“I am sure that Lord Winstead has made arrangements for tonight’s music,” Hugh continued.


“And I so rarely have someone to keep me company on nights such as these.”


Good God the girl was persistent. “I am afraid I simply cannot allow her to break her promise to me,” Hugh said.

“Oh, I could never do that,” Sarah said, finally playing her role. She gave Daisy a helpless shrug. “It’s a promise.”

Daisy positively rooted herself to the floor, her face twitching as it began to sink in that she had been thoroughly thwarted. “Iris . . . ,” she began.

“I will not play the pianoforte,” Iris practically cried.

“How did you know what I was going to ask you?” Daisy asked with a petulant frown.

“You have been my sister since you were born,” Iris replied testily. “Of course I knew what you were going to ask me.”

“We all had to learn how to play,” Daisy whined.

“And then we all stopped taking lessons when we took up strings.”

“What Iris is trying to say,” Sarah said, with a little glance toward Hugh before turning firmly to Daisy, “is that her skills on the pianoforte could never match yours on the violin.”

Iris let out a noise that sounded suspiciously like a choke, but by the time Hugh looked at her, she was saying, “It’s true, Daisy. You know it’s true. I would only embarrass myself.”

“Very well.” Daisy finally capitulated. “I suppose I could just perform something by myself.”

“No!” both Sarah and Iris shouted at once.

And it really was a shout. Enough people turned in their direction that Sarah was forced to plaster her face with an embarrassed smile and say, “So sorry.”

“Whyever not?” Daisy asked. “I’m happy to do so, and there is no shortage of violin solos from which to choose.”

“It is very difficult to dance to the music of a single violin,” Iris quickly said.

Hugh had no idea if this was true, but he certainly wasn’t going to question it.

“I suppose you’re right,” Daisy said. “It is really too bad. This is a family wedding, after all, and it would be so much more special to have family playing the music.”

It wasn’t just that it was the only unselfish thing she had said; it was that it was completely unselfish, and when Hugh chanced a glance at Sarah and Iris, they both wore somewhat abashed expressions on their faces.

“There will be other opportunities,” Sarah said, although she did not go so far as to offer any specifics.

“Perhaps tomorrow,” Daisy said with a little sigh.

Neither Sarah nor Iris said a word. Hugh wasn’t even sure they breathed.

The bell sounded for dinner, and Daisy departed. As Hugh rose to his feet, Sarah said, “You should walk in with Iris. Daniel said he would carry me. I must say I’m grateful.” Her nose wrinkled. “It’s very strange having the footman do it.”

Hugh started to say that they would wait until Daniel arrived, but the man of the hour had his usual impeccable timing, and Hugh had barely offered Iris his arm before Daniel was pulling Sarah into his and carrying her off to the dining room.

“If they weren’t cousins,” Iris said in that dry tone Hugh was coming to realize was uniquely hers, “that would have been very romantic.”

Hugh looked at her.

“I said if they weren’t cousins,” she protested. “Anyway, he’s so desperately in love with Miss Wynter he would not notice if an entire naked harem fell from the ceiling.”

“Oh, he’d notice,” Hugh said, since he was quite sure that Iris was trying to be provoking. “He just wouldn’t do anything about it.”

As Hugh walked into the dining room with the wrong woman on his arm, it occurred to him that he, too, wouldn’t do anything about it.

If a naked harem fell from the ceiling.

Later that night

After supper

“You realize,” Sarah said to Hugh, “that you’re stuck with me now for the duration of the evening.”

They were sitting on the lawn, under torches that somehow managed to make the air warm enough to remain outside as long as one had a coat. And a blanket.

They weren’t the only ones who had taken advantage of the fine evening. A dozen chairs and lounges had been set up on the grass outside the ballroom, and at any given time about half of them were filled. Sarah and Hugh were the only people who had taken up permanent residence, though.

“If you so much as leave my side,” Sarah continued, “Daisy will find me and drag me to the pianoforte.”

“And would that be so very dreadful?” he asked.

She gave him a steady look, then said, “I shall make certain you are sent an invitation to our next musicale.”

“I look forward to it.”

“No,” she said, “you don’t.”

“This all feels very mysterious,” he said, leaning back comfortably in his chair. “It has been my experience that most young ladies are eager to demonstrate their skill at the pianoforte.”

“We,” she said, pausing to give the pronoun just the right amount of emphasis, “are uncommonly dreadful.”

“You can’t be that bad,” he insisted. “If you were, you wouldn’t be staging annual musicales.”

“That presupposes logic.” She grimaced. “And taste.” There seemed no reason not to offer the unvarnished truth. He’d learn soon enough, if he ever found himself in London at the wrong time of year.