Sarah froze. This she could not ignore. With great deliberation, she placed her index finger in her book to mark her place and looked up. “What did you just say?”

“Hughnicorns,” Harriet replied, as if nothing could have been more ordinary. She gave Sarah a sly look. “Named for Lord Hugh, of course. He does seem to be a frequent topic of conversation.”

“Not for me,” Sarah immediately said. Lord Hugh Prentice might currently occupy her every thought, but she could not recall even once initiating a discussion about him with her sister.

“Perhaps what I meant to say,” Harriet wheedled, “is that he is a frequent subject of your conversations.”

“Isn’t that the same thing?”

“He is a frequent participant in your conversations,” Harriet corrected without missing a beat.

“I enjoy talking with him,” Sarah said, because no good could come of denying this. Harriet knew better.

“Indeed,” Harriet said, eyes narrowed like a sleuth. “It leads one to wonder if he is also the source of your uncharacteristic good cheer.”

Sarah gave a little huff. “I am beginning to take offense, Harriet. Since when have I been known for a lack of good cheer?”

“Every single morning of your life.”

“That is quite unfair,” Sarah said, since she was fairly certain that no good could come of denying this, either.

In general, it was never good to deny something that was indisputably true. Not with Harriet.

“I think you fancy Lord Hugh,” Harriet declared.

And because Sarah was reading Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron, in which barons (mad or otherwise) always appeared in doorways the moment someone uttered their name, she looked up.


“That’s a refreshing change,” she muttered.

Harriet glanced her way. “Did you say something?”

“I was just marveling on the fact that Lord Hugh did not appear in the doorway the moment you said his name.”

“You’re not that lucky,” Harriet said with a smirk.

Sarah rolled her eyes.

“And just to be precise, I believe I said that you fancy Lord Hugh.”

Sarah turned to the doorway. Because really, she would never be that lucky twice.

Still no Hugh.

Well. This was new and different.

She tapped her fingers against her book for a moment, then said under her breath, “Oh, how I wish I could find a gentleman who will look past my three vexing sisters and my”—why not?—“vestigial toe.”

She looked to the doorway.

And there he was.

She grinned. But all things considered, she ought to stop with the vestigial toe business. It would be just her luck if she ended up giving birth to a baby with an extra digit.

“Am I interrupting?” Hugh asked.

“Of course not,” Harriet said with great enthusiasm. “Sarah is reading, and I am writing.”

“So I am interrupting.”

“No,” Harriet blurted out. She looked to Sarah for help, but Sarah saw no reason to intercede.

“I don’t need quiet to write,” Harriet explained.

His brows rose in question. “Didn’t you ask your sisters not to chatter in the carriage?”

“Oh, that’s different.” And then, before anyone might inquire how, Harriet turned to Hugh and asked, “Won’t you sit down and join us?”

He gave a polite nod and came into the room. Sarah watched as he made his way around a wingback chair. He was depending on his cane more heavily than usual; she could see it in his gait. She frowned, then remembered that he had rushed all the way down from his room the night before. Without his cane.

She waited until he took a seat at the other side of the sofa, then quietly asked, “Is your leg bothering you?”

“Just a little.” He set his cane down and idly rubbed the muscle. Sarah wondered if he even noticed when he did that.

Harriet suddenly shot to her feet. “I just remembered something,” she blurted out.

“What?” Sarah asked.

“It’s . . . ehrm . . . something about . . . Frances!”

“What about Frances?”

“Oh, nothing much, really, just . . .” She shuffled her papers together and grabbed the whole sheaf, folding a few sheets in the process.

“Careful there,” Hugh warned.

Harriet looked at him blankly.

“You’re crumpling,” he said, motioning to the paper.

“Oh! Right. All the more reason I should leave.” She took a sideways step to the door, and then another. “So I’ll be on my way . . .”

Sarah and Hugh both turned to watch her depart, but despite all of her protestations, she seemed to be hovering by the door.

“Did you need to find Frances?” Sarah asked.

“Yes.” Harriet rolled to her toes, came back down again, and said, “Right. Good-bye, then.” And she finally left.

Sarah and Hugh looked at each other for several seconds before chuckling.

“What was that ab—,” he started to say.

“Sorry!” Harriet called out, dashing back into the room. “I forgot one thing.” She ran over to the desk, picked up absolutely nothing that Sarah could see (although to be fair, Sarah did not have a clean line of sight), and hurried out, closing the door behind her.

Sarah’s mouth fell open.

“What is it?”

“That little minx. She just pretended to have forgotten something so she could shut the door.”

Hugh quirked a brow. “This bothers you?”

“No, of course not. I just never thought she could be so devious.” Sarah paused to reconsider this. “Never mind, what was I saying? Of course she’s that devious.”