Honoria let out a little snort. “I’m glad you’re not.”

“I’m not sure what happened last year. I truly thought Travers would propose. Or if not him, then Lord Fotheringham.”

Honoria shook her head. “I have no idea. I thought they would, too. Lord Bailey in particular seemed quite keen. But then, all of a sudden . . . nothing. It was as if they lost interest overnight.” She shrugged and looked back down at Marcus. “Maybe it’s for the best. What do you think, Marcus? You didn’t much like any of them, I think.” She sighed. “Not that that has anything to do with it, but I suppose I value your opinion.” She let out a tiny snort of laughter. “Can you believe I just said that?”

He turned his head.

“Marcus?” Was he awake? She peered down at him more closely, searching his face for some sign of . . . anything.

“What is it?” her mother asked.

“I’m not certain. He moved his head. I mean, of course he’s done that before, but this was different.” She squeezed his shoulder, praying that he could feel her through the haze of his fever. “Marcus? Can you hear me?”

His lips, dry and cracked, moved the tiniest bit. “Hon – Hon – ”

Oh, thank God.

“Don’t speak,” she said. “It’s all right.”

“Hurts,” he gasped. “Like the . . . devil.”

“I know. I know. I’m so sorry.”

“Is he conscious?” her mother asked.

“Barely.” Honoria stretched her arm down along the bed so that she could take Marcus’s hand. She laced her fingers through his and held tight. “You have a terrible cut on your leg. We’re trying to clean it. It’s going to hurt. Rather badly, I’m afraid, but it must be done.”

He gave a small nod.

Honoria looked over at Mrs. Wetherby. “Do we have any laudanum? Perhaps we should give him some while he is able to swallow.”

“I believe so,” the housekeeper said. She had not stopped wringing her hands since she’d come back with the hot water and towels, and she looked relieved to have something to do. “I can go look right now. There is only one place it would be.”

“Good idea,” Lady Winstead said. Then she stood and moved toward the head of the bed. “Can you hear me, Marcus?”

His chin moved. Not much, but a bit.

“You’re very ill,” she said.

He actually smiled.

“Yes, yes,” Lady Winstead said, smiling in return, “stating the obvious, I know. But you’re going to be perfectly fine, I assure you. It’s just going to be a little painful at first.”


Honoria felt a wobbly smile touch upon her lips. She couldn’t believe that he could joke at such a moment. She was so proud of him. “We’ll get you through this, Marcus,” she said, and then, before she had a clue what she was about, she leaned down and kissed his brow.

He turned again to face her, his eyes now almost fully open. His breathing was labored, and his skin was still so terribly heated. But when she looked in his eyes, she saw him there, through the fever, under the pain.

He was still Marcus, and she would not let anything happen to him.

Thirty minutes later, Marcus’s eyes were closed again, his sleep aided considerably by a dose of laudanum. Honoria had adjusted his position so that she could hold his hand, and she had kept up a steady stream of conversation. It didn’t seem to matter what she said, but she was not the only one who noticed that the sound of her voice soothed him.

Or at least she hoped it did, because if it didn’t, then she was utterly useless. And that was more than she could bear.

“I think we’re almost finished,” she told him. She cast a wary glance at her mother, who was still working diligently at his leg. “I think we’d have to be. I can’t imagine what there is left to clean.”

But her mother let out a frustrated breath and sat back, pausing to wipe her brow.

“Is there a problem?” Honoria asked.

Her mother shook her head and resumed her work, but after only a moment she pulled away. “I can’t see.”

“What? No, that’s impossible.” Honoria took a breath, trying to keep calm. “Just put your head closer.”

Lady Winstead shook her head. “That’s not the problem. It’s just like when I read. I have to hold the book away from my eyes. I just – I can’t – ” She let out a resigned, impatient sigh. “I just can’t see it well enough. Not the small bits.”

“I’ll do it,” Honoria said, her voice far more certain than the rest of her.

Her mother looked at her, but not with surprise. “It’s not easy.”

“I know.”

“He might scream.”

“He already has done,” Honoria said. But her throat felt close, and her heart was pounding.

“It is harder to hear when you are the one with the scissors,” her mother said softly.

Honoria wanted to say something elegant, something heroic about how much harder it would be if he died and she hadn’t done everything she could to save him. But she didn’t. She couldn’t. She had only so much left within her, and words were no longer the best use of her energy.

“I can do it,” was all she said.

She looked at Marcus, still bound tightly to the bed. Sometime in the past hour he’d gone from burning red to deathly pale. Was that a good sign? She’d asked her mother, but she didn’t know, either.