It wasn’t so much the words as the tone, and even that not so much as the flicker in his eyes-that spark of eagerness, anticipation.

Oh, call a spade a spade. It was desperate longing, pure and simple. Gregory ought to know-he was quite certain it had flashed through his own eyes more than once in the past few days.

Good God.

Gregory supposed he still found Fennsworth a good enough fellow, even with his annoying infatuation, but really, the entire situation was beginning to grow tiresome.

“We are so pleased to welcome you to Aubrey Hall, Lord Fennsworth,” Kate said, once she had informed him that she did not know if Miss Watson would be accompanying his sister down to the rose salon. “I do hope that your presence does not indicate an emergency at home.”

“Not at all,” Fennsworth replied. “But my uncle has requested that I fetch Lucy and bring her home. He wishes to speak with her on a matter of some importance.”

Gregory felt one corner of his lips quirk in an upward direction. “You must be quite devoted to your sister,” he said, “to come all this way yourself. Surely you could have simply sent a carriage.”

To his credit, Lucy’s brother did not appear flustered by the question, but at the same time, he did not have an immediate answer. “Oh no,” he said, the words coming out rather quickly after the long pause. “I was more than happy to make the trip. Lucy is good company, and we have not visited for quite some time.”

“Must you leave right away?” Kate asked. “I have been so enjoying your sister’s company. And we would be honored to count you among our guests as well.”

Gregory wondered just what she was about. Kate was going to have to locate another female to even up the numbers if Lord Fennsworth was to join the party. Although he supposed that if Lady Lucinda left, she would have to do the exact same thing.

The young earl hesitated, and Kate took advantage of the moment with a beautifully executed “Oh, do say that you will remain. Even if it cannot be for the duration of the party.”

“Well,” Fennsworth said, blinking as he considered the invitation. It was clear that he wanted to stay (and Gregory was quite certain he knew the reason why). But title or no, he was still young, and Gregory imagined that he answered to his uncle on all matters pertaining to the family.

And said uncle clearly desired Lady Lucinda’s swift return.

“I suppose there would be no harm in taking an extra day,” Fennsworth said.

Oh, dandy. He was willing to defy his uncle to gain extra time with Miss Watson. And as Lady Lucinda’s brother, he was the one man who Hermione would never brush away with her usual polite boredom. Gregory readied himself for another day of tedious competition.

“Please say you will stay until Friday,” Kate said. “We are planning a masked ball for Thursday evening, and I would hate for you to miss it.”

Gregory made a mental note to give Kate an extremely ordinary gift for her next birthday. Rocks, maybe.

“It’s only one more day,” Kate said with a winning smile.

It was at that moment that Lady Lucinda and Miss Watson entered the room, the former in a morning dress of lightish blue and the latter in the same green frock she’d worn to breakfast. Lord Fennsworth took one look at the duo (more at one than the other, and suffice it to say that blood was not thicker than unrequited love), and he murmured, “Friday it is.”

“Delightful,” Kate said, clasping her hands together. “I shall have a room readied for you straightaway.”

“Richard?” Lady Lucinda queried. “Why are you here?” She paused in the doorway and looked from person to person, apparently confused by Kate’s and Gregory’s presence.

“Lucy,” her brother said. “It has been an age.”

“Four months,” she said, almost unthinkingly, as if some little part of her brain required absolute accuracy, even when it hardly mattered.

“Heavens, that is a long time,” Kate said. “We will leave you now, Lord Fennsworth. I am sure you and your sister wish to have a few moments of privacy.”

“There is no rush,” Fennsworth said, his eyes flicking briefly to Miss Watson. “I would not wish to be rude, and I haven’t yet had the opportunity to thank you for your hospitality.”

“It wouldn’t be rude at all,” Gregory put in, anticipating a swift departure from the salon with Miss Watson on his arm.

Lord Fennsworth turned and blinked, as if he’d forgotten Gregory’s presence. Not terribly surprising, as Gregory had remained uncharacteristically silent through the exchange.

“Pray do not trouble yourself,” the earl said. “Lucy and I will have our conversation later.”

“Richard,” Lucy said, looking somewhat concerned, “are you certain? I was not expecting you, and if there is anything amiss…”

But her brother shook his head. “Nothing that cannot wait. Uncle Robert wishes to speak with you. He asked me to bring you home.”

“Now?”

“He did not specify,” Fennsworth replied, “but Lady Bridgerton has very graciously asked us to remain until Friday, and I agreed. That is”-he cleared his throat-“assuming you wish to remain.”

“Of course,” Lucy replied, looking confused and adrift. “But I-well…Uncle Robert…”

“We should leave,” Miss Watson said firmly. “Lucy, you should have a moment with your brother.”

Lucy looked at her brother, but he had taken advantage of Miss Watson’s entry into the conversation by looking at her, and he said, “And how are you, Hermione? It has been far too long.”

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