“That’s Peavy,” said Joy. “We tease her that it’s short for ‘Peevish’, but it’s her actual surname. Her first name is—”
“—irrelevant,” Peavy grumped.
Joy grinned and gestured to the red-haired girl hanging back behind the others. “That’s Christina, better known as Timid Tina.”
“Nobody calls her that but us,” Peavy muttered.
“My brother calls me Tina,” the girl ventured.
“Your brother.” Goose fanned herself. “When ishecoming to stay the night?”
All the others threw cushions at her.
“Mmrrph,” mumbled the sleeping girl with dark brown skin and long black braids.
“Miss Drowsy is really Dorothea, and she naps more than any human on the planet,” Joy said.
“It wasn’t the ratafia. She only had three sips. It’s her parents’ fault,” Doc explained. “Her father is a wealthy merchant who keeps unfashionably early hours. By the time our carriage arrives at a ball, our darling Miss Drowsy is already yawning behind her fan.”
“You all go to balls?” Bianca added in wonder.
“Well… We go to certain gatherings,” Doc clarified. “Most of us have no noble blood, and none of us have subscriptions to Almack’s. Goose and Joy’s grandfather is a duke, so they do get invited to most things.”
“And they bring us.” Rosie rubbed at her nose. “We go everywhere together.”
Timid Tina nodded.
“Let me see if I have it straight,” said Bianca. “There are seven of you: Joy, Goose, Rosie, Doc, Peavy, Tina, and Miss Drowsy.”
“We’re debutantes,” Goose added helpfully.
“I’m a future surgeon,” said Doc.
“Sneaking into the Chelsea Physic Garden to spy on lessons doesn’t count as formal training,” Peavy grumbled.
“Oh, go edit a boring old contract,” Doc replied, undaunted. “It’s me you’ll come crying to if you take ill.”
“You haven’t helped Rosie,” Peavy muttered.
“How long have you all been friends?” Bianca asked, laughing.
“Birth,” said Goose.
“A little after,” Doc clarified. “We all had the same dancing-master, who would bring his charges together to practice figures for the quadrille.”
“We spent more time giggling than dancing,” Joy said with a grin. “We became fast friends and have been inseparable ever since.”
“Friends share their handsome brothers,” Goose said.
“That is not a thing that friends do,” Peavy scolded her. “You made that up because you have a tendre for him.”
Goose sighed dreamily. “Everyone has a tendre for him.”
“Tina’s brother is the Earl of Eagleton,” Joy explained. “He’s called the Huntsman because he—”
Bianca’s face was already flushing hot with the memory of her hands in the earl’s, and how she’d foolishly puckered her lips for a kiss that never came.