That was it, then.

“I wanted to talk with you,” Hermione said, perching on the edge of the bed but keeping a respectful distance from Lucy. “I wanted to explain.”

Lucy’s gaze remained fixed on her trunks. “There is nothing to explain. I’m very happy that you will be marrying Richard.” She managed a weary smile. “You shall be my sister now.”

“You don’t sound happy.”

“I’m tired.”

Hermione was quiet for a moment, and then, when it was apparent that Lucy was done speaking, she said, “I wanted to make sure that you knew that I was not keeping secrets from you. I would never do that. I hope you know I would never do that.”

Lucy nodded, because she did know, even if she had felt abandoned, and perhaps even a little betrayed the night before.

Hermione swallowed, and then her jaw tightened, and then she took a breath. And Lucy knew in that moment that she had been rehearsing her words for hours, tossing them back and forth in her mind, looking for the exact right combination to say what she felt.

It was exactly what Lucy would have done, and yet somehow it made her want to cry.

But for all Hermione’s practice, when she spoke she was still changing her mind, choosing new words and phrases. “I really did love-No. No,” she said, talking more to herself than to Lucy. “What I mean is, I really did think I loved Mr. Edmonds. But I reckon I didn’t. Because first there was Mr. Bridgerton, and then…Richard.”

Lucy looked sharply up. “What do you mean, first there was Mr. Bridgerton?”

“I…I’m not sure, actually,” Hermione answered, flustered by the question. “When I shared breakfast with him it was as if I was awakened from a long, strange dream. Do you remember, I spoke to you about it? Oh, I didn’t hear music or any some such, and I did not even feel…Well, I don’t know how to explain it, but even though I was not in any way overcome-as I was with Mr. Edmonds-I…I wondered. About him. And whether maybe I could feel something. If I tried. And I did not see how I could possibly be in love with Mr. Edmonds if Mr. Bridgerton made me wonder.”

Lucy nodded. Gregory Bridgerton made her wonder, too. But not about whether she could. That she knew. She just wanted to know how to make herself not.

But Hermione did not see her distress. Or perhaps Lucy hid it well. Either way, Hermione just continued with her explanation. “And then…” she said, “with Richard…I’m not certain how it happened, but we were walking, and we were talking, and it all felt so pleasant. But more than pleasant,” she hastily added. “Pleasant sounds dull, and it wasn’t that. I felt…right. Like I’d come home.”

Hermione smiled, almost helplessly, as if she couldn’t quite believe her good fortune. And Lucy was glad for her. She really was. But she wondered how it was possible to feel so happy and so sad at the same time. Because she was never going to feel that way. And even if she hadn’t believed in it before, she did now. And that made it so much worse.

“I am sorry if I did not appear happy for you last night,” Lucy said softly. “I am. Very much so. It was the shock, that is all. So many changes all at one time.”

“But good changes, Lucy,” Hermione said, her eyes shining. “Good changes.”

Lucy wished she could share her confidence. She wanted to embrace Hermione’s optimism, but instead she felt overwhelmed. But she could not say that to her friend. Not now, when she was glowing with happiness.

So Lucy smiled and said, “You will have a good life with Richard.” And she meant it, too.

Hermione grasped her hand with both of her own, squeezing tightly with all the friendship and excitement inside of her. “Oh, Lucy, I know it. I have known him for so long, and he’s your brother, so he has always made me feel safe. Comfortable, really. I don’t have to worry about what he thinks of me. You’ve surely already told him everything, good and bad, and he still believes I’m rather fine.”

“He doesn’t know you can’t dance,” Lucy admitted.

“He doesn’t?” Hermione shrugged. “I will tell him, then. Perhaps he can teach me. Does he have any talent for it?”

Lucy shook her head.

“Do you see?” Hermione said, her smile wistful and hopeful and joyful all at once. “We are perfectly matched. It has all become so clear. It is so easy to talk with him, and last night…I was laughing, and he was laughing, and it just felt so…lovely. I can’t really explain.”

But she didn’t have to explain. Lucy was terrified that she knew exactly what Hermione meant.

“And then we were in the orangery, and it was so beautiful with the moonlight shining through the glass. It was all dappled and blurry and…and then I looked at him.” Hermione’s eyes grew misty and unfocused, and Lucy knew that she was lost in the memory.

Lost and happy.

“I looked at him,” Hermione said again, “and he was looking down at me. I could not look away. I simply could not. And then we kissed. It was…I didn’t even think about it. It just happened. It was just the most natural, wonderful thing in the world.”

Lucy nodded sadly.

“I realized that I didn’t understand before. With Mr. Edmonds-oh, I thought myself so violently in love with him, but I did not know what love was. He was so handsome, and he made me feel shy and excited, but I never longed to kiss him. I never looked at him and leaned in, not because I wanted to, but just because…because…”

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