Elizabeth handed a biscuit to each of her siblings and asked, “What did you two do all day? Did you finish the lessons I laid out for you?"

Jane nodded. "I helped Lucas with his arithmetic."

"You did not!" Lucas sputtered, crumbs flying from his mouth. "I can do it all by myself."

"Maybe you can," Jane said with a superior shrug, "but you didn't."

"Elizabeth!" Lucas protested. "Did you hear what she said to me?"

But Elizabeth ignored the question, instead sniffing the air with obvious distaste. “What on earth is that smell?''

"I went fishing again," Lucas replied.

"You must go wash yourself immediately. Mr. Siddons is our guest, and it isn't polite to—"

"I don't mind a bit of a fishy smell," James interrupted. “Did you catch anything?''

"I almost had one that was thiiiiiissss big," Lucas said, spreading his arms nearly as wide as they would go, “but he got away."

"Isn't that always the case," James murmured sympathetically.

"I did catch two medium-sized ones, though. I left them in a bucket outside."

"They're quite disgusting," Jane put in, having lost interest in her hand.

Lucas turned on her in an instant. "You don't say that when you get to eat them for supper."

"When I eat them for supper," she shot back, "they don't have eyes."

“That's because Lizzie chops off their heads, you nodcock."

"Lucas," Elizabeth said loudly, "I really think you should go outside and wash off some of that smell."

"But Mr. Siddons—"

"—was just being polite," Elizabeth cut in. "Do it now, and change your clothing while you're about it."

Lucas grumbled, but he did as he was told.

"He's such a trial sometimes," Jane said with a world-weary sigh.

James had to cough to keep from laughing.

Jane took this as agreement and further explained, ”He is only eight."

"And how old are you?"

"Nine," she replied, as if that made all the difference in the world.

"Jane," Elizabeth said from over at the hearth, where she was putting water on for tea, “may I speak with you for a moment?"

Jane politely excused herself and moved to her sister's side. James pretended not to watch as Elizabeth leaned down and whispered something in her sister's ear. Jane nodded and ran off.

"What was that all about?" he had to ask.

"I thought she might do with a washing up as well, but I didn't want to embarrass her by asking in front of you."

He cocked his head. “Do you really think she would have been embarrassed by that?''

"James, she's a nine-year-old girl who thinks she's fifteen. You're a handsome man. Of course she'd be embarrassed."

"Well, you would know better than I," he replied, trying not to let his pleasure show at her having complimented his looks.

Elizabeth motioned to the plate of biscuits. "Aren't you going to try one?"

He took one and bit into it. "Delicious."

"Aren't they? I don't know what Susan does with them. I've never managed to make mine come out as nice." She took one and bit into it.

James stared up at her, unable to tear his eyes away from the sight of her nibbling away. Her tongue darted out to catch an errant crumb, and—

"I'm back!"

He sighed. One of life's most unexpected erotic moments, interrupted by an eight-year-old boy.

Lucas grinned up at him. "Do you like to fish?"

"It's one of my favorite sports."

"I should like to hunt, but Elizabeth won't let me."

"Your sister is a very wise woman. A boy your age should not handle a gun without the proper supervision."

Lucas pulled a face. "I know, but that's not why she doesn't let me do it. It's because she's too softhearted."

"If not wanting to watch you mangle a poor, innocent rabbit," Elizabeth cut in, "means that I am too softhearted, then—"

"But you eat rabbit," Lucas argued. "I've seen you."

Elizabeth crossed her arms and grumbled, "It's different when it has ears."

James laughed. "You sound like young Jane with her aversion to fish eyes."

"No, no, no," Elizabeth insisted, "it's entirely different. If you recall, I am the one who always cuts off the fish heads. So clearly I am not squeamish."

"Then what's the difference?" he prodded.

"Yes," Lucas said, crossing his arms and cocking his head in a perfect imitation of James, "what's the difference?"

"I don't have to answer this!"

James turned to Lucas and said behind his hand, "She knows she hasn't a leg to stand on."

"I heard that!"

Lucas just giggled.

James exchanged a very male glance with the little boy. "Women do tend to get annoyingly sentimental when it comes to small, furry creatures."

Elizabeth kept her eyes on the stove, pretending to fix the tea. It had been so long since Lucas had met a man he could look up to and admire. She worried constantly that she was depriving him of something important by raising him herself, with only sisters for company. If she'd allowed any of her relations to take him in, he still wouldn't have had a father, but at least he would have had an adult male in his life.

"What's the biggest fish you've ever caught?" Lucas asked.

“On land or on sea?''

Lucas actually poked him in the arm when he said, "You can't catch a fish on land!"

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