While being a viscountess has become easier over the years, it still gets overwhelming.
As the ball rages on the inside, Kate finds herself in the gardens. Her throat is sore from making introductions, her cheeks ache from forcing smiles on those who ask about the decor for the hundredth time, and her feet scream in pain from wearing shoes made for fashion instead of comfort.
Kate sits down on the bench, closing her eyes and taking a long breath. She knows she can’t be gone for too long. But, perhaps, a few moments of solitude could amend her spirit.
This was the first event they’ve hosted since the birth of Miles. While Kate profoundly loves her two sons, her energy hasn’t returned to normal yet. Kate wishes she was like Daphne, who seemed to snap back after birth quickly, radiating perfection.
Kate thinks she has never radiated perfection, but she would settle for being a dazzling or even just an adequate hostess.
But most dazzling hostesses don’t escape to the gardens, running from their own home.
“Wanted to be alone in the gardens, Miss?”
Kate doesn’t jump at the voice, as she recognizes it as well as her own.
She turns to the man approaching her. “Well, I was alone until about two seconds ago.”
Anthony nears the bench, bracing a hedge behind him and leaning towards her. “It’s scandalous to be here, under the moonlight and among such lovely roses with a man by your side.”
“I intended to be here by myself, my lord,” Kate huffs. She plays along with him, pretending they’re strangers instead of two people whose souls are intimately entwined. “You’re the one bringing scandal here, which seems fitting. You look like the sort who stirs up gossip wherever you go.”
Anthony sits next to her. “And you look like the sort who brings chaos wherever she goes.”
“What chaos am I stirring up by merely sitting on a bench?” Kate asks with amusement.
“Your daydreaming is chaotic. It was so loud that I could hear it from inside the house.”
His fingers brush against hers on the bench. Even after all these years, his touch still tugs at her heart.
“You’re right. I was daydreaming.”
Anthony’s eyes sparkle, his face ghosting close to hers. “May I ask who of?”
“Who says it was of a person?” Kate retorts, enjoying the way he appears disappointed. “People can daydream about all sorts of things.”
“They can, but I can tell you had a particular person in mind,” he insists, furling their fingers together. “Someone who knows how to handle a mallet, who is an excellent dancer, and who dearly loves his wife and children.”
Kate turns her head up to the night sky. “I bet he’s also rather righteous. He does anything he can for those he cares for and does it with joy.” While she’s not looking at him, she can see Anthony’s smile in the stars. “I also surmise that he knows how to make someone laugh and is the perfect shoulder to lean on when you find yourself in the dark.”
Anthony edges closer to her, their bodies brushing. “I also think this man knows when the one he loves is troubled. He seeks her out when she withdraws, wanting to brighten her spirits.”
Kate sighs, meeting Anthony’s affectionate but worried gaze. While she figured most people wouldn’t notice her absence, Anthony, of course, did. Even before they were married, they seemed to sense when one another was in a room. They both felt the pull—the need to be close.
Anthony also has an insight into Kate’s being. He can perceive things about her that no one, not even herself at times, notices. His ability to know her so well is maddening and alleviating all at once.
“This man we paint sounds too good to be true,” Kate says playfully, trying to shift the mood between them. “From my experience, men have more faults than virtues. So, why waste time daydreaming about a man who couldn’t possibly exist?”
“Perhaps the man is closer than you think,” Anthony whispers, his lips ghosting close to hers.
“Or perhaps, you’re the one caught up in daydreams,” Kate murmurs.
She almost kisses him but inches away at the last second. He makes a disgruntled sound, causing her to laugh.
“I do daydream quite a bit these days,” Anthony begins to say, causing her to look at him quizzically. “Getting older, I’ve learned to limit my acquaintances to those who are not fools. That means my circle is rather sparse, so I must spend the time entertaining myself with my thoughts.”
Kate smirks. “And who do these thoughts pertain to?”
“A woman, one with a wicked tongue, her words lethal but her mouth pleasingly soft,” he answers, his thumb gently tracing the line of her lips. “Her beauty is incomparable. I believe she has a rope around the sun, making everything around her radiate with light.”
She begins to roll her eyes in disagreement, but Anthony distracts her. A hand curls around her waist. He pulls them flush against one another in one fluid motion, causing her to shiver with desire.
“She illuminates the dark parts of one’s soul they thought would always remain undisturbed,” Anthony continues, kissing her jaw. “She’s also a dedicated mother, friend, and wife. She keeps her husband on her toes. But, she also manages to be the calm of every storm he encounters.”
Kate feels tears welling in her eyes at his words. But before any can fall, Anthony’s there to catch them with his fingers, brushing them away.
“She’s a woman of many multitudes,” Anthony states, kissing her cheek so tenderly that it makes her dizzy. “She gracefully wields every facet of her being.”
“She sounds like a fearsome creature,” Kate notes, clearing her throat to try to regain her senses. “What would you do if you stumbled upon such a menace?”
“I’ll have you know that I have stumbled upon such a creature.”
“Yes, and I did the only thing you can do when you meet a woman who shakes you to your very core.”
Anthony grins. “Marry her.”
Kate closes the distance between them in an instant, crushing their lips together. The tremendous weight she felt before lessens as they kiss. Kate finds Anthony’s embrace to be as much of a home as the one in the distance filled with guests.
When they part, Kate quirks her head. “Are you still scared of this woman?”
“I’d be a fool if I weren’t,” Anthony chuckles, his thumb painting shapes on her cheek. “But it also makes for a much more exciting and fulfilling life.”
As Anthony stands, Kate takes his hand he offers to her. When they’re halfway to the house, Kate pauses.
She turns to him and smiles in earnest for the first time that night. “You’re better than any daydream.”
Anthony’s arm goes around her shoulders. He presses a kiss to her temple and whispers, “So are you, my dear wife.”