He wanted to know her.

No.

No, he told himself, trying to force his feet in the other direction. This was madness. He should leave. He should leave right now.

But he couldn’t. Even with every rational corner of his soul screaming at him to turn around and walk away, he was rooted to the spot, waiting for her to turn.

Praying for her to turn.

And then she did.

And she was-

Lucy.

He stumbled as if struck.

Lucy?

No. It couldn’t be possible. He knew Lucy.

She did not do this to him.

He had seen her dozens of times, kissed her even, and never once felt like this, as if the world might swallow him whole if he did not reach her side and take her hand in his.

There had to be an explanation. He had felt this way before. With Hermione.

But this time-it wasn’t quite the same. With Hermione it had been dizzying, new. There had been the thrill of discovery, of conquest. But this was Lucy.

It was Lucy, and-

It all came flooding back. The tilt of her head as she explained why sandwiches ought to be properly sorted. The delightfully peeved look on her face when she had tried to explain to him why he was doing everything wrong in his courtship of Miss Watson.

The way it had felt so right simply to sit on a bench with her in Hyde Park and throw bread at the pigeons.

And the kiss. Dear God, the kiss.

He still dreamed about that kiss.

And he wanted her to dream about it, too.

He took a step. Just one-slightly forward and to the side so that he could better see her profile. It was all so familiar now-the tilt of her head, the way her lips moved when she spoke. How could he not have recognized her instantly, even from the back? The memories had been there, tucked away in the recesses of his mind, but he hadn’t wanted-no he hadn’t allowed himself-to acknowledge his presence.

And then she saw him. Lucy saw him. He saw it first in her eyes, which widened and sparkled, and then in the curve of her lips.

She smiled. For him.

It filled him. To near bursting, it filled him. It was just one smile, but it was all he needed.

He began to walk. He could barely feel his feet, had almost no conscious control over his body. He simply moved, knowing from deep within that he had to reach her.

“Lucy,” he said, once he was next to her, forgetting that they were surrounded by strangers, and worse, friends, and he should not presume to use her given name.

But nothing else felt right on his lips.

“Mr. Bridgerton,” she said, but her eyes said, Gregory.

And he knew.

He loved her.

It was the strangest, most wonderful sensation. It was exhilarating. It was as if the world had suddenly become open to him. Clear. He understood. He understood everything he needed to know, and it was all right there in her eyes.

“Lady Lucinda,” he said, bowing deeply over her hand. “May I have this dance?”

Seventeen

In which Our Hero’s sister moves things along.

It was heaven.

Forget angels, forget St. Peter and glittering harpsichords. Heaven was a dance in the arms of one’s true love. And when the one in question had a mere week before marrying someone else entirely, aforementioned one had to grab heaven tightly, with both hands.

Metaphorically speaking.

Lucy grinned as she bobbed and twirled. Now there was an image. What would people say if she charged forward and grabbed him with both hands?

And never let go.

Most would say she was mad. A few that she was in love. The shrewd would say both.

“What are you thinking about?” Gregory asked. He was looking at her…differently.

She turned away, turned back. She felt daring, almost magical. “Wouldn’t you care to know?”

He stepped around the lady to his left and returned to his place. “I would,” he answered, smiling wolfishly at her.

But she just smiled and shook her head. Right now she wanted to pretend she was someone else. Someone a little less conventional. Someone a great deal more impulsive.

She did not want to be the same old Lucy. Not tonight. She was sick of planning, sick of placating, sick of never doing anything without first thinking through every possibility and consequence.

If I do this, then that will happen, but if I do that, then this, this, and the other thing will happen, which will yield an entirely different result, which could mean that-

It was enough to make a girl dizzy. It was enough to make her feel paralyzed, unable to take the reins of her own life.

But not tonight. Tonight, somehow, through some amazing miracle named the Duchess of Hastings-or perhaps the dowager Lady Bridgerton, Lucy was not quite certain-she was wearing a gown of the most exquisite green silk, attending the most glittering ball she could ever have imagined.

And she was dancing with the man she was quite certain she would love until the end of time.

“You look different,” he said.

“I feel different.” She touched his hand as they stepped past each other. His fingers gripped hers when they should have just brushed by. She looked up and saw that he was gazing at her. His eyes were warm and intense and he was watching her the same way-

Dear God, he was watching her the way he’d watched Hermione.

Her body began to tingle. She felt it in the tips of her toes, in places she did not dare to contemplate.

They stepped past each other again, but this time he leaned in, perhaps a bit more than he ought, and said, “I feel different as well.”

Her head snapped around, but he had already turned so that his back was to her. How was he different? Why? What did he mean?

She circled around the gentleman to her left, then moved past Gregory.

“Are you glad you attended this evening?” he murmured.

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