“Oh, yes,” Miss Royle agreed. “That would be just the thing.”

Marcus didn’t even try to protest this time. He was sure he looked pathetic, all wrapped in a blanket with his foot stuck up on the table, and he couldn’t even imagine what they thought every time he started coughing. But he was finding it rather comforting to be fussed over, and if Honoria wanted to insist that he needed tea, he would be glad to make her happy by drinking it.

He told her where to find the pull to ring for tea, and she did so, settling back in her spot across from him after a maid came in and took their order.

“Has a surgeon been by to look at your ankle?” she asked.

“It’s not necessary,” he told her. “It’s not broken.”

“Are you certain? It’s not the sort of thing one wants to take chances with.”

“I’m certain.”

“I would feel better if – ”

“Honoria, hush. It’s not broken.”

“And your boot?”

“His boot?” Miss Royle asked. She looked perplexed.

“That, I’m afraid, is broken,” he answered.

“Oh, dear,” Honoria said. “I thought they might have to cut it off.”

“They had to cut off your boot?” Miss Royle echoed. “Oh, but that’s terrible.”

“His ankle was horribly swollen,” Honoria told her. “It was the only way.”

“But a boot,” Miss Royle persisted.

“It wasn’t one of my favorite boots,” Marcus said, trying to cheer poor Miss Royle up. She looked as if someone had decapitated a puppy.

“I wonder if one could have a single boot made,” Honoria mused. “To match the other. Then it wouldn’t be a complete waste.”

“Oh, no, that would never work,” Miss Royle said, apparently an expert on such topics. “The leather would never quite match.”

Marcus was saved from a lengthy discussion of footwear by the arrival of Mrs. Wetherby, his longtime housekeeper. “I had already started on the tea before you asked for it,” she announced, bustling in with a tray.

He smiled, unsurprised. She was always doing things like that. He introduced her to Honoria and Miss Royle, and when she greeted Honoria her eyes lit up.

“Oh, you must be Master Daniel’s sister!” Mrs. Wetherby exclaimed, setting down the tea service.

“I am,” Honoria replied, beaming. “Do you know him, then?”

“I do. He visited a few times, usually when the previous earl was out of town. And of course he has come by once or twice since Master Marcus became the earl.”

Marcus felt himself blush at her use of his childhood honorific. But he would never correct her. Mrs. Wetherby had been like a mother to him growing up, often the only warm smile or encouraging word in all of Fensmore.

“It is lovely to meet you,” Mrs. Wetherby continued. “I have heard so much about you.”

Honoria blinked with surprise. “You have?”

Marcus also blinked with surprise. He couldn’t recall ever having mentioned Honoria to anyone, much less his housekeeper.

“Oh, yes,” Mrs. Wetherby said. “When they were children, of course. I must confess, I still quite thought of you as a young child. But you are quite grown up now, aren’t you?”

Honoria smiled and nodded.

“Now, how do you take your tea?” the housekeeper asked, splashing milk into all three cups after Honoria and Miss Royle gave her their preferences.

“It has been much too long since I have seen Master Daniel,” she continued, lifting the pot to pour. “He is a bit of a rascal, but I do like him. Is he well?”

There was an awkward silence, and Honoria looked to Marcus for aid. He immediately cleared his throat and said, “I must not have told you, Mrs. Wetherby. Lord Winstead has been out of the country for several years.” He would tell her the rest of the story later, but not in front of Honoria and her friend.

“I see,” she said, correctly interpreting the silence as a cue not to pursue the subject. She cleared her throat a few times, then handed the first cup and saucer to Honoria. “And one for you, too,” she murmured, handing the second set to Miss Royle.

They both thanked her, and she stood to hand Marcus his cup. But then she turned to Honoria. “You will make sure he drinks all of it, won’t you?”

Honoria grinned. “Absolutely.”

Mrs. Wetherby leaned down and loudly whispered, “Gentlemen make terrible patients.”

“I heard that,” Marcus remarked.

His housekeeper gave him a sly look. “You were meant to.” And with that she curtsied and left the room.

The rest of the visit passed without incident. They drank their tea (two cups for Marcus, at Honoria’s insistence), ate their biscuits, and chatted about various niceties until Marcus started coughing again, this time with such duration that Honoria insisted that he go back to bed.

“It is time we left anyway,” she said, standing with Miss Royle. “I am sure Mrs. Royle will be eager for our return.”

Marcus nodded and smiled his thanks when they insisted he did not stand on their account. He really was feeling dreadful, and he suspected that he might have to swallow his pride and ask to be carried back up to his room.

After the two ladies left, of course.

He stifled a groan. He hated being sick.

Once in the carriage, Honoria allowed herself to sit back and relax. Marcus looked ill, but it was nothing that a week of rest and broth would not cure. But her moment of peace was brought abruptly short when Cecily announced, “One month.”