Haselby would be kind to her, and he’d probably provide her with an exceedingly generous allowance, which was more than many women had in their marriages, regardless of their husbands’ proclivities.

But it did not seem fair that, of all people, Lucy was destined for such a life. She deserved so much more. A house full of children. And dogs. Perhaps a cat or two. She seemed the sort who’d want a menagerie.

And flowers. In Lucy’s home there would be flowers everywhere, he was certain of it. Pink peonies, yellow roses, and that stalky blue thing she liked so well.

Delphinium. That was it.

He paused. Remembered. Delphinium.

Lucy might claim that her brother was the horticulturalist of the family, but Gregory could not imagine her living in a home without color.

There would be laughter and noise and splendid disarray-despite her attempts to keep every corner of her life neat and tidy. He could see her easily in his mind’s eye, fussing and organizing, trying to keep everyone on a proper schedule.

It almost made him laugh aloud, just to think of it. It wouldn’t matter if there was a fleet of servants dusting and straightening and shining and sweeping. With children nothing was ever quite where one put it.

Lucy was a manager. It was what made her happy, and she ought to have a household to manage.

Children. Lots of them.

Maybe eight.

He glanced around the ballroom, which was slowly beginning to fill. He didn’t see Lucy, and it wasn’t so crowded yet that he might miss her. He did, however, see his mother.

She was heading his way.

“Gregory,” she said, reaching out to him with both hands when she reached him, “you look especially handsome this evening.”

He took her hands and raised them to his lips. “Said with all the honesty and impartiality of a mother,” he murmured.

“Nonsense,” she said with a smile. “It is a fact that all of my children are exceedingly intelligent and good-looking. If it were merely my opinion, don’t you think someone would have corrected me by now?”

“As if any would dare.”

“Well, yes, I suppose,” she replied, maintaining an impressively impassive face. “But I shall be stubborn and insist that the point is moot.”

“As you wish, Mother,” he said with perfect solemnity. “As you wish.”

“Has Lady Lucinda arrived?”

Gregory shook his head. “Not yet.”

“Isn’t it odd that I haven’t met her,” she mused. “One would think, if she has been in town a fortnight already…Ah well, it matters not. I am certain I will find her delightful if you made such an effort to secure her attendance this evening.”

Gregory gave her a look. He knew this tone. It was a perfect blend of nonchalance and utter precision, usually utilized whilst digging for information. His mother was a master at it.

And sure enough, she was discreetly patting her hair and not quite looking at him as she said, “You said you were introduced while you were visiting Anthony, did you not?”

He saw no reason to pretend he did not know what she was about.

“She is engaged to be married, Mother,” he said with great emphasis. And then for good measure he added, “In one week.”

“Yes, yes, I know. To Lord Davenport’s son. It is a longstanding match, I understand.”

Gregory nodded. He couldn’t imagine that his mother knew the truth about Haselby. It was not a well-known fact. There were whispers, of course. There were always whispers. But none would dare repeat them in the presence of ladies.

“I received an invitation to the wedding,” Violet said.

“Did you?”

“It’s to be a very large affair, I understand.”

Gregory clenched his teeth a bit. “She is to be a countess.”

“Yes, I suppose. It’s not the sort of thing one can do up small.”

“No.”

Violet sighed. “I adore weddings.”

“Do you?”

“Yes.” She sighed again, with even more drama, not that Gregory would have imagined it possible. “It is all so romantic,” she added. “The bride, the groom…”

“Both are considered standard in the ceremony, I understand.”

His mother shot him a peevish look. “How could I have raised a son who is so unromantic?”

Gregory decided there could not possibly be an answer to that.

“Fie on you, then,” Violet said, “I plan to attend. I almost never refuse an invitation to a wedding.”

And then came the voice. “Who is getting married?”

Gregory turned. It was his younger sister, Hyacinth. Dressed in blue and poking her nose into everyone else’s business as usual.

“Lord Haselby and Lady Lucinda Abernathy,” Violet answered.

“Oh yes.” Hyacinth frowned. “I received an invitation. At St. George’s, is it not?”

Violet nodded. “Followed by a reception at Fennsworth House.”

Hyacinth glanced around the room. She did that quite frequently, even when she was not searching for anyone in particular. “Isn’t it odd that I haven’t met her? She is sister to the Earl of Fennsworth, is she not?” She shrugged. “Odd that I have not met him, either.”

“I don’t believe Lady Lucinda is ‘out,’” Gregory said. “Not formally, at least.”

“Then tonight will be her debut,” his mother said. “How exciting for us all.”

Hyacinth turned to her brother with razor-sharp eyes. “And how is it that you are acquainted with Lady Lucinda, Gregory?”

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