Which would surely be followed by, “Ohhhhhhhh. She’s the one.”
But for now, to her face, there was nothing but “Such a happy occasion,” and “You make a beautiful bride.” And of course, for the sly and daring-“Lovely ceremony, Lady Haselby.”
She tested it out in her mind. She was Lady Haselby now.
She could have been Mrs. Bridgerton.
Lady Lucinda Bridgerton, she supposed, as she was not required to surrender her honorific upon marriage to a commoner. It was a nice name-not as lofty as Lady Haselby, perhaps, and certainly nothing compared to the Countess of Davenport, but-
She swallowed, somehow managing not to dislodge the smile she’d affixed to her face five minutes earlier.
She would have liked to have been Lady Lucinda Bridgerton.
She liked Lady Lucinda Bridgerton. She was a happy sort, with a ready smile and a life that was full and complete. She had a dog, maybe two, and several children. Her house was warm and cozy, she drank tea with her friends, and she laughed.
Lady Lucinda Bridgerton laughed.
But she would never be that woman. She had married Lord Haselby, and now she was his wife, and try as she might, she could not picture where her life might lead. She did not know what it meant to be Lady Haselby.
The party hummed along, and Lucy danced her obligatory dance with her new husband, who was, she was relieved to note, quite accomplished. Then she danced with her brother, which nearly made her cry, and then her uncle, because it was expected.
“You did the right thing, Lucy,” he said.
She said nothing. She didn’t trust herself to do so.
“I am proud of you.”
She almost laughed. “You have never been proud of me before.”
“I am now.”
It did not escape her notice that this was not a contradiction.
Her uncle returned her to the side of the ballroom floor, and then-dear God-she had to dance with Lord Davenport.
Which she did, because she knew her duty. On this day, especially, she knew her duty.
At least she did not have to speak. Lord Davenport was at his most effusive, and more than carried the conversation for the both of them. He was delighted with Lucy. She was a magnificent asset to the family.
And so on and so forth until Lucy realized that she had managed to endear herself to him in the most indelible manner possible. She had not simply agreed to marry his dubiously reputationed son; she had affirmed the decision in front of the entire ton in a scene worthy of Drury Lane.
Lucy moved her head discreetly to the side. When Lord Davenport was excited, spittle tended to fly from his mouth with alarming speed and accuracy. Truly, she wasn’t sure which was worse-Lord Davenport’s disdain or his everlasting gratitude.
But Lucy managed to avoid her new father-in-law for most of the festivities, thank heavens. She managed to avoid most everyone, which was surprisingly undifficult, given that she was the bride. She didn’t want to see Lord Davenport, because she detested him, and she didn’t want to see her uncle, because she rather suspected she detested him, as well. She didn’t want to see Lord Haselby, because that would only lead to thoughts of her upcoming wedding night, and she didn’t want to see Hermione, because she would ask questions, and then Lucy would cry.
And she didn’t want to see her brother, because he was sure to be with Hermione, and besides that, she was feeling rather bitter, alternating with feeling rather guilty for feeling bitter. It wasn’t Richard’s fault that he was deliriously happy and she was not.
But all the same, she’d rather not have to see him.
Which left the guests, most of whom she did not know. And none of whom she wished to meet.
So she found a spot in the corner, and after a couple of hours, everyone had drunk so much that no one seemed to notice that the bride was sitting by herself.
And certainly no one took note when she escaped to her bedchamber to take a short rest. It was probably very bad manners for a bride to avoid her own party, but at that moment, Lucy simply did not care. People would think she’d gone off to relieve herself, if anyone noticed her absence. And somehow it seemed appropriate for her to be alone on this day.
She slipped up the back stairs, lest she come across any wandering guests, and with a sigh of relief, she stepped into her room and shut the door behind her.
She leaned her back against the door, slowly deflating until it felt like there was nothing left within her.
And she thought-Now I shall cry.
She wanted to. Truly, she did. She felt as if she’d been holding it inside for hours, just waiting for a private moment. But the tears would not come. She was too numb, too dazed by the events of the last twenty-four hours. And so she stood there, staring at her bed.
Dear heaven, had it been only twelve hours earlier that she had lain there, wrapped in his arms? It seemed like years. It was as if her life were now neatly divided in two, and she was most firmly in after.
She closed her eyes. Maybe if she didn’t see it, it would go away. Maybe if she-
She froze. Dear God, no.
Slowly, she opened her eyes. And whispered, “Gregory?”
He looked a mess, windblown and dirty as only a mad ride on horseback could do to a man. He must have sneaked in the same way he’d done the night before. He must have been waiting for her.
She opened her mouth, tried to speak.
“Lucy,” he said again, and his voice flowed through her, melted around her.
She swallowed. “Why are you here?”
He stepped toward her, and her heart just ached from it. His face was so handsome, and so dear, and so perfectly wonderfully familiar. She knew the slope of his cheeks, and the exact shade of his eyes, brownish near the iris, melting into green at the edge.
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