“I’m sorry,” she said again, because she didn’t know what else to say.
“My God,” he swore, searching her face with urgent eyes, “what happened to you? Are you all right? Did someone-”
His grip loosened slightly as he looked frantically around. “Who did this?” he demanded. “Who made you-”
“No,” Lucy said, shaking her head. “It was no one. It was just me. I-I wanted to find them. I thought if I-Well, I didn’t want you to-And then I-And then I got here, and I-”
Gregory’s eyes moved quickly to the doors to the orangery. “Are they in there?”
“I don’t know,” Lucy admitted. “I think so. I couldn’t-” The panic was finally receding, almost gone, really, and it all seemed so silly now. She felt so stupid. She’d stood there at the door, and she’d done nothing. Nothing.
“I couldn’t open the door,” she finally whispered. Because she had to tell him. She couldn’t explain it-she didn’t even understand it-but she had to tell him what had happened.
Because he’d found her.
And that had made the difference.
“Gregory!” Lady Bridgerton burst on the scene, practically hurtling against them, quite clearly out of breath from having tried to keep up. “Lady Lucinda! Why did you-Are you all right?”
She sounded so concerned that Lucy wondered what she looked like. She felt pale. She felt small, actually, but what could possibly be in her face that would cause Lady Bridgerton to look upon her with such obvious worry.
“I’m fine,” Lucy said, relieved that she had not seen her as Mr. Bridgerton had. “Just a bit overset. I think I ran too quickly. It was foolish of me. I’m sorry.”
“When we turned around and you were gone-” Lady Bridgerton looked as if she were trying to be stern, but worry was creasing her brow, and her eyes were so very kind.
Lucy wanted to cry. No one had ever looked at her like that. Hermione loved her, and Lucy took great comfort in that, but this was different. Lady Bridgerton couldn’t have been that much older than she was-ten years, maybe fifteen-but the way she was looking at her…
It was almost as if she had a mother.
It was just for a moment. Just a few seconds, really, but she could pretend. And maybe wish, just a little.
Lady Bridgerton hurried closer and put an arm around Lucy’s shoulders, drawing her away from Gregory, who allowed his arms to return to his sides. “Are you certain you are all right?” she asked.
Lucy nodded. “I am. Now.”
Lady Bridgerton looked over to Gregory. He nodded. Once.
Lucy didn’t know what that meant.
“I think they might be in the orangery,” she said, and she wasn’t quite certain what had caught at her voice-resignation or regret.
“Very well,” Lady Bridgerton said, her shoulders pushing back as she went to the door. “There’s nothing for it, is there?”
Lucy shook her head. Gregory did nothing.
Lady Bridgerton took a deep breath and pulled open the door. Lucy and Gregory immediately moved forward to peer inside, but the orangery was dark, the only light the moon, shining through the expansive windows.
Lucy’s chin drew back in surprise. She’d never heard a woman curse before.
For a moment the trio stood still, and then Lady Bridgerton stepped forward and called out, “Lord Fennsworth! Lord Fennsworth, please reply. Are you here?”
Lucy started to call out for Hermione, but Gregory clamped a hand over her mouth.
“Don’t,” he whispered in her ear. “If someone else is here, we don’t want them to realize we’re looking for them both.”
Lucy nodded, feeling painfully green. She’d thought she’d known something of the world, but as each day passed, it seemed she understood less and less. Mr. Bridgerton stepped away, moving farther into the room. He stood with his hands on his hips, his stance wide as he scanned the orangery for occupants.
“Lord Fennsworth!” Lady Bridgerton called out again.
This time they heard a rustling. But soft. And slow. As if someone were trying to conceal his presence.
Lucy turned toward the sound, but no one came forward. She bit her lip. Maybe it was just an animal. There were several cats at Aubrey Hall. They slept in a little hutch near the door to the kitchen, but maybe one of them had lost its way and got locked in the orangery.
It had to be a cat. If it were Richard, he’d have come forward when he heard his name.
She looked at Lady Bridgerton, waiting to see what she would do next. The viscountess was looking intently at her brother-in-law, mouthing something and motioning with her hands and pointing in the direction of the noise.
Gregory gave her a nod, then moved forward on silent feet, his long legs crossing the room with impressive speed, until-
Lucy gasped. Before she had time to blink, Gregory had charged forward, a strange, primal sound ripping from his throat. Then he positively leaped through the air, coming down with a thud and a grunt of “I have you!”
“Oh no.” Lucy’s hand rose to cover her mouth. Mr. Bridgerton had someone pinned to the floor, and his hands looked to be very close to his captive’s throat.
Lady Bridgerton rushed toward them, and Lucy, seeing her, finally remembered her own feet and ran to the scene. If it was Richard-oh, please don’t let it be Richard-she needed to reach him before Mr. Bridgerton killed him.
“Richard!” Lucy called out shrilly. It was his voice. There could be no mistaking it.
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