She nodded, since she had moved too far away to answer without speaking too loudly.

But then they were together again, and he whispered, “So am I.”

They moved back to their original places and held still as a different couple began to process. Lucy looked up. At him. At his eyes.

They never moved from her face.

And even in the flickering light of the night-the hundreds of candles and torches that lit the glittering ballroom-she could see the gleam there. The way he was looking at her-it was hot and possessive and proud.

It made her shiver.

It made her doubt her ability to stand.

And then the music was done, and Lucy realized that some things must truly be ingrained because she was curtsying and smiling and nodding at the woman next to her as if her entire life had not been altered in the course of the previous dance.

Gregory took her hand and led her to the side of the ballroom, back to where the chaperones milled about, watching their charges over the rims of their glasses of lemonade. But before they reached their destination, he leaned down and whispered in her ear.

“I need to speak with you.”

Her eyes flew to his.

“Privately,” he added.

She felt him slow their pace, presumably to allow them more time to speak before she was returned to Aunt Harriet. “What is it?” she asked. “Is something amiss?”

He shook his head. “Not any longer.”

And she let herself hope. Just a little, because she could not bear to ponder the heartbreak if she was wrong, but maybe…Maybe he loved her. Maybe he wished to marry her. Her wedding was less than a week away, but she had not said her vows.

Maybe there was a chance. Maybe there was a way.

She searched Gregory’s face for clues, for answers. But when she pressed him for more information, he just shook his head and whispered, “The library. It is two doors down from the ladies’ retiring room. Meet me there in thirty minutes.”

“Are you mad?”

He smiled. “Just a little.”

“Gregory, I-”

He gazed into her eyes, and it silenced her. The way he was looking at her-

It took her breath away.

“I cannot,” she whispered, because no matter what they might feel for each other, she was still engaged to another man. And even if she were not, such behavior could only lead to scandal. “I can’t be alone with you. You know that.”

“You must.”

She tried to shake her head, but she could not make herself move.

“Lucy,” he said, “you must.”

She nodded. It was probably the biggest mistake she would ever make, but she could not say no.

“Mrs. Abernathy,” Gregory said, his voice sounding overly loud as he greeted her aunt Harriet. “I return Lady Lucinda to your care.”

Aunt Harriet nodded, even though Lucy suspected she had no idea what Gregory had said to her, and then she turned to Lucy and yelled, “I’m sitting down!”

Gregory chuckled, then said, “I must dance with others.”

“Of course,” Lucy replied, even though she rather suspected she was not wholly cognizant of the various intricacies involved in scheduling an illicit meeting. “I see someone I know,” she lied, and then, to her great relief, she actually did see someone she knew-an acquaintance from school. Not a good friend, but still, a familiar enough face to offer greetings.

But before Lucy could even flex her foot, she heard a female voice call out Gregory’s name.

Lucy could not see who it was, but she could see Gregory. He had shut his eyes and looked quite pained.

“Gregory!”

The voice had drawn close, and so Lucy turned to her left to see a young woman who could only be one of Gregory’s sisters. The younger one, most probably, else she was remarkably well-preserved.

“This must be Lady Lucinda,” the woman said. Her hair, Lucy noted, was the precise shade of Gregory’s-a rich, warm chestnut. But her eyes were blue, sharp and acute.

“Lady Lucinda,” Gregory said, sounding a bit like a man with a chore, “may I present my sister, Lady St. Clair.”

“Hyacinth,” she said firmly. “We must dispense with the formalities. I am certain we shall be great friends. Now then, you must tell me all about yourself. And then I wish to hear about Anthony and Kate’s party last month. I had wished to go, but we had a previous engagement. I heard it was vastly entertaining.”

Startled by the human whirlwind in front of her, Lucy looked to Gregory for advice, but he just shrugged and said, “This would be the one I am fond of torturing.”

Hyacinth turned to him. “I beg your pardon.”

Gregory bowed. “I must go.”

And then Hyacinth Bridgerton St. Clair did the oddest thing. Her eyes narrowed, and she looked from her brother to Lucy and back again. And then again. And then one more time. And then she said, “You’ll need my help.”

“Hy-” Gregory began.

“You will,” she cut in. “You have plans. Do not try to deny it.”

Lucy could not believe that Hyacinth had deduced all that from one bow and an I must go. She opened her mouth to ask a question, but all she got out was, “How-” before Gregory cut her off with a warning look.

“I know that you have something up your sleeve,” Hyacinth said to Gregory. “Else you would not have gone to such lengths to secure her attendance this evening.”

“He was just being kind,” Lucy tried to say.

“Don’t be silly,” Hyacinth said, giving her a reassuring pat on the arm. “He would never do that.”

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