He immediately rose to his elbows, trying to take some of his weight off her as he looked down. He told himself it was to see if she was all right. He was going to ask her this once he caught his breath. But when he looked at her, she was trying to catch her own breath. Her lips were parted, and her eyes were dazed, and he did what any man would instinctively do. He lowered his head to kiss her.

Chapter Five

One moment Honoria was upright – oh, very well, she hadn’t been upright, not completely. She’d wanted so desperately just to get away from Marcus that she’d turned too quickly, slid on the damp earth and lost her balance.

But she’d almost been upright, and in fact would have been upright in mere moments if Marcus hadn’t come (quite literally) hurtling through the air at her.

This would have been disorienting enough, except that his shoulder caught her directly in her midsection. Her breath flew from her lungs, and they both tumbled to the ground, Marcus landing squarely on top of her.

That was when Honoria quite possibly stopped thinking altogether.

She’d never felt a male body against hers – dear heavens, when would she have done? She’d waltzed, occasionally more closely than was proper, but that had been nothing like this. The weight of him, the heat. It felt oddly primitive, and even stranger, there was something almost pleasant about it.

She moved her lips to speak, but as she lay there, staring up at him, she couldn’t seem to find words. He looked different to her. She’d known this man for nearly as long as she could remember – how was it possible that she had never quite noticed the shape of his mouth? Or his eyes. She’d known they were brown, but it was astounding how richly colored they were, with flecks of amber near the edges of the iris. And even now, they seemed to change as he moved closer . . .


Oh, dear God. Was he going to kiss her? Marcus?

Her breath caught. And her lips parted. And something within her clenched with anticipation, and all she could think was –

Nothing. Or at least that was all she should be thinking about, because Marcus was most definitely not planning to kiss her. He bit off a string of curses the likes of which she had not heard since Daniel had left the country, and then he wrenched himself up and off her, taking a step back, and then –

“Bloody hell!”

There was a frenetic flurry of movement, followed by a thud and a grunt, and another string of blasphemy that Honoria was far too sensible to take offense at. With a horrified gasp, she pushed herself up on her elbows. Marcus was back on the ground, and from the expression on his face, this time he’d actually been hurt.

“Are you all right?” she asked frantically, even though it was clear he was not.

“It was the hole,” he bit off, gritting his teeth against the pain. And then, as if it might possibly require clarification, he added, “Again.”

“I’m sorry,” she said quickly, scrambling to her feet. And then, because the situation clearly called for a more substantial apology, she said it again. “I’m very, very sorry.”

He did not speak.

“You must know it wasn’t my intention to . . .” She didn’t finish. A stream of babble wasn’t going to help her cause, and indeed, he appeared very much not to want to hear her voice.

She swallowed nervously, taking the tiniest step in his direction. He was still on the ground, not quite on his back and not quite on his side. There was mud on his boots and on his breeches. And on his coat.

Honoria winced. He wasn’t going to like that. Marcus had never been overly fastidious, but it was a very nice coat.

“Marcus?” she asked hesitantly.

He scowled. Not specifically at her, but still, it was enough to confirm her decision not to tell him about the dead leaves in his hair.

He rolled slightly to one side until he was more squarely on his back, then he closed his eyes.

Her lips parted, and she almost spoke, but then she waited. He took a breath, then another, then a third, and when he opened his eyes, his expression had changed. He was calmer now.

Thank God.

Honoria leaned a little forward. She still thought it prudent to tread carefully around him, but she did think he might have calmed enough for her to venture, “May I help you up?”

“In a moment,” he grunted. He scooted himself into an almost-sitting position, then grabbed his calf with his hands, lifting his injured leg up and out of the mole hole.

Which, Honoria noticed, was significantly bigger now that he’d stepped in it twice.

She watched as he gingerly rotated his ankle. He flexed his foot forward and back, then side to side. It was the latter that seemed to cause him the most pain.

“Do you think it’s broken?” she asked.



He grunted his assent.

“Do you – ”

He speared her with such a ferocious glare that she shut her mouth immediately. But after about fifteen seconds of wincing at his pain, she couldn’t help herself. “Marcus?”

He hadn’t been facing her when she said his name, and he didn’t turn around when he heard it. He did, however, stop moving.

“Do you think you should take off your boot?”

He didn’t reply.

“In case your ankle is swollen.”

“I know” – he stopped, let out a breath, then continued in a slightly more controlled tone of voice – “why to do it. I was just thinking.”

She nodded even though he still had his back to her. “Of course. Just let me know, ehrm . . .”

He stopped moving again.