“Tell her what?” Honoria asked, but Mrs. Royle was already six steps down the hall, summoning a maid. When she returned, she said, “It is very important that she wear blue this afternoon. I have heard that it is the favorite color of two of our guests.”

How she had determined that Honoria could not begin to guess.

“And it complements her eyes,” Mrs. Royle added.

“Cecily has lovely eyes,” Honoria agreed.

Mrs. Royle looked at her with a queer expression, then said, “You should consider wearing blue more often, too. It will make your eyes look less uncommon.”

“I’m fond of my eyes,” Honoria said with a smile.

Mrs. Royle’s lips pressed together. “The color is very unusual.”

“It’s a family trait. My brother’s are the same.”

“Ah, yes, your brother.” Mrs. Royle sighed. “Such a pity.”

Honoria nodded. Three years ago she would have taken offense at the comment, but she was less impetuous now, more pragmatic. And besides, it was true. It was a pity. “We hope he may return someday.”

Mrs. Royle snorted. “Not until Ramsgate dies. I have known him since he was in leading strings, and he’s as stubborn as an ass.”

Honoria blinked at that. Such plain speaking from Mrs. Royle was unexpected.

“Well,” Mrs. Royle said with a sigh, “there is nothing I can do about it, more’s the pity. Now then, Cook is making individual trifles for dessert, with strawberries and vanilla cream.”

“That is a wonderful idea,” Honoria said, having by now figured out that her job was to agree with Mrs. Royle whenever possible.

“Perhaps she should bake biscuits, too,” Mrs. Royle said with a frown. “She does quite a good job with them, and the gentlemen will be very hungry. Shooting is quite strenuous.”

Honoria had long thought that the sport of shooting was far more strenuous for the birds than the humans, but this she kept to herself. Still, she could not help saying, “Isn’t it interesting they went shooting this morning instead of to church?”

“It is not my place to tell young gentlemen how to conduct their lives,” Mrs. Royle said primly. “Unless they are my sons, in which case, they must do as I say at all times.”

Honoria tried to detect irony in the statement but could find none, so she simply nodded. She had a feeling that Cecily’s future husband would be included in the “must do as I say” group.

She hoped the poor man – whoever he might turn out to be – knew what he was getting into. Daniel had once told her that the best advice he’d ever received on the subject of marriage had come (unsolicited, of course) from Lady Danbury, a terrifying old dowager who seemed to enjoy giving advice to anyone who would listen.

And quite a few who didn’t listen, either.

But apparently Daniel had taken her words to heart, or at the very least committed them to memory. And that was that a man should understand that when he married, he was marrying his mother-in-law just as much as he was marrying his bride.

Well, almost as much. Daniel had laughed slyly as he’d added his own postscript. Honoria had just looked at him blankly, which had made him laugh all the more.

He really was a wretch sometimes. Still, she missed him.

But in truth, Mrs. Royle wasn’t that bad. She was simply determined, and Honoria knew from experience that determined mothers were a fearsome lot. Her own mother had once been determined. Her sisters still told stories of their days as young unmarried ladies, when their mother had been as ambitious a parent as the ton had ever seen. Margaret, Henrietta, Lydia, and Charlotte Smythe-Smith had been outfitted in the very best of clothing, had always been seen in the right places at the right times, and they had all married well. Not brilliantly, but well. And they’d all managed to do it in two seasons or less.

Honoria, on the other hand, saw season three looming ahead, and her mother’s interest in seeing her well-settled was tepid at best. It wasn’t that she didn’t want Honoria to marry; rather, she just couldn’t bring herself to care overmuch.

She hadn’t cared overmuch about anything after Daniel had left the country.

So if Mrs. Royle ran about cooking extra sweets and forcing her daughter to change gowns based upon something she might have overheard about someone’s favorite color, she was doing it out of love, and Honoria could never fault her for that.

“You’re a dear to help me with the preparations,” Mrs. Royle said, giving Honoria a pat on the arm. “All tasks are made easier with an extra pair of hands, that is what my mother always told me.”

Honoria rather thought she was providing an extra set of ears, not hands, but she murmured her thanks nonetheless and followed Mrs. Royle to the garden, where she wished to supervise the picnic arrangements.

“I think Mr. Bridgerton has been looking rather keenly at my Cecily,” Mrs. Royle said, stepping out into the not-quite-sunshine. “Don’t you?”

“I had not noticed,” Honoria said. She hadn’t noticed, but drat it all, had he?

“Oh, yes,” Mrs. Royle said, quite definitively, “at supper last night. He was smiling most broadly.”

Honoria cleared her throat. “He’s a rather smiling sort of gentleman.”

“Yes, but he was smiling differently.”

“I suppose.” Honoria squinted up at the sky. Clouds were rolling in. It didn’t quite look like rain, though.

“Yes, I know,” Mrs. Royle said, following Honoria’s gaze and misinterpreting the reason for it. “It is not quite as sunny as it was this morning. I do hope the weather holds for the picnic.”