“Four months,” Lucy said.

Miss Watson laughed and smiled warmly at the earl. “I am well, thank you. And Lucy is correct, as always. We last spoke in January, when you visited us at school.”

Fennsworth dipped his chin in acknowledgment. “How could I have forgotten? It was such a pleasant few days.”

Gregory would have bet his right arm that Fennsworth had known down to the minute how long it had been since he had last laid eyes on Miss Watson. But the lady in question was clearly oblivious to the infatuation, because she just smiled and said, “It was, wasn’t it? It was so sweet of you to take us ice skating. You are always such good company.”

Good God, how could she be so oblivious? There was no way she would have been so encouraging had she realized the nature of the earl’s feelings for her. Gregory was certain of it.

But while it was obvious that Miss Watson was extremely fond of Lord Fennsworth, there was no indication that she held him in any sort of romantic esteem. Gregory consoled himself with the knowledge that the two had certainly known each other for years, and naturally she would be friendly with Fennsworth, given how close she was to Lady Lucinda.

Practically brother and sister, really.

And speaking of Lady Lucinda-Gregory turned in her direction and was not surprised to find that she was frowning. Her brother, who had traveled at least a day to reach her side, now seemed in no hurry whatsoever to speak with her.

And indeed, everyone else had fallen silent, as well. Gregory watched the awkward tableau with interest. Everyone seemed to be glancing about, waiting to see who might speak next. Even Lady Lucinda, whom no one would call shy, seemed not to know what to say.

“Lord Fennsworth,” Kate said, thankfully breaking the silence, “you must be famished. Will you have some breakfast?”

“I would appreciate that greatly, Lady Bridgerton.”

Kate turned to Lady Lucinda. “I did not see you at breakfast, either. Will you have something now?”

Gregory thought of the massive tray Miss Watson had had brought up for her and wondered how much of it she’d managed to wolf down before having to come meet her brother.

“Of course,” Lady Lucinda murmured. “I should like to keep Richard company, in any case.”

“Miss Watson,” Gregory cut in smoothly, “would you care to take a turn about the gardens? I believe the peonies are in bloom. And those stalky blue things-I always forget what they are called.”

“Delphinium.” It was Lady Lucinda, of course. He’d known she would not be able to resist. Then she turned and looked at him, her eyes narrowing ever so slightly. “I told you that the other day.”

“So you did,” he murmured. “I’ve never had much of a head for details.”

“Oh, Lucy remembers everything,” Miss Watson said breezily. “And I would be delighted to view the gardens with you. That is, if Lucy and Richard do not mind.”

Both assured her that they did not, although Gregory was quite certain he saw a flash of disappointment and-dare he say it-irritation in Lord Fennsworth’s eyes.

Gregory smiled.

“I shall find you back in our room?” Miss Watson said to Lucy.

The other girl nodded, and with a feeling of triumph-there was nothing quite like besting one’s competition-Gregory placed Miss Watson’s hand in the crook of his elbow and led her out of the room.

It was going to be an excellent morning, after all.

Lucy followed her brother and Lady Bridgerton to the breakfast room, which she did not mind one bit, as she had not had a chance to eat very much of what Hermione had brought her earlier. But it did mean that she had to endure a full thirty minutes of meaningless conversation while her brain raced about, imagining all sorts of disasters that could be responsible for her unexpected summons home.

Richard couldn’t very well speak to her about anything important with Lady Bridgerton and half of the house party blithering on about coddled eggs and the recent rainfall, so Lucy waited uncomplainingly while he finished (he’d always been an annoyingly slow eater), and then she tried her best not to lose her patience as they strolled out to the side lawn, Richard first asking her about school, then Hermione, and then Hermione’s mother, and then her upcoming debut, and then Hermione again, with a side tangent to Hermione’s brother, whom he’d apparently run across in Cambridge, and then it was back to the debut, and to what extent she was to share it with Hermione…

Until finally Lucy halted in her tracks, planted her hands on her hips, and demanded that he tell her why he was there.

“I told you,” he said, not quite meeting her eyes. “Uncle Robert wishes to speak with you.”

“But why?” It was not a question with an obvious answer. Uncle Robert hadn’t cared to speak with her more than a handful of times in the past ten years. If he was planning to start now, there was a reason for it.

Richard cleared his throat a number of times before finally saying, “Well, Luce, I think he plans to marry you off.”

“Straightaway?” Lucy whispered, and she didn’t know why she was so surprised. She’d known this was coming; she’d been practically engaged for years. And she had told Hermione, on more than one occasion, that a season for her was really quite foolish-why bother with the expense when she was just going to marry Haselby in the end?

But now…suddenly…she didn’t want to do it. At least not so soon. She didn’t want to go from schoolgirl to wife, with nothing in between. She wasn’t asking for adventure-she didn’t even want adventure-truly, she wasn’t the sort.

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