Lucy was, if she did say so herself, a rather fine dancer. And an excellent conversationalist as well.

“It would be my pleasure to lead Lady Lucinda in a dance,” Mr. Bridgerton said, because, really, what else could he say?

And so Lucy smiled, not entirely heartfelt, but a smile nonetheless, and allowed him to lead her to the patio.

Two

In which Our Heroine displays a decided lack of respect for all things romantic.

Gregory was nothing if not a gentleman, and he hid his disappointment well as he offered his arm to Lady Lucinda and escorted her to the makeshift dance floor. She was, he was sure, a perfectly charming and lovely young lady, but she wasn’t Miss Hermione Watson.

And he had been waiting his entire life to meet Miss Hermione Watson.

Still, this could be considered beneficial to his cause. Lady Lucinda was clearly Miss Watson’s closest friend-Miss Watson had positively gushed about her during their brief conversation, during which time Lady Lucinda gazed off at something beyond his shoulder, apparently not listening to a word. And with four sisters, Gregory knew a thing or two about women, the most important of which was that it was always a good idea to befriend the friend, provided they really were friends, and not just that odd thing women did where they pretended to be friends and were actually just waiting for the perfect moment to knife each other in the ribs.

Mysterious creatures, women. If they could just learn to say what they meant, the world would be a far simpler place.

But Miss Watson and Lady Lucinda gave every appearance of friendship and devotion, Lady Lucinda’s woolgathering aside. And if Gregory wished to learn more about Miss Watson, Lady Lucinda Abernathy was the obvious place to start.

“Have you been a guest at Aubrey Hall very long?” Gregory asked politely as they waited for the music to begin.

“Just since yesterday,” she replied. “And you? We did not see you at any of the gatherings thus far.”

“I only arrived this evening,” he said. “After supper.” He grimaced. Now that he was no longer gazing upon Miss Watson, he remembered that he was rather hungry.

“You must be famished,” Lady Lucinda exclaimed. “Would you prefer to take a turn around the patio instead of dancing? I promise that we may stroll past the refreshment table.”

Gregory could have hugged her. “You, Lady Lucinda, are a capital young lady.”

She smiled, but it was an odd sort of smile, and he couldn’t quite tell what it meant. She’d liked his compliment, of that he was fairly certain, but there was something else there as well, something a little bit rueful, maybe something a little bit resigned.

“You must have a brother,” he said.

“I do,” she confirmed, smiling at his deduction. “He is four years my elder and always hungry. I will be forever amazed we had any food in the larder when he was home from school.”

Gregory fit her hand in the crook of his elbow, and together they moved to the perimeter of the patio.

“This way,” Lady Lucinda said, giving his arm a little tug when he tried to steer them in a counterclockwise direction. “Unless you would prefer sweets.”

Gregory felt his face light up. “Are there savories?”

“Sandwiches. They are small, but they are quite delicious, especially the egg.”

He nodded, somewhat absently. He’d caught sight of Miss Watson out of the corner of his eye, and it was a bit difficult to concentrate on anything else. Especially as she had been surrounded by men. Gregory was sure they had been just waiting for someone to remove Lady Lucinda from her side before moving in for the attack.

“Er, have you known Miss Watson very long?” he asked, trying not to be too obvious.

There was a very slight pause, and then she said, “Three years. We are students together at Miss Moss’s. Or rather we were students together. We completed our studies earlier this year.”

“May I assume you plan to make your debuts in London later this spring?”

“Yes,” she replied, nodding toward a table laden with small snacks. “We have spent the last few months preparing, as Hermione’s mother likes to call it, attending house parties and small gatherings.”

“Polishing yourselves?” he asked with a smile.

Her lips curved in answer. “Exactly that. I should make an excellent candlestick by now.”

He found himself amused. “A mere candlestick, Lady Lucinda? Pray, do not understate your value. At the very least you are one of those extravagant silver urns everyone seems to need in their sitting rooms lately.”

“I am an urn, then,” she said, almost appearing to consider the idea. “What would that make Hermione, I wonder?”

A jewel. A diamond. A diamond set in gold. A diamond set in gold surrounded by…

He forcibly halted the direction of his thoughts. He could perform his poetic gymnastics later, when he wasn’t expected to keep up one end of a conversation. A conversation with a different young lady. “I’m sure I do not know,” he said lightly, offering her a plate. “I have only barely made Miss Watson’s acquaintance, after all.”

She said nothing, but her eyebrows rose ever so slightly. And that, of course, was when Gregory realized he was glancing over her shoulder to get a better look at Miss Watson.

Lady Lucinda let out a small sigh. “You should probably know that she is in love with someone else.”

Gregory dragged his gaze back to the woman he was meant to be paying attention to. “I beg your pardon?”

She shrugged delicately as she placed a few small sandwiches on her plate. “Hermione. She is in love with someone else. I thought you would like to know.”

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