“True,” she said graciously. Her mouth pursed and then did an unnerving little twist. “I like you, Lord Hugh.”
For a second she sounded exactly like Lady Danbury. Hugh wondered if he ought to be afraid.
“You don’t speak to me as if I were a child,” she said.
“You are a child,” he pointed out. She’d used the subjunctive form of “to be,” which would imply that she wasn’t actually a child.
“Well, yes, but you don’t speak to me as if I were an idiot.”
“You’re not an idiot,” he said. And she’d used the subjunctive correctly that time. But he didn’t make mention of that.
“I know.” She was starting to sound somewhat exasperated.
He stared at her for a moment. “Then what is your point?”
“Just that— Oh, hullo, Sarah.” Frances smiled over Hugh’s shoulder, presumably at the current bane of his existence.
“Frances,” came the now familiar voice of Lady Sarah Pleinsworth. “Lord Hugh.”
He stood, even though it was awkward, with his leg.
“Oh, you don’t need to—” Sarah began.
“I do,” Hugh cut in sharply. The day he could no longer rise to his feet in the presence of a lady was— Well, quite honestly he did not want to ponder it.
She gave a tight—and possibly embarrassed—smile, then walked around him to sit in the chair on the other side of Frances. “What were the two of you talking about?”
“Unicorns,” Frances answered promptly.
Sarah’s lips came together in what appeared to be an attempt to maintain a straight face. “Really?”
“Really,” Hugh said.
She cleared her throat. “Did you reach any conclusions?”
“Just that we must agree to disagree,” he said. He added a placid smile. “As so often occurs in life.”
Sarah’s eyes narrowed.
“Sarah doesn’t believe in unicorns, either,” Frances said. “None of my sisters do.” She gave a sad little sigh. “I am quite alone in my hopes and dreams.”
Hugh watched Sarah roll her eyes, then said, “I have a feeling, Lady Frances, that the only thing you are alone in is being showered with the love and devotion of your family.”
“Oh, I’m not alone in that,” Frances said brightly, “although as the youngest, I do enjoy certain benefits.”
Sarah made a snorting sound.
“It’s true, then?” Hugh murmured, looking her way.
“She would be quite dreadful if she weren’t so innately marvelous,” Sarah said, smiling at her sister with obvious affection. “My father spoils her abominably.”
“He does,” Frances said happily.
“Is your father here?” Hugh asked curiously. He did not think he’d ever met Lord Pleinsworth.
“No,” Sarah replied. “He deemed it too far a journey from Devon. He rarely leaves home.”
“He doesn’t like to travel,” Frances put in.
Sarah nodded. “He’ll be at Daniel’s wedding, though.”
“Is he bringing the dogs?” Frances asked.
“I don’t know,” Sarah replied.
“—kill him, I know, but—”
“Dogs?” Hugh cut in. Because really, it had to be asked.
The two Pleinsworth sisters looked at him as if they’d quite forgotten he was there.
“Dogs?” he repeated.
“My father,” Sarah said, delicately picking her way across her words, “is rather fond of his hounds.”
Hugh glanced over at Frances, who nodded.
“How many dogs?” Hugh asked. It seemed a logical question.
Lady Sarah appeared reluctant to admit to a number, but her younger sister had no such compunctions. “Fifty-three at last count,” Frances said. “But it’s probably more by now. They’re always having puppies.”
Hugh failed to locate an appropriate response.
“Of course he can’t fit them all in one carriage,” Frances added.
“No,” Hugh managed to reply. “I don’t imagine he could.”
“He has often said that he finds animals to be better company than humans,” Sarah said.
“I cannot say that I disagree,” Hugh said. He saw Frances open her mouth to speak and quickly silenced her with a pointed finger. “Unicorns do not count.”
“I was going to say,” she said with feigned affront, “that I wish he would bring the dogs.”
“Are you mad?” Sarah demanded, right as Hugh murmured, “All fifty-three of them?”
“He probably wouldn’t bring them all,” Frances told Hugh before turning to Sarah. “And no, I’m not mad. If he brought the dogs, I’d have someone to play with. There are no other children here.”
“You have me,” Hugh found himself saying.
The two Pleinsworth sisters fell utterly silent. Hugh had a feeling that this was not a common occurrence.
“I suspect you’d have a difficult task recruiting me for a game of Oranges and Lemons,” he said with a shrug, “but I’m happy to do something that does not require much use of my leg.”
“Oh,” Frances said. She blinked a few times. “Thank you.”
“This has been the most entertaining conversation I’ve had at Fensmore,” he told her.
“Really?” Frances asked. “But hasn’t Sarah been assigned to keep you company?”