There was also Haselby to consider. Gregory did not know him well, but he had always seemed an affable fellow and did not deserve the public humiliation that would follow.

“Lucy,” Gregory whispered, nudging her cheek with his nose, “it is near to morning.”

She made a sleepy sound, then turned her head. “Yes,” she said. Just Yes, not It’s all so unfair or It shouldn’t have to be this way. But that was Lucy. She was pragmatic and prudent and charmingly reasonable, and he loved her for all that and more. She didn’t want to change the world. She just wanted to make it lovely and wonderful for the people she loved.

The fact that she had done this-that she had let him make love to her and was planning to call off her wedding now, the very morning of the ceremony-it only showed him how deeply she cared for him. Lucy didn’t look for attention and drama. She craved stability and routine, and for her to make the leap she was preparing for-

It humbled him.

“You should come with me,” he said. “Now. We should leave together before the household wakes.”

Her bottom lip stretched a bit from side to side in an oh dear-ish expression that was so fetching he simply had to kiss her. Lightly, since he had no time to get carried away, and just a little peck on the corner of her mouth. Nothing that interfered with her answer, which was a disappointing “I cannot.”

He drew back. “You cannot remain.”

But she was shaking her head. “I…I must do the right thing.”

He looked at her quizzically.

“I must behave with honor,” she explained. She sat then, her fingers clutching the bedclothes so tightly that her knuckles turned white. She looked nervous, which he supposed made sense. He felt on the edge of a brand-new dawn, whereas she-

She still had a rather large mountain to scale before she reached her happy ending.

He reached out, trying to take one of her hands, but she was not receptive. It wasn’t that she was tugging away from him; rather, it almost felt as if she was not even aware of his touch.

“I cannot sneak away and allow Lord Haselby to wait in vain at the church,” she said, the words rushing out, tumbling from her lips as her eyes turned to his, wide and imploring.

But just for a moment.

Then she turned away.

She swallowed. He could not see her face, but he could see it in the way she moved.

She said, softly, “Surely you understand that.”

And he did. It was one of the things he loved best about her. She had such a strong sense of right and wrong, sometimes to the point of intractability. But she was never moralistic, never condescending.

“I will watch for you,” he said.

Her head turned sharply, and her eyes widened in question.

“You may need my assistance,” he said softly.

“No, it won’t be necessary. I’m sure I can-”

“I insist,” he said, with enough force to silence her. “This shall be our signal.” He held up his hand, fingers together, palm out. He twisted at the wrist then, once, to bring his palm around to face him, and then again, to return it to its original position. “I shall watch for you. If you need my help, come to the window and make the signal.”

She opened her mouth, as if she might protest one more time, but in the end she merely nodded.

He stood then, opening the heavy draperies that ringed her bed as he searched for his clothing. His garments were strewn about-his breeches here, his shirt remarkably over there, but he quickly gathered what he needed and dressed.

Lucy remained in bed, sitting up with the sheets tucked under her arm. He found her modesty charming, and he almost teased her for it. But instead he decided just to offer an amused smile. It had been a momentous night for her; she should not be made to feel embarrassed for her innocence.

He walked to the window to peer out. Dawn had not yet broken, but the sky hung with anticipation, the horizon painted with that faint shimmer of light one saw only before the sunrise. It glowed gently, a serene purplish-blue, and was so beautiful he beckoned to her to join him. He turned his back while she donned her nightgown and then, once she had padded across the room in her bare feet, he pulled her gently against him, her back to his chest. He rested his chin on top of her head.

“Look,” he whispered.

The night seemed to dance, sparkling and tingling, as if the air itself understood that nothing would ever be the same. Dawn was waiting on the other side of the horizon, and already the stars were beginning to look less bright in the sky.

If he could have frozen time, he would have done so. Never had he experienced a single moment that was so magical, so…full. Everything was there, everything that was good and honest and true. And he finally understood the difference between happiness and contentment, and how lucky and blessed he was to feel both, in such breathtaking quantities.

It was Lucy. She completed him. She made his life everything he had known it could someday be.

This was his dream. It was coming true, all around him, right there in his arms.

And then, right as they were standing at the window, one of the stars shot through the sky. It made a wide, shallow arc, and it almost seemed to Gregory that he heard it as it traveled, sparking and crackling until it disappeared from sight.

It made him kiss her. He supposed a rainbow would do the same, or a four-leafed clover, or even a simple snowflake, landing on his sleeve without melting. It was simply impossible to enjoy one of nature’s small miracles and not kiss her. He kissed her neck, and then he turned her around in his arms so that he could kiss her mouth, and her brow, and even her nose.

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