“No, please, go ahead. Your eyes are terribly sunken in.” She grimaced as she watched him attempt to maneuver his way around a table. “Shall I help you?”

“No, no, I’m quite all right.” He hopped twice to get to the edge of the cushions and then practically fell backward onto the sofa. Dignity, it seemed, had no place in a sickroom.

“Miss Royle,” he said, giving a nod to the other lady. He’d met her once or twice over the years, he was fairly certain.

“Lord Chatteris,” she said politely. “My parents send their regards and wish you a speedy recovery.”

“Thank you,” he said, giving her a weak nod. He felt overpoweringly tired all of a sudden. The trip from his bedroom downstairs must have been more difficult than he’d anticipated. He hadn’t slept well the night before, either. He’d started coughing the moment his head had touched his pillow, and he hadn’t stopped since.

“Excuse me,” he said to the two ladies as he placed a cushion on the table in front of him, then propped his foot on it. “I’m told I’m meant to elevate it.”

“Marcus,” Honoria said, immediately dispensing with any pretense of polite conversation, “you should not be out of bed.”

“It’s where I was,” he said dryly, “until I was informed that I had visitors.”

This earned him a look of such reproach that it brought to mind Miss Pimm, his nurse from oh-so-many years ago. “You should have told your butler you were not receiving,” she said.

“Really?” he murmured. “I’m sure you would have accepted that meekly and gone home assured of my welfare.” He looked over at the other lady with an ironic tilt to his head. “What do you think, Miss Royle? Would Lady Honoria have left without comment?”

“No, my lord,” Miss Royle said, her lips twitching with amusement. “She was most firm in her wish to see you for herself.”

“Cecily!” Honoria said indignantly. Marcus decided to ignore her.

“Is that so, Miss Royle?” he said, twisting even more in her direction. “My heart warms at her concern.”

“Marcus,” Honoria said, “stop this right now.”

“She is a dogged little thing,” he said.

“Marcus Holroyd,” Honoria said sternly, “if you do not stop poking fun at me this instant, I shall inform Mrs. Royle that indeed you do wish to be moved to Bricstan for the remainder of your convalescence.”

Marcus froze, trying not to laugh. He looked at Miss Royle, who was also trying not to laugh. They both lost the battle.

“Mrs. Royle is most eager to show off her nursing skills,” Honoria added with a devilishly placid smile.

“You win, Honoria,” Marcus said, sitting back against the sofa cushions. But his laughter gave way to a fit of coughing, and it took him nearly a minute before he felt himself again.

“How long were you in the rain last night?” Honoria demanded. She rose to her feet and touched his forehead, causing Miss Royle’s eyes to widen at the intimacy.

“Have I a fever?” he murmured.

“I don’t think so.” But she was frowning as she spoke. “You might be a little warm. Perhaps I should get you a blanket.”

Marcus started to tell her that that would not be necessary, but then he realized that a blanket sounded rather nice, actually. And he was strangely grateful that she had suggested it. So he nodded.

“I’ll get it,” Miss Royle said, hopping to her feet. “I saw a maid in the hall.”

As she left, Honoria sat back down, looking over at him with concern in her eyes. “I’m so sorry,” she said once they were alone. “I feel terrible about what happened to you.”

He waved away her apology. “I’ll be fine.”

“You never told me how long you were out in the rain,” she reminded him.

“An hour?” he guessed. “Probably two.”

She let out a miserable sigh. “I’m so sorry.”

He quirked a small smile. “You said that already.”

“Well, I am.”

He tried to smile at her again, because really, it was a ridiculous conversation, but he was overtaken by another fit of coughing.

She frowned with concern. “Maybe you should come to Bricstan.”

He couldn’t yet speak, but he speared her with a glare nonetheless.

“I worry about you here all alone.”

“Honoria,” he managed, coughing two more times before saying, “you’ll be going back to London soon. Mrs. Royle is the kindest of neighbors, I’m sure, but I would much prefer to recuperate in my own home.”

“Yes,” Honoria answered, shaking her head, “not to mention that she’d probably have you married off to Cecily before the end of the month.”

“Did someone say my name?” Cecily asked brightly, returning to the room with a dark blue blanket.

Marcus was overcome with another fit of coughing, this one only slightly feigned.

“Here you are,” Cecily said. She walked over with the blanket, then appeared not to know what to do with it herself. “Perhaps you should help him,” she said to Honoria.

Honoria took the blanket from her and walked over, unfolding it as she approached. “Here you are,” she said softly, leaning over to spread the soft wool over him. She smiled gently as she tucked the corners in. “Is that too tight?”

He shook his head. It was strange, being cared for.

When she was done with her task, she straightened, taking a deep breath before announcing that he needed tea.