Her phrasing was a bit suspect. She probably had meant to keep it from him all along. Gregory wasn’t sure which he found more satisfying-that Kate had honored his secret or that Anthony had been flummoxed.
“See if you can guess,” Kate said to Anthony with an arch smile. “That should lend your evening a sense of purpose.”
Anthony turned to Gregory with a level stare. “Who is it?”
Gregory shrugged. He always sided with Kate when it came to thwarting his brother. “Far be it from me to deny you a sense of purpose.”
Anthony muttered, “Arrogant pup,” and Gregory knew that the evening was off to a fine start.
The guests began to trickle in, and within an hour, the ballroom sang with the low buzz of conversation and laughter. Everyone seemed a bit more adventurous with a mask on the face, and soon the banter grew more risqué, the jokes more ribald.
And the laughter…It was difficult to put the right word on it, but it was different. There was more than merriment in the air. There was an edge to the excitement, as if the partygoers somehow knew that this was the night to be daring.
To break free.
Because in the morning, no one would know.
All in all, Gregory liked nights like these.
By half nine, however, he was growing frustrated. He could not be positive, but he was almost certain that Miss Watson had not made an appearance. Even with a mask, she would find it nearly impossible to keep her identity a secret. Her hair was too startling, too ethereal in the candlelight for her to pass as anyone else.
But Lady Lucinda, on the other hand…She would have no trouble blending in. Her hair was certainly a lovely shade of honeyish blond, but it was nothing unexpected or unique. Half the ladies of the ton probably had hair that color.
He glanced around the ballroom. Very well, not half. And maybe not even a quarter. But it wasn’t the spun moonlight of her friend’s.
He frowned. Miss Watson really ought to have been present by then. As a member of the house party, she need not deal with muddy roads or lame horses or even the long line of carriages waiting out front to deliver the guests. And while he doubted she would have wished to arrive as early as he had done, surely she would not come over an hour late.
If nothing else, Lady Lucinda would not have tolerated it. She was clearly a punctual sort.
In a good way.
As opposed to an insufferable, nagging way.
He smiled to himself. She wasn’t like that.
Lady Lucinda was more like Kate, or at least she would be, once she was a bit older. Intelligent, no-nonsense, just a little bit sly.
Rather good fun, actually. She was a good sport, Lady Lucinda was.
But he didn’t see her among the guests, either. Or at least he didn’t think he did. He couldn’t be quite sure. He did see several ladies with hair the approximate shade of hers, but none of them seemed quite right. One of them moved the wrong way-too clunky, maybe even a little bit lumbering. And another was the wrong height. Not very wrong, probably just a few inches. But he could tell.
It wasn’t she.
She was probably wherever Miss Watson was. Which he did find somewhat reassuring. Miss Watson could not possibly get into trouble with Lady Lucinda about.
His stomach growled, and he decided to abandon his search for the time being and instead seek sustenance. Kate had, as always, provided a hearty selection of food for her guests to nibble upon during the course of the evening. He went directly to the plate of sandwiches-they looked rather like the ones she’d served the night he’d arrived, and he’d liked those quite well. Ten of them ought to do the trick.
Hmmm. He saw cucumber-a waste of bread if ever he saw one. Cheese-no, not what he was looking for. Perhaps-
Lady Lucinda. He’d know that voice anywhere.
He turned. There she was. He congratulated himself. He’d been right about those other masked honey blonds. He definitely hadn’t come across her yet this evening.
Her eyes widened, and he realized that her mask, covered with slate blue felt, was the exact color of her eyes. He wondered if Miss Watson had obtained a similar one in green.
“It is you, isn’t it?”
“How did you know?” he returned.
She blinked. “I don’t know. I just did.” Then her lips parted-just enough to reveal a tiny little gleam of white teeth, and she said, “It’s Lucy. Lady Lucinda.”
“I know,” he murmured, still looking at her mouth. What was it about masks? It was as if by covering up the top, the bottom was made more intriguing.
How was it he hadn’t noticed the way her lips tilted ever so slightly up at the corners? Or the freckles on her nose. There were seven of them. Precisely seven, all shaped like ovals, except for that last one, which looked rather like Ireland, actually.
“Were you hungry?” she asked.
He blinked, forced his eyes back to hers.
She motioned to the sandwiches. “The ham is very nice. As is the cucumber. I’m not normally partial to cucumber sandwiches-they never seem to satisfy although I do like the crunch-but these have a bit of soft cheese on them instead of just butter. It was a rather nice surprise.”
She paused and looked at him, tilting her head to the side as she awaited his reply.
And he smiled. He couldn’t help it. There was something so uncommonly entertaining about her when she was prattling on about food.
He reached out and placed a cucumber sandwich on his plate. “With such a recommendation,” he said, “how could I refuse?”
“Well, the ham is nice, too, if you don’t like it.”
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