“What shall we do about the party at Bricstan?” Cecily asked. But her mother was lost in thought, eyes narrowed and lips pursed. Cecily cleared her throat and then said, a bit louder, “Mother?”

“It’s still a good idea,” Mrs. Royle said suddenly. Her voice was loud with determination, and Honoria almost felt the syllables echo off her ears.

“Then we shall still invite the students?” Cecily said.

“I had thought of Gregory Bridgerton,” Sarah put in helpfully, “and Neville Berbrooke.”

“Good choices,” Mrs. Royle said, marching across the room to her desk. “Good family, the both of them.” She pulled out several sheets of cream-colored paper, then flipped through the corners, counting them out. “I shall write the invitations immediately,” she said, once she had the correct number of sheets. She turned to Honoria, arm outstretched. “Except this one.”

“I beg your pardon?” Honoria said, even though she knew exactly what Mrs. Royle meant. She just didn’t want to accept it.

“Invite Lord Chatteris. Just as we planned. Not for the entire party, just for an afternoon. Saturday or Sunday, whichever he prefers.”

“Are you sure the invitation should not come from you?” Cecily asked her mother.

“No, it is better from Lady Honoria,” Mrs. Royle stated. “He will find it more difficult to decline, coming from such a close family friend.” She took another step forward, until there was no way Honoria could avoid taking the paper from her hand. “We are good neighbors, of course,” Mrs. Royle added. “Do not think we are not.”

“Of course,” Honoria murmured. There was nothing else she could have said. And, she thought as she looked down at the paper in her hand, nothing else she could do. But then her luck turned. Mrs. Royle sat at the desk, which meant Honoria had no choice but to retire to her room to pen the invitation.

Which meant that no one besides Honoria – and Marcus, of course – knew that what it actually said was:

Marcus –

Mrs. Royle has asked me to extend an invitation to Bricstan this weekend. She plans a small house party, with the four ladies I mentioned, along with four young gentlemen from the university. I beg of you, do not accept. You shall be miserable, and then I shall be miserable, fretting over your misery.

With affection, et cetera & et cetera,


A different sort of gentleman would take such an “invitation” as a dare and accept immediately. But not Marcus. Honoria was certain of that. He might be supercilious, he might be disapproving, but one thing he was not was spiteful. And he wasn’t going to make himself miserable just to make her miserable.

He was occasionally the bane of her existence, but he was, at heart, a good person. Reasonable, too. He would realize that Mrs. Royle’s gathering was exactly the sort of event that made him want to gouge his eyes out. She’d long wondered why he ever went to London for the season; he always looked so bored.

Honoria sealed the letter herself and brought it downstairs, handing it to a footman to deliver to Marcus. When Marcus’s reply arrived several hours later, it was addressed to Mrs. Royle.

“What does it say?” Cecily asked breathlessly, rushing to her mother’s side as she opened it. Iris, too, crowded in, trying to peer over Cecily’s shoulder.

Honoria hung back and waited. She knew what it would say.

Mrs. Royle broke the seal and unfolded the missive, her eyes moving quickly across the writing as she read. “He sends his regrets,” she said flatly.

Cecily and Sarah let out wails of despair. Mrs. Royle looked over at Honoria, who hoped she was doing a good job at looking shocked as she said, “I did ask. It’s just not his sort of entertainment, I think. He’s really not terribly sociable.”

“Well, that much is true,” Mrs. Royle grumbled. “I can’t remember more than three balls last season at which I saw him dancing. And with so many young ladies without partners. It was downright rude.”

“He’s a good dancer, though,” Cecily said.

All eyes turned to her.

“He is,” she insisted, looking a bit surprised that her statement had garnered so much attention. “He danced with me at the Mottram Ball.” She turned to the other girls, as if to offer an explanation. “We are neighbors, after all. It was only polite.”

Honoria nodded. Marcus was a good dancer. Better than she was, that was for certain. She never could understand the intricacies of rhythm. Sarah had tried endlessly to explain the difference between a waltz and common time, but Honoria had never been able to grasp it.

“We shall persevere,” Mrs. Royle said loudly, placing a hand over her heart. “Two of the other four gentlemen have already accepted, and I am certain that we will hear from the others in the morning.”

But later that night, as Honoria was heading upstairs to bed, Mrs. Royle took her aside and quietly asked, “Do you think there is any chance Lord Chatteris will change his mind?”

Honoria swallowed uncomfortably. “I’m afraid not, ma’am.”

Mrs. Royle shook her head and made a little clucking sound. “Such a pity. He really would have been the feather in my cap. Well, good night, dear. Pleasant dreams.”

Twenty miles away, Marcus was sitting alone in his study with a hot cup of cider, mulling over his recent missive from Honoria. He had burst out laughing upon reading it, which he imagined had been her intention. Perhaps not her primary intention – that had certainly been to stop him from attending Mrs. Royle’s party – but she would have known that her words would amuse him to no end.