“Jesus, Ben, you didn’t tell me you lived in a castle.”
Benedict threw his head back against the soft brown leather headrest of Kate’s Tesla, his expensive Ray Bans slipping down his nose, and laughed jovially.
“Not a castle, darling, just a massive estate. My apologies.” He deadpanned.
Kate shook her head, her eyes wide at the gray stone as she pulled the car up the drive, parking at an angle along side several other vehicles. She parked and sat back before pulling off her seatbelt.
“Seriously, Ben, what if they don’t like me? You have like a million siblings, this could be super awkward for me.” Kate turned to Benedict, who gazed at her adoringly. He reassuringly placed his hand on her arm, her hands still clutching the steering wheel.
“Kate. You are going to do brilliantly. Don’t worry about my siblings, don’t worry about work, don’t worry about class. It’s all going to be fine.”
“What about your mother?”
Benedict made a show of swallowing. “Oh, you should definitely worry about her,” he grimaced. Then grinned as he turned away to open the door. “Let’s tell her we’re getting married and see if she faints!”
He hopped out and turned to grab the bags from the back seat. Kate ripped off her seat belt and jumped out behind him.
“We absolutely will not!” She exclaimed, her stomach in knotted panic.
Benedict guffawed, putting his arm around Kate’s shoulders and leading them towards the generous steps to the front door. “No, but that would be hilarious, right?” He threw his sunglasses on top of his head. “Let’s go, I can’t wait for you to meet everyone.”
They jogged up the steps with their bags, only to be accosted the moment they reached the front door. Two chestnut haired children raced out of the door, yelling unintelligibly, but seemingly excited to see Benedict. He dropped his bags as he picked up the girl child, spinning and launching her in the air quickly and then embracing the boy and ruffling his hair. His laughter filled the front hall, introducing Kate to his youngest siblings; Gregory and Hyacinth. Both children stopped and stared at Kate, for very different reasons.
Hyacinth gasped, taking in Kate’s short mini dress and long, thick, dark curls. “You look like my Barbie,” she whispered, staring up at Kate’s angular, heart shaped face, lips just a touch overly full and gorgeous skin.
Gregory, barely a teen, gulped as he took in Kate’s appearance as well. If Benedict wasn’t mistaken, the younger man resembled the heart eyed emoji pretty closely. “Wow,” he sighed dreamily, a soft smile gracing his young face, his heart unquestionably on his sleeve.
Kate scrunched her nose at Hyacinth, bending down towards her. “I bet your Barbie is much more exciting than I am,” she whispered conspiratorially. Hyacinth giggled. Gregory nearly collapsed. Hyacinth grabbed Kate’s hand and dragged her inside, undoubtedly already chattering Kate’s ear off. Gregory stared after them, his mouth agape, as they walked away.
Benedict looked down at his brother, very obviously pining after the first object of his affection. He grinned. “Ahh, young Greg. You have good taste already, lad.” He put his arm around Gregory’s shoulder and led him inside the home, shutting the door behind them.
“I hope one room is ok,” Violet said, fluffing a pillow in Benedict’s bedroom. “I didn’t know how serious everything was, and Benedict has never brought home a woman, and well… this is all new for us, isn’t it?” Kate threw her bag on a chair in the corner, taking in the luxuriousness of the gigantic blue damasked room. She turned to look at Benedict’s mother.
“Mrs. Bridgerton, this is more than fine. This is… my goodness, this is all just too much,” Kate said, gesturing around herself at the opulence.
“Violet, please,” his mother said earnestly. “Mrs. Bridgerton is so formal for someone who came with my Benny to our country home.”
Kate nodded, blinking in understanding. Benedict had mentioned his mother may bring up his failure to bring a partner home for years and years, and yeeeeears. She would be the first.
“Ben is a special man.” Kate stated plainly, not wanting to spill too much about their… relationship.
Violet’s eyes misted. “He is, darling. He certainly is.” She smacked the pillow once more, and pulled herself together, clearing her throat. “Oh, and here he is now.”
Ben sauntered into the room, every bit the second child swagger, pulling his sunglasses off his head and tossing them on a nearby bureau, and throwing his bag atop Kate’s.
“Mother, you’re monopolizing our time with Miss Kate,” he drawled. Violet blushed furiously, the pink stain covering her cheeks as she skittered towards the door.
“I know, I know, I’m sorry!” She laughed, embarrassed.
Ben stopped her, throwing his arms around his mother’s shoulders, and kissing her forehead before looking at her directly in the face.
“I missed you, Mother.”
Violet looked close to tears for the second time in as many minutes. She buried her face in Benedict’s chest for just a moment, before pulling away and looking up at her second born, grasping his chin with her thumb and forefinger.
“And I missed you, sweet boy.”
Ben winked at her, and his mother laughed gently, before walking off into the hallway. Kate, who had been watching the two, grinned at him.
“Momma’s boy,” she whispered, catching her tongue between her teeth in a smile.
Benedict’s eyes widened just momentarily before he tackled Kate into the bed.
Anthony pulled his SUV into the drive at dinnertime, noting the addition of a sparkling bright blue Tesla that he hadn’t seen at Aubrey Hall before. His eyes skimmed over the gentle curves, the brilliance of the color that nearly matched the uncharacteristically blue sky above him. He nodded to himself approvingly. Beautiful car.
He grabbed his overnight bag and entered the house, listening for the normal sounds of his family in the dining room. He smiled to himself hearing Hyacinth’s excitement and Ben’s genial laugh.
And… a woman’s giggle? It certainly wasn’t Violet’s usual belly laugh.
Anthony turned the corner, stopping in the doorway, his heart swallowed by his throat as he took in the scene. Because sitting next to his brother, was her. His mouth dropped at how her eyes lit up at something Greg was saying from across the table, how her hair spilled around her bare shoulders and shone under the candlelight, at the swell of her chest under a sweetheart neckline. Her mouth was shaped into a wide beam at his youngest brother as she leaned over the table, Ben’s arm swung over the back of her chair.
Anthony cleared his throat as he walked into the room, the family turning to see him, Kate’s smile dropping and her eyes widening as she recognized the man in the doorway. The children squealed and jumped out of their chairs to embrace him, dragging him by the arm to the table. Ben stood, reaching out to his older brother, a huge smile gracing his face.
“Brother, you must meet Kate!” Hyacinth yelled, shoving him towards Kate, who was still sitting awkwardly. Anthony’s mouth went dry as Kate looked up at Ben. Ben gave her his hand and she stood, her napkin falling to the floor. Her napkin, which had been hiding the smooth brown expanse of skin on her thighs.
Benedict placed his hand at the small of Kate’s back, gently pushing her forward. “Kate, this is our older brother, Anthony Bridgerton.” Kate swallowed, squaring her shoulders and thrusting out her hand.
“Mr. Bridgerton.” She stated, arching an eyebrow and daring the man before her to say something.
Anthony, ever the professional, grasped her hand, shaking it authoritatively. “Kate. How nice to meet you.”
Ben didn’t notice the awkwardness, just sat back down. Kate took his lead and did the same as Violet hugged her eldest, and the children continued to chatter.
“Let me get you a plate,” Violet said, racing into the kitchen and appearing with a plate for Anthony moments later. “How was your drive from London?”
Anthony, still entranced by the view of his brother with Kate, their heads bent close, Kate looking just slightly disgruntled, shook himself. “Oh the drive. The drive was fine. Thank you, Mother.”
Violet nodded, smiling at her son. “Anything new going on at Bridgerton Holdings?”
“How long have you been dating?” Anthony interrupted, gesturing towards Kate and Benedict. Ben looked at his brother, quite confused.
He smiled at Kate, brushing her hair off her shoulder. “Ahh, dating. Kate is my muse,” he said, affectionately. “She took one of the classes I was teaching, I just couldn’t let her leave without making sure she knew how beautiful she is.”
Violet could have swooned. Hyacinth sighed happily. Gregory and Anthony both debated fratricide. Kate simply rolled her eyes.
“That was… oh gosh, six months ago now, Ben?” Kate asked, scrunching her nose up at him.
“Indeed,” he agreed. “September.”
Violet clasped her hands together. “Ugh, how sweet,” she said, gazing reverently at the two. “So sweet.”
“Could make your teeth rot,” Anthony mumbled into his salad. Ben arched an eyebrow, but launched into a discussion of how brilliantly Kate had been doing as model in his classes. How her glorious form had been the subject of painters and sculptors alike during the year, and most recently, privately for his own camera. Kate bit her lip in embarrassment.
“So you model full-time?” Greg asked. “I would love to see some of the art.” He stared at Kate in wonderment. Kate smiled at him and winked.
“Oh goodness, no. I’m in my fourth year. Law school,” she said, sipping her wine. “But my family isn’t wealthy and University is expensive, so I took the modeling gig to supplement my income.”
Violet smiled into her own glass. “That sounds very smart of you, dear Kate. And it sounds like this has been lucrative for you.”
Kate looked down bashfully as Ben threw his arm around her shoulders once more. “Kate is too modest. She has art professors all over the country begging for her to come sit for them. She’s wanted by everyone. But luckily I scooped her up for us.”
“Can I see some of the photographs?” Greg asked Benedict, who coughed and blushed.
“Erm… maybe some of them.”
Kate blushed herself. Anthony felt bile rise in his throat.
Dinner was finally, blissfully over. Hyacinth and Violet whisked Kate away to the drawing room, and Benedict went to their shared bedchamber. Anthony found him there editing photos, two large monitors looking quite out of place in the Victorian bedroom. On the monitors, Anthony could see row upon row of photos, all of Kate in various stages of undress.
Kate, holding a towel tantalizingly between her breasts, just covering her nipples. Kate, on her stomach on the bed, looking at the camera seductively, the smooth expanse of her body marred only by a thin white lace g-string. Kate, standing against a doorframe on a balcony somewhere amongst tall buildings, clad only in a kangol cap, boy shorts, and knee high socks, her hands cupping her breasts.
Anthony’s breath wooshed out of him. Kate. Her.
Benedict whipped around, his hand covering his heart.
“Jesus, Ant, I thought you were Mother.”
Anthony stalked into the room. “You should learn to shut the door so Mother doesn’t see your wank photos of your girlfriend.”
Ben closed the door, chuckling as he headed back to his desk. “Mmm, not wank photos, dear brother,” he stated kindly, opening a black and white photo of Kate. Just her face, looking up at him from under her eyelashes, her full lips slightly downturned. Her eyes compelling anyone looking at the photo, wanting to know what was going on in those deep, dark irises. Wanting to curve their hand around the sharp jaw, rub their thumb along her bottom lip.
“That’s a beautiful photo,” Anthony admitted quietly as Benedict pulled it into Photoshop.
“She’s a beautiful woman,” Ben agreed, eyeing his brother warily. “Is there something I can do for you? Or are you just here to stare at the photos of Kate?”
Anthony cleared his throat. “Just checking in on you, Brother. We’ve barely seen one another since Christmas.”
Benedict nodded as he used a tool to remove an errant hair on Kate’s cheek. “I’ve been busy. Classes filled up quickly when students realized THE Kate Sharma was sitting for us, and we’ve been spending much time trying to get her portfolio ready. She only had a few headshots when we met, could you believe it? Stunningly gorgeous woman and she hates sitting for a camera.”
Anthony nodded, unfortunately knowing how truthful that statement was.
“And now you’ve got her posing naked on balconies. Good for you, Benedict.” Anthony said dryly.
Ben laughed, smoothing an already impossibly smooth curve on his screen.
“Kate and I understand each other. She was scared of being taken advantage of. I had to convince her, but she knows I would never.”
Anthony swallowed hard. “Of course.”
Ben saved the photo, dragging up another of Kate. Her face devoid of any makeup, like she’d just woken up. Her hair mussed, curls everywhere. Standing in front of a window, a silky top tied at her shoulders, the v deep between her breasts. Anthony’s heart quickened.
“Of course… you would never.”