Lady Lucinda gave him a look of disdainful impatience. “Richard is not in love with her. I don’t know how many ways I can explain that to you.”

“You’re wrong,” he said flatly. He’d been watching Fennsworth for two days. He’d been watching him watching Miss Watson. Laughing at her jokes. Fetching her a cool drink.

Picking a wildflower, tucking it behind her ear.

If that wasn’t love, then Richard Abernathy was the most attentive, caring, and unselfish older brother in the history of man.

And as an older brother himself-one who had frequently been pressed into service dancing attendance upon his sisters’ friends-Gregory could categorically say that there did not exist an older brother with such levels of thoughtfulness and devotion.

One loved one’s sister, of course, but one did not sacrifice one’s every waking minute for the sake of her best friend without some sort of compensation.

Unless a pathetic and unrequited love factored into the equation.

“I am not wrong,” Lady Lucinda said, looking very much as if she would like to cross her arms. “And I’m getting Lady Bridgerton.”

Gregory closed his hand around her wrist. “That would be a mistake of magnificent proportions.”

She yanked, but he did not let go. “Don’t patronize me,” she hissed.

“I’m not. I’m instructing you.”

Her mouth fell open. Really, truly, flappingly open.

Gregory would have enjoyed the sight, were he not so furious with everything else in the world just then.

“You are insufferable,” she said, once she’d recovered.

He shrugged. “Occasionally.”

“And delusional.”

“Well done, Lady Lucinda.” As one of eight, Gregory could not help but admire any well-placed quip or retort. “But I would be far more likely to admire your verbal skills if I were not trying to stop you from doing something monumentally stupid.”

She looked at him through narrowed eyes, and then she said, “I don’t care to speak to you any longer.”

“Ever?”

“I’m getting Lady Bridgerton,” she announced.

“You’re getting me? What is the occasion?”

It was the last voice Gregory wanted to hear.

He turned. Kate was standing in front of them both, regarding the tableau with a single lifted brow.

No one spoke.

Kate glanced pointedly at Gregory’s hand, still on Lady Lucinda’s wrist. He dropped it, quickly stepping back.

“Is there something I should know about?” Kate asked, and her voice was that perfectly awful mix of cultured inquiry and moral authority. Gregory was reminded that his sister-in-law could be a formidable presence when she so chose.

Lady Lucinda-of course-spoke immediately. “Mr. Bridgerton seems to feel that Hermione might be in danger.”

Kate’s demeanor changed instantly. “Danger? Here?”

“No,” Gregory ground out, although what he really meant was-I am going to kill you. Lady Lucinda, to be precise.

“I haven’t seen her for some time,” the annoying twit continued. “We arrived together, but that was nearly an hour ago.”

Kate glanced about, her gaze finally settling on the doors leading outside. “Couldn’t she be in the garden? Much of the party has moved abroad.”

Lady Lucinda shook her head. “I didn’t see her. I looked.”

Gregory said nothing. It was as if he were watching the world destructing before his very eyes. And really, what could he possibly say to stop it?

“Not outside?” Kate said.

“I didn’t think anything was amiss,” Lady Lucinda said, rather officiously. “But Mr. Bridgerton was instantly concerned.”

“He was?” Kate’s head snapped to face him. “You were? Why?”

“May we speak of this at another time?” Gregory ground out.

Kate immediately dismissed him and looked squarely at Lucy. “Why was he concerned?”

Lucy swallowed. And then she whispered, “I think she might be with my brother.”

Kate blanched. “That is not good.”

“Richard would never do anything improper,” Lucy insisted. “I promise you.”

“He is in love with her,” Kate said.

Gregory said nothing. Vindication had never felt less sweet.

Lucy looked from Kate to Gregory, her expression almost bordering on panic. “No,” she whispered. “No, you’re wrong.”

“I’m not wrong,” Kate said in a serious voice. “And we need to find them. Quickly.”

She turned and immediately strode toward the door. Gregory followed, his long legs keeping pace with ease. Lady Lucinda seemed momentarily frozen, and then, jumping into action, she scurried after them both. “He would never do anything against Hermione’s will,” she said urgently. “I promise you.”

Kate stopped. Turned around. Looked at Lucy, her expression frank and perhaps a little sad as well, as if she recognized that the younger woman was, in that moment, losing a bit of her innocence and that she, Kate, regretted having to be the one to deliver the blow.

“He might not have to,” Kate said quietly.

Force her. Kate didn’t say it, but the words hung in the air all the same.

“He might not have-What do you-”

Gregory saw the moment she realized it. Her eyes, always so changeable, had never looked more gray.

Stricken.

“We have to find them,” Lucy whispered.

Kate nodded, and the three of them silently left the room.

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