“Oh, I hate moles,” Iris said.

“I find them rather sweet,” Cecily put in.

“I must find your mother,” Honoria said. “I need to arrange for a carriage. Or I suppose I could ride over. It’s not raining any longer.”

“You should eat breakfast first,” Sarah said.

“She’ll never let you go alone,” Cecily replied. “Fensmore is a bachelor household.”

“He’s hardly by himself,” Iris said. “He must have loads of servants.”

“At least a hundred, I should think,” Cecily said. “Have you seen the house? It’s enormous. But that doesn’t signify.” She turned back to Honoria. “He still lives alone. There is no one to act as a proper chaperone.”

“I’ll take someone with me,” Honoria said impatiently. “I really don’t care. I just want to get going.”

“Take someone with you where?” Mrs. Royle asked, entering the breakfast room.

Honoria repeated her request to Mrs. Royle, who immediately agreed. “Absolutely, we must see to the earl’s welfare. It would be positively unchristian of us if we did not.”

Honoria blinked. She had not expected this to be so easy.

“I will go with you,” Mrs. Royle said.

A teacup slammed down against its saucer. When Honoria looked over at the table, Cecily wore a tight smile, but her fingers were practically biting through her teacup.

“Mother,” Cecily said, “if you go, then I should, too.”

Mrs. Royle paused to consider this, but before she could reply, Sarah said, “If Cecily goes, I should go, too.”

“Why?” Cecily asked.

“I am fairly certain,” Iris said dryly, “that under no circumstances should I go.”

“I really don’t care who accompanies me,” Honoria said, trying not to sound as snappish as she felt. “I would just like to depart as soon as possible.”

“Cecily will go with you,” Mrs. Royle announced. “I will stay here with Iris and Sarah.”

Sarah was visibly put out at this turn of events, but she did not argue. Cecily, on the other hand, jumped to her feet with a wide smile on her face.

“Cecily, do go upstairs and have Peggy redress your hair,” Mrs. Royle said. “We can’t have – ”

“Please,” Honoria interrupted. “I would really rather leave immediately.”

Mrs. Royle looked conflicted, but even she could not bring herself to argue that her daughter’s coiffure was more important than the welfare of the Earl of Chatteris. “Very well,” she said briskly. “Off with the two of you, then. But I want to be clear. If he is terribly ill, you must insist upon moving him here to recuperate.”

Honoria was quite sure that was not going to happen, but she didn’t say anything as she strode toward the front door, Cecily and Mrs. Royle right at her heels.

“And make sure he knows that we do not plan to return to Cambridge for several weeks,” Mrs. Royle continued.

“We don’t?” Cecily asked.

“No, and as you are completely free of obligations, you may go over each day to oversee his care.” Mrs. Royle paused. “Er, if that is what Lord Chatteris wishes.”

“Of course, Mother,” Cecily said, but she looked embarrassed.

“And do give him my regards,” Mrs. Royle continued.

Honoria hurried down the steps to wait for the carriage to be brought around.

“And tell him that Mr. Royle and I pray for his speedy recovery.”

“He might not be sick, Mother,” Cecily said.

Mrs. Royle scowled at her. “But if he is . . .”

“I shall relate your good wishes,” Cecily finished for her.

“Here comes the carriage,” Honoria said, nearly desperate to escape.

“Remember!” Mrs. Royle called out as Honoria and Cecily were helped up by a footman. “If he’s sick, bring him – ”

But they were already rolling away.

Marcus was still in bed when his butler quietly entered his room and informed him that Lady Honoria Smythe-Smith and Miss Royle had arrived and were waiting in the yellow drawing room.

“Shall I tell them you are not available to receive guests?” the butler inquired.

For a moment Marcus was tempted to say yes. He felt awful, and he was sure he looked worse. By the time Jimmy had found him the previous evening, he had been shivering so hard he was amazed he hadn’t knocked out his own teeth. Then when he got home they had to cut the boot from him. Which would have been bad enough – he rather liked those boots – but his valet had been a bit more aggressive than necessary, and Marcus now sported a four-inch gash on his left leg.

But if their situations had been reversed, he would have insisted upon ascertaining Honoria’s welfare with his own eyes, so it seemed that he would have to allow her to do the same with him. As for the other girl – Miss Royle, he thought the butler had said – he just hoped she was not a female of delicate sensibilities.

Because the last time he’d looked in the mirror, he could have sworn his skin had been green.

With help from his valet – both in dressing and making it downstairs to the drawing room – Marcus thought he looked moderately presentable when he greeted the two ladies.

“Good God, Marcus,” Honoria exclaimed as she came to her feet. “You look like death.”

Apparently, he was wrong. “Lovely to see you, too, Honoria.” He motioned to a nearby sofa. “Do you mind if I sit?”