“If she really loved someone,” he said softly, “she would risk anything.”

Lucy froze. There was something in his voice. Something rough, something powerful. It shivered across her skin, raising goosebumps, leaving her strangely unable to move.

And she had to ask. She had to. She had to know. “Would you?” she whispered. “Would you risk anything?”

He didn’t move, but his eyes burned. And he didn’t hesitate. “Anything.”

Her lips parted. With surprise? Awe? Something else?

“Would you?” he countered.

“I…I’m not sure.” She shook her head, and she had the queerest feeling that she didn’t quite know herself any longer. Because it ought to have been an easy question. It would have been, just a few days ago. She would have said of course not, and she would have said she was far too practical for that sort of nonsense.

And most of all, she would have said that that sort of love did not exist, anyway.

But something had changed, and she didn’t know what. Something had shifted within her, leaving her off-balance.

Unsure.

“I don’t know,” she said again. “I suppose it would depend.”

“On what?” And his voice grew even softer. Impossibly soft, and yet she could make out every word.

“On…” She didn’t know. How could she not know what it would depend upon? She felt lost, and rootless, and…and…and then the words just came. Slipped softly from her lips. “On love, I suppose.”

“On love.”

“Yes.” Good heavens, had she ever had such a conversation? Did people actually talk about such things? And were there even any answers?

Or was she the only person in the world who didn’t understand?

Something caught in her throat, and Lucy suddenly felt far too alone in her ignorance. He knew, and Hermione knew, and the poets claimed they did as well. It seemed she was the only lost soul, the only person who didn’t understand what love was, who wasn’t even sure it existed, or if it did, whether it existed for her.

“On how it felt,” she finally said, because she didn’t know what else to say. “On how love felt. How it feels.”

His eyes met hers. “Do you think there is a variation?”

She hadn’t expected another question. She was still reeling from the last one.

“How love feels,” he clarified. “Do you think it could possibly be different for different people? If you loved someone, truly and deeply, wouldn’t it feel like…like everything?”

She didn’t know what to say.

He turned and took a few steps toward the window. “It would consume you,” he said. “How could it not?”

Lucy just stared at his back, mesmerized by the way his finely cut coat stretched across his shoulders. It was the strangest thing, but she couldn’t seem to pull her gaze from the little spot where his hair touched his collar.

She almost jumped when he turned around. “There would be no doubting it,” he said, his voice low with the intensity of a true believer. “You would simply know. It would feel like everything you’d ever dreamed, and then it would feel like more.”

He stepped toward her. Once. Then again. And then he said, “That, I think, is how love must feel.”

And in that moment Lucy knew that she was not destined to feel that way. If it existed-if love existed the way Gregory Bridgerton imagined it-it did not wait for her. She couldn’t imagine such a maelstrom of emotion. And she would not enjoy it. That much she knew. She didn’t want to feel lost to the whirlwind, at the mercy of something beyond her control.

She didn’t want misery. She didn’t want despair. And if that meant she also had to forsake bliss and rapture, so be it.

She lifted her eyes to his, made breathless by the gravity of her own revelations. “It’s too much,” she heard herself say. “It would be too much. I wouldn’t…I wouldn’t…”

Slowly, he shook his head. “You would have no choice. It would be beyond your control. It just…happens.”

Her mouth parted with surprise. “That’s what she said.”

“Who?”

And when she answered, her voice was strangely detached, as if the words were being drawn straight from her memory. “Hermione,” she said. “That’s what Hermione said about Mr. Edmonds.”

Gregory’s lips tightened at the corners. “Did she?”

Lucy slowly nodded. “Almost precisely. She said it just happens. In an instant.”

“She said that?” The words sounded like an echo, and indeed, that was all he could do-whisper inane questions, looking for verification, hoping that maybe he had misheard, and she would reply with something entirely different.

But of course she did not. In fact, it was worse than he’d feared. She said, “She was in the garden, that’s what she said, just looking at the roses, and then she saw him. And she knew.”

Gregory just stared at her. His chest felt hollow, his throat tight. This wasn’t what he wanted to hear. Damn it, this was the one thing he didn’t want to hear.

She looked up at him then, and her eyes, gray in the dim light of the night, found his in an oddly intimate manner. It was as if he knew her, knew what she would say, and how her face would look when she said it. It was strange, and terrifying, and most of all, discomforting, because this wasn’t the Honorable Miss Hermione Watson.

This was Lady Lucinda Abernathy, and she was not the woman with whom he intended to spend the rest of his life.

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