Lucy regarded him dryly. “Most women would not find that complimentary.”

“Ah, but you are not most women. And,” he added, “I have seen you eat breakfast.”

Her lips parted, but before she could gasp her indignation, he cut in with: “That was a compliment, by the way.”

Lucy shook her head. He really was insufferable. And she was so thankful for that. When she’d first seen him, just standing there watching her as she fed the birds, her stomach had dropped, and she’d felt queasy, and she didn’t know what to say or how to act, or really, anything.

But then he’d ambled forward, and he’d been so…himself. He’d put her immediately at ease, which, under the circumstances, was really quite astonishing.

She was, after all, in love with him.

But then he’d smiled, that lazy, familiar smile of his, and he’d made some sort of joke about the pigeons, and before she knew it, she was smiling in return. And she felt like herself, which was so reassuring.

She hadn’t felt like herself for weeks.

And so, in the spirit of making the best of things, she had decided not to dwell upon her inappropriate affection for him and instead be thankful that she could be in his presence without turning into an awkward, stammering fool.

There were small favors left in the world, apparently.

“Have you been in London all this time?” she asked him, quite determined to maintain a pleasant and perfectly normal conversation.

He drew back in surprise. Clearly, he had not expected that question. “No. I only just returned last night.”

“I see.” Lucy paused to digest that. It was strange, but she hadn’t even considered that he might not be in town. But it would explain-Well, she wasn’t sure what it would explain. That she hadn’t caught a glimpse of him? It wasn’t as if she’d been anywhere besides her home, the park, and the dressmaker. “Were you at Aubrey Hall, then?”

“No, I left shortly after you departed and went to visit my brother. He lives with his wife and children off in Wiltshire, quite blissfully away from all that is civilized.”

“Wiltshire isn’t so very far away.”

He shrugged. “Half the time they don’t even receive the Times. They claim they are not interested.”

“How odd.” Lucy didn’t know anyone who did not receive the newspaper, even in the most remote of counties.

He nodded. “I found it rather refreshing this time, however. I have no idea what anyone is doing, and I don’t mind it a bit.”

“Are you normally such a gossip?”

He gave her a sideways look. “Men don’t gossip. We talk.”

“I see,” she said. “That explains so much.”

He chuckled. “Have you been in town long? I had assumed you were also rusticating.”

“Two weeks,” she replied. “We arrived just after the wedding.”

“We? Are your brother and Miss Watson here, then?”

She hated that she was listening for eagerness in his voice, but she supposed it couldn’t be helped. “She is Lady Fennsworth now, and no, they are on their honeymoon trip. I am here with my uncle.”

“For the season?”

“For my wedding.”

That stopped the easy flow of conversation.

She reached into her bag and pulled out another slice of bread. “It is to take place in a week.”

He stared at her in shock. “That soon?”

“Uncle Robert says there is no point in dragging it out.”

“I see.”

And maybe he did. Maybe there was some sort of etiquette to all this that she, sheltered girl from the country that she was, had not been taught. Maybe there was no point in postponing the inevitable. Maybe it was all a part of that making the best of things philosophy she was working so diligently to espouse.

“Well,” he said. He blinked a few times, and she realized that he did not know what to say. It was a most uncharacteristic response and one she found gratifying. It was a bit like Hermione not knowing how to dance. If Gregory Bridgerton could be at a loss for words, then there was hope for the rest of humanity.

Finally he settled upon: “My felicitations.”

“Thank you.” She wondered if he had received an invitation. Uncle Robert and Lord Davenport were determined to hold the ceremony in front of absolutely everyone. It was, they said, to be her grand debut, and they wanted all the world to know that she was Haselby’s wife.

“It is to be at St. George’s,” she said, for no reason whatsoever.

“Here in London?” He sounded surprised. “I would have thought you would marry from Fennsworth Abbey.”

It was most peculiar, Lucy thought, how not painful this was-discussing her upcoming wedding with him. She felt more numb, actually. “It was what my uncle wanted,” she explained, reaching into her basket for another slice of bread.

“Your uncle remains the head of the household?” Gregory asked, regarding her with mild curiosity. “Your brother is the earl. Hasn’t he reached his majority?”

Lucy tossed the entire slice to the ground, then watched with morbid interest as the pigeons went a bit mad. “He has,” she replied. “Last year. But he was content to allow my uncle to handle the family’s affairs while he was conducting his postgraduate studies at Cambridge. I expect that he will assume his place soon now that he is”-she offered him an apologetic smile-“married.”

“Do not worry over my sensibilities,” he assured her. “I am quite recovered.”

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