“Of course she can,” Lady Lucinda said. “And heavens, she probably will if you don’t muck it up. Richard is too young to marry, anyway. He’s only two-and-twenty.”
Gregory eyed her curiously. Now she sounded as if she were back to him as the best candidate. What was she about, anyway?
“And,” she added, impatiently tucking a lock of her dark blond hair behind her ear when the wind whipped it into her face, “he is not in love with her. I’m quite certain of it.”
Neither one of them seemed to have anything to add to that, so, since they were both already on their feet, Gregory motioned toward the house. “Shall we return?”
She nodded, and they departed at a leisurely pace.
“This still does not solve the problem of Mr. Edmonds,” Gregory remarked.
She gave him a funny look.
“What was that for?” he demanded.
And she actually giggled. Well, perhaps not a giggle, but she did do that breathy thing with her nose people did when they were rather amused. “It was nothing,” she said, still smiling. “I’m rather impressed, actually, that you didn’t pretend to not remember his name.”
“What, should I have called him Mr. Edwards, and then Mr. Ellington, and then Mr. Edifice, and-”
Lucy gave him an arch look. “You would have lost all of my respect, I assure you.”
“The horror. Oh, the horror,” he said, laying one hand over his heart.
She glanced at him over her shoulder with a mischievous smile. “It was a near miss.”
He looked unconcerned. “I’m a terrible shot, but I do know how to dodge a bullet.”
Now that made her curious. “I’ve never known a man who would admit to being a bad shot.”
He shrugged. “There are some things one simply can’t avoid. I shall always be the Bridgerton who can be bested at close range by his sister.”
“The one you told me about?”
“All of them,” he admitted.
“Oh.” She frowned. There ought to be some sort of prescribed statement for such a situation. What did one say when a gentleman confessed to a shortcoming? She couldn’t recall ever hearing one do so before, but surely, sometime in the course of history, some gentleman had. And someone would have had to make a reply.
She blinked, waiting for something meaningful to come to mind. Nothing did.
“Hermione can’t dance.” It just popped out of her mouth, with no direction whatsoever from her head.
Good gracious, that was meant to be meaningful?
He stopped, turning to her with a curious expression. Or maybe it was more that he was startled. Probably both. And he said the only thing she imagined one could say under the circumstances:
“I beg your pardon?”
Lucy repeated it, since she couldn’t take it back. “She can’t dance. That’s why she won’t dance. Because she can’t.”
And then she waited for a hole to open up in the ground so that she could jump into it. It didn’t help that he was presently staring at her as if she were slightly deranged.
She managed a feeble smile, which was all that filled the impossibly long moment until he finally said, “There must be a reason you are telling this to me.”
Lucy let out a nervous exhale. He didn’t sound angry-more curious than anything else. And she hadn’t meant to insult Hermione. But when he said he couldn’t shoot, it just seemed to make an odd sort of sense to tell him that Hermione couldn’t dance. It fit, really. Men were supposed to shoot, and women were supposed to dance, and trusty best friends were supposed to keep their foolish mouths shut.
Clearly, all three of them needed a bit of instruction.
“I thought to make you feel better,” Lucy finally said. “Because you can’t shoot.”
“Oh, I can shoot,” he said. “That’s the easy part. I just can’t aim.”
Lucy grinned. She couldn’t help herself. “I could show you.”
His head swung around. “Oh, gad. Don’t tell me you know how to shoot.”
She perked up. “Quite well, actually.”
He shook his head. “The day only needed this.”
“It’s an admirable skill,” she protested.
“I’m sure it is, but I’ve already four females in my life who can best me. The last thing I need is-oh, gad again, please don’t say Miss Watson is a crack shot as well.”
Lucy blinked. “Do you know, I’m not sure.”
“Well, there is still hope there, then.”
“Isn’t that peculiar?” she murmured.
He gave her a deadpan look. “That I have hope?”
“No, that-” She couldn’t say it. Good heavens, it sounded silly even to her.
“Ah, then you must think it peculiar that you don’t know whether Miss Watson can shoot.”
And there it was. He guessed it, anyway. “Yes,” she admitted. “But then again, why would I? Marksmanship wasn’t a part of the curriculum at Miss Moss’s.”
“To the great relief of gentlemen everywhere, I assure you.” He gave her a lopsided smile. “Who did teach you?”
“My father,” she said, and it was strange, because her lips parted before she answered. For a moment she thought she’d been surprised by the question, but it hadn’t been that.
She’d been surprised by her answer.
“Good heavens,” he responded, “were you even out of leading strings?”
“Just barely,” Lucy said, still puzzling over her odd reaction. It was probably just because she didn’t often think of her father. He had been gone so long that there weren’t many questions to which the late Earl of Fennsworth constituted the reply.
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