“What do you mean?” Lucy asked, and she appeared quite sincerely interested.
“I know that they are there,” Gregory said, “that should I ever be in trouble, or even simply in need of a good conversation, I can always turn to them.”
And it was true. He had never really thought about it in so many words, but it was true. He was not as close to his brothers as they were to one another, but that was only natural, given the age difference. When they had been men about town, he had been a student at Eton. And now they were all three married, with families of their own.
But still, he knew that should he need them, or his sisters for that matter, he had only to ask.
He never had, of course. Not for anything important. Or even most things unimportant. But he knew that he could. It was more than most men had in this world, more than most men would ever have.
He blinked. Lady Lucinda was regarding him quizzically.
“My apologies,” he murmured. “Woolgathering, I suppose.” He offered her a smile and a nod, then glanced over at Miss Watson, who, he was surprised to see, had also turned to look at him. Her eyes seemed huge in her face, clear and dazzlingly green, and for a moment he felt an almost electric connection. She smiled, just a little, and with a touch of embarrassment at having been caught, then looked away.
Gregory’s heart leaped.
And then Lady Lucinda spoke again. “That is exactlyhow I feel about Hermione,” she said. “She is the sister of my heart.”
“Miss Watson is truly an exceptional lady,” Gregory murmured, then added, “As, of course, are you.”
“She is a superb watercolorist,” Lady Lucinda said.
Hermione blushed prettily. “Lucy.”
“But you are,” her friend insisted.
“Like to paint myself,” came Neville Berbrooke’s jovial voice. “Ruin my shirts every time, though.”
Gregory glanced at him in surprise. Between his oddly revealing conversation with Lady Lucinda and his shared glance with Miss Watson, he’d almost forgotten Berbrooke was there.
“M’valet is up in arms about it,” Neville continued, ambling along. “Don’t know why they can’t make paint that washes out of linen.” He paused, apparently in deep thought. “Or wool.”
“Do you like to paint?” Lady Lucinda asked Gregory.
“No talent for it,” he admitted. “But my brother is an artist of some renown. Two of his paintings hang in the National Gallery.”
“Oh, that is marvelous!” she exclaimed. She turned to Miss Watson. “Did you hear that, Hermione? You must ask Mr. Bridgerton to introduce you to his brother.”
“I would not wish to inconvenience either Mr. Bridgerton,” she said demurely.
“It would be no inconvenience at all,” Gregory said, smiling down at her. “I would be delighted to make the introduction, and Benedict always loves to natter on about art. I rarely am able to follow the conversation, but he seems quite animated.”
“You see,” Lucy put in, patting Hermione’s arm. “You and Mr. Bridgerton have a great deal in common.”
Even Gregory thought that was a bit of a stretch, but he did not comment.
“Velvet,” Neville suddenly declared.
Three heads swung in his direction. “I beg your pardon?” Lady Lucinda murmured.
“S’the worst,” he said, nodding with great vigor. “T’get the paint out of, I mean.”
Gregory could only see the back of her head, but he could well imagine her blinking as she said, “You wear velvet while you paint?”
“If it’s cold.”
Neville’s face lit up. “Do you think so? I’ve always wanted to be unique.”
“You are,” she said, and Gregory did not hear anything other than reassurance in her voice. “You most certainly are, Mr. Berbrooke.”
Neville beamed. “Unique. I like that. Unique.” He smiled anew, testing the word on his lips. “Unique. Unique. Youoo-oooooo-neek.”
The foursome continued toward the village in amiable silence, punctuated by Gregory’s occasional attempts to draw Miss Watson into a conversation. Sometimes he succeeded, but more often than not, it was Lady Lucinda who ended up chatting with him. When she wasn’t trying to prod Miss Watson into conversation, that was.
And the whole time Neville chattered on, mostly carrying on a conversation with himself, mostly about his newfound uniqueness.
At last the familiar buildings of the village came into view. Neville declared himself uniquely famished, whatever that meant, so Gregory steered the group to the White Hart, a local inn that served simple but always delicious fare.
“We should have a picnic,” Lady Lucinda suggested. “Wouldn’t that be marvelous?”
“Capital idea,” Neville exclaimed, gazing at her as if she were a goddess. Gregory was a little startled by the fervor of his expression, but Lady Lucinda seemed not to notice.
“What is your opinion, Miss Watson?” Gregory asked. But the lady in question was lost in thought, her eyes unfocused even as they remained fixed on a painting on the wall.
“Miss Watson?” he repeated, and then when he finally had her attention, he said, “Would you care to take a picnic?”
“Oh. Yes, that would be lovely.” And then she went back to staring off into space, her perfect lips curved into a wistful, almost longing expression.
Gregory nodded, tamping down his disappointment, and set out making arrangements. The innkeeper, who knew his family well, gave him two clean bedsheets to lay upon the grass and promised to bring out a hamper of food when it was ready.
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