He stared at her.

“For the shooting,” she clarified.

He shrugged. “I’m early.”

She did not seem to care for that answer. “It’s quite pleasant outside.”

He glanced out the window. “So it is.” She was trying to get rid of him, and he supposed she deserved a certain measure of respect for not even trying to hide it. On the other hand, now that she was awake—and he was seated in a chair, resting his leg—there seemed no reason to hurry onward.

He could endure anything for ten minutes, even Sarah Pleinsworth.

“Do you plan to shoot?” she asked.

“I do.”

“With a gun?”

“That’s how one usually does it.”

Her face tightened. “And you think this is prudent?”

“Do you mean because your cousin will be there? I assure you, he will have a gun as well.” He felt his lips curve into an emotionless smile. “It will be almost like a duel.”

“Why do you joke about such things?” she snapped.

He let his gaze land rather intently on hers. “When the alternative is despair, I generally prefer humor. Even if it is of the gallows variety.”

Something flickered in her eyes. A hint of understanding, perhaps, but it was gone too quickly to be sure he’d seen it. And then she pursed her lips, an expression so prim it was clear he’d imagined that brief moment of sympathy.

“I want it known that I do not approve,” she said.

“Duly noted.”

“And”—she lifted her chin and turned slightly away—“I think it is a very bad idea.”

“How is that different from a lack of approval?”

She just scowled.

He had a thought. “Do you find it bad enough to faint?”

She snapped back to attention. “What?”

“If you swoon on the lawn, Chatteris must give Daniel and me ten pounds each.”

Her lips formed an O and then froze in that position.

He leaned back and smiled lazily. “I could be persuaded to offer you a twenty percent cut.”

Her face moved, but she remained without words. Damn, but it was good fun to bait her.

“Never mind,” he said. “We’d never carry it off.”

Her mouth finally closed. Then opened again. Of course. He should have known her silence could be only fleeting.

“You don’t like me,” she said.

“Not really, no.” He probably should have lied, but somehow it seemed that anything less than the truth would have been even more insulting.

“And I don’t like you.”

“No,” he said mildly, “I didn’t think you did.”

“Then why are you here?”

“At the wedding?”

“In the room. Lud, you’re obtuse.” The last bit she said to herself, but his hearing had always been fairly sharp.

He rarely trotted his injury out as a trump card, but it seemed a good time. “My leg,” he said with slow deliberation. “It hurts.”

There was a delicious silence. Delicious for him, that was. For her, he imagined it was awful.

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled, looking down before he could ascertain the extent of her flush. “That was very rude of me.”

“Think nothing of it. You’ve done worse.”

Her eyes flared.

He brought the tips of his fingers together, his hands making a hollow triangle. “I remember our previous encounter with unpleasant accuracy.”

She leaned forward in fury. “You chased my cousin and aunt from a party.”

“They fled. There is a difference. And I did not even know they were there.”

“Well, you should have done.”

“Clairvoyance has never been one of my talents.”

He could see her straining to control her temper, and when she spoke, her jaw barely moved. “I know that you and Cousin Daniel have patched things up, but I’m sorry, I cannot forgive you for what you did.”

“Even if he has?” Hugh asked softly.

She shifted uncomfortably, and her mouth pressed into several different expressions before she finally said, “He can afford to be charitable. His life and happiness have been restored.”

“And yours has not.” He did not phrase it as a question. It was a statement, and an unsympathetic one at that.

She clamped her mouth shut.

“Tell me,” he demanded, because bloody hell, it was time they got to the bottom of this. “What, precisely, have I done to you? Not to your cousin, not to your other cousin, but to you, Lady Sarah Whatever your other names are Pleinsworth.”

She glared at him mutinously, then got to her feet. “I’m leaving.”

“Coward,” he murmured, but he stood as well. Even she deserved the respect of a gentleman.

“Very well,” she said, the color in her cheeks rising with barely restrained anger. “I was supposed to make my debut in 1821.”

“The year of the fourteen eligible gentlemen.” It was true. He forgot almost nothing.

She ignored this. “After you chased Daniel out of the country, my family had to go into seclusion.”

“It was my father,” Hugh said sharply.


“My father chased Lord Winstead out of the country. I had nothing to do with it.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

His eyes narrowed, and with slow deliberateness he said, “It does to me.”

She swallowed uncomfortably, her entire bearing rigid. “Because of the duel,” she said, rephrasing so that the blame could be put back squarely on him, “we did not return to town for an entire year.”