“I did introduce you!”
“Well, then you should have done so twice,” Sarah added impishly, “to make it stick. I don’t think he said more than two words to me the whole season.”
“He barely said more than two words to me,” Honoria replied.
Sarah tilted her head, her brows arching as if to say, Oh, really?
“He’s not terribly social,” Honoria said.
“I think he’s handsome,” Cecily said.
“Do you?” Sarah asked. “I find him rather brooding.”
“Brooding is handsome,” Cecily said firmly, before Honoria could offer an opinion.
“I am trapped in a bad novel,” Iris announced, to no one in particular.
“You didn’t answer my question,” Sarah said to Honoria. “When will he be here?”
“I do not know,” Honoria replied, for what was surely the eighth time. “He did not say.”
“Impolite,” Cecily said, reaching for a biscuit.
“It’s his way,” Honoria said with a light shrug.
“This is what I find so interesting,” Cecily murmured, “that you know ‘his way.’ ”
“They have known each other for decades,” Sarah said. “Centuries.”
“Sarah . . .” Honoria adored her cousin, she really did. Most of the time.
Sarah smiled slyly, her dark eyes alight with mischief. “He used to call her Bug.”
“Sarah!” Honoria glared at her. She did not need it put about that she had once been likened to an insect by an earl of the realm. “It was a long time ago,” she said with all the dignity she could muster. “I was seven.”
“How old was he?” Iris asked.
Honoria thought for a moment. “Thirteen, most likely.”
“Well, that explains it,” Cecily said with a wave of her hand. “Boys are beasts.”
Honoria nodded politely. Cecily had seven younger brothers. She ought to know.
“Still,” Cecily said, all drama, “how coincidental that he should come across you on the street.”
“Fortuitous,” Sarah agreed.
“Almost as if he were following you,” Cecily added, leaning forward with widened eyes.
“Now that is just silly,” Honoria said.
“Well, of course,” Cecily replied, her tone going right back to brisk and businesslike. “That would never happen. I was merely saying that it seemed as if he had.”
“He lives nearby,” Honoria said, waving her hand in the direction of nothing in particular. She had a terrible sense of direction; she couldn’t have said which way was north if her life depended on it. And anyway, she had no idea which way one had to travel out of Cambridge to get to Fensmore in the first place.
“His estate adjoins ours,” Cecily said.
“It does?” This, from Sarah. With great interest.
“Or perhaps I should say it surrounds us,” Cecily said with a little laugh. “The man owns half of northern Cambridgeshire. I do believe his property touches Bricstan on the north, south, and west.”
“And on the east?” Iris wondered. To Honoria she added, “It’s the logical next question.”
Cecily blinked, considering this. “That would probably send you onto his land, as well. You can make your way out through a little section to the southeast. But then you would end up at the vicarage, so really, what would be the point?”
“Is it far?” Sarah asked.
“No,” Sarah retorted, with no small measure of impatience. “Fensmore.”
“Oh. No, not really. We’re twenty miles away, so he would be only a little farther.” Cecily paused for a moment, thinking. “He might keep a town home here as well. I’m not sure.”
The Royles were firm East Anglians, keeping a town home in Cambridge and a country home just a bit to the north. When they went to London, they rented.
“We should go,” Sarah said suddenly. “This weekend.”
“Go?” Iris asked. “Where?”
“To the country?” Cecily replied.
“Yes,” Sarah said, her voice rising with excitement. “It would extend our visit by only a few days, so surely our families could make no objection.” She turned slightly, sending her words directly toward Cecily. “Your mother can host a small house party. We can invite some of the university students. Surely they will be grateful for a respite from school life.”
“I’ve heard the food there is very bad,” Iris said.
“It’s an interesting idea,” Cecily mused.
“It’s a spectacular idea,” Sarah said firmly. “Go ask your mother. Now, before Lord Chatteris arrives.”
Honoria gasped. “Surely you don’t mean to invite him?” It had been lovely to see him the day before, but the last thing she wanted was to spend an entire house party in his company. If he attended, she could bid any hopes of attracting the attention of a young gentleman good-bye. Marcus had a way of glowering when he disapproved of her behavior. And his glowers had a way of scaring off every human being in the vicinity.
That he might not disapprove of her behavior never once crossed her mind.
“Of course not,” Sarah replied, turning to Honoria with a most impatient expression. “Why would he attend, when he can sleep in his own bed just down the road? But he will wish to visit, won’t he? Perhaps come to supper, or for shooting.”
It was Honoria’s opinion that if Marcus was trapped for an afternoon with this gaggle of females he’d likely start shooting at them.