He just blinked, then he shrugged, and his expression was…

Nonchalant?

She chewed on her lip. No, that couldn’t be. She must have misread him. He had been a man in love. He had told her so.

But this was none of her business. This required a certain measure of self-remindering (to add another word to her rapidly growing collection), but there it was. It was none of her business. Not one bit.

Well, except for the part about her brother and her best friend. No one could say that that didn’t concern her. If it had just been Hermione, or just been Richard, there might have been an argument that she should keep her nose out of it, but with the both of them-well, clearly she was involved.

As regarded Mr. Bridgerton, however…none of her business.

She looked at him. His shirt collar was loosened, and she could see a tiny scrap of skin where she knew she ought not look.

None. None! Business. Of hers. None of it.

“Right,” she said, ruining her determined tone with a decidedly involuntary cough. Spasm. Coughing spasm. Vaguely punctuated by: “Should be going.”

But it came out more like…Well, it came out like something that she was quite certain could not be spelled with the twenty-six letters of the English language. Cyrillic might do it. Or possibly Hebrew.

“Are you all right?” he queried.

“Perfectly well,” she gasped, then realized she was back to looking at that spot that wasn’t even his neck. It was more his chest, which meant that it was more someplace decidedly unsuitable.

She yanked her eyes away, then coughed again, this time on purpose. Because she had to do something. Otherwise her eyes would be right back where they ought not be.

He watched her, almost a bit owlish in his regard, as she recovered. “Better?”

She nodded.

“I’m glad.”

Glad? Glad? What did that mean?

He shrugged. “I hate it when that happens.”

Just that he is a human being, Lucy you dolt. One who knows what a scratchy throat feels like.

She was going mad. She was quite certain of it.

“I should go,” she blurted out.

“You should.”

“I really should.”

But she just stood there.

He was looking at her the strangest way. His eyes were narrowed-not in that angry way people usually associated with squinty eyes, but rather as if he were thinking exceptionally hard about something.

Pondering. That was it. He was pondering, just as he’d said.

Except that he was pondering her.

“Mr. Bridgerton?” she asked hesitantly. Not that she knew what she might inquire of him when he acknowledged her.

“Do you drink, Lady Lucinda?”

Drink? “I beg your pardon?”

He gave her a sheepish half-smile. “Brandy. I know where my brother keeps the good stuff.”

“Oh.” Goodness. “No, of course not.”

“Pity,” he murmured.

“I really couldn’t,” she added, because, well, she felt as if she had to explain.

Even though of course she did not drink spirits.

And of course he would know that.

He shrugged. “Don’t know why I asked.”

“I should go,” she said.

But he didn’t move.

And neither did she.

She wondered what brandy tasted like.

And she wondered if she would ever know.

“How did you enjoy the party?” he asked.

“The party?”

“Weren’t you forced to go back?”

She nodded, rolling her eyes. “It was strongly suggested.”

“Ah, so then she dragged you.”

To Lucy’s great surprise, she chuckled. “Rather close to it. And I didn’t have my mask, which made me stick out a bit.”

“Like a mushroom?”

“Like a-?”

He looked at her dress and nodded at the color. “A blue mushroom.”

She glanced at herself and then at him. “Mr. Bridgerton, are you intoxicated?”

He leaned forward with a sly and slightly silly smile. He held up his hand, his thumb and index finger measuring an inch between them. “Just a little bit.”

She eyed him dubiously. “Really?”

He looked down at his fingers with a furrowed brow, then added another inch or so to the space between them. “Well, perhaps this much.”

Lucy didn’t know much about men or much about spirits, but she knew enough about the two of them together to ask, “Isn’t that always the case?”

“No.” He lifted his brows and stared down his nose at her. “I usually know exactly how drunk I am.”

Lucy had no idea what to say to that.

“But do you know, tonight I’m not sure.” And he sounded surprised at that.

“Oh.” Because she was at her articulate best this evening.

He smiled.

Her stomach felt strange.

She tried to smile back. She really should be going.

So naturally, she did not move.

His head tilted to the side and he let out a thoughtful exhale, and it occurred to her that he was doing exactly what he’d said he’d been doing-pondering. “I was thinking,” he said slowly, “that given the events of the evening…”

She leaned forward expectantly. Why did people always let their voices trail off just when they were about to say something meaningful? “Mr. Bridgerton?” she nudged, because now he was just staring at some painting on the wall.

His lips twisted thoughtfully. “Wouldn’t you think I ought to be a bit more upset?”

Her lips parted with surprise. “You’re not upset?” How was that possible?

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