“That’s not true,” Lucy protested. Gregory might be a bit of a devil, but his heart was good and true, and she would not countenance anyone-even his sister-saying otherwise.
Hyacinth regarded her with a delighted smile. “I like you,” she said slowly, as if she were deciding upon it right then and there. “You are wrong, of course, but I like you, anyway.” She turned to her brother. “I like her.”
“Yes, you’ve said as much.”
“And you need my help.”
Lucy watched as brother and sister exchanged a glance that she couldn’t begin to understand.
“You will need my help,” Hyacinth said softly. “Tonight, and later, too.”
Gregory stared at his sister intently, and then he said, in a voice so quiet that Lucy had to lean forward to hear it, “I need to speak with Lady Lucinda. Alone.”
Hyacinth smiled. Just a touch. “I can arrange that.”
Lucy had a feeling she could do anything.
“When?” Hyacinth asked.
“Whenever is easiest,” Gregory replied.
Hyacinth glanced around the room, although for the life of her, Lucy could not imagine what sort of information she was gleaning that could possibly be pertinent to the decision at hand.
“One hour,” she announced, with all the precision of a military general. “Gregory, you go off and do whatever it is you do at these affairs. Dance. Fetch lemonade. Be seen with that Whitford girl whose parents have been dangling after you for months.
“You,” Hyacinth continued, turning to Lucy with an authoritarian gleam in her eye, “shall remain with me. I shall introduce you to everyone you need to know.”
“Who do I need to know?” Lucy asked.
“I’m not sure yet. It really doesn’t matter.”
Lucy could only stare at her in awe.
“In precisely fifty-five minutes,” Hyacinth said, “Lady Lucinda will tear her dress.”
“I will,” Hyacinth replied. “I’m good at that sort of thing.”
“You’re going to tear her dress?” Gregory asked doubtfully. “Right here in the ballroom?”
“Don’t worry over the details,” Hyacinth said, waving him off dismissively. “Just go and do your part, and meet her in Daphne’s dressing room in one hour.”
“In the duchess’s bedchamber?” Lucy croaked. She couldn’t possibly.
“She’s Daphne to us,” Hyacinth said. “Now then, everyone, off with you.”
Lucy just stared at her and blinked. Wasn’t she meant to stay at Hyacinth’s side?
“That means him,” Hyacinth said.
And then Gregory did the most startling thing. He took Lucy’s hand. Right there, in the middle of the ballroom where anyone might see, he took her hand and kissed it. “I leave you in good hands,” he told her, stepping back with a polite nod. He gave his sister a look of warning before adding, “As difficult as that might be to believe.”
Then he went off, presumably to dote on some poor unsuspecting female who had no idea she was nothing but an innocent pawn in his sister’s master plan.
Lucy looked back at Hyacinth, somewhat exhausted by the entire encounter. Hyacinth was beaming at her.
“Well done,” she said, although to Lucy it sounded more like she was congratulating herself. “Now then,” she continued, “why does my brother need to speak with you? And don’t say that you have no idea, because I will not believe you.”
Lucy pondered the wisdom of various replies and finally decided upon “I have no idea.” It wasn’t precisely the truth, but she wasn’t about to divulge her most secret hopes and dreams to a woman she’d met only minutes earlier, no matter whose sister she might be.
And it made her feel as if she might have won the point.
“Really?” Hyacinth looked suspicious.
Hyacinth was clearly unconvinced. “Well, you’re clever, at least. I shall grant you that.”
Lucy decided she would not be cowed. “Do you know,” she said, “I thought I was the most organized and managing person I knew, but I think you’re worse.”
Hyacinth laughed. “Oh, I am not at all organized. But I am managing. And we shall get on famously.” She looped her arm through Lucy’s. “Like sisters.”
One hour later, Lucy had realized three things about Hyacinth, Lady St. Clair.
First, she knew everyone. And everything about everyone.
Second, she was a wealth of information about her brother. Lucy had not needed to ask a single question, but by the time they left the ballroom, she knew Gregory’s favorite color (blue) and food (cheese, any sort), and that as a child he had spoken with a lisp.
Lucy had also learned that one should never make the mistake of underestimating Gregory’s younger sister. Not only had Hyacinth torn Lucy’s dress, she had carried it out with enough flair and cunning so that four people were aware of the mishap (and the need for repair). And she had done all her damage to the hem, so as to conveniently preserve Lucy’s modesty.
It was really quite impressive.
“I’ve done this before,” Hyacinth confided as she guided her out of the ballroom.
Lucy was unsurprised.
“It’s a useful talent,” Hyacinth added, sounding utterly serious. “Here, this way.”
Lucy followed her up a back staircase.
“There are very few excuses available to women who wish to leave a social function,” Hyacinth continued, displaying a remarkable talent for sticking to her chosen topic like glue. “It behooves us to master every weapon in our arsenal.”
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