Ten

In which love is triumphant-but not for Our Hero and Heroine.

Lucy followed Lady Bridgerton and Gregory into the hallway, trying to stem the anxiety she felt building within her. Her belly felt queer, her breath not quite right.

And her mind wouldn’t quite clear. She needed to focus on the matter at hand. She knew she needed to give her full attention to the search, but it felt as if a portion of her mind kept pulling away-dizzy, panicked, and unable to escape a horrible sense of foreboding.

Which she did not understand. Didn’t she want Hermione to marry her brother? Hadn’t she just told Mr. Bridgerton that the match, while improbable, would be superb? Hermione would be her sister in name, not just in feeling, and Lucy could not imagine anything more fitting. But still, she felt…

Uneasy.

And a little bit angry as well.

And guilty. Of course. Because what right did she have to feel angry?

“We should search separately,” Mr. Bridgerton directed, once they had turned several corners, and the sounds of the masked ball had receded into the distance. He yanked off his mask, and the two ladies followed suit, leaving all three on a small lamp table that was tucked into a recessed nook in the hallway.

Lady Bridgerton shook her head. “We can’t. You certainly can’t find them by yourself,” she said to him. “I don’t wish to even ponder the consequences of Miss Watson being alone with two unmarried gentlemen.”

Not to mention his reaction, Lucy thought. Mr. Bridgerton struck her as an even-tempered man; she wasn’t sure that he could come across the pair alone without thinking he had to spout off about honor and the defense of virtue, which always led to disaster. Always. Although given the depth of his feelings for Hermione, his reaction might be a little less honor and virtue and a little more jealous rage.

Even worse, while Mr. Bridgerton might lack the ability to shoot a straight bullet, Lucy had no doubt that he could blacken an eye with lethal speed.

“And she can’t be alone,” Lady Bridgerton continued, motioning in Lucy’s direction. “It’s dark. And empty. The gentlemen are wearing masks, for heaven’s sake. It does loosen the conscience.”

“I wouldn’t know where to look, either,” Lucy added. It was a large house. She’d been there nearly a week, but she doubted she’d seen even half of it.

“We shall remain together,” Lady Bridgerton said firmly.

Mr. Bridgerton looked as if he wanted to argue, but he held his temper in check and instead bit off, “Fine. Let’s not waste time, then.” He strode off, his long legs establishing a pace that neither of the two women was going to find easy to keep up with.

He wrenched open doors and then left them hanging ajar, too driven to reach the next room to leave things as he’d found them. Lucy scrambled behind him, trying rooms on the other side of the hall. Lady Bridgerton was just up ahead, doing the same.

“Oh!” Lucy jumped back, slamming a door shut.

“Did you find them?” Mr. Bridgerton demanded. Both he and Lady Bridgerton immediately moved to her side.

“No,” Lucy said, blushing madly. She swallowed. “Someone else.”

Lady Bridgerton groaned. “Good God. Please say it wasn’t an unmarried lady.”

Lucy opened her mouth, but several seconds passed before she said, “I don’t know. The masks, you realize.”

“They were wearing masks?” Lady Bridgerton asked. “They’re married, then. And not to each other.”

Lucy desperately wanted to ask how she had reached that conclusion, but she couldn’t bring herself to do so, and besides, Mr. Bridgerton quite diverted her thoughts by cutting in front of her and yanking the door open. A feminine shriek split the air, followed by an angry male voice, uttering words Lucy dare not repeat.

“Sorry,” Mr. Bridgerton grunted. “Carry on.” He shut the door. “Morley,” he announced, “and Winstead’s wife.”

“Oh,” Lady Bridgerton said, her lips parting with surprise. “I had no idea.”

“Should we do something?” Lucy asked. Good heavens, there were people committing adultery not ten feet away from her.

“It’s Winstead’s problem,” Mr. Bridgerton said grimly. “We have our own matters to attend to.”

Lucy’s feet remained rooted to the spot as he took off again, striding down the hallway. Lady Bridgerton glanced at the door, looking very much as if she wanted to open it and peek inside, but in the end she sighed and followed her brother-in-law.

Lucy just stared at the door, trying to figure out just what it was that was niggling at her mind. The couple on the table-on the table, for God’s sake-had been a shock, but something else was bothering her. Something about the scene wasn’t quite right. Out of place. Out of context.

Or maybe something was sparking a memory.

What was it?

“Are you coming?” Lady Bridgerton called.

“Yes,” Lucy replied. And then she took advantage of her innocence and youth, and added, “The shock, you know. I just need a moment.”

Lady Bridgerton gave her a sympathetic look and nodded, but she carried on her work, inspecting the rooms on the left side of the hall.

What had she seen? There was the man and the woman, of course, and the aforementioned table. Two chairs, pink. One sofa, striped. And one end table, with a vase of cut flowers…

Flowers.

That was it.

She knew where they were.

If she was wrong and everybody else was right, and her brother really was in love with Hermione, there was only one place he would have taken her to try to convince her to return the emotion.

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