“Thank you,” she said.

And then said nothing else.

He cleared his throat. “Did you sleep well?”

“Yes, thank you,” she said.

“Are you enjoying your stay?”

“Yes, thank you,” she said.

Funny, but he’d always thought conversation with the woman he’d marry would come just a little bit easier.

He reminded himself that she still fancied herself in love with another man. Someone unsuitable, if Lady Lucinda’s comment of the night before was any indication. What was that she had called him-the lesser of two evils?

He glanced forward. Lady Lucinda was stumbling along ahead of him on the arm of Neville Berbrooke, who had never learned to adjust his gait for a lady. She seemed to be managing well enough, although he did think he might have heard a small cry of pain at one point.

He gave his head a mental shake. It was probably just a bird. Hadn’t Neville said he’d seen a flock of them through the window?

“Have you been friends with Lady Lucinda for very long?” he asked Miss Watson. He knew the answer, of course; Lady Lucinda had told him the night before. But he couldn’t think of anything else to ask. And he needed a question that could not be answered with yes, thank you or no, thank you.

“Three years,” Miss Watson replied. “She is my dearest friend.” And then her face finally took on a bit of animation as she said, “We ought to catch up.”

“To Mr. Berbrooke and Lady Lucinda?”

“Yes,” she said with a firm nod. “Yes, we ought.”

The last thing Gregory wanted to do was squander his precious time alone with Miss Watson, but he dutifully called out to Berbrooke to hold up. He did, stopping so suddenly that Lady Lucinda quite literally crashed into him.

She let out a startled cry, but other than that was clearly unhurt.

Miss Watson took advantage of the moment, however, by disengaging her hand from his elbow and rushing forward. “Lucy!” she cried out. “Oh, my dearest Lucy, are you injured?”

“Not at all,” Lady Lucinda replied, looking slightly confused by the extreme level of her friend’s concern.

“I must take your arm,” Miss Watson declared, hooking her elbow through Lady Lucinda’s.

“You must?” Lady Lucinda echoed, twisting away. Or rather, attempting to. “No, truly, that is not necessary.”

“I insist.”

“It is not necessary,” Lady Lucinda repeated, and Gregory wished he could see her face, because it sounded as if she were gritting her teeth.

“Heh heh,” came Berbrooke’s voice. “P’rhaps I’ll take your arm, Bridgerton.”

Gregory gave him a level look. “No.”

Berbrooke blinked. “It was a joke, you know.”

Gregory fought the urge to sigh and somehow managed to say, “I was aware.” He’d known Neville Berbrooke since they’d both been in leading strings, and he usually had more patience with him, but right now he wanted nothing so much as to fit him with a muzzle.

Meanwhile, the two girls were bickering about something, in tones hushed enough that Gregory couldn’t hope to make out what they were saying. Not that he’d likely have understood their language even if they’d been shouting it; it was clearly something bafflingly female. Lady Lucinda was still tugging her arm, and Miss Watson quite simply refused to let go.

“She is injured,” Hermione said, turning and batting her eyelashes.

Batting her eyelashes? She chose this moment to flirt?

“I am not,” Lucy returned. She turned to the two gentlemen. “I am not,” she repeated. “Not in the slightest. We should continue.”

Gregory couldn’t quite decide if he was amused or insulted by the entire spectacle. Miss Watson quite clearly did not wish for his escort, and while some men loved to pine for the unattainable, he’d always preferred his women smiling, friendly, and willing.

Miss Watson turned then, however, and he caught sight of the back of her neck (what was it about the back of her neck?). He felt himself sinking again, that madly in love feeling that had captured him the night before, and he told himself not to lose heart. He hadn’t even known her a full day; she merely needed time to get to know him. Love did not strike everyone with the same speed. His brother Colin, for example, had known his wife for years and years before he’d realized they were meant to be together.

Not that Gregory planned to wait years and years, but still, it did put the current situation in a better perspective.

After a few moments it became apparent that Miss Watson would not acquiesce, and the two women would be walking arm in arm. Gregory fell in step beside Miss Watson, while Berbrooke ambled on, somewhere in the vicinity of Lady Lucinda.

“You must tell us what it is like to be from such a large family,” Lady Lucinda said to him, leaning forward and speaking past Miss Watson. “Hermione and I each have but one sibling.”

“Have three m’self,” said Berbrooke. “All boys, all of us. ’Cept for my sister, of course.”

“It is…” Gregory was about to give his usual answer, about it being mad and crazy and usually more trouble than it was worth, but then somehow the deeper truth slipped across his lips, and he found himself saying, “Actually, it’s comforting.”

“Comforting?” Lady Lucinda echoed. “What an intriguing choice of word.”

He looked past Miss Watson to see her regarding him with curious blue eyes.

“Yes,” he said slowly, allowing his thoughts to coalesce before replying. “There is comfort in having a family, I think. It’s a sense of…just knowing, I suppose.”

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