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A Lovely Girl, Indeed

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He would stay for once dance, which he would not partake in, one drink, which he would sip at politefully, and one conversation, which would be with absolutely no mothers. And then, he would give his Godmother, the rather terrifying Lady Danbery, a nod. And with that, he would disappear.

Just as he wished he could now, standing within the doorway and taking in the ball. He had always avoided such events, avoided the city as a whole during the Season, except his father had only just passed, and he was now required to attend to the duties that had fallen upon him. He could have pushed off all meetings with lawyers and bankers and even the Queen for a few months by citing that he was in mourning, however much that was a lie, but not for the entirety of the season.

Better to get this over with here and now before retreating to the country house, or anywhere else where there would be no mothers, wishing to make their daughters a Duchess.

Fortune was on his side at the fact that he had simply never attended a season before. He had never been introduced to society. He had never been to any balls. He had not been raised at his father’s side. While, yes, a number of gentlemen might recognize him from his school days, they were not trying to wed off their daughters. No, that would fall to their fathers. All of his schoolmates were likely in bars and brothels and clubs, which is exactly where he was going after this little endeavor had ended.

In and out. Lady Danberry could not say she had not seen him, however much the woman frightened him. He would even go so far as to greet her, if there were no older women around her. And then, he should disappear.

Except, that was not what was happening, because before he could even find a drink, before the next dance had even begun upon which he could set his own mental timer, he was being accosted by a mother and her daughters. And then, as soon as the words Your Grace had passed her lips, another mother and daughter were upon him, until he was surrounded by them.

His father choosing to die only weeks before the start of the Season was surely one last Fuck You.

With a round of apologies, he pulled himself away, citing that he was being called by his Godmother and simply must attend to her. That, of course, was met with a round of sighs at how gentlemanly he was, a truly good man in the heart of London. Honestly, it was the first excuse he could come up with, except now, he was forced to look for the old bat. 

He thought he saw her cane, every present at her side, when he felt something rush into him, like a horse, or a demon. Jostled, he looked down to see it was instead a small girl, and was she even old enough to be out for her first Season?

He tried to not snap at her, tried to not insist she remove herself from his presence, except she was already apologizing, and how could he be rude to her when she was being polite. He bit his tongue instead, and gave her a slight nod. “Forgive me.”

Ah yes, now where had that woman gone - the group which she had been part of before had now dispersed, and-

“Tell me your name.”

It was the little girl again, and he raised his brow as he took her in, at how impertinent she was. As if she did not already know - the whole ton was already speaking his name, his rank, his holdings, likely even how many pounds a year he had come in. Still, he had to admit, it was a good enough attempt at getting him to speak to her, when he had no intention of doing so.

“Am I honestly to believe you do not already know my name?” he asked, no longer amused with her as she had just repeated her question. Perhaps not a little girl - perhaps a spinster he had misjudged, desperate to be wed off before her younger sisters were... or perhaps she was the younger sister, wanting to make a better match than the elder had made.

And now, the idiot girl was laughing, as though he had said something funny. And she had thought this might get his attention? False laughter? He should not have attended. He had no patience for such pathetic attempts at seducing him into a dance.

“If you desired an introduction, madam, I do believe accosting me to be the least civilized of ways,” he said with a sniff, no longer interested in entertaining whatever was occurring here. He needed an escape, some sort of way to get away from this child. “Truly, they will try anything.”

“Sir, that is not…” She seemed flustered for words, a clear sign that he was correct. She had known who he was, then, and had come seeking out his fortunes. Anything would be preferable to this. She would even be the sort of girl to chase him into the gardens, wanting to be caught alone with him. Well, he would certainly be avoiding all gardens for the near future. “What is your name?”

He heard it then, his last name, at least, called out from across the room - but thankfully, it was his savior, his hero, one of his oldest friends. Thank goodness. This one, as well, was without a wife, which meant he might foist the girl onto him instead.

“Bridgerton,” he called out, trying to dismiss the girl as he cut her off.

“Come here, old friend,” his school mate said, the two of them grasping hands. “I heard news of your father. Deuce take it, you are no longer Basset.”

Simon smiled a little to himself, trying to hide his inner rage. In truth, he hated what he was about to be called - it was his father’s title. If he were allowed, he would destroy the title itself, and the house with it. He did not want to be called such, and would not allow one of his few friends in the world to do so. “I shall…”

“Hastings! The Duke of Hastings, now known forevermore,” Bridgerton finished.

Simon could feel his words choked in his throat, and it was his worst fear, another of the reasons he avoided society. To stumble over his words now would be… everything his father had feared. It would make the old man right in his assessment, that Simon was… broken.

“The Duke of Hastings, is it?” he heard from the girl, who he had quite forgotten was there. 

She looked amused, now, although he did not know why. In fact, the amusement, it was a better look on her than the one he had seen earlier, the way she had tried to trick him, as though… well, she seemed surprised by his name now. She was a better actress, suddenly.

“Right, Hastings, this is my sister.”

Sister. Sister.

Everything in his mind came whirling to a stop in his brain, every other thought about avoiding mothers and little girls and their pretending to not know who he was, or pretending to know exactly who he was, it all just disappeared, as he quickly repeated what Bridgerton had just said.

“Daphne, Hastings and I know each other from our days at Oxford, days we shall not soon forget.”

He was looking at her in a new light, now. There was certainly no way that her brother would ever allow her around him. Perhaps, he had read the situation wrong to begin with. She had been looking over her shoulder, as though afraid or nervous - had she truly not known who he was? Was it all a chance encounter?

“Yes. As I am well aware of the company you keep, brother, I am certain your days with His Grace were most civilized indeed, the girl, Daphne, Miss Bridgerton was saying.

Simon had tried to fake a smile at Bridgerton’s mention of their school days, but now, as he watched her speak of the company her brother kept, he could not help it - he suddenly found himself amused, in awe, in… well, he felt something. Perhaps it was even wonder, at the way that she quickly had a retort for her brother, insulting them both while making it sound as though it were a compliment.

She had no interest in marrying him, of that he could be certain. At least, not at this very moment.

And that suddenly made her intriguing. The look she gave him, he might even call it loathing, certainly judgemental. She had no interest in being his Duchess. Well then, the little girl was suddenly very interesting to him, and he had no idea what to do with that.

Bridgerton mentioned the club, which Simon had already planned on attending, but he needed to step away - he had already been here for far too long, had had a conversation, and now, he needed to kiss his Lady Godmother goodnight, and disappear with it.

Before he was trapped in another conversation.

“Indeed. Evening, Bridgerton.” He stopped, turning his attention to her fully, committing the look of her to memory. She had looked too young to him at first glance, but now that he was looking at her, she looked to be most lovely indeed. Bridgerton had mentioned his sister a few times, how she was the Diamond of the family… Far too pure for Simon to ever look at again, but she was indeed quite lovely. “Miss Bridgerton.”

The girl gave him a nod, then took her brother’s arm as they walked away. He could not help himself, then, could not stop himself as he turned in place, watching the pair walk away.

The girl, Daphne… very lovely. Her eyes, they spoke to him in some way, her features that he once thought too young were now something he could politely call dainty, and the way her eyes had thinned at him, upon realization as to who he was to her brother…

She looked back over her shoulder to him, and then her eyes lowered, as though scanning his form. He did not look away, simply held his place, watching her walk away.

Lovely. Very lovely indeed.

Away. He needed to be away from this place. A girl like Daphne Bridgerton was certainly not one that would arrive at the club, and most certainly would not warm his bed, which meant that she was of no consequence to him.

Ah, there she was - it was time to bid his guest good night, before he got into any more trouble.

Or did something foolish, like ask a lovely girl to dance.