Lucy watched as Lady Bridgerton moved to greet Mr. Neville Berbrooke at the door. They had already been introduced, of course; introductions had been made for everyone at the house party. But Lucy had not yet conversed with Mr. Berbrooke, nor truly even seen him except from afar. He seemed an affable enough fellow, rather jolly-looking with a ruddy complexion and a shock of blond hair.

“Hallo, Lady Bridgerton,” he said, somehow crashing into a table leg as he entered the room. “Excellent breakfast this morning. Especially the kippers.”

“Thank you,” Lady Bridgerton replied, glancing nervously at the Chinese vase now teetering on the tabletop. “I’m sure you remember Lady Lucinda.”

The pair murmured their greetings, then Mr. Berbrooke said, “D’you like kippers?”

Lucy looked first to Hermione, then to Lady Bridgerton for guidance, but neither seemed any less baffled than she, so she just said, “Er…yes?”

“Excellent!” he said. “I say, is that a tufted tern out the window?”

Lucy blinked. She looked to Lady Bridgerton, only to discover that the viscountess would not make eye contact. “A tufted tern you say,” Lucy finally murmured, since she could not think of any other suitable reply. Mr. Berbrooke had ambled over to the window, so she went to join him. She peered out. She could see no birds.

Meanwhile, out of the corner of her eye she could see that Mr. Bridgerton had entered the room and was doing his best to charm Hermione. Good heavens, the man had a nice smile! Even white teeth, and the expression extended to his eyes, unlike most of the bored young aristocrats Lucy had met. Mr. Bridgerton smiled as if he meant it.

Which made sense, of course, as he was smiling at Hermione, with whom he was quite obviously infatuated.

Lucy could not hear what they were saying, but she easily recognized the expression on Hermione’s face. Polite, of course, since Hermione would never be impolite. And maybe no one could see it but Lucy, who knew her friend so well, but Hermione was doing no more than tolerating Mr. Bridgerton’s attentions, accepting his flattery with a nod and a pretty smile while her mind was far, far elsewhere.

With that cursed Mr. Edmonds.

Lucy clenched her jaw as she pretended to look for terns, tufted or otherwise, with Mr. Berbrooke. She had no reason to think Mr. Edmonds anything but a nice young man, but the simple truth was, Hermione’s parents would never countenance the match, and while Hermione might think she would be able to live happily on a secretary’s salary, Lucy was quite certain that once the first bloom of marriage faded, Hermione would be miserable.

And she could do so much better. It was obvious that Hermione could marry anyone. Anyone. She wouldn’t need to settle. She could be a queen of the ton if she so desired.

Lucy eyed Mr. Bridgerton, nodding and keeping one ear on Mr. Berbrooke, who was back on the subject of kippers. Mr. Bridgerton was perfect. He didn’t possess a title, but Lucy was not so ruthless that she felt Hermione had to marry into the highest available rank. She just could not align herself with a secretary, for heaven’s sake.

Plus, Mr. Bridgerton was extremely handsome, with dark, chestnut hair and lovely hazel eyes. And his family seemed perfectly nice and reasonable, which Lucy had to think was a point in his favor. When you married a man, you married his family, really.

Lucy couldn’t imagine a better husband for Hermione. Well, she supposed she would not complain if Mr. Bridgerton were next in line for a marquisate, but really, one could not have everything. And most importantly, she was quite certain that he would make Hermione happy, even if Hermione did not yet realize this.

“I will make this happen,” she said to herself.

“Eh?” from Mr. Berbrooke. “Did you find the bird?”

“Over there,” Lucy said, pointing toward a tree.

He leaned forward. “Really?”

“Oh, Lucy!” came Hermione’s voice.

Lucy turned around.

“Shall we be off? Mr. Bridgerton is eager to be on his way.”

“I am at your service, Miss Watson,” the man in question said. “We depart at your discretion.”

Hermione gave Lucy a look that clearly said that she was eager to be on her way, so Lucy said, “Let us depart, then,” and she took Mr. Berbrooke’s proffered arm and allowed him to lead her to the front drive, managing to yelp only once, even though she thrice stubbed her toe on heaven knew what, but somehow, even with a nice, lovely expanse of grass, Mr. Berbrooke managed to find every tree root, rock, and bump, and lead her directly to them.

Gad.

Lucy mentally prepared herself for further injury. It was going to be a painful outing. But a productive one. By the time they returned home, Hermione would be at least a little intrigued by Mr. Bridgerton.

Lucy would make sure of it.

If Gregory had had any doubts about Miss Hermione Watson, they were banished the moment he placed her hand in the crook of his elbow. There was a rightness to it, a strange, mystical sense of two halves coming together. She fit perfectly next to him. They fit.

And he wanted her.

It wasn’t even desire. It was strange, actually. He wasn’t feeling anything so plebian as bodily desire. It was something else. Something within. He simply wanted her to be his. He wanted to look at her, and to know. To know that she would carry his name and bear his children and gaze lovingly at him every morning over a cup of chocolate.

He wanted to tell her all this, to share his dreams, to paint a picture of their life together, but he was no fool, and so he simply said, as he guided her down the front path, “You look exceptionally lovely this morning, Miss Watson.”

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