“All my daughters play the violin,” Lady Winstead said proudly.

“Even you, Lady Honoria?” Mrs. Wetherby asked.

Honoria nodded. “Even me.”

“I wish you had brought your instrument. I should have loved to have heard you play.”

“I’m not as capable as my sister Margaret,” Honoria said. Which, tragically, was true.

“Oh, don’t be silly,” her mother said, giving her a playful pat on the arm. “I thought you were magnificent last year. You need only to practice a bit more.” She turned back to Mrs. Wetherby. “Our family hosts a musicale every year. It is one of the most sought-after invitations in town.”

“Such a treasure to come from such a musical family.”

“Oh,” Honoria said, because she wasn’t sure she’d be able to manage much of anything else. “Yes.”

“I do hope your cousins are rehearsing in your absence,” her mother said with a worried expression.

“I’m not sure how they could,” Honoria said. “It’s a quartet. One can’t really rehearse with one of the violins missing.”

“Yes, I suppose so. It’s just that Daisy is so green.”

“Daisy?” Mrs. Wetherby asked.

“My niece,” Lady Winstead explained. “She is quite young and” – her voice dropped to a whisper, although for the life of her, Honoria couldn’t figure out why – “she’s not very talented.”

“Oh, dear,” Mrs. Wetherby gasped, one of her hands rising to her chest. “Whatever will you do? Your musicale will be ruined.”

“I am quite certain Daisy will keep up with the rest of us,” Honoria said with a weak smile. Truthfully, Daisy was bad. But it was difficult to imagine her actually making the quartet worse. And she would bring some badly needed enthusiasm to the group. Sarah was still claiming that she’d rather have her teeth pulled than perform with the quartet again.

“Has Lord Chatteris ever been to the musicale?” Mrs. Wetherby asked.

“Oh, he comes every year,” Lady Winstead replied. “And sits in the front row.”

He was a saint, Honoria thought. At least for one night a year.

“He does love music,” Mrs. Wetherby said.

A saint. A martyr, even.

“I suppose he will have to miss it this year,” Lady Winstead said with a sad sigh. “Perhaps we can arrange for the girls to come here for a special concert.”

“No!” Honoria exclaimed, loudly enough that both the other women turned to look at her. “I mean, he wouldn’t like that, I’m sure. He doesn’t like people going out of their way for him.” She could see from her mother’s expression that she was not finding this to be a strong argument, so she added, “And Iris doesn’t travel well.”

A blatant lie, but it was the best she could come up with so quickly.

“Well, I suppose,” her mother conceded. “But there is always next year.” Then, with a flash of panic in her eyes, she added, “Although you won’t be playing, I’m sure.” When it became obvious she would have to explain, she turned to Mrs. Wetherby and said, “Each Smythe-Smith daughter must leave the quartet when she marries. It is tradition.”

“Are you engaged to be married, Lady Honoria?” Mrs. Wetherby asked, her brow knit with confusion.

“No,” Honoria replied, “and I – ”

“What she means to say,” her mother interrupted, “is that we expect her to be engaged by the end of the season.”

Honoria could only stare. Her mother had not shown such determination or strategy during her first two seasons.

“I do hope we’re not too late for Madame Brovard,” her mother mused.

Madame Brovard? The most exclusive modiste in London? Honoria was stunned. Just a few days ago her mother had told her to go shopping with her cousin Marigold and “find something pink.” Now she wanted to get Honoria in to see Madame Brovard?

“She will not use the same fabric twice if it is at all distinctive,” her mother was explaining to Mrs. Wetherby. “It is why she is considered the best.”

Mrs. Wetherby nodded approvingly, clearly enjoying the conversation.

“But the downside is that if one sees her too late in the season” – Lady Winstead held up her hands in a fatalistic manner – “all the good fabrics are gone.”

“Oh, that is terrible,” Mrs. Wetherby replied.

“I know, I know. And I want to make sure we find the right colors for Honoria this year. To bring out her eyes, you know.”

“She has beautiful eyes,” Mrs. Wetherby agreed. She turned to Honoria. “You do.”

“Er, thank you,” Honoria said automatically. It was strange, seeing her mother act like . . . well, like Mrs. Royle, to be completely honest. Disconcerting. “I think I will go to the library now,” she announced. The two older ladies had entered into a spirited discussion about the distinction between lavender and periwinkle.

“Have a good time, dear,” her mother said without even looking her way. “I tell you, Mrs. Wetherby, if you had a lighter shade of periwinkle . . .”

Honoria just shook her head. She needed a book. And maybe another nap. And a slice of pie. And not necessarily in that order.

Dr. Winters stopped by that afternoon and declared Marcus well on his way to recovery. His fever had cleared entirely, his leg was mending splendidly, and even his sprained ankle – which they’d all quite forgotten about – no longer showed signs of swelling.