Frances gasped. “Oh, Harriet! You’re not going to injure the unicorn, are you?”

Harriet slid a hand over her writing. “Well, not very much.”

Frances’s gasp whooshed into a choke of terror. “Harriet!”

“Is it even possible to have a plague of weddings?” Harriet said loudly, turning back to Sarah. “And if so, would two qualify?”

“They would,” Sarah replied darkly, “if they were occurring just one week apart, and if one happened to be related to one of the brides and one of the grooms, and especially if one was forced to be the maid of honor at a wedding in which—”

“You only have to be maid of honor once,” Elizabeth cut in.

“Once is enough,” Sarah muttered. No one should have to walk down a church aisle with a bouquet of flowers unless she was the bride, already had been the bride, or was too young to be the bride. Otherwise, it was just cruel.

“I think it’s divine that Honoria asked you to be the maid of honor,” Frances gushed. “It’s so romantic. Maybe you can write a scene like this in your play, Harriet.”

“That’s a good idea,” Harriet replied. “I could introduce a new character. I’ll have her look just like Sarah.”

Sarah didn’t even bother to turn in her direction. “Please don’t.”

“No, it will be great fun,” Harriet insisted. “A special little tidbit just for the three of us.”

“There are four of us,” Elizabeth said.

“Oh, right. Sorry, I think I was forgetting Sarah, actually.”

Sarah deemed this unworthy of comment, but she did curl her lip.

“My point,” Harriet continued, “is that we will always remember that we were right here together when we thought of it.”

“You could make her look like me,” Frances said hopefully.

“No, no,” Harriet said, waving her off. “It’s too late to change now. I’ve already got it fixed in my head. The new character must look like Sarah. Let me see . . .” She started scribbling madly. “Thick, dark hair with just the slightest tendency to curl.”

“Dark, bottomless eyes,” Frances put in breathlessly. “They must be bottomless.”

“With a hint of madness,” Elizabeth said.

Sarah whipped around to face her.

“I’m just doing my part,” Elizabeth demurred. “And I certainly see that hint of madness now.”

“I should think so,” Sarah retorted.

“Not too tall, not too short,” Harriet said, still writing.

Elizabeth grinned and joined in the singsong. “Not too thin, not too fat.”

“Oh oh oh, I have one!” Frances exclaimed, practically bouncing along the sofa. “Not too pink, not too green.”

That stopped the conversation cold. “I beg your pardon?” Sarah finally managed.

“You don’t embarrass easily,” Frances explained, “so you very rarely blush. And I’ve only ever seen you cast up your accounts once, and that was when we all had that bad fish in Brighton.”

“Hence the green,” Harriet said approvingly. “Well done, Frances. That’s very clever. People really do turn greenish when they are queasy. I wonder why that is.”

“Bile,” Elizabeth said.

“Must we have this conversation?” Sarah wondered.

“I don’t see why you’re in such a bad mood,” Harriet said.

“I’m not in a bad mood.”

“You’re not in a good mood.”

Sarah did not bother to contradict.

“If I were you,” Harriet said, “I would be walking on air. You get to walk down the aisle.”

“I know.” Sarah flopped back onto the sofa, the wail of her final syllable apparently too strong for her to remain upright.

Frances stood and came over to her side, peering down over the sofa back. “Don’t you want to walk down the aisle?” She looked a bit like a concerned little sparrow, her head tilting to one side and then the other with sharp little birdlike movements.

“Not particularly,” Sarah replied. At least, not unless it was at her own wedding. But it was difficult to talk to her sisters about this; there was such a gap in their ages, and there were some things one could not share with an eleven-year-old.

Their mother had lost three babies between Sarah and Harriet—two as miscarriages and one when Sarah’s younger brother, the only boy to have been born to Lord and Lady Pleinsworth, died in his cradle before he was three months old. Sarah was sure that her parents were disappointed not to have a living son, but to their credit, they never complained. When they mentioned the title going to Sarah’s cousin William, they did not grumble. They just seemed to accept it as the way it was. There had been some talk of Sarah marrying William, to keep things “neat and tidy and all in the family” (as her mother had put it), but William was three years younger than Sarah. At eighteen, he’d only just started at Oxford, and he surely wasn’t going to marry within the next five years.

And there was not a chance that Sarah was going to wait five years. Not an inch of a chance. Not a fraction of a fraction of an inch of a—


She looked up. And just in time. Elizabeth appeared to be aiming a volume of poetry in her direction.

“Don’t,” Sarah warned.

Elizabeth gave a little frown of disappointment and lowered the book. “I was asking,” she (apparently) repeated, “if you knew if all of the guests had arrived.”