But damn it, he wanted to shoot. He wanted to hold a gun in his hand and raise his arm straight and true. He wanted to squeeze the trigger and feel the recoil as it shook through his shoulder. Most of all he wanted to hit the bloody bull’s-eye.

So he was competitive. He was a man, it was to be expected.

There would be whispers and furtive looks, he was sure. It would not go unnoticed that Hugh Prentice was holding a pistol in the vicinity of Daniel Smythe-Smith. But Hugh was rather perversely looking forward to that. Daniel was, too. He had said as much when they’d talked at breakfast.

“Ten pounds if we can make someone faint,” Daniel had declared, right after he’d done a rather fine falsetto imitation of one of Almack’s patronesses, complete with a hand to the heart and a stellar collection of just about every expression of feminine outrage known to man.

“Ten pounds?” Hugh murmured, glancing at him over his cup of coffee. “To me or to you?”

“To both,” Daniel said with a cheeky grin. “Marcus is good for it.”

Marcus gave him a look and turned back to his eggs.

“He’s getting very stuffy in his old age,” Daniel said to Hugh.

To Marcus’s credit, all he did was roll his eyes.

But Hugh had smiled. And he had realized that he was enjoying himself more than any time in recent memory. If the gentlemen were shooting, he was damn well going to join them.

It took at least five minutes to make his way down to the ground floor, however, and once there, he decided that it would be best to cut through one of Fensmore’s many salons instead of taking the long way round to the south lawn.

Over the past three and a half years, Hugh had become remarkably adept at ferreting out every possible shortcut.

Third door on the right, then in, turn left, cross the room, and exit through the French doors. As an added benefit, he could take a moment to rest on one of the sofas. Most of the ladies had gone off to the village, so it was unlikely that anyone would be there. By his estimation he had a quarter of an hour before the shooting was due to start.

The drawing room wasn’t terribly large, just a few seating arrangements. There was a blue chair facing him that looked comfortable enough. He couldn’t see over the back of the sofa that sat opposite it, but there was probably a low table between them. He could put his leg up for a moment, and no one would be the wiser.

He made his way over, but he must not have been paying proper attention, because his cane clipped the edge of the table, which led directly to his shin clipping the edge of the table, which in turn led to a most creative string of curses clipping out of his mouth as he turned around to sit.

That was when he saw Sarah Pleinsworth, asleep on the sofa.

Oh, bloody hell.

He’d been having a better than average day, the pain in his leg notwithstanding. The last thing he needed was a private audience with the oh-so dramatic Lady Sarah. She’d probably accuse him of something nefarious, follow that with a trite declaration of hatred, then finish up with something about those fourteen men who had become engaged during the season of 1821.

He still didn’t know what that was supposed to be about.

Or why he even recalled it. He’d always had a good memory, but really, couldn’t his brain let go of the truly useless?

He had to get through the room without waking her up. It was not easy to tiptoe with a cane, but by God that was what he would do if that was what it took to make it through the room unnoticed.

Well, there went his hopes of resting his leg. Very carefully, he edged out from behind the low wooden table, careful not to touch anything but carpet and air. But as anyone who had ever stepped outside knew, air could move, and apparently he was breathing too hard, because before he made it past the sofa, Lady Sarah woke from her slumber with a shriek that startled him so much that he fell back against another chair, toppled over the upholstered arm, and landed awkwardly on the seat.

“What? What? What are you doing?” She blinked rapidly before spearing him with a glare. “You.”

It was an accusation. It absolutely was.

“Oh, you gave me a fright,” she said, rubbing her eyes.

“Apparently.” He swore under his breath as he tried to swing his legs over to the front of the chair. “Ow!”

“What?” she asked impatiently.

“I kicked the table.”


He scowled. “I didn’t do it on purpose.”

She seemed only then to realize that she was lounging most casually along the length of the sofa and, with a flurry of movement, straightened herself to a more proper upright position. “Excuse me,” she said, still flustered. Her dark hair was falling from its coiffure; he deemed it best not to point this out.

“Please accept my apology,” he said stiffly. “I did not mean to startle you.”

“I was reading. I must have fallen asleep. I . . . ah . . .” She blinked a few more times, then her eyes finally seemed to focus. On him. “Were you sneaking up on me?”

“No,” he said, with perhaps more speed and fervor than was polite. He motioned to the door that led outside. “I was just cutting through. Lord Chatteris has made arrangements for target shooting.”

“Oh.” She looked suspicious for about one second more, then this clearly gave way to embarrassment. “Of course. There is no reason you would be sneak— That is to say—” She cleared her throat. “Well.”


She waited for a moment, then asked pointedly, “Don’t you plan to continue to the lawn?”