“I’ll sit with him,” she told Mrs. Wetherby.
“Oh, no, miss, you couldn’t. It wouldn’t be – ”
“Someone should be with him,” Honoria said firmly. “He should not be alone.” She took the housekeeper’s arm and led her to the far side of the room. It was impossible to conduct a conversation so close to Marcus. He had lain back down, but he was tossing and turning with such violence that Honoria flinched every time she looked at him.
“I will stay,” Mrs. Wetherby said. But she didn’t sound as if she truly wanted to.
“I suspect you have spent many hours at his side already,” Honoria said. “I will take a turn. You need to rest.”
Mrs. Wetherby nodded gratefully, and as she reached the door to the corridor, she said, “No one will say anything. About your being in his room. I promise you, not a soul at Fensmore would say a word.”
Honoria gave her what she hoped was a reassuring smile. “My mother is here. Perhaps not here in the room, but she is here at Fensmore. That ought to be enough to keep the gossip away.”
With a nod, Mrs. Wetherby slipped out of the room, and Honoria listened to the sound of her footsteps until they retreated into silence.
“Oh, Marcus,” she said softly, moving slowly back to his side. “What happened to you?” She reached out to touch him, then thought, No, better not. It wouldn’t be proper, and besides, she didn’t want to disturb him any more than she already had.
He threw an arm out from under the covers, rolling about until he settled into position on his side, his free arm lying atop the quilt. She hadn’t realized he was so muscular. Of course she knew he was strong. It was obvious. He was – She stopped for a moment, thinking. Actually, it wasn’t obvious. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen him lift anything. But he seemed strong. He just had that look about him. Capable. Not all men had it. In fact, most didn’t, at least most of Honoria’s acquaintance.
Still, she hadn’t realized that the muscles of a man’s arm would be so well defined.
She leaned forward a little more, tilting her head to the side, then moving the candle a bit forward. What was that muscle on the shoulder called? His was really quite nice.
She gasped, horrified by the inappropriate direction of her thoughts, and took a step back. She wasn’t here to ogle the poor man, she was here to take care of him. And furthermore, if she was going to ogle someone, it absolutely shouldn’t be Marcus Holroyd.
There was a chair just a few feet away, so she took it and pulled it forward, close enough to his bed that she could jump up and be with him in an instant, but not so close that he could strike her in his flailings.
He looked thinner. She wasn’t sure how she could tell this amidst all the quilts and coverlets, but he had definitely lost weight. His face was gaunt, and even in the dim light of her candle, she could see unfamiliar shadows beneath his eyes.
She sat very still for several minutes, feeling rather foolish, actually. It seemed as if she should be doing something. She supposed watching him was something, but it didn’t feel like much, especially since she was trying so hard not to watch certain parts of him. He seemed to have calmed down; every now and then he would shift restlessly beneath his covers, but for the most part, he slept.
But, Lord, it was hot. Honoria was still in her day dress, a pretty little frock that buttoned up the back. It was one of those ridiculous pieces of feminine attire that she could not possibly get into (or out of) on her own.
She smiled. Rather like Marcus’s boots. It was nice to know that men could be as impractically devoted to fashion as women.
Still, the frock was the absolute wrong thing to be wearing in a sickroom. She managed to undo a few of the top buttons, practically gasping for breath when she got them loose.
“This cannot be healthy,” she said aloud, holding onto her collar with two fingers and moving it back and forth in an attempt to fan her sweaty neck.
She looked over at Marcus. He did not seem to have been disturbed by her voice.
She kicked off her shoes, and then, because really, she was already undressed enough to ruin her reputation should anyone come upon her, she reached down and peeled off her stockings.
“Ew.” She looked down at her legs in dismay. The stockings were almost soaked through.
With a sigh of resignation she laid them out over the back of a chair, then thought the better of it. Probably best not to have them on such display. So she crumpled them into a ball and shoved them into her shoes. And while she was standing, she grasped her skirt in her hands and swished it back and forth, trying to cool off her legs.
This was intolerable. She didn’t care what the doctor had said. She could not believe that this was healthy. She walked back over to his bed to peer down at him again, keeping a safe distance in case he lashed out.
Carefully, gingerly, she reached out a hand. She didn’t touch him, but she came close. The air near his shoulder was at least ten degrees warmer than the rest of the room.
Allowing for slight exaggeration, which she thought she was entitled to, given her overheated state. But still.
She looked around the room for something with which she might fan him. Drat, she should have nicked one of her mother’s Chinese silk fans. Mama was always fanning herself these days. She never went anywhere without at least three packed in her trunk. Which was really for the best, since she tended to leave them all over town.
But there was nothing suitable for fanning, so Honoria leaned over and blew gently at Marcus. He didn’t stir, which she took as a good sign. Emboldened by her success (if indeed that was what it was; she really had no idea) she tried it again, with a little more force. This time he gave a little shiver.