For the first time since she had arrived at Fensmore, she wasn’t terrified.

Chapter Thirteen

The next time Marcus woke up, he could tell that something had changed. First of all, his leg hurt like the devil again. But somehow he suspected that wasn’t such a bad thing. Secondly, he was hungry. Famished, in fact, as if he had not eaten in days.

Which was probably true. He had no idea how much time had passed since he’d fallen ill.

Lastly, he could open his eyes. That was excellent.

He wasn’t sure what time it was. It was dark, but it could just as easily have been four in the morning as ten at night. It was bloody disorienting, being sick.

He swallowed, trying to moisten his throat. Some more water would be nice. He turned his head toward the bedside table. His eyes still had not adjusted to the dark, but he could see that someone had fallen asleep in a chair by his bed. Honoria? Probably. He had a feeling she had not left his room throughout the ordeal.

He blinked, trying to remember how she had even come to be at Fensmore. Oh, yes, Mrs. Wetherby had written to her. He could not imagine why his housekeeper had thought to do so, but he would be eternally grateful that she had.

He rather suspected that he would be dead if not for the agony Honoria and her mother had inflicted upon his leg.

But that wasn’t the whole of it. He knew that he had been in and out of consciousness, and he knew that there would always be huge gaps in his memory of this terrible time. But even so, he had known that Honoria was there, in his room. She had held his hand, and she had talked to him, her soft voice reaching his soul even when he hadn’t been able to make out the words.

And knowing she was there . . . It had just been easier. He hadn’t been alone. For the first time in his life, he hadn’t been alone.

He let out a little snort. He was being overly dramatic. It wasn’t as if he walked about with some invisible shield, keeping all other people at bay. He could have had more people in his life. He could have had many more people. He was an earl, for the love of God. He could have snapped his fingers and filled his house.

But he’d never wanted company for the sake of idle chatter. And for everything in his life that had meant anything, he had been alone.

It was what he’d wanted.

It was what he’d thought he wanted.

He blinked a few more times, and his room began to come into focus. The curtains had not been pulled shut, and the moon shed enough light for him to make out the barest gradations of color. Or maybe it was just that he knew that his walls were burgundy and the giant landscape hanging above the fireplace was mostly green. People saw what they expected to see. It was one of the most basic truisms of life.

He turned his head again, peering at the person in the chair. It was definitely Honoria, and not just because she was the person he expected to see. Her hair had come partly undone, and it was clearly light brown, not nearly dark enough to be Lady Winstead’s.

He wondered how long she’d been sitting there. She couldn’t possibly be comfortable.

But he shouldn’t bother her. She surely needed her sleep.

He tried to push himself up into a sitting position but found he was too weak to manage more than a few inches. Still, he could see a little better, maybe even reach across Honoria to the glass of water on the table.

Or maybe not. He lifted his arm about half a foot before it fell back to his side. Damn, he was tired. And thirsty. His mouth felt as if it had been packed in sawdust.

That glass of water looked like heaven. Heaven, just out of reach.

Damn it.

He sighed, then wished he hadn’t, because it made his ribs hurt. His entire body ached. How was it possible that a body could ache absolutely everywhere? Except for his leg, which burned.

But he thought that maybe he didn’t have a fever any longer. Or at least not much of one. It was hard to tell. He certainly felt more lucid than he had in some time.

He watched Honoria for a minute or so. She didn’t move at all in her sleep. Her head was cocked to the side at an unnatural angle, and he could only think that she was going to wake up with a terrible crick in her neck.

Maybe he should wake her up. It would be the kind thing to do.

“Honoria,” he croaked.

She didn’t move.

“Honoria.” He tried to say it louder, but it came out the same – raspy and hoarse, like an insect hurling itself against the window. Not to mention that the effort was exhausting.

He tried reaching out to her again. His arm felt like a dead weight, but somehow he got it off the bed. He meant to just poke her, but instead his hand landed heavily on her outstretched leg.

“Aaaaah!” She came awake with a shriek, her head snapping up so fast she hit the back of it on the bedpost. “Ow,” she moaned, bringing her hand up to rub the sore spot.

“Honoria,” he said again, trying to get her attention.

She mumbled something and let out a huge yawn as she rubbed her cheek with the heel of her hand. And then: “Marcus?”

She sounded sleepy. She sounded wonderful.

“May I have some water, please?” he asked her. Maybe he should have said something more profound; he had, after all, practically come back from the dead. But he was thirsty. Wandering the desert thirsty. And asking for water was about as profound as one got in his condition.

“Of course.” Her hands fumbled about in the darkness until they landed on the glass. “Oh, blast,” he heard her say. “One moment.”

He watched as she got to her feet and made her way to another table, where she picked up a pitcher. “There isn’t much left,” she said groggily. “But it should be enough.” She poured some into the glass, then picked up the spoon.