She wasn’t asking for very much-just a few months of freedom, of laughter.

Of dancing breathlessly, spinning so fast that the candle flames streaked into long snakes of light.

Maybe she was practical. Maybe she was “that old Lucy,” as so many had called her at Miss Moss’s. But she liked to dance. And she wanted to do it. Now. Before she was old. Before she became Haselby’s wife.

“I don’t know when,” Richard said, looking down at her with…was it regret?

Why would it be regret?

“Soon, I think,” he said. “Uncle Robert seems somewhat eager to have it done.”

Lucy just stared at him, wondering why she couldn’t stop thinking about dancing, couldn’t stop picturing herself, in a gown of silvery blue, magical and radiant, in the arms of-

“Oh!” She clapped a hand to her mouth, as if that could somehow silence her thoughts.

“What is it?”

“Nothing,” she said, shaking her head. Her daydreams did not have a face. They could not. And so she said it again, more firmly, “It was nothing. Nothing at all.”

Her brother stooped to examine a wildflower that had somehow missed the discerning eyes of Aubrey Hall’s gardeners. It was small, blue, and just beginning to open.

“It’s lovely, isn’t it?” Richard murmured.

Lucy nodded. Richard had always loved flowers. Wildflowers in particular. They were different that way, she realized. She had always preferred the order of a neatly arranged bed, each bloom in its place, each pattern carefully and lovingly maintained.

But now…

She looked down at that little flower, small and delicate, defiantly sprouting where it didn’t belong.

And she decided that she liked the wild ones, too.

“I know you were meant to have a season,” Richard said apologetically. “But truly, is it so very dreadful? You never really wanted one, did you?”

Lucy swallowed. “No,” she said, because she knew it was what he wanted to hear, and she didn’t want him to feel any worse than he already did. And she hadn’t really cared one way or the other about a season in London. At least not until recently.

Richard pulled the little blue wildflower out by the roots, looked at it quizzically, and stood. “Cheer up, Luce,” he said, chucking her lightly on the chin. “Haselby’s not a bad sort. You won’t mind being married to him.”

“I know,” she said softly.

“He won’t hurt you,” he added, and he smiled, that slightly false sort of smile. The kind that was meant to be reassuring and somehow never was.

“I didn’t think he would,” Lucy said, an edge of…of something creeping into her voice. “Why would you bring such a thing up?”

“No reason at all,” Richard said quickly. “But I know that it is a concern for many women. Not all men give their wives the respect with which Haselby will treat you.”

Lucy nodded. Of course. It was true. She’d heard stories. They’d all heard stories.

“It won’t be so bad,” Richard said. “You’ll probably even like him. He’s quite agreeable.”

Agreeable. It was a good thing. Better than disagreeable.

“He will be the Earl of Davenport someday,” Richard added, even though of course she already knew that. “You will be a countess. Quite a prominent one.”

There was that. Her schoolfriends had always said she was so lucky to have her prospects already settled, and with such a lofty result. She was the daughter of an earl and the sister of an earl. And she was destined to be the wife of one as well. She had nothing to complain about. Nothing.

But she felt so empty.

It wasn’t a bad feeling precisely. But it was disconcerting. And unfamiliar. She felt rootless. She felt adrift.

She felt not like herself. And that was the worst of it.

“You’re not surprised, are you, Luce?” Richard asked. “You knew this was coming. We all did.”

She nodded. “It is nothing,” she said, trying to sound her usual matter-of-fact self. “It is only that it never felt quite so immediate.”

“Of course,” Richard said. “It is a surprise, that is all. Once you grow used to the idea, it will all seem so much better. Normal, even. After all, you have always known you were to be Haselby’s wife. And think of how much you will enjoy planning the wedding. Uncle Robert says it is to be a grand affair. In London, I believe. Davenport insists upon it.”

Lucy felt herself nod. She did rather like to plan things. There was such a pleasant feeling of being in charge that came along with it.

“Hermione can be your attendant, as well,” Richard added.

“Of course,” Lucy murmured. Because, really, who else would she choose?

“Is there a color that doesn’t favor her?” Richard asked with a frown. “Because you will be the bride. You don’t want to be overshadowed.”

Lucy rolled her eyes. That was a brother for you.

He seemed not to realize that he had insulted her, though, and Lucy supposed she shouldn’t have been surprised. Hermione’s beauty was so legendary that no one took insult with an unfavorable comparison. One would have to be delusional to think otherwise.

“I can’t very well put her in black,” Lucy said. It was the only hue she could think of that turned Hermione a bit sallow.

“No, no you couldn’t, could you?” Richard paused, clearly pondering this, and Lucy stared at him in disbelief. Her brother, who had to be regularly informed of what was fashionable and what was not, was actually interested in the shade of Hermione’s attendant dress.

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