And it was lovely.

Lucy didn’t think herself a particularly shallow person, and she would have insisted, had anyone asked, that she would freely throw herself in front of a carriage for her dearest friend, but there was a sort of satisfying fairness in the fact that the most beautiful girl in England had two left feet, at least one of them club.

Metaphorically speaking.

And now here was another one. Man, of course, not foot. Handsome, too. Tall, although not overly so, with warm brown hair and a rather pleasing smile. And a twinkle in his eyes as well, the color of which she couldn’t quite determine in the dim night air.

Not to mention that she couldn’t actually see his eyes, as he wasn’t looking at her. He was looking at Hermione, as men always did.

Lucy smiled politely, even though she couldn’t imagine that he’d notice, and waited for him to bow and introduce himself.

And then he did the most astonishing thing. After disclosing his name-she should have known he was a Bridgerton from the looks of him-he leaned down and kissed her hand first.

Lucy’s breath caught.

Then, of course, she realized what he was doing.

Oh, he was good. He was really good. Nothing, nothing would endear a man to Hermione faster than a compliment to Lucy.

Too bad for him that Hermione’s heart was otherwise engaged.

Oh well. It would be amusing to watch it all play out, at least.

“I am Miss Hermione Watson,” Hermione was saying, and Lucy realized that Mr. Bridgerton’s tactics were doubly clever. By kissing Hermione’s hand second, he could linger over it, and her, really, and then she would be the one required to make the introductions.

Lucy was almost impressed. If nothing else, it marked him as slightly more intelligent than the average gentleman.

“And this is my dearest friend,” Hermione continued, “Lady Lucinda Abernathy.”

She said it the way she always said it, with love and devotion, and perhaps just the barest touch of desperation, as if to say-For heaven’s sake, spare Lucy a glance, too.

But of course they never did. Except when they wanted advice concerning Hermione, her heart, and the winning thereof. When that happened, Lucy was always in high demand.

Mr. Bridgerton-Mr. Gregory Bridgerton, Lucy mentally corrected, for there were, as far as she knew, three Mr. Bridgertons in total, not counting the viscount, of course-turned and surprised her with a winning smile and warm eyes. “How do you do, Lady Lucinda,” he murmured.

“Very well, thank you,” and then she could have kicked herself for she actually stammered before the V in very, but for heaven’s sake, they never looked at her after gazing upon Hermione, never.

Could he possibly be interested in her?

No, impossible. They never were.

And really, did it matter? Of course it would be rather charming if a man fell madly and passionately in love with her for a change. Really, she wouldn’t mind the attention. But the truth was, Lucy was practically engaged to Lord Haselby and had been for years and years and years, so there was no use in having a besotted admirer of her own. It wasn’t as if it could lead to anything useful.

And that besides, it certainly wasn’t Hermione’s fault that she’d been born with the face of an angel.

So Hermione was the siren, and Lucy was the trusty friend, and all was right with the world. Or if not right, then at least quite predictable.

“May we count you among our hosts?” Lucy finally asked, since no one had said anything once they’d all finished with the requisite “Pleased to meet yous.”

“I’m afraid not,” Mr. Bridgerton replied. “Much as I would like to take credit for the festivities, I reside in London.”

“You are very fortunate to have Aubrey Hall in your family,” Hermione said politely, “even if it is your brother’s.”

And that was when Lucy knew. Mr. Bridgerton fancied Hermione. Forget that he’d kissed her hand first, or that he’d actually looked at her when she said something, which most men never bothered to do. One had only to see the way he regarded Hermione when she spoke to know that he, too, had joined the throngs.

His eyes had that slightly glazed look. His lips were parted. And there was an intensity there, as if he’d like to gather Hermione up and stride down the hill with her, crowds and propriety be damned.

As opposed to the way he looked at her, which could be quite easily catalogued as polite disinterest. Or perhaps it was-Why are you blocking my way, thus preventing me from sweeping Hermione up in my arms and striding down the hill with her, crowds and propriety be damned?

It wasn’t disappointing, exactly. Just…not…un-disappointing.

There ought to be a word for that. Really, there ought.

“Lucy? Lucy?”

Lucy realized with a touch of embarrassment that she had not been paying attention to the conversation. Hermione was regarding her curiously, her head tilted in that manner of hers that men always seemed to find so fetching. Lucy had tried it once. It had made her dizzy.

“Yes?” she murmured, since some sort of verbal expression seemed to be in order.

“Mr. Bridgerton has asked me to dance,” Hermione said, “but I have told him that I cannot.”

Hermione was forever feigning twisted ankles and head colds to keep herself off the dance floor. Which was also all good and fine, except that she fobbed off all her admirers on Lucy. Which was all good and fine at first, but it had got so common that Lucy suspected that the gentlemen now thought they were being shoved in her direction out of pity, which couldn’t have been further from the truth.

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