―I am afraid not."

―Oh, you must, Annabel," Louisa said excitedly. ―You will adore them. We shall go to the bookshop today. I would lend you mine, but they are all back at Fenniwick."

―Do you possess the entire set, Lady Louisa?" Mr. Grey asked.

―Oh, yes. Except for Miss Truesdale and the Silent Gentleman , of course. But that shall be rectified immediately." She turned back to Annabel. ―What have we on the calendar for this evening? I do hope it is something we may skip. I want nothing more than a cup of tea and my new book."

―I believe we are to attend the opera," Annabel replied. Louisa‘s family had one of the finest boxes in the theater, and Annabel had been looking forward to attending a performance for weeks.

―Really?" Louisa said, with an utter lack of enthusiasm.

―You‘d rather stay home and read?" Mr. Grey asked.

―Oh, definitely. Wouldn‘t you?"

Annabel regarded her cousin with something between surprise and disbelief. Louisa was normally so shy, and yet here she was, animatedly discussing novels with one of London‘s most notorious bachelors.

―I suppose it depends on the opera," Mr. Grey said thoughtfully. ―And the book."

―The Magic Flute," Louisa informed him. ―And Miss Truesdale ."

―The Magic Flute?" Lady Olivia exclaimed. ―I missed that last year. I shall have to make plans to attend."

―I would take Miss Truesdale over The Marriage of Figaro ," Mr. Grey said, ―but perhaps not The Magic Flute . There is something so cheering about hell boilething in one‘s heart."

―Heartwarming, even," Annabel muttered.

―What did you say, Miss Winslow?" he asked.

Annabel swallowed. He was smiling benignly, but she could hear the pointy little jab in his voice, and frankly, it terrified her. She could not enter into a battle with this man and win. Of that she was certain.

―I have never seen The Magic Flute ," she announced.

―Never?" Lady Olivia said. ―But how can that be?"

―Opera is rarely performed in Gloucestershire, I‘m afraid."

―You must go see it," Lady Olivia said. ―You simply must."

―I was planning to attend this evening," Annabel said. ―Lady Louisa‘s family had invited me."

―But you can‘t go if she‘s home reading a book," Lady Olivia finished shrewdly. She turned to Louisa. ―You will have to put off Miss Truesdale and her silent gentleman until tomorrow. You cannot allow Miss Winslow to miss the opera."

―Why don‘t you join us?" Louisa asked.

Annabel thought she might kill her.

―You said you missed it last year," Louisa continued. ―We have a large box. It is never full."

Lady Olivia‘s face lit with delight. ―That is most kind of you. I should love to attend."

―And of course you are invited as well, Mr. Grey," Louisa said.

Annabel was definitely going to kill her. By the most painful means imaginable.

―I would be delighted," he said. ―But you must allow me to give you a copy ofMiss Truesdale and the Silent Gentleman in exchange for the honor."

―Thank you," Louisa said, but Annabel could have sworn she sounded disappointed. ―That would be—"

―I will have it delivered to your house this afternoon," he continued smoothly, ―so that you may begin it right away."

―You are quite beyond thoughtful, Mr. Grey," Louisa murmured. And she blushed. She blushed!

Annabel was aghast.

And jealous, but she preferred not to dwell on that.

―Will there be room for my husband as well?" Lady Olivia asked. ―He has turned into a bit of a hermit of late, but I think we may convince him to emerge for the opera. I know that the Queen of the Night‘s aria is a particular favorite of his."

―All that hell boilething," Mr. Grey said. ―Who could resist it?"

―Of course," Louisa replied to Lady Olivia. ―I would be honored to meet him. His work sounds fascinating."

―I myself am insanely jealous," Mr. Grey murmured.

―Of Harry?" Lady Olivia asked, turning to him with surprise.

―I can imagine no greater bliss than to lie about, reading novels all day."

―Very good novels at that," Louisa put in.

Lady Olivia chuckled, but she did say, ―He does a bit more than read. There is the small matter of the translation."

―Pfft." Mr. Grey dismissed this with a flick of his hand. ―A mere trifle."

―To translate into Russian?" Annabel asked dubiously.

He turned to her with an expression that might have been condescending. ―I was employing hyperbole."

He‘d spoken softly, though, and Annabel did not think that either Louisa or Lady Olivia heard him. They were chatting about something or other and had moved off a bit to the right, leaving Annabel with Mr. Grey. Not alone—not even remotely alone—but it somehow felt like it, nonetheless.

―Have you a given name, Miss Winslow?" he asked softly.

―Annabel," she replied, her voice prim and curt and really rather unpleasant.

―Annabel," he repeated. ―I would say that it suits you, except of course, how would I know?"

She clamped her lips together, but her toes were wiggling in her boots.

He smiled wolfishly. ―Since we‘ve never met."

Still she kept her mouth shut. She did not trust herself to speak.

This only seemed to amuse him more. He tilted his head in her direction, the very model of a polite English gentleman. ―I shall be delighted to see you again this evening."

―Will you?"

He chuckled. ―How tart! Positively lemonish of you."