And he did not take his eyes off Robert Abernathy’s face as he asked, “Why do you need her to marry Lord Haselby?”
“She didn’t tell you?” he sneered.
“She told me what you told her.”
Lucy’s uncle began to shake.
“I spoke with Lord Fennsworth,” Gregory said quietly. “He was somewhat surprised by your characterization of his father.”
Lucy’s uncle did not respond, but his throat moved, his Adam’s apple shifting up and down in a convulsive swallow.
“In fact,” Gregory continued, “he was quite convinced that you must be in error.” He kept his voice smooth, even. Unmocking. He spoke as if at a dinner party. He did not wish to provoke; he only wished to converse.
“Richard knows nothing,” Lucy’s uncle replied.
“I spoke with Lord Haselby as well,” Gregory said. “He was also surprised. He did not realize that his father had been blackmailing you.”
Lucy’s uncle glared at him.
“He is speaking with him now,” Gregory said softly.
No one spoke. No one moved. Gregory’s muscles were screaming. He had been in his crouch for several minutes, balancing on the balls of his feet. His arm, still outstretched, still holding the gun sideways but steady, felt like it was on fire.
He looked at the gun.
He looked at Lucy.
She was shaking her head. Slowly, and with small motions. Her lips made no sound, but he could easily make out her words.
Amazingly, Gregory felt himself smile. He shook his head, and he whispered, “Never.”
“What did you say?” Abernathy demanded.
Gregory said the only thing that came to mind. “I love your niece.”
Abernathy looked at him as if he’d gone mad. “I don’t care.”
Gregory took a gamble. “I love her enough to keep your secrets.”
Robert Abernathy blanched. He went absolutely bloodless, and utterly still.
“It was you,” Gregory said softly.
Lucy twisted. “Uncle Robert?”
“Shut up,” he snapped.
“Did you lie to me?” she asked, and her voice sounded almost wounded. “Did you?”
“Lucy, don’t,” Gregory said.
But she was already shaking her head. “It wasn’t my father, was it? It was you. Lord Davenport was blackmailing you for your own misdeeds.”
Her uncle said nothing, but they all saw the truth in his eyes.
“Oh, Uncle Robert,” she whispered sadly, “how could you?”
“I had nothing,” he hissed. “Nothing. Just your father’s droppings and leftovers.”
Lucy turned ashen. “Did you kill him?”
“No,” her uncle replied. Nothing else. Just no.
“Please,” she said, her voice small and pained. “Do not lie to me. Not about this.”
Her uncle let out an aggravated breath and said, “I know only what the authorities told me. He was found near a gambling hell, shot in the chest and robbed of all of his valuables.”
Lucy watched him for a moment, and then, her eyes brimming with tears, gave a little nod.
Gregory rose slowly to his feet. “It is over, Abernathy,” he said. “Haselby knows, as does Fennsworth. You cannot force Lucy to do your bidding.”
Lucy’s uncle gripped her more tightly. “I can use her to get away.”
“Indeed you can. By letting her go.”
Abernathy laughed at that. It was a bitter, caustic sound.
“We have nothing to gain by exposing you,” Gregory said carefully. “Better to allow you to quietly leave the country.”
“It will never be quiet,” Lucy’s uncle mocked. “If she does not marry that freakish fop, Davenport will shout it from here to Scotland. And the family will be ruined.”
“No.” Gregory shook his head. “They won’t. You were never the earl. You were never their father. There will be a scandal; that cannot be avoided. But Lucy’s brother will not lose his title, and it will all blow over when people begin to recall that they’d never quite liked you.”
In the blink of an eye, Lucy’s uncle moved the gun from her belly to her neck. “You watch what you say,” he snapped.
Gregory blanched and took a step back.
And then they all heard it.
A thunder of footsteps. Moving quickly down the hall.
“Put the gun down,” Gregory said. “You have only a moment before-”
The doorway filled with people. Richard, Haselby, Davenport, Hermione-they all dashed in, unaware of the deadly confrontation taking place.
Lucy’s uncle jumped back, wildly pointing his gun at the lot of them. “Stay away,” he yelled. “Get out! All of you!” His eyes flashed like those of a cornered animal, and his arm waved back and forth, leaving no one untargeted.
But Richard stepped forward. “You bastard,” he hissed. “I will see you in-”
A gun fired.
Gregory watched in horror as Lucy fell to the ground. A guttural cry ripped from his throat; his own gun rose.
And for the first time in his life, he hit his mark.
Lucy’s uncle was not a large man, but nonetheless, when he landed on top of her, it hurt. The air was forced completely from her lungs, leaving her gasping and choking, her eyes squeezed shut from the pain.
It was Gregory, tearing her uncle from atop her.
“Where are you hurt?” he demanded, and his hands were everywhere, frantic in their motions as he searched for a wound.
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