

"What do you mean," he asked. 

"The reason our family functions is because we have each other's back. We are not perfect but we do not have to be because we know that our secrets will not get out to London society. Penelope becoming apart of that family, -" 

"Means they are free fodder," he finished then swore under his breath. "I should have done something when Eloise came to me. I just didn't want to deny Colin a love match when I know that mine makes me so happy." 

"I wonder how long he has known that she has been. I do not think he would betray Eloise like that." 

"Or Miss Marina," Anthony said. 

"Who?" 

"Years ago he was engaged to Penelope's cousin Marina Thompson. It was revealed during the engagement by Whistledown that she was with child. Colin called off the engagement, and the Featheringtons were thrown into scandal." 

"So, if she could do that to her own family, -" 

"She could do that to us," he finished for her again. "Damnit," Anthony exclaimed and the room turned to him. 

"Anthony," Violet demanded. "What do you have to say about this?" She wanted him to put his foot down. To stop what only he could stop, Kate knew. But it wasn't that simple. They had no idea as to what else was going on. 

Miss Penelope could possibly be with child. 

And then she found herself silently cursing alongside her husband. 

"I do not know what you wish me to say, mother," he said, and carefully shifted Kate and his daughter off of his lap as he stood. "He already made a promise to the girl." 

"We must find a way to end this." 

"He compromised the girl," Anthony yelled. "There is not much we can do without bringing great scandal to both our family and theirs! They are a family full of women with no male head, and while I think Portia Featherington can roll with the greatest of men, it is not right that we leave them to suffer alone." 

"So you would have this scandal writer join our family," Violet demanded. 

"She has ruined so many lives," Daphne exclaimed. "And she gets away with it! And she continues to do it without remorse!" 

"I do not condone what she does, sister," Anthony yelled. "In fact, I despise it. Do not forget all that she has said about me. Or Kate. Or Eloise and you even!" 

Kate sighed and settled back into the chair, she lifted Lily to her shoulder and her head bobbed as she tried to look around. 

"Do I not get a say in this," Colin demanded. "It is my life." 

"It is all of our lives," Violet yelled. "Do you not recall that your living comes from this estate. The only reason you are allowed to live freely without work is because of Anthony." 

"Oh yes," Colin said sarcastically. "We owe everything to perfect Anthony." 

"Watch your tongue," Benedict said harshly, surprising even Sophie who had never heard him speak that way. "He has done much for all of us, and you act as if you do not care." 

"Eloise," Daphne turned to her. "Did you know?" 

"Yes," the girl said quietly. "I found out and I cut off my friendship with her." 

"I knew too," Kate said softly. "I did not want to betray her confidence," she motioned to Eloise who smiled. "But I am ashamed to say that I did not think of the repercussions of Colin making a match with her. Mainly because I believed it would never happen." 

"Nor I," Anthony confessed. 

"Wow," Colin said. "So much for being a supportive family. The Featheringtons were very supportive, and here my family cannot even wish me well. What about Benedict and Sophie? or Kate and Anthony? There was great scandal surrounding both of their marriages, and you barely said a word." 

"Because we knew Sophie and Kate would never betray our family," Violet shouted. 

"It is like comparing horse and mule," Daphne said. "There is no comparison, Colin! She has exposed some of our deepest family secrets while acting as Whistledown. Using her connection with our family to help her make money. No. I absolutely will not stand for it. She will not be welcome at our home, and I will not be here if she is here." 

Simon's silence signified his agreement. 

"Now you are being dramatic," Colin said. 

"The Featheringtons are supportive because they need money. Miss Penelope has no dowry. How do you intend to support her? Do not think I do not know about Jack Featherington, nor Portia's role in his schemes in the ruby minds in America. I follow our money closely, and there is not much I do not know about other's money woes in the ton. You were played and only recovered because of someone else's insight into the scheme. Someone who you had the audacity to reprimand in his own business." 

"That was you," Simon hissed. 

"I will not tolerate this, and the Featheringtons will not receive a pound from our coffers," Anthony said. 

"Are you cutting me off," Colin demanded. 

"I would never leave you destitute. You have your own settlement that you will be able to obtain on the day you are married."

"You did not do that with Benedict."

"Benedict never has touched his settlement and makes his own money. And he helps with the estate," Anthony said. "He is a great help with the horses and the tenants. You however, do not help, and sit around making sarcastic comments all day. Or plan expensive trips using my money." 

"It was our father's money," Colin hissed. 

"Our father is gone," Anthony yelled. "And as much as I wish her were here, I am the man of this house and this estate, and my authority will not be overlooked! I care not for your tone or your accusation. I have doubled our yearly income since father has passed, allowing you your leisure. But no more. If this marriage drags the family into scandal, you will be on your own. She is a target of the Queen! The Queen Colin! I will always support you, but I will never do something that is going to hurt my family, or my wife and children." 

"Yet you had no qualms in throwing the family into scandal by divorcing Edwina so you could marry Kate," Colin said, and the room grew silent. Kate shifted uncomfortably. "We kept your secrets, your improper behaviors prior to your marriage because that is what family does right? Or is it just because you are the viscount, oh excuse me, the earl now, and I am some third son that has fend for himself and follow the straight and narrow path to survive. But Kate is not Penelope and therefore gets a pass." 

She looked up at Anthony who had gone still. Around the room the family had different reactions. Benedict looked like he wanted to strangle his younger brother, as Sophie bit her lip. Daphne was very nearly there. Violet's eyes were wide with disbelief. Eloise was st