Hugh felt his heart quicken with fury, and he heard his breath turn to short, angry puffs. There were a hundred different things he could have said to Daniel in that moment, but only one truly expressed what he felt.

“Piss off.”

There was a very long silence, then Daniel stepped down from the stool. “You are in no state to ride the rest of the day in a carriage with my young cousins.”

Hugh curled his lip. “Why the hell do you think I’m drinking?”

“I am going to pretend you did not say that,” Daniel said quietly, “and I suggest that when you’re sober you do the same.” He walked to the door. “We leave in one hour. I will have someone inform you which carriage you may ride in.”

“Just leave me,” Hugh said. Why not? He didn’t need to be at Whipple Hill right away. He could bloody well marinate at the Rose and Crown for the week.

Daniel smiled humorlessly. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

Hugh shrugged, trying to be insolent. But all it did was set him off-balance, and he nearly slid off his stool.

“One hour,” Daniel said, and he walked away.

Hugh slumped over his drink, but he knew that in one hour, he would be standing in front of the Rose and Crown, preparing for the next leg of the journey. If anyone else—anyone at all—had stood before him and ordered him to be ready in an hour, he would have marched out of the inn and never turned back.

But not Daniel Smythe-Smith. And he suspected Daniel knew that.

Whipple Hill

nr. Thatcham


Six days later

The ride to Whipple Hill had been nothing short of miserable, but now that she was here, it occurred to Sarah that perhaps she had been lucky to have spent her first three days with a swollen ankle trapped in the Pleinsworth coach. The ride might have bumped and jostled, but at least she’d had a logical reason to remain off her feet. More to the point, everyone else was stuck in one place on their bottoms, as well.

No longer.

Daniel was determined that the week leading up to his wedding should be the stuff of legend, and he had planned every imaginable diversion and entertainment. There would be outings and charades and dancing and a hunt and at least twelve other wondrous pastimes that would be revealed as necessary. Sarah would not have put it past him to offer juggling lessons on the lawn. Which, by the by, she knew he could do. He’d taught himself when he was twelve and a traveling fair had passed through town.

Sarah spent her first full day in residence trapped in the room she was sharing with Harriet with her foot propped up on pillows. Her other sisters had come to visit, as had Iris and Daisy, but Honoria was still at Fensmore, enjoying a few days of privacy with her new husband before traveling down. And while Sarah appreciated her relatives stopping by to entertain her, she was less enthralled by their breathless accounts of all the amazingly fabulous events taking place outside her bedroom door.

Her second day at Whipple Hill passed in much the same manner, except that Harriet took pity on her and promised to read her all five acts of Henry VIII and the Unicorn of Doom, which had been recently renamed The Shepherdess, the Unicorn, and Henry VIII. Sarah could not understand why; there was no mention of a shepherdess anywhere. She had nodded off for only a few minutes. Surely she could not have missed a character pivotal enough to merit a mention in the title of the play.

The third day was the worst. Daisy brought her violin.

And Daisy knew no short pieces.

So when Sarah awoke on her fourth day at Whipple Hill, she swore to herself that she would descend the grand staircase and join the rest of humanity or die trying.

She did, actually, swear this. And she must have done so with great conviction, because the housemaid paled and crossed herself.

But make it down she did, only to find that half the ladies had departed for the village. And the other half were about to.

The men planned to hunt.

It had been rather mortifying to arrive at breakfast in the arms of a footman (she had not specified how she would descend the grand staircase), so as soon as all of the other guests had departed, she rose to her feet and took a gingerly step. She could put a little weight on the ankle as long as she was careful.

And leaned against a wall.

Maybe she’d go to the library. She could find a book, sit down, read. No need to use her feet at all. The library wasn’t so far.

She took another step.

It wasn’t completely across the house.

She groaned. Who was she trying to fool? At this rate it was going to take her half the day to make it to the library.

What she needed was a cane.

She stopped. This made her think of Lord Hugh. She had not seen him in nearly a week. She supposed she shouldn’t have found this odd; they were only two of over a hundred people who’d made the journey from Fensmore to Whipple Hill. And it went without saying that he would not come to visit her while she convalesced in her bedroom.

Still, she’d been thinking of him. When she was lying in bed with her foot on the pillows, she wondered how long he’d had to do the same. When she’d got up in the middle of the night and crawled to the chamber pot, she’d started to wonder . . . and then she’d cursed the biological unfairness of it all. A man wouldn’t have needed to crawl to the chamber pot, now, would he? He could probably use the blasted thing in bed.

Not that she was imagining Lord Hugh in bed.

Or using a chamber pot, for that matter.

But still, how had he done it? How did he still do it? How did he manage the everyday tasks of life without wanting to tear his hair out and scream to the heavens? Sarah hated being so dependent on everyone else. Just this morning she’d had to ask a maid to find her mother, who’d then decided that a footman was the correct person to carry her down to breakfast.