“Where is the scintillating Lord Bridgerton?” he asked.

“Oh, somewhere. I don’t know. We’ll find each other at the end of the day, that is all that matters.” Kate turned to him with a remarkably serene smile. Annoyingly serene. “I must mingle,” she said, smiling at him as if she hadn’t a care in the world. “Do enjoy yourself.” And she was off.

Gregory hung back, making polite conversation with a few of the other guests as he surreptitiously watched Miss Watson. She was chatting with two young gentlemen-annoying sops, the both of them-while Lady Lucinda stood politely to the side. And while Miss Watson did not appear to be flirting with either, she certainly was paying them more attention than he’d received that evening.

And there was Lady Lucinda, smiling prettily, taking it all in.

Gregory’s eyes narrowed. Had she double-crossed him? She didn’t seem the sort. But then again, their acquaintance was barely twenty-four hours old. How well did he know her, really? She could have an ulterior motive. And she might be a very fine actress, with dark, mysterious secrets lying below the surface of her-

Oh, blast it all. He was going mad. He would bet his last penny that Lady Lucinda could not lie to save her life. She was sunny and open and most definitely not mysterious. She had meant well, of that much he was certain.

But her advice had been excremental.

He caught her eye. A faint expression of apology seemed to flit across her face, and he thought she might have shrugged.

Shrugged? What the hell did that mean?

He took a step forward.

Then he stopped.

Then he thought about taking another step.

No.

Yes.

No.

Maybe?

Damn it. He didn’t know what to do. It was a singularly unpleasant sensation.

He looked back at Lady Lucinda, quite certain that his expression was not one of sweetness and light. Really, this was all her fault.

But of course now she wasn’t looking at him.

He did not shift his gaze.

She turned back. Her eyes widened, hopefully with alarm.

Good. Now they were getting somewhere. If he couldn’t feel the bliss of Miss Watson’s regard, then at least he could make Lady Lucinda feel the misery of his.

Truly, there were times that just didn’t call for maturity and tact.

He remained at the edge of the room, finally beginning to enjoy himself. There was something perversely entertaining about imagining Lady Lucinda as a small defenseless hare, not quite sure if or when she might meet her untimely end.

Not, of course, that Gregory could ever assign himself the role of hunter. His piss-poor marksmanship guaranteed that he couldn’t hit anything that moved, and it was a damned good thing he wasn’t responsible for acquiring his own food.

But he could imagine himself the fox.

He smiled, his first real one of the evening.

And then he knew that the fates were on his side, because he saw Lady Lucinda make her excuses and slip out the conservatory door, presumably to attend to her needs. As Gregory was standing on his own in the back corner, no one noticed when he exited the room through a different door.

And when Lady Lucinda passed by the doorway to the library, he was able to yank her in without making a sound.

Five

In which Our Hero and Heroine have a most intriguing conversation.

One moment Lucy was walking down the corridor, her nose scrunched in thought as she tried to recall the location of the nearest washroom, and the next she was hurtling through air, or at the very least tripping over her feet, only to find herself bumping up against a decidedly large, decidedly warm, and decidedly human form.

“Don’t scream,” came a voice. One she knew.

“Mr. Bridgerton?” Good heavens, this seemed out of character. Lucy wasn’t quite certain if she ought to be scared.

“We need to talk,” he said, letting go of her arm. But he locked the door and pocketed the key.

“Now?” Lucy asked. Her eyes adjusted to the dim light and she realized they were in the library. “Here?” And then a more pertinent question sprang to mind. “Alone?”

He scowled. “I’m not going to ravish you, if that’s what worries you.”

She felt her jaw clench. She hadn’t thought he would, but he didn’t need to make his honorable behavior sound so much like an insult.

“Well, then, what is this about?” she demanded. “If I am caught here in your company, there will be the devil to pay. I’m practically engaged, you know.”

“I know,” he said. In that sort of tone. As if she’d informed him of it ad nauseam, when she knew for a fact she had not mentioned it more than once. Or possibly twice.

“Well, I am,” she grumbled, just knowing that she would think of the perfect retort two hours later.

“What,” he demanded, “is going on?”

“What do you mean?” she asked, even though she knew quite well what he was talking about.

“Miss Watson,” he ground out.

“Hermione?” As if there was another Miss Watson. But it did buy her a bit of time.

“Your advice,” he said, his gaze boring into hers, “was abysmal.”

He was correct, of course, but she’d been hoping he might not have noticed.

“Right,” she said, eyeing him warily as he crossed his arms. It wasn’t the most welcoming of gestures, but she had to admit that he carried it off well. She’d heard that his reputation was one of joviality and fun, neither of which was presently in evidence, but, well, hell hath no fury and all that. She supposed one didn’t need to be a woman to feel a tad bit underwhelmed at the prospect of unrequited love.

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