“I’m writing it down,” Harriet said.

Daniel looked over at her. He couldn’t help it. He knew for a fact that the only utensil she was holding was a fork.

“Wel, I’m committing it to memory so that I might write it down at a future time,” she admitted.

Daniel turned back to Miss Wynter. She looked terribly correct, sitting in her chair with her perfect posture. Her dark hair was puled back into its requisite bun, every strand pinned meticulously into place. There was nothing about her that was remotely out of the ordinary, and yet . . .

She was radiant.

To his eye, at least. Probably to every male eye in England. If Harriet, Elizabeth, and Frances couldn’t see it, it was because they were, wel, girls. And young ones at that, who wouldn’t know to view her as a rival. Unfettered by jealousy or prejudice, they saw her the way he rather thought she wanted to be seen—loyal, inteligent, with a fierce and clever wit.

And pretty, of course. It was the strangest thing, and he had no idea where the notion had come from, but he had a feeling that Miss Wynter liked being pretty as much as she hated being beautiful.

And he found her all the more fascinating for it.

“Tell me, Miss Wynter,” he finaly said, choosing his words with measured deliberation, “have you ever tried to act in one of Harriet’s plays?” Her lips pressed together. She’d been cornered by a yes-or-no question, and she was not happy about it. “No,” she finaly replied.

“Don’t you think it’s time?”

“Not realy, no.”

He settled his eyes firmly on hers. “If I’m in the play, you’re in the play.”

“It would be helpful,” Harriet said. “There are twenty characters, Miss Wynter, and without you, we’d each have to play five.”

“If you join in,” Frances added, “we’ll only have to do four each.”

“Which,” Elizabeth concluded triumphantly, “is a twenty percent reduction!”

Daniel still had his chin resting in his hand, so he tilted his head ever so slightly to give the impression of increased consideration. “No compliments for the excelent application of their mathematical skils, Miss Wynter?”

She looked about ready to boil, not that he could blame her with everyone conspiring against her. But the governess within her was quite unable to resist pointing out, “I told you that you would find it useful to be able to do sums and tables in your heads.” Harriet’s eyes grew bright with excitement. “Then that means you’ll join us?”

Daniel wasn’t certain how she’d reached that interpretation, but he wasn’t one to let an opportunity pass by, so he immediately threw in his support with, “Well done, Miss Wynter. We all must occasionaly venture outside our areas of comfort. I’m so terribly proud of you.” The look she gave him clearly said, I will eviscerate you, you pompous wretch. But of course she could never utter such a thing in front of the children, which meant that he could watch happily as she seethed.

Checkmate!

“Miss Wynter, I think you should be the evil queen,” Harriet said.

“There’s an evil queen?” Daniel echoed. With obvious delight.

“Of course,” Harriet replied. “Every good play has an evil queen.”

Frances actualy raised her hand. “And a un—”

“Don’t say it,” Elizabeth growled.

Frances crossed her eyes, put her knife to her forehead in an approximation of a horn, and neighed.

“It is settled, then,” Harriet said decisively. “Daniel shal be Lord Finstead”—she held up a restraining hand—“who won’t be Lord Finstead but rather some other name which I will think of later; Miss Wynter shal be the evil queen, Elizabeth will be . . .” She narrowed her eyes and regarded her sister, who regarded her back with outright suspicion.

“Elizabeth will be the beautiful princess,” Harriet finaly announced, much to the amazement of Elizabeth.

“What about me?” Frances asked.

“The butler,” Harriet replied without even a second of hesitation.

Frances’s mouth immediately opened to protest.

“No, no,” Harriet said. “It’s the best role, I promise. You get to do everything.”

“Except be a unicorn,” Daniel murmured.

Frances tilted her head to the side with a resigned expression.

“The next play,” Harriet finaly gave in. “I shal find a way to include a unicorn in the one I’m working on right now.” Frances pumped both fists in the air. “Huzzah!”

“But only if you stop talking about unicorns right now.”

“I second the motion,” Elizabeth said, to no one in particular.

“Very wel,” Frances acceded. “No more unicorns. At least not where you can hear me.”

Harriet and Elizabeth both looked as if they might argue, but Miss Wynter interceded, saying, “I think that’s more than fair. You can hardly stop her from talking about them entirely.”

“Then it’s settled,” Harriet said. “We shal work out the smaler roles later.”

“What about you?” Elizabeth demanded.

“Oh, I’m going to be the goddess of the sun and moon.”

“The tale gets stranger and stranger,” Daniel said.

“Just wait until act seven,” Miss Wynter told him.

“Just wait until act seven,” Miss Wynter told him.

“Seven?” His head snapped up. “There are seven acts?”

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