She opened her eyes and looked at her uncle. It had probably been he. It sounded like something he would say. He did not choose to speak with her very often, but when he did, duty was always a popular topic.
“Oh, Father,” she whispered. How could he have done this? To sell secrets to Napoleon-he’d jeopardized the lives of thousands of British soldiers. Or even-
Her stomach churned. Dear God, he may have been responsible for their deaths. Who knew what he had revealed to the enemy, how many lives had been lost because of his actions?
“It is up to you, Lucinda,” her uncle said. “It is the only way to end it.”
She shook her head, uncomprehending. “What do you mean?”
“Once you are a Davenport, there can be no more blackmail. Any shame they bring upon us would fall on their shoulders as well.” He walked to the window, leaning heavily on the sill as he looked out. “After ten years, I will finally-We will finally be free.”
Lucy said nothing. There was nothing to say. Uncle Robert peered at her over his shoulder, then turned and walked toward her, watching her closely the entire way. “I see you finally grasp the gravity of the situation,” he said.
She looked at him with haunted eyes. There was no compassion in his face, no sympathy or affection. Just a cold mask of duty. He had done what was expected of him, and she would have to do the same.
She thought of Gregory, of his face when he had asked her to marry him. He loved her. She did not know what manner of miracle had brought it about, but he loved her.
And she loved him.
God above, it was almost funny. She, who had always mocked romantic love, had fallen. Completely and hopelessly, she’d fallen in love-enough to throw aside everything she’d thought she believed in. For Gregory she was willing to step into scandal and chaos. For Gregory she would brave the gossip and the whispers and the innuendo.
She, who went mad when her shoes were out of order in her wardrobe, was prepared to jilt the son of an earl four days before the wedding! If that wasn’t love, she did not know what was.
Except now it was over. Her hopes, her dreams, the risks she longed to take-they were all over.
She had no choice. If she defied Lord Davenport, her family would be ruined. She thought of Richard and Hermione-so happy, so in love. How could she consign them to a life of shame and poverty?
If she married Haselby her life would not be what she wanted for herself, but she would not suffer. Haselby was reasonable. He was kind. If she appealed to him, surely he would protect her from his father. And her life would be…
Far better than Richard and Hermione would fare if her father’s shame was made public. Her sacrifice was nothing compared to what her family would be forced to endure if she refused.
Hadn’t she once wanted nothing more than comfort and routine? Couldn’t she learn to want this again?
“I will marry him,” she said, sightlessly gazing at the window. It was raining. When had it begun to rain?
Lucy sat in her chair, utterly still. She could feel the energy draining from her body, sliding through her limbs, seeping out her fingers and toes. Lord, she was tired. Weary. And she kept thinking that she wanted to cry.
But she had no tears. Even after she’d risen and walked slowly back to her room-she had no tears.
The next day, when the butler asked her if she was at home for Mr. Bridgerton, and she shook her head-she had no tears.
And the day after that, when she was forced to repeat the same gesture-she had no tears.
But the day after that, after spending twenty-hours holding his calling card, gently sliding her finger over his name, of tracing each letter-The Hon. Gregory Bridgerton-she began to feel them, pricking behind her eyes.
Then she caught sight of him standing on the pavement, looking up at the façade of Fennsworth House.
And he saw her. She knew he did; his eyes widened and his body tensed, and she could feel it, every ounce of his bewilderment and anger.
She let the curtain drop. Quickly. And she stood there, trembling, shaking, and yet still unable to move. Her feet were frozen to the floor, and she began to feel it again-that awful rushing panic in her belly.
It was wrong. It was all so wrong, and yet she knew she was doing what had to be done.
She stood there. At the window, staring at the ripples in the curtain. She stood there as her limbs grew tense and tight, and she stood there as she forced herself to breathe. She stood there as her heart began to squeeze, harder and harder, and she stood there as it all slowly began to subside.
Then, somehow, she made her way to the bed and lay down.
And then, finally, she found her tears.
In which Our Hero takes matters-and Our Heroine-into his own hands.
By Friday Gregory was desperate.
Thrice he’d called upon Lucy at Fennsworth House. Thrice he’d been turned away.
He was running out of time.
They were running out of time.
What the hell was going on? Even if Lucy’s uncle had denied her request to stop the wedding-and he could not have been pleased; she was, after all, attempting to jilt a future earl-surely Lucy would have attempted to contact him.
She loved him.
He knew it the way he knew his own voice, his own heart. He knew it the way he knew the earth was round and her eyes were blue and that two plus two would always always be four.
Lucy loved him. She did not lie. She could not lie.
She would not lie. Not about something like this.
Which meant that something was wrong. There could be no other explanation.
He had looked for her in the park, waiting for hours at the bench where she liked to feed pigeons, but she had not appeared. He had watched her door, hoping he might intercept her on her way to carry out errands, but she had not ventured outside.
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