She sat down heavily on the stone bench outside Mr. Hilleford’s Tobacco Shoppe for Discerning Gentlemen and pressed herself up against the wall behind her, desperately (there was that awful word again) trying to wedge her entire body under the awning. It was pouring. Pouring. Not drizzling, not merely raining, but pouring proverbial cats, dogs, sheep, and horses.
At this rate, she wouldn’t have been surprised if an elephant tumbled down from the sky.
And it stank. Honoria had thought that cheroots produced her least favorite smell, but no, mold was worse, and Mr. Hilleford’s Tobacco Shoppe for Gentlemen who Did Not Mind if Their Teeth Turned Yellow had a suspicious black substance creeping along its outer wall that smelled like death.
Really, could she possibly be in a worse situation?
Why, yes. Yes, she could. Because she was (of course) quite alone, the rain having taken thirty seconds to go from drip to downpour. The rest of her shopping party was across the street, happily browsing in the warm and cozy Miss Pilaster’s Fancy Emporium of Ribbons and Trinkets, which, in addition to having all sorts of fun and frilly merchandise, smelled a great deal better than Mr. Hilleford’s establishment.
Miss Pilaster sold perfume. Miss Pilaster sold dried rose petals and little candles that smelled like vanilla.
Mr. Hilleford grew mold.
Honoria sighed. Such was her life.
She had lingered too long at the window of a bookshop, assuring her friends that she would meet them at Miss Pilaster’s in a minute or two. Two minutes had turned to five, and then, just as she’d been preparing to make her way across the street, the heavens had opened and Honoria had had no choice but to take refuge under the only open awning on the south side of the Cambridge High Street.
She stared mournfully at the rain, watching it pummel the street. The drops were pelting the cobblestones with tremendous force, splashing and spraying back into the air like tiny little explosions. The sky was darkening by the second, and if Honoria was any judge of English weather, the wind was going to pick up at any moment, rendering her pathetic spot under Mr. Hilleford’s awning completely useless.
Her mouth slipped into a dejected frown, and she squinted up at the sky.
Her feet were wet.
She was cold.
And she’d never once, not in her entire life, left the boundaries of England, which meant that she was a rather good judge of English weather, and in about three minutes she was going to be even more miserable than she was right now.
Which she really hadn’t thought possible.
She blinked, bringing her gaze down from the sky to the carriage that had just rolled into place in front of her.
She knew that voice. “Marcus?”
Oh, good heavens, her misery only needed this. Marcus Holroyd, the Earl of Chatteris, happy and dry in his plush carriage. Honoria felt her jaw go slack, although really, she didn’t know why she should be surprised. Marcus lived in Cambridgeshire, not too far from the city. More to the point, if anyone were to see her while she was looking like a wet, bedraggled creature of the rodential variety, it would be he.
“Good God, Honoria,” he said, scowling down at her in that supercilious way of his, “you must be freezing.”
She managed the barest of shrugs. “It is a bit brisk.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Shopping,” she said, motioning across the street, “with friends. And cousins.” Not that her cousins weren’t also friends. But she had so many cousins they almost seemed a category unto themselves.
The door opened wider. “Get in,” he said. Not Will you please get in or Please, you must dry yourself off. Just: “Get in.”
Another girl might have tossed her hair and said, You can’t order me about! Another, slightly less prideful girl might have thought it, even if she’d lacked the courage to say it aloud. But Honoria was cold, and she valued her comfort more than her pride, and more to the point, this was Marcus Holroyd, and she’d known him since she was in pinafores.
Since the age of six, to be precise.
That was also probably the last time she’d managed to show herself to advantage, she thought with a grimace. At seven she’d made such a pest of herself that he and her brother Daniel had taken to calling her Mosquito. When she’d claimed to be complimented, that she’d loved how exotic and dangerous it had sounded, they’d smirked and changed it to Bug.
Bug she’d been, ever since.
He’d seen her wetter than this, too. He’d seen her completely soaked, back when she was eight and she’d thought she’d been completely hidden in the boughs of the old oak tree at Whipple Hill. Marcus and Daniel had built a fort at its base, no girls allowed. They had pelted her with pebbles until she’d lost her grip and tumbled down.
In retrospect, she really shouldn’t have chosen the branch that hung over the lake.
Marcus had fished her out of the dunk, though, which was more than she could say for her own brother.
Marcus Holroyd, she thought ruefully. He’d been in her life almost as long as she could remember. Since before he was Lord Chatteris, since before Daniel was Lord Winstead. Since before Charlotte, her closest-in-age sister, had married and left home.
Since before Daniel, too, had left.
She looked up. Marcus’s voice was impatient, but his face held a hint of concern. “Get in,” he repeated.
She nodded and did as he said, taking his large hand in hers and accepting his help into his carriage. “Marcus,” she said, trying to settle herself into her seat with all the grace and nonchalance she might exhibit in a fine drawing room, never mind the puddles at her feet. “What a lovely surprise to see you.”