Annabel hoped that was a rhetorical question.

―Well, I suppose you didn‘t know any better." Lady Vickers topped off her glass and sat in her favorite chair. ―You‘re lucky your grandfather is such a good friend to the earl. We‘ll save the match yet."

Annabel nodded dutifully, wishing…


Just wishing. For anything. For something good.

―Thank heavens Judkins had the sense to alert me to all your visitors," her grandmother went on.

―I tell you, Annabel, it makes very little difference what sort of husband you take on, but a good butler is worth his weight in gold."

Annabel could not even begin to think of a response.

Her grandmother took another drink from her glass. ―Judkins said Rebecca and Winifred were here earlier?"

Annabel nodded, assuming that meant the Ladies Westfield and Challis.

―We are going to be inundated. Just inundated." She looked over at Annabel with narrowed eyes. ―I hope you‘re prepared."

Annabel felt something desperate uncurling in her belly. ―Can‘t we say we‘re not at home?"

Lady Vickers snorted. ―No, we can‘t say we‘re not at home. You got yourself into this mess, and you‘ll take it like a lady, which means holding your head high, receiving every guest, and remembering each word so that it might be dissected later for analysis."

Annabel sat, then stood when Judkins entered, announcing the next set of visitors.

―You‘d best finish that brandy," her grandmother said to her. ―You‘re going to need it."

Chapter Twelve

Three days later

If you don‘t do something to repair what you‘ve done, I shall never speak to you again."

Sebastian looked up from his eggs into the magnificently furious face of his cousin‘s wife.

Olivia wasn‘t often angry, and truly, it was a sight to behold.

Although all things considered, he‘d have rather beheld it turned upon someone else.

Seb looked toward Harry, who was reading the newspaper over his own breakfast. Harry just shrugged, the motion clearly indicating that he did not judge this to be his problem.

Sebastian took a sip of his tea, swallowed, then looked back up at Olivia with a carefully blank countenance. ―I beg your pardon," he said cheerfully. ―Were you speaking to me?"

―Harry!" she exclaimed, letting out a huff of indignation. But her husband just shook his head, not even looking up.

Olivia‘s eyes narrowed menacingly, and Seb decided he was quite glad not to be in Harry‘s future shoes, when he had to face down his wife that evening.

Although really, one would hope Harry would be shoeless by that point.

―Sebastian!" Olivia said sternly. ―Are you even listening to me?"

He blinked her face into focus. ―I hang on your every word, dear cousin. You know that."

She yanked out the chair across from him and sat down.

―Don‘t you want breakfast?" he asked mildly.

―Later. First I—"

―I would be happy to fix your plate," he offered. ―You don‘t want to go without the proper sustenance in your condition, you know."

―My condition isn‘t the problem at hand," she said, pointing a long, graceful finger in his direction. ―Sit."

Seb tilted his head quizzically. ―I am sitting."

―You were thinking of getting up."

He turned to Harry. ―How do you tolerate her?"

Harry looked up from the newspaper for the first time that morning and smiled slyly. ―There are certain benefits," he murmured.

―Harry!" Olivia squeaked.

Sebastian was pleased to see that she blushed. ―Very well," he said, ―what have I done now?"

―It is Miss Winslow."

Miss Winslow. Seb tried not to frown as he thought of her. Which was ironic because he‘d spent the better part of two days frowning as he tried not to think of her. ―What about Miss Winslow?"

―You did not mention that she was being courted by your uncle."

―I did not know that she was being courted by my uncle." Did his words sound a little tight?

That would not do. He needed to get a firmer grip on his aspect and attitude.

There was a beat of silence. And then: ―You must be very angry with her."

―On the contrary," Sebastian said nonchalantly.

Olivia‘s pretty little lips opened in surprise. ―You‘re not angry with her?"

Seb shrugged. ―It requires far too much energy to be angry." He looked up from his food, giving her a bland smile. ―I have better things to do with my time."

―You do? I mean, of course you do. But wouldn‘t you agree—"

Sebastian thought that he needed to do something about this niggle of irritation jabbing him under his ribs. It was really rather unpleasant, and he found it so much easier to glide along, letting insults roll off his back. But really, did Olivia think he sat about eating bonbons all day?

―Sebastian? Are you listening to me?"

He smiled and lied, ―Of course."

Olivia let out a noise that was somewhere between a groan and a growl. But she plodded on.

―Very well, you‘re not angry with her, although, in my opinion, you have every right to be.


―If you were being pursued by my uncle," Sebastian cut in, ―wouldn‘t you wish for a few last moments of merriment? I say this not to be boastful—although I am rather good company, if I may say so myself—but I really don‘t think it can be disputed. I‘m a far more pleasant companion than Newbury."

―He has a point," Harry said.