“Did you think he looked handsome?”
Sarah let out an annoyed groan.
“Did you think Lord Hugh looked handsome?” Harriet prodded.
“I don’t know, he looked like himself.” The first part was a lie; Sarah did know, and she had found him heartbreakingly handsome. The second part was the truth, and was probably the reason she thought him so handsome to begin with.
“I think Frances has fallen in love with him,” Harriet said.
“Probably,” Sarah agreed.
“He’s very kind to her.”
“Yes, he is.”
“He taught her to play piquet this afternoon.”
It must have been while she was helping Anne at her final dress fitting, Sarah thought. She could not imagine when else he would have had the time.
“He didn’t let her win. I think she thought he would, but I think she likes that he didn’t.”
Sarah let out a loud, long-suffering sigh. “Harriet, what is this about?”
Harriet tucked her chin back in surprise. “I don’t know. I was just making conversation.”
“At”—Sarah looked vainly for a clock—“whatever time it is?”
Harriet was quiet for a full minute. Sarah managed to get from forsythia to pigeon before her sister spoke again.
“I think he likes you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Lord Hugh,” Harriet said. “I think he fancies you.”
“He doesn’t fancy me,” Sarah retorted, and it wasn’t that she was lying; it was more that she hoped she was lying. Because she knew that she was falling in love with him, and if he did not feel the same way, she did not know how she could bear it.
“I think you’re wrong,” Harriet said.
Sarah turned resolutely back to Miss Butterworth’s pigeons.
“Do you fancy him?”
Sarah snapped. There was no way she was going to talk to her sister about this. It was too new, and too private, and every time she thought about it she felt as if she might burst out of her skin. “Harriet, I am not having this conversation right now.”
Harriet paused to think about this. “Will you have it tomorrow?”
“Oh, fine, I won’t say another word.” Harriet made a big show of turning over in bed, pulling half of Sarah’s covers off in the process.
Sarah let out a snort, since an obvious display of irritation was clearly called for, then she yanked at the blanket and turned back to her book.
Except she could not concentrate.
Her eyes sat on page thirty-three for what seemed like hours. Beside her, Harriet finally stopped rustling around and fell still, her breathing slowing into light, peaceful snores.
Sarah wondered what Hugh was doing, and if he ever had difficulty falling asleep.
She wondered how much his leg hurt when he went to bed. If it pained him at night, did it still hurt in the morning? Did he ever wake from the pain?
She wondered how he had come to be so talented at mathematics. He’d explained to her once, after she’d begged him to multiply some ridiculously long sums, how he saw the numbers in his head, except he didn’t actually see them, they just sort of arranged themselves until he knew the answer. She hadn’t even tried to pretend that she understood him, but she’d kept asking questions because he was so adorable when he was frustrated.
He smiled when he was with her. She didn’t think he’d smiled very often before.
Was it possible to fall in love with someone in so short a time? Honoria had known Marcus her whole life before she fell in love with him. Daniel had claimed love at first sight with Miss Wynter. Somehow that almost seemed more logical than Sarah’s journey.
She supposed she could lie in bed all night and doubt herself, but she was feeling too restless, so she climbed out of bed, walked to the window, and pushed back the curtains. The moon wasn’t full, but it was more than halfway there, and the silvery light sparkled on the grass.
Dew, she thought, and she realized she’d already donned her slippers. The house was quiet, and she knew she shouldn’t be out of her room, and it wasn’t even that the moonlight was calling . . .
It was the breeze. The leaves had long since dropped from the trees, but the tiny points at the ends of the branches were light enough to ruffle and sway. A spot of fresh air, that was all she needed. Fresh air and the wind tickling through her hair. It had been years since she’d been permitted to wear it down outside her bedroom, and she just wanted to go outside and . . .
The same night
A different room
Sleep had never come easily to Hugh Prentice. When he was a small child, it was because he was listening. He didn’t know why the nursery at Ramsgate wasn’t off in some far-flung corner like at every other house he’d ever been to, but it wasn’t, and it meant that every now and then, and never when they expected it (which was not true; they always expected it), Hugh and Freddie would hear their mother cry out.
The first time Hugh heard it, he jumped out of bed, only to be stopped by Freddie’s restraining hand.
“But Mama . . .”
Freddie shook his head.
“And Father . . .” Hugh had heard his father’s voice, too. He sounded angry. And then he laughed.
Freddie shook his head again, and the look in his eyes was enough to convince Hugh, who was five years his junior, to crawl back into his bed and cover his ears.
But he didn’t close his eyes. If you’d asked him the next day, he would have sworn he had not even blinked. He was six, and he still swore to lots of impossible things.