He opened his mouth, but she was already saying, “And do not say that you are not, because Daphne has already told me everything.”

“Then why are you asking?”

Hyacinth scowled. “She did not tell me how you met.”

“You might wish to revisit your understanding of the word everything.” Gregory turned to his mother. “Vocabulary and comprehension were never her strong suits.”

Violet rolled her eyes. “Every day I marvel that the two of you managed to reach adulthood.”

“Afraid we’d kill each other?” Gregory quipped.

“No, that I’d do the job myself.”

“Well,” Hyacinth stated, as if the previous minute of conversation had never taken place, “Daphne said that you were most anxious that Lady Lucinda receive an invitation, and Mother, I understand, even penned a note saying how much she enjoys her company, which as we all know is a bald-faced lie, as none of us has ever met the-”

“Do you ever cease talking?” Gregory interrupted.

“Not for you,” Hyacinth replied. “How do you know her? And more to the point, how well? And why are you so eager to extend an invitation to a woman who will be married in a week?”

And then, amazingly, Hyacinth did stop talking.

“I was wondering that myself,” Violet murmured.

Gregory looked from his sister to his mother and decided he hadn’t meant any of that rot he’d said to Lucy about large families being a comfort. They were a nuisance and an intrusion and a whole host of other things, the words for which he could not quite retrieve at that moment.

Which may have been for the best, as none of them were likely to have been polite.

Nonetheless, he turned to the two women with extreme patience and said, “I was introduced to Lady Lucinda in Kent. At Kate and Anthony’s house party last month. And I asked Daphne to invite her this evening because she is an amiable young lady, and I happened upon her yesterday in the park. Her uncle has denied her a season, and I thought it would be a kind deed to provide her with an opportunity to escape for one evening.”

He lifted his brows, silently daring them to respond.

They did, of course. Not with words-words would never have been as effective as the dubious stares they were hurling in his direction.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” he nearly burst out. “She is engaged. To be married.”

This had little visible effect.

Gregory scowled. “Do I appear to be attempting to put a halt to the nuptials?”

Hyacinth blinked. Several times, the way she always did when she was thinking far too hard about something not her affair. But to his great surprise, she let out a little hmm of acquiescence and said, “I suppose not.” She glanced about the room. “I should like to meet her, though.”

“I’m sure you will,” Gregory replied, and he congratulated himself, as he did at least once a month, on not strangling his sister.

“Kate wrote that she is lovely,” Violet said.

Gregory turned to her with a sinking feeling. “Kate wrote to you?” Good God, what had she revealed? It was bad enough that Anthony knew about the fiasco with Miss Watson-he had figured it out, of course-but if his mother found out, his life would be utter hell.

She would kill him with kindness. He was sure of it.

“Kate writes twice a month,” Violet replied with a delicate, one-shouldered shrug. “She tells me everything.”

“Is Anthony aware?” Gregory muttered.

“I have no idea,” Violet said, giving him a superior look. “It’s really none of his business.”

Good God.

Gregory just managed to not say it aloud.

“I gather,” his mother continued, “that her brother was caught in a compromising position with Lord Watson’s daughter.”

“Really?” Hyacinth had been perusing the crowd, but she swung back for that.

Violet nodded thoughtfully. “I had wondered why that wedding was so rushed.”

“Well, that’s why,” Gregory said, a little bit like a grunt.

“Hmmmm.” This, from Hyacinth.

It was the sort of sound one never wished to hear from Hyacinth.

Violet turned to her daughter and said, “It was quite the to-do.”

“Actually,” Gregory said, growing more irritated by the second, “it was all handled discreetly.”

“There are always whispers,” Hyacinth said.

“Don’t you add to them,” Violet warned her.

“I won’t say a word,” Hyacinth promised, waving her hand as if she had never spoken out of turn in her life.

Gregory let out a snort. “Oh, please.”

“I won’t,” she protested. “I am superb with a secret as long as I know it is a secret.”

“Ah, so what you mean, then, is that you possess no sense of discretion?”

Hyacinth narrowed her eyes.

Gregory lifted his brows.

“How old are you?” Violet interjected. “Goodness, the two of you haven’t changed a bit since you were in leading strings. I half expect you to start pulling each other’s hair right on the spot.”

Gregory clamped his jaw into a line and stared resolutely ahead. There was nothing quite like a rebuke from one’s mother to make one feel three feet tall.

“Oh, don’t be a stuff, Mother,” Hyacinth said, taking the scolding with a smile. “He knows I only tease him so because I love him best.” She smiled up at him, sunny and warm.

Gregory sighed, because it was true, and because he felt the same way, and because it was, nonetheless, exhausting to be her brother. But the two of them were quite a bit younger than the rest of their siblings, and as a result, had always been a bit of a pair.

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