“I beg your pardon,” Anthony finally murmured.

“It’s not as if I’ve many choices,” Gregory said. And as the words emerged, he realized it was the first time he’d spoken them. It somehow made them more real, more permanent. “It’s the military or the clergy,” he continued, “and, well, it’s got to be said-I’m a beastly bad shot.”

Anthony didn’t say anything. They all knew it was true.

After a moment of awkward silence, Anthony murmured, “There are swords.”

“Yes, but with my luck I’ll be posted to the Sudan.” Gregory shuddered. “Not to be overly fastidious, but really, the heat. Would you want to go?”

Anthony demurred immediately. “No, of course not.”

“And,” Gregory added, beginning to enjoy himself, “there is Mother.”

There was a pause. Then: “She pertains to the Sudan…how?”

“She wouldn’t very well like my going, and then you, you must know, will be the one who must hold her hand every time she worries, or has some ghastly nightmare about-”

“Say no more,” Anthony interrupted.

Gregory allowed himself an inner smile. It really wasn’t fair to his mother, who, it was only sporting to point out, had never once claimed to portend the future with anything so wispy as a dream. But she would hate his going to the Sudan, and Anthony would have to listen to her worry over it.

And as Gregory didn’t particularly wish to depart England’s misty shores, the point was moot, anyway.

“Right,” Anthony said. “Right. I am glad, then, that we have finally been able to have this conversation.”

Gregory eyed the clock.

Anthony cleared his throat, and when he spoke, there was an edge of impatience to his voice. “And that you are finally thinking toward your future.”

Gregory felt something tighten at the back of his jaw. “I am but six-and-twenty,” he reminded him. “Surely too young for such repeated use of the word finally.”

Anthony just arched a brow. “Shall I contact the archbishop? See about finding you a parish?”

Gregory’s chest twisted into an unexpected coughing spasm. “Er, no,” he said, when he was able. “Not yet, at least.”

One corner of Anthony’s mouth moved. But not by much, and not, by any stretch of the definition, into a smile. “You could marry,” he said softly.

“I could,” Gregory agreed. “And I shall. In fact, I plan to.”

“Really?”

“When I find the right woman.” And then, at Anthony’s dubious expression, Gregory added, “Surely you, of all people, would recommend a match of love over convenience.”

Anthony was rather famously besotted with his wife, who was in turn rather inexplicably besotted with him. Anthony was also rather famously devoted to his seven younger siblings, so Gregory should not have felt such an unexpected wellspring of emotion when he softly said, “I wish you every happiness that I myself enjoy.”

Gregory was saved from having to make a reply by the very loud rumbling of his stomach. He gave his brother a sheepish expression. “Sorry. I missed supper.”

“I know. We expected you earlier.”

Gregory avoided wincing. Just.

“Kate was somewhat put out.”

That was the worst. When Anthony was disappointed that was one thing. But when he claimed that his wife had been somehow pained…

Well, that was when Gregory knew he was in trouble. “Got a late start from London,” he mumbled. It was the truth, but still, no excuse for bad behavior. He had been expected at the house party in time for supper, and he had not come through. He almost said, “I shall make it up to her,” but at the last moment bit his tongue. Somehow that would make it worse, he knew, almost as if he was making light of his tardiness, assuming that he could smooth over any transgression with a smile and a glib comment. Which he often could, but for some reason this time-

He didn’t want to.

So instead he just said, “I’m sorry.” And he meant it, too.

“She’s in the garden,” Anthony said gruffly. “I think she means to have dancing-on the patio, if you can believe it.”

Gregory could. It sounded exactly like his sister-in-law. She wasn’t the sort to let any serendipitous moment pass her by, and with the weather so uncommonly fine, why not organize an impromptu dance al fresco?

“See that you dance with whomever she wishes,” Anthony said. “Kate won’t like any of the young ladies to feel left out.”

“Of course not,” Gregory murmured.

“I will join you in a quarter of an hour,” Anthony said, moving back to his desk, where several piles of paper awaited him. “I have a few items here yet to complete.”

Gregory stood. “I shall pass that along to Kate.” And then, the interview quite clearly at an end, he left the room and headed out to the garden.

It had been some time since he’d been to Aubrey Hall, the ancestral home of the Bridgertons. The family gathered here in Kent for Christmas, of course, but in truth, it wasn’t home for Gregory, and never really had been. After his father had died, his mother had done the unconventional and uprooted her family, electing to spend most of the year in London. She had never said so, but Gregory had always suspected that the graceful old house held too many memories.

As a result, Gregory had always felt more at home in town than in the country. Bridgerton House, in London, was the home of his childhood, not Aubrey Hall. Still, he enjoyed his visits, and he was always game for bucolic pursuits, such as riding and swimming (when the lake was warm enough to permit it), and strangely enough, he liked the change of pace. He liked the way the air felt quiet and clean after months in the city.

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