“Oh, thank heavens.” She touched his forehead with her hand. Her skin felt hot, but then again, everything felt hot.
“Hon – Honor – ” He couldn’t quite manage the rest of her name. He tried; he moved his lips, and he took a few more breaths. But it was all too much effort, especially since she wouldn’t seem to answer his question. Why was she here?
“You’ve been very ill,” she said.
He nodded. Or he might have done. He thought about nodding, at least.
“Mrs. Wetherby wrote to me in London.”
Ah, so that was it. Still, very odd.
She took his hand in hers, patting it in a nervous, fluttery gesture. “I came up just as soon as I could. My mother is here, as well.”
Lady Winstead? He tried to smile. He liked Lady Winstead.
“I think you still have a fever,” Honoria said, sounding unsure of herself. “Your forehead is quite warm. Although I must say, it is bursting hot in this room. I don’t know that I can tell how much of the heat is you, and how much is simply the air.”
“Please,” he groaned, lurching one arm forward to bat against hers. He opened his eyes, blinking in the dim light. “The window.”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I wish I could. Mrs. Wetherby said the doctor said – ”
“Please.” He was begging – hell, he almost sounded as if he might cry. But he didn’t care. He just wanted her to open the damned window.
“Marcus, I can’t . . .” But she looked torn.
“I can’t breathe,” he told her. And honestly, he did not think he was exaggerating.
“Oh, all right,” she said, bustling over to the window. “But don’t tell anyone.”
“Promise,” he mumbled. He couldn’t rouse himself to turn his head to watch, but he could hear her every movement in the thick silence of the night.
“Mrs. Wetherby was quite firm,” she said, pulling back the curtain. “The room was to remain hot.”
Marcus grunted and tried to lift a hand in a dismissive wave.
“I don’t know anything about caring for invalids” – ah, now there was the sound of the window being shoved open – “but I can’t imagine it’s healthy to bake in such heat when one has a fever.”
Marcus felt the first stirrings of cooler air touch his skin, and he almost cried with happiness.
“I’ve never had a fever,” Honoria said, coming back to his side. “Or at least not that I can remember. Isn’t that odd?”
He could hear the smile in her voice. He even knew exactly what sort of smile it was – a little bit sheepish, with just a touch of wonderment. She often smiled like that. And every time, the right side of her mouth tipped ever-so-slightly higher than the left.
And now he could hear it. It was lovely. And strange. How odd that he knew her so well. He knew her, of course, better than almost anyone. But that wasn’t the same as knowing someone’s smiles.
Or was it?
She pulled a chair closer to his bed and sat. “It never even occurred to me until I came here to care for you. That I’d never had a fever, I mean. My mother says they’re dreadful.”
She came for him? He didn’t know why he found this so remarkable. There was no one else at Fensmore she would have come for, and she was here, in his sickroom, but still, somehow it seemed . . . Well, not odd. Not surprising, either. Just . . .
He tried to nudge his tired mind. Could something be not surprising and unexpected? Because that’s what it was. He would never have expected Honoria to drop everything and come to Fensmore to care for him. And yet now that she was here, it wasn’t surprising at all.
It felt almost normal.
“Thank you for opening the window,” he said softly.
“You’re welcome.” She tried to smile, but she could not hide the worry on her face. “I’m sure it didn’t take much to convince me. I don’t think I’ve ever been so hot in my life.”
“Nor I,” he tried to joke.
She smiled then, and it was a real one. “Oh, Marcus,” she said, reaching forward to smooth his hair from his forehead. She shook her head, but she didn’t look as if she knew why she was doing so. Her own hair was falling in her face, poker-straight as always. She blew at it, trying to move it away from her mouth, but it flopped right back down. Finally, she batted it away with her fingers, shoving it behind her ear.
It fell back onto her face.
“You look tired,” he said, his voice hoarse.
“Said the man who cannot keep his eyes open.”
“Touché,” he said, somehow managing to punctuate the statement with a little flick of his forefinger.
She was silent for a moment, then gave a little start. “Would you like something to drink?”
“I’m so sorry. I should have asked the moment you woke up. You must be terribly thirsty.”
“Just a bit,” he lied.
“Mrs. Wetherby left a pitcher of water,” she said, reaching for something on the table behind her. “It’s not cold, but I think it will still be refreshing.”
He nodded again. Anything short of boiling would be refreshing.
She held out a glass, then realized that he wasn’t going to be able to use it in his current, supine pose. “Here, let me help you up,” she said, setting the glass back down on the table. She reached around him and, with more determination than strength, helped him into a sitting position. “Here you are,” she said, sounding as efficient as a governess. “Just, ehrm, we should tuck in that blanket, and have some water.”