“Of course, of course,” the butler assured her, still ushering her deeper into the house.

“And my mother . . .” Honoria said with a nervous backward glance. After her original protests, Lady Winstead had been a marvelously good sport all day. Honoria did not want to leave her sleeping in a carriage. The driver and grooms would never leave her unattended, and of course her maid sat on the opposite cushion, also fast asleep, but still, it did not seem right.

“I will greet her just as soon as I convey you to Mrs. Wetherby,” the butler said.

“Thank you, er . . .” It did feel awkward, not knowing his name.

“Springpeace, my lady.” He took her hand in both of his and squeezed. His hands were rheumy, and his grip unsteady, but there was an urgency in his grasp. Gratitude, too. He looked up, his dark eyes meeting hers. “May I say, my lady, that I am very glad that you are here.”

Ten minutes later, Mrs. Wetherby was standing with Honoria outside the door to Marcus’s room. “I don’t know that the earl would like your seeing him in such a state,” the housekeeper said, “but seeing as you’ve come so far to see him . . .”

“I won’t disturb him,” Honoria assured her. “I just need to see for myself that he is well.”

Mrs. Wetherby swallowed and gave her a frank look. “He is not well, miss. You should be prepared for that.”

“I-I didn’t mean ‘well,’ ” Honoria said haltingly. “I meant, oh I don’t know what I meant, just that – ”

The housekeeper laid a gentle hand on her arm. “I understand. He is a bit better than he was yesterday, when I wrote to you.”

Honoria nodded, but the motion felt tight and awkward. She thought that the housekeeper was telling her that Marcus was not at death’s door, but this did little to reassure her, because it meant that he had been at death’s door. And if that was true, there was no reason to think he would not be there again.

Mrs. Wetherby put her forefinger to her lips, signaling to Honoria to be quiet as they entered the room. She turned the doorknob slowly, and the door pushed open on soundless hinges.

“He’s sleeping,” Mrs. Wetherby whispered.

Honoria nodded and stepped forward, blinking in the dim light. It was very warm inside, and the air was thick and dense. “Isn’t he hot?” she whispered to Mrs. Wetherby. She could barely breathe in the stuffy room, and Marcus appeared to be buried under a mound of blankets and quilts.

“It is what the doctor said to do,” Mrs. Wetherby replied. “Under no circumstances were we to allow him to become chilled.”

Honoria tugged at the neck of her day dress, wishing there were some way to loosen the collar. And good heavens, if she was uncomfortable, Marcus must be in agony. She couldn’t imagine it was healthy to be cocooned in such heat.

But if he was overheated, at least he was sleeping. His breathing sounded normal, or at least what Honoria thought was normal. She had no idea what one might listen for at a sickbed; she supposed anything out of the ordinary. She moved a little closer, bending down. He looked terribly sweaty. She could only see one side of his face, but his skin glistened unnaturally, and the air held the stale scent of human exertion.

“I really don’t think he should be under so many blankets,” Honoria whispered.

Mrs. Wetherby gave a helpless little shrug. “The doctor was most explicit.”

Honoria stepped even closer, until her legs touched the side of his bed. “It doesn’t look comfortable.”

“I know,” Mrs. Wetherby agreed.

Honoria reached a tentative hand out to see if she might be able to pull his covers back, even if just for an inch or two. She caught hold of the edge of the topmost quilt, gave the tiniest of tugs, and then –


Honoria shrieked and jumped back, grabbing onto Mrs. Wetherby’s arm. Marcus had practically thrown himself into a sitting position and was looking wildly around the room.

And he did not appear to be wearing any clothing. At least not from the waist up, which was what she could see.

“It’s all right, it’s all right,” she said, but her voice lacked confidence. It didn’t seem all right to her, and she didn’t know how to sound as if she thought otherwise.

He was breathing hard, and he was terribly agitated, but his eyes did not seem to focus on her. Indeed, she wasn’t sure if he realized she was there. His head snapped back and forth, as if he were looking for something, and then it seemed to speed up into a strange shake. “No,” he said, although not forcefully. He didn’t sound angry, just upset. “No.”

“He’s not awake,” Mrs. Wetherby said softly.

Honoria nodded slowly, and the enormity of what she had undertaken finally settled upon her. She didn’t know anything about sickness, and she certainly didn’t know how to care for someone with a fever.

Was that why she had come? To care for him? She had been so frantic with worry after reading Mrs. Wetherby’s message that all she’d been able to think about was seeing him for herself. She hadn’t thought ahead to anything past that.

What an idiot she had been. What had she thought she was going to do once she saw him? Turn around and go home?

She was going to have to care for him. She was here now, and to do anything else would be unthinkable. But the prospect terrified her. What if she did something wrong? What if she made him worse?

But what else could she do? He needed her. Marcus had no one, and Honoria was startled – and a little bit ashamed – that she had not realized this until now.