“It wasn’t a secret.”

“No,” he said, a bit forcefully. “I mean, no. No, of course not. I did not mean to imply.”

“Do you hold Lord Haselby in low esteem?” she asked, choosing her words with extreme care.

“No,” Gregory replied, shaking his head-but just a little, as if he were not quite aware that he was doing it. “No. I’ve known him for a number of years. We were at college together. And university.”

“Are you of an age, then?” Lucy asked, and it occurred to her that something was a bit wrong if she did not know the age of her fiancé. But then again, she wasn’t certain of Gregory’s age, either.

He nodded. “He’s quite…affable. He will treat you well.” He cleared his throat. “Gently.”

“Gently?” she echoed. It seemed an odd choice of words.

His eyes met hers, and it was only then that she realized he had not precisely looked at her since she’d told him the name of her fiancé. But he didn’t speak. Instead he just stared at her, his eyes so intense that they seemed to change color. They were brown with green, then green with brown, and then it all seemed almost to blur.

“What is it?” she whispered.

“It is of no account,” he said, but he did not sound like himself. “I…” And then he turned away, broke the spell. “My sister,” he said, clearing his throat. “She is hosting a soiree tomorrow evening. Would you like to attend?”

“Oh yes, that would be lovely,” Lucy said, even though she knew she should not. But it had been so long since she’d had any sort of social interaction, and she wasn’t going to be able to spend time in his company once she was married. She ought not torture herself now, longing for something she could not have, but she couldn’t help it.

Gather ye rosebuds.

Now. Because really, when else-

“Oh, but I can’t,” she said, disappointment turning her voice to nearly a whine.

“Why not?”

“It is my uncle,” she replied, sighing. “And Lord Davenport-Haselby’s father.”

“I know who he is.”

“Of course. I’m sor-” She cut herself off. She wasn’t going to say it. “They don’t wish for me to make my bow yet.”

“I beg your pardon. Why?”

Lucy shrugged. “There is no point in my being introduced to society as Lady Lucinda Abernathy when I’m to be Lady Haselby in a week.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“It is what they say.” She frowned. “And I don’t think they wish to suffer the expense, either.”

“You will attend tomorrow evening,” Gregory said firmly. “I shall see to it.”

“You?” Lucy asked dubiously.

“Not me,” he answered, as if she’d gone mad. “My mother. Trust me, when it comes to matters of social discourse and niceties, she can accomplish anything. Have you a chaperone?”

Lucy nodded. “My aunt Harriet. She is a bit frail, but I am certain she could attend a party if my uncle allowed it.”

“He will allow it,” Gregory said confidently. “The sister in question is my eldest. Daphne.” He then clarified: “Her grace the Duchess of Hastings. Your uncle would not say no to a duchess, would he?”

“I don’t think so,” she said slowly. Lucy could not think of anyone who would say no to a duchess.

“It’s settled, then,” Gregory said. “You shall be hearing from Daphne by afternoon.” He stood, offering his hand to help her up.

She swallowed. It would be bittersweet to touch him, but she placed her hand in his. It felt warm, and comfortable. And safe.

“Thank you,” she murmured, taking her hand back so that she might wrap both around the handle of her basket. She nodded at her maid, who immediately began walking to her side.

“Until tomorrow,” he said, bowing almost formally as he bade her farewell.

“Until tomorrow,” Lucy echoed, wondering if it were true. She had never known her uncle to change his mind before. But maybe…

Possibly.

Hopefully.

Fifteen

In which Our Hero learns that he is not, and probably never will be, as wise as his mother.

One hour later, Gregory was waiting in the drawing room at Number Five, Bruton Street, his mother’s London home since she had insisted upon vacating Bridgerton House upon Anthony’s marriage. It had been his home, too, until he had found his own lodgings several years earlier. His mother lived there alone now, ever since his younger sister had married. Gregory made a point of calling upon her at least twice a week when he was in London, but it never ceased to surprise him how quiet the house seemed now.

“Darling!” his mother exclaimed, sailing into the room with a wide smile. “I had not thought to see you until this evening. How was your journey? And tell me everything about Benedict and Sophie and the children. It is a crime how infrequently I see my grandchildren.”

Gregory smiled indulgently. His mother had visited Wiltshire just one month earlier, and did so several times per year. He dutifully passed along news of Benedict’s four children, with added emphasis on little Violet, her namesake. Then, once she had exhausted her supply of questions, he said, “Actually, Mother, I have a favor to ask of you.”

Violet’s posture was always superb, but still, she seemed to straighten a bit. “You do? What is it you need?”

He told her about Lucy, keeping the tale as brief as possible, lest she reach any inappropriate conclusions about his interest in her.

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