She turned on him with all the ferocity of a winter storm; Geoff was somewhat taken aback by her intensity, and took an involuntary step backwards. Lucy seized upon this modest retreat, hurling her reticule at him with as much force as she could muster. Geoff was thankful for her present irritation, since the beaded bag would have likely hit him in a rather unforgiving area had her aim not been affected by irritation. He was also thankful for the high gathering of brush behind him, which blocked their little scene from the prying eyes of Lady Blackheath and her guests. Had Lucy's rage been observed, Geoff would have been doubly shamed for bringing further embarrassment to her name.

"How could you?" she repeated, her frame trembling with anger. Contrary to the way the ruffles on her gown fluttered, there was no wind to lift them off her gown. Lucy was positively vibrating. Geoff bent down to retrieve her reticule, giving himself time to think. How could he? Well, in truth, it was quite simple, if not damning. He had, in a moment of delirious drunkenness, attempted to call upon her home in the middle of the night, only to be sternly greeted by her younger sister. Geoff, in his sublime inebriation, had been unable to tell the difference between Lucy and Madeline Snowley (there was, after all, only ten months between them), and had swept the unsuspecting sister up into a passionate (and public) embrace. Things might not have deteriorated in such a manner had the Snowley's butler not entered the foyer at that moment. Thinking that he was performing an act of loyalty to his employer, the butler had informed Lord Snowley of the indiscretions of his daughter and her sisters paramour. Madeline, to her credit, had the decency to be outraged by the idea of being wed to her sisters beau, but her tantrum fell upon deaf ears. At least, her parents weathered the storm; Geoff suffered through the experience with the cracking pain of a thick head, as well as a heavy heart.

"Lucy, my darling, please understand, I never-"

"Oh, you just stay away from me!" she snapped, striding forward to wrench her handbag from his grasp. "You're a fool, Geoffrey Bramwell, a damned fool."

Rather than being appalled by her sharp tongue, Geoff's heart plucked painfully. Lucy's ability to switch from mild mannered lady of the ton to belligerent harpy had always enchanted him, her passion setting her apart from the other ladies who had sought his hand and his title.

Giving him a quick whack to the gut for good measure, Lucy fled the garden, disappearing behind a rather amorous statue of Cupid and Psyche. Geoff fancied that her perfume lingered after her, as he sat himself down on a stone bench with a sigh.

He had, to put things plainly, made a horrible mistake.

There were a number of people he could have blamed - Percy for the excess of drink, Allen, his unfortunate valet, for not persuading him against the idea of a midnight rendezvous, even Madeline, for having the poor sense of answering the door in her night rail - but at the heart of it, Geoff could not lay reproach on anyone but himself.

"You've still got all of your limbs, have you?"

Geoff looked up, his mouth puckering slightly in a frown. Benjamin Palmerston was a good friend, a far more levelheaded companion that Percy Houslowe, for that matter, but his humour was not appreciate at the present moment. He did, however, slide over to make room for Ben, who flipped his coat tails out behind him before settling onto the bench.

"She's furious," Geoff offered, as if it weren't obvious. Anyone with their senses about them could have seen the state of apoplexy Lucy had been in when Geoff had asked her to take a turn with him in the gardens. Even the required chaperone, Lucy's near-deaf great aunt had possessed the good sense to linger well behind them, and out of firing range.

"Ah, but that's Lucy Snowley for you. She's always furious."

Geoff glowered, emitting nothing more than a dispirited "Humph!"

"I'll say, you've caught the better end of the bargain, mate," Ben pressed, resting his hands on his knees. "You'd have had a carafe bashed over your head on your honeymoon. At least with Madeline, it will be a calm and quiet affair."

Madeline was widely known to be the more levelheaded of the Snowley girls, if not the more boring one. She belonged to a world of embroidery circles and responsibility. Madeline Snowley was not the sort of girl who took late night strolls in the garden, or snuck spirits from her fathers study. Those activities were in the realm of Lucy. Geoff heaved another sigh, which didn't go unnoticed by Ben.

"Are you having trouble breathing? I could knock some air into you." It was an empty threat, meant to lighten his spirits. Obviously, it wasn't working, as Geoff still had the look of a kicked dog about him.

"Honestly, I don't know why you're so upset. You've brought this on yourself, Geoff." Ben had switched from light jokes to brutal honesty, his most effective form of conversation. "You ought to know better than to take anything Percy says to heart when he's - when either of you - have been drinking. Or ever, really. Lucy's a nice girl, yes, and it's a shame you mangled your chances with her -" Ben ignored Geoff's terse glare - "but what's done is done. You're getting married to Madeline."

Ben cast another sidelong glance at his friend, who looked about ready to throttle him. Not that he was worried. Though Geoff was not incapable of physical force, he was nearly half Ben's width, and a more wiry sort of muscle. Flashing a cheeky grin, Ben promised "I'll still be your best man."

Madeline was quite tired of being ignored. Especially the type of ignored that saw entire families brushing past you only to gather together to whisper about you when they thought you were out of earshot. It had been going on since she'd arrived. Madeline had been completely against the idea of going out in public, recent events considered, but her mother had insisted. Disregarding Lucy's feelings entirely, Lady Snowley had brought both of her daughters out for display; perhaps she was hoping to pawn Lucy off on some sympathetic bachelor who pitied her broken heart. Whatever her motives, Madeline's mother was being sorely disappointed by both of her female offspring. Within ten minutes of walking through the door, Lucy had slipped out the back door with Lord Bramwell, and Madeline had been relegated to the status of social pariah. While Lucy's situation was nothing out of the ordinary (she'd been sneaking past the most wily of chaperones for years), Madeline was quite uncomfortable with her sudden loneliness. She had never been as popular as Lucy, something she'd always contended with well, but never in her life had Madeline been so harshly excluded. To be fair, Mary Cross had sent her an apologetic smile as her domineering mother hustled her to the opposite corner. But for the most part, Madeline was keeping her mother company.

"Mama, I feel ill," she lied. Well, it wasn't a complete lie. Madeline always felt nauseous when faced with a crush. It was remarkable that even though nearly everyone in attendance was on the other side of the room, Madeline still felt queasy.

"Hush, Madeline. We're not leaving yet." She didn't have to explain to her daughter the reason for their lingering. Lady Snowley wanted to present Madeline and her fiancé, as if it would reinstate her youngest in the eyes of the public. Madeline had her doubts.

"This is nonsense. They all know it was a forced engagement. I don't see why I need to be making a fool of myself," Madeline hissed, wishing she had a fan to hide behind. Pity they were a French trend.

"I don't know what you're talking about, my dear. Lord Bramwell made public his affections for you in a rather unconventional manner, but there's no reason for anyone to doubt his sincerity." She paused to shoot her daughter an appraising look. "Least of all you."

"Oh, Mama, he thought I was-"

Madeline was silenced by a sharp pinch to the skin above her elbow. Gasping slightly, she turned to face her sister, who had returned from her garden sojourn pink-cheeked but otherwise calm. Madeline knew better. Underneath Lucy's placid features lurked a fury that could only be comprehended by those who had experienced it in full. She sheepishly cast her gaze down at her slippers. Lucy had expressed her understanding that none of this had been Madeline's fault, but there had been a distinct tone of displeasure in everything Lucy had said to her since the fateful night.

"How good of you to join us, my dear," Lady Snowley said coolly. "Thomas Hetherington was inquiring after you."

Madeline gave a little tut of displeasure at the name. Lucy gave her another pinch, but this one was intended to express understanding rather than irritation. Thomas was an insufferable fop, even in the eyes of the flightiest girl. He was, admittedly, unrivaled in looks by any other man Madeline knew, but his entire lack of common sense and gumption was too much to bear. It was unsurprising that he would be the first to ask about Lucy now that she was available again.

"Was he?" Lucy said loftily, searching out the young man amid the crowd. Madeline knew full well that Lucy couldn't stand Thomas, but she was obviously looking to cause trouble. A heated flirtation in the middle of the room was just Lucy's style. And it was certain to boil the blood of her faithless former-beau were he to view it.