He blinked a few times, each motion so slow that he was never quite sure if he’d get his eyes open again. He wasn’t wearing a shirt. Funny how he was only just realizing it. Funnier still that he couldn’t seem to summon any concern for her maidenly sensibilities.

She might be blushing. He couldn’t tell. It was too dark to see. But it didn’t matter. This was Honoria. She was a good egg. A sensible egg. She wouldn’t be scarred forever by the sight of his chest.

He took a gulp of water, and then another, barely noticing when some of it dribbled down his chin. Dear Lord, it felt good in his mouth. His tongue had been thick and dry.

Honoria made a little murmuring sound, then reached forward and wiped the moisture from his skin with her hand. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t have a handkerchief.”

He nodded slowly, something within him memorizing the way her fingers felt against his cheek. “You were here before,” he said.

She looked at him in question.

“You touched me. My shoulder.”

A faint smile tilted at her lips. “That was only a few minutes ago.”

“It was?” He thought about that. “Oh.”

“I’ve been here for several hours,” she said.

His chin bobbed a fraction of an inch. “Thank you.” Was that his voice? Damn, he sounded weak.

“I can’t tell you how relieved I am to see you up. I mean, you look terrible, but you look so much better than you did before. You’re speaking. And you’re making sense.” Her hands came up and she clasped them together, the gesture nervous and maybe even a little bit frantic. “Which is more than I can say for myself right now.”

“Don’t be silly,” he said.

She shook her head quickly, then looked away. But he saw her wipe a quick hand at her eyes.

He’d made her cry. He felt his head droop a little to one side. Just the thought of it was exhausting. Heartbreaking. He’d never wanted to make Honoria cry.

She . . . She shouldn’t be . . . He swallowed. He didn’t want her to cry. He was so tired. He didn’t feel like he knew much, but he knew that.

“You scared me,” she said. “I’d wager you didn’t think you could do that.” She sounded as if she was trying to joke with him, but he could tell she was faking it. He appreciated the effort, though.

“Where is Mrs. Wetherby?” he asked.

“I sent her to bed. She was exhausted.”


“She has been caring for you quite diligently.”

He nodded again, that tiny little motion he hoped she could see. His housekeeper had cared for him the last time he’d had a fever, back when he was eleven. His father had not entered the room once, but Mrs. Wetherby had not left his side. He wanted to tell Honoria about that, or maybe about the time his father had left home before Christmas and she had taken it upon herself to put up so much holly that Fensmore had smelled like a forest for weeks. It had been the best Christmas ever, until the year he’d been invited to spend it with the Smythe-Smiths.

That had been the best. That would always be the best.

“Do you want more water?” Honoria asked.

He did, but he wasn’t sure he had the energy to swallow it properly.

“I’ll help you,” she said, placing the glass to his lips.

He took a tiny sip, then let out a tired sigh. “My leg hurts.”

“It’s probably still sprained,” she said with a nod.

He yawned. “Feels . . . little fiery. Little poker.”

Her eyes widened. He couldn’t blame her. He had no idea what he meant either.

She leaned forward, her brow knit with concern, and she once again touched her hand to his forehead. “You’re starting to feel warm again.”

He tried to smile. He thought he might have managed it on at least one side of his mouth. “Was I ever not?”

“No,” she said frankly. “But you feel warmer now.”

“It comes and goes.”

“The fever?”

He nodded.

Her lips tightened, and she looked older than he’d ever seen her before. Not old; she couldn’t possibly look old. But she looked worried. Her hair looked the same, pulled back in her usual loose bun. And she moved the same way, with that bright little gait that was so singularly hers.

But her eyes were different. Darker, somehow. Pulled into her face with worry. He didn’t like it.

“May I have some more water?” he asked. He couldn’t remember ever being so thirsty.

“Of course,” she said quickly, then poured more water from the pitcher to the cup.

He gulped it down, once again too quickly, but this time he wiped the excess water away with the back of his hand. “It will probably come back,” he warned her.

“The fever.” This time, when she said it, it wasn’t a question.

He nodded. “I thought you should know.”

“I don’t understand,” she said, taking the glass from his trembling hand. “You were perfectly well when I saw you last.”

He tried to raise a brow. He wasn’t sure if he was successful.

“Oh, very well,” she amended. “Not perfectly well, but you were clearly mending.”

“There was that cough,” he reminded her.

“I know. But I just don’t think . . .” She let out a self-deprecating snort and shook her head. “What am I saying? I don’t know anything about illness. I don’t even know why I thought I might be able to take care of you. I didn’t think, actually.”