―I told you you knew what she looked like," Olivia muttered.

―I‘m looking for a quill," Sir Harry said. He went to a writing table and started looking through the drawers. ―I snapped three of them today."

―You snapped three quills?" Olivia asked.

He pulled open another drawer. ―It‘s that Gorely woman. Some of those sentences…Good God, they go on forever. I don‘t know that I have the skill to translate them."

―Try harder," Sebastian said, still trying to catch his breath.

Harry looked over at him. ―What‘s wrong with you?"

Seb waved a hand in the air. ―Just having a bit of fun at your wife‘s expense."

Harry looked over at Olivia, who merely rolled her eyes. He turned back to Annabel. ―They can be a bit much at times. I do hope you‘ve been made to feel welcome."

Annabel‘s skin flushed a delightful pink. ―Er, very much so," she stammered.

Harry, however, was color blind, and thus oblivious to a woman‘s blush. ―Ah, here we are." He held up a quill. ―Don‘t mind me. Resume whatever it was you were—" He looked down at Sebastian and shook his head. ―Er…doing."

―I will," Sebastian said solemnly. It sounded rather like wedding vows. He liked that.

―I should go home," Annabel said, watching Harry depart.

Sebastian stood, mostly recovered from his fit of laughter. ―I will escort you."

―No, you won‘t," Olivia cut in.

―Yes, I will," he returned. And then he lifted his chin in the air and proceeded to look down his nose at her.

―What are you doing?" she burst out.

―I‘m looking at you," he said, his voice almost singsong.

Annabel clapped a hand over her mouth.

―With my no-ose," he added, just in case Olivia hadn‘t got the joke the first time.

Olivia actually covered her face with her hands. And not because she was laughing.

Sebastian leaned sideways toward Annabel, not an easy maneuver when he was trying to keep his nose pointed at Olivia. ―Not my favorite bosom," he whispered.

―I don‘t want to know what you just said," Olivia moaned from behind her hands.

―No," Seb agreed, ―you probably don‘t." He resumed a normal standing position and grinned. ―I shall escort Annabel home."

―Oh, go ahead," Olivia sighed.

Sebastian leaned down to Annabel and murmured, ―I‘ve exhausted her."

―You‘ve exhausted me ."

―Not yet I haven‘t."

Annabel blushed again. Sebastian decided he had never been so glad that he was not color blind, too.

―You have to give her at least a day to consider your proposal," Olivia insisted.

Sebastian quirked a brow in her direction. ―Did Sir Harry give you a day?"

―That‘s not relevant," Olivia muttered.

―Very well," Sebastian said, turning back to Annabel, ―I shall bow to my dear cousin‘s greater expertise. Harry was at least the twelfth man to propose to her. Whereas I have never even uttered the word ‗marriage‘ in a woman‘s presence before today."

Annabel smiled at him. It felt rather like a sunrise.

―I will call upon you tomorrow for your reply," he said, feeling his own smile creep across his face. ―But in the meantime…" He held out his arm. ―Shall we depart?"

Annabel took a step toward him, then stopped. ―Actually, I think I would like to walk home by myself."

―You would?"

She nodded. ―I assume my maid is still here to accompany me. It‘s not far. And…" She looked down, chewing on her lower lip.

He touched her chin. ―Speak plainly, Annabel," he whispered.

She did not quite look at him when she said, ―It can be difficult to think clearly in your presence."

He decided to take that as a very good sign, indeed.

Annabel closed the front door carefully behind her and paused, listening. The house was quiet; maybe—hopefully—her grandparents had gone out. She set her book down on the entry table as she pulled off her gloves, then picked it back up, intending to head upstairs to her room. But before she could take three steps, her grandmother appeared in the doorway to the drawing room.

―There you are," Lady Vickers said, looking highly disgruntled. ―Where the devil have you been?"

―Just out shopping," Annabel lied. ―I saw some friends. We got an ice."

Her grandmother let out a beleaguered sigh. ―You‘re going to ruin your figure."

Annabel gave a tight smile and held up the book Lady Olivia had lent her. ―I‘m going to my room to read."

Her grandmother waited until she had a foot on the stairs, then said, ―You missed the earl."

Annabel swallowed uncomfortably and turned around. ―He was here?"

Her grandmother narrowed her eyes, but if she suspected that Annabel had been avoiding Lord Newbury, she did not say so. She motioned with her head toward the drawing room, clearly expecting Annabel to follow. Annabel turned and did so, standing near the doorway while her grandmother walked over to the sideboard to pour herself a drink.

―It would have been a great deal more convenient if you had been here," Lady Vickers said, ―but I‘m pleased to say we‘ve brought him up to scratch. He spent the better part of an hour with your grandfather."

―Did he?" Annabel‘s voice came out high and hollow.

―Yes, and you‘ll be pleased to know that I had my ear to the door the whole time." She took a sip and let out a contented sigh. ―Your grandfather forgot to mention anything about your family in Gloucestershire, so I took it upon myself to intercede."