“Here we are,” he continued, motioning elegantly with his hand to the rest of the guests, “trapped in a room with, oh, how many others would you say?”

She had no idea where he was going with this, but she hazarded a guess. “Forty?”

“Indeed,” he replied, although she could tell by the quick sweep of his eyes across the room that he disagreed with her estimation. “And their collective presence means that you”—he leaned in, just an inch—“whom we have already established finds me loathsome, are being quite polite.”

“I’m not being polite because there are forty other people in the room,” she said, her brows arching. “I’m being polite because my cousin requested it of me.”

The corner of his mouth moved. It might have been amusement. “Did she realize what a challenge this might pose?”

“She did not,” Sarah said tightly. Honoria knew that Sarah did not care for Lord Hugh’s company, but she did not seem to comprehend the extent of her distaste.

“I must commend you, then,” he said with a wry nod, “for keeping your protestations to yourself.”

Something lovely and familiar clicked back into place, and Sarah finally began to feel more like herself. Her chin rose a very proud half of an inch. “I did not.”

To her great surprise, Lord Hugh made a noise that might have been a smothered laugh. “And she saddled you with me, anyway.”

“She worries that you might not feel welcome here at Fensmore,” Sarah said, in just the sort of tone that said this was not a shared concern.

His brows rose, and again he almost smiled. “And she thinks you are the person to welcome me?”

“I never told her of our previous meeting,” Sarah admitted.

“Ah.” He gave a condescending nod. “It all begins to make sense.”

Sarah clenched her teeth in a largely unsuccessful attempt to keep from snorting. How she hated that tone of voice. That oh-I-see-how-your-pretty-little-female-mind-works tone of voice. Hugh Prentice was hardly the only man in England to employ it, but he seemed to have honed the skill to a razor-fine edge. Sarah could not imagine how anyone tolerated his company for more than a few minutes. Yes, he was rather nice to look at, and yes, he was (she was told) exceptionally intelligent, but by God, the man was like fingernails on slate.

She leaned forward. “It is a testament to my love for my cousin that I have not found some way to poison your tooth powder.”

He leaned forward. “The wine might have been an effective substitute,” he said, “were I drinking. That was why you suggested it, was it not?”

She refused to give ground. “You are mad.”

He gave a one-shouldered shrug and backed away as if the charged moment between them had never occurred. “I’m not the one who brought up poison.”

Her mouth fell open. His tone was precisely the one she might use while discussing the weather.

“Angry?” he murmured politely.

Not so much angry as baffled. “You make it very difficult to be nice to you,” she told him.

He blinked. “Was I meant to offer you my tooth powder?”

Good heavens, he was frustrating. And the worst part was, she wasn’t even sure if he was joking now. Nevertheless, she cleared her throat and said, “You were meant to have a normal conversation.”

“I’m not sure the two of us have normal conversations.”

“I can assure you, I do.”

“Not with me.” This time he did smile. She was sure of it.

Sarah straightened her shoulders. Surely the butler must be calling them in to supper soon. Perhaps she ought to start offering her prayers to him, since the other Him didn’t seem to be listening.

“Oh, come now, Lady Sarah,” Lord Hugh said. “You must admit that our first meeting was anything but normal.”

She pressed her lips together. She hated to acknowledge his point—any of his points, really—but he did have one.

“And since then,” he added, “we have met but a handful of times, and always in a most superficial manner.”

“I had not noticed,” she said tightly.

“That it was superficial?”

“That we had met,” she lied.

“Regardless,” he continued, “this is only the second time we have exchanged more than two sentences with each other. The first I believe you instructed me to remove the world of my presence.”

Sarah winced. That had not been her finest moment.

“And then tonight . . .” His lips moved into a seductive smile. “Well, you did mention poison.”

She leveled a flat stare in his direction. “You should mind your tooth powder.”

He chuckled at that, and a little electric thrill jolted through her veins. She might not have got the best of him, but she had definitely scored an acknowledged point. Truth be told, she was starting to enjoy herself. She still disliked him, only partly on principle, but she had to admit that she was having, perhaps, just the tiniest amount of fun.

He was a worthy adversary.

She hadn’t even realized she wanted a worthy adversary.

Which did not mean—good God, if she was blushing at her own thoughts she was going to hurl herself out the window—that she wanted him. Any worthy adversary would do.

Even one without such nice eyes.

“Is something wrong, Lady Sarah?” Lord Hugh inquired.

“No,” she replied. Too quickly.

“You look agitated.”

“I’m not.”

“Of course,” he murmured.