“How?”

She raised her eyes to his, and the look in them was so stark, so deep, he could not breathe. And she said, “Because you made me want you instead.”

His heart slammed in his chest. “Lucy,” he said, because he could not say anything else. “Lucy.”

“I don’t know what to do,” she confessed.

“Kiss me.” He took her face in his hands. “Just kiss me.”

This time, when he kissed her, it was different. She was the same woman in his arms, but he was not the same man. His need for her was deeper, more elemental.

He loved her.

He kissed her with everything he had, every breath, every last beat of his heart. His lips found her cheek, her brow, her ears, and all the while, he whispered her name like a prayer-

Lucy Lucy Lucy.

He wanted her. He needed her.

She was like air.

Food.

Water.

His mouth moved to her neck, then down to the lacy edge of her bodice. Her skin burned hot beneath him, and as his fingers slid the gown from one of her shoulders, she gasped-

But she did not stop him.

“Gregory,” she whispered, her fingers digging into his hair as his lips moved along her collarbone. “Gregory, oh my G-Gregory.”

His hand moved reverently over the curve of her shoulder. Her skin glowed pale and milky smooth in the candlelight, and he was struck by an intense sense of possession. Of pride.

No other man had seen her thus, and he prayed that no other man ever would.

“You can’t marry him, Lucy,” he whispered urgently, his words hot against her skin.

“Gregory, don’t,” she moaned.

“You can’t.” And then, because he knew he could not allow this to go any further, he straightened, pressing one last kiss against her lips before setting her back, forcing her to look him in the eye.

“You cannot marry him,” he said again.

“Gregory, what can I-”

He gripped her arms. Hard. And he said it.

“I love you.”

Her lips parted. She could not speak.

“I love you,” he said again.

Lucy had suspected-she’d hoped-but she hadn’t really allowed herself to believe. And so, when she finally found words of her own, they were: “You do?”

He smiled, and then he laughed, and then he rested his forehead on hers. “With all of my heart,” he vowed. “I only just realized it. I’m a fool. A blind man. A-”

“No,” she cut in, shaking her head. “Do not berate yourself. No one ever notices me straightaway when Hermione is about.”

His fingers gripped her all the tighter. “She does not hold a candle to you.”

A warm feeling began to spread through her bones. Not desire, not passion, just pure, unadulterated happiness. “You really mean it,” she whispered.

“Enough to move heaven and earth to make sure you do not go through with your wedding to Haselby.”

She blanched.

“Lucy?”

No. She could do it. She would do it. It was almost funny, really. She had spent three years telling Hermione that she had to be practical, follow the rules. She’d scoffed when Hermione had gone on about love and passion and hearing music. And now…

She took a deep, fortifying breath. And now she was going to break her engagement.

That had been arranged for years.

To the son of an earl.

Five days before the wedding.

Dear God, the scandal.

She stepped back, lifting her chin so that she could see Gregory’s face. His eyes were watching her with all the love she herself felt.

“I love you,” she whispered, because she had not yet said it. “I love you, too.”

For once she was going to stop thinking about everyone else. She wasn’t going to take what she was given and make the best of it. She was going to reach for her own happiness, make her own destiny.

She was not going to do what was expected.

She was going to do what she wanted.

It was time.

She squeezed Gregory’s hands. And she smiled. It was no tentative thing, but wide and confident, full of her hopes, full of her dreams-and the knowledge that she would achieve them all.

It would be difficult. It would be frightening.

But it would be worth it.

“I will speak with my uncle,” she said, the words firm and sure. “Tomorrow.”

Gregory pulled her against him for one last kiss, quick and passionate with promise. “Shall I accompany you?” he asked. “Call upon him so that I might reassure him of my intentions?”

The new Lucy, the daring and bold Lucy, asked, “And what are your intentions?”

Gregory’s eyes widened with surprise, then approval, and then his hands took hers.

She felt what he was doing before she realized it by sight. His hands seemed to slide along hers as he descended…

Until he was on one knee, looking up at her as if there could be no more beautiful woman in all creation.

Her hand flew to her mouth, and she realized she was shaking.

“Lady Lucinda Abernathy,” he said, his voice fervent and sure, “will you do me the very great honor of becoming my wife?”

She tried to speak. She tried to nod.

“Marry me, Lucy,” he said. “Marry me.”

And this time she did. “Yes.” And then, “Yes! Oh, yes!”

“I will make you happy,” he said, standing to embrace her. “I promise you.”

“There is no need to promise.” She shook her head, blinking back the tears. “There is no way you could not.”

He opened his mouth, presumably to say more, but he was cut off by a knock at the door, soft but quick.

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