“Exactly.”

Simon nodded. Even though Anthony was threatening torture and death, Simon could not help but respect him for it. Devotion to one's sister was an honorable thing.

Simon wondered if Anthony perhaps saw something in him that no one else did. They had known each other for over half of their lives. Did Anthony somehow see the darkest corners of his soul? The anguish and fury he tried so hard to keep hidden?

And if so, was that why he worried for his sister's happiness?

“I give you my word,” Simon said. “I will do everything in my power to keep Daphne safe and content.”

Anthony nodded curtly. “See that you do.” He pushed himself away from the desk and walked to the door. “Or you'll be seeing me.”

He left.

Simon groaned and sank back into the leather chair. When had his life grown so damned complicated? When had friends become enemies and flirtations grown to lust?

And what the hell was he going to do with Daphne? He didn't want to hurt her, couldn't bear to hurt her, actually, and yet he was doomed to do so simply by marrying her. He burned for her, ached for the day when he could lay her down and cover her body with his, slowly entering her until she moaned his name—

He shuddered. Such thoughts could not possibly be advantageous to his health.

“Your grace?”

Jeffries again. Simon was too tired to look up, so he just made an acknowledging motion with his hand.

“Perhaps you would like to retire for the evening, your grace.”

Simon managed to look at the clock, but that was only because he didn't have to move his head to do it. It was barely seven in the evening. Hardly his usual bedtime. “It's early yet,” he mumbled.

“Still,” the butler said pointedly, “perhaps you'd like to retire.”

Simon closed his eyes. Jeffries had a point. Maybe what he needed was a long engagement with his feather mattress and fine linen sheets. He could escape to his bedroom, where he might manage to avoid seeing a Bridgerton for an entire night.

Hell, the way he felt, he might hole up there for days.

Chapter 13

It's marriage for the Duke of Hastings and Miss Bridgerton!

This Author must take this opportunity to remind you, dear reader, that the forthcoming nuptials were predicted in this very column. It has not escaped the note of This Author that when this newpaper reports a new attachment between an eligible gentleman and an unmarried lady, the odds in the betting books at gentleman's clubs change within hours, and always in favor of marriage.

Although This Author is not allowed in White's, she has reason to believe that the official odds concerning the marriage of the duke and Miss Bridgerton were 2-1 for.

LADY WHISTLEDOWN'S SOCIETY PAPERS, 21 MAY 1813

The rest of the week flew by in a rush. Daphne didn't see Simon for several days. She might have thought he'd left town, except that Anthony told her he'd been over to Hastings House to settle the details of the marriage contract.

Much to Anthony's surprise, Simon had refused to accept even a penny as dowry. Finally, the two men had decided that Anthony would put the money his father had put aside for Daphne's marriage in a separate estate with himself as the trustee. It would be hers to spend or save as she liked.

“You can pass it along to your children,” Anthony suggested.

Daphne only smiled. It was either that or cry.

A few days after that, Simon called upon Bridgerton House in the afternoon. It was two days before the wedding.

Daphne waited in the drawing room after Humboldt announced his arrival. She sat primly on the edge of the damask sofa, her back straight and her hands clasped together in her lap. She looked, she was sure, the very model of genteel English womanhood.

She felt a bundle of nerves.

Correction, she thought, as her stomach turned itself inside out, a bundle of nerves with frayed edges.

She looked down at her hands and realized that her fingernails were leaving red, crescent-shaped indentations on her palms.

Second correction, a bundle of nerves with frayed edges with an arrow stuck through them. Maybe a flaming arrow at that.

The urge to laugh was almost as overwhelming as it was inappropriate. She had never felt nervous at seeing Simon before. In fact, that had been possibly the most remarkable aspect of their friendship. Even when she caught him gazing at her with smoldering heat, and she was sure that her eyes reflected the same need, she had felt utterly comfortable with him. Yes, her stomach flipped and her skin tingled, but those were symptoms of desire, not of unease. First and foremost, Simon had been her friend, and Daphne knew that the easy, happy feeling she'd experienced whenever he was near was not something to be taken for granted.

She was confident that they would find their way back to that sense of comfort and companionship, but after the scene in Regent's Park, she very much feared that this would occur later rather than sooner.

“Good day, Daphne.”

Simon appeared in the doorway, filling it with his marvelous presence. Well, perhaps his presence wasn't quite as marvelous as usual. His eyes still sported matching purple bruises, and the one on his chin was starting to turn an impressive shade of green.

Still, it was better than a bullet in the heart.

“Simon,” Daphne replied. “How nice to see you. What brings you to Bridgerton House?”

He gave her a surprised look. “Aren't we betrothed?”

She blushed. “Yes, of course.”

“It was my impression that men were supposed to visit their betrothed.” He sat down across from her. “Didn't Lady Whistledown say something to that effect?”

“I don't think so,” Daphne murmured, “but I'm certain my mother must have done.”



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