Lucy was beginning to believe that she’d led a very sheltered life.

“Ah, here we are.” Hyacinth pushed open a door. She peered in. “He’s not here yet. Good. That gives me time.”

“For what?”

“To mend your dress. I confess I forgot that detail when I formulated my plan. But I know where Daphne keeps needles.”

Lucy watched as Hyacinth strode to a dressing table and opened a drawer.

“Right where I thought they were,” Hyacinth said with a triumphant smile. “I do love it when I am right. It makes life so much more convenient, wouldn’t you agree?”

Lucy nodded, but her mind was on her own question. And then she asked it-“Why are you helping me?”

Hyacinth looked at her as if she were daft. “You can’t go back in with a torn dress. Not after we told everyone we’d gone off to mend it.”

“No, not that.”

“Oh.” Hyacinth held up a needle and regarded it thoughtfully. “This will do. What color thread, do you think?”

“White, and you did not answer my question.”

Hyacinth ripped a piece of thread off a spool and slid it through the eye of the needle. “I like you,” she said. “And I love my brother.”

“You know that I am engaged to be married,” Lucy said quietly.

“I know.” Hyacinth knelt at Lucy’s feet, and with quick, sloppy stitches began to sew.

“In a week. Less than a week.”

“I know. I was invited.”

“Oh.” Lucy supposed she ought to have known that. “Erm, do you plan to attend?”

Hyacinth looked up. “Do you?”

Lucy’s lips parted. Until that moment, the idea of not marrying Haselby was a wispy, far-fetched thing, more of a oh-how-I-wish-I-did-not-have-to-marry-him sort of feeling. But now, with Hyacinth watching her so carefully, it began to feel a bit more firm. Still impossible, of course, or at least…

Well, maybe…

Maybe not quite impossible. Maybe only mostly impossible.

“The papers are signed,” Lucy said.

Hyacinth turned back to her sewing. “Are they?”

“My uncle chose him,” Lucy said, wondering just who she was trying to convince. “It has been arranged for ages.”

“Mmmm.”

Mmmm ? What the devil did that mean?

“And he hasn’t…Your brother hasn’t…” Lucy fought for words, mortified that she was unburdening herself to a near stranger, to Gregory’s own sister, for heaven’s sake. But Hyacinth wasn’t saying anything; she was just sitting there with her eyes focused on the needle looping in and out of Lucy’s hem. And if Hyacinth didn’t say anything, then Lucy had to. Because-Because-

Well, because she did.

“He has made me no promises,” Lucy said, her voice nearly shaking with it. “He stated no intentions.”

At that, Hyacinth did look up. She glanced around the room, as if to say, Look at us, mending your gown in the bedchamber of the Duchess of Hastings. And she murmured, “Hasn’t he?”

Lucy closed her eyes in agony. She was not like Hyacinth St. Clair. One needed only a quarter of an hour in her company to know that she would dare anything, take any chance to secure her own happiness. She would defy convention, stand up to the harshest of critics, and emerge entirely intact, in body and spirit.

Lucy was not so hardy. She wasn’t ruled by passions. Her muse had always been good sense. Pragmatism.

Hadn’t she been the one to tell Hermione that she needed to marry a man of whom her parents would approve?

Hadn’t she told Gregory that she didn’t want a violent, overwhelming love? That she just wasn’t the sort?

She wasn’t that kind of person. She wasn’t. When her governess had made line drawings for her to fill, she had always colored between the lines.

“I don’t think I can do it,” Lucy whispered.

Hyacinth held her gaze for an agonizingly long moment before turning back to her sewing. “I misjudged you,” she said softly.

It hit Lucy like a slap in the face.

“Wh…wh…”

What did you say?

But Lucy’s lips would not form the words. She did not wish to hear the answer. And Hyacinth was back to her brisk self, looking up with an irritated expression as she said, “Don’t fidget so much.”

“Sorry,” Lucy mumbled. And she thought-I’ve said it again. I am so predictable, so utterly conventional and unimaginative.

“You’re still moving.”

“Oh.” Good God, could she do nothing right this evening? “Sorry.”

Hyacinth jabbed her with the needle. “You’re still moving.”

“I am not!” Lucy almost yelled.

Hyacinth smiled to herself. “That’s better.”

Lucy looked down and scowled. “Am I bleeding?”

“If you are,” Hyacinth said, rising to her feet, “it’s nobody’s fault but your own.”

“I beg your pardon.”

But Hyacinth was already standing, a satisfied smile on her face. “There,” she announced, motioning to her handiwork. “Certainly not as good as new, but it will pass any inspection this evening.”

Lucy knelt to inspect her hem. Hyacinth had been generous in her self-praise. The stitching was a mess.

“I’ve never been gifted with a needle,” Hyacinth said with an unconcerned shrug.

Lucy stood, fighting the impulse to rip the stitches out and fix them herself. “You might have told me,” she muttered.

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