“And I will remain there until you reach your room.”

“That’s not necessary.”

He ignored her. “Knock three times when you do so.”

“I’m not going to-”

“If I don’t hear your knock, I will come upstairs and personally assure myself of your welfare.”

He crossed his arms, and as she looked at him she wondered if he’d have been the same man had he been the firstborn son. There was an unexpected imperiousness to him. He would have made a fine viscount, she decided, although she wasn’t certain she would have liked him so well. Lord Bridgerton quite frankly terrified her, although he must have had a softer side, adoring his wife and children as he so obviously did.

Still…

“Lucy.”

She swallowed and grit her teeth, hating to have to admit that she’d lied. “Very well,” she said grudgingly. “If you wish to hear my knock, you had better come to the top of the stairs.”

He nodded and followed her, all the way to the top of the seventeen steps.

“I will see you tomorrow,” he said.

Lucy said nothing. She had a feeling that would be unwise.

“I will see you tomorrow,” he repeated.

She nodded, since it seemed to be required, and she didn’t see how she was meant to avoid him, anyway.

And she wanted to see him. She shouldn’t want to, and she knew she shouldn’t do it, but she couldn’t help herself.

“I suspect we will be leaving,” she said. “I’m meant to return to my uncle, and Richard…Well, he will have matters to attend to.”

But her explanations did not change his expression. His face was still resolute, his eyes so firmly fixed on hers that she shivered.

“I will see you in the morning,” was all he said.

She nodded again, and then left, as quickly as she could without breaking into a run. She rounded the corner and finally saw her room, just three doors down.

But she stopped. Right there at the corner, just out of his sight.

And she knocked three times.

Just because she could.

Twelve

In which nothing is resolved.

When Gregory sat down to breakfast the next day, Kate was already there, grim-faced and weary.

“I’m so sorry,” was the first thing she said when she took the seat next to him.

What was it with apologies? he wondered. They were positively rampant these past few days.

“I know you had hoped-”

“It is nothing,” he interrupted, flicking a glance at the plate of food she’d left on the other side of the table. Two seats down.

“But-”

“Kate,” he said, and even he didn’t quite recognize his own voice. He sounded older, if that was possible. Harder.

She fell silent, her lips still parted, as if her words had been frozen on her tongue.

“It’s nothing,” he said again, and turned back to his eggs. He didn’t want to talk about it, he didn’t want listen to explanations. What was done was done, and there was nothing he could do about it.

Gregory was not certain what Kate was doing while he concentrated on his food-presumably looking around the room, gauging whether any of the guests could hear their conversation. Every now and then he heard her shifting in her seat, unconsciously changing her position in anticipation of saying something.

He moved on to his bacon.

And then-he knew she would not be able to keep her mouth shut for long-“But are you-”

He turned. Looked at her hard. And said one word.

“Don’t.”

For a moment her expression remained blank. Then her eyes widened, and one corner of her mouth tilted up. Just a little. “How old were you when we met?” she asked.

What the devil was she about? “I don’t know,” he said impatiently, trying to recall her wedding to his brother. There had been a bloody lot of flowers. He’d been sneezing for weeks, it seemed. “Thirteen, perhaps. Twelve?”

She regarded him curiously. “It must be difficult, I think, to be so very much younger than your brothers.”

He set his fork down.

“Anthony and Benedict and Colin-they are all right in a row. Like ducks, I’ve always thought, although I’m not so foolish to say so. And then-hmmm. How many years between you and Colin?”

“Ten.”

“Is that all?” Kate looked surprised, which he wasn’t sure he found particularly complimentary.

“It’s a full six years from Colin to Anthony,” she continued, pressing one finger against her chin as if that were to indicate deep thought. “A bit more than that, actually. But I suppose they are more commonly lumped together, what with Benedict in the middle.”

He waited.

“Well, no matter,” she said briskly. “Everyone finds his place in life, after all. Now then-”

He stared at her in amazement. How could she change the subject like that? Before he had any idea what she was talking about.

“-I suppose I should inform you of the remainder of the events of last night. After you left.” Kate sighed-groaned really-shaking her head. “Lady Watson was a bit put out that her daughter had not been closely supervised, although really, whose fault is that? And then she was put out that Miss Watson’s London season was over before she had a chance to spend money on a new wardrobe. Because, after all, it is not as if she will make a debut now.”

Kate paused, waiting for Gregory to say something. He lifted his brows in the tiniest of shrugs, just enough to say that he had nothing to add to the conversation.

Kate gave him one more second, then continued with: “Lady Watson did come about rather quickly when it was pointed out that Fennsworth is an earl, however young.”

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