So he just watched as she took a bite and listened while Frances chattered on about nothing in particular. He felt remarkably content, and he might have even closed his eyes briefly, until he heard Frances say:
“You’ve got a bit of icing.”
He opened his eyes.
“Right here,” Frances was saying to Sarah, motioning to her own mouth.
There were no napkins; Frances hadn’t thought to bring them. Sarah’s tongue darted out of her mouth and licked the corner of her lips.
Her tongue. Her lips.
Hugh yanked his foot off the table and came awkwardly to his feet.
“Is something wrong?” Sarah asked.
“Please give my apologies to Lady Chatteris,” he said stiffly. “I know she wanted me to wait for her, but I really do need to rest my leg.”
Sarah blinked with confusion. “Weren’t you just—”
“It’s different,” he interrupted, even thought it wasn’t, really.
“Oh,” she said, and it was a very ambiguous oh. She could have been surprised or delighted or even disappointed. He couldn’t hear the difference. And the truth was, he shouldn’t want to be able to hear it, because he had no business lusting for a woman like Lady Sarah Pleinsworth.
No business at all.
The next morning
The Fensmore drive was one long line of carriages as wedding guests prepared to depart Cambridgeshire and travel southwest to Berkshire, more specifically to Whipple Hill, the country home of the Earls of Winstead. It would be, as Sarah had once put it, the Great and Terrible Caravan of British Aristocracy. (Harriet had, quill in hand, insisted that such a term required capitalization.)
As London was only a bit out of the way, some of the guests who had been relegated to the nearby inns chose to return to town. But most had elected to turn the dual celebration into a three-week-long traveling house party.
“Good gracious,” Lady Danbury had declared upon receiving her invitations to both weddings, “do they really think I’m going to reopen my town house for ten days between weddings?”
No one had dared to point out that Lady Danbury’s country estate was located in Surrey, which was even more directly between Fensmore and Whipple Hill than London.
But Lady Danbury’s point was a valid one. The ton was a far-flung society this time of year, with most people in the north or the west, or more pertinently, somewhere other than Cambridgeshire and Berkshire and points between. Hardly anyone saw reason in opening their London houses for less than two weeks when they could enjoy the hospitality of someone else.
Although it must be said, that opinion was not shared by everyone.
“Remind me,” Hugh said to Daniel Smythe-Smith as they walked through Fensmore’s entrance hall, “why am I not going home?”
It was a three-day journey from Fensmore to Whipple Hill, two if one wanted to push it, which no one did. Hugh supposed it meant less overall time in a carriage than returning to London and then heading out to Berkshire a week later, but still, it was going to be a mad journey. Someone (Hugh was not sure who—it certainly wasn’t Daniel; he’d never had a head for such things) had plotted the route, marked all the inns (along with how many rooms each held) and figured out where everyone must sleep.
Hugh hoped no one not planning to attend the Chatteris-Smythe-Smith-Wynter weddings was out on the roads this week because there would not be a room to be had.
“You’re not going home because your home is dull,” Daniel told him with a slap to his back. “And you don’t own a carriage, so if you were to return to London, you’d have to find a seat with one of my mother’s friends.”
Hugh opened his mouth to speak, but Daniel wasn’t done yet. “And that’s to say nothing of getting to Whipple Hill from London. There might be room with my mother’s former nanny, but if not, you could try booking a seat on the mail coach.”
“Are you done?” Hugh asked.
Daniel held up a finger as if he had one last thing to say, then brought it back down. “Yes,” he said.
“You are a cruel man.”
“I speak the truth,” Daniel replied. “Besides, why wouldn’t you want to come to Whipple Hill?”
Hugh could think of one reason.
“The festivities begin as soon as we arrive,” Daniel continued. “It shall be continuous and magnificent frivolity until the wedding.”
It was difficult to imagine a man with a soul lighter and more filled with joy than Daniel Smythe-Smith’s. Hugh knew that part of this was due to Daniel’s upcoming nuptials with the beautiful Miss Wynter, but truthfully, Daniel had always been a man who made friends easily and laughed often.
Knowing that he had destroyed the life of such a man, Hugh had found it that much more difficult when Daniel had been exiled to Europe. Hugh was still amazed that Daniel had returned to his position in England with grace and good humor. Most men would have burned for revenge.
But Daniel had thanked him. He had thanked him for finding him in Italy, and then he had thanked him for calling off his father’s witch hunt, and then finally, he had thanked him for his friendship.
There was nothing, Hugh thought, that he would not do for this man.
“What would you do in London, anyway?” Daniel asked, motioning for Hugh to follow him down the drive. “Sit about and do sums in your head?”
Hugh gave him a look.
“I tease because I admire.”
“It’s a brilliant skill,” Daniel insisted.