“There. You see, we are not reading this.” Sarah thrust the pages back at Harriet, who retrieved them with great reluctance.

“Would you do it if Frances read the part of Rudolfo?” Harriet asked in a small voice.

“You just said—”

“I know, but I really want to hear it aloud.”

Sarah crossed her arms. “We are not reading the play, and that is final.”


“I said no,” Sarah exploded, feeling the last remnants of her control snapping in two. “I am not kissing Lord Hugh. Not here. Not now. Not ever!”

An appalled silence fell across the carriage.

“I beg your pardon,” Sarah muttered. She could feel a flush rising from the throat to the tip of her head. She waited for Lord Hugh to say something horribly clever and cutting, but he did not utter a word. Neither did Harriet. Or Elizabeth or Frances.

Finally Elizabeth made an awkward noise with her throat and said, “I’ll just read my book, then.”

Harriet reshuffled her papers.

Even Frances turned to the window and looked out without a word about boredom.

Of Lord Hugh, Sarah did not know. She could not bring herself to look at him. Her outburst had been ugly, the insult unforgivable. Of course they weren’t going to kiss in the carriage. They wouldn’t have kissed even if they’d been performing the play in a drawing room. Like Harriet had said, there would have been some sort of narration, or perhaps they would have leaned in (but kept a respectable six inches apart) and kissed air.

But she was already so aware of him, in ways that confused as much as they infuriated. Just reading ahead that their characters would kiss . . .

It had been too much.

The journey continued in silence. Frances eventually fell asleep. Harriet stared into space. Elizabeth kept reading, although every now and then she’d look up, her eyes flicking from Sarah to Hugh and back again. After an hour, Sarah thought that Lord Hugh might have fallen asleep, too; he had not moved even once since they’d gone silent, and she could not imagine it was comfortable for his leg to remain in the same position for so long.

But when she chanced a peek, he was awake. The only sign that he saw her looking at him was a tiny change in his eyes.

He did not say anything.

Nor did she.

Finally she felt the wheels of the carriage slowing, and when she peered out the window she saw that they were approaching an inn with a cheery little sign that said, The Rose and Crown, est. 1612.

“Frances,” she said, glad to have a logical reason to speak. “Frances, it’s time to wake up. We’re here.”

Frances blinked groggily and leaned on Elizabeth, who did not utter a complaint.

“Frances, are you hungry?” Sarah persisted. She leaned forward and jostled her knee. The carriage had come to a complete stop, and all Sarah could think about was escape. She had been trying so hard to keep still, to keep quiet. It felt as if she hadn’t drawn a breath in hours.

“Oh,” Frances finally said with a yawn. “Did I fall asleep?”

Sarah nodded.

“I’m hungry,” Frances said.

“You should have remembered the biscuits,” Harriet said.

Sarah would have scolded her for such a petty comment except that it was a relief to hear something so perfectly normal.

“I didn’t know I was supposed to bring the biscuits,” Frances whined, coming to her feet. She was small for her age and could stand in the carriage without crouching.

The door to the carriage swung open, and Lord Hugh took his cane and stepped out without a word.

“You did know,” Elizabeth said. “I told you.”

Sarah moved toward the door.

“You’re stepping on my cloak!” Frances howled.

Sarah looked out. Lord Hugh was holding up his hand to help her down.

“I’m not stepping on anything.”

Sarah took his hand. She didn’t know what else she could possibly do.

“Get off my— Oh!”

There was a shriek, and then someone stumbled hard into Sarah. She lurched forward, her free hand swinging wildly for balance, but to no avail. She fell, first onto the step, and then onto the hard ground, taking Lord Hugh down with her.

She let out a cry as a splinter of pain shot through her ankle. Calm down, she told herself, it’s just the surprise. It was like stubbing one’s toe. It hurt like the dickens for one second, and then you realized it was the surprise more than anything.

So she held her breath and waited for the pain to subside.

It didn’t.

Chapter Twelve

For a moment, Hugh had thought himself whole again.

He was not entirely sure what had happened inside the carriage, but moments after Sarah placed her warm hand in his, she let out a cry and came toppling toward him.

He held out his arms to catch her. It was the most natural thing in the world, except that he was a man with a ruined leg, and men with ruined legs should never forget what they are.

He caught her, or at least he thought he did, but his leg could not support their combined weight, not when amplified by the force of her fall. He did not have time to feel pain; his muscle simply crumpled, and his leg buckled beneath him.

So it didn’t really matter if he caught her or not. They both crashed to the ground, and for a moment Hugh could do nothing but gasp. The impact had sucked the very breath from his body, and his leg . . .

He bit down on the inside of his cheek. Hard. Strange how one pain could lessen the intensity of another. Or at least it usually did. This time it did nothing. He tasted blood and still his leg felt shot through with needles.