Besides, her uncle had been her guardian since her father had died ten years earlier, and if he hadn’t exactly showered her and her brother Richard with love and affection, he had done his duty by them and raised them well, and Lucy knew it was her duty to obey his wishes and honor the betrothal he had arranged.

Or practically arranged.

Really, it didn’t make much difference. She was going to marry Haselby. Everyone knew it.

“I think you use him as an excuse,” Hermione said.

Lucy’s spine stiffened. “I beg your pardon.”

“You use Haselby as an excuse,” Hermione repeated, and her face took on a lofty expression Lucy did not enjoy one bit. “So that you do not allow your heart to become engaged elsewhere.”

“And just where else, precisely, might I have engaged my heart?” Lucy demanded. “The season has not even begun!”

“Perhaps,” Hermione said, “but we have been out and about, getting ‘polished’ as you and my mother like to put it. You have not been living under a rock, Lucy. You have met any number of men.”

There was really no way to point out that none of those men ever even saw her when Hermione was near. Hermione would try to deny it, but they would both know that she was lying in an attempt to spare Lucy’s feelings. So Lucy instead grumbled something under her breath that was meant to be a reply without actually being a reply.

And then Hermione did not say anything; she just looked at her in that arch manner that she never used with anyone else, and finally Lucy had to defend herself.

“It’s not an excuse,” she said, crossing her arms, then planting her hands on her hips when that didn’t feel right. “Truly, what would be the point of it? You know that I’m to marry Haselby. It’s been planned for ages.”

She crossed her arms again. Then dropped them. Then finally sat down.

“It’s not a bad match,” Lucy said. “Truthfully, after what happened to Georgiana Whiton, I should be getting down on my hands and knees and kissing my uncle’s feet for making such an acceptable alliance.”

There was a moment of horrified, almost reverent silence. If they had been Catholic, they would have surely crossed themselves. “There but for the grace of God,” Hermione finally said.

Lucy nodded slowly. Georgiana had been married off to a wheezy seventy-year-old with gout. And not even a titled seventy-year-old with gout. Good heavens, she ought to have at least earned a “Lady” before her name for her sacrifice.

“So you see,” Lucy finished, “Haselby really isn’t such a bad sort. Better than most, actually.”

Hermione looked at her. Closely. “Well, if it is what you wish, Lucy, you know that I shall support you unreservedly. But as for me…” She sighed, and her green eyes took on that faraway look that made grown men swoon. “I want something else.”

“I know you do,” Lucy said, trying to smile. But she couldn’t even begin to imagine how Hermione would achieve her dreams. In the world they lived in, viscounts’ daughters did not marry viscounts’ secretaries. And it seemed to Lucy that it would make far more sense to adjust Hermione’s dreams than to reshape the social order. Easier, too.

But right now she was tired. And she wanted to go to bed. She would work on Hermione in the morning. Starting with that handsome Mr. Bridgerton. He would be perfect for her friend, and heaven knew he was interested.

Hermione would come around. Lucy would make sure of it.

Three

In which Our Hero tries very, very hard.

The following morning was bright and clear, and as Gregory helped himself to breakfast, his sister-in-law appeared at his side, smiling faintly, clearly up to something.

“Good morning,” she said, far too breezy and cheerful.

Gregory nodded his greeting as he heaped eggs on his plate. “Kate.”

“I thought, with the weather so fine, that we might organize an excursion to the village.”

“To buy ribbons and bows?”

“Exactly,” she replied. “I do think it is important to support the local shopkeepers, don’t you?”

“Of course,” he murmured, “although I have not recently found myself in great need of ribbons and bows.”

Kate appeared not to notice his sarcasm. “All of the young ladies have a bit of pin money and nowhere to spend it. If I do not send them to town they are liable to start a gaming establishment in the rose salon.”

Now that was something he’d like to see.

“And,” Kate continued quite determinedly, “if I send them to town, I will need to send them with escorts.”

When Gregory did not respond quickly enough, she repeated, “With escorts.”

Gregory cleared his throat. “Might I assume you are asking me to walk to the village this afternoon?”

“This morning,” she clarified, “and, since I thought to match everyone up, and, since you are a Bridgerton and thus my favorite gentleman of the bunch, I thought I might inquire if there happened to be anyone with whom you might prefer to be paired.”

Kate was nothing if not a matchmaker, but in this case Gregory decided he ought to be grateful for her meddling tendencies. “As a matter of fact,” he began, “there is-”

“Excellent!” Kate interrupted, clapping her hands together. “Lucy Abernathy it is.”

Lucy Aber-“Lucy Abernathy?” he repeated, dumbfounded. “The Lady Lucinda?”

“Yes, the two of you seemed so well-matched last evening, and I must say, Gregory, I like her tremendously. She says she is practically engaged, but it is my opinion that-”

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