She went utterly still, staring at him with that haunting, owlish expression of hers. He hated when she did that. It meant that she was thinking too hard, or seeing too much, and he felt exposed. Even when she was a child, she’d seemed to see him more deeply than the rest of the family. It hadn’t made sense; most of the time she was happy, jolly Honoria, but then she’d look at him that way, with those amazing lavender eyes of hers, and he’d realize what her family never did, that she understood people.
She understood him.
He shook his head, trying to shake away the memories. He didn’t want to think about her family, about how he’d felt sitting at their table, being a part of their world. And he didn’t want to think about her, either. He didn’t want to look at her face and think that her eyes were the exact color of the grape hyacinths that had just begun to pop up all over the landscape. They came each year at this time, and he always thought – just for a moment before he pushed it away – that they were her flower. But not the petals; they were too dark. Honoria’s eyes matched the younger part at the base of the flower, where the color hadn’t quite turned blue.
His chest had grown tight; he tried to breathe. He really didn’t want to think about the fact that he knew that, that he could look at a flower and pinpoint the exact spot on the petal that matched her eyes.
He wished she’d say something, but of course she didn’t. Not now, not when he would have actually welcomed her babble.
And then finally, softly, she said, “I could introduce you.”
“What?” He had no idea what she was talking about.
“I could introduce you,” she said again, “to some of the young ladies. The ones you said you didn’t know.”
Oh, for God’s sake, was that what she thought the problem was? He’d met every lady in London; he just didn’t know any of them.
“I would be happy to do it,” she said kindly.
“Unnecessary,” he said in a brusque voice.
“No, of course, you’ve been introduced – ”
“I just don’t like – ”
“You find us silly – ”
“They talk about nothing – ”
“Even I would grow bored – ”
“The truth is,” he announced, eager to be done with this conversation, “I hate London.”
His voice came out much louder than he’d intended, and he felt like a fool. A fool who was probably going to have to take a knife to his second-best pair of boots. “This isn’t going to work,” he said.
She looked confused.
“We’ll never make it back to Fensmore like this.” He could see her struggling to contain an I-told-you-so and decided to save them both the indignity by saying, “You’ll need to go back to Bricstan. It’s closer, and you know the way.” Then he remembered who he was talking to. “You do know the way, don’t you?”
To her credit, she did not take offense. “I just need to stay on the path until I get to the small pond. Then it’s up the hill, and I’m almost there.”
He nodded. “You’ll have to send someone to get me. Not from Bricstan. Send instructions over to Fensmore. To Jimmy.”
“My head groom. Just tell him I’m on the Bricstan path, about three miles from home. He’ll know what to do.”
“You’ll be all right here on your own?”
“As long as it doesn’t rain,” he quipped. They both looked up. A thick blanket of gray stretched ominously across the sky. “Damn,” he said.
“I’ll run,” she said.
“Don’t.” She was liable to step in a real mole hole, and then where would they be? “We don’t need you tripping and falling as well.”
She turned to leave, then stopped and said, “You’ll send word when you’re safely at home?”
“Of course.” He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had to send word about his well-being to anyone. There was something rather disconcerting about it. But nice, too.
He watched her go, listening until the sounds of her footsteps disappeared. How long would it take before help arrived? She needed to get back to Bricstan, which was a bit more than a mile, assuming she did not lose her way. Then she had to write a letter and send someone off to deliver it to Fensmore. Then Jimmy had to saddle two horses and make his way through the woods on a path that was much better suited for walking.
An hour? No, ninety minutes. Probably longer.
He slid to the ground so that he could lean against the fallen log. Lord, he was tired. His ankle hurt far too much for him to sleep, but he closed his eyes, anyway.
That was when he felt the first raindrop.
By the time Honoria reached Bricstan, she was drenched to the bone. The rain had started barely five minutes after she left Marcus at the fallen tree. It had been light at first – just a few fat drops here and there. Enough to annoy, not enough to do damage.
But as soon as she’d reached the end of the path it had started coming down in a fury. She’d raced across the lawn as quickly as she was able, but it had made no difference. Ten seconds in the downpour and she was soaked through.
She didn’t even want to think about Marcus, stranded in the woods for at least another hour. She tried to recall the topography where she’d left him. Would the trees shelter him from the rain? It was still spring, and the branches were not yet thick with leaves.
She first tried to enter Bricstan through a side door, but it was locked and she had to skirt the building to the front. The door opened before she could even knock, and she tumbled in.