“It’s perfect,” Sarah insisted. “The younger gentlemen will be so much more likely to accept our invitation if they know Lord Chatteris will be there. They’ll want to make a good impression. He’s very influential, you know.”

“I thought you weren’t going to invite him,” Honoria said.

“I’m not. I mean – ” Sarah motioned toward Cecily, who was, after all, the daughter of the one who would be doing the inviting. “We’re not. But we can put it about that he is likely to call.”

“He’ll appreciate that, I’m sure,” Honoria said dryly, not that anyone was listening.

“Who shall we invite?” Sarah asked, ignoring Honoria’s statement entirely. “It should be four gentlemen.”

“Our numbers will be uneven when Lord Chatteris is about,” Cecily pointed out.

“The better for us,” Sarah said firmly. “And we can’t very well invite only three and then have too many ladies when he is not here.”

Honoria sighed. Her cousin was the definition of tenacious. There was no arguing with Sarah when she had her heart set on something.

“I had better talk to my mother,” Cecily said, standing up. “We’ll need to get to work immediately.” She left the room in a dramatic swish of pink muslin.

Honoria looked over at Iris, who surely recognized the madness that was about to ensue. But Iris just shrugged her shoulders and said, “It’s a good idea, actually.”

“It’s why we came to Cambridge,” Sarah reminded them. “To meet gentlemen.”

It was true. Mrs. Royle liked to talk about exposing young ladies to culture and education, but they all knew the truth: They had come to Cambridge for reasons that were purely social. When Mrs. Royle had broached the idea to Honoria’s mother, she’d lamented that so many young gentlemen were still at Oxford or Cambridge at the beginning of the season and thus not in London where they should be, courting young ladies. Mrs. Royle had a supper planned for the next evening, but a house party away from town would be even more effective.

Nothing like trapping the gentlemen where they couldn’t get away.

Honoria supposed she was going to need to pen a letter to her mother, informing her that she would be in Cambridge a few extra days. She had a bad feeling about using Marcus as a lure to get other gentlemen to accept, but she knew she could not afford to dismiss such an opportunity. The university students were young – almost the same age as the four young ladies – but Honoria did not mind. Even if none were ready for marriage, surely some had older brothers? Or cousins. Or friends.

She sighed. She hated how calculated it all sounded, but what else was she to do?

“Gregory Bridgerton,” Sarah announced, her eyes positively aglow with triumph. “He would be perfect. Brilliantly well-connected. One of his sisters married a duke, and another an earl. And he’s in his final year, so perhaps he will be ready to marry soon.”

Honoria looked up. She’d met Mr. Bridgerton several times, usually when he’d been dragged by his mother to one of the infamous Smythe-Smith musicales.

Honoria tried not to wince. The family’s annual musicale was never a good time to make the acquaintance of a gentleman, unless he was deaf. There was some argument within the family about who, precisely, had begun the tradition, but in 1807, four Smythe-Smith cousins had taken to the stage and butchered a perfectly innocent piece of music. Why they (or rather, their mothers) had thought it a good idea to repeat the massacre the following year Honoria would never know, but they had, and then the year after that, and the year after that.

It was understood that all Smythe-Smith daughters must take up a musical instrument and, when it was their turn, join the quartet. Once in, she was stuck there until she found a husband. It was, Honoria had more than once reflected, as good an argument as any for an early marriage.

The strange thing was, most of her family didn’t seem to realize how awful they were. Her cousin Viola had performed in the quartet for six years and still spoke longingly of her days as a member. Honoria had half-expected her to leave her groom at the altar when she had married six months earlier, just so she could continue in her position as primary violinist.

The mind boggled.

Honoria and Sarah had been forced to assume their spots the year before, Honoria on the violin and Sarah on the piano. Poor Sarah was still traumatized by the experience. She was actually somewhat musical and had played her part accurately. Or so Honoria was told; it was difficult to hear anything above the violins. Or the people gasping in the audience.

Sarah had sworn that she would never play with her cousins again. Honoria had just shrugged; she didn’t really mind the musicale – not terribly, at least. She actually thought the whole thing was a bit amusing. And besides, there was nothing she could do about it. It was family tradition, and there was nothing that mattered more to Honoria than family, nothing.

But now she had to get serious about her husband hunting, which meant she was going to have to find a gentleman with a tin ear. Or a very good sense of humor.

Gregory Bridgerton seemed to be an excellent candidate. Honoria had no idea if he could carry a tune, but they had crossed paths two days earlier, when the four young ladies were out for tea in town, and she had been instantly struck by what a lovely smile he had.

She liked him. He was amazingly friendly and outgoing, and something about him reminded her of her own family, the way they used to be, gathered together at Whipple Hill, loud and boisterous and always laughing.

It was probably because he, too, was from a large family – the second youngest of eight. Honoria was the youngest of six, so surely they would have a great deal in common.