He tried to tamp down the giddy feeling in his chest. “Then you’ll have to cancel the musicale?”

“Why does everyone keep asking that? Oh, never mind. Of course we cannot cancel. The Pleinsworth governess apparently can play, and she is taking Sarah’s part.”

“Then all is well,” he said. He cleared his throat. “Isn’t it?”

She looked at him as if he were a slow-learning child. “We don’t know if this governess is any good.”

He did not see how the governess’s skills at the piano would make any difference in the overall quality of the performance, but he declined to make this statement aloud. Instead he said something like: “Oh, well.” Or perhaps, “Quite so.” Either way, it served the purpose of making a noise without saying anything at all.

Which was really the best he could hope for under the circumstances.

“This is our eighteenth musicale, did you know that?” Lady Winstead asked.

He did not.

“Every one of them has been a success, and now this.”

“Perhaps the governess will be very talented,” he said, trying to comfort her.

Lady Winstead gave him an impatient look. “Talent matters little when one has had only six hours to practice.”

Marcus could see that there was no way this conversation was going to go anywhere but in a circle, so he asked politely if there was anything he could do to facilitate the performance, fully expecting her to say no, which would then leave him free to enjoy a solitary glass of brandy in the drawing room.

But to his complete surprise and – one must be honest – horror, she took his hand in a fervent grip and said, “Yes!”

He froze. “I beg your pardon?”

“Could you bring some lemonade to the girls?”

She wanted him to – “What?”

“Everyone is busy. Everyone.” She waved her arms as if to demonstrate. “The footmen have already rearranged the chairs three times.”

Marcus glanced out at the room, wondering what could possibly be so complicated about twelve even rows.

“You want me to bring them lemonade,” he repeated.

“They will be thirsty,” she explained.

“They’re not singing?” Good God, the horror.

She pressed her lips together in irritation. “Of course not. But they have been rehearsing all day. It’s strenuous work. Do you play?”

“An instrument? No.” It was one of the few skills his father had not deemed it necessary that he learn.

“Then you will not understand,” she said with great drama. “Those poor girls will be parched.”

“Lemonade,” he said again, wondering if she wished him to bring it in on a tray. “Very well.”

Her brows rose, and she looked a little annoyed at his slowness. “I assume you’re strong enough to carry the pitcher?”

As insults went, it was just preposterous enough not to bother him. “I believe I can manage, yes,” he said dryly.

“Good. It’s over there,” she said, waving her hand toward a table at the side of the room. “And Honoria is just through that door.” She pointed toward the back.

“Just Honoria?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Of course not. It’s a quartet.” And with that, she was off, directing the footmen, interrogating the maids, and generally attempting to supervise what appeared to be, in Marcus’s opinion, a rather smoothly run affair.

He walked over to one of the refreshment tables and picked up a pitcher of lemonade. There didn’t seem to be any glasses set out yet, which did make him wonder if Lady Winstead meant for him to pour the lemonade down the girls’ throats.

He smiled. It was an entertaining image.

Pitcher in hand, he made his way through the door Lady Winstead had indicated, moving quietly so as not to disturb whatever rehearsal might be underway.

There was no rehearsal.

Instead, he saw four women arguing as if the fate of Great Britain depended on it. Well, no, actually, only three of the women were arguing. The one at the piano, whom he assumed was the governess, was wisely staying out of it.

What was remarkable was that the three Smythe-Smiths managed to do it all without raising their voices, a tacit agreement, he assumed, in light of the guests they knew must be arriving soon in the next room.

“If you would just smile, Iris,” Honoria snapped, “it would make it all so much easier.”

“For whom? For you? Because I assure you, it won’t make it easier for me.”

“I don’t care if she smiles,” the other one said. “I don’t care if she ever smiles. She’s evil.”

“Daisy!” Honoria exclaimed.

Daisy narrowed her eyes and glared at Iris. “You’re evil.”

“And you’re an idiot.”

Marcus glanced over at the governess. She was resting her head against the pianoforte, which led him to wonder how long the three Smythe-Smiths had been at it.

“Can you try to smile?” Honoria asked wearily.

Iris stretched her lips into an expression so frightening that Marcus almost left the room.

“Good God, never mind,” Honoria muttered. “Don’t do that.”

“It is difficult to feign good humor when all I wish is to throw myself through the window.”

“The window is closed,” Daisy said officiously.

Iris’s stare was pure venom. “Precisely.”

“Please,” Honoria begged. “Can’t we all just get along?”

“I think we sound wonderful,” Daisy said with a sniff. “No one would know we’d only had six hours to practice with Anne.”