Gregory gaped at her, and then, against every last drop of his good judgment, looked back at Miss Watson. It was the most obvious, pathetic gesture, but he couldn’t help himself. He just…Dear God, he just wanted to look at her and look at her and never stop. If this wasn’t love, he could not imagine what was.
“Ham.” Lady Lucinda was holding out a little strip of sandwich with a pair of serving tongs. Her face was annoyingly serene. “Would you care for one?” she asked.
He grunted and held out his plate. And then, because he couldn’t leave the matter as it was, he said stiffly, “I’m sure it is none of my business.”
“About the sandwich?”
“About Miss Watson,” he ground out.
Even though, of course, he meant no such thing. As far as he was concerned, Hermione Watson was very much his business, or at least she would be, very soon.
It was somewhat disconcerting that she had apparently not been hit by the same thunderbolt that had struck him. It had never occurred to him that when he did fall in love, his intended might not feel the same, and with equal immediacy, too. But at least this explanation-her thinking she was in love with someone else-assuaged his pride. It was much more palatable to think her infatuated with someone else than completely indifferent to him.
All that was left to do was make her realize that whoever the other man was, he was not the one for her.
Gregory was not so filled with conceit that he thought he could win any woman upon whom he set his sights, but he certainly had never had difficulties with the fairer sex, and given the nature of his reaction to Miss Watson, it was simply inconceivable that his feelings could go unrequited for very long. He might have to work to win her heart and hand, but that would simply make victory all the sweeter.
Or so he told himself. Truth was, a mutual thunderbolt would have been far less trouble.
“Don’t feel badly,” Lady Lucinda said, craning her neck slightly as she surveyed the sandwiches, looking, presumably, for something more exotic than British pig.
“I don’t,” he bit off, then waited for her to actually return her attention to him. When she didn’t, he said again, “I don’t.”
She turned, gazed at him frankly, and blinked. “Well, that’s refreshing, I must say. Most men are crushed.”
He scowled. “What do you mean, most men are crushed?”
“Exactly what I said,” she replied, giving him an impatient glance. “Or if they’re not crushed, they become rather unaccountably angry.” She let out a ladylike snort. “As if any of it could be considered her fault.”
“Fault?” Gregory echoed, because in truth, he was having a devil of a time following her.
“You are not the first gentleman to imagine himself in love with Hermione,” she said, her expression quite jaded. “It happens all the time.”
“I don’t imagine myself in love-” He cut himself off, hoping she didn’t notice the stress on the word imagine. Good God, what was happening to him? He used to have a sense of humor. Even about himself. Especially about himself.
“You don’t?” She sounded pleasantly surprised. “Well, that’s refreshing.”
“Why,” he asked with narrowed eyes, “is that refreshing?
She returned with: “Why are you asking so many questions?”
“I’m not,” he protested, even though he was.
She sighed, then utterly surprised him by saying, “I am sorry.”
“I beg your pardon?”
She glanced at the egg salad sandwich on her plate, then back up at him, the order of which he did not find complimentary. He usually rated above egg salad. “I thought you would wish to speak of Hermione,” she said. “I apologize if I was mistaken.”
Which put Gregory in a fine quandary. He could admit that he’d fallen headlong in love with Miss Watson, which was rather embarrassing, even to a hopeless romantic such as himself. Or he could deny it all, which she clearly wouldn’t believe. Or he could compromise, and admit to a mild infatuation, which he might normally regard as the best solution, except that it could only be insulting to Lady Lucinda.
He’d met the two girls at the same time, after all. And he wasn’t headlong in love with her.
But then, as if she could read his thoughts (which frankly scared him), she waved a hand and said, “Pray do not worry yourself over my feelings. I’m quite used to this. As I said, it happens all the time.”
Open heart, insert blunt dagger. Twist.
“Not to mention,” she continued blithely, “that I am practically engaged myself.” And then she took a bite of the egg salad.
Gregory found himself wondering what sort of man had found himself attached to this odd creature. He didn’t pity the fellow, exactly, just…wondered.
And then Lady Lucinda let out a little “Oh!”
His eyes followed hers, to the spot where Miss Watson had once stood.
“I wonder where she went,” Lady Lucinda said.
Gregory immediately turned toward the door, hoping to catch one last glimpse of her before she disappeared, but she was already gone. It was damned frustrating, that. What was the point of a mad, bad, immediate attraction if one couldn’t do anything about it?
And forget all about it being one-sided. Good Lord.
He wasn’t sure what one called sighing through gritted teeth, but that’s exactly what he did.
“Ah, Lady Lucinda, there you are.”
Gregory looked up to see his sister-in-law approaching.
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