He gave her a small, one-shouldered shrug. “Truth be told, I count myself lucky.”
She pulled out another slice of bread, but her fingers froze before pinching off a piece. “You do?” she asked, turning to him with interest. “How is that possible?”
He blinked with surprise. “You are direct, aren’t you?”
And she blushed. She felt it, pink and warm and just horrible on her cheeks. “I’m sorry,” she said. “That was terribly rude of me. It is only that you were so very much-”
“Say no more,” he cut her off, and then she felt even worse, because she had been about to describe-probably in meticulous detail-how lovesick he’d been over Hermione. Which, had she been in his position, she’d not wish recounted.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
He turned. Regarded her with a contemplative sort of curiosity. “You say that quite frequently.”
“I…I don’t know.” Her teeth ground together, and she felt quite tense. Uncomfortable. Why would he point out such a thing? “It’s what I do,” she said, and she said it firmly, because…Well, because. That ought to be enough of a reason.
He nodded. And that made her feel even worse. “It’s who I am,” she added defensively, even though he’d been agreeing with her, for heaven’s sake. “I smooth things over and I make things right.”
And at that, she hurled the last piece of bread to the ground.
His brows rose, and they both turned in unison to watch the ensuing chaos. “Well done,” he murmured.
“I make the best of things,” she said. “Always.”
“It’s a commendable trait,” he said softly.
And at that, somehow, she was angry. Really, truly, beastly angry. She didn’t want to be commended for knowing how to settle for second-best. That was like winning a prize for the prettiest shoes in a footrace. Irrelevant and not the point.
“And what of you?” she asked, her voice growing strident. “Do you make the best of things? Is that why you claim yourself recovered? Weren’t you the one who waxed rhapsodic over the mere thought of love? You said it was everything, that it gave you no choice. You said-”
She cut herself off, horrified by her tone. He was staring at her as if she’d gone mad, and maybe she had.
“You said many things,” she mumbled, hoping that might end the conversation.
She ought to go. She had been sitting on the bench for at least fifteen minutes before he’d arrived, and it was damp and breezy, and her maid wasn’t dressed warmly enough, and if she thought long and hard enough about it, she probably had a hundred things she needed to do at home.
Or at least a book she could read.
“I am sorry if I upset you,” Gregory said quietly.
She couldn’t quite bring herself to look at him.
“But I did not lie to you,” he said. “Truthfully, I no longer think of Miss-excuse me, Lady Fennsworth-with any great frequency, except, perhaps, to realize that we should not have been well-suited after all.”
She turned to him, and she realized she wanted to believe him. She really did.
Because if he could forget Hermione, maybe she could forget him.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” he said, and he shook his head, as if he were every bit as perplexed as she. “But if ever you fall madly and inexplicably in love…”
Lucy froze. He wasn’t going to say it. Surely, he couldn’t say it.
He shrugged. “Well, I shouldn’t trust it.”
Dear God. Hermione’s words. Exactly.
She tried to remember how she had replied to Hermione. Because she had to say something. Otherwise, he would notice the silence, and then he’d turn, and he’d see her looking so unnerved. And then he would ask questions, and she wouldn’t know the answers, and-
“It’s not likely to happen to me,” she said, the words practically pouring from her mouth.
He turned, but she kept her face scrupulously forward. And she wished desperately that she had not tossed out all the bread. It would be far easier to avoid looking at him if she could pretend to be involved with something else.
“You don’t believe that you will fall in love?” he asked.
“Well, perhaps,” she said, trying to sound blithe and sophisticated. “But not that.”
She took a breath, hating that he was forcing her to explain. “That desperate sort of thing you and Hermione now disavow,” she said. “I’m not the sort, don’t you think?”
She bit her lip, then finally allowed herself to turn in his direction. Because what if he could tell that she was lying? What if he sensed that she was already in love-with him? She would be embarrassed beyond comprehension, but wouldn’t it be better to know that he knew? At least then, she wouldn’t have to wonder.
Ignorance wasn’t bliss. Not for someone like her.
“It is all beside the point, anyway,” she continued, because she couldn’t bear the silence. “I am marrying Lord Haselby in one week, and I would never stray from my vows. I-”
“Haselby?” Gregory’s entire body twisted as he swung around to face her. “You’re marrying Haselby?”
“Yes,” she said, blinking furiously. What sort of reaction was that? “I thought you knew.”
“No. I didn’t-” He looked shocked. Stupefied.
He shook his head. “I can’t imagine why I didn’t know.”
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