“I shall pay his passage,” Richard bit off. “No more.”
“You are more generous than I would have been,” Gregory muttered.
“I want him gone,” Richard said in a tight voice. “If I can hasten his departure, I am happy to bear the expense.”
Gregory turned to Lord Davenport. “You will never breathe a word of this. Do you understand?”
“And you,” Gregory said, turning to Haselby. “Thank you.”
Haselby acknowledged him with a gracious nod. “I can’t help it. I’m a romantic.” He shrugged. “It does get one in trouble from time to time, but we can’t change our nature, can we?”
Gregory let his head shake slowly from side to side as a wide smile began to spread across his face.
“You have no idea,” he murmured, taking Lucy’s hand. He couldn’t quite bear to be separated from her just then, even by a few inches.
Their fingers twined, and he looked down at her. Her eyes were shining with love, and Gregory had the most overwhelming, absurd desire to laugh. Just because he could.
Just because he loved her.
But then he noticed that her lips were tightening, too. Around the corners, stifling her own laughter.
And right there, in front of the oddest assortment of witnesses, he swept her into his arms and kissed her with every last drop of his hopelessly romantic soul.
Eventually-very eventually-Lord Haselby cleared his throat.
Hermione pretended to look away, and Richard said, “About that wedding…”
With great reluctance, Gregory pulled away. He looked to the left. He looked to the right. He looked back at Lucy.
And he kissed her again.
Because, really, it had been a long day.
And he deserved a little indulgence.
And God only knew how long it would be before he could actually marry her.
But mostly, he kissed her because…
He smiled, taking her head in his hands and letting his nose rest against hers. “I love you, you know.”
She smiled back. “I know.”
And he finally realized why he was going to kiss her again.
In which Our Hero and Heroine exhibit the industriousness of which we knew they were capable.
The first time, Gregory had been a wreck.
The second time was even worse. The memory of the first time had done little to calm his nerves. Just the opposite, in fact. Now that he had a better understanding of what was happening (Lucy had spared him no detail, a pox on her meticulous little soul) every little noise was subject to morbid scrutiny and speculation.
It was a damned good thing men couldn’t have children. Gregory took no shame in admitting that the human race would have died out generations earlier.
Or at the very least, he would not have contributed to the current batch of mischievous little Bridgertons.
But Lucy seemed not to mind childbirth, as long as she could later describe the experience to him in relentless detail.
Whenever she wished.
And so by the third time, Gregory was a little more himself. He still sat outside the door, and he still held his breath when he heard a particularly unpleasant groan, but all in all, he wasn’t wracked with anxiety.
The fourth time he brought a book.
The fifth, just a newspaper. (It did seem to be getting quicker with every child. Convenient, that.)
The sixth child caught him completely unawares. He’d popped out for a quick visit with a friend, and by the time he’d returned, Lucy was sitting up with the babe in her arms, a cheerful and not the least bit tired smile on her face.
Lucy frequently reminded him of his absence, however, so he took great care to be present for the arrival of number seven. Which he was, as long as one did not deduct points for his having abandoned his post outside her door in search of a middle-of-the-night snack.
At seven, Gregory thought they ought to be done. Seven was a perfectly fine number of children, and, as he told Lucy, he could barely recall what she looked like when she wasn’t expecting.
“Well enough for you to make sure I’m expecting again,” Lucy had replied pertly.
He couldn’t very well argue with that, so he’d kissed her on the forehead and gone off to visit Hyacinth, to expound upon the many reasons seven was the ideal number of children. (Hyacinth was not amused.)
But then, sure enough, six months after the seventh, Lucy sheepishly told him that she was expecting another baby.
“No more,” Gregory announced. “We can scarcely afford the ones we already possess.” (This was not true; Lucy’s dowry had been exceedingly generous, and Gregory had discovered that he possessed a shrewd eye for investments.)
But really, eight had to be enough.
Not that he was willing to curtail his nocturnal activities with Lucy, but there were things a man could do-things he probably already should have done, to tell the truth.
And so, since he was convinced that this would be his final child, he decided he might as well see what this was all about, and despite the horrified reaction of the midwife, he remained at Lucy’s side through the birth (at her shoulder, of course.)
“She’s an expert at this,” the doctor said, lifting the sheet to take a peek. “Truly, I’m superfluous at this point.”
Gregory looked at Lucy. She had brought her embroidery.
She shrugged. “It really does get easier every time.”
And sure enough, when the time came, Lucy laid down her work, gave a little grunt, and-
Gregory blinked as he looked at the squalling infant, all wrinkled and red. “Well, that was much less involved than I’d expected,” he said.
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