“The ground was melting,” he said. And almost laughed.

“How…unpleasant.”

“It was,” he said, with great animation. “I thought it would swallow me whole. Have you ever felt like that, Miss Watson?”

Silence. And then-“No. No, I can’t say that I have.”

He idly fingered his earlobe, and then said, quite offhandedly, “I didn’t much like it.”

He thought she might spit her tea.

“Well, really,” he continued. “Who would?”

And for the first time since he’d met her, he thought he saw the disinterested mask slip from her eyes as she said, with quite a bit of feeling, “I have no idea.”

She even shook her head. Three things at once! A complete sentence, a spot of emotion, and a shake of the head. By George, he might be getting through to her.

“What happened next, Mr. Bridgerton?”

Good God, she had asked him a question. He might tumble from his chair. “Actually,” he said, “I woke up.”

“That’s fortunate.”

“I thought so as well. They say if you die in your dreams, you die in your sleep.”

Her eyes widened. “They do?”

“They being my brothers,” he admitted. “You may feel free to assess the information based upon its source.”

“I have a brother,” she said. “He delights in tormenting me.”

Gregory offered her a grave nod. “That is what brothers are meant to do.”

“Do you torment your sisters?”

“Mostly just the younger one.”

“Because she’s smaller.”

“No, because she deserves it.”

She laughed. “Mr. Bridgerton, you are terrible.”

He smiled slowly. “You haven’t met Hyacinth.”

“If she bothers you enough to make you wish to torment her, I am sure I would adore her.”

He sat back, enjoying this feeling of ease. It was nice not to have to work so hard. “Your brother is your elder, then?”

She nodded. “He does torment me because I’m smaller.”

“You mean you don’t deserve it?”

“Of course not.”

He couldn’t quite tell if she was being facetious. “Where is your brother now?”

“Trinity Hall.” She took the last bite of her eggs. “Cambridge. Lucy’s brother was there as well. He has been graduated for a year.”

Gregory wasn’t quite certain why she was telling him this. He wasn’t interested in Lucinda Abernathy’s brother.

Miss Watson cut another small piece of bacon and lifted her fork to her mouth. Gregory ate as well, stealing glances at her as he chewed. Lord, but she was lovely. He didn’t think he’d ever seen another woman with her coloring. It was the skin, really. He imagined that most men thought her beauty came from her hair and eyes, and it was true that those were the features that initially stopped a man cold. But her skin was like alabaster laid over a rose petal.

He paused mid-chew. He had no idea he could be so poetic.

Miss Watson set down her fork. “Well,” she said, with the tiniest of sighs, “I suppose I should prepare that plate for Lucy.”

He stood immediately to assist her. Good heavens, but she actually sounded as if she didn’t wish to leave. Gregory congratulated himself on an extremely productive breakfast.

“I shall find someone to carry it back for you,” he said, signaling to a footman.

“Oh, that would be lovely.” She smiled gratefully at him, and his heart quite literally skipped a beat. He’d thought it merely a figure of speech, but now he knew it was true. Love really could affect one’s internal organs.

“Please do offer Lady Lucinda my well wishes,” he said, watching curiously as Miss Watson heaped five slices of meat on the plate.

“Lucy likes bacon,” she said.

“I see that.”

And then she proceeded to spoon eggs, cod, potatoes, tomatoes, and then on a separate plate muffins and toast.

“Breakfast has always been her favorite meal,” Miss Watson said.

“Mine as well.”

“I shall tell her that.”

“I can’t imagine that she will be interested.”

A maid had entered the room with a tray, and Miss Watson placed the heaping plates upon it. “Oh, she will,” she said breezily. “Lucy is interested in everything. She does sums in her head, even. For entertainment.”

“You’re joking.” Gregory couldn’t imagine a less pleasant way to keep oneself occupied.

She placed her hand on her heart. “I swear it to you. I think she must be trying to improve her mind, because she was never very good at maths.” She walked to the door, then turned to face him. “Breakfast was lovely, Mr. Bridgerton. Thank you for the company and the conversation.”

He inclined his head. “The pleasure was all mine.”

Except that it wasn’t. She had enjoyed their time together, too. He could see it in her smile. And her eyes.

And he felt like a king.

“Did you know that if you die in your dreams, you die in your sleep?”

Lucy didn’t even pause in her cutting of her bacon. “Nonsense,” she said. “Who told you that?”

Hermione perched on the edge of the bed. “Mr. Bridgerton.”

Now that rated above bacon. Lucy looked up immediately. “Then you saw him at breakfast?”

Hermione nodded. “We sat across from each other. He helped me arrange for the tray.”

Lucy regarded her massive breakfast with dismay. Usually she managed to hide her ferocious appetite by dallying at the breakfast table, then getting another serving once the first wave of guests had departed.

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