“Into me,” Daniel clarified.

“Into anything,” Hugh snapped, “but yes, you’re included. You, on the other hand,” he said to Sarah, his voice turning uncomfortably normal, “he’d like.”

She felt sick.

“Your family’s title dates to the Tudors, and you probably have a decent dowry.” Hugh leaned one hip against the arm of the sofa and extended his injured leg in front of him. “But more to the point, you’re in good health and of childbearing age.”

Sarah could only stare.

“My father will adore you,” he finished with a shrug.

“Hugh,” Sarah began. “I don’t . . .” But she didn’t know how to finish her statement. She didn’t recognize this man. He was hard, and brittle, and the way he described her left her feeling soiled and wrung dry.

“I’m not even his heir,” Hugh said, and Sarah could hear something stirring in his voice. Something angry, something ready to strike.

“He shouldn’t even care if my bride can reproduce properly,” Hugh went on, each syllable more clipped than the last. “He’s got Freddie. He should be pinning his hopes there, and I keep telling him—”

He turned suddenly away, but not before Sarah heard him curse under his breath.

“I’ve never met your brother,” Daniel said, after nearly a minute of silence strangled the room.

Sarah looked at him. His brow was knitted, and she realized that Daniel was more curious than he was surprised.

Hugh did not turn around. But he did say, in a strange monotone, “He does not move in the same circles that you do.”

“Is-is there something wrong with him?” Sarah asked hesitantly.

“No!” Hugh thundered, whipping around so quickly that he lost his footing and nearly tumbled to the floor. Sarah shot forward to steady him, but Hugh thrust out his arm to push her away. “I’m fine,” he grunted.

But he wasn’t. She could see that he wasn’t.

“There is nothing wrong with my brother,” Hugh said, his voice low and precise, even as he caught his breath from his near fall. “He is perfectly healthy, perfectly able to sire a child. But”—his eyes flicked meaningfully toward Daniel—“he is not likely to marry.”

Daniel’s eyes clouded, and he gave a nod of understanding.

But not Sarah. “What does that mean?” she burst out, because bloody hell, it was like they were talking in a different language.

“It’s not for your ears,” Daniel said swiftly.

“Oh, is that so?” she demanded. “And ‘rat bastard, sick son of a bitch’ is?”

If she hadn’t been so furious, she would have taken some satisfaction in the way both men flinched.

“He prefers men,” Hugh said curtly.

“I don’t even know what that means,” Sarah snapped.

Daniel let off a bitter curse. “Oh, for the love of Christ, Prentice, she is a gentlewoman. And my cousin.”

Sarah couldn’t imagine what that had to with anything, but before she could ask, Daniel took a step toward Hugh and growled, “If you say another word, I swear I will have you drawn and quartered.”

Hugh ignored him, his eyes never leaving Sarah’s. “The way I prefer you,” he said with slow deliberation, “my brother prefers men.”

She stared at him, uncomprehending, and then: “Oh.” She looked to Daniel, although she had no idea why. “Is that even possible?”

He looked away, his cheeks burning red.

“I do not profess to understand Freddie,” Hugh said, each word deliberately chosen, “or why he is as he is. But he is my brother, and I love him.”

Sarah wasn’t sure how to respond. She looked to Daniel for guidance, but he was facing away.

“Freddie is a good man,” Hugh continued, “and he was—”

Sarah turned back to him. His throat was working convulsively, and she did not think she’d ever seen him so undone.

“He was the only reason I survived my childhood.” Hugh blinked, and then he actually smiled wistfully. “Although I imagine he would say the same thing about me.”

Dear God, Sarah thought, what sort of man was their father?

“He’s . . . not as I am,” Hugh said with a swallow, “but he is a good man, as honorable and kind as you will ever know.”

“All right,” Sarah said slowly, trying to take this all in. “If you say he is good, and that I should love him as a brother, I will. But what does this have to do with . . . with anything?”

“It was why my father was so hell-bent on revenge against your cousin,” Hugh replied, motioning with his head toward Daniel. “It is why he still is.”

“But you said—”

“I can hold him in check,” Hugh cut in. “I cannot change his mind.” He shifted his weight, and Sarah thought she saw a spark of pain flash through his eyes. She followed his gaze to his cane, lying on the carpet near the sofa. He took a step toward it, but before he could do anything more, she rushed to retrieve it for him.

The expression on his face when she handed it to him was not one of gratitude. But whatever he wanted to say to her, he swallowed it bitterly down and said instead, to the room at large, “I’m told that the day of the duel, it was not known whether I would survive.”

Sarah looked at Daniel. He gave a grim nod.

“My father is of the belief, and . . .” Hugh stopped speaking, and he let out a weary, resigned breath. “And he may be right,” he finally continued, as if he was only just accepting it himself, “that Freddie will never marry. I’d always thought he might, even though . . .” Again, his words trailed off.