“I don’t see them,” Gregory said, following her gaze.

“No, you wouldn’t.” She turned back to face him, giving her head a little shake. “I don’t know why I was looking. It was some time ago.”

“Longer than one can sip at a drink?”

She chuckled. “No, Hermione can make a glass of lemonade last an entire evening when she needs to. But I think Richard would have lost patience.”

It was Gregory’s opinion that her brother would gladly cut off his right arm just for the chance to gaze upon Miss Watson while she pretended to drink lemonade, but there was little point in trying to convince Lucy of that.

“I imagine they decided to take a stroll,” Lucy said, quite obviously unconcerned.

But Gregory immediately felt an unease. “Outside?”

She shrugged. “I suppose. They are certainly not here in the ballroom. Hermione cannot hide in a crowd. Her hair, you know.”

“But do you think it is wise for them to be off alone?” Gregory pressed.

Lady Lucinda looked at him as if she couldn’t quite understand the urgency in his voice. “They’re hardly off alone,” she said. “There are at least two dozen people outside. I looked out through the French doors.”

Gregory forced himself to stand perfectly still while he considered what to do. Clearly he needed to find Miss Watson, and quickly, before she was subjected to anything that might be considered irrevocable.

Irrevocable.

Jesus.

Lives could turn on a single moment. If Miss Watson really was off with Lucy’s brother…If someone caught them…

A strange heat began to rise within him, something angry and jealous and entirely unpleasant. Miss Watson might be in danger…or she might not. Maybe she welcomed Fennsworth’s advances…

No. No, she did not. He practically forced the thought down his throat. Miss Watson thought she was in love with that ridiculous Mr. Edmonds, whoever he was. She wouldn’t welcome advances from Gregory or Lord Fennsworth.

But had Lucy’s brother seized an opportunity that he had missed? It rankled, lodged itself in his chest like a hot cannonball-this feeling, this emotion, this bloody…awful…pissish…

“Mr. Bridgerton?”

Foul. Definitely foul.

“Mr. Bridgerton, is something wrong?”

He moved his head the inch required to face Lady Lucinda, but even so, it took several seconds for him to focus on her features. Her eyes were concerned, her mouth pressed into a worried line.

“You don’t look well,” she said.

“I’m fine,” he ground out.

“But-”

“Fine,” he positively snapped.

She drew back. “Of course you are.”

How had Fennsworth done it? How had he got Miss Watson off alone? He was still wet behind the ears, for God’s sake, barely out of university and never come down to London. And Gregory was…Well, more experienced than that.

He should have been paying more attention.

He should never have allowed this.

“Perhaps I’ll look for Hermione,” Lucy said, inching away. “I can see that you would prefer to be alone.”

“No,” he blurted out, with a bit more force than was strictly polite. “I will join you. We shall search together.”

“Do you think that’s wise?”

“Why wouldn’t it be wise?”

“I…don’t know.” She stopped, stared at him with wide, unblinking eyes, finally saying, “I just don’t think it is. You yourself just questioned the wisdom of Richard and Hermione going off together.”

“You certainly cannot search the house by yourself.”

“Of course not,” she said, as if he were foolish for even having suggested it. “I was going to find Lady Bridgerton.”

Kate? Good God. “Don’t do that,” he said quickly. And perhaps a bit disdainfully as well, although that hadn’t been his intention.

But she clearly took umbrage because her voice was clipped as she asked, “And why not?”

He leaned in, his tone low and urgent. “If Kate finds them, and they are not as they should be, they will be married in less than a fortnight. Mark my words.”

“Don’t be absurd. Of course they will be as they should,” she hissed, and it took him aback, actually, because it never occurred to him that she might stand up for herself with quite so much vigor.

“Hermione would never behave in an untoward manner,” she continued furiously, “and neither would Richard, for that matter. He is my brother. My brother.”

“He loves her,” Gregory said simply.

“No. He. Doesn’t.” Good God, she looked ready to explode. “And even if he did,” she railed on, “which he does not, he would never dishonor her. Never. He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t-”

“He wouldn’t what?”

She swallowed. “He wouldn’t do that to me.”

Gregory could not believe her naiveté. “He’s not thinking of you, Lady Lucinda. In fact, I believe it would be safe to say that you have not crossed his mind even once.”

“That is a terrible thing to say.”

Gregory shrugged. “He’s a man in love. Hence, he is a man insensible.”

“Oh, is that how it works?” she retorted. “Does that render you insensible as well?”

“No,” he said tersely, and he realized it was actually true. He had already grown accustomed to this strange fervor. He’d regained his equilibrium. And as a gentleman of considerably more experience, he was, even when Miss Watson was not an issue, more easily in possession of his wits than Fennsworth.

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