“Where is it?”
“On the ground floor. It looks out the back.”
“He wouldn’t risk it,” Gregory said. “Too close to the ballroom.”
“Then his bedchamber. If he means to avoid the public rooms, then that is where he would take her. That or her own chamber.”
Gregory took her arm and preceded her out the door. They made their way down one flight of stairs, pausing before opening the door that led from the servants’ stairs to the second floor landing.
“Point out his door to me,” he said, “and then go.”
“Find your husband,” he ordered. “Bring him back.”
Hermione looked conflicted, but she nodded and did as he asked.
“Go,” he said, once he knew where to go. “Quickly.”
She ran down the stairs as Gregory crept along the hall. He reached the door Hermione had indicated and carefully pressed his ear to it.
“What are you waiting for?”
It was Lucy. Muffled through the heavy wood door, but it was she.
“I don’t know,” came a male voice, and Gregory realized that he could not identify it. He’d had few conversations with Lord Davenport and none with her uncle. He had no idea who was holding her hostage.
He held his breath and slowly turned the knob.
With his left hand.
With his right hand he pulled out his gun.
God help them all if he had to use it.
He managed to get the door open a crack-just enough to peer in without being noticed.
His heart stopped.
Lucy was bound and blindfolded, huddled in the far corner of the room. Her uncle was standing in front of her, a gun pointed between her eyes.
“What are you up to?” he asked her, his voice chilling in its softness.
Lucy did not say anything, but her chin shook, as if she was trying too hard to hold her head steady.
“Why do you wish for me to leave?” her uncle demanded.
“I don’t know.”
“Tell me.” He lunged forward, jamming his gun between her ribs. And then, when she did not answer quickly enough, he yanked up her blindfold, leaving them nose to nose. “Tell me!”
“Because I can’t bear the waiting,” she whispered, her voice quivering. “Because-”
Gregory stepped quietly into the room and pointed his gun at the center of Robert Abernathy’s back. “Release her.”
Lucy’s uncle froze.
Gregory’s hand tightened around the trigger. “Release Lucy and step slowly away.”
“I don’t think so,” Abernathy said, and he turned just enough so that Gregory could see that his gun was now resting against Lucy’s temple.
Somehow, Gregory held steady. He would never know how, but his arm held firm. His hand did not quiver.
“Drop your gun,” her uncle ordered.
Gregory did not move. His eyes flicked to Lucy, then back to her uncle. Would he hurt her? Could he? Gregory still wasn’t certain just why, precisely, Robert Abernathy needed Lucy to marry Haselby, but it was clear that he did.
Which meant that he could not kill her.
Gregory gritted his teeth and tightened his finger on the trigger. “Release Lucy,” he said, his voice low, strong, and steady.
“Drop your gun!” Abernathy roared, and a horrible, choking sound flew from Lucy’s mouth as one of his arms jammed up and under her ribs.
Good God, he was mad. His eyes were wild, darting around the room, and his hand-the one with the gun-was shaking.
He would shoot her. Gregory realized that in one sickening flash. Whatever Robert Abernathy had done-he thought he had nothing left to lose. And he would not care whom he brought down with him.
Gregory began to bend at his knees, never taking his eyes off Lucy’s uncle.
“Don’t do it,” Lucy cried out. “He won’t hurt me. He can’t.”
“Oh, I can,” her uncle replied, and he smiled.
Gregory’s blood ran cold. He would try-dear God, he would try with everything he had to make sure that they both came through this alive and unhurt, but if there was a choice-if only one of them was to walk out the door…
It would be Lucy.
This, he realized, was love. It was that sense of rightness, yes. And it was the passion, too, and the lovely knowledge that he could happily wake up next to her for the rest of his life.
But it was more than all that. It was this feeling, this knowledge, this certainty that he would give his life for her. There was no question. No hesitation. If he dropped his gun, Robert Abernathy would surely shoot him.
But Lucy would live.
Gregory lowered himself into a crouch. “Don’t hurt her,” he said softly.
“Don’t let go!” Lucy cried out. “He won’t-”
“Shut up!” her uncle snapped, and the barrel of his gun pressed even harder against her.
“Not another word, Lucy,” Gregory warned. He still wasn’t sure how the hell he was going to get out of this, but he knew that the key was to keep Robert Abernathy as calm and as sane as possible.
Lucy’s lips parted, but then their eyes met…
And she closed them.
She trusted him. Dear God, she trusted him to keep her safe, to keep them both safe, and he felt like a fraud, because all he was doing was stalling for time, keeping all the bullets in all the guns until someone else arrived.
“I won’t hurt you, Abernathy,” Gregory said.
“Then drop the gun.”
He kept his arm outstretched, the gun now positioned sideways so he could lay it down.
But he did not let go.
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