“Twelve,” Harriet corrected, “but don’t worry, you’re in only eleven of them. Now then, Miss Wynter, when do you propose that we begin our rehearsals? And may we do so out of doors? There is a clearing by the gazebo that would be ideal.”

Miss Wynter turned to Daniel for confirmation. He just shrugged and said, “Harriet is the playwright.” She nodded and turned back to the girls. “I was going to say that we may start after the rest of our lessons, but given that there are twelve acts to get through, I am granting a one-day holiday from geography and maths.”

There was a rousing cheer from the girls, and even Daniel felt swept along in the general joy. “Wel,” he said to Miss Wynter, “it’s not every day one gets to be strange and sad.”

“Or evil.”

He chuckled. “Or evil.” Then he got a thought. A strange, sad thought. “I don’t die at the end, do I?” She shook her head.

“That’s a relief, I must say. I make a terrible corpse.”

She laughed at that, or rather, she held her lips together firmly while she tried not to laugh. The girls were chattering madly as they took their final bites of breakfast and fled the room, and then he was left sitting next to Miss Wynter, just the two of them and their plates of breakfast, the warm morning sun filtering upon them through the windows.

“I wonder,” he said aloud, “do we get to be wicked?”

Her fork clattered against her plate. “I beg your pardon?”

“Sad, strange, and evil are all very well and good, but I’d like to be wicked. Wouldn’t you?” Her lips parted, and he heard the tiny airy rush of her gasp. The sound tickled his skin, made him want to kiss her.

But everything seemed to make him want to kiss her. He felt like a young man again, perpetualy randy, except that this was far more specific. Back at university he’d flirted with every woman he’d met, stealing kisses or, more to the point, accepting them when they’d been offered freely.

This was different. He didn’t want a woman. He wanted her. And he supposed that if he had to spend the afternoon being strange, sad, and disfigured just to be in her company, it would be well worth it.

Then he remembered the wart.

He turned to Miss Wynter and said firmly, “I am not getting a wart.”

Realy, a man had to draw the line somewhere.

Chapter Eleven

Six hours later, as Anne adjusted the black sash that was meant to denote her as the evil queen, she had to admit that she could not recall a more enjoyable afternoon.

Ludicrous, yes; completely without academic value, absolutely. But still, completely and utterly enjoyable.

She had had fun.

Fun. She couldn’t remember the last time.

They had been rehearsing all day (not that they planned to actualy perform The Strange, Sad Tragedy of the Lord Who Was Not Finstead in front of an audience), and she could not begin to count the number of times she had had to stop, doubled over with laughter.

“Thou shalt never smite my daughter!” she intoned, waving a stick through the air.

Elizabeth ducked.

“Oh!” Anne winced. “I’m so sorry. Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” Elizabeth assured her. “I—”

“Miss Wynter, you’re breaking character again!” Harriet bemoaned.

“I almost hit Elizabeth,” Anne explained.

“I don’t care.”

Elizabeth exhaled in a puff of indignation. “I care.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t use a stick,” Frances said.

Harriet spared her sister a disdainful glance before turning back to the rest of them. “May we return to the script?” she said in a voice so prim it spun right into sarcasm.

“Of course,” Anne said, looking down at her script. “Where were we? Oh, yes, don’t smite my daughter and all that.”

“Miss Wynter.”

“Oh, no, I wasn’t saying the line. I was just finding it.” She cleared her throat and waved her stick in the air, giving Elizabeth wide berth. “Thou shalt never smite my daughter!”

How she managed that without laughing she would never know.

“I don’t want to smite her,” Lord Winstead said, with enough drama to make a Drury Lane audience weep. “I want to marry her.”

“Never.”

“No, no, no, Miss Wynter!” Harriet exclaimed. “You don’t sound upset at al.”

“Wel, I’m not,” Anne admitted. “The daughter is a bit of a ninny. I should think the evil queen would be glad to get her off her hands.” Harriet sighed the sigh of the very-long-suffering. “Be that as it may, the evil queen doesn’t think her daughter is a ninny.” Harriet sighed the sigh of the very-long-suffering. “Be that as it may, the evil queen doesn’t think her daughter is a ninny.”

“I think she’s a ninny,” Elizabeth chimed in.

“But you are the daughter,” Harriet said.

“I know! I’ve been reading her lines all day. She’s an idiot.”

As they bickered, Lord Winstead moved closer to Anne and said, “I do feel a bit of a lecherous old man, trying to marry Elizabeth.” She chuckled.

“I don’t suppose you’d consider swapping roles.”

“With you?”

He scowled. “With Elizabeth.”

“After you said I made a perfect evil queen? I think not.”

He leaned a little closer. “Not to split hairs, but I believe I said you made a perfect ly evil queen.”

“Oh, yes. That is so much better.” Anne frowned. “Have you seen Frances?”

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