“Even if it did get you shot and run out of the country?” Hugh asked. It was true what he’d said to Lady Sarah—sometimes gallows humor was the only choice.

Daniel stopped in his tracks, and his expression turned somber.

“You do realize,” Hugh said, “that my aptitude with numbers is precisely the reason I have always excelled at cards.”

Daniel’s eyes seemed to darken, and when he blinked, his face took on an air of quiet resignation. “It’s done, Prentice,” he said. “It’s over, and our lives are restored.”

Yours is, Hugh thought, then loathed himself for thinking it.

“We were both idiots,” Daniel said quietly.

“We may have both been idiots,” Hugh replied, “but only one of us called for the duel.”

“I did not have to accept.”

“Of course you did. You wouldn’t have been able to show your face if you had not.” It was a stupid code of honor among the young gentlemen of London, but it was sacrosanct. If a man was accused of cheating at cards, he had to defend himself.

Daniel placed his hand on Hugh’s shoulder. “I have forgiven you, and you, I think, have forgiven me.”

Hugh had not, in fact, but that was only because there was nothing to forgive.

“What I wonder,” Daniel continued softly, “is if you have forgiven yourself.”

Hugh did not reply, and Daniel did not press him to. Instead, his voice returned to its previous jovial tones, and he declared, “Let us go to Whipple Hill. We shall eat, some of us shall drink, and we shall all be merry.”

Hugh gave a brief nod. Daniel no longer drank spirits. He said he had not touched them since that fateful night. Hugh sometimes thought he should follow his example, but there were evenings when he needed something to take the teeth out of the pain.

“Besides,” Daniel said, “you have to be there early, anyway. I’ve decided you must join the wedding party.”

That stopped Hugh cold. “I beg your pardon?”

“Marcus shall be my best man, of course, but I think I need a few more gentlemen to stand up for me. Anne has a veritable flotilla of ladies.”

Hugh swallowed, wishing he weren’t so damned uncomfortable accepting such an honor. Because it was an honor, and he wanted to say that he was grateful, and it meant so much to him, and he’d forgotten just how steadying it felt to have a true friend.

But all he could manage was a jerky nod. He hadn’t been lying to Sarah the day before. He didn’t know how to accept compliments graciously. He supposed one had to think one deserved them.

“It’s settled then,” Daniel said. “Oh, and by the by, I’ve found you a spot in my favorite carriage.”

“What does that mean?” Hugh asked suspiciously. They’d exited the house and were nearly down the steps to the drive.

“Let’s see,” Daniel said, ignoring his query. “Right . . . there.” He motioned with a flick of his hand to a relatively small black carriage fifth in line down the drive. There was no crest, but it was clearly well made and cared for. Probably the secondary coach of one of the noble families.

“Whose carriage is that?” Hugh demanded. “Tell me you did not put me with Lady Danbury.”

“I did not put you with Lady Danbury,” Daniel replied, “although truth be told, she would probably be an excellent traveling companion.”

“Who, then?”

“Climb up and see.”

Hugh had spent an entire afternoon and most of a night convincing himself that his crazed lust for Sarah Pleinsworth had been brought on by momentary madness which had been brought on by . . . something. Maybe more momentary madness. However it had happened, a full day at close quarters with her could not be a good idea.

“Winstead,” he said in a warning voice. “Not your cousin. I’m telling you, I’ve already—”

“Do you know how many cousins I have? Do you really think you could avoid all of them?”


“Don’t worry, I’ve put you with the best of the lot, I promise.”

“Why do I feel as if I’m being led to slaughter?”

“Well,” Daniel admitted, “you will be outnumbered.”

Hugh swung around. “What?”

“Here we are!”

Hugh looked up just as Daniel wrenched open the door.

“Ladies,” Daniel said grandly.

Out popped a head. “Lord Hugh!”

It was Lady Frances.

“Lord Hugh.”

“Lord Hugh.”

And her sisters, apparently. Although not, as far as Hugh could tell, Lady Sarah.

Hugh finally exhaled.

“Some of my finest hours have been spent with these three ladies,” Daniel said.

“I believe today’s journey is to be nine hours,” Hugh said dryly.

“It will be nine very fine hours.” Daniel leaned closer. “But if I might offer some advice,” he whispered, “don’t try to follow everything they say. You’ll get vertigo.”

Hugh paused on the step up. “What?”

“In you go!” Daniel gave him a push. “We shall see you when we stop for our luncheon.”

Hugh opened his mouth to protest, but Daniel had already slammed the door shut.

Hugh glanced about the interior of the coach. Harriet and Elizabeth sat facing forward, a large pile of books and papers on the seat between them. Harriet was trying to balance a lap desk on her knees and had a quill tucked behind her ear.

“Wasn’t that nice of Daniel to put you in the coach with us?” Frances said, as soon as Hugh had settled into his seat next to her. Or rather, it was a bit before he was settled; he was coming to realize that she was not a particularly patient child.