And Colin, whose only experience with Lady Lucinda Abernathy was the moment in which she had broken his brother’s heart, asked, “Do you know her?”

Gregory stepped back as if struck. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I do.”

Colin didn’t say anything, but his brows rose, as if to ask, Well, then?

Gregory turned, his eyes moving to the corner around which Lucy had so recently disappeared. For a moment he stood absolutely still, his only movement a deliberate, thoughtful blink of his eyes.

He turned back around, looked his brother in the face. “I know her,” he said. “I do.”

Colin’s lips drew together, as if trying to form a question, but Gregory had already turned away.

He was looking at that corner again.

And then he began to run.

Twenty-one

In which Our Hero risks everything.

“Are you ready?”

Lucy regarded the splendid interior of St. George’s-the bright stained glass, the elegant arches, the piles and piles of flowers brought in to celebrate her marriage.

She thought about Lord Haselby, standing with the priest at the altar.

She thought about the guests, all more-than-three-hundred of them, all waiting for her to enter on her brother’s arm.

And she thought about Gregory, who had surely seen her climb up into the bridal carriage, dressed in her wedding finery.

“Lucy,” Hermione repeated, “are you ready?”

Lucy wondered what Hermione might do if she said no.

Hermione was a romantic.

Impractical.

She would probably tell Lucy that she did not have to go through with it, that it did not matter that they were standing just outside the doors to the church sanctuary, or that the prime minister himself was seated inside.

Hermione would tell her that it did not matter that papers had been signed and banns had been read, in three different parishes. It did not matter that by fleeing the church Lucy would create the scandal of the decade. She would tell Lucy that she did not have to do it, that she should not settle for a marriage of convenience when she could have one of passion and love. She would say-

“Lucy?”

(Is what she actually said.)

Lucy turned, blinking in confusion, because the Hermione of her imagination had been giving quite an impassioned speech.

Hermione smiled gently. “Are you ready?”

And Lucy, because she was Lucy, because she would always be Lucy, nodded.

She could do nothing else.

Richard joined them. “I cannot believe you are getting married,” he said to Lucy, but not before gazing warmly at his wife.

“I am not so very much younger than you are, Richard,” Lucy reminded him. She tilted her head toward the new Lady Fennsworth. “And I am two months older than Hermione.”

Richard grinned boyishly. “Yes, but she is not my sister.”

Lucy smiled at that, and she was grateful for it. She needed smiles. Every last one she could manage.

It was her wedding day. She had been bathed and perfumed and dressed in what had to be the most luxurious gown she had ever laid eyes upon, and she felt…

Empty.

She could not imagine what Gregory thought of her. She had deliberately allowed him to think that she planned to call off the wedding. It was terrible of her, cruel and dishonest, but she did not know what else to do. She was a coward, and she could not bear to see his face when she told him she still intended to marry Haselby.

Good God, how could she have explained it? He would have insisted that there was another way, but he was an idealist, and he had never faced true adversity. There wasn’t another way. Not this time. Not without sacrificing her family.

She let out a long breath. She could do this. Truly. She could. She could.

She closed her eyes, her head bobbing a half inch or so as the words echoed in her mind.

I can do this. I can. I can.

“Lucy?” came Hermione’s concerned voice. “Are you unwell?”

Lucy opened her eyes, and said the only thing Hermione would possibly believe. “Just doing sums in my head.”

Hermione shook her head. “I hope Lord Haselby likes maths, because I vow, Lucy, you are mad.”

“Perhaps.”

Hermione looked at her quizzically.

“What is it?” Lucy asked.

Hermione blinked several times before finally replying. “It is nothing, really,” she said. “Just that that sounded quite unlike you.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“To agree with me when I call you mad? That’s not at all what you would say.”

“Well, it’s obviously what I did say,” Lucy grumbled, “so I don’t know what-”

“Oh, pish. The Lucy I know would say something like, ‘Mathematics is a very extremely important endeavor, and really, Hermione, you ought to consider practicing sums yourself.’”

Lucy winced. “Am I truly so officious?”

“Yes,” Hermione replied, as if she were mad even to question it. “But it’s what I love best about you.”

And Lucy managed another smile.

Maybe everything would be all right. Maybe she would be happy. If she could manage two smiles in one morning, then surely it couldn’t be that bad. She needed only to keep moving forward, in her mind and her body. She needed to have this thing done, to make it permanent, so she could place Gregory in her past and at least pretend to embrace her new life as Lord Haselby’s wife.

But Hermione was asking Richard if she might have a moment alone with Lucy, and then she was taking her hands, leaning in and whispering, “Lucy, are you certain you wish to do this?”

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