And for at least two hours thereafter, Honoria hoped. She had plans. Plans which – she looked about; they were in the garden, after all – required a shovel.

“It will be such a tragedy if we have to move indoors,” Mrs. Royle continued. “One could hardly call it a picnic in such a case.”

Honoria nodded absently, still analyzing the clouds. There was one that was a bit more gray than the rest, but was it drifting toward or away?

“Well, I suppose there is nothing I can do but wait and see,” Mrs. Royle said. “And no true harm done. A gentleman is just as likely to fall in love indoors as out, and if Mr. Bridgerton does have his eye on Cecily, at least she will be able to impress him at the pianoforte.”

“Sarah is quite accomplished as well,” Honoria remarked.

Mrs. Royle actually stopped and turned. “She is?”

Honoria wasn’t surprised that Mrs. Royle sounded surprised. She knew for a fact that she had attended last year’s musicale.

“We probably won’t be inside, anyway,” Mrs. Royle went on before Honoria could comment further. “The sky doesn’t look so terribly ominous. Hmmph. I suppose I must admit that I had been hoping Mr. Bridgerton might take an interest in Cecily – oh, I do hope that maid catches her in time to get out the blue dress; she’ll be cross if she has to change – but of course Lord Chatteris would be even more exciting.”

Alarmed, Honoria spun back around to face her. “But he’s not coming.”

“No, of course not, but he is our neighbor. And as Cecily said the other day, this means that he will dance with her in London, and one must seize one’s opportunities where one can.”

“Yes, of course, but – ”

“He does not bestow his favor on many young ladies,” Mrs. Royle said proudly. “You, I suppose, due to your prior connection, and maybe one or two others. It will make it easier for her to capture his attention. This way, Lady Honoria,” she said, motioning toward a row of flower arrangements on a nearby table. “And besides,” she added, “our property is like a little bite out of his. Surely, he’ll want it.”

Honoria cleared her throat, not at all certain how to respond.

“Not that we could give it all to him,” Mrs. Royle continued. “None of it is entailed, but I couldn’t possibly slight Georgie that way.”


“My eldest son.” She turned to Honoria with an assessing eye, then waved her hand through the air. “No, you’re too old for him. Pity.”

Honoria decided there could not possibly be an appropriate reply to that.

“We could add a few acres to Cecily’s dowry, though,” Mrs. Royle said. “It would be worth it, to have a countess in the family.”

“I’m not sure he’s looking for a wife just yet,” Honoria ventured.

“Nonsense. Every unmarried man is looking for a wife. They just don’t always know it.”

Honoria managed a small smile. “I shall be sure to remember that.”

Mrs. Royle turned and gave Honoria a close look. “You should,” she finally said, apparently having decided that Honoria was not mocking her. “Ah, here we are. What do you think of these flower arrangements? Are they a bit too heavy on the crocuses?”

“I think they’re beautiful,” Honoria said, admiring the lavender ones in particular. “Besides, it is still so early in the spring. Crocuses are what is in bloom.”

Mrs. Royle let out a heavy sigh. “I suppose. But I find them rather common myself.”

Honoria smiled dreamily and trailed her fingers across the petals. Something about the crocuses made her feel utterly content. “I prefer to think of them as pastoral.”

Mrs. Royle cocked her head to the side, considered Honoria’s comment, and then must have decided it required no response, because she straightened and said, “I think I will ask Cook to make biscuits.”

“Would it be acceptable if I remained here?” Honoria asked quickly. “I rather enjoy arranging flowers.”

Mrs. Royle looked at the flowers, which were already expertly arranged, and then back at Honoria.

“Just to fluff them out,” Honoria explained.

Mrs. Royle waved her hand through the air. “If you wish. But don’t forget to change before the gentlemen return. Nothing blue, though. I want Cecily to stand out.”

“I don’t believe I even brought a blue dress,” Honoria said diplomatically.

“Well, that will make it easy,” Mrs. Royle said briskly. “Have fun . . . er . . . fluffing.”

Honoria smiled and waited until her hostess disappeared back into the house. Then she waited a bit more, because there were several maids dashing about, fussing with forks and spoons and the like. Honoria poked at the flowers, gazing this way and that until she saw the flash of something silver over by a rosebush. With a glance to make sure the maids were occupied, she took off across the lawn to investigate.

It was a small spade, apparently forgotten by the gardeners. “Thank you,” she mouthed. It wasn’t a shovel, but it would do. Besides, she hadn’t exactly figured out how one might use the words “shovel” and “inconspicuous” in the same sentence.

The spade was still going to take some planning. None of her frocks had pockets, and even if they did, she somehow did not think she’d be able to conceal a piece of metal half the size of her forearm. But she could stash it somewhere and pick it up later, when the time was right.

In fact, she decided, that was exactly what she would do.