Really? Because he’d always hated it. All those years in school, watching Daniel talk to everyone and anyone without even a moment’s hesitation. Always needing a little bit longer to figure out just how he might fit in. It was why he’d loved spending so much time with the Smythe-Smiths. Their home had always been so chaotic and crazed; he’d slipped almost unnoticed into their life of un-routine and become one of the family.

It was the only family he’d ever known.

She touched his face again, running a finger down the bridge of his nose. “You would be too perfect if you weren’t shy,” she said. “Too much of a storybook hero. I’m sure you never read novels, but I’ve always thought my friends saw you as a character in one of Mrs. Gorely’s gothics.”

He knew there was a reason he’d never liked her friends.

“I was never quite sure if you were the hero or the villain, though.”

He decided not to find insult in that statement. He could tell she was smiling slyly as she said it.

“You need to get better,” she whispered. “I don’t know where I’ll be if you don’t.” And then, so softly that he barely heard her: “I think you might be my touchstone.”

He tried to move his lips, tried to say something, because that wasn’t the sort of thing one let go without a reply. But his face still felt thick and heavy, and all he could manage were a few gasping noises.

“Marcus? Do you want some water?”

He did, actually.

“Are you even awake?”

Sort of.

“Here,” she said. “Try this.”

He felt something cold touch his lips. A spoon, dribbling lukewarm water into his mouth. It was hard to swallow, though, and she only let him have a few drops.

“I don’t think you’re awake,” she said. He heard her settle back down in her chair. She sighed. She sounded tired. He hated that.

But he was glad she was here. He had a feeling she might be his touchstone, too.

Chapter Twelve

“Doctor!” Honoria jumped to her feet about twenty minutes later as a surprisingly young man entered the room. She didn’t think she’d ever met a doctor who didn’t have gray hair. “It’s his leg,” she said. “I don’t think you saw it when – ”

“I didn’t see him before,” the doctor said brusquely. “My father did.”

“Oh.” Honoria took a respectful step back as the doctor bent over Marcus’s leg. Her mother, who had come in just behind him, walked over to Honoria’s side.

And then took her hand. Honoria squeezed it as if it were a lifeline, grateful for the connection.

The young man looked at Marcus’s leg for not nearly as long as Honoria would have thought necessary, then bent and put his ear to his chest. “How much laudanum did you give him?”

Honoria looked at her mother. She had been the one to dose him.

“A spoonful,” Lady Winstead said. “Perhaps two.”

The doctor’s mouth tightened as he straightened and faced them. “Was it one, or was it two?”

“It’s difficult to say,” Lady Winstead answered. “He didn’t swallow it all.”

“I had to wipe his face,” Honoria put in.

The doctor did not comment. He put his ear back on Marcus’s chest, and his lips moved, almost as if he were counting to himself. Honoria waited for as long as she could stand, then said, “Doctor, er . . .”

“Winters,” her mother supplied.

“Yes, er, Dr. Winters, please tell us, did we give him too much?”

“I don’t think so,” Dr. Winters answered, but he still kept his ear to Marcus’s chest. “The opium suppresses the lungs. That is why his breathing is so shallow.”

Honoria put her hand to her mouth in horror. She hadn’t even realized his breathing was shallow. In fact, she’d thought he sounded better. More peaceful.

The doctor straightened and turned his attention to Marcus’s leg. “It is critical that I have all of the pertinent information,” he said brusquely. “I would be much more worried if I did not know that he’d been given laudanum.”

“You’re not worried?” Honoria asked in disbelief.

Dr. Winters looked at her sharply. “I didn’t say I wasn’t worried.” He returned to Marcus’s leg, examining it closely. “Just that I’d be more worried if he hadn’t had it. If his breathing was this shallow without laudanum, it would indicate a serious infection indeed.”

“This isn’t serious?”

The doctor gave her another annoyed look. He did not appreciate her questions, that much was clear. “Kindly hold your comments until I finish examining him.”

Honoria felt her entire face clench in irritation, but she stepped back. She would be polite to Dr. Winters if it killed her; if anyone had a chance at saving Marcus’s life, it would be he.

“Explain to me exactly what you did to clean the wound,” the doctor demanded, glancing up briefly from his examination of Marcus’s leg. “And I also want to know what it looked like before you started.”

Honoria and her mother took turns telling him what they’d done. He seemed to approve, or at the very least, he didn’t disapprove. When they were done, he turned back to Marcus’s leg, looked at it one more time, and let out a long breath.

Honoria waited for a moment. He looked like he was taking time to think. But bloody hell, he was taking a long time to think. Finally she couldn’t stand it. “What is your opinion?” she blurted out.