“I see,” Lucy said, with an admirable amount of gravity, considering that she didn’t understand at all. But then again, she never understood this sort of thing. And after her strange conversation with Mr. Bridgerton the night before, she was quite convinced she never would.

“But wouldn’t you think-if I am so desperately in love with Mr. Edmonds-wouldn’t you think I would never flutter with anyone else?”

Lucy thought about that. And then she said, “I don’t see why love has to be desperate.”

Hermione pushed herself up on her elbows and looked at her curiously. “That wasn’t my question.”

It wasn’t? Oughtn’t it have been?

“Well,” Lucy said, choosing her words carefully, “perhaps it means-”

“I know what you are going to say,” Hermione cut in. “You’re going to say that it probably means I am not as in love with Mr. Edmonds as I thought. And then you will say that I need to give Mr. Bridgerton a chance. And then you will tell me that I ought to give all of the other gentlemen a chance.”

“Well, not all of them,” Lucy said. But the rest of it was rather close.

“Don’t you think this has all occurred to me? Don’t you realize how terribly distressing all of this is? To doubt myself so? And good heavens, Lucy, what if this is not the end of it? What if this happens again? With someone else?”

Lucy rather suspected she was not meant to answer, but still she spoke. “There is nothing wrong with doubting yourself, Hermione. Marriage is an enormous undertaking. The biggest choice you will ever make in your life. Once it’s done, you can’t change your mind.”

Lucy took a bite of her bacon, reminding herself how grateful she was that Lord Haselby was so suitable. Her situation could have been ever so much worse. She chewed, swallowed, and said, “You need only to give yourself a bit of time, Hermione. And you should. There is never any good reason to rush into marriage.”

There was a long paused before Hermione answered. “I reckon you’re right.”

“If you are truly meant to be with Mr. Edmonds, he will wait for you.” Oh, heavens. Lucy couldn’t believe she’d just said that.

Hermione jumped from the bed, just so that she could rush to Lucy’s side and envelop her in a hug. “Oh, Lucy, that was the sweetest thing you have ever said to me. I know you don’t approve of him.”

“Well…” Lucy cleared her throat, trying to think of an acceptable reply. Something that would make her feel not quite so guilty for not having meant it. “It’s not that-”

A knock sounded at the door.

Oh, thank goodness.

“Enter,” the two girls called out in unison.

A maid came in and bobbed a quick curtsy. “M’lady,” she said, looking at Lucy, “Lord Fennsworth has arrived to see you.”

Lucy gaped at her. “My brother?”

“He is waiting in the rose salon, m’lady. Shall I tell him you will be right down?”

“Yes. Yes, of course.”

“Will there be anything else?”

Lucy slowly shook her head. “No, thank you. That will be all.”

The maid departed, leaving Lucy and Hermione staring at each other in shock.

“Why do you think Richard is here?” Hermione asked, her eyes wide with interest. She had met Lucy’s brother on a number of occasions, and they had always got on well.

“I don’t know.” Lucy quickly climbed out of bed, all thoughts of feigning an upset stomach forgotten. “I hope nothing is amiss.”

Hermione nodded and followed her to the wardrobe. “Has your uncle been unwell?”

“Not that I have been made aware.” Lucy fished out her slippers and sat on the edge of the bed to put them back on her feet. “I had best get down to see him. If he is here, it is something important.”

Hermione regarded her for a moment, then asked, “Would you like for me to accompany you? I shan’t intrude upon your conversation, of course. But I will walk down with you, if you like.”

Lucy nodded, and together they departed for the rose salon.


In which Our Unexpected Guest delivers distressing news.

Gregory had been chatting with his sister-in-law in the breakfast room when the butler informed her of their unexpected guest, and so naturally he decided to accompany her to the rose salon to greet Lord Fennsworth, elder brother to Lady Lucinda. He had nothing better to do, and it somehow seemed he ought to go meet the young earl, given that Miss Watson had been chattering on about him a quarter of an hour earlier. Gregory knew him only by reputation; the four years’ difference in their ages had ensured that they had not crossed paths at university, and Fennsworth had not yet chosen to take his place in London society.

Gregory had been expecting a studious, bookish sort; he’d heard that Fennsworth had elected to remain at Cambridge even when school was not in session. Indeed, the gentleman waiting by the window in the rose salon did possess a certain gravitas that made him seem slightly older than his years. But Lord Fennsworth was also tall, fit, and although perhaps a touch shy, he carried himself with an air of self-possession that came from something more primal than a title of nobility.

Lady Lucinda’s brother knew who he was, not just what he was born to be called. Gregory liked him immediately.

Until it became obvious that he, like the rest of male humanity, was in love with Hermione Watson.

The only mystery, really, was why Gregory was surprised.

Gregory had to commend him-Fennsworth managed a full minute of inquiries about his sister’s welfare before he added, “And Miss Watson? Will she be joining us as well?”

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