the doubtful pleasure of a few moments spent in Mrs. Holland’s company,” said Sir Frederick suggestively.
Sir Peregrine laughed, his dark features lighting up. “Quite, though I wasn’t going to say so.” He eyed Sir Frederick curiously. “What brings you tonight?”
“I come at personal invitation, my dear fellow,” said Sir Frederick, assuming a lofty tone. “Mrs. Holland apparently approved of my tender care of her daughter when I invited Miss Holland out for a drive. I did not feel myself able to deny myself the pleasure of attending.”
Sir Peregrine gave a skeptical glance. “I shan’t bother pointing out that you have, without a doubt, larger experience than anyone else I know in sliding out of unwelcome invites!” He shook his head at Sir Frederick’s quick grin. “What I don’t understand is this sudden devotion to Miss Holland’s interests. Freddy, you haven’t gone nutty on her, have you?”
“Have you been talking to Henry?” demanded Sir Frederick suspiciously.
“No, should I be?” asked Sir Peregrine mildly.
“Henry would have it that I am dancing to a tune of Caroline Richardson’s making,” said Sir Frederick with a negligent shrug.
Sir Peregrine’s brows rose. “And are you?” he asked with every expression of interest.
“Damn your eyes,” said Sir Frederick without heat. “If you must know, it is Lady Smythe’s coil more than anyone else’s.” He saw that Sir Peregrine was looking at him with polite astonishment, and he sighed. “I suppose I shall have to explain it to you, now that I have said this much.”
“Quite, dear fellow. Er-would it be tactless to suggest you have been deuced indiscreet?” said Sir Peregrine.
Sir Frederick recommended that Sir Peregrine could keep his unsolicited opinion to himself, and in a few sentences outlined his conversation with Lady Smythe and the astonishing upshot. “And I have pledged myself to do whatever I can to help Miss Holland along.”
Sir Peregrine heard him out in silence, then shrugged. “Well, you know your own business best, Freddy. However, if you find yourself at point-non-plus, I hope you know that you may count on me.”
Sir Frederick begged him not to be melodramatic and to come meet Miss Holland. “Since you are so eager to sport your canvas on my behalf, you might as well make yourself useful and help me bring her into notice.”
“You’ve got windmills in your head, Freddy,” said Sir Peregrine calmly. He allowed himself to be led over to where Lord Holybrooke and Miss Holland were standing. He greeted Lord Holybrooke, before turning to the earl’s sister while Sir Frederick performed the introductions.
“Sir Peregrine is a particular friend of mine,” said Sir Frederick.
“Oh, then I am persuaded we shall be friends, Sir Peregrine,” said Guin with a shy smile, extending her hand to him.
Sir Peregrine was taken aback. As he bowed over the lady’s hand, he glanced swiftly upward at Sir Frederick. However, there was nothing on that gentleman’s face to hint that he had found Miss Holland’s avowal at all discomposing. Sir Peregrine smiled at Miss Holland and returned a civil reply, before turning again to the earl.
Lord Holybrooke quickly bore Sir Peregrine off with him toward the refreshment room, saying, “I warned you that it would be devilish. It is the fault of that screeching violin. Why my mother must hire an orchestra at all is beyond my comprehension, for there will not be anything but country-dances, since my sister hasn’t been presented at Almack’s yet.”
Sir Frederick and Guin laughed as the two gentlemen left them. “Percy does not care for musical evenings,” observed Guin.
“No, I can see that he doesn’t. For myself, I look forward to the dancing. I asked you before if you would stand up with me, Miss Holland,” said Sir Frederick.
“That was for quite a different function, sir,” said Guin, scrupulously fair.
“I know it, but will you stand up with me