Lucy hugged her arms to her body, barely able to stand as she watched him being dragged away.

“How could you?”

She turned. Hyacinth St. Clair had crept up behind her and was glaring at her as if she were the very devil.

“You don’t understand,” Lucy said.

But Hyacinth’s eyes blazed with fury. “You are weak,” she hissed. “You do not deserve him.”

Lucy shook her head, not quite sure if she was agreeing with her or not.

“I hope you-”

“Hyacinth!”

Lucy’s eyes darted to the side. Another woman had approached. It was Gregory’s mother. They had been introduced at the ball at Hastings House.

“That will be enough,” she said sternly.

Lucy swallowed, blinking back tears.

Lady Bridgerton turned to her. “Forgive us,” she said, pulling her daughter away.

Lucy watched them depart, and she had the strangest sense that all this was happening to someone else, that maybe it was just a dream, just a nightmare, or perhaps she was caught up in a scene from a lurid novel. Maybe her entire life was a figment of someone else’s imagination. Maybe if she just closed her eyes-

“Shall we get on with it?”

She swallowed. It was Lord Haselby. His father was next to him, uttering the same sentiment, but in far less gracious words.

Lucy nodded.

“Good,” Davenport grunted. “Sensible girl.”

Lucy wondered what it meant to be complimented by Lord Davenport. Surely nothing good.

But still, she allowed him to lead her back to the altar. And she stood there in front of half of the congregation who had not elected to follow the spectacle outside.

And she married Haselby.

“What were you thinking?”

It took Gregory a moment to realize that his mother was demanding this of Colin, and not of him. They were seated in her carriage, to which he had been dragged once they had left the church. Gregory did not know where they were going. In random circles, most probably. Anywhere that wasn’t St. George’s.

“I tried to stop him,” Colin protested.

Violet Bridgerton looked as angry as any of them had ever seen her. “You obviously did not try hard enough.”

“Do you have any idea how fast he can run?”

“Very fast,” Hyacinth confirmed without looking at them. She was seated diagonally to Gregory, staring out the window through narrowed eyes.

Gregory said nothing.

“Oh, Gregory,” Violet sighed. “Oh, my poor son.”

“You shall have to leave town,” Hyacinth said.

“She is right,” their mother put in. “It can’t be helped.”

Gregory said nothing. What had Lucy meant-Because I had to?

What did that mean?

“I shall never receive her,” Hyacinth growled.

“She will be a countess,” Colin reminded her.

“I don’t care if she is the bloody queen of-”

“Hyacinth!” This, from their mother.

“Well, I don’t,” Hyacinth snapped. “No one has the right to treat my brother like that. No one!”

Violet and Colin stared at her. Colin looked amused. Violet, alarmed.

“I shall ruin her,” Hyacinth continued.

“No,” Gregory said in a low voice, “you won’t.”

The rest of his family fell silent, and Gregory suspected that they had not, until the moment he’d spoken, realized that he had not been taking part in the conversation.

“You will leave her alone,” he said.

Hyacinth ground her teeth together.

He brought his eyes to hers, hard and steely with purpose. “And if your paths should ever cross,” he continued, “you shall be all that is amiable and kind. Do you understand me?”

Hyacinth said nothing.

“Do you understand me?” he roared.

His family stared at him in shock. He never lost his temper. Never.

And then Hyacinth, who’d never possessed a highly developed sense of tact, said, “No, as a matter of fact.”

“I beg your pardon?” Gregory, said, his voice dripping ice at the very moment Colin turned to her and hissed, “Shut up.”

“I don’t understand you,” Hyacinth continued, jamming her elbow into Colin’s ribs. “How can you possibly possess sympathy for her? If this had happened to me, wouldn’t you-”

“This didn’t happen to you,” Gregory bit off. “And you do not know her. You do not know the reasons for her actions.”

“Do you?” Hyacinth demanded.

He didn’t. And it was killing him.

“Turn the other cheek, Hyacinth,” her mother said softly.

Hyacinth sat back, her bearing tense with anger, but she held her tongue.

“Perhaps you could stay with Benedict and Sophie in Wiltshire,” Violet suggested. “I believe Anthony and Kate are expected in town soon, so you cannot go to Aubrey Hall, although I am sure they would not mind if you resided there in their absence.”

Gregory just stared out the window. He did not wish to go to the country.

“You could travel,” Colin said. “Italy is particularly pleasant this time of year. And you haven’t been, have you?”

Gregory shook his head, only half listening. He did not wish to go to Italy.

Because I had to, she’d said.

Not because she wished it. Not because it was sensible.

Because she had to.

What did that mean?

Had she been forced? Was she being blackmailed?

What could she have possibly done to warrant blackmail?

“It would have been very difficult for her not to go through with it,” Violet suddenly said, placing a sympathetic hand on his arm. “Lord Davenport is not a man anyone would wish as an enemy. And really, right there in the church, with everyone looking on…Well,” she said with a resigned sigh, “one would have to be extremely brave. And resilient.” She paused, shaking her head. “And prepared.”

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