It was remarkable, because it all felt so big, so transforming. And yet it was just a little kiss-soft, just a brush, so light it almost tickled. She felt a rush, a shiver, a tingly lightness in her chest. Her body seemed to come alive, and at the same time freeze into place, as if afraid that the wrong movement might make it all go away.

But she didn’t want it to go away. God help her, she wanted this. She wanted this moment, and she wanted this memory, and she wanted…

She just wanted.

Everything. Anything she could get.

Anything she could feel.

His arms came around her, and she leaned in, sighing against his mouth as her body came into contact with his. This was it, she thought dimly. This was the music. This was a symphony.

This was a flutter. More than a flutter.

His mouth grew more urgent, and she opened to him, reveling in the warmth of his kiss. It spoke to her, called to her soul. His hands were holding her tighter, tighter, and her own snaked around him, finally resting where his hair met his collar.

She hadn’t meant to touch him, hadn’t even thought about it. Her hands seemed to know where to go, how to find him, bring him closer. Her back arched, and the heat between them grew.

And the kiss went on…and on.

She felt it in her belly, she felt it in her toes. This kiss seemed to be everywhere, all across her skin, straight down to her soul.

“Lucy,” he whispered, his lips finally leaving hers to blaze a hot trail along her jaw to her ear. “My God, Lucy.”

She didn’t want to speak, didn’t want to do anything to break the moment. She didn’t know what to call him, couldn’t quite say Gregory, but Mr. Bridgerton was no longer right.

He was more than that now. More to her.

She’d been right earlier. Everything was changing. She didn’t feel the same. She felt…

Awakened.

Her neck arched as he nipped at her earlobe, and she moaned-soft, incoherent sounds that slid from her lips like a song. She wanted to sink into him. She wanted to slide to the carpet and take him with her. She wanted the weight of him, the heat of him, and she wanted to touch him-she wanted to do something. She wanted to act. She wanted to be daring.

She moved her hands to his hair, sinking her fingers into the silky strands. He let out a little groan, and just the sound of his voice was enough to make her heart beat faster. He was doing remarkable things to her neck-his lips, his tongue, his teeth-she didn’t know which, but one of them was setting her on fire.

His lips moved down the column of her throat, raining fire along her skin. And his hands-they had moved. They were cupping her, pressing her against him, and everything felt so urgent.

This was no longer about what she wanted. It was about what she needed.

Was this what had happened to Hermione? Had she innocently gone for a stroll with Richard and then…this?

Lucy understood it now. She understood what it meant to want something you knew was wrong, to allow it to happen even though it could lead to scandal and-

And then she said it. She tried it. “Gregory,” she whispered, testing the name on her lips. It felt like an endearment, an intimacy, almost as if she could change the world and everything around her with one single word.

If she said his name, then he could be hers, and she could forget everything else, she could forget-

Haselby .

Dear God, she was engaged. It was not just an understanding any longer. The papers had been signed. And she was-

“No,” she said, pressing her hands on his chest. “No, I can’t.”

He allowed her to push him away. She turned her head, afraid to look at him. She knew…if she saw his face…

She was weak. She wouldn’t be able to resist.

“Lucy,” he said, and she realized that the sound of him was just as hard to bear as his face would have been.

“I can’t do this.” She shook her head, still not looking at him. “It’s wrong.”

“Lucy.” And this time she felt his fingers on her chin, gently urging her to face him.

“Please allow me to escort you upstairs,” he said.

“No!” It came out too loud, and she stopped, swallowing uncomfortably. “I can’t risk it,” she said, finally allowing her eyes to meet his.

It was a mistake. The way he was looking at her-His eyes were stern, but there was more. A hint of softness, a touch of warmth. And curiosity. As if…As if he wasn’t quite sure what he was seeing. As if he were looking at her for the very first time.

Dear heaven, that was the part she couldn’t bear. She wasn’t even sure why. Maybe it was because he was looking at her. Maybe it was because the expression was so…him. Maybe it was both.

Maybe it didn’t matter.

But it terrified her all the same.

“I will not be deterred,” he said. “Your safety is my responsibility.”

Lucy wondered what had happened to the slightly intoxicated, rather jolly man with whom she’d been conversing just moments earlier. In his place was someone else entirely. Someone quite in charge.

“Lucy,” he said, and it wasn’t exactly a question, more of a reminder. He would have his way in this, and she would have to acknowledge it.

“My room isn’t far,” she said, trying one last time, anyway. “Truly, I don’t need your assistance. It’s just up those stairs.”

And down the hall and around a corner, but he didn’t need to know that.

“I will walk you to the stairs, then.”

Lucy knew better than to argue. He would not relent. His voice was quiet, but it had an edge she wasn’t quite certain she’d heard there before.

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