“Anthony was a good father to me.” Gregory said it because he knew it would bring her joy, but he also said it because it was true.

His mother’s lips pursed and tightened, and for a moment Gregory thought she might cry. He immediately retrieved his handkerchief and held it out to her.

“No, no, that’s not necessary,” she said, even as she took it and dabbed her eyes. “I am quite all right. Merely a little-” She swallowed, then smiled. But her eyes still glistened. “Someday you will understand-when you have children of your own-how lovely it was to hear that.”

She set the handkerchief down and picked up her tea. Sipping it thoughtfully, she let out a little sigh of contentment.

Gregory smiled to himself. His mother adored tea. It went quite beyond the usual British devotion. She claimed it helped her to think, which he would normally have lauded as a good thing, except that all too often he was the subject of her thoughts, and after her third cup she had usually devised a frighteningly thorough plan to marry him off to the daughter of whichever friend she had most recently paid a morning call to.

But this time, apparently, her mind was not on marriage. She set her cup down, and, just when he thought she was ready to change the subject, she said, “But he is not your father.”

He paused, his own teacup halfway to his mouth. “I beg your pardon.”

“Anthony. He is not your father.”

“Yes?” he said slowly, because really, what could possibly be her point?

“He is your brother,” she continued. “As are Benedict and Colin, and when you were small-oh, how you wished to be a part of their affairs.”

Gregory held himself very still.

“But of course they were not interested in bringing you along, and really, who can blame them?”

“Who indeed?” he murmured tightly.

“Oh, do not take offense, Gregory,” his mother said, turning to him with an expression that was a little bit contrite and little bit impatient. “They were wonderful brothers, and truly, very patient most of the time.”

“Most of the time?”

“Some of the time,” she amended. “But you were so much smaller than they were. There simply wasn’t much in common for you to do. And then when you grew older, well…”

Her words trailed off, and she sighed. Gregory leaned forward. “Well?” he prompted.

“Oh, it’s nothing.”

“Mother.”

“Very well,” she said, and he knew right then and there that she knew exactly what she was saying, and that any sighs and lingering words were entirely for effect.

“I think that you think you must prove yourself to them,” Violet said.

He regarded her with surprise. “Don’t I?”

His mother’s lips parted, but she made no sound for several seconds. “No,” she finally said. “Why would you think you would?”

What a silly question. It was because-It was because-

“It’s not the sort of thing one can easily put into words,” he muttered.

“Really?” She sipped at her tea. “I must say, that was not the sort of reaction I had anticipated.”

Gregory felt his jaw clench. “What, precisely, did you anticipate?”

“Precisely?” She looked up at him with just enough humor in her eyes to completely irritate him. “I’m not certain that I can be precise, but I suppose I had expected you to deny it.”

“Just because I do not wish it to be the case does not render it untrue,” he said with a deliberately casual shrug.

“Your brothers respect you,” Violet said.

“I did not say they do not.”

“They recognize that you are your own man.”

That, Gregory thought, was not precisely true.

“It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help,” Violet continued.

“I have never believed that it was,” he replied. “Didn’t I just seek your assistance?”

“With a matter that could only be handled by a female,” she said, somewhat dismissively. “You had no choice but to call on me.”

It was true, so Gregory made no comment.

“You are used to having things done for you,” she said.

“Mother.”

“Hyacinth is the same way,” she said quickly. “I think it must be a symptom of being the youngest. And truly, I did not mean to imply that either of you is lazy or spoiled or mean-spirited in any way.”

“What did you mean, then?” he asked.

She looked up with a slightly mischievous smile. “Precisely?”

He felt a bit of his tension slipping away. “Precisely,” he said, with a nod to acknowledge her wordplay.

“I merely meant that you have never had to work particularly hard for anything. You’re quite lucky that way. Good things seem to happen to you.”

“And as my mother, you are bothered by this…how?”

“Oh, Gregory,” she said with a sigh. “I am not bothered at all. I wish you nothing but good things. You know that.”

He wasn’t quite sure what the proper response might be to this, so he held silent, merely lifting his brows in question.

“I’ve made a muddle of this, haven’t I?” Violet said with a frown. “All I am trying to say is that you have never had to expend much of an effort to achieve your goals. Whether that is a result of your abilities or your goals, I am not certain.”

He did not speak. His eyes found a particularly intricate spot in the patterned fabric covering the walls, and he was riveted, unable to focus on anything else as his mind churned.

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