“I’m thinking,” he said, his eyes sweeping across the room and settling on the laughing form of her eldest sister.

“You can’t eat and think at the same time?” Frances asked.

It was a dare if ever he’d heard one, so he hauled his attention back to the slab of cake in front of him, took a huge bite, chewed, swallowed, and said, “541 times 87 is 47,067.”

“You’re making that up,” Frances said instantly.

He shrugged. “Feel free to check the answer yourself.”

“I can’t very well do so here.”

“Then you’ll have to take my word for it, won’t you?”

“As long as you realize that I could check your answer if I had the proper supplies,” Frances said pertly. Then she frowned. “Did you truly figure that out in your head?”

“I did,” he confirmed. He took another bite of cake. It really was quite tasty. The icing seemed to have been flavored with actual lavender. Marcus had always liked sweets, he recalled.

“That’s brilliant. I wish I could do that.”

“It occasionally comes in handy.” He ate more cake. “And sometimes does not.”

“I’m very good at maths,” Frances said in a matter-of-fact voice, “but I can’t do it in my head. I need to write everything down.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“No, of course not. I’m much better than Elizabeth.” Frances gave a lofty smile. “She hates that I am, but she knows it’s true.”

“Which one is Elizabeth?” Hugh probably should have remembered which sister was which, but the memory that captured every word on a page was not always so dependable with names and faces.

“My next oldest sister. She is occasionally unpleasant, but for the most part we get on well.”

“Everyone is occasionally unpleasant,” he told her.

That stopped her short. “Even you?”

“Oh, especially me.”

She blinked a few times, then must have decided she preferred the earlier strain of conversation, because when she opened her mouth again it was to ask, “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“I have one brother.”

“What is his name?”

“Frederick. I call him Freddie.”

“Do you like him?”

Hugh smiled. “Very much so. But I don’t get to see him very often.”

“Why not?”

Hugh didn’t want to think about all the reasons why not, so he settled on the only one that was suitable for her ears. “He doesn’t live in London. And I do.”

“That’s too bad.” Frances poked her fork in her cake, idly smearing the icing. “Perhaps you can see him at Christmas.”

“Perhaps,” Hugh lied.

“Oh, I forgot to ask,” she said. “Are you better at arithmetic than he is?”

“I am,” Hugh confirmed. “But he doesn’t mind.”

“Neither does Harriet. She’s five years older than I am, and I’m still better than she is.”

Hugh gave a nod, having no other reply.

“She likes to write plays,” Frances continued. “She doesn’t care about numbers.”

“She should,” Hugh said, glancing back out at the wedding celebration. Lady Sarah was now dancing with one of the Bridgerton brothers. The angle was such that Hugh could not be sure which one. He recalled that three of the brothers were married, but one was not.

“She’s very good at it,” Frances said.

She is, Hugh thought, still watching Sarah. She danced beautifully. One could almost forget her waspish mouth when she danced like that.

“She’s even putting a unicorn in the next one.”

A uni— “What?” Hugh turned back to Frances, blinking.

“A unicorn.” She gave him a frighteningly steady look. “You are familiar with them?”

Good Lord, was she poking fun at him? He’d have been impressed if it wasn’t so patently ridiculous. “Of course.”

“I’m mad for unicorns,” Frances said with a blissful sigh. “I think they’re brilliant.”

“Nonexistently brilliant.”

“So we think,” she replied with suitable drama.

“Lady Frances,” Hugh said in his most didactic voice, “you must be aware that unicorns are creatures of myth.”

“The myths had to come from somewhere.”

“They came from the imaginations of bards.”

She shrugged and ate cake.

Hugh was dumbfounded. Was he really debating the existence of unicorns with an eleven-year-old girl?

He tried to drop the matter. And found he could not. Apparently he was debating the existence of unicorns with an eleven-year-old girl.

“There has never been a recorded sighting of a unicorn,” he said, and to his great irritation, he realized that he sounded as prim and stiff as Sarah Pleinsworth had when she’d been all snippy about his plans to shoot targets with her cousin.

Frances lifted her chin. “I have never seen a lion, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.”

“You may have never seen a lion, but hundreds of other people have done.”

“You can’t prove that something doesn’t exist,” she countered.

Hugh paused. She had him there.

“Indeed,” she said smugly, recognizing the exact moment he’d been forced to capitulate.

“Very well,” he said, giving her an approving nod. “I cannot prove that unicorns don’t exist, but you cannot prove they do.”