Hyacinth’s lips curved into a slow, sly smile. “My, my,” she said, “you’ve turned prickly all of a sudden.”

And then Lucy shocked herself by saying, “You’ve been hurtful.”

“Possibly,” Hyacinth replied, sounding as if she didn’t much care one way or the other. She glanced toward the door with a quizzical expression. “He ought to have been here by now.”

Lucy’s heart thumped strangely in her chest. “You still plan to help me?” she whispered.

Hyacinth turned back. “I am hoping,” she replied, her eyes meeting Lucy’s with cool assessment, “that you have misjudged yourself.”

Gregory was ten minutes late to the assignation. It couldn’t be helped; once he had danced with one young lady, it had become apparent that he was required to repeat the favor for a half-dozen others. And although it was difficult to keep his attention on the conversations he was meant to be conducting, he did not mind the delay. It meant that Lucy and Hyacinth were well gone before he slipped out the door. He intended to find some way to make Lucy his wife, but there was no need to go looking for scandal.

He made his way to his sister’s bedchamber; he had spent countless hours at Hastings House and knew his way around. When he reached his destination, he entered without knocking, the well-oiled hinges of the door giving way without a sound.

“Gregory.”

Hyacinth’s voice came first. She was standing next to Lucy, who looked…

Stricken.

What had Hyacinth done to her?

“Lucy?” he asked, rushing forward. “Is something wrong?”

Lucy shook her head. “It is of no account.”

He turned to his sister with accusing eyes.

Hyacinth shrugged. “I will be in the next room.”

“Listening at the door?”

“I shall wait at Daphne’s escritoire,” she said. “It is halfway across the room, and before you make an objection, I cannot go farther. If someone comes you will need me to rush in to make everything respectable.”

Her point was a valid one, loath as Gregory was to admit it, so he gave her a curt nod and watched her leave the room, waiting for the click of the door latch before speaking.

“Did she say something unkind?” he asked Lucy. “She can be disgracefully tactless, but her heart is usually in the right place.”

Lucy shook her head. “No,” she said softly. “I think she might have said exactly the right thing.”

“Lucy?” He stared at her in question.

Her eyes, which had seemed so cloudy, appeared to focus. “What was it you needed to tell me?” she asked.

“Lucy,” he said, wondering how best to approach this. He’d been rehearsing speeches in his mind the entire time he’d been dancing downstairs, but now that he was here, he didn’t know what to say.

Or rather, he did. But he didn’t know the order, and he didn’t know the tone. Did he tell her he loved her? Bare his heart to a woman who intended to marry another? Or did he opt for the safer route and explain why she could not marry Haselby?

A month ago, the choice would have been obvious. He was a romantic, fond of grand gestures. He would have declared his love, certain of a happy reception. He would have taken her hand. Dropped to his knees.

He would have kissed her.

But now…

He was no longer quite so certain. He trusted Lucy, but he did not trust fate.

“You can’t marry Haselby,” he said.

Her eyes widened. “What do you mean?”

“You can’t marry him,” he replied, avoiding the question. “It will be a disaster. It will…You must trust me. You must not marry him.”

She shook her head. “Why are you telling me this?”

Because I want you for myself.

“Because…because…” He fought for words. “Because you have become my friend. And I wish for your happiness. He will not be a good husband to you, Lucy.”

“Why not?” Her voice was low, hollow, and heartbreakingly unlike her.

“He…” Dear God, how did he say it? Would she even understand what he meant?

“He doesn’t…” He swallowed. There had to be a gentle way to say it. “He doesn’t…Some people…”

He looked at her. Her lower lip was quivering.

“He prefers men,” he said, getting the words out as quickly as he was able. “To women. Some men are like that.”

And then he waited. For the longest moment she made no reaction, just stood there like a tragic statue. Every now and then she would blink, but beyond that, nothing. And then finally-

“Why?”

Why? He didn’t understand. “Why is he-”

“No,” she said forcefully. “Why did you tell me? Why would you say it?”

“I told you-”

“No, you didn’t do it to be kind. Why did you tell me? Was it just to be cruel? To make me feel the way you feel, because Hermione married my brother and not you?”

“No!” The word burst out of him, and he was holding her, his hands wrapped around her upper arms. “No, Lucy,” he said again. “I would never. I want you to be happy. I want…”

Her. He wanted her, and he didn’t know how to say it. Not then, not when she was looking at him as if he’d broken her heart.

“I could have been happy with him,” she whispered.

“No. No, you couldn’t. You don’t understand, he-”

“Yes, I could,” she cried out. “Maybe I wouldn’t have loved him, but I could have been happy. It was what I expected. Do you understand, it was what I was prepared for. And you…you…” She wrenched herself away, turning until he could no longer see her face. “You ruined it.”

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