He wanted to know the texture.
She placed a hand on his forehead. “May I?” she asked, but she was already touching him before she finished her query.
He nodded. What else could he have done?
“You really don’t look well,” she murmured. “Perhaps when Frances arrives with the cake, we can ask her to fetch you some lemonade. You might find it refreshing.”
He nodded again, forcing his mind to focus on Frances. Who was eleven. And liked unicorns.
And should not, under any circumstances, enter the room while he was in such a state.
Sarah removed her hand from his forehead and frowned. “You’re a little warm,” she said, “but not overmuch.”
He could not imagine how that was possible. Just moments ago, he’d thought he might go up in flames.
“I’m fine,” he said, almost cutting her off. “I just need more cake. Or lemonade.”
She looked at him as if he’d sprouted an extra ear. Or turned a different color.
“Is something wrong?” he asked.
“No,” she said, although she didn’t sound as if she entirely meant it. “You just don’t sound like yourself.”
He tried to keep his tone light as he said, “I wasn’t aware we knew each other well enough to make that determination.”
“It is strange,” she agreed, sitting back. “I think it’s just that— Never mind.”
“No, tell me,” he urged. Conversation was a very good idea. It kept his mind off other things, and more importantly, it ensured that she was sitting on her sofa and not bending over him in his chair.
“You often pause before you speak,” she said.
“Is that a problem?”
“No, of course not. It’s just . . . different.”
“Perhaps I like to consider my words before I use them.”
“No,” she murmured. “That’s not it.”
A small laugh escaped his lips. “Are you saying I don’t consider my words before I use them?”
“No,” she said, laughing in turn. “I’m sure you do. You’re very clever, as I’m sure you know that I know.”
This made him smile.
“I can’t really explain it,” she continued. “But when you look at a person— No, let’s not be unnecessarily vague— When you look at me before you speak, there is frequently a moment of silence, and I don’t think it’s because you are picking and choosing your words.”
He watched her intently. Now she had fallen silent, and she was the one who was trying to decide what she thought. “It’s something in your face,” she finally said. “It just doesn’t look like you are trying to decide what to say.” She looked up quite suddenly, and the contemplative expression left her face. “I’m sorry, that was quite personal.”
“No apology is needed,” he said quietly. “Our world is filled with meaningless conversations. It is an honor to participate in one that is not.”
Her cheeks took on a faint blush of pride, and she looked away almost shyly. He realized in that moment that he, too, knew her well enough to know that this was not a frequent expression on her face.
“Well,” she said, folding her hands in her lap. She cleared her throat, then cleared it again. “Perhaps we should— Frances!”
The last of this was said with great fervor and, he thought he detected, some relief.
“I’m sorry that took so long,” Frances said as she came into the room. “Honoria tossed her bouquet, and I didn’t want to miss it.”
Sarah straightened like a shot. “Honoria tossed the bouquet when I wasn’t there?”
Frances blinked a few times. “I suppose she did. But I shouldn’t worry about it. You’d never have outrun Iris.”
“Iris ran?” Sarah’s mouth fell open, and Hugh could only describe the expression on her face as a mix of horror and glee.
“She leapt,” Frances confirmed. “Harriet was knocked to the floor.”
Hugh covered his mouth.
“Do not stifle your laughter on my account,” Sarah said.
“I didn’t realize Iris had set her cap for someone,” Frances said, looking down at the cake. “May I have a bite of yours, Sarah?”
Sarah motioned with her hand to go ahead and answered, “I don’t think she has.”
Frances licked a bit of icing off the end of her fork. “Perhaps she thinks the bridal bouquet will hasten her discovery of her true love.”
“If that were the case,” Sarah said wryly, “I might have leapt in front of Iris.”
“Do you know how the tradition of the bridal bouquet toss was formed?” Hugh asked.
Sarah shook her head. “Are you asking me because you know, or are you asking me because you want to know?”
He ignored her slight sarcasm and said, “Brides are considered to be good luck, and many centuries ago young women who wanted a piece of that luck tried quite literally to get a piece of it by tearing off bits of her gown.”
“That’s barbaric!” Frances exclaimed.
He smiled at her outburst. “I can only deduce that some clever soul realized that if the bride could offer a different token of her romantic success, it might prove beneficial to her health and well-being.”
“I should say so,” Frances said. “Think of all the brides who must have been trampled.”
Sarah chuckled and reached out to take what was left of her cake. Frances had made significant progress on the icing. Hugh started to tell her to take his; he’d already had a piece back when he’d been watching her dance. But with his leg on the table, he couldn’t bend forward enough to slide his plate in front of hers.