She was perfectly nice, perfectly intelligent, and certainly more than attractive. But Lucy Abernathy was not for him. And he almost laughed, because it all would have been so much easier if his heart had flipped the first time he saw her. She might be practically engaged, but she wasn’t in love. Of that he was certain.

But Hermione Watson…

“What did she say?” he whispered, dreading the answer.

Lady Lucinda tilted her head to the side, and she looked nothing so much as puzzled. “She said that she didn’t even see his face. Just the back of his head-”

Just the back of her neck.

“-and then he turned, and she thought she heard music, and all she could think was-”

I am wrecked.

“-‘I am ruined.’ That is what she said to me.” She looked up at him, her head still tilting curiously to the side. “Can you imagine? Ruined? Of all things. I couldn’t quite grasp it.”

But he could. He could.

Exactly.

He looked at Lady Lucinda, and he saw that she was watching his face. She looked puzzled still. And concerned. And just a little bit bewildered when she asked, “Don’t you find it odd?”

“Yes.” Just one word, but with his entire heart wrapped around it. Because it was strange. It cut like a knife. She wasn’t supposed to feel that way about someone else.

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen.

And then, as if a spell had been broken, Lady Lucinda turned and took a few steps to the right. She peered at the bookshelves-not that she could possibly make out any of the titles in this light-then ran her fingers along the spines.

Gregory watched her hand; he didn’t know why. He just watched it as it moved. She was quite elegant, he realized. It wasn’t noticeable at first, because her looks were so wholesome and traditional. One expected elegance to shimmer like silk, to glow, to transfix. Elegance was an orchid, not a simple daisy.

But when Lady Lucinda moved, she looked different. She seemed to…flow.

She would be a good dancer. He was sure of it.

Although he wasn’t quite sure why that mattered.

“I’m sorry,” she said, turning quite suddenly around.

“About Miss Watson?”

“Yes. I did not mean to hurt your feelings.”

“You didn’t,” he said, perhaps a little too sharply.

“Oh.” She blinked, perhaps with surprise. “I’m glad for that. I didn’t mean to.”

She wouldn’t mean to, he realized. She wasn’t the sort.

Her lips parted, but she didn’t speak right away. Her eyes seemed to focus beyond his shoulder, as if she were searching behind him for the correct words. “It was just that…Well, when you said what you said about love,” she began, “it just sounded so familiar. I couldn’t quite fathom it.”

“Nor could I,” he said softly.

She held silent, not quite looking at him. Her lips were pursed-just a touch-and every now and then she would blink. Not a fluttery sort of movement but rather something quite deliberate.

She was thinking, he realized. She was the sort who thought about things, probably to the neverending frustration of anyone charged with the task of guiding her through life.

“What will you do now?” she asked.

“About Miss Watson?”

She nodded.

“What do you suggest I do?”

“I’m not sure,” she said. “I can speak to her on your behalf, if you would like.”

“No.” Something about that seemed far too juvenile. And Gregory was only just now beginning to feel that he was truly a man, well and grown, ready to make his mark.

“You can wait, then,” she said with a tiny shrug. “Or you can proceed and try again to woo her. She won’t have the opportunity to see Mr. Edmonds for at least a month, and I would think…eventually…she would come to see…”

But she didn’t finish. And he wanted to know. “Come to see what?” he pressed.

She looked up, as if pulled from a dream. “Why, that you…that you…just that you are so much better than the rest. I don’t know why she cannot see it. It’s quite obvious to me.”

From anyone else it would have been a strange statement. Overly forward, perhaps. Maybe even a coy hint of availability.

But not from her. She was without artifice, the sort of girl a man could trust. Rather like his sisters, he supposed, with a keen wit and a sharp sense of humor. Lucy Abernathy would never inspire poetry, but she would make a very fine friend.

“It will happen,” she said, her voice soft but certain. “She will realize. You…and Hermione…You will be together. I am sure of it.”

He watched her lips as she spoke. He didn’t know why, but the shape of them was suddenly intriguing…the way they moved, formed their consonants and vowels. They were ordinary lips. Nothing about them had attracted his attention before. But now, in the darkened library, with nothing in the air but the soft whisper of their voices…

He wondered what it would mean to kiss her.

He stepped back, feeling suddenly and overwhelmingly wrong.

“We should return,” he said abruptly.

A flicker of hurt passed over her eyes. Damn. He hadn’t meant to sound like he was so eager to be rid of her. None of this was her fault. He was just tired. And frustrated. And she was there. And the night was dark. And they were alone.

And it hadn’t been desire. It couldn’t be desire. He’d been waiting his entire life to react to a woman the way he had to Hermione Watson. He couldn’t possibly feel desire for another woman after that. Not Lady Lucinda, not anyone.

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