His mother tended to view any unmarried female as a potential bride. Even those with a wedding scheduled for the week’s end.

“Of course I will assist you,” she said. “This will be easy.”

“Her uncle is determined to keep her sequestered,” Gregory reminded her.

She waved away his warning. “Child’s play, my dear son. Leave this to me. I shall make short work of it.”

Gregory decided not to pursue the subject further. If his mother said she knew how to ensure someone’s attendance at a ball, then he believed her. Continued questioning would only lead her to believe he had an ulterior motive.

Which he did not.

He simply liked Lucy. Considered her a friend. And he wished for her to have a bit of fun.

It was admirable, really.

“I shall have your sister send an invitation with a personal note,” Violet mused. “And perhaps I shall call upon her uncle directly. I shall lie and tell him I met her in the park.”

“Lie?” Gregory’s lips twitched. “You?”

His mother’s smile was positively diabolical. “It won’t matter if he does not believe me. It is one of the advantages of advanced years. No one dares to countermand an old dragon like me.”

Gregory lifted his brows, refusing to fall for her bait. Violet Bridgerton might have been the mother of eight adult children, but with her milky, unlined complexion and wide smile, she did not look like anyone who could be termed old. In fact, Gregory had often wondered why she did not remarry. There was no shortage of dashing widowers clamoring to take her in to supper or stand up for a dance. Gregory suspected any one of them would have leaped at the chance to marry his mother, if only she would indicate interest.

But she did not, and Gregory had to admit that he was rather selfishly glad of it. Despite her meddling, there was something quite comforting in her single-minded devotion to her children and grandchildren.

His father had been dead for over two dozen years. Gregory hadn’t even the slightest memory of the man. But his mother had spoken of him often, and whenever she did, her voice changed. Her eyes softened, and the corners of her lips moved-just a little, just enough for Gregory to see the memories on her face.

It was in those moments that he understood why she was so adamant that her children choose their spouses for love.

He’d always planned to comply. It was ironic, really, given the farce with Miss Watson.

Just then a maid arrived with a tea tray, which she set on the low table between them.

“Cook made your favorite biscuits,” his mother said, handing him a cup prepared exactly as he liked it-no sugar, one tiny splash of milk.

“You anticipated my visit?” he asked.

“Not this afternoon, no,” Violet said, taking a sip of her own tea. “But I knew you could not stay away for long. Eventually you would need sustenance.”

Gregory offered her a lopsided smile. It was true. Like many men of his age and status, he did not have room in his apartments for a proper kitchen. He ate at parties, and at his club, and, of course, at the homes of his mother and siblings.

“Thank you,” he murmured, accepting the plate onto which she’d piled six biscuits.

Violet regarded the tea tray for a moment, her head cocked slightly to the side, then placed two on her own plate. “I am quite touched,” she said, looking up at him, “that you seek my assistance with Lady Lucinda.”

“Are you?” he asked curiously. “Who else would I turn to with such a matter?”

She took a delicate bite of her biscuit. “No, I am the obvious choice, of course, but you must realize that you rarely turn to your family when you need something.”

Gregory went still, then turned slowly in her direction. His mother’s eyes-so blue and so unsettlingly perceptive-were fixed on his face. What could she possibly have meant by that? No one could love his family better than he did.

“That cannot be true,” he finally said.

But his mother just smiled. “Do you think not?”

His jaw clenched. “I do think not.”

“Oh, do not take offense,” she said, reaching across the table to pat him on the arm. “I do not mean to say that you do not love us. But you do prefer to do things for yourself.”

“Such as?”

“Oh, finding yourself a wife-”

He cut her off right then and there. “Are you trying to tell me that Anthony, Benedict, and Colin welcomed your interference when they were looking for wives?”

“No, of course not. No man does. But-” She flitted one of her hands through the air, as if she could erase the sentence. “Forgive me. It was a poor example.”

She let out a small sigh as she gazed out the window, and Gregory realized that she was prepared to let the subject drop. To his surprise, however, he was not.

“What is wrong with preferring to do things for oneself?” he asked.

She turned to him, looking for all the world as if she had not just introduced a potentially discomforting topic. “Why, nothing. I am quite proud that I raised such self-sufficient sons. After all, three of you must make your own way in the world.” She paused, considering this, then added, “With some help from Anthony, of course. I should be quite disappointed if he did not watch out for the rest of you.”

“Anthony is exceedingly generous,” Gregory said quietly.

“Yes, he is, isn’t he?” Violet said, smiling. “With his money and his time. He is quite like your father in this way.” She looked at him with wistful eyes. “I am so sorry you never knew him.”

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