Lucy looked up at her in surprise. Why was Hermione asking her this? Right at the moment when she most wanted to run.
Hadn’t she been smiling? Hadn’t Hermione seen her smiling?
Lucy swallowed. She tried to straighten her shoulders. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, of course. Why would you ask such a thing?”
Hermione did not answer right away. But her eyes-those huge, green eyes that rendered grown men senseless-they answered for her.
Lucy swallowed and turned away, unable to bear what she saw there.
And Hermione whispered, “Lucy.”
That was all. Just Lucy.
Lucy turned back. She wanted to ask Hermione what she meant. She wanted to ask why she said her name as if it were a tragedy. But she didn’t. She couldn’t. And so she hoped Hermione saw her questions in her eyes.
She did. Hermione touched her cheek, smiling sadly. “You look like the saddest bride I’ve ever seen.”
Lucy closed her eyes. “I’m not sad. I just feel…”
But she didn’t know what she felt. What was she supposed to feel? No one had trained her for this. In all her education, with her nurse, and governess, and three years at Miss Moss’s, no one had given her lessons in this.
Why hadn’t anyone realized that this was far more important than needlework or country dances?
“I feel…” And then she understood. “I feel like I’m saying goodbye.”
Hermione blinked with surprise. “To whom?”
And she was. She was saying goodbye to herself, and everything she might have become.
She felt her brother’s hand on her arm. “It’s time to begin,” he said.
“Where is your bouquet?” Hermione asked, then answered herself with, “Oh. Right there.” She retrieved the flowers, along with her own, from a nearby table and handed them to Lucy. “You shall be happy,” she whispered, as she kissed Lucy’s cheek. “You must. I simply will not tolerate a world in which you are not.”
Lucy’s lips wobbled.
“Oh dear,” Hermione said. “I sound like you now. Do you see what a good influence you are?” And then, with one last blown kiss, she entered the chapel.
“Your turn,” Richard said.
“Almost,” Lucy answered.
And then it was.
She was in the church, walking down the aisle. She was at the front, nodding at the priest, looking at Haselby and reminding herself that despite…well, despite certain habits she did not quite understand, he would make a perfectly acceptable husband.
This was what she had to do.
If she said no…
She could not say no.
She could see Hermione out of the corner of her eye, standing beside her with a serene smile. She and Richard had arrived in London two nights earlier, and they had been so happy. They laughed and they teased and they spoke of the improvements they planned to make at Fennsworth Abbey. An orangery, they had laughed. They wanted an orangery. And a nursery.
How could Lucy take that from them? How could she cast them into a life of shame and poverty?
She heard Haselby’s voice, answering, “I will,” and then it was her turn.
Wilt thou have this Man to thy Wedded Husband, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?
She swallowed and tried not to think of Gregory. “I will.”
She had given her consent. Was it done, then? She didn’t feel different. She was still the same old Lucy, except she was standing in front of more people than she ever cared to stand in front of again, and her brother was giving her away.
The priest placed her right hand in Haselby’s, and he pledged his troth, his voice loud, firm, and clear.
They separated, and then Lucy took his hand.
I, Lucinda Margaret Catherine…
“I, Lucinda Margaret Catherine…”
…take thee, Arthur Fitzwilliam George…
“…take thee, Arthur Fitzwilliam George…”
She said it. She repeated after the priest, word for word. She said her part, right up until she meant to give Haselby her troth, right up until-
The doors to the chapel slammed open.
She turned around. Everyone turned around.
He looked like a madman, breathing so hard he was barely able to speak.
He staggered forward, clutching the edges of the pew for support, and she heard him say-
Lucy’s heart stopped.
“Don’t do it.”
Her bouquet slipped from her hands. She couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t do anything but stand there like a statue as he walked toward her, seemingly oblivious to the hundreds of people staring at him.
“Don’t do it,” he said again.
And no one was talking. Why was no one talking? Surely someone would rush forward, grab Gregory by the arms, haul him away-
But no one did. It was a spectacle. It was theater, and it seemed no one wanted to miss the ending.
Right there in front of everyone, he stopped.
He stopped. And he said, “I love you.”
Beside her Hermione murmured, “Oh my goodness.”
Lucy wanted to cry.
“I love you,” he said again, and he just kept walking, his eyes never leaving her face.
“Don’t do it,” he said, finally reaching the front of the church. “Don’t marry him.”
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