It was nothing. She was nothing.

No, that was not fair. She was something. Quite a bit, actually. But not for him.

Six

In which Our Hero makes progress.

Dear God, what had she said?

That single thought pounded through Lucy’s mind as she lay in bed that night, too horrified even to toss and turn. She lay on her back, staring at the ceiling, utterly still, utterly mortified.

And the next morning, as she peered in the mirror, sighing at the weary lavender color beneath her eyes, there it was again-

Oh, Mr. Bridgerton, you are so much better than the rest.

And every time she relived it, the voice in her memory grew higher, more simpering, until she turned into one of those awful creatures-the girls who fluttered and swooned every time someone’s older brother came to visit at school.

“Lucy Abernathy,” she muttered under her breath, “you silly cow.”

“Did you say something?” Hermione looked up at her from her position near the bed. Lucy already had her hand on the doorknob, ready to leave for breakfast.

“Just doing sums in my head,” Lucy lied.

Hermione went back to putting on her shoes. “For heaven’s sake, why?” she said, mostly to herself.

Lucy shrugged, even though Hermione was not looking at her. She always said that she was doing sums in her head when Hermione caught her talking to herself. She had no idea why Hermione believed her; Lucy detested sums, almost as much as she hated fractions and tables. But it seemed like the sort of thing she might do, practical as she was, and Hermione had never questioned it.

Every now and then Lucy mumbled a number, just to make it more authentic.

“Are you ready to go down?” Lucy asked, twisting the knob. Not that she was. The last thing she wished was to see, well, anyone. Mr. Bridgerton in particular, of course, but the thought of facing the world at large was just ghastly.

But she was hungry, and she was going to have to show herself eventually, and she didn’t see why her misery ought to wallow on an empty stomach.

As they walked to breakfast, Hermione peered at her curiously. “Are you well, Lucy?” she asked. “You look a little strange.”

Lucy fought the urge to laugh. She was strange. She was an idiot, and probably shouldn’t be let loose in public.

Good God, had she actually told Gregory Bridgerton that he was better than the rest?

She wanted to die. Or at the very least hide under a bed.

But no, she couldn’t even manage to feign illness and have a good lying-in. It hadn’t even occurred to her to try. She was so ridiculously normal and routineish that she was up and ready to depart for breakfast before she’d even managed a single coherent thought.

Aside from the pondering of her apparent madness, of course. That she had no trouble focusing upon.

“Well, you look very fine, anyway,” Hermione said as they reached the top of the staircase. “I do like your choice of the green ribbon with the blue dress. I wouldn’t have thought of it, but it’s very smart. And so lovely with your eyes.”

Lucy looked down at her clothing. She had no recollection of dressing herself. It was a miracle she did not look as if she had escaped from a Gypsy circus.

Although…

She let out a little sigh. Running off with the Gypsies sounded rather appealing just then, practical even, since she was quite certain she ought never to show her face in polite society again. Clearly she was missing an extremely important connecting vessel between her brain and her mouth, and heaven only knew what might emerge from her lips next.

Good gracious, she might as well have told Gregory Bridgerton that she thought him a god.

Which she did not. Not at all. She merely thought him a rather fine catch for Hermione. And she’d told him so. Hadn’t she?

What had she said? Precisely, what had she said?

“Lucy?”

What she said was…What she said was-

She stopped cold.

Dear God. He was going to think she wanted him.

Hermione walked another few paces before she realized Lucy was no longer in step beside her. “Lucy?”

“Do you know,” Lucy said, her voice coming out just a little bit squeaky, “I don’t believe I’m hungry after all.”

Hermione looked incredulous. “For breakfast?”

It was a bit farfetched. Lucy always ate like a sailor at breakfast.

“I…ah…I think something did not quite agree with me last night. Perhaps the salmon.” She put her hand on her belly for added effect. “I think I should lie down.”

And never get up.

“You do look a bit green,” Hermione said.

Lucy smiled wanly, making a conscious decision to be thankful for small favors.

“Would you like me to bring you something?” Hermione asked.

“Yes,” Lucy said fervently, hoping Hermione hadn’t heard the rumble of her stomach.

“Oh, but I shouldn’t,” Hermione said, placing one thoughtful finger to her lips. “You probably shouldn’t eat if you are feeling queasy. The last thing you want is to bring it all up again.”

“It’s not queasiness, exactly,” Lucy improvised.

“It’s not?”

“It’s…ah…rather difficult to explain, actually. I…” Lucy sagged against the wall. Who knew she had it in her to be such a fine actress?

Hermione rushed to her side, concern knitting her brow. “Oh dear,” she said, supporting Lucy with an arm around her back. “You look ghastly.”

Lucy blinked. Maybe she was taking ill. Even better. That would keep her sequestered for days.

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