“Oh, no, you don’t,” she muttered, ready to come back with all she had. But before she could scoot around the bed to the water pitcher, he thrust one leg out from under the covers, catching her in her belly.

She stumbled, flailing her arms forward in a desperate attempt to catch her balance before she hit the floor again. Without thinking, she grabbed the first object with which her hand connected.

Marcus screamed.

Honoria’s heart slammed into triple speed, and she let go of what she now realized was his leg. Without anything to hold her up, she fell back to the floor, landing hard on her right elbow.

“Owwwww!” she cried, letting out her own shriek of pain as electric spasms shot down to her fingertips. But somehow she pushed herself to her feet, clutching her elbow to her side. The noise Marcus had made . . .

It had been inhuman.

He was still whimpering when she reached the side of the bed, and he was breathing hard, too – the kind of short, shallow breaths people made to ward off pain.

“What happened?” Honoria whispered. This wasn’t the fever. This was something far more acute.

His leg. She had grabbed his leg.

That was when she realized her hand was sticky.

Still clutching her elbow, she turned her free hand over, twisting until her palm faced up.


“Oh, my God.”

With an unsettled feeling in her stomach, she stepped toward him. She didn’t want to startle him; he’d already knocked her down twice. But the blood . . . It wasn’t her blood.

He’d pulled his leg back under the covers, so she carefully lifted the blanket, pushing it back until his leg was bare to the knee.

“Oh, my God.”

A long, angry gash split the side of his calf, oozing blood and something else she didn’t even want to consider. The leg was terribly swollen and discolored, the skin near the wound red and glistening with a horrible sheen. It looked awful, like something rotting, and with horror Honoria wondered if he was rotting.

She dropped the blanket and lurched back, barely able to keep down the contents of her stomach.

“Oh, my God,” she said again, unable to say anything else, barely able to think anything else. This had to be the cause of the fever. It had nothing to do with the chill and his cough.

Her mind spun. He had an infected wound. It must have been when he’d cut off his boot. But he hadn’t said that he’d been cut. Why hadn’t he mentioned that? He should have told someone. He should have told her.

A light knock sounded at the door, and Mrs. Wetherby poked her head in. “Is everything all right? I heard a tremendous crashing.”

“No,” Honoria answered, her voice shrill and panicked. She tried to quell the rising terror within her. She needed to be rational. She was no help to anyone like this. “His leg. Did you know about his leg?”

“What are you talking about?” Mrs. Wetherby asked, coming quickly to her side.

“His leg. It’s terribly infected. I’m sure it’s the cause of the fever. It has to be.”

“The doctor said it was the cough. He – oh!” Mrs. Wetherby flinched when Honoria lifted the blanket to show her Marcus’s leg. “Oh, my dear heavens.” She took a step back, covering her hand with her mouth. She looked as if she might be sick. “I had no idea. None of us did. How could we not have seen it?”

Honoria was wondering the very same thing, but this wasn’t the time to point fingers. Marcus needed them to work together to help him, not to argue over who was to blame. “We need to summon the doctor,” she said to Mrs. Wetherby. “It needs to be cleaned, I would imagine.”

The housekeeper gave a quick nod. “I’ll send for him.”

“How long will it take for him to get here?”

“It depends on whether he is out seeing other patients. If he’s at home, the footman can be back with him in less than two hours.”

“Two hours!” Honoria bit her lip in a belated attempt to muffle her shriek. She’d never seen anything like this, but she’d heard stories. This was the kind of infection that killed a man. Quickly. “We can’t wait two hours. He needs medical attention now.”

Mrs. Wetherby turned to her with frightened eyes. “Do you know how to clean a wound?”

“Of course not. Do you?”

“Nothing like that,” Mrs. Wetherby answered, eyeing Marcus’s leg with a queasy expression.

“Well, how would you take care of one that is smaller?” Honoria demanded. “A wound, I mean.”

Mrs. Wetherby wrung her hands together, panicked eyes darting from Honoria to Marcus. “I don’t know,” she sputtered. “A compress, I imagine. Something to draw out the poison.”

“The poison?” Honoria echoed. Good God, it sounded positively medieval. “Summon the doctor,” she said, trying to sound more confident than she felt. “Now. And then come right back. With hot water. And towels. And anything else you can think of.”

“Shall I bring your mother?”

“My mother?” Honoria gaped at her, not because there was anything particularly wrong with having her mother in the sickroom. Rather, why was Mrs. Wetherby thinking of it now? “I don’t know. Whatever you think is best. But hurry.”

Mrs. Wetherby nodded and ran from the room.

Honoria looked back at Marcus. His leg was still exposed to the air, the furious gash facing her like a seething frown. “Oh, Marcus,” she whispered. “How could this have happened?” She took his hand, and for once he didn’t pull away. He seemed to have calmed down a bit; his breathing was more even than it had been just a few minutes earlier, and was it possible that his skin wasn’t quite so red?