“Gregory,” she whispered, “why are you doing this?”

“I love you,” he said, as if there could be no other explanation.

A little moan choked in her throat. Tears burned her eyes, and her entire body felt stiff. Stiff and frozen. One little wind, one little breath would knock her over. And she couldn’t manage to think anything but Why?

And No.

And Please.

And-oh heavens, Lord Haselby!

She looked up at him, at the groom who had found himself demoted to a supporting role. He had been standing silently this entire time, watching the unfolding drama with as much interest as the audience. With her eyes she pleaded with him for guidance, but he just shook his head. It was a tiny movement, far too subtle for anyone else to discern, but she saw it, and she knew what it meant.

It is up to you.

She turned back to Gregory. His eyes burned, and he sank to one knee.

Don’t, she tried to say. But she could not move her lips. She could not find her voice.

“Marry me,” Gregory said, and she felt him in his voice. It wrapped around her body, kissed her, embraced her. “Marry me.”

And oh dear Lord, she wanted to. More than anything, she wanted to sink to her knees and take his face in her hands. She wanted to kiss him, she wanted to shout out her love for him-here, in front of everyone she knew, possibly everyone she ever would know.

But she had wanted all of that the day before, and the day before that. Nothing had changed. Her world had become more public, but it had not changed.

Her father was still a traitor.

Her family was still being blackmailed.

The fate of her brother and Hermione was still in her hands.

She looked at Gregory, aching for him, aching for them both.

“Marry me,” he whispered.

Her lips parted, and she said-

“No.”

Twenty-two

In which all hell breaks loose.

All hell broke loose.

Lord Davenport charged forward, as did Lucy’s uncle and Gregory’s brother, who had just tripped up the steps to the church after chasing Gregory across Mayfair.

Lucy’s brother dashed forward to move both Lucy and Hermione from the melee, but Lord Haselby, who had been watching the events with the air of an intrigued spectator, calmly took the arm of his intended and said, “I will see to her.”

As for Lucy, she stumbled backward, her mouth open with shock as Lord Davenport leaped atop Gregory, landing belly down like a-well, like nothing Lucy had ever seen.

“I have him!” Davenport yelled triumphantly, only to be smacked soundly with a reticule belonging to Hyacinth St. Clair.

Lucy closed her eyes.

“Not the wedding of your dreams, I imagine,” Haselby murmured in her ear.

Lucy shook her head, too numb to do anything else. She should help Gregory. Really, she should. But she felt positively drained of energy, and besides, she was too cowardly to face him again.

What if he rejected her?

What if she could not resist him?

“I do hope he will be able to get out from under my father,” Haselby continued, his tone as mild as if he were watching a not-terribly-exciting horse race. “The man weighs twenty stone, not that he would admit it.”

Lucy turned to him, unable to believe how calm he was given the near riot that had broken out in the church. Even the prime minister appeared to be fending off a largish, plumpish lady in an elaborately fruited bonnet who was swatting at anyone who moved.

“I don’t think she can see,” Haselby said, following Lucy’s gaze. “Her grapes are drooping.”

Who was this man she had-dear heavens, had she married him yet? They had agreed to something, of that she was certain, but no one had declared them man and wife. But either way, Haselby was bizarrely calm, given the events of the morning.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Lucy asked.

He turned, regarding her curiously. “You mean while your Mr. Bridgerton was professing his love?”

No, while the priest was droning on about the sacrament of marriage, she wanted to snap.

Instead, she nodded.

Haselby cocked his head to the side. “I suppose I wanted to see what you’d do.”

She stared at him in disbelief. What would he have done if she’d said yes?

“I am honored, by the way,” Haselby said. “And I shall be a kind husband to you. You needn’t worry on that score.”

But Lucy could not speak. Lord Davenport had been removed from Gregory, and even though some other gentleman she did not recognize was pulling him back, he was struggling to reach her.

“Please,” she whispered, even though no one could possibly hear her, not even Haselby, who had stepped down to aid the prime minister. “Please don’t.”

But Gregory was unrelenting, and even with two men pulling at him, one friendly and one not, he managed to reach the bottom of the steps. He lifted his face, and his eyes burned into hers. They were raw, stark with anguish and incomprehension, and Lucy nearly stumbled from the unleashed pain she saw there.

“Why?” he demanded.

Her entire body began to shake. Could she lie to him? Could she do it? Here, in a church, after she had hurt him in the most personal and the most public way imaginable.

“Why?”

“Because I had to,” she whispered.

His eyes flared with something-disappointment? No. Hope? No, not that, either. It was something else. Something she could not quite identify.

He opened his mouth to speak, to ask her something, but it was at that moment that the two men holding him were joined by a third, and together they managed to haul him from the church.

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