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The Muse

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“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.

Her.

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.

September.

“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.”

Chapter Text

August.

Day one.

The alarm clock was insistent across the room. She’d placed it there by design early in the summer, when the campers would be around and she needed no excuses to not get out of bed. Kate kicked off the thin covers, sitting up and rolling her head, sighing. Even though the campers were gone now, she supposed she could go for a run before the Brighton sun rose and the crowds started overtaking the boardwalk.

It was a long 10 weeks. Kate had taken a role as a personal development coordinator at a summer camp, shaping the young lives in all manner of activities. It had been rewarding and frustrating, adventurous and exhausting. But it had earned her a significant amount of much needed money as she was to head back to University in just a few short weeks, her class load in 4th year pre-law taking up much of her available time. And she had another full week at the beach; this time alone. Her gift to herself after a taxing summer.

The hotel room was… well, it was cheap. The cheapest she could find and still be close to the water, the waves crashing in her ear if she opened the window. The smell of taffy and fried dough permeating the air. The cries of laughter and joyous ruckus.

Kate threw her hair up into a pony, and dragged on her running trainers. She stretched several more times, rubbing weary eyes, and took off into the pink hued morning.

The beach was relatively quiet that early in the morning; mainly frequented by other runners and merchants getting their small shops ready for tourists. Small stones spit up behind Kate as she raced herself, lodging themselves in the bottom of her shoes and scraping her bare calves. She slowed to mess with her AirPods, trying to change a song, when she felt him behind her.

The dark haired man ran past her, shirtless, his arms moving effortlessly in time. She stared at the smooth expanse of his back, the muscles defined and lean, his shorts riding low on his hips. White trainers on tanned legs. And hell if he was going to win.

Kate took off after him, her feet pounding the stone. She caught up relatively easily, her long legs pulling her closer and closer. He seemed to sense that she was close even without looking at her, and he started pulling forward. Kate pushed herself, faster and faster. The carousel was just ahead, and they were neck and neck. Kate looked over at him as he looked at her, and he laughed. Fatal flaw. Kate inched ahead, passing the carousel first.

The winner.

They slowed and stopped, breathing heavily as they tried to catch their breaths. The man laughed and grinned at her, and suddenly Kate needed to deep breathe for more than her aching lungs.

“Good race,” he stated, his hands on his knees. “Bloody hell, I haven’t run like that in years.” He looked up, curls falling over his forehead, a genial smile on his face. Kate couldn’t help but stare. He was beautiful.

“I haven’t either,” Kate admitted. “But that was fun.”

The beautiful man laughed as he panted. “Fun being a relative term, no?”

Kate grinned at him. “Touche’.” She licked her lips, chapped from the sun and a bit swollen. “Um, I’m Kate.”

The man faltered a bit, the corners of his lips still smiling turning down a smidgen. He cleared his throat. “Edm.. Eddie. I’m Eddie.”

Kate nodded. “Eddie. It’s nice to meet you.”

The corners of his mouth went up again. “Kate… it’s nice to meet you, too.”

They stood awkwardly, Kate scratching at her neck under her ponytail, Eddie shuffling against the rocks for long moments. “Kate would you like to get a cup of coffee with me?”

Relief.

“Oh god, yes,” Kate blurted out. Her eyes widened as Eddie’s eyebrows lifted. “I mean. Yes. Sure. Cool. No biggie. Um. Yes?”

Eddie laughed. “Very smooth. Much chill.”

Kate’s head fell backwards in embarrassment. “Oh my god, you must think I’m such a nerd.”

Eddie’s smile was kind and knowing. “I happen to like nerds.”

---------------

They fell into Kate’s dark hotel room, pulling at each other’s clothing, their mouths seemingly fused together. Eddie slammed the door shut, pushing Kate against it, dipping momentarily to grab the backs of her knees to slide her thighs up onto his hips as he humped her like a teenaged boy.

Their lips parted as Eddie’s mouth found purchase on Kate’s throat, her hands finding his hair and directing his head where to go.

“Oh god, Eddie, more,” Kate panted, his hands doing unbelievable things under her shirt. She felt him tense just for a moment, pulling back from her, taking in her swollen mouth and mussed hair. He grasped her face in the v of his hands, kissing her gently. Once, twice.

“You are so unbelievably gorgeous,” he whispered into her mouth, pulling away again to run his thumb over her bottom lip, his eyes boring into hers. Kate looked at him adoringly.

“Is that what you say to all of your conquests?” She sassed, running a finger down the bridge of his nose to boop him.

Eddie leaned in, nudging her nose with his, his lips just barely touching hers.

“You’re not a conquest,” he murmured. “You’re a goddamn dream come true.”

Kate’s heart flip flopped directly into his hands.

Eddie turned and unceremoniously threw Kate on the unmade bed, peeling her tiny green pinstriped shorts off, one of her wedges somewhere on the floor, the other still dangling from her foot. Kate grasped the bottom of her tshirt, pulling it over her head as Eddie did the same. She sat up as Eddie kneeled between her thighs, Kate holding his face and running one hand over his chest, down his abdomen towards the button of his shorts. Eddie stopped her hand.

“There’ll be time for that later,” he said quietly, his eyes full of desire. “I’m taking care of you first.”

He reached behind her, one handedly unclasping the lace bra and watching the cups fall off her breasts. He reached down to take them into his palms, his thumbs rubbing over the dusky nipples. They hardened easily, simply under his touch.

“So beautiful,” he whispered reverently, bending his head to take one into his mouth, sucking and swirling his tongue around the bud. Kate gasped, pushing her chest further into his hands and face. He grinned around her areola.

“And so anxious,” he mumbled. “So sexy.”

Kate gasped as his hand found its way under her thong, running along the seam and into her wetness.

“Oh god, Eddie,” she moaned. “Yes, please.”

“Mmm, such a polite girl.” He bit her nipple gently. “She was so sassy until her pussy was rubbed.”

Kate placed her hand over his, using his fingers the way she liked, when she was alone and aching.

“Please, Eddie,” she begged.

Eddie’s eyes found hers.

“Yes, darling.”

He pulled the white lace of her thong to the side, burying his mouth into her. He groaned at her taste, his tongue lapping every bit of moisture she could give him.

“More,” Kate requested, breathlessly, unable to tear her eyes away from the view of him between her legs. Her hands found his soft curls, her back arching off the bed.

His fingers found their way into her velvety warmth, crooking the way he instinctively knew she’d like. Her guttural moan told him she very much did. He thrusted them in and out, timed with his tongue swirling determinedly around her clit, and watched her explode, his forearm holding her hips to the mattress. She was loud, and he loved it. Screaming his.. name.

He sat up when the quivering started to slow, his face shiny with her wetness. Kate leaned up on her elbows, grabbing the back of his neck and bringing their mouths together, licking into his lips to taste herself on his tongue. She pushed him onto his back next to her, throwing her leg over his hips and straddling him.

“Your turn,” she whispered, passion written across her face. Eddie whimpered.

 

---------------

They spent two days wrapped around one another in the cavern of Kate’s cheap hotel room, the drizzling, gray weather outside a fine reason to stay in bed. Eddie told her, in general terms, of his obligations at work with meetings and colleagues of his father’s, who didn’t want to be colleagues of his. His obligations to his family.

Kate admitted how tough it was to try to earn a whole years’ worth of savings in a summer. Money for school, money to live on, and money to send home to her step mother and sister, who needed the income to survive after her father had passed away. She could barely even afford a bus ticket once the bills were paid. Mary could still barely take care of herself, and Edwina would be in Uni in just another year.

They talked of their childhoods, of their desires for the future, of their favorite bad TV obsessions. When she talked of her father dying of ALS, she cried, and he held her. When he talked of his father and how he hated bees, she cried again. For him. Because she understood.

They spoke of relationships. How his long term girlfriend had moved out without even telling him; he’d come home to a half empty apartment. How her dating on Tinder was one jerk after another. How she’d never been in love.

He was cagey with some things. Like there was so much more he wanted to say, but his vulnerability could only go so far. At least right now. Kate stroked his face when he winced, talking about responsibilities.

Kate felt a kinship with Eddie. He understood her struggles, because he faced similar ones. She understood him; the eldest, the one who needed to sacrifice to keep their families afloat.

He offered suggestions. Ways to supplement her income, so she could feel more free with her time. She offered patience. An ear for him to wax poetic about how he had given of himself, often barely taking a salary to make sure that the family business could stay open. She didn’t ask many questions; simply let him vent, and vent, and when the tears found the edges of his eyes, let him cry on her chest, rivulets of tears sliding between her breasts and under the rough cotton sheets.

They fucked. They made love. He bent her over the particle board desk, she took him in her mouth in the shower. They found each other in the middle of the night, her safety in his arms, his face pressed into her hair.

-----------------------

Day four.

“Do you have to go back to your hotel for clothes?” Kate asked over her grapefruit. Eddie nodded, looking up from his phone.

“I suppose,” he rolled his eyes. “Although I wouldn’t mind if we just spent the next 3 days naked.”

Kate scrunched her nose up at him. “As much as I would love to be naked with you for the rest of my vacation and covered in bodily fluids, the room needs to be cleaned and I need to eat something that’s not take out pizza and ramen.”

Eddie’s eyes twinkled at her. “Yes, darling,” he grinned. “How about I go back to my hotel and close up the room, you get more supplies, and we’ll meet back here?”

Kate bit her lip to stop the gigantic smile from gracing her face. It had only been a few days, but she was falling for this man. Waking up in his arms was nothing she could ever explain; the feel of him wrapping his arms around her on the balcony to sway to the sound of crowds on the boardwalk, the lights of the carousel their nightlight. She had told him things that she hadn’t even told Edwina. He felt like a partner. Someone who just… got it. The struggle.

Eddie left after breakfast, promising to meet her back at her hotel at noon. Kate grabbed her bag, rang the hotel staff to ask for the maid to freshen the room while she was gone, and hit the shops. A few trinkets for Edwina and Mary. A Christmas ornament for their tree in the winter. A keychain for Eddie, Brighton Beach in bold letters on one side, with a slot for a photo on the other.

She hated photos, she had admitted to him the first morning in her bed. She was the ugly sister, compared to Edwina. Delicate and petite against Kate’s tall and skinny. Soft where Kate was angular. Doe eyed where Kate was sharp. Eddie had tried to take out his phone, flabbergasted, to take a selfie of the two of them to very much prove otherwise, and she kicked and screamed and laughed.

“Not with morning breath and mascara smudged under my eyes, Eddie!!” She had giggled, stuffing her face into his arm. He took a single photo, of his chin and the bottom of his smiling lip, and the briefest side of her face, half covered by dark curls. She was looking up at him, like he was the only man on the planet. He had stared at it.

“You’re the most beautiful, stunning, sexy woman on the planet,” Eddie had whispered into her hair. He rolled her into her back, settling between her thighs and attacking her throat with soft sucks and tracing his name into her skin with his tongue. “Allow me to prove it to you.”

Kate grinned to herself at the memory, her stomach feeling warm with want, then ran over to the grocery store to grab some fresher fruits and vegetables to save in the hotel room refrigerator. Apples and grapefruit for her, bananas and apricots for him. She chewed her thumbnail thinking about the next few days. How she could get along without him once her time at the beach was over. She knew he spent most of his time in London, had a family home out in country. And she was going to be just outrageously busy at Uni. They’d only been together for a few days. But by the time she had reached the checkout, she had resolved to talk to him about how they could keep this going.

Kate stepped out of the store into the blinding sun, uncharacteristic for England and the drizzly days the past few had been. She slipped her sunglasses over her eyes, and strolled towards the street, looking across at… Eddie. Walking out of the fanciest, swankiest hotel in Brighton with his luggage.

Her breath caught in her chest.

Eddie wasn’t… Eddie wasn’t a swanky rich guy, though. He had some money, sure – he paid for everything in bills, and had a country home, but he said it had been in his family for years.

There had to be some explanation. Maybe he had been comped the room or something. But even if so… why had he spent this whole time at her hotel, which was undoubtedly less fancy and comfortable than the one he was walking out of.

It had to be a mistake.

“Eddie! Eddie!!” She yelled from across the street.

He didn’t even look up.

“Eddie!!” She yelled once more, glancing across the traffic to dart out and catch up to him. He kept walking.

Why was he ignoring her?

She caught up with him, panting and out of breath, holding her purchases on one hand and reaching out to grab his arm with the other.

“Eddie?” She asked, quizzically. He turned sharply to her, as if he was confused. Startled.

“Oh Jesus, I’m sorry Kate,” he stammered, turning red. “I was lost in my own world.”

Kate offered him a smile, if tentative.

“Is everything ok?” She asked, gesturing to the hotel behind them. “This is, like, the nicest hotel on the beach…”

“Is it?” Eddie asked, glancing up at the building.

Kate furrowed her brow.

“It is…” She said, looking down at his luxury Mulberry weekender bag. “A. Bridge” something on the tag.

A.

A. Bridge?

But Eddie was an E… had he stolen someone’s bag?

They stood awkwardly on the sidewalk, Kate playing with her bottom lip. Tourists swarming around them.

“Who’s A?” She asked quietly.

Eddie looked down sharply at the tag. “Um..”

“Who is A Bridge?”

Eddie stared at her, as if he was trying to come up with a lie on the spot and was faltering.

Suddenly, she understood.

“A wife?” She asked, swallowing hard.

She couldn’t bear to look him in the eyes.

“No, Kate, nothing like that!” Eddie said emphatically, trying to lift her chin. “I’m not married. Or engaged! Or anything of the sort.”

“It’s just… Shit.” Eddie swore, rubbing his forehead. “My name isn’t Eddie.”

And in the middle of the sidewalk, the sun shining violently above them, all of her dreams came crashing down.

--------------

Kate and Ben got ready for bed, his coming into the bedroom in his boxers and thin tshirt as Kate brushed her teeth aggressively.

“Darling, you’re going to brush the enamel straight off your teeth if you keep doing that,” Ben said with an eyebrow raised. “My ex, the hygienist, used to say a tooth is like a tootsie roll pop. You know the ones – candy outside, chewy candy inside? So the enamel is the candy outside, the dentin is the chewy inside, and the root is the stick.”

Kate turned to glare at him, toothpaste covering her mouth.

“Your ex sounds like a real douche.”

Ben doubled over in laughter. “Oh my god, he was. Tootsie roll pop notwithstanding, though.”

Kate went into the bathroom to spit and swirl clean water around her mouth.

“He also said to never drink water after brushing.”

“Oh my GOD, Ben, if I have to hear about the hygienist again tonight, I’m sleeping with Hyacinth.”

Ben snickered. “Don’t even joke, I think she’d love that.”

Kate rolled her eyes, pulling on a tank top and slipping under the sheets.

“Are you doing ok?” She asked quietly as Ben got in beside her.

Ben sighed, staring at the ceiling, one muscled arm behind his head.

“I want to tell them. I do, quite honestly. But I simply don’t know how.”

Kate rolled to her side and snuggled into him.

“You don’t have to, you know. I promise. It’s on your time. If you want to wait ten years, that’s your prerogative.”

Ben laughed, resting his cheek atop her head.

“I know. But I’ve waited twenty eight years already. I want to be me. Unfiltered Benedict.”

Kate grinned into his side.

“And you shall. But when you feel it’s right, and not a moment earlier. Your family adores you.”

Benedict wrapped his arm around Kate.

“You’re too good to me, Miss Sharma.”

Kate arched an eyebrow.

“I’m not outting you to your family,” she stated.

Ben turned to her, aghast. “Come on! Please! It would be much simpler coming from you!”

Kate laughed, pushing him away from her and taking her own side of the bed. Her head found the comfiest pillow she’d ever used, and she snuggled deeper into it. Wishing Eddie… Anthony. Anthony was the one next to her.

“No sir. This is on you, love.”

_______________

 

The next morning found four Bridgerton children eating their breakfast in the dining room, and a Kate Sharma being bounced like a basketball between the two youngest. Benedict grinned at the sight, laughing and taking part of the shenanigans when he found an opening. Anthony simply stared at her, her orange tank top straps precariously sitting atop her shoulders, her hair down and wild. At one point, she stood to mime to Greg how she had cut Benedict’s hair once, his breath catching at the sight of small white shorts against smooth thighs that had once been wrapped around his head.. his hips..

He stood quickly, the chair scraping the floor below him. Everyone stopped, turning to him. Anthony swallowed. “I need more coffee.”

He turned and left the dining room, catching Violet in the doorway, standing with her hand pressed against her heart.

“Isn’t this beautiful?” Violet asked, nearly swooning at Kate and Benedict.

Anthony turned to glare at the very moment Benedict leaned in and whispered so only Kate could hear, but looked like every bit like lovers.

“A little girl said to her father, “The bougey man is under my bed!” And her father said, “You mean the boogey man?” And a voice came from under the bed, saying, “Oh my god, have you seen the thread count of these sheets?!””

Ben’s voice had risen higher as the bougey man, and Kate burst out laughing, a smile Anthony had only ever seen reserved for him now given to his brother.

Kate booped the second born nose affectionately, rolling her eyes and grinning. “I really love you, Ben.”

Violet did swoon. And Anthony’s heart flip flopped right out onto the floor.

Chapter Text

Anthony stood in the shower, hyperventilating. Kate’s voice ringing in his ears.

“I love you.” “I love you.” “I love you.”

It was everything he’d been thinking of for the last seven months. Since he watched her turn on one gold gladiator sandal and walk away from him on a busy sidewalk in the middle of a Tuesday. He wanted to go after her; Christ, he should have gone after her. Explained that he had needed a break after he had come home to an empty Brownstone, Siena having packed her things while he was at work. How his mother was on the board of Bridgerton Holdings and was the biggest pain in his ass from their country estate, constantly looking over his shoulder. How Colin was off gallivanting in Greece, his Instagram pics with a slew of bronzed women in skimpy bikinis had filled him with self-pity; when he was 23, he’d been a father for 5 years and had just finished his MBA, a degree he didn’t want but needed so he could run the company. How he still looked out his London high-rise windows and designed buildings in his head.

And now. Now the deity that was Kate was off horseback riding with his brother, who she loved. Loved.

Not that Ben didn’t deserve love. He did, of course, Anthony confirmed to himself. He’d never brought a woman to their country home, never introduced someone to their younger siblings as his partner in all things. Never had a girlfriend on his arm at one of the Bridgerton Holdings galas.

And now he had the most beautiful woman on the planet.

Anthony’s heart constricted thinking of how Ben could have brought Kate to their Christmas fundraiser. They’d known each other then; they’d been together since September. How she probably would have worn red; something slinky and sparkly, hugging every curve. Her hair up in some kind of classic twist, tendrils of curls framing her face. He would have watched her sway with Ben in his tux, his hands hovering above the curve of her ass, his breath hot on her cheek, her smiles reserved just for him.

If she hadn’t been in love with Ben before that, she would have after.

Love. In love. She was in love.

Not with him.

But he was with her.

In love.

He slammed his fist angrily against the sleek marble shower, the hard stone splitting his knuckles. Blood raced down his arm in the steamy heat, dripping quickly onto the floor and being washed away by the multiple shower heads. He squeezed his fist, watching numbly as more blood came to the surface, more blood washed away. He brought his fist to his mouth, tasting the metallic against his tongue, slowly sliding to his knees. He bent his head, letting the water beat down against his back and hair, let his self hatred roll over him. He grasped his hair on either side of his head and pulled.

And Anthony Edmund Bridgerton cried.

---------

They’d finished their ride on the horses – horses! – and found their way back to the main house from the stables. Kate was still aghast at the sheer size of the estate. Benedict, and Anthony, she supposed, had both been bald faced liars when it came to the “modest” home they had in the country.

The found Violet in the drawing room, on her mobile. She put up a finger as they walked in.

“I know, I know, but we would love to have all of you here for dinner, at least,” she said to whomever was on the phone. “Of course, darling, whatever you need. Drive safely. Ok, I love you, too.” She turned to them, a look of regret on her face.

“Daphne and Simon are driving in with Augie, and apparently Eloise, Francesca and Colin went out on the town last night to some eighteen and older club, god knowing how Francesca got in, and have barely rolled out of bed. Simon won’t stop laughing and Daphne is ready to throttle one of them. You know how Augie hates the car. Anyway, she supposes they’re going to stay in London for a few more hours until they’ve washed off whatever hangover they’ve accumulated and come for dinner.”

Ben laughed. “Ah, that sounds like my siblings.” He turned to Kate. “It wouldn’t be a weekend at Aubrey if someone wasn’t throwing up out of a car window.”

“Charming!” Kate drawled.

“You must ignore Benedict,” Violet tried to save face. “They’re wonderful children, if… well, spoiled rotten.”

“Party animals,” Benedict tried to mouth but very much said aloud.

Violet huffed. “They do seem to like a bevy or two, but I must insist, please take anything Benedict says with a grain of salt.”

Kate smiled at the matriarch. “Oh Violet, I take everything Ben says with a Himalayan salt lamp. He is Salt Bae. The salt to my tequila. The saltiest saltine…”

“Aaaaand that’s enough,” Ben laughed, turning to Kate, hoisting her over his shoulder and marching her out of the room as she continued to yell salt related quips to his mother.

They could hear Violet’s belly laugh down the hall.

------------

Just before dinner, the cars started to arrive. Simon, Daphne, Augie and Francesca in one, Colin and Eloise in the other with their surprise guest; Penelope Featherington.

They sauntered inside, boisterous and loud and greeting the youngest and oldest Bridgertons and Violet, when Kate and Benedict came down the stairs.

Well, when Benedict slid down the banister and Kate rolled her eyes, holding on with one hand, the other sweeping hair out of her face. The late day sunlight hit her from behind, casting an ethereal glow around her; all bronzed skin and long legs in a short white sundress, barefoot, her hair freshly washed and styled into long, glossy curls.

Seven Bridgertons, two Bassets, and a Featherington stopped to gawk. Ben stood at the bottom of the stairs, grasping Kate’s hand as she descended.

“And this,” he said, lifting Kate’s hand and kissing her knuckles gently, “is Kathani Sharma.”

Kate scrunched her nose at Benedict.

“Kate is just fine,” she said to the typically noisy crowd who had fallen near silent, staring at the woman before them who was suddenly, awkwardly, playing with her bottom lip, besides Augie’s baby slurps around his pacifier.

Then everything seemed to happen at once.

“Helloooo, Miss Sharma,” Colin said, dropping his bags and sidling up to Kate, his eyes traveling down her body and back up. “Good God, Ben, you didn’t tell us your friend was a goddess.”

Kate noted the girl she would learn was Penelope visibly deflated.

She noted Anthony looked like he was going to commit murder.

She arched an eyebrow at Colin. “And Ben didn’t tell me that his younger brother was so good looking,” she said, slyly, looking him up and down as well. Colin preened, his chest nearly puffing up in front of her. “I mean, Greg here is such a handsome young man, dontcha think?”

Ben let out a certifiably ungentlemanly, “HA!”

Greg suddenly was at her side, staring up at her with adoration. Colin grinned. “A handsome man, indeed,” he noted, ruffling his brother’s hair. “But we should still get to know one another, eh?”

Ben circled with Daphne and Simon to make a personal introduction as Eloise and Francesca moved to say hello to Anthony, questioning what had happened to his bruised, battered hand. Hyacinth stood with her mother, begging her to let Kate stay in her room.

“Kate, it’s wonderful to finally meet you,” Daphne welcomed Kate, embracing her. “Ben has told us so much about you.”

“Not everything,” Simon mumbled, looking wide eyed down at his shoes. Daphne elbowed him.

“You’ll have to excuse my husband, he was raised by wolves.” She said, glaring at him. Colin laughed in agreement as Kate briefly covered her face with her hands.

“It’s quite alright. I’m used to people looking now, although usually they’re asking me if I play for the women’s basketball league in the States.”

Daphne laughed. “Oh my goodness, and she has a sense of humor. Well DONE, brother,” Daphne slapped Benedict’s chest with the back of her hand. He pretended to be wounded. Or possibly was wounded?

“You must be careful with that rock, sister, you’re going to put someone’s eye out one day,” Ben complained, rubbing where Daphne’s engagement ring had made a small dent in his skin.

Daphne grimaced, looking down at her ring. “Ugh, god, I know. It’s so ostentatious. I nearly scratch Augie every day with this monstrosity.”

Kate laughed. “So long as it’s not overcompensating for someone’s… smaller package.”

Simon guffawed. “Benedict, she fits right in.”

Ben grinned at her with pride.

Violet continued to swoon.

Anthony just looked… heartbroken.

-----------

Dinner was a loud, noisy affair, most of the Bridgertons jostling for Kate’s attention. Colin, blatantly flirting; Penelope, blatantly trying to gather Colin’s attention back to herself. Eloise, invested in Kate’s decision to go pre-law, since she’d be at Uni herself in just a few months. Gregory plied her with warm towels for her hands, and Hyacinth regaled her with renditions of songs she’d found on Youtube. Francesca, just seventeen, was rather quiet.

Simon clearly only had eyes for his wife but couldn’t help but admire how another person of color truly rounded out the table. Daphne was thrilled to have found a kinship with such a fun character, who also grabbed Augie the first chance she had.

Anthony, Violet and Ben all watched, entranced, as Kate held the baby, blowing raspberries on his cheek and making him squeal, and making silly faces at him. She ran her fingers through Augie’s downy soft hair, holding him to her chest when his eyelids started to droop, smoothing her hand over his back when he fell asleep upon her shoulder. Ben could not have been more pleased to see his beautiful friend have such a wonderful time. Violet saw more grandchildren in her future. Anthony saw his future slip away through his fingers, like sand through an hourglass.

----------

The evening found A through F, minus D, plus Pen and Simon at the fire pit on the lawn as Kate and Daphne put the baby to bed.

Colin lit a cigar and passed the lighter to Ben, who did the same with his, and then to Anthony and Simon.

Eloise grimaced. “God, smoking is such a terrible habit.” Francesca agreed.

Colin laughed around his stogie.

“Terrible habits die hard. But Benedict, tell us more about Kate. How in the world did you bag that babe?”

Anthony felt his stomach roll.

Benedict grinned. “She had signed up for my watercolor class. Something about wanting to try new things.”

Colin arched an eyebrow. “And now that she’s tried one Bridgerton, she’s ready for her second?”

"Third," Anthony thought.

“Gross,” came a cacophony of loud responses.

Ben rolled his eyes at Colin. “Give me a break. She’s too smart for you.” He puffed on his cigar, blowing out the smoke. “She’s actually quite brilliant. Tough home life, similar to ours, ya know? Dad died when she was seventeen, her mother still hasn’t come out of it yet.”

“Oh, poor thing,” Francesca noted empathetically.

“Right?” Eloise agreed. “But she’s still in Uni, which is amazing.”

Ben nodded. “And crushing it, too. She wants to work for the Children's Rights Alliance. Give back since she was orphaned.”

“She’s not going to model full time?” Colin asked curiously.

“No, she’s just doing this for extra cash. Her mom is living off disability and her sister will be at Uni in the fall. She’s just modeling to help them through. She’s hoping Mary can pull herself together.”

Simon nodded, understanding. “She sounds like she has a good head on her shoulders.”

Ben puffed on his cigar again. “That she does. She didn’t even want to model at first, I had to convince her.”

“I bet you did convince her,” Colin said, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively, punching Ben on the bicep.

Benedict rolled his eyes. “With friendship, my disgusting brother. We built something special during the watercolor classes. She’s a novice, but talented. But the money in modeling has given her many more opportunities. Life changing for her, really. It’s been humbling. We grew up here so privileged.” He shook his head. “We were out for dinner one night, and when we went back to her flat, it was surrounded by police. There’d been a stabbing in the next building. I brought her home with me immediately.”

Anthony looked up sharply, nearly dropping his cigar. “She’s living with you?”

Ben waved his hand in the air. “Informally. But I couldn’t let her go back to that neighborhood. Could you imagine any of our sisters living in a dangerous neighborhood?”

Eloise scoffed. “I can take care of myself!”

Colin laughed. “Sure you can, El. What would you do, hit a mugger with a book?”

Eloise gasped. “Excuse you, I have plans on taking self -defense classes!”

“That you haven’t taken yet,” Colin pursed his lips.

“Be nice, Colin,” Pen admonished. “El is stronger than you think.”

“Thank you!” Eloise smiled at her friend. “And I have sharp elbows. Just throw one into the ribs and then kick like hell.”

“This is why you’re not allowed anywhere,” Anthony said, rubbing his forehead as Simon blinked. “This is why I’m scared to have daughters.”

“Who is scared to have daughters?” A voice came from behind them. Daphne and Kate came walking down the path to the fire pit.

Daphne wrapped her arm around Simon’s waist, who wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

“Reminder that it will be at least two more years before any more children, childbirth is a bitch.” Daphne said, looking up at her husband fondly.

He laughed. “Yes, dear.”

Ben grabbed Kate’s hand, pulling her onto his lap as she shivered.

“Are you cold?” He asked, rubbing a hand along her goose fleshed arm.

“It’s not bad,” Kate responded, shivering once more.

“Here,” Ben said, handing her his cigar, and reaching down to pull off his jumper. He handed it to Kate, who took it gratefully and pulled it over her own head, shaking out her curls as she slid the too big garment down her chest.

“You’re too good to me,” Kate winked.

Anthony had sat, watching Kate and Ben with their comfortable familiarity. His stomach was in knots, watching his brother’s hands rub along now covered arms, trying to warm her up. He imagined himself with her on his lap, his nose buried in her curls, her hands on his face, tilting his jaw up and their lips just barely touching…

“I have to go,” he said suddenly, standing abruptly, squeezing his fist to feel the swollen, bruised, cut skin. The pain in his hand barely registering against the ache he felt swelling in his chest.

Eight pairs of eyes looked at him. “I, uh.. I have some paperwork to do.”

“It’s Friday night?” Eloise said, questioning.

“Just, uh.. forgot I had to respond to something. It’s fine. I’ll see everyone in the morning.” He stubbed out the cigar, barely touched, and walked up the path, away from everything he ever wanted.

Chapter Text

Kate awoke early the next morning, taking the time to stretch lazily against the highest thread count sheets she’d ever slept on. The Bougey man would have been pleased with these. She rolled over, taking in Benedict’s still sleeping form on his side, chest exposed, his head just barely on the pillow. A small spot of drool on the sheet below his lip, his lashes dusting his cheeks. She grinned, her heart warmed at the vulnerability they shared in this mutual bed.

He was, well and truly, her very best friend these days.

She slid out of the bed, again stretching her arms over her head, pulling on yoga capris and a v necked tshirt over her tank.

She hadn’t thought to bring any novels with her in her haste to pack, but Benedict had mentioned the night before that there was a full library in the house.

“Of course there is,” she had drawled. “You mean, “the castle?””

Ben had laughed.

“Not a castle, darling. Simply a massive estate.”

Massive estate, indeed.

Kate slipped out the door and padded barefoot down the hallway in search of this library, meandering down hallways and corridors, past ancient paintings of landscapes and what must have been Bridgerton ancestors (the chestnut hair really gave it away), until she found a library that rivaled the one in her hometown. She gasped at the magnitude of books and novels, the velvet settees, the overstuffed leather chairs and maps and globes.

She walked over to one section, lined with what appeared to be newer editions, their brightly colored bindings, her fingers trailing along the spines gently, a thin film of dust collecting against her fingertips.

“I guess I should have known I’d find you in the library.” A deep voice came from behind her, startling Kate into whirling around.

Edd… Anthony. Anthony Bridgerton stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame, one leg crossed over the other. Looking every bit the delectable bite she’d had in her cheap hotel room bed months before.

“Shall I hide the lead pipes?”

------------

Kate’s stomach twisted. “Perhaps the candlesticks,” she muttered, turning back around, willing him to somehow disappear into the wallpaper. Or herself, for that matter.

She felt him, instinctively, walk up beside her. They stood in silence for several long moments, Kate trying desperately to move her own feet away from this man, but seemingly glued to the floor.

“Kate,” Anthony started.

“Anthony Edmund Bridgerton.” Kate stated, interrupting. “Not the truth, although not exactly a lie.” She snuck a look at him, seeing him staring at the collection of books in front of them, jaw clenched.

“Aged thirty. True. Employment: Bridgerton Holdings, LLP. “Small family business.” I call that one a lie. Net worth: In the high eight figures, if Google is to be believed. Didn’t take a paycheck: true, although living off your trust fund doesn’t exactly inspire, so I’ll call that a partial lie.” She turned to look at him more fully. Anthony turned towards Kate, as well, lips downturned as Kate reviewed his CV. His hands shaking just a bit.

“Ex-girlfriend: Siena Rosso, professional opera singer in the West End. True, although key details left out of that description, but I’ll be generous. Family; mother Violet, seven younger siblings. True. Responsibilities: well, we’ll just call everything a half lie, shall we?”

Anthony took a half step towards her. “Kate, let me explain,” he started, reaching out his hand to try to grasp Kate’s.

Kate took a half step back. “No. No, Anthony, you don’t get to try to explain.”

Anthony’s stomach dropped as his hand fell back toward his leg.

She turned back towards the books, pulling one out and rifling through it.

“I didn’t know Benedict was your brother,” she said quietly, putting the book back. “I guess I should have, you do look remarkably similar. But Lord knows I would have stayed away had I known.”

Anthony swallowed hard, watching her shake her head.

“Does he make you happy?” He whispered, willing his hands to stop trembling.

Kate laughed through her nose, turning to Anthony. “Ben has been a saving grace to me. He took care of me at my lowest… when I needed a shoulder to cry on, waking up in the middle of the night in tears, because my dreams were filled with the man I had fallen in love with. The man who manipulated me into thinking he was someone he wasn’t. The man who broke my heart.”

His lips quivered.

“Kate, I don’t know how to explain how sorry I am. I was going through some things-”

“Anthony, STOP. Just stop!” Kate interrupted, and could have stomped her foot. “I don’t need, nor want, your explanation.” She breathed out, rubbing her temples. “I used to hear your voice in my head, you know. I used to wake up and swear I could hear you, feel you behind me, your arms wrapped around me. I used to imagine you’d stopped me in Brighton and you were just on your way home to me.”

She turned and started for the door, Anthony whipping around to watch her leave, then falter as she got closer to the door. She turned around to look at him,

“Ben thinks the world of you. I was almost jealous when he would talk about his successful older brother, the one who kept it all together. I’ve told him… bits and pieces about.. Eddie. I won’t tell him that you’re one in the same. But.. I can’t do this with you, ok? I just can’t.”

And with that, she turned on her heel, and fled.

---------

 

The Aubrey Hall pool was something out of Las Vegas hotel. Giant stones with waterfalls on two sides, a twisty slide on another. Six white lounger chairs in the shallow end, lux fire bowls for night swims.

Kate, Daphne, Eloise, Fran and Pen laid across the loungers, in various shades and styles of bathing suits, sunglasses perched on noses and the tops of their heads. Fran looked at Kate and sighed.

“Kate, I wish I had your body,” she said longingly, looking down at her small chest in a yellow bikini designed to enhance. Kate looked down at her own breasts and laughed.

“Oh honey, trust me, you don’t. Most guys just want to molest me, and then it’s so hard when I run. I have to double up on sports bras.”

Pen sat up, wearing a retro styled red and blue polka dotted one piece, her floppy hat wilting in the breeze. “Kate. Look at yourself. Any woman would die for your figure.”

Kate looked at her new friend kindly. “And that is a shame, Miss Penelope,” she said. “My body is sheer genetics. I did nothing to look this way. In fact, I’ve been jealous of all of your heights since I got here. What I would give to be delicate and petite.”

Daphne laughed. “It is quite annoying to have to ask for help to get down items from top shelves though.”

“And everyone assumes when you’re small, you’re somehow meek and unintimidating.” El added.

Kate nodded. “We do all have our crosses to bear, don’t we.”

Pen still looked dejected, stealing a glance at the brothers on the other side of the pool. “Admittedly though, you do seem to have charmed all of the Bridgerton brothers.”

Kate looked at her abruptly. “Excuse me?”

“Ben is obviously just obsessed with you, and Greg can’t get enough. I mean, he tried to spoon feed you pineapple at breakfast,” she said, everyone laughing at the memory of Gregory slyly offering Kate a piece of his fruit, on his own fork, during the morning meal. “Anthony can’t keep his eyes off of you, and Colin won’t stop talking about how gorgeous you are.”

Anthony couldn’t keep his eyes off of her?

Kate shook the thought out of her head.

“I adore Ben, and seeing him with his brothers has just been heartwarming to me,” Kate said with a wink. “I assure you, though, I prefer closer to the beginning of the alphabet.”

Pen grinned, understanding Kate’s inflection – uninterested in the letter C.

“In fact,” Kate continued, lifting a shoulder in mock questioning. “Perhaps the ladies here on the loungers might.. mutually benefit if a gentleman somewhere in the middle and also of age was taken by a lovely young woman with beautiful peaches and cream skin and hair that women can barely get at a salon.”

Pen stared at her. “You would… help?”

Daphne sat up, adjusting her bikini straps, nodding knowingly. “Of course she would help. Kate Sharma is the best of the best.”

--------

Ben, Anthony, Simon, Greg and Colin threw an American football back and forth on the other side of the pool. Dodging and jumping, whooping and diving. Enjoying brother time that they hadn’t had in months.

Greg threw the ball to Benedict, popping up out of the water as he fell backwards. “Ben, when do we get to see the photos of Kate?”

Anthony grit his teeth. “Probably never, little brother,” Ben said casually, throwing the ball to Simon, his ears turning the slightest bit pink.

Simon caught it easily – both the ball and the pink. “Let me guess, just all nudes.”

Greg’s eyes got wide. “She let you take NAKED pictures of her?!”

Anthony choked.

“Excellent work, Simon,” Ben muttered, catching the ball Simon whipped at him. He ignored Gregory’s question.

“And she was single when you met her? How did that ever happen? Women who look like her are not single.” Colin asked, pulling up his sunglasses onto his forehead to get a better look at Kate, lounging on the chair, her red one piece tied intricately across the front, pushing up her cleavage, the hips cut high, leaving plenty of bronzed skin across her middle available for the sun to kiss. Her legs looked a million miles long.

Ben looked back and grinned at her, endeared by her burgeoning friendships with his sisters, then chucked the ball at Colin’s head. “Some guy had just broken her heart. I was just right time, right place Ben, per usual.”

Colin ducked and let the ball skitter across the water behind him.

“Luckiest bastard I’ve ever known,” he muttered. “I’d be over there untying that little bow with my teeth…”

Anthony splashed water into Colin’s face, desperately trying to both remember and forget the time he untied the bow of a silk shirt with his teeth, his tongue sliding down the soft skin of her shoulder, one hand pressed to her stomach, the other squeezing a peaked nipple as she moaned in his ear. “There are children here, you dingbat.”

Colin came up for air, wiping the water out of his eyes. “Ya know, that was fair.”

Simon got the ball back. “Some guy? We don’t know him, right?” Simon, while not a blood brother, was just as protective of his girls as the Bridgerton boys. He tossed it to Anthony. Anthony hurled it towards Benedict. Ben caught it with ease.

“Never saw him. His name was Edgar or something? I don’t know. She had one picture of him and it was basically just his chin.”

Anthony stopped, staring at his brother. A single picture. His chin, and the bottom of his lip. Her eyes looking up at him, under long lashes. Her curls covering half of her face. The only selfie they had.

She still had it.

Suddenly his vision got cloudy, his heart beating wildly in his chest.

She still had the photo.

------------

“Let’s race, Kate!” Gregory yelled, running towards Kate and cannonballing into the pool before it got too shallow.

Kate laughed, up for a challenge. She stood up, off the lounger, and leaned down next to the lip of the pool to drop her sunglasses and novel; one that she had found in Benedict’s room, promising herself she wouldn’t be caught again in the library.

Simon, hovering over his wife and dropping kisses to her lips, was the only man in the pool who missed Kate’s backside; the cut of the red spandex connected by a single thin string, the Brazilian cut showing off nearly her entire ass. Colin audibly gasped. Greg practically passed out. Anthony remembered holding that ass in his hands, her back against cheap wallpaper, as she slid along his length, her teeth nipping at his ear, whispering filthy things that she wanted him to do to her.

“Where do we race?” Kate asked, turning around as 4 men awkwardly tried to hide their gawking. She arched an eyebrow.

“I want to race, too!” El shouted, jumping in.

“Me, too!” Hyacinth screamed, having come down from her piano practice, ready to riot.

“Ok, ok,” Anthony pulled everyone together on the deck. “We race from north to south, and then around the perimeter. First wins, last has to assist Mother during the next gala with the guest list.”

“No!” “Oh my god, why!?!” “That’s not losing, that’s a blood sacrifice!” Came the shouts and cries.

Kate stood grinning, albeit confused. “Oh, it can’t be that bad… It’s just a guest list…”

Ben looked at her seriously. “It’s an Excel file.”

Kate narrowed her eyes. “Ok?”

Colin grasped her hand, looking at her with pity. “It’s almost twenty-two thousand lines.”

It took Kate a few seconds to comprehend that.

“Twenty-two THOUSAND?!! How is that even possible!?!”

Anthony laughed, and smiled his beautiful smile. “And now that you’re here, you get to be twenty-two thousand and one.”

Kate looked aghast. "There is no way that she remembers all of those people."

"She does." A chorus of responses came, eyerolls abounding.

“LET’S RAAAAACE!” Hyacinth screamed belligerently, the group getting into place, Kate still awed.

Pen stood on the lip of the pool, counting down.

Ben sidled up next to Kate and whispered, “We’ve agreed to take Colin down, when he goes around the second waterfall, slow down briefly and wink at him. He’ll get flustered and we’ll win.”

Kate grinned in agreement. “Diabolical. I like it.”

“On your marks… get set… go!!!” Pen yelled, the group thrashing and sprinting around the pool. Simon took an early lead, Daphne cheering him on from the side. Ben easily overtook him, the tallest of the group and arguably strongest swimmer.

Kate, El, Anthony and Fran pulled at Colin, making sure he wasn’t making up any distance, watching him get frustrated.

Greg and Hyacinth pulled up the rear, the smallest of the group, until they got to the second waterfall.

Kate slowed considerably as Colin got closer, then turning to him and dramatically winking at him, licking her bottom lip for good measure. Colin slowed in surprise, allowing Hyacinth and Greg to overtake him, the three ensuring they crossed the finish line before Colin.

Colin realized what they had done, slamming his hands down into the water and creating a wave.

“You didn’t!” He gasped, looking at Kate as she hoisted herself up on the edge of the pool, pulling her hair into a bun atop her head.

“Mmm, I did,” Kate preened, walking to Ben and his siblings and letting them hug and congratulate her for felling the Mighty Colin. Even Anthony, who had run over after watching Colin lose just miserably, wrapping his arms around Kate momentarily. She gasped, looking up into his smiling eyes, her hands wrapping around his muscular biceps, trying to ignore the washboard abs, bathing trunks low on his hips and cut of his jaw. Her eyes trailed across his face to his mouth, wet with pool water, the bottom lip invitingly plump. He let her go, realizing what he had done.

“Well done, Kate,” he said with a grin, the smile faltering.

The siblings crowded around her as Pen consoled Colin in the pool.

“Just perfectly done,” Simon admired, with Daph in agreement. Hyacinth and Greg bickered over who won of the two of them. Ben threw a towel over her shoulders, squeezing them in his pride, the biggest smile on his face.

Kate scrunched up her nose, smiling, tight lipped. Looking back at Ben, his hands on her shoulders. The rest of the family milling about, readying to head inside.

But all she could feel was the scorch of Anthony’s hands as they’d pressed against her bare back just seconds ago, his palms warm against her water-cold skin, the scent enough to bring her back to months ago. Those arms wrapped around her in a Queen sized bed in the pink hued dawn of what promised a sunny morning, the waves crashing outside, the smell of cheap hotel shampoo and salt air and sweat and sex surrounding the cocoon they had created.

The Bougey man would not have appreciated those sheets.

-------

 

Violet was convinced he was going to propose. Ben, of course. He’d only been with Kate for a few months, but she saw how they looked at one another. She’d heard Kate tell Ben how much she loved him. She’d even – regretfully, she must add – heard them causing a ruckus in their bedroom, the mattress bouncing on a squeaky antique frame. Passionate love making, she assumed.

It was horrifying as a mother, and quite exciting as a prospective grandmother as she envisioned another grandchild. Perhaps a girl this time, with Ben’s gorgeous eyes and Kate’s beautiful hair.

It was all she could do to not tap her fingertips together and plot how she could make it happen faster.

Ben had also indeed told her that he was planning something this week. A proposal?

Violet smiled widely. She could have them married by the end of the summer.

Chapter Text

August

Day Five

Anthony woke up alone for the first time in four days, the room cavernous with professional grade darkening shades. The posh suite was large and comfortable, the bed soft, the sheets luxurious and smooth against his skin.

Unlike the… other room. Always slightly too bright against the summer sun, and even at night, a street lamp directly outside the window.

He supposed it was a miracle he’d slept at all. Although he wondered if “drank himself into a stupor” really counted.

He replayed the look on Kate’s face over and over in his mind. Standing there, her sundress ruffling in the light breeze, her hair catching across her forehead. Looking up at him with confusion, betrayal. One hand heavy with groceries. Her lips trembling.

He had desperately tried to think of some kind of excuse. He hadn’t meant to make it seem like he was struggling, although it suddenly occurred to him that he had told her more half truths than actual truths. Hell, he hadn’t even the decency to tell her his first name. His mouth was opened like a gaping fish. She had blinked several times at his inability to be truthful, for once, breathing out a sad, “Wow,” and then turning and walking away.

She had stopped, just momentarily, and his heart jumped into his throat. But she squared her shoulders, turned to the metal trash bin next to her, and deposited everything she was holding into the garbage. She slid her sunglasses back down over her eyes, looking across the street and crossing between cars, heading back towards her hotel.

He tried to move after her, but the shame kept him glued to the concrete. Tourists swarmed around him up and down the sidewalk, laughing jovially in the bright sunlight, their cameras around their necks and phones in their hands, ignoring the man standing like a statue with expensive luggage.

He didn’t know how long he’d stood there. The next thing he knew he was in the hotel bar, three fingers of bourbon, neat, downed. Then another three. The bartender looked at him skeptically.

“Can’t serve ya anymore, mate. There’s a fridge in your room, though.”

He had vague memories of walking towards the door, down the sidewalk, into the closest store with shelves of hard liquor. He hadn’t a clue of what he had actually picked up, simply swiped his card and carried the paper bag back to his hotel room, depositing it on the cherry executive desk. He pulled out a bottle of something clear, poured himself another glass, and tipped it back. He grimaced. Cheap woodsy gin. Disgusting.

He looked at his phone. Thirty eight messages; fourteen from Hyacinth, asking for a puppy; another dozen from Colin, Fran and El. Six emails from his mother with forwards from various colleagues in just the last hour. Two missed phone calls; Daph, probably trying to facetime with Augie, and Simon, probably asking if he was ignoring Daph.

“FUCK,” he’d screamed, throwing the glass against the wall, shattering it against the black, floral wallpaper. He sat on the bed, his head in his hands, his heart racing.

 

-----------

 

Evening found Kate plus the oldest six Bridgertons, plus the Simon and Pen back at the pool for a late night swim. It was starting to feel like a complicated mathematical equation when she was with the family.

Kate and Daphne, naturally thick as thieves in their budding friendship, sat in the hot tub, talking about the latest episode of Real Housewives, their guiltiest pleasure. Ben and Simon sauntered up in a heated discussion of if Manchester United was any good.

“Oh my God, Simon, I cannot deal with this conversation again.” Daphne groaned into her glass of wine. Simon slid in next to her, Ben next to Kate.

“Darling, bitching about the bloody Red Devils is the only way I know how to communicate,” Simon protested.

Benedict laughed. “It’s much more entertaining than what? Real Housewives of Dubai?” He looked at Kate knowingly. Kate threw her head back as though they’d had the conversation a dozen times themselves.

“It’s a palate cleanser!! Law classes are tough, let me enjoy one simple thing!”

“I love it for you, Darling,” He said with an eyeroll. Kate had a glint in her eye.

“Oh, don’t pretend like you don’t love it, too.”

Ben put his hand over his heart, looking at Simon. “I swear on all that is holy, I do not love Real Housewives of Dubai.”

Kate gasped. “Benedict!”

Ben snorted. “Ok, I love the Real Housewives of New York, ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?!”

Kate, Simon and Daphne burst out laughing, drawing the attention of El and Anthony, who had been deep in conversation nearby about El’s going to Uni in just a few short months. El, not wanting to feel left out, pulled Anthony’s hand to get into the hot tub, too, squeezing in next to Kate, Anthony squeezing in next to her. Colin and Pen, who had walked down the path with more bottles of beer than they should have been holding, looked at each other, and then both ran towards the hot tub to grab the final two seats.

With all eight seats comfortably taken, they talked amongst themselves until Francesca jumped out of the pool, noting again that she, the youngest of the grown Bridgertons, WAS always left out, and turning on her heel in a huff.

“Ugh, I’ll go get her,” Eloise rolled her eyes, sliding out of the water, leaving Anthony sitting next to Kate. Kate snuck a look to her right, as Anthony snuck a look to his left, their eyes meeting over the curls of steam coming from the water.

“Isn’t that right, Katie?” Suddenly Ben asked, Kate looking up sharply.

“I’m sorry, what?” she asked, confused.

“Your Tesla is a fun drive,” Ben prompted.

The car. Right, the car. Blue. Battery operated. Environmentally friendly. Exceptionally expensive.

“Oh, yes,” Kate stammered, sitting up more out of the water. “Although something so pretentious was Ben’s idea. I was going to get a Camry.”

Ben rolled his eyes. “This is what I have to deal with.” He said, gesturing with his hand.

“More than happy to take her off your hands, brother,” Colin offered with a genial smile from the other side of the tub. Pen sighed. Anthony glared.

Kate scrunched her nose up. “I prefer guys who don’t lose at swimming competitions.”

“Oh snap!” “Whoa!!!” “Bwhahahaha!!!” The responses were loud. Colin blushed.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll win next time! It’s not my fault Ben has the wing span of a bloody condor.”

“Sure thing, Champ,” Kate said nodding, holding up her wine in mock salute. Pen grinned at her.

The night went quietly, albeit loudly, considering they were Bridgertons. Daph and Simon giving small tidbits about raising Augie, Pen regaling everyone with stories from her cousin’s ruby mines in the States. Ben about his classes.

“You’re being quiet,” Ben nudged Kate with his shoulder. She sipped her wine.

“Just enjoying being around a family,” she said, a wistful smile back to him.

Ben shook his head. “Mmm, that’s not the Kate I know. Let’s get you talking. Who wants shots?”

“Not us!” Daph and Simon said simultaneously.

“Baby duty calls around 5am,” Daph explained, Augie’s preferred wake up time.

Simon looked at his watch. “Feels like time for us to get out anyway.”

“Me, too, I think,” Colin said, standing and stretching, not so furtively trying to make muscles so Kate would see.

“I should probably go find El,” Pen said in agreement, also standing.

“Well, you all are just party poopers, aren’t you? Where are the drink til dawn siblings I once knew and loved?” Ben asked, sitting up on to the ridge of the tub.

“We have a baby,” Daph and Simon said simultaneously again. Kate laughed. They very obviously had practice explaining their early cut outs.

“I told one of the guys I’d play rugby with them in the morning and last time I drank til dawn and played, I puked all over the field.” Colin elaborated.

“Delightful!” Kate said brightly. Colin shrugged in his honesty.

“What about you, eldest brother?” Ben asked Anthony. Anthony nodded. “I’ll take a shot. Do you need help?”

“Nah, I got it. Six shots coming right up!” Ben launched himself easily off the lip and onto the deck, walking with the rest of his siblings and extended family up to the house. Leaving Kate and Anthony… alone… in a steamy hot tub.

 

------------

 

August

Day two.

“Fuuuuuck,” Anthony groaned, looking down at Kate, on her knees on the cracked tiled floor of the shower. Her mouth surrounding him, wet and warm, her hand gently tugging on his balls, running a fingernail along the seam.

He felt the familiar pull deep in his abdomen.

The steam of the shower surrounded them, the smell of their sex coiling up and spiraling.

“Kate, you gotta get off, I’m gunna…” he panted, trying to push her off as Kate twisted her hand and did something delicious with her tongue.

“MmmMmm,” Kate protested, looking up at him with those big amber eyes, her mouth full of him, the vibration ending any semblance of level headedness he had maintained.

He came with a jerk, flooding her throat, one hand on the wall, the other buried in her curls.

“Fuck,” he gasped, as her mouth popped off his cock, still thick and firm, hitting her chin as she licked her lips. She brought her bottom lip into her mouth, letting her top teeth drag across it, as if she was savoring his taste.

Anthony dragged her up off her knees, pushing her against the wall, his thigh between hers, wet with want, and finding her lips with his own. His hands found each side of her head, fingers buried in her hair.

“You’re gunna be the death of me, Kathani.”

 

---------------

 

They sat in the hot tub awkwardly, Kate suddenly finding her nail beds exceptionally interesting, Anthony studying the label on his beer bottle.

“How’s your mom?” Anthony suddenly asked, out of the blue. Kate looked up abruptly.

“Mary?”

Anthony nodded.

“She’s um.. she’s ok, I guess.” Kate responded. “Still riding the struggle bus without my dad, but not any worse than before.”

Anthony nodded again, knowingly.

They sat quietly.

“How’s the modeling going?” He asked.

“Anthony…” Kate shook her head. “This is… I told you I can’t do this.” She looked at him sadly, heartbreak written across her face.

Anthony slid over a seat, grasping the wine glass out of her hand and placing it behind them, and then taking her hand. Their fingers molded together, a perfect fit, as they had been back in Brighton.

“Kate, what are the chances you’d end up here? At my home, with my family? This is fate.” He said earnestly, his other hand finding her jaw and tilting her face towards his. His thumb rubbing across her bottom lip.

His eyes were bright and full of longing. Kate closed her eyes, letting the feel of his hands touching her wash over, something she had dreamt about for months.

“Benedict, though…” Kate tried.

The corners of his lips dropped. He swallowed hard.

“I know,” he whispered. “I know.”

“Hope you both like tequila, because that’s all ya boy’s got,” a voice came from down the path. Anthony dropped his hand from her face as they pulled apart, but continued to hold hers under the bubbling, opaque water. Ben popped up, holding a platter of… more than 6 shots of liquor.

“Better be top shelf if you’re making me drink it as a shot,” Anthony chided, trying to appear nonchalant.

“Tres Quatro Cinco,” Ben responded, grinning.

“That’s a £400 bottle of tequila!” Anthony protested.

“Which is why we should shoot it now and ask questions later.” Ben winked at Kate, watching the brothers spar.

Kate turned around, kneeling on the seat, dropping Anthony’s hand from beneath the water and took a shot from the platter. “Anyone want to toast?”

Anthony took his shot glass, waving it to Ben and Kate. His lips twitched.

“May the best days of our past be the worst days of our future. Cheers.” He looked at Kate, who’s eyes stayed on his just a beat too long. She thrust out her glass in agreement, then tipped it back into her mouth.

 

------------

 

Ben was passed out in the bushes.

Well, not exactly a bush, it was more of a hedge, Kate supposed from her perch in the hot tub. Of course she was also seeing two of him unless she really squinted.

And Anthony was still sitting next to her, comfortably fuzzy, his hand on her thigh, his head resting against the lip of the hot tub.

“We should probbbably get out,” Kate slurred, her eyes glassy, head in… a lot of places.

“No!” Anthony protested, holding her thigh down, his fingers gently digging into soft flesh. “You’re already fucking my brother, let me at least sit here with you. Just be near you. In your presence, ya know? Just… God, you look so gorgeous.”

He stared at her in awe, her hair up in a mess of curls, a few tendrils wet and sticking to her neck. Still in that godforsaken red bathing suit, the little bow between her breasts bobbing just below the water.

Kate drunkenly grinned at his babbling, poking him in the chest. “You just want to get in my pants again.”

Anthony made a show of peering into the water. “You are,” he hiccuped, “Most definitely not wearing pants.”

Kate laughed and gestured down her body.

“This old thing?”

Anthony dragged his finger up her thigh, her abdomen, tugging gently on the bow. Not enough to undo it, but enough to quicken their breathing.

“You can’t do that,” Kate shook her head. “Nope nope nope. You lied to me. Liiiiied. To me!”

Anthony’s head fell to her shoulder in shame.

“I was an idiot. A total idiot. But I promise Kate, I never meant to hurt you. I was so… broken… I sabotaged my own life with my stupidity.”

He lifted his head, his eyes full of sorrow.

“Not telling you the truth will be the worst thing I’ve ever done,” he said, glassy eyed. “I’ve been in counseling about it.”

Kate rolled her eyes. “You’re just saying that because you’re drunk.”

Anthony gave her a look. “If I wanted to do something because I was drunk, it wouldn’t just be apologizing.”

Kate’s heart flip flopped. He looked so sincere… and as much as it pained her, he was still the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. She’d spent the better part of the last two days imagining the scruff of stubble on his cheeks between her thighs, despite her very understandable anger.

She wanted to decline, give him a piece of her mind. But here, in the heat, the line between his brows tense and prominent, as if he needed her to know in no uncertain terms how genuine he was…

Kate arched an eyebrow. “Oh?” Daring him. Flirting, despite herself.

Anthony’s eyes went to her mouth, her lips barely parted. Instinctively, she licked. She could almost see him shudder.

“I would just do this,” he whispered huskily, moving imperceptibly closer, tugging the little red bow so the bathing suit started coming apart.

“Anthony!” Kate squealed, holding the fabric over her breasts as it easily loosened.

He pulled her back towards his front, onto his lap, his hands covering hers. Water sloshing around them. “Kate,” he said softly. “My Kate.”

He slid the straps of the bathing suit down, fingers gentle on her shoulders, rubbing circles on sun kissed skin with his thumbs. “Katie, let me see you.”

“Anthony,” Kate said with a guttural moan. “I can’t… I am still so mad at you.”

His hands wandered under the water. Slipping over smooth thighs, across her stomach, his fingers just barely dancing under the bathing suit on her hip.

“Let me touch you,” he whispered, pressing kisses to her hairline, her cheek, dropped onto her shoulders. Kate turned her face towards him, his lips so close. Her breathing erratic. “One last time.”

She nodded. Just enough. Angry and wanting. Tipsy and remembering.

Anthony’s hand slid under the bathing suit, his fingers rubbing along the seam of her pussy. Kate’s thighs opened to give him more access, his fingertips finding her wetness. He brought his hand up out of the water, shoving his fingers in his mouth, needing a single taste of her.

“Fuck,” he mumbled, his hand running back to where it’d been, fingers gently circling over her clit before diving into her velvety softness.

Kate moaned quietly, lifting her arm over and behind her to capture Anthony’s neck, bringing their mouths together as he stroked her. His hand replaced hers on her breast, so exceptionally grateful to be feeling its weight in his hand, its pebbled nipple against his thumb and forefinger. She'd forgotten how soft his lips were, how exquisitely perfect they felt on hers.

They gasped and kissed, tongues tasting of tequila and swirling around one another as Anthony brought Kate to release, her orgasm swallowed by his mouth. Kate sat against his chest, panting. He sucked small bites into the curve between her throat and shoulder, joy bubbling throughout his body.

“I’m mad at you,” Kate whispered. More to herself than to Anthony.

Anthony’s heart sank, still a little drunk, still a lot guilty.

“I think we have a lot to talk about…” He murmured back. “Please Kate… let me explain. It may not matter in the long run, but I owe it to you.”

His honesty was refreshing.

Kate hesitated, but nodded. “We should go inside.”

Anthony looked at his brother, a considerable distance away, still in the hedge.

“He should be fine, there, no?”

Kate laughed, swaying a bit and attempting to retie her bathing suit between her breasts. She reached over and grabbed a towel.

Her mind, not so fuzzy anymore, vacillated between going to wake up Ben, sleeping soundly in the yard, covered by a towel, and heading back to the house with Anthony.

“He should be fine.”

 

---------------

Ben woke up as the sprinklers went off, his mouth feeling like wool. He sat up, water violently spritzing his face and still bare chest as the very threadbare towel fell off.

“Christ, what did I do to deserve that?” He asked the sky, shaking his fist, squinting at the sunshine.

He dragged a hand over his face, questioning how god awful early it was. His head was pounding. He needed aspirin and water, or something greasy, pronto. Maybe all three.

He went to find his phone, certain he had left it on a table near the hot tub. There was only one on the table, its face against the ceramic tabletop. Anthony’s, he surmised, grabbing it. The Bridgerton Holdings emblem was engraved on the back of the iPhone.

He clicked the button to turn on the screen to check the time, gasping when he saw the background screen photo.

One side of Kathani Sharma’s face, half covered in curls. One barely there chin.

Chapter Text

Anthony.

Had.

The.

Photo.

Ben needed to sit down. He covered his head with the towel, resting his elbows against his knees, and his face against his hands.

Anthony had the photo.

Of Kate.

And Edgar.

Edgar?

Elliot?

Fuck, something E.

But E. Not Anthony.

Well. Ben rolled his brother’s name against his tongue. An-ton-E.

Was that chin in the photo Anthony’s?

Had Kate made up the name? Did she know Anthony was his brother?

Ben replayed their meeting in his head. Anthony’s stopping at the door to the dining room. His staring in the pool.

Fuck, had they known one another? Had Kate been playing him all along?

Ben sat up and shook his head, feeling quite ill. He needed to talk to Kate.

 

----------------

 

Anthony had walked Kate to her room. The one she shared with Benedict. He’d offered his arm as they walked up the back path in the dark, more stumbling than walking, but he jutted out his elbow and she took his arm with both hands. Wrapped around his bicep like she was giving it a hug, her lips finding his tricep and gently rubbing her nose against it.

They got to the bedroom door, Kate leaning heavily against it, her index and middle fingers tracing the sharp line of his jaw. Anthony leaned into her touch, his eyes closing.

“I want you but-“ Anthony started.

“We should talk tomorrow,” Kate finished quietly, concerned about waking up the other inhabitants of the hall.

Anthony nodded, in full agreement, despite the bitter ache in his board shorts. His heart would overrule his biological needs. There was simply too much at stake. Including his relationship with his closest brother.

“Sober. Honest.”

Kate, trying to soften the blow, booped his nose.

“Can you be honest with me?” She asked. His eyes widened, brows furrowing together.

He was silent. Understanding why she was asking. What he had done that had prompted the question.

He swallowed the lump in his throat.

“I promise, Kathani Sharma, I will never lie to you again. That you have any sort of mistrust in me is the worst kind of torture.”

His eyes begged forgiveness; something she couldn’t give just yet. Kate nodded.

“And… and we should tell Ben. Not about the hot tub, but about… Eddie…”

Kate looked at Anthony, surprised by his candor. He shook his head.

“Not to.. not to change your relationship with him. I know you’re… I know you’re together. But Dr. John, my counselor, says that you can’t start a healthy relationship with lies. And I couldn’t live with myself if I hurt you further.”

Kate pressed her hand to Anthony’s bare chest, over his heart.

“I don’t want to hurt your relationship with him either. But you haven’t betrayed him.”

Anthony’s head found the door jam. He looked exhausted, too tired to comprehend what she was saying.

“Whatever happens between Ben and me… it happens. But you deserve the best, and Benedict is a brilliant man. I won’t stand in your way of choosing him.”

He would sacrifice himself for his brother. Kate’s heart quickened with the understanding. He would give Benedict everything he desired, as long as she was happy.

“Tomorrow, in the library.” She whispered, tracing her fingertip along the outline of his lips.

“I’ll bring the candlesticks.”

 

--------------

 

Ben opened the door to the bedroom to find Kate asleep in the center of the bed on her side, facing the door. He supposed he should be surprised she wasn’t in Anthony’s bed. Her hair wild against the pillows, the sheet pulled up and tucked between her breasts. Her lips were parted just so, a bit swollen from too much sun the day before, her lashes thick against her cheeks. The way the sunlight hit her from the still opened curtains… she was an ethereal dream.

He was angry, but not dumb when he saw a photo opportunity. Benedict grabbed his camera, bringing it around and taking new shots of her, shirtless and dreaming.

Her eyes fluttered at the sound of the camera clicks.

“Oh god, Ben, why do you love taking sleeping pictures of me?” She asked, rolling onto her back and stretching an arm above her head, the thick Egyptian cotton sheet sliding down to her stomach. He took two more shots, focusing his camera on the way the light hit her breast, her belly button. He pulled the camera away, clicking a few buttons to see his handiwork.

He nodded to himself. “Mm, that’s why,” he said, looking at the photos.

He slid his damp board shorts off, climbing into bed and pulling the comforter over him. He sat up against the headboard, his arms crossed.

This was going to be awkward. Maybe he should have put on boxers.

Kate turned to him; a serious look on her face.

“I feel like puking, but we have to talk about Anthony,” she said, rolling to the side and jumping out of the bed to race to the bathroom.

Yeah, he was going to need to put his boxers on.

 

------------------

 

“So I just walked back to my hotel room, packed my bag, and bought a bus ticket home.” Kate finished, confessing… much… of the story of how she had met a man named Eddie in Brighton. Some things did need to remain sacred between them.

“And then you didn’t see him again?” Benedict pressed.

Kate shook her head. “I had deleted his number in my anger. All I knew was “A Bridge”. Googling just got me pictures of… well, bridges. And that American movie, “A Bridge Too Far.”

Ben nodded, rubbing his temples. “And you realized it was Anthony…?”

“The moment he stepped into the dining room on Thursday.”

Kate moved closer to Ben, grasping his hands, ducking down to meet his gaze.

“I swear on my parents’ graves that I didn’t know he was your brother. Had I known… well, that would have been awful. Because you are quite literally my best friend.”

Ben sat quietly. “Well, this certainly makes things a bit more uncomfortable, don’t they?” He asked. “What are you going to do?”

Kate sat back against the pillows. “Honestly, I’m unsure. We have a lot to talk about. And you know I can hold a grudge better than I hold a tune.”

Ben laughed. “That’s the truth. Car Karaoke with James Corden is not going to be in your future.”

Kate grinned. “We all have our faults, Ben. But really… I never dreamed I would see him again.”

“And now?”

Kate sighed. “Now I simultaneously want to smack him and kiss the bloody hell out of him. And he thinks we’re together. I’m sure he feels as though we’re betraying you.”

Ben reached across the comforter to grasp her hand again. “Talking is a good start. I will say; we as a family have noticed a considerable difference in him in the last several months. Even simply responding the text messages in a reasonable amount of time.

“Taking on the family business and viscountcy when he was so young truly did a number on him. I’ll be honest in that… well, he didn’t have much support. Most viscounts in London are either elderly or ghastly, and with Mother on the board at Bridgerton Holdings, she’s ensured that what she felt Father would have wanted trumped anything Anthony felt was right.”

“Why did he have no support?” Kate asked delicately. Not wanting to blame him.

Ben laughed. “Well from me, he’d get none. Besides some pints at the pub on Friday nights, I suppose. I’m dreadful at numbers; I’m right brained, all the way. I was always focused on art, finding my next medium. Then,” Ben winked, “finding my next muse.”

“But the others?” Kate pressed.

“Really, it was just Colin and Daph. Colin has an eye for numbers, but a wanderlust that precedes him. He’s never been very serious, the third son, so he wasn’t exceptionally helpful. Daph is brilliant, but more creative. And as she decided to marry Simon at twenty-two and have Augie, Ant didn’t want to ask her to take on so much responsibility.”

“So he kept it all for himself.”

“Oh, drowned himself in it. Absolutely obliterated himself. It was his biggest fight with Siena. She was… you know about Siena, yes?”

Kate nodded, thinking of how many times she had opened Google images to photos of Siena in the last several days. “Opera singer, very beautiful.”

Ben grimaced. “Very vapid. And very talented. But she was categorically awful and terrible for him. She was going on tour, wanted Anthony to drop everything and go with her.”

“And he didn’t want to?”

“Oh, he very much did. But taking six months to a year off? Unquestionably that was a no. She was so angry with him – really, with all of us Bridgertons for simply existing - she moved out one day when he was at work. Just took her bloody things and left. They didn’t speak again until our Christmas gala”

“And at Christmas?”

“From what El tells me she overheard, Siena wanted to get back together. He turned her down. She threw a glass of Chardonnay in his face.”

“She didn’t!”

“I won’t lie to you, I was… well, I was very drunk. So not paying much attention to Anthony’s drama. I had wanted to bring Henry, even went ahead and had his tux pressed. But the night of, I just couldn’t do it. That’s another story for another day, though. My own stupidity and carelessness. Trying to pretend to be someone I’m not.”

Kate stroked the back of his hand.

“You’re a wonderful man, Benedict Bridgerton.”

He smiled sadly. “Wonderful, and so tragically alone. I’m a coward.”

“You’re not,” Kate asserted. “Ben, being who you are, knowing people’s opinions of you may change, regardless of how tolerant they claim to be… that’s the scariest thing. I sit naked for your classes sometimes but baring yourself, being your authentic self, for your family to possibly… change how they feel… that’s a nakedness I can’t begin to understand.”

Ben pulled his hand back, blinking quickly.

“Ugh,” he said, trying to wave away feelings. “God, you’re a brilliant woman. My brother is an idiot.”

Kate smiled sadly. “We do have much to speak of. I want to forgive, because those days in Brighton… they were some of the most special days of my life. But then I remember the feeling of betrayal, and I don’t know what to do. I’m still so angry with him.”

Ben nodded. “Feel your anger. Be justified in it, you have every right to be. But know that the Anthony of last summer is not the Anthony of today. And now I know we can attribute that to you.”

Kate’s lips twitched. “And his therapist, I suppose.”

Ben looked at her in surprise. “Anthony is in therapy?”

“Counseling, I believe he called it,” Kate said, making air quotes.

Ben leaned his head back against the headboard. “Anthony Bridgerton is in therapy. I never thought I’d see the day. He didn’t even go to therapy after Father passed.”

Kate stared, open mouthed. He… he hadn’t gone to talk to someone after his father died, but he had after… she… had… left? She could barely believe what Benedict had just stated so flippantly.

“I know this is probably too soon, and also disgusting as he’s my brother, but I’m also just happy you’re finally going to be getting some good dick.”

“Ben!”

 

——------------

 

He was waiting for her on one of the overstuffed leather chairs in the library, two glasses of iced tea on a table. Dressed casually, in dark gray shorts and a blue t-shirt that set off his eyes, with a plaid shirt atop it. The sleeves were rolled to his elbow, his hair mussed just perfectly. He’d left the scruff, and it did something to her loins that she didn’t appreciate.

“How long have you been waiting?” She asked, walking in, so much more on her mind than she anticipated. Anthony stood, his eyes sliding over her ponytailed hair, to her pink relaxed knee length tank dress to her bare feet.

“In this room? About ten minutes. For you? My whole life.”

He grinned that dimpled grin, the one she’d found herself lost in on a rocky beach.

She rolled her eyes for good measure.

“Now I know that’s a line.”

Anthony reached out his bruised, still battered hand for hers, pulling her towards him.

“One that I can only use for you, though.”

Her heart flip flopped. She steeled herself. She could not let herself be charmed.

“One thing at a time, Bridgerton. Shall we?” She gestured towards one of the settees.

“I was thinking more over here,” Anthony said, sitting back down on his chair and pulling Kate into his lap, her butt on the seat, her thighs swung over his, calves over the soft armrest, feet dangling. His arms were around her, holding her close to him.

“This feels rather intimate for this conversation,” Kate said, struggling to free herself. Anthony held on tight.

“I like to hold something when I’m being vulnerable,” he replied, his grasp only becoming more vice-grip like.

Vulnerable. There’d been a time where Kate didn’t think he knew the word. She stopped struggling.

“Did you learn that in therapy?” She asked, prodding.

“Counseling,” he responded.

“They’re the same thing.”

“They certainly are not.”

“It’s speaking to a professional about your problems.”

“Therapy focuses on the individual, counseling on a problem.”

“That’s a very specific way of looking at it.”

“It’s the right way of looking at it.”

“Anthony.”

“Kathani.”

Kate sighed. Semantics wasn’t how she wanted this to start.

“Ok, ok.” She acquiesced. “Can we start from the beginning though?”

Anthony swallowed the lump in his throat. His grip loosened, just a bit, his hand stroking down her side against the soft cotton of her dress, as if to soothe her for what was about to come.

“I always wanted to be an architect…”

 

———-

 

His hand dragged the black elastic out of her hair, her curls tumbling down her back. He threw the elastic on the ground, sliding his fingers up into her hair at the base of her skull, driving her mouth closer to his. His other hand was directing the angle against her jaw.

So they were fully making out. Lips soft and soothing, tongues gently caressing.

On a leather chair.

In his family’s massive estate in the country.

Seven months after they had become certain that they would never see one another again.

“Do not stop,” Anthony begged as Kate started pulling away.

“I will stop,” Kate murmured against his mouth, gently biting his lower lip.

“Do not stop,” Anthony responded, his breath uneven, hard against her thigh.

“But Ben…”

The world came crashing down. Anthony stopped.

Their shared familiarity had put Kate in a precarious position she hadn’t anticipated in her anger.

If she admitted to Anthony that she and Ben weren’t together, she would possibly betray Ben’s confidence.

If she didn’t, then she was hurting Anthony unnecessarily.

“I know Ben loves you, and you him,” Anthony’s stomach fell as he spoke the words. “I know I have missed my chance.”

Kate felt sick, seeing the utter hurt in his eyes.

He stood, depositing Kate on her feet, straightening his shirts and clearing his throat. “I can be a gentleman.”

Kate arched an eyebrow. “Since when?”

“I have always been a gentleman.”

“Uh huh. And the cursing I’ve heard during our more… amorous moments… is…”

“Romantic.”

“Cursing is romantic?”

“Sexy.”

“Cursing is sexy?”

“You seemed to think so.”

“Did I?”

Anthony stood closer, fingering the tank strap of Kate’s dress. “I think you liked it very, very much,” he whispered. He dragged the tip of his finger across the swell of her breasts, her breath quickening.

He very much enjoyed seeing what his touch did to her but pulled his hand away guiltily. Ironically, he supposed, considering he had spent the better part of the past hour with her in his arms, their kisses deep and warm and intimate. Kate chewed her bottom lip.

“I will not continue hurt my brother. I’ll take the blame for whatever… this… is.” He gestured between them. “You did nothing wrong, I seduced you.”

Kate reached out, grasping his jaw in the v of her hands and stroking his stubbled cheeks with her thumbs.

“I think you need to have a conversation with him,” she started. “There is... there is much you should know from his perspective.”

Anthony nodded.

“I shall do it today.”

 

-------------------

 

She was making mental lists in her head as she passed the library, hearing low voices.

Violet peeked in through one door, seeing two forms on a chair near the fireplace, facing away from her. But she recognized the familiar dark hair in a ponytail, and the head of chestnut curls over the back of the chair.

She pressed her hand over her heart. A romantic rendezvous for her second son and his intended.

She heard the unmistakable sound of a soft, wet kiss, and a low moan and her eyes widened.

She stepped backwards into the hall, leaving the young lovers to their tryst.

Chapter Text

“Ok, now pucker your lips like this,” Kate said, showing Penelope what to do. She dabbed gloss in the center of Pen’s mouth, using her ring finger to spread it gently over her smooth, full lips. Kate sat back, admiring her handiwork, music pumping in the background. She leaned forward, using her fingers to help spiral some of Pen’s more difficult red curls.

“Christ, you’re a fox,” she stated, Daphne, El and Fran all nodding in agreement.

Pen reached over to grab a mirror, bringing it to her face, tilting her head this way and that. Kate had given her eyelashes some treatment that made them a mile long, highlighting the bright blue of her irises. The apples of her cheeks were flushed with peach blush, her lips a lustrous pink.

“And you think this will help?” She asked, worried she was trying all of these things and Colin was still going to see right past her. Kate had even taken some time to show her some modeling moves to make her look more alluring, to enhance her angles.

El arched an eyebrow, taking in Pen’s makeup and outfit. “If my brother doesn’t notice, he’s blind as a bat.”

Fran and Daphne agreed. “You look stunning,” Fran offered. “So beautiful!” Daph added.

Kate reached forward and unbuttoned one more button on Pen’s shirt, letting her breasts spill out a bit more.

“Your tits are amazing. And Colin appears to be a boob man. Let your assets attract.”

Pen looked down, surprised to see her breasts more exposed.

“You’re sure this will work? I feel like an idiot.” She looked at Kate dubiously. “And you didn’t see the way he looked at your ass.”

Kate tilted her head at Penelope’s concern. She grasped her hands.

“You are a gorgeous woman. I know Colin has been a moron. But he has obvious affection for you. We don’t want to change you; simply accentuate your already fabulous beauty.”

Pen’s lips quivered.

“Thank you, Kate,” she whispered, pulling the taller woman into a hug. Kate squeezed.

“Now let’s go get, ‘em, Tiger.”

 

---------------

 

They were sitting on the floor in the pale blue drawing room, playing Monopoly. The sunshine of the morning had turned to gray, drizzling rain.

The five youngest Bridgertons, plus Pen and Kate, were fighting for their lives.

“No, you owe me twice as much, I own TWO railroads!” Hyacinth screamed at Greg as he tried to stiff her when he landed on the Short Line.

“The ROI on Park Place is irrelevant if there are more than six players!” Daphne insisted to El.

Fran was about 30 seconds from flipping the board entirely.

The three eldest Bridgertons and Simon had walked into a disaster.

“What is happening here?” Anthony asked, trying to hear over Greg’s belligerent refusal to give Hyacinth more money.

Daphne and Fran tried to explain the intricacies of their current game as Kate leaned over to whisper to Pen, her eyes on Colin.

“Lean back on your hands, arch your back and shake your hair out, and put one knee up,” she directed.

Pen looked at her, confused, but did what Kate asked. Her breasts strained against her shirt.

Kate leaned over one more and pinched El, reminding her of her role. “Oh!” El, stammered. “Col, are you heading into town later?” She asked, bringing Colin’s attention to her, sitting next to Pen.

Colin’s gaze wandered over Pen to El, then suddenly back again, taking in Penelope’s relaxed form, her chest very close to busting out of her shirt. His eyes widened just a bit.

“Uhh.. I’m… I’m not sure…” he stuttered, trying to wrench his eyes from the redhead to his sister.

Pen looked over at him, her lips pouty and shiny. Was this working? He was staring at her.

“I wouldn’t mind going,” She said, indifferently. She stretched a bit from side to side, letting her… assets… show.

Colin’s mouth had dropped open.

“Uh, yeah. Let’s go after lunch.” Colin swallowed hard.

Pen grinned at him. “Sounds good.”

El looked between them, a look of distaste on her face.

“Ugh, you guys, too.”

Daphne laughed at the scene, watching carefully, then standing and looking down at Kate. “You want to go get Augie from his nap with me?”

Kate smiled and nodded enthusiastically, standing as well.

“Simon, take my place?” Daph asked, letting her husband sit in her spot and assess how terribly she was doing. Colin, almost hurriedly, took Kate’s spot next to Penelope.

Daph took Kate’s arm as they walked away to the nursery, looking back once at Colin.

“Game, set, match, Miss Sharma. Your meddling is almost to Bridgerton standards. I’m impressed.”

Kate smirked.

“If modeling for Benedict has taught me anything, it’s all about your angles.”

 

----------------

 

He’d been watching him, he was quite certain. Benedict, he meant. They had gone outside to clay target shoot before the drizzle began, and Anthony was very confident that Ben’s eyes were boring a hole in the back of his head.

Had Kate already told him? She hadn’t mentioned anything beyond that he needed to have a conversation with his brother.

He turned to Ben, Ben lifting a single eyebrow towards him in question.

No time like the present to throw himself on his sword.

“Let’s go talk,” Anthony said quietly, gesturing with his head towards the door.

“That’s probably a good idea.” Ben agreed.

They stood and left the room, their siblings still engrossed in the game.

Ben opened the door to the bedroom he was sharing with Kate, Anthony taking in the messed sheets of the bed, the coverlet crumpled into a ball. Imagining Kate in this bed, his brother’s lanky arms around her, touching her intimately; jealousy licked up his spine, curled around his heart. He could smell her in this room, lilies and soap. It attacked his senses.

Ben jumped in the center of the bed, against the headboard, linking his hands and putting them behind his head. Waiting.

Anthony sat in the chair in the corner awkwardly. He looked down; Kate’s open suitcase next to him. A thin pink thong resting on top of various clothing items, a sheer bra on the floor. Ben’s discarded jumper, a pair of boxers, a random sock. He gulped at the quiet tenderness his brother shared with her.

“I wanted to talk to you-”

“Kate told me.” Ben interrupted brusquely.

Anthony looked up sharply.

“She told you?”

Ben arched an eyebrow. “We don’t keep secrets. Well, I suppose she did for a few days. But we’ve come to a conclusion on that.”

Anthony stood, trying to implore his brother to understand.

“Benedict, I am so sorry. I don’t even know how to explain myself. She is my… she is my heart. I don’t know… I had a whole speech planned out. I betrayed you, I ruined -”

“Anthony.” Ben interrupted again. “Stop.”

Anthony threw up his hands in frustration.

“How can you be so apathetic? I’m telling you that I’m in love with your girlfriend -”

“Kate is not my girlfriend.”

If it was a tv show, there could have been a record screech. Anthony stared at his brother in confusion.

“What in the bloody hell are you talking about?”

“Kate is not my girlfriend. Far from it, actually.” Ben took a deep breath, steeling himself to say this out loud. Finally. His hands shook. But he wanted to say this; not in defense of Kate, but because his older brother was one of his closest friends. Because he wanted his family to know all of the pieces of him, not simply the ones he felt he could share.

“Anthony, I’m gay. I am a gay man. That was the announcement I was going to make this weekend. I guess I am announcing it, right now. To you.”

Anthony stared harder. “Kate is not…”

Ben tilted his head. “I’m making a big proclamation about my life and you’re worried about Kate?”

Anthony shook his head, as though he needed to shake himself out of a stupor.

“Ben, we’ve all been pretty certain you were gay since you were, what? Twelve? I guess we assumed bisexual since you came here with Kate, but I don’t care if you’re gay.”

It was Ben’s turn to stare at his brother.

“You… don’t care… if I’m gay?”

Anthony walked towards his brother, placing his hands on his shoulders.

“You are my brother. You have been my best friend since Mother placed you in my arms when I was two. I only want you to be happy. If that’s with a man, or a woman, I don’t care. Although, I cared if it was with Kate, so one woman, but...” Anthony laughed to himself, then blinked several times. “I love you.” He said earnestly.

Twenty-eight years. For twenty-eight years, Benedict knew that he was different. That what he wanted was not what polite society agreed with. That although his family loved him, they could possibly change how they thought of him, that they might see him as someone they couldn’t support. It was his every waking nightmare. And here was Anthony, his hands heavy on his shoulders, telling him that he loved him regardless of who Ben loved.

Ben swallowed the lump in his throat, a feeling of weightlessness, as though a substantial burden had been lifted off of his shoulders. “I love you, too.” Anthony smiled at him, looking at him with affection. “Eddie.”

Anthony looked at his brother sharply, his eyes widening almost comically, dropping his hands from his shoulders, rubbing his face.

“My god, Ben, I’ve been such an idiot. And I thought… I betrayed you. Kate didn’t tell me… We met, you know, back in August…”

Ben replaced his hands, this time, on Anthony’s shoulders, to stop his erratic mumbling.

“Calm down. Kate couldn’t tell you without possibly breaking my confidence. She didn’t know we were related until this weekend. She explained to me this morning what happened last summer.” He ducked down to meet Anthony’s gaze. “You, however, have some explaining to do to me about why you used Father’s name when meeting a beautiful woman and then literally breaking her heart.”

Anthony sighed.

“We have much to talk about, don’t we?”

“That we do, big brother. That we do.”

Benedict sat back down on the bed.

"And I'm telling Simon that you said I'm your best friend."

 

---------------

 

Kate knocked on the door to the bedroom she shared with Ben.

“Come in,” she heard Ben call.

She opened the door tentatively, peering inside. Ben was on the bed, Anthony in the corner in the chair. They appeared relaxed, Anthony leaning back casually, as though they were having a leisurely conversation.

“Is everything ok?” she asked, wincing.

“Everything is awful,” Ben drawled.

Kate flung the door open fully.

“What!?!” she glared at Anthony, preparing to be enraged.

Ben laughed, sliding off the bed. “Kate, Kate, I was kidding. Everything is fine. We’re good.”

Kate took a deep breath, trying to collect herself. “Oh my god, Ben, you scared me.” Benedict wrapped his arms around her.

“You know; besides my brothers, you’ve been the best friend I’ve ever had.”

Kate looked up at him, her eyebrows furrowed.

Ben leaned down. “And I feel incredibly lucky to know that my two favorite people have found love with one another.”

Kate swallowed, leaning back to grasp Ben’s face in her hands.

“I really love you, Ben.”

Anthony, watching his brother hug the woman he loved, made his heart swell. Hearing her tell Ben how much she loved him, for once instead of jealousy, made him nearly bubble over with pride and fondness.

Anthony stood, not wanting to break up their little party, but feeling bereft at her being in the room and simultaneously not touching him. Kate saw him standing on the periphery, bouncing like a little boy. She rolled her eyes to Ben, then opened their circle to welcome him into their embrace.

He nearly collapsed into them, one arm around Benedict’s broad shoulders, the other around Kate’s slim waist.

Benedict squeezed them both, then backed away slowly.

“I love you both, but I don’t need to be in the middle of whatever the bloody hell this is.” He gestured between them.

Kate’s mouth dropped open. Anthony cackled.

Ben gave her a look. “Excuse me, Miss, you neglected to inform me that you and my brother got frisky in the hot tub last evening.”

Her eyes widened, turning to Anthony. “Oh my God, you TOLD him?”

Anthony wrapped his arms around her from behind.

“That’s what you get for letting me think you had cheated on him. I was torturing myself for that! I truly believed that I had betrayed my own brother.”

The sick feeling in Kate’s stomach returned. She had made Anthony believe that something was going on when it wasn’t. She certainly didn’t have a leg up when it came to morality. Had she not felt deceived when she learned what he had kept from her? And she had done the same right back to him.

Kate turned around in his arms to face him, her hands finding purchase on his back, pressing her face into his neck. “I’m so sorry,” she mumbled into his skin, his stubble rough.

Anthony rubbed soothing circles on her shoulder blades with his thumbs, trying to assuage her guilt.

“We’ve really got to stop treating each other like this, haven’t we, darling?” He whispered into her hair.

Darling. The term of endearment started to squash the guilt.

 

------------------

 

August

Day One

 

He sat across from her at the coffee shop, one leg crossed over the other, looking exceptionally tranquil. Like a man who had been on holiday for weeks, tanned and relaxed. As stress-free as anyone.

He was holding his little cup of espresso in his large hand, the juxtaposition between the two both sweet and hilarious.

Kate grinned. “Pinkies up?”

He leaned forward, winking. “I’m nothing if not a gentleman.”

“You don’t look like a gentleman,” Kate sassed, sitting back in her chair.

Eddie tilted his head, lifting an eyebrow. “Oh? And what do I look like?”

Kate took a sip of her chai latte, considering. “You look like every lad in first year law who tried to get out of his lease using legalese mumbo jumbo because they thought the landlord was an idiot.”

Eddie burst out laughing.

“You really have me pegged, don’t you?” He asked with a smile.

Kate smirked. “I don’t think I’d be into pegging.”

Eddie nearly spit out his espresso.

“Bloody hell, I was not expecting that.”

“And what were you expecting?” Kate asked demurely over the rim of her mug.

Eddie took another sip. “To be honest, another daughter of an aristocrat who was here doing “community service” after she’d gotten fined for underaged drinking.”

“The daughter of an aristocrat? My my, do I look of the nobility?”

He eyed her, checking over her sweet heart-shaped face and chapsticked lips.

He shook his head, setting his tiny mug down on its saucer. “You look perfect.”

Kate put down her own cup, chewing on the side of her thumbnail. “You don’t know me very well, Mr…?”

Eddie blanched. “Let’s keep last names out of this, for now. Let’s just… be us, for right now.”

Kate furrowed her brow. No last names? Although he had given her his first name, so it’s not as though he was totally anonymous. But this was odd. Was he married? On the lam?

He smiled that smile, dimpled and saccharine. Her stomach found itself in her throat. Like she could trust him with anything. With everything. She cleared her throat, picking up her cup once more.

“I suppose,” she said, trying to appear nonchalant, adrenalin coursing through her veins. “But know that I don’t sleep with someone on the first date, and I certainly don’t sleep with someone who won’t tell me their last name.”

Eddie leaned forward once more, a gleam in his eye.

“Oh darling, I consider that a challenge.”

Chapter Text

Ben kicked them out of the room, proclaiming the constantly touching was “gross”. He winked at Kate as Anthony led her out the door and towards the viscount’s rooms, though, so she felt there was some fuckery afoot between the brothers. Fortunately for the brother she was currently, gladly, blissfully trapped under, Fuckery was her middle name and she was going to prove it.

Anthony slid her dress up to her hips, the cotton easily stretched over her thighs. He planted a hand on either side of her head, holding himself up, dropping kisses on Kate’s lips and cheeks, the tip of her nose, along the column of her throat and onto her chest.

In turn, Kate’s hands had stripped him of both of his shirts and were daringly close to his belt, her fingertips brushing the hairs of his lower stomach. He groaned at the sensation.

“You have to stop doing that, or I’m going to cum in my pants,” he whispered, sucking a gentle kiss on her clavicle.

“I’m not even touching you yet,” Kate whined. “I haven’t gotten to touch you.”

Anthony lifted his head from her chest, catching her eyes, full of desire.

“You want to touch me?” He asked huskily.

Kate dipped her fingers below his belt, into his shorts. Just barely brushing where he connected to his body. She tucked her bottom lip into her mouth, her “please” barely audible.

Anthony rolled a bit to the side, reaching down to unbuckle his belt, and one handedly undoing the button enclosure and zipper. Kate’s hands finished the job, grabbing the top of his shorts and boxers and wrenching them down his ass and partially onto his thighs.

He stayed rolled over, yet still partially on top, to give her adequate space to feel. And she did not disappoint.

Kate’s fingers ghosted his cock, just tenderly stroking with her fingertips. His skin moved with her, soft and smooth, like silk over a steel rod. She rubbed her thumb over the smooth, thick head, swiping the moisture there and instead of swirling it around his already sensitive parts, brought her thumb to her mouth to taste. Salty and of him.

It was one of the more erotic moments of Anthony’s life, watching the woman he loved, who fate had brought back to him, suck his pre-cum from her thumb. Savoring him on her tongue, her eyes closed in pleasure.

Kate used a hand to gently push his shoulder, so he fell onto his back onto the bed. She slid atop him, and sat up on one of his thighs, keeping it steady. She gyrated on his thigh, feeling her own wetness coating her thong, and then onto his leg. Anthony grabbed a pillow and flung it over his mouth. Evidently, he could feel it, too.

She licked her palm, moistening it with her saliva, and then started to stroke him with one fist, the other hand gently pulling the balls that were tight and close to his body. Using her thumb to rub the spot between his balls and his ass, until his hips started to arch towards her. She bent down and took a single lick of his cock, as though he were a dripping popsicle on a hot summer day, and suddenly he exploded, his pelvis shuddering as cum launched into his stomach. She stroked him gently to completion, until one bruised hand rested on hers to still her movement. He removed the pillow from his face, looking down at the opaque white mess on his belly and gasped, “fuck.”

Kate sat up, staring at his seed, feeling wanton and needy. She dipped her finger into the cum, using it to spell out her name onto his abdomen. Kathani.

She looked up into his eyes, burning with unquestionable desire for her. His hands stroked up her sides, still covered by her tank dress, his chest heaving.

“Mine,” she whispered.

 

------------------

 

August

Day Six

His phone wouldn’t stop buzzing.

Text messages. Emails. Phone calls.

He just wanted to be left alone.

Anthony sat up in the bright room of early morning, having left the blinds up. Wanting to remember how it felt to wake up in a room flooded with lightness and positivity.

But she was gone. He didn’t even know her last name.

Anthony laid back down, pressing the heels of his palms against his eyes, trying to shove away the ache in his head, courtesy of the two-day bender.

The phone buzzed again, incessantly.

He reached over, grabbing the phone off its charger. Benedict’s name on the screen.

“’lo?” Anthony asked wearily.

“Brother!” He heard Benedict bellow into the receiver, the sounds of something loud behind him. Music and laughter and various bangs. Anthony pulled the phone away from his head.

“What do you want, Ben?” He asked, squinting, the ache getting deeper.

“I’m coming home!” Ben shouted. “Week from Thursday!”

Bloody hell, that was right. Ben had been off in the States, in New York City, for the last six months.

“Ok?”

“I rented a place, near the University. My things are still in storage, so if you could, can you send the key to the lockbox to my new address?”

Anthony rubbed his temples. “Of course. Safe travels home, brother.”

“Peace!”

The line went dead, the room finally, blessedly silent.

He laid on his back, holding the phone against his chest, heart pounding in his hangover. He pulled the phone back up towards his face, scrolling to the last outgoing call. It rang twice.

“The number you may have dialed has been disconnected or is not in service. The number you may have dialed has been disconnected or is not in service. The number you may have dialed has been disconnected or is not in service. The number you may have dialed….”

The robotic recording taunted him.

Anthony threw the phone to the other side of the bed, rolling onto his side, and pressing his face into the Egyptian cotton sheet. Promptly passing back out; forgetting all about keys and brothers and storage units, black hair and almond eyes and lilies, peerage and partnerships and the way his mother still wished he was his father.

 

----------------

 

Alas, they still had more to speak about, and as they laid in Anthony’s bed, half dressed, mutually agreed to not have sex until their conversations had completed. To give themselves time to acclimate to the possibility of what may come next.

They laid there, silent for several minutes, when Anthony turned to Kate, and said, “But laying here naked is ok, right? It’s not sex.” And Kate burst up like a pop tart in a toaster, gathering her dress at the hem and dragging it over her head, laying back down in uncomfortably soaked red lace panties and a matching demi bra, her breasts spilling out of it suggestively.

Anthony stared, his breathing suddenly shallow.

“Were you planning on seducing me, because if so… you nailed it.”

Kate looked over at him from her pillow.

“I spent a fortune at La Perla with my first modeling pay cheque,” she confessed. “After everything-“ she gestured between them, “I wanted to feel sexy. You were the only one who had ever made me feel desirable for me.”

Anthony slid closer, bringing her into his arms, her head resting against his bare chest, her cheek against the thick chest hair. Her hand dove into the hair, feeling how incredibly virile and masculine it felt. So many male models she’d worked with, lain in bed with for one shoot or one painting class or another, were waxed bare of their hair. She had missed how it felt against her. How it smelled like his shampoo, how she wanted to bury her face in it. It felt like home.

Anthony laid quietly, contemplative.

“When we leave here, will you continue modeling?”

Kate leaned up on one elbow. “You mean, will I be getting naked for a class of random college blokes?”

Anthony clenched his jaw and nodded, feeling the jealousy already creeping up his spine and twirling around his heart.

Kate bent down and kissed his lips gently.

“I haven’t decided. Modeling has helped me accomplish so much. Edwina’s first year of Uni is paid for, already. Mama is seeing better doctors. The bills are paid. And I like making that money for myself.”

Anthony nodded briefly, smart enough to not mention that he could easily pay for Edwina’s Uni costs with quick signature. He could afford to send her step mother to the best doctors and mental healthcare clinics money could buy.

He also knew her pride wouldn’t allow that. At least, not yet.

He tugged on her bra strap. “Take this off,” he whispered.

“Anthony,” she warned.

He looked at her with a face she couldn’t place.

“I just want to feel you naked against me. I want to feel that you’re mine.”

He was so earnest; she sat up and undid the bra, and then pulled off the panties.

She laid back down, snuggling into his arms. “You know that I just wrote my whole given name in your semen on your stomach, yes?”

She could feel him smile into her hair.

“It doesn’t count.”

 

———————-

 

Violet was on the phone when Benedict found her.

His conversation and coming out to Anthony had gone… well, exceptionally better than he expected. He wanted to share the total sum of who he was with the rest of his family. Finally.

Violet ended her call, looking at him eagerly.

“What can I do for you, dearest?”

Ben took a deep breath.

“I’d like to call a meeting with the family tonight after dinner.”

Joy radiated through Violet, bubbling up to her face, her smile splitting her cheeks. This. Was. It. Benedict was going to propose to Kate!

“Of course, my love. Is there something special I can have prepared for the occasion?”

A cake? A bottle of Dom Perignon? A minister who could perform the services immediately so the young lovers could get on with their baby making?

Benedict raised an eyebrow.

“Uh.. Nothing I can think of? Thank you, though.”

Violet tried to calm herself. Of course, this was Benedict’s plan, she was just a spectator. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t make the place look beautiful.

“What’s Kate’s favorite color?” She asked as Ben had turned to leave. He spun slowly back to face her, looking confused.

“Purple, I think? She wears a lot of pale purple shades. Lilacs, lavenders.”

“Lovely!” Violet said brightly, clapping her hands together. “I’ll have the drawing room all set up.”

Ben furrowed his brow. “Thank you, Mother.”

He turned and left. Violet plotted.

 

---------------

 

August

Day Five

Kate hit “send” on the payment to British Gas. The last bill to take care of that she had the money to pay.

Electricity was paid for now; as was the cable and internet bill, the mortgage, the water and sewage.

The cell phone bill was a lost cause. She’d take Edwina to the store and sign up for cheap iD Mobile plans in the morning. It wouldn’t be much, but it would be something.

Kate opened the website to her bank, checking her balance.

Ten weeks at the camp, day after day of activities and events, late nights and early mornings.

That money was all gone.

It was evening when Kate had returned home the day before, dropping her tattered and worn luggage at the door of the small flat she shared with her stepmother and sister.

She had found Mary and Edwina sitting at the kitchen table, a stack of thick envelopes in front of them.

“Kate!” Edwina had said brightly, standing to embrace her sister. “We weren’t expecting you for another few days!”

Kate had embraced her sister, breathing in her shampoo, a mixture of coconut and ginger and home.

“I decided to come back early. I was bored,” she had lied, squashing down a memory of a chestnut haired, dimple cheeked man and his lies and deceit and the softness of his lips.

Mary had risen from the table to hug Kate, looking more frail than when Kate had left. Kate had brought her into her arms, squeezing tightly.

“How are you, Mary?”

Mary had shaken her head, sitting back down into her chair, her back ramrod straight.

“Oh Kate, I am so glad you’re here.”

Kate had sat down next to Mary, Edwina plopping down next to her.

“What is all this?” Kate had asked, gathering the envelopes, looking at each return address.

Cell phones bills, electricity, gas. Stamped on the front with bold red “FINAL NOTICE”. Several envelopes from Edwina’s school.

“Oh Mary,” Kate breathed, rifling through them.

“I’m so sorry, Katie,” Mary’s eyes had filled with moisture. “There was just no more money to pay…”

“Why didn’t you call me??” Kate pressed. Edwina sat silently.

“I’m so ashamed,” Mary admitted tearfully, her lips quivering, covering her face with her hands.

Mary. Her mother in no uncertain terms. The woman who had taken her in when she was three, who had kissed her skinned knees and braided her hair, taught her how to make traditional dishes and studying techniques. Mary. Who fell into an abyss when the love of her life had died, whose depression and melancholy had turned her into someone Kate didn’t recognize.

Kate stood, wrapping her arms around Mary. Stroking her hair, letting her tears soak into her shirt.

“We’ll figure it out, ok? We’ll figure it out.”

 

------------------

 

Anthony was blissfully happy, despite sharing pieces of himself that had been chipped away. He laid in Kate’s arms, between her thighs, his back against her front. One of her hands lazily stroking his hair, the other with fingers entwined with his, against his chest.

“What happened here?” She asked, stroking his bruised, cut knuckles. He clenched his jaw, remembering how five words had broken him. I really love you, Ben.

“I punched the wall of the shower.” He said quietly, feeling the shame of his actions.

“Oh, Anthony,” Kate sighed against his hair.

“It’s my own fault. You told Ben you loved him, and I was so astoundingly jealous of it. If I hadn’t been such a bloody fool, you’d have been probably saying it to me.”

Kate stroked his hair once more, then slid her hand down to his jaw, turning his face to press her lips gently to his.

“I do love you,” she whispered against his mouth.

Anthony’s eyes shot open.

“You do?” He asked, blinking wildly.

“I do. Despite everything, even at my angriest with you. I wanted nothing more than to love you.”

Anthony’s mouth had dropped open.

“Kate…”

He twisted in her arms, capturing her mouth with his again, attempting to devour her.

“Fuck, I love you,” he panted, pressing kisses to her face, her throat, over her breasts. Kate laughed.

“I can tell,” she noted, moving slightly to acknowledge his near instant rock hardness against her hip.

He sucked a nipple into his mouth, Kate mewling and arching her back to submit more of her breast to him.

“Oh god,” she gasped, her hands once sweetly stroking his hair now grasped handfuls.

Anthony ripped his mouth away to find the other nipple, making sure to offer equal attention.

“I love you so much,” he whimpered, taking her nipple between his teeth and tugging gently. Kate’s eyes could have rolled back into her head at the exquisite pleasure mixed with mild pain.

“Show me,” she whispered. Anthony’s eyes shot to hers as he released her breast.

“Are you certain?”

Kate reached down, taking his chin in her hand.

“Asking for consent is so sexy, but I need you to touch me.”

She didn’t need to ask twice.

Anthony slid down further, taking his time to kiss and lick along the long, slim, dark pillar of her body. He dipped his tongue into her belly button, bit along her hips. Then slung one long, brown thigh over his shoulder and found her hot, wet, wanting. He used his fingers to spread her wide, running his tongue from her ass to her clit. He ministered his mouth against her, swirling and sucking and tasting.

Kate moved wantonly, encouraging his lust and desire, until she felt the familiar build of pleasure in her abdomen. She pushed on Anthony’s shoulders.

“No, no,” she begged. He looked up, a bit confused, his fingers buried in her, knowing instinctively she was about to erupt.

“I want to cum with you inside of me.”

He didn’t need to be told twice.

Anthony made his way back up her body, slipping between her thighs, his lips finding hers.

“Condom?”

Kate swallowed. “Birth control. And.. I’m clean. If you are..”

Anthony twisted a curl around his finger. “I’m clean. I haven’t… I haven’t had sex with anyone since I did with you. In August.”

Kate stared at him for a brief moment before pressing a tender kiss to his mouth, tasting herself on his lips.

“I haven’t either.”

Anthony groaned at her admission, feeling his body relax with the possessive knowledge that no one had been inside of her since he was. That no one had known the sheer pleasure of her body since he had.

Anthony lined himself up, and slowly sheathed himself inside of her until he bottomed out, her tight velvet warmth enveloping him. Seven months after their last coupling, after a lifetime of hurt and pain and jealousy and confusion, he was finally, blissfully, home.

 

-----------------

 

Eloise was looking for Kate. Colin was looking for everyone to drive them into town, and since Pen was on Operation: Attract Colin With Her Breasts, she figured Kate would want to go to help.

She wandered the halls, not finding Kate in the room she was sharing with Benedict. Not in the library, either.

El passed the Viscount and Viscountess set of suites, suddenly hearing the very obvious squeak of a bed. She whipped around to stare at the door.

More squeaks. A low moan.

It was coming from the Viscount rooms. Her eyes widened.

El went to the door, pressing her ear against the ornately carved wood. Were Ben and Kate using Anthony’s room to get their freak on?

“Oh god, yes.”

El heard Kate moan through the door, along with some unmistakable sounds of wet fucking. El recoiled, silently backing up. She most definitely did not want to hear her brother and his girlfriend boning.

She pulled away and walked down the hall. They’d leave without her.

El rounded a corner and started down the center grand staircase when the front door opened, Benedict and Simon walking in, laughing about something.

She stopped on the tread, staring at them.

If Kate was in the bedroom, and Ben was down here… who in the everloving fuck was Kate having sex with?

 

-----------------

 

Kate sat atop Anthony, rocking her hips to feel his cock slide almost all of the way out of her, and then back in, hitting that spot inside of her that made her gasp and beg. Anthony’s hands were on her breasts, round and bouncing, pinching and squeezing her nipples, alternating with using his thumb to rub against her clit.

“Oh god, yes,” Kate panted, her hip movements becoming choppy and uncoordinated. The sounds of their sex permeated the room, wet slapping and quiet moans.

“Wait for me, love,” Anthony pleaded. “I’m almost there.”

Kate reached down, gathering some of their combined slickness, and slid her first and middle fingers into his mouth. He sucked against her fingers, tasting their flavors, mixed and heady.

He released her fingers from his mouth as he gasped and came, flooding her with his cum. Kate rocked down once, twice more, finally letting go, her pussy continuing to milk him.

She collapsed onto Anthony’s chest, their hearts beating wildly, breathing erratic.

Anthony gathered Kate into his arms, still hard but softening inside of her, and rolled them to their sides. He grasped her thigh and pulled up, hooking her knee over his hip, making sure they were still joined. His hands rubbed over her back, over her smooth, tight ass, finding her lips with his own.

He pulled away to stare into her eyes, press kisses to her forehead.

“You are everything. This is everything.”

Chapter Text

Benedict texted Anthony from his room.

“Nooo…” Kate whined as Anthony had to stop holding her to reach across the bed and grab his phone. He found his way back to his original position, opening his messages so Kate could read them, too.

“Ben needs you to go to his room and change for dinner, he’s going to make his announcement later.”

Kate nuzzled into Anthony’s chest.

“I don’t want to go back to playing pretend,” she whispered, feeling vulnerable and defenseless. As though the moment they left that bedroom, the world would again turn off its axis, shifting them back to their prior corners. Back to their lives where she was just a girl, sitting in the middle of a room, exposed in more ways than simply her body on a pedestal. A man crushed under the weight of a patriarch he would never measure up to.

Anthony reached down, holding her chin and directing her lips to his.

“It’s only for a little while longer.”

Kate sighed into his mouth. “I suppose we do owe it to him.”

She untangled herself from him, stretching her arms lazily over her head. Anthony eyed her.

“You need to stop doing that or I’m going to lock you in this room.”

She turned to look over her shoulder saucily. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Lord Bridgerton.”

He sat back on the pillows, rubbing his lip, watching as she pulled on her dress. The way she called him “lord” doing something to his insides that pleased him greatly. He envisioned some role playing at a later date.

She padded barefoot to the door, leaving her panties and bra on the floor, in the comfort of this new cocoon they had created. She turned around before turning the knob.

“No matter what happens out there,” she gestured with her head. “I love you. I’ve loved you since we raced on the beach. I’ve loved you when I was angry, and I’ve loved you when I was so sad I could barely think straight. And I loved you the moment you walked through the door to the dining room and I saw you again.”

Anthony sat reclined on the bed, one knee up. “Kate…” He shook his head, silently imploring her to understand how sorry he still was. How regretful he was that he had let his own brokenness damage her. How he had no desire to be angry with her, for trying to protect Benedict, even if it meant he had gone several days thinking he had betrayed him. How any bit of insecurity she felt was unwarranted. “I love you, too.” He whispered. “More than you will ever comprehend. I belong to you.”

She scrunched her nose up at him, walking back and booping him on the nose. Leaning down to gently kiss him. “I guess we’re finally being honest with each other.”

Anthony reached for her, pulling her close. “I suppose we are.”

 

-------------------

 

Kate slipped into the room she shared with Benedict, shutting the door and resting with her back against it, closing her eyes. Relishing the flavor of his kiss still lingering on her lips.

Ben came out of the bathroom shirtless, a towel slung low on his hips, hair freshly washed, brushing his teeth. He eyed her thoughtfully.

“You look dickmatized.”

She looked up at him, blush evident even on her dark skin.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, faux casually, walking towards her suitcase to pull out clothing.

He grinned, toothpaste all over his mouth.

“You finally got some, didn’t you.”

Her blush got worse.

His grin widened. “I don’t want to know specifics, as he’s my brother and that’s entirely disgusting, but at least tell me it was worth the wait.”

Kate pulled out a dress, shaking it out, not looking at him.

“I plead the right to silence. I’m going to be a solicitor, I refuse to incriminate myself.”

Ben threw his hands up in glee. “I knew you wouldn’t be able to keep your dirty paws off each other. I am so proud of you.”

Kate bit her lip. She stood and walked towards Ben, towards the bathroom. She stopped to rub some shaving cream off his cheek, smirking.

“His tongue is bloody magic.”

Ben gagged around his toothbrush.

“Oh my god, gross. Too far. You took that too far, Kathani!”

He could hear her laughter in the bathroom.

 

-----------------

 

September

 

Kate slipped into the classroom, sitting close to the back of the room. She leaned down, pulling out a brand new small set of watercolor paints and a collection of brushes. She slumped back into the hard, cracked navy blue seat, pulling her hair up into a bun on top of her head. She rubbed between her eyes.

“Feeling ok today?” Someone asked, a lilt to his voice that was pleasing and familiar. She looked up as he folded his lanky body into the seat next to her. She gasped.

The man beside her looked… exactly like Eddie. Chestnut curls, a strong jaw. She gaped at him.

The man smiled at her. “I don’t recognize you. Are you new?”

“Oh, um..” Kate stuttered at the beautiful man. “No. Not new. Well, new to this type of class, I suppose. I’m in fourth year law.”

He grinned at her.

“I see, a solicitor. How very analytical! Although in law, I suppose you also have to be creative. Just in a different way, yes?”

Kate nodded. “Yes, of course. Just understanding how to apply the law in unique situations.”

Ben tilted his head, looking at her, studying her. Appraising her. In most situations, she should have theoretically felt small under his gaze. Instead, she felt tall and welcomed. Comfortable, just near him.

“Why watercolors?”

Kate bit the inside of her cheek.

“Water is the great equalizer, is it not? Use just a little, the color is bold, bright. Use a lot, the shades are muted and soft. But beyond all, you must have the water in order to create. This palette-“ she held up the small box, “is nothing without it.”

His eyes were soft, inquisitive.

“That’s incredibly astute.”

“Some may call it shrewd.”

The man sat back in his seat, a smile playing on his lips.

“Well, Miss…?”

“Kathani. Kate. I’m Kate.”

He smiled. “Kate. I’m glad to meet you.”

The man stood up, walking towards the center of the room.

“Welcome everyone,” He said enthusiastically to the group around him. “I’m Professor Ben. Let’s learn how to paint, shall we?”

---------------

 

Most of the family had gathered in the dining room for dinner as Kate and Ben walked in, arm in arm. Anthony’s breath caught in his throat seeing Kate, wearing a pastel floral maxi dress with a deep v between her breasts and a slit that went nearly to her hip. Colin appeared to also appreciate the frock, breathing a low "bloody hell" as he appraised her.

She stared at Anthony, in a long sleeved button down shirt, an extra button undone to show a small tuft of his chest hair. She wanted to bite him.

El glared at Kate from across the room, clenching her jaw. Ready to pounce. Internally debating as she watched all four of her brothers fawn over HER if she should confront this WOMAN, or go straight to Benedict.

Ben elbowed Kate, then threw his arm around her, whispering, “Try to make it less obvious that you want to rip off his clothes, eh?”

Kate shook herself out of her reverie, looking up at him and smiling. “I’m here for you. I will always be here for you.”

Benedict dropped a kiss on the top of her head.

El glowered harder watching the affectionate display from Benedict to... to HER. She had vowed to speak to him after dinner, to let him know what SHE had done.

Dinner went smoothly, Violet nearly bursting out of her skin watching Ben and Kate interact, and Kate interact with her other children. Anthony seemed to pay particular attention to Kate which pleased Violet as a mother. She hoped that one day Anthony would find someone as wonderful, someone who fit into their wild family as well as Miss Sharma. Perhaps that’s why he was looking at her so studiously, Violet mused.

Kate sat, speaking across the table to Daphne, her smile beautiful on her face. Anthony held his wine glass, his elbow on the table, a small grin playing on his lips as he watched her.

El sat somewhere around the middle of the table, simmering with fury. How could that… that WOMAN! Sit there, laughing, touching Ben’s arm, as though she wasn’t just fucking SOMEONE who wasn’t him. Probably one of the staff. And Ben clearly had no clue! He was acting normally, totally unaware that his harlot of a girlfriend was FUCKING SOMEONE WHO WASN’T HIM.

Francesca looked at her curiously.

“You look like you stepped in dog poo. What’s happening with your face right now?” Fran used her hand to circle around El’s face from across the table.

El grit her teeth. “You’ll all find out soon enough.”

 

--------------

 

Late September

Kate walked around the small flat, gently touching small tchotchkes and other various knickknacks.

“How long have you lived here?” She called out to Ben who was in the bedroom.

“Just a couple of weeks,” he said, walking out, jumper in hand. “I rented it furnished, as all of my things are in storage from when I was in the States. My brother Anthony was supposed to send me the key to the lock, but I’m certain he’s forgotten and I simply don’t have the time to bring everything over here anyway.”

She turned to see Benedict pull the jumper over his head, looking more like Eddie than ever before in the dim light from a corner lamp.

Kate shook her head, feeling quite delusional.

“Are you ok, darling?” He asked. Kate looked at him sharply.

Benedict. Not Eddie. Even the term of endearment clutched her heart. She still wanted Eddie so much, even her friends were now starting to look like him. How humiliating for her. Eddie was simply a figment of her imagination now.

“Of course,” she said, shaking herself. “So tell me. How many young fellows have you brought here who enjoy horses?” She picked up a gaudy multicolored horse figurine and turned to present it to him cheerfully.

He guffawed.

“Ahh, Miss Sharma. There’s a joke about riding here, I just need to find it.”

She grinned.

“I look forward to hearing it in three to five business days.”

“You’re a sassy bird,” Ben laughed, tackling Kate into the aubergine colored overstuffed settee. She squealed and laughed at his brotherly antics.

He leaned back, admiring Kate’s hair spread out over the microfiber.

“Could I take some photos of you?” he asked, studying the juxtaposition of her beautiful skin against a plaid blanket.

Kate snorted. “If you weren’t a gay man, I’d think you were hitting on me.”

Benedict arched an eyebrow. “I’m gay, not blind.” Kate rolled her eyes.

“I’m serious,” Ben asserted. “You are stunning. We’ve actually been looking for a model for my oils class on Tuesday nights. Would you be interested?”

Kate laughed incredulously. “Modeling? Me?”

It was Benedict’s turn to roll his eyes. “Have you not noticed how people stare at you? Men and women, alike. You have a supermodel’s body and the face of an angel.”

“And the temperament of a wild boar.”

Ben moved away snickering, grabbing his camera from its’ bag. He unclipped the lens cover, pointing the camera at her, looking through the viewfinder and adjusting the aperture.

“Sit up and look towards the window,” Ben directed.

“Benedict. No.”

“Oh, bloody hell, Kate, just do it, please. For me.”

Kate sighed.

She sat up, rolling her shoulders, and turning her face to look at the window, the moonlight doing incredible things to her bone structure.

Ben snapped several photos, then clicked a few buttons, appraising his work.

He looked up, his eyes bright.

“I think I just found my next muse.”

 

-------------------

 

After dinner, Violet used her knife to hit her water glass. Everyone stopped to look at her.

“Benedict has something he would like to announce, so let us please head to the blue drawing room.”

Kate looked at Ben expectantly, who looked down at her and winked. The family stood, chattering, heading upstairs.

Daphne, Hyacinth and Fran looked at one another excitedly, Simon arching an eyebrow at their enthusiasm with Augie in his arms. Pen grasped El’s arm, nearly dragging her up the stairs. Colin and Greg looked behind them with a mix of sadness and vague disappointment that the sexiest woman they’d ever seen was undoubtedly going to be their sister.

Violet opened the wide double doors to the drawing room, the room filled with dozens of vases filled with pale purple lavender and iris, hyacinths and foxglove, sweetpea and wisteria and what must have been hundreds of lit white candles of varying sizes. The girls, even El, gasped in their delight of the romantic scene that Violet had so expertly set.

Ben looked at his mother, confused.

“What is all this?” He asked, gesturing around.

Violet beamed at him.

“A perfect scene set for a wonderful announcement.” She grasped his chin, tears just welling in her eyes. “We love you so much, son. Your father would be so proud.”

Ben felt his stomach twist. He looked behind himself, at Kate sitting on the settee, his family gathered around, looking at him eagerly.

“Um.. this is more than I had wanted to do this, but here goes.” He looked down towards Kate, who nodded at him encouragingly. He reached down to take her hand, needing the comfort and support that she provided him.

“YOU CAN’T MARRY HER!” El yelped, jutting herself into the middle of their circle.

The collective gasp would have been funny if it wasn’t so surprising.

“Excuse me?” “Eloise, what are you doing!?!” “What?!!” “Oh good, someone else agrees.”

The last comment from Gregory, who everyone collectively turned to glare at.

“What in God’s name is wrong with you?” Ben asked his sister, his hands out, confused.

El stood tall, obstinate. She jutted her chin out. “I heard Kate having sex with someone who wasn’t you earlier today.”

The collective gasp turned to Kate, who sat open mouthed and wide-eyed, not knowing what to say. Her eyes flew to Ben, and then to Anthony.

“Oh, Eloise.” She sighed. Anthony moved to sit next Kate, taking her hand in his. Kate looked at him, still wild-eyed in embarrassed shame.

Ben hung his head at the mess laid before him. Eloise. The ridiculous display his mother had put together; suddenly understanding that his mother had genuinely expected him to propose. “Oh my god, this is a nightmare.”

El grasped her brother’s hands. “I’m so sorry, Ben, I didn’t want to tell you this way, but I can’t let you marry someone who would cheat on you…”

El saw Anthony move in her periphery. “Oh my god, was she boning YOU?” She asked Anthony, who sat scowling at his sister indignantly. “I thought it was a member of the staff! You would betray your brother like this?”

“Are you quite serious?” He asked angrily, wanting to protect Kate from his sister’s belligerent outburst.

Simon sat with Augie, holding his hands over the baby’s ears to protect him from the shouting.

Violet held the back of her hand to her forehead, feeling faint.

“Shut UP, Eloise!” Ben yelled. She looked at him in surprise.

Ben sat down on the other side of Kate, elbows on his knees, his head against his fists. She used the free hand that wasn’t clutched in Anthony’s to rub Ben’s back soothingly. “I was not going to ask Kate to marry me. I was going to tell you all that I’m gay.”

And the world collectively stopped turning.

 

--------------

 

“I’m gay. That was my announcement. I’m not asking Kate to marry me.”

Eloise stared at her brother, horrified. Not at his proclamation; she herself was certain that her own sexual orientation wasn't fully heterosexual, Ben being gay would be an ally in the family that she was thrilled to have. But incredibly confused.

“But I heard you tell each other you loved one another…” El said weakly.

“We love one another very much. Platonically.” Kate said from her seat on the couch, still stroking Ben’s back.

“You know what platonically means? It means friends,” Anthony spat the words towards his sister.

“I know what platonically means,” El snapped back.

“In Eloise’s defense, I did hear… sounds… from your bedroom,” Violet tried to assert.

Kate looked at Ben, pursing her lips.

“I told you that you have to stop tackling me!”

Benedict huffed. “How else am I supposed to get out my raw animalistic energy when my brothers live across town?”

“Find a boyfriend!”

They stared at each other in comfortable annoyance.

“I also saw you together in the library this morning…” Violet said, still confused.

Anthony and Ben looked at one another, confused.

“That… was not… me…” Ben said slowly. “Our hair color is the same, but you really must start wearing your eyeglasses, Mother.”

“But what about these two? Having-” Eloise asked, pointing at Anthony and Kate, her voice dropping to an exaggerated whisper, spelling out, “s-e-x.”

Kate and Anthony looked at one another, still holding hands.

“Children out!” Violet ordered, pushing Hyacinth and Gregory towards the door, despite their protests.

“I know what sex is!” Greg barked as his mother slammed the double doors. “I kinda do!” Hyacinth tried to help, not making her case well at all.

The matriarch walked back towards the group. “Someone explain to me what is going on, and explain it now!”

Anthony, Ben and Kate stood from the settee, looking supremely awkward.

“How do you describe the object of your every desire?” Anthony asked, sliding his arm around Kate's waist.

“That’s disgusting.” Colin said, looking every bit green with envy. Pen elbowed him in the ribs. Kate brought her hand to Anthony’s face, stroking his cheek with her thumb, looking at him lovingly.

“So you just so happened to fall for one another in three days?” Daphne asked. “Not that I can really talk, I knew I loved Simon after about a week, but this seems fast. Especially for you, Anthony.”

Anthony cleared his throat.

“Kate and I actually met in August.”

Simon wheezed, his eyes widening. “Wait… this is the girl. From Brighton.”

Everyone turned to stare at Simon, who in turn stared at Anthony, who was turning red quickly, his blush spreading up his neck to his cheeks.

“This is the girl from Brighton,” He confirmed with a nod.

Simon’s gaze drifted over to Kate. “You did a piss poor job of describing her.”

Anthony’s jaw dropped. “Wow.”

Ben threw his hands up. “Again, I just told you all a very important thing about my identity and you’re all still talking about Kate?”

Daphne waved him away.

“We’ve all known you were gay since we were kids. We still love you, you’re amazing, please bring your boyfriend next time. This-“ She gestured to Anthony and Kate, “is markedly more interesting.”

She turned to Kate. “Anthony only told Simon about you, but Simon told me, naturally. Did he really not tell you his name?”

Anthony turned to Simon. “Wow. So much for brotherly confidentiality.”

Simon shrugged. “You’ll learn soon. You can’t keep anything from your woman.”

 

-------------------

 

August

Three Days Before

Michael knocked on the glass of Anthony’s office door. Anthony, on the phone, waved him in.

“The benefit of this acquisition is that your company won’t go into bankruptcy,” Anthony grit his teeth into the receiver, listening to whomever was on the other line.

“I’m more than happy to see you through provisional liquidation, however, this is an advantageous offer that will allow you to keep your branding from utter ruin.”

Michael placed several documents down on the desk, amongst a slew of other documents and papers, spreadsheets and brightly colored marketing collateral.

“I can give you twenty-four more hours, but after that, the offer will be null and void. Yes, fine.”

With a loud sigh, Anthony slammed the receiver down. Michael jumped.

“Mr. Edgewater still doesn’t want to sell?”

Anthony placed his elbows on the desk, rubbing his temples. “Edgewater doesn’t want to sell, the O’Connell merger is looking like it won’t be financially viable, the value of the Haverty stock is collapsing, Hyacinth is asking for a puppy, and my mother, God help us all, still thinks the world is somewhere in 2012. What can I help you with Michael?

The assistant shook his head. “Oh, nothing, Mister Bridgerton. I did get the gift for your nephew’s christening next weekend, and your brother Colin requested an advance. Evidently Greece is more expensive than he thought.”

“Of course it is.” Anthony muttered.

“Um… Also, your brother Gregory is trying to fire his Latin tutor.”

Anthony looked up. “I’m sorry, what?”

Michael coughed. “He’s trying to fire the tutor. Says he, and I quote, “is a bloody plonker who doesn’t know conjugation from his arsehole.”

Anthony stared at his assistant.

“Also, Eloise was in this morning. She’s threatening to chain herself to a tree on campus that needs to come down. Francesca is thoroughly embarrassed and suggesting she transfer before classes start.”

“She’s not transferring.” Anthony said, picking up one of the files Michael had dropped on his desk.

“That’s what I told her, but she requested that you call her so she can plead her case.”

“For God’s sake.” Anthony muttered, tossing the file onto another stack on his filing cabinet and grabbing another.

“Um, finally..” Michael had the decency to look mortified.

Anthony sighed.

“Yes?”

“Your mother has declined the acquisition of the Gloucester deal. She said your father wouldn’t have approved.”

“She bloody WHAT!?!” Anthony stood angrily and outraged, throwing the file onto his desk. Michael grimaced.

“She said that your father wouldn’t have thought it was a good deal, so she pulled the plug. The solicitors already let Gloucester know that the proposal is dead.”

“I worked on that deal for a year!” Anthony sputtered, his face turning red.

Michael took a step backwards.

“I’m very sorry, Mister Bridgerton. There wasn’t anything I could do about it.”

Anthony snorted, sitting back down in his chair. He looked to his right.

His office was glass on three sides. He looked out the window, surrounded by London high rises.

The sky was unusually blue. Almost cerulean, bright and clear. Not even a cloud to be seen. Nearly unheard of.

“Cancel my appointments for tomorrow,” Anthony directed, standing up and grabbing and his suit coat.

“All of them?” Michael asked, jotting a note down.

Anthony stopped, looking out the window as he shrugged the jacket on.

High rises. He’d wanted to design high rises. Had gotten into the University of Cambridge, into their program. He’d written a thesis on the theory of design, showing how his layouts would be cost effective and essential for growth. They had commended him on his creativity, attention to detail and precision.

And then his father had been stung by a bee, and the trajectory of his life had been shot like an arrow into a direction he never anticipated.

He thought of his siblings. How their every whim and desire and complaint and criticism had been his responsibility since the moment the door of the private family mausoleum was shut tight.

He thought of his mother. How every so often she would glide into his office, holding some piece of paperwork, saying, “Edmund, I need you to look at this.”

How she stayed at Aubrey Hall more now, finding her memories of him stronger there. But still an unwillingness to let Anthony run the company how he saw fit, even so many years later. He was still just a child, she thought, with a careless wave of her hand.

“Actually. Cancel everything for the next week. I need a bloody break.”

 

------------------

 

Ben stood with Violet as everyone left the room, offering him love and support, encouragement and reassurance. Fran had kissed his cheek, murmuring how proud she was of him. Pen and Colin had both hugged him, Col pounding him on the back. “Happy to see you finally being your real self, brother.”

El had apologized profusely for ruining his announcement. He couldn’t be mad at her; she was simply trying to protect him from being hurt. He knew Anthony would read her the riot act for eavesdropping at people’s doors later and for embarrassing Kate, calling her integrity into question, but he appreciated her backing nonetheless.

Kate and Anthony had left last. Anthony grasped the back of Benedict’s neck, bringing him into a tight embrace. “I wish I could take away any of the agony you’ve felt, being scared to tell us.”

Ben’s lip trembled as Kate moved into his arms, holding his face. “I told you your family loved you. But I am so, so proud of you.”

Anthony took Kate’s hand, and led her from the room, turning just once to call back, “We’re having cigars next to the firepit. We expect you to be there.” He eyed his brother. “And I’m moving Kate into the Viscount’s rooms.”

Ben laughed as Kate looked up at Anthony affectionately. “I would expect nothing less, big brother.”

Finally he was alone with Violet. She coughed quietly, sitting down on the settee that Anthony and Kate had just vacated. She looked at her son with concern as he sat next to her.

“Did you truly fear telling us?” She asked.

Ben frowned. “Bloody terrified.”

“Oh Benedict,” Violet breathed. “Darling, I have never wanted anything for you but happiness.”

Ben stared at his mother, her hand over his on the thick velvet fabric of the seat. He decided in that moment to ask one of his greatest fears; that she wouldn’t accept a man as she had accepted Kate as his partner.

“If I had brought a man home to propose to, would you have done this same thing?” He gestured around the room.

“Oh no, dearest, of course not.”

His stomach dropped, tears dangerously close to welling in his eyes. “Oh.”

She patted his hand. “I would have asked what HIS favorite color was.”

She touched his cheek, stroking it with her thumb, before standing to walk away. She whirled around to say brightly, “Of course, unless his favorite color was pale purple. In which case, it would look exactly the same.”

Ben smiled.

“Thank you, Mother.”

“I love you, Benny.”

Chapter Text

Anthony dragged his tongue over Kate’s throat as he lifted her knee up higher onto his hip, driving his cock deeper into her. She clutched at his back, digging her nails into the firm flesh over his muscle. She started to gasp, the familiar build of pleasure in her abdomen growing when Anthony caught her mouth with his, effectively silencing the loud, filthy orgasm from reverberating off the walls. Despite the fact that there was nothing Anthony loved more than hearing her scream his name as he brought her to the greatest heights of desire.

At least, screaming when none of the other family members were in residence. It had been three years, and Kate was still wholly embarrassed at the thought of her sister-in-law hearing their lovemaking... And then telling everyone about. She imagined Eloise at the door with a plastic cup even now, listening for any behavior that she might consider unsavory. Their relationship had recovered, piece by piece, but there was still an awkwardness there that Kate didn’t share with his other siblings.

Granted Aubrey Hall was now as much Kate’s as it was Eloise’s, upon Kate’s marriage to Anthony the prior summer. She had finished her schooling and graduated a Solicitor, Anthony prouder than ever, getting down on one knee after her celebration, thirteen months after finding her again.

————-

“Are you just asking me because I know how to sue you?” Kate asked, her yes still new on her lips, an outrageously large oval diamond suddenly slipped over her knuckle, wrenching her lips from his. Her legs wrapped around his waist, crossed at the ankles behind him. His hand firmly on her ass, the other behind her neck, fingers threading through her curls.

“Unequivocally,” he responded, gasping for breath in his sheer delight, his heart so full he felt as though it may explode, peppering her face with kisses. “Bickering with you is my favorite pastime. Can’t wait to do it for the rest of my life.”

————-

There had been questions the day that Benedict had come out, when the family had finally sat down at the fire pit and tried to wrap their heads around the fact that Kate was not, indeed, Ben’s girlfriend, but instead with great likelihood, the love of Anthony’s life. Some of the questions were easier to explain than others.

“How did you not know Ben was our brother?” Francesca had questioned.

It was all about a key. Anthony had actually asked Kate that the morning prior, and they had come to their conclusion that Anthony’s not sending the key meant that Ben’s things were still in storage – including all of his family photos. Anthony had never mentioned his siblings by name, and Kate had somehow never put A Bridge and Bridgerton together. A comedy of errors, a true case of kismet.

“Why did Anthony not just Google search Kate’s phone number?” Colin had asked.

He had. But Kate’s phone number was under Mary’s account. Mary, who used a hyphenated surname, which most often came up as simply “Sheffield”. The name Kate Sheffield had brought up dozens of women; none of them his Kate.

“Why did you not at least tell Kate our real last name?” That one was harder to explain.

Anthony had taken a great while, sitting in his silence, Kate in his lap in a move he had coveted since he watched his brother hold her the same way, to finally freely admit that he had been struggling with the load of responsibilities that he had solely taken on after their father had died. That between seven siblings, a brother-in-law, a nephew, a mother, the viscountcy and the entirety of Bridgerton Holdings, he had felt so wholly inadequate and incompetent, stretched so incredibly thin, that the idea of being anonymous; even for just a few days; felt like he might be given a piece of himself back.

Daphne had cried. Colin had apologized.

Granted, there was still much work to be done there. Several weeks later, Anthony and Kate awoke in their oversized, obscenely luxurious bed in London to one hundred and forty-seven text messages and emails from two Bassets and seven Bridgertons, sent to Anthony’s iPhone overnight. Kate called together a private family meeting in the city while Anthony was at work, telling them in no uncertain terms were they to harass their brother and son like that again.

Sweet Hyacinth had raised her hand, asking if that meant she still couldn’t send Anthony photos of shelter dogs she had found in need of rescuing.

Kate had offered her email to the smallest sister, winking that she also loved photos of puppies.

Colin had messaged Anthony right after (Kate seethed) to tell him that his girlfriend was a force to be reckoned with. Also, incredibly sexy when she was mad, and their angry shagging must be wild. Anthony agreed with two of the three; he wouldn’t elaborate on the angry sex, but Colin read between the lines.

Small items had been taken care of since Kate had become an integral part of the Bridgerton clan. Beyond the messaging, Daphne and Colin had tried to take on some additional responsibility at Bridgerton Holdings. Ben was trying to be of more use than a couple of pints at a pub on Fridays. And Francesca had promised to stop trying to transfer schools if El would stop chaining herself to trees. El reluctantly agreed, but with the caveat that she’d be at Uni in the fall and she’d pick it back up then.

Kate took it upon herself to tutor Greg in Latin, considering she had enough practice in her law classes. Greg found this to be a fantastic use of his time, somehow finding Kate’s ability to conjugate Latin verbs incredibly alluring. Colin often liked to point out that just sitting next to Kate had punted Greg into puberty. It made the younger man blush to the tips of his ears, and yet, no one in the family could find in themselves to deny it or offer young Greg any respite.

Violet was the true wildcard in all of it.

 

————-

 

Autumn

“Mother, may I speak with you for a moment before Kate and I depart for London?” Anthony asked, his mother in the sitting room that joined their suites. She looked up from her place on the settee, placing her book, spine up, on the cushion next to her, clasping her hands together.

“Certainly. What can I help you with, darling?”

Anthony took a deep breath.

“I am going to propose to Kate. Not now,” he said quickly. “After her graduation in the spring. And as such, she’ll be the lady of this house.”

“That’s wonderful, Anthony!” Violet exclaimed, standing up to hold onto his biceps.

Anthony cleared his throat.

“As lady of the house, Kate will be granted the Viscountess’ rooms.”

Violet’s face blanched before flashing an odd look as she became aware of what her eldest was saying. Her fists became slightly rougher on his arms.

“You already share a bed and chamber, I see no need for her to take these.”

She let go and turned to sit back down with her book.

“Mother. I am aware that leaving your chamber may be difficult. However, the rooms will rightfully be Kate’s. Whether we share a bed now or not is irrelevant.”

She huffed, scanning the page in her hand.

“Well, I disagree. Are you to kick your own mother out of her home? The home that she raised you in? The home that your father taught you the most valuable of lessons in?”

Anthony rolled his eyes. “Mother, you’re not being kicked out of Aubrey Hall. Simply moving down the hallway.”

“I may as well be bloody exiled to Wales!” Violet shouted, standing up, throwing her book back down to the cushion. It was parental gaslighting at its finest, toxic manipulation.

Anthony’s nose flared.

“Do not shout at me for wanting to give my future wife what will legally belong to her!”

“What will belong to whom?” A voice came from behind them, Kate standing in the doorway.

Anthony whirled around, walking towards Kate and attempting to close the conversation. “Nothing, my love, this is between my mother and myself.”

“Oh, kicking your mother out of her home is just your decision then? Or did your future intended also have a hand in this?” His mother derided from behind him.

Kate’s mouth dropped open and her brow furrowed. “Excuse me, what is happening?”

Anthony rubbed his forehead. “I suggested to my mother that she vacate the Viscountess rooms in the spring.”

Kate suddenly got the gist. Future wife. Spring. The suites. “Oh…”

Anthony looked at her with apology in his eyes. “I’m sorry, my love, this was supposed to be between myself and…”

The door slammed behind him, his mother crossing into her suite.

“…My mother.” He hung his head.

“Why wouldn’t you just let me handle it?” Kate hissed to Anthony as Violet opened the door again and breezed past them with an incensed expression on her face.

“Because she is MY mother,” Anthony irritably whispered back.

They found their way to the car, already packed, and started to bicker. Kate wanting to have given Violet some more time to come to the conclusion herself once they were engaged, Anthony wanting to give Kate everything she deserved of and more, regardless of his mother’s feelings about it. Kate finally made Anthony pull the Tesla over to they could talk about it.

“I’m sure she feels as though she’s being usurped by a twenty-three year old,” Kate reasoned. “She’s been in those rooms since your father took her as his bride. This needed a lighter touch.”

Anthony rested the back of his head against the cushion behind him, grasping Kate’s hand. Her touch grounding him. “You’re right.” He finally acquiesced. “I should have used a different approach.”

Kate smiled gently at his concession. He was growing, too.

“Anthony, I love that you love me and want me to have all of the fancy Viscountess things that I had no clue existed. But fighting with your mother does neither of us any favors. I know your relationship with her is fraught with tension. If we’re to be a united front, you must let me be a part of this conversation.”

Anthony leaned across the arm rest to kiss her gently. “I do love you. I simply don’t want her to treat you, as an extension of me, the way that she... I can handle her ire, her wish that I was my father. But I will not put that on you.”

Kate tilted her head. “You think she would treat me poorly?”

Anthony sighed. “I think she still harbors resentment that I’m not the same man my father was. She has a bitterness, a darkness when it comes to me. I know she loves me, as she does the other children. But she cannot separate the two.”

“Oh Anthony,” Kate whispered, bringing her hand to his cheek. “I know she is still deep in her grief over losing your father. I cannot imagine the pain she feels. But I want to protect you as much as you want to shelter me from every little bit of pain you may feel. You must let me in.”

Anthony nodded, facing the steering wheel, his lips downturned. “I know, I know. Something I should make an appointment with Dr. John about, I suppose.”

Kate agreed. Anthony rubbed his hands over his face, then turned the car back on.

“So, you’re going to ask me to marry you?” Kate asked cheekily, Anthony’s face breaking apart in a wide grin.

He booped her nose before putting the car in drive, pulling his sunglasses down over his eyes.

“I already have the ring, my love.”

 

————-

 

Getting Violet to back off when it came to Bridgerton Holdings was another beast in and of itself. Violet had vacated the Viscountess rooms as asked, despite her umbrage, but being told that she no longer had the ability to overrule Anthony at work came as a surprise.

And it came as a surprise since her eldest four children had all agreed upon it.

Benedict, Colin and Daphne all signed a document giving Anthony full rights on their behalf as silent partners to make executive decisions at Bridgerton Holdings. Thus Violet no longer held the capacity to override choices that Anthony had made. To say she was enraged would be an understatement.

“Your father would be so disappointed in you!” She had hurled at him in his office, the entirety of the staff watching through his glass walls as she threw several folders of documents on the floor.

Later, when Anthony recounted what happened to Kate in the cozy privacy of their bedroom in London, his eyes welled with the deep-rooted, fragmented fears and self doubt of not being good enough. That nothing he did would ever compare to a man who had been dead for a decade.

Kate had held him; wanting nothing more than to take away every hurt, every ounce of pain and self loathing that Violet had caused him over the last ten years. She listened as he cried, made appointments with Dr. John, tried to move past the sharp tongued words of his mother.

“You’re more than the sum of your parts,” Kate had whispered in the sanctity of their bed, spooning him. She stroked across his chest and down his abdomen, dropped kisses along the constellation of freckles on his shoulders.

“You’re making my parts hard as a rock,” Anthony had tried to joke.

“Don’t do that.” Kate had admonished, moving away and pulling his shoulder to roll him onto his back. “Don’t diminish what you’ve done. Anthony, you’re an incredible asset to Bridgerton Holdings. You picked up where your father left off, and you’ve made this company a wild success, despite your mother’s meddling. You’ve kept it going with so much pushing back on you, with no support. I am so incredibly proud of you.”

He had sunk into the feather bed, surrounded by the softest fabrics and the softest words. She was a visual contrast, long dark curls and dark skin against the white and gray down, and everything about that moment was etched into his mind.

Anthony had folded Kate into his arms, stroking along her bare back. “I never knew how much I needed you,” he had whispered into her hair.

She had leaned up, capturing his lips in a searing kiss and moving to straddle his waist. “Now let me see what I can do about those hard parts.”

————

At present, Anthony had taken his sweet time to mumble, “fuck” into her hair as he spent himself inside of his wife, sucking kisses into her collar bone.

“Mmm,” Kate moaned quietly, running her hand down to his ass, still clenching with pleasure.

Anthony rolled off, panting. Kate rolled back on top of him, grinding her hips against his. He held her waist, letting her move.

“Pregnancy has made you insatiable,” he groaned, his cock sensitive and softening.

“I don’t recall that ever being a problem for you?” Kate said, kissing down his chest, her tongue laving over a nipple.

“For me, no. For little Anthony-“ He made a strangled whimpering sound as his wife’s hand swirled through the trimmed hair above his dick, “A little bit, yes.”

Kate kissed the underside of his chin, smoothing a hand over his cock, feeling it twitch at her touch, murmuring, “Mmm, very generously sized Anthony.”

Kate stopped her southern migration at his tired exhale and looked up at him, his eyes half closed.

He looked so sweet, all loose limbed in the big bed, surrounded by pillows and blankets. She felt a wave of affection for him, sliding back up his body to gently press her lips to his and then resting her head, her ear against his heart.

“I suppose we can wait until later,” she whispered into his chest hair, feeling him sigh relief.

Anthony gathered her into his arms, stroking down her side, placing his hand over the tiny bump where she carried his child. Eighteen weeks in and she was still barely showing.

“Rest, my love. Henry is coming today, we need to ensure a proper embarrassment for Ben.”

“I’m thrilled that Ben finally decided to make the introduction. It’s been nearly a year,” Kate yawned.

“Indeed. And hopefully this will lessen the intense scrutiny on us and our announcement.”

“God, I know,” Kate agreed.

If Daphne’s most recently pregnancy with her newest, Belinda, had shown them anything, it was their family was atrociously needy on a good day; they were downright indigent when there was a baby about to be available to spoil. They had waited eighteen weeks, and as Kate was finally starting to show, it was time to announce to most of the family and get on with the daily barrage texts and emails.

“Do you think I could just wear a loose shirt and not say anything? We could show up at Christmas with our little one as a surprise?”

Anthony laughed, patting her stomach.

“If I didn’t fear actual homicide by my mother… absolutely.”

————-

Kate found her way downstairs after a short, well deserved nap, to find Ben fussing with linens and directing the staff where to place items to make Henry feel more comfortable. His hair was sticking up in a million directions, proof that he’d been running his fingers through his curls in obvious madness.

Kate regarded Ben, who looked downright overcome. She knew Ben like the back of her hand. With her relationship and subsequent marriage to his brother, they’d gotten even closer as in-laws.

“Are you overwhelmed, dear brother?” She asked him, walking into the drawing room and picking a biscuit up off a plate.

“Kathani!” Benedict admonished, shooing away her hand. “You’re as bad as Colin.”

He straightened up and rearranged his face into a more pleasing smile.

“I’m whelmed at best, sister.”

Kate narrowed her eyes.

“You’re nervous!” She exclaimed. “Ben. This is Henry. Henry.” She dragged the name out. “The most laid back, easygoing man I’ve ever encountered. It’s going to be fine.”

Ben sighed.

“But it’s also Henry,” he elaborated. “What if no one likes him?”

Kate slipped her arm around Ben’s, dragging him down onto a settee.

“It’s going to be wonderful. Henry is a generous, thoughtful, kind gentleman. Anthony and I simply adore him. Everyone else will, too.”

Ben sighed again, resting his cheek against Kate’s shoulder.

“You’re such a good sister-in-law,” he mumbled.

Kate arched an eyebrow. “I’m your only sister-in-law,”

“You’re still the best.” He turned his head to kiss her cheek. “How’s my nephew doing in there?”

Kate sighed.

“Well he didn’t make me vomit today, so we’re considering this a win. Remember; you’re the only one who knows, so,” Kate mimed a key going into the lock of her mouth, twisting it.

“I know, I know. Have you decided on a name yet?”

Kate made a small smile.

————-

January

“I can’t believe it’s a boy,” Anthony said in wonderment, still staring at the sonogram photo of their little kidney bean.

Kate’s blood test had finally come back.

“And perfectly healthy…” Kate continued.

Anthony stared. “Of course, most important. He’s healthy and perfect. But it’s a boy. A little boy.”

Kate smiled gently. “You’re going to have a son, my love.”

“I love you so much, Katie,” Anthony wrapped his arms around his wife, holding her to him, dumbfounded by the gratefulness of this beautiful woman carrying his baby. He had always worshipped at the altar of her, but now… it seemed as though everything was amplified and enhanced and multiplied. He need only look at her and want to lay his life on the line for her, for giving him this incredible gift.

And to think he believed the child resting inside of her was a girl.

He’d even named her! Charlotte, after Kate’s mother.

Kate, of course, in her mother’s intuition knew the baby was a boy.

“And I have the perfect name for him,” she said, grinning.

————-

Henry was there.

Benedict had spent the better part of the last hour with his face pressed against the glass of the drawing room window, waiting for Henry’s car to roll up the gravel drive. The family all sat in the room, conversing amongst themselves, when Ben saw the black vehicle and launched himself down the stairs to greet his love.

If the family all stood with their faces pressed against the glass themselves to watch them, well, that was for them to know.

Henry walked into the room, holding an overnight bag and Benedict’s hand.

Henry!” Kate squealed, throwing her arms around him.

“Wait, so you know one another?” Colin asked quizzically.

Kate grinned, pulling Henry more into the room.

“Of course, Henry and I have modeled together. He’s exceptionally talented.”

“I’m not surprised,” Penelope said dreamily, staring at the statuesque man as though he was David himself.

Henry looked down at Kate, affection on his face, then turning to greet everyone. “Kathani is too kind, but hello, everyone.”

With that, he was bombarded by the slew of family members, nearly knocking Kate and Ben out of the way.

“Do all beautiful people hang out together?” Francesca wondered aloud, Pen agreeing next to her.

“And if they do, how does one receive an invitation?” She asked.

“Penelope!” Colin exclaimed, his girlfriend very much ogling the male model before them. She waved him away.

“Don’t ‘Penelope!’ me,” she retorted. “Do you not remember your reaction to Kate entering our lives? You were downright beastly!”

“Oh, I heard about this story, but I need to know more,” Henry slid over to Pen, putting his arm around her. Benedict rolled his eyes; the family was quite unaware of what a notorious gossip Henry was. Pen immediately loved him, taking Henry by the hand and leading him to a settee to regale him of the memory of Kate coming down the stairs, an ethereal goddess, and the chaos of that weekend.

Daphne laughed at Benedict’s expression.

“Dear brother, you look positively green. Is there anything we can help you with?”

Ben shook his head. “Oh, just the memory of my entire family believing I was about to propose to my sister in law.”

“Hey!” Kate objected. “I am a wonderful lady, you’d be so lucky!”

Anthony laughed, throwing his arm around his wife’s shoulders. “But then I wouldn’t have gotten you,” he said, cupping Kate’s cheek and kissing the tip of her nose.

“And gotten her in the family way,” Colin muttered quietly.

Although not quietly enough, as every head in the room swiveled towards Kate and Anthony.

 

------------------

 

Daphne burst out laughing. “Oh for god’s sake, someone finally said it.” Simon, Colin, Pen, El, Fran, Greg and Violet all looked at one another and nodded in agreement.

Kate stared at her. “Wait… so all of you knew?”

Daphne looked at her pitifully. “Oh, Kate… of course we all knew. Have you met my brother? He’s been acting even more possessive and crazy around you than usual.”

“I didn’t think it was more than usual,” Anthony muttered.

“You’ve been acting as though Kate was made of glass; it was obvious.” Simon retorted.

Kate huffed, glaring at her husband.

“Plus, I’ve had two children, I recognize that glow from anywhere.” Daphne said kindly.

Kate sighed. “I just thought it was more of a sheen from how much I’ve been sweating. Pregnancy hormones are absolutely bollocks.”

Daphne cackled. “Oh my goodness, isn’t it? Is my brother at least wiping your brow? You poor thing.”

“Pregnancy hormones sound dreadful,” Eloise proclaimed to Francesca as Hyacinth bounced around them like a puppy.

“Is it a girl? I can give her all of my dolls. Shall we also give her a flower name? Hyacinth is a beautiful name, she could be my namesake! Will you get a new car? It should be pink if it’s a girl, I guess you can keep your car if it’s a boy since it’s blue. It should be a girl though!”

“Hyacinth, calm yourself,” Violet directed. She stood before Kate, cupping her face in her hands. “Congratulations, darlings. This is the most wonderful news.” She directed her gaze towards Anthony. “I am genuinely so thrilled for you both.”

Anthony took Kate’s hand. “Shall we tell them, my love?”

Kate looked at him, smiling. “Well, apologies to Hyacinth, but I suppose we can keep the car. Baby Bridgerton is a boy!”

“A boy!” “Oh, how wonderful!” “I suppose a boy is fine since they already have the car,” Hyacinth sulked.

Violet clasped her hands together. “Oh, Anthony… an heir. The tenth Viscount Bridgerton.”

“More than an heir,” Anthony asserted, his arm around Kate’s waist, his hand pressing to her just barely there stomach. “My son.”

“Violet, we also wanted to ask…” Kate looked up towards Anthony. “Tell you. We’re going to name the baby Edmund. Eddie. We hope you’ll be glad of it, we considered many options. The name is just so entwined in the fabric of our relationship. It is very important to us to use it.”

Violet’s eyes filled with tears.

“I’m certain your father would be very proud to share his name with his grandson. He would be very proud of all that you’ve accomplished, Anthony. Despite my actions. You are talented, and exceptional. I am quite blessed to be your mother.”

Anthony wrapped his arms more fully around Kate, pressing his face into her hair so his siblings wouldn’t see the tears that had pricked the corners of his eyes.

He nodded silently.

Violet walked to them, pulling them both into her arms.

The other children made do with pretending to not watch this embrace.

“I know I have not been easy on you,” Violet said, pressing her palm to Kate’s cheek. “And for that… I am very sorry. To name your child after my husband is truly a gift that I do not deserve, and I could not be more grateful for your graciousness. I truly love you both.”

 

----------------------

 

Anthony brushed the wet hair away from Kate’s neck as the water beat down on them, Kate’s breasts and forehead pressed against the cold glass, her arms clasped behind her.

“Green?” Anthony asked as he pressed his cock against her, begging entrance.

They had started using a traffic light safe word when they realized Kate was pregnant, wanting to ensure her comfort during intercourse, with increased sensitivity and first trimester sickness.

“Oh god, green,” Kate whimpered, Anthony driving forward, sheathing himself inside of his wife, his hips keeping time with her own circling.

It was a far cry from the cracked tile shower stall from their tryst in Brighton, but never less passionate. Anthony was quite proud that they had made use of every shower they’d ever had access to; there was simply something about how the steam made the scent of her perfume rise and how it had infiltrated his every sense.

Her breasts rubbed against the glass, her nipples aching and hardening against the coolness. As if he knew, Anthony slid his hand between her body and the glass, grasping her breast in his hand, her arms still behind her.

He manipulated her nipple, pulling and twisting in a way he knew she loved. He felt it in the slick wetness between her thighs.

“More,” Kate begged, arching her back and trying to get more of his length inside her.

“Keep your hands where they are,” Anthony whispered into the shell of her ear, removing the hand that was keeping her arms behind her back. She dutifully clasped her hands together as he ran his hand down her other breast to the hot center of her, his first and middle fingers in a v surrounding her clit and stroking with his thrusts, every so often bringing them together to circle right over the bud. Her body shuddered in desire.

“More, darling. I need more.”

Anthony slowed his thrusts, his fingers still softly pleasuring her.

“What do you need, love?”

“I don’t know,” Kate confessed, simply feeling the need to be consumed. Her left hand found the glass of the shower wall, the large oval of her engagement diamond and wedding rings on her fourth finger catching Anthony’s eye. He slipped his hand over hers, linking their fingers against the glass, matching his ring to hers.

Anthony stopped his ministrations, turning off the water and turning Kate around. He lifted her from the knees to wrap her lusciously long legs around his hips. He slid open the door and walked out of the bath leaving a trail of water he was certain the housekeeper was going to be upset by. He gently placed Kate on the foot of the bed, her legs hanging over the edge.

He leaned down to kiss her as she leaned up, her body wet, long hair soaking into the linens. Drops of water sat on her long lashes, on the tip of her nose.

“Color?”

“Green,” Kate assured him.

“Green,” he repeated, pressing her shoulders back to the bed and lifting her legs over his shoulders, guiding his cock back into her sweet wetness.

“Oh god, yes,” Kate gasped at the thickness of him, at feeling him more fully inside.

Anthony thrusted, again using his fingers to stroke and slide.

“You are everything, you are everything,” Kate chanted, cupping her breasts, pulling at her nipples.

Anthony lifted her legs higher onto his shoulders, changing the angle just slightly, but finding the spot within her that made her cry out in pleasure.

He thrusted a couple more times, circling his thumb around her clit, knowing Kate’s body as intimately as he knew his own. “Cum, love,” he ordered, Kate’s back arching and pussy spasming around him as she crested. He let her legs fall to the sides in her release, wrapping them around his waist. He slowed to a gentle movement to allow her relief.

Kate pushed herself up, grasping the back of Anthony’s neck to bring his face down to capture his lips. “I love you, I love you,” she whispered into his mouth.

Anthony felt the swell of pride inside his chest at her words. “I love you.” He slid his hands down her sides, his hand coming to rest on her stomach.

“Shall I continue or do you want me to wank onto you?” He asked, still hard inside of her.

“Cum on my tits?”

Anthony grunted in his agreement, pulling out, Kate sliding around on the bed so her head was nearly falling off, her still soaking hair dripping onto the rug and his feet.

He stood over her, cock in hand, jerking it with the smooth slick moisture left behind from Kate’s orgasm. Kate lifted her head to gently lick his bollocks, taking each separately into her mouth and sucking, tasting the remnants of herself.

“Fuck.” Anthony spat, his fingers working over himself, his wife’s tongue doing delicious things to his balls as she pushed her breasts together, her thumbs and forefingers pulling at her nipples. He felt the pressure in his abdomen watching her hands move, leaning forward to spill his seed over her gorgeous tits.

Kate flipped onto her stomach when he was spent, the cum smearing into the linens, and leaned forward to take his softening dick into her mouth, feeling arguably feral and wild. Needing to taste him, salty and warm, on her tongue. She rubbed her tongue along the seam of his head, gathering any flavor she could before looking up at Anthony, who placed his finger under her chin, squatting down to kiss her.

“You are magic,” he whispered, pressing his forehead to hers.

Kate sat up, grabbing his hand and pulling him onto the bed. They shuffled up onto the pillows, Anthony grabbing one of the blankets and pulling it over them. She nestled down into Anthony’s arms, his hands linked over her stomach. He buried his face into her neck.

“I love you more than I could ever explain,” he whispered.

“I love you, Anthony Bridgerton. More than I could ever explain.”