Hugh chuckled, and Sarah tipped her head toward the sky, not wishing to waste another thought on her family’s infamous musicales. The night was far too lovely for that. “So many stars,” she murmured.
“Do you enjoy astronomy?”
“Not really,” she admitted, “but I do like looking at the stars on a clear night.”
“That’s Andromeda right there,” he said, pointing toward a collection of stars that Sarah privately thought resembled a tipsy pitchfork more than anything else.
“What about that one?” she asked, gesturing toward a squiggle that looked like the letter W.
She moved her finger a bit to the left. “And that one?”
“Nothing that I’m aware of,” he admitted.
“Have you ever counted them all?” she asked.
“You count everything else,” she teased.
“The stars are infinite. Even I can’t count that high.”
“Of course you can,” she said, feeling lovely and mischievous, all rolled together. “It couldn’t be simpler. Infinity minus one, infinity, infinity plus one.”
He looked over at her with an expression that told her he knew that she knew she was being ridiculous. But still he said, “It doesn’t work that way.”
“But it doesn’t. Infinity plus one is still infinity.”
“Well, that makes no sense.” She sighed happily, pulling her blanket more tightly around her. She loved to dance, but truly, she could not imagine why anyone would choose to remain in the ballroom when they could be out on the lawn, celebrating the heavens.
“Sarah! And Hugh! What a delightful surprise!”
Sarah and Hugh exchanged a glance as Daniel made his way over to them, his fiancée laughingly trailing behind. Sarah still had not quite adapted to Miss Wynter’s impending change of position—from her sisters’ governess to Countess of Winstead and their soon-to-be cousin. It wasn’t that Sarah was being a snob about it, or at least she didn’t think she was. She hoped she wasn’t. She liked Anne. And she liked how happy Daniel was when he was with her.
It was just all very strange.
“Where is Lady Danbury when we need her?” Hugh said.
Sarah turned to him with a curious smile. “Lady Danbury?”
“Surely we are meant to say something about this not being a surprise at all.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Sarah said with an arch smile. “As far as I know, no one here is my great-grandnephew.”
“Have you been out here all evening?” Daniel asked once he and Anne were near.
“Indeed we have,” Hugh confirmed.
“You’re not too cold?” Anne inquired.
“We are well blanketed,” Sarah said. “And truly, if I cannot dance, I’m delighted to be out here in the fresh air.”
“You two make quite a pair this evening,” Daniel said.
“I believe this is the cripples’ corner,” Hugh put in dryly.
“Stop saying that,” Sarah scolded.
“Oh, sorry.” Hugh looked over at Daniel and Anne. “She will heal, of course, so she cannot be allowed in our ranks.”
Sarah sat forward. “That’s not what I meant. Well, it is, but not entirely.” Then, because Daniel and Anne were regarding them with confusion, she explained, “This is the third—no, the fourth time he has said that.”
“Cripples’ corner?” Hugh repeated, and even in the torchlight she could see that he was amused.
“If you do not stop saying that, I swear I’m leaving.”
Hugh quirked a brow. “Didn’t you just say that I’m stuck with you for the rest of the evening?”
“You shouldn’t call yourself a cripple,” Sarah returned. Her voice was growing too passionate, but she was completely unable to temper it. “It’s a terrible word.”
Hugh, predictably, was matter-of-fact. “It applies.”
“No. It does not.”
He chuckled. “Are you going to compare me to a horse again?”
“This is far more interesting than anything going on inside,” Daniel said to Anne.
“No,” she said firmly, “it’s not. And it’s certainly not any of our business.” She tugged on his arm, but he was gazing longingly at Sarah and Hugh.
“It could be our business,” he said.
Anne sighed and rolled her eyes. “You are such a gossip.” Then she said something to him Sarah could not hear, and Daniel reluctantly allowed her to drag him away.
Sarah watched them go, somewhat confused by Anne’s obvious desire to leave—did she think they needed privacy? How odd. Still, she was not done with this conversation, so she turned back to Hugh and said, “If you must, you may call yourself lame,” she said, “but I forbid you to call yourself a cripple.”
He drew back in surprise. And, perhaps, amusement. “You forbid me?”
“Yes. I do.” She swallowed, uncomfortable by the rush of emotion within her. For the first time that evening, they were completely alone on the lawn, and she knew that if she allowed her voice to drop to its quietest register, he would still hear her. “I still don’t like lame, but at least it’s an adjective. If you call yourself a cripple, it’s as if that’s all you are.”
He looked at her for a long moment before rising to his feet and crossing the very short distance to her chair. He leaned down, and then, so softly that she was not certain she’d heard him, he said, “Lady Sarah Pleinsworth, may I have this dance?”