It was damned irritating, actually.

And so he watched the two women, willing them to turn, to squirm, to do something to indicate that they were cognizant of his presence. Finally, after three concertos and a fugue, Lady Lucinda slowly twisted in her seat.

He could easily imagine her thoughts.

Slowly, slowly, act as if you’re glancing at the door to see if someone came in. Flick your eyes ever so slightly at Mr. Bridgerton-

He lifted his glass in salute.

She gasped, or at least he hoped she did, and turned quickly around.

He smiled. He probably shouldn’t take such joy in her distress, but truly, it was the only bright spot in the evening thus far.

As for Miss Watson-if she could feel the heat of his stare, she gave no indication. Gregory would have liked to have thought that she was studiously ignoring him-that at least might have indicated some sort of awareness. But as he watched her glance idly around the room, dipping her head every so often to whisper something in Lady Lucinda’s ear, it became painfully clear that she wasn’t ignoring him at all. That would imply that she noticed him.

Which she quite obviously did not.

Gregory felt his jaw clench. While he did not doubt the good intentions behind Lady Lucinda’s advice, the advice itself had been quite patently dreadful. And with only five days remaining to the house party, he had wasted valuable time.

“You look bored.”

He turned. His sister-in-law had slipped into the seat next to him and was speaking in a low undertone so as not to interfere with the performance.

“Quite a blow to my reputation as a hostess,” she added dryly.

“Not at all,” he murmured. “You are splendid as always.”

Kate turned forward and was silent for a few moments before saying, “She’s quite pretty.”

Gregory did not bother to pretend that he didn’t know what she was talking about. Kate was far too clever for that. But that didn’t mean he had to encourage the conversation. “She is,” he said simply, keeping his eyes facing front.

“My suspicion,” said Kate, “is that her heart is otherwise engaged. She has not encouraged any of the gentlemen’s attentions, and they have certainly all tried.”

Gregory felt his jaw tense.

“I have heard,” Kate continued, surely aware that she was being a bother, not that that would stop her, “that the same has been true all of this spring. The girl gives no indication that she wishes to make a match.”

“She fancies her father’s secretary,” Gregory said. Because, really, what was the point of keeping it a secret? Kate had a way of finding everything out. And perhaps she could be of help.

“Really?” Her voice came out a bit too loud, and she was forced to murmur apologies to her guests. “Really?” she said again, more quietly. “How do you know?”

Gregory opened his mouth to reply, but Kate answered her own question. “Oh, of course,” she said, “the Lady Lucinda. She would know everything.”

“Everything,” Gregory confirmed dryly.

Kate pondered this for a few moments, then stated the obvious. “Her parents cannot be pleased.”

“I don’t know that they are aware.”

“Oh my.” Kate sounded sufficiently impressed by this gossipy tidbit that Gregory turned to look at her. Sure enough, her eyes were wide and sparkling.

“Do try to contain yourself,” he said.

“But it’s the most excitement I’ve had all spring.”

He looked her squarely in the face. “You need to find a hobby.”

“Oh, Gregory,” she said, giving him a little nudge with her elbow. “Don’t allow love to turn you into such a stuff. You’re far too much fun for that. Her parents will never allow her to marry the secretary, and she’s not one to elope. You need only to wait her out.”

He let out an irritated exhale.

Kate patted him comfortingly. “I know, I know, you wish to have things done. Your sort is never one for patience.”

“My sort?”

She flicked her hand, which she clearly considered enough of an answer. “Truly, Gregory,” she said, “this is for the best.”

“That she is in love with someone else?”

“Stop being so dramatic. I meant that it will give you time to be certain of your feelings for her.”

Gregory thought of the gut-punched feeling he got every time he looked at her. Good God, especially the back of her neck, strange as that seemed. He couldn’t imagine he needed time. This was everything he’d ever imagined love to be. Huge, sudden, and utterly exhilarating.

And somehow crushing at the same time.

“I was surprised you didn’t ask to be seated with her at supper,” Kate murmured.

Gregory glared at the back of Lady Lucinda’s head.

“I can arrange it for tomorrow, if you wish,” Kate offered.

“Do.”

Kate nodded. “Yes, I-Oh, here we are. The music is ending. Pay attention now and look like we’re polite.”

He stood to applaud, as did she. “Have you ever not chattered all the way through a music recital?” he asked, keeping his eyes front.

“I have a curious aversion to them,” she said. But then her lips curved into a wicked little smile. “And a nostalgic sort of a fondness, as well.”

“Really?” Now he was interested.

“I don’t tell tales, of course,” she murmured, quite purposefully not looking at him, “but really, have you ever seen me attend the opera?”

Gregory felt his brows lift. Clearly there was an opera singer somewhere in his brother’s past. Where was his brother, anyway? Anthony seemed to have developed a remarkable talent for avoiding most of the social functions of the house party. Gregory had seen him only twice aside from their interview the night he arrived.

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