“I can do it,” he told her.
She looked at him with surprise. “Really?”
“Can you help me sit up?”
She nodded and wrapped her arms around him, almost like an embrace. “Here we are,” she murmured, pulling him up. Her words landed softly in the crook of his neck, almost like a kiss. He sighed and went still, allowing himself a moment to savor the warmth of her breath against his skin.
“Are you all right?” she asked, pulling back.
“Yes, yes, of course,” he said, snapping out of his reverie with as much speed as a man in his condition could manage. “Sorry.”
Together, they got him into a sitting position, and Marcus took the glass and drank without assistance. It was remarkable how much that felt like a tri-umph.
“You look so much better,” Honoria said, blinking sleep from her eyes. “I – I – ” She blinked again, but this time he thought it might be to keep from crying. “It’s so nice to see you again.”
He nodded and held out the glass. “More, please.”
“Of course.” She poured another and handed it to him. He drank it greedily, exhaling only when he had finished the whole thing.
“Thank you,” he said, handing it back.
She took it, set it down, then set herself back down in the chair. “I was so worried about you,” she said.
“What happened?” he asked. He remembered some of it – her mother and the scissors, the giant rabbit. And she’d called him her touchstone. He would always remember that.
“The doctor has been by to see you twice,” she told him. “Dr. Winters. The younger Dr. Winters. His father – Well, I’m not sure what happened to his father, but honestly, I don’t care to know. He never even looked at your leg. He had no idea you’d an infected wound. If he’d seen it before it got so bad, well, I suppose it all may have turned out the same.” Her lips pressed together in frustration. “But maybe not.”
“What did Dr. Winters say?” Marcus asked, then clarified, “The younger one.”
She smiled. “He thinks you’re going to keep your leg.”
“What?” He shook his head, trying to understand.
“We were afraid we might have to amputate it.”
“Oh, my God.” He felt himself sinking down into the pillows. “Oh, my God.”
“It’s probably for the best that you didn’t know it was a possibility,” she said gently.
“Oh, my God.” He couldn’t imagine life without a leg. He supposed no one could, until they had to.
She took his hand in hers. “It’s going to be all right.”
“My leg,” he whispered. He had an irrational urge to sit up and look at it, just to make sure it was still there. He forced himself to lie still; she’d surely think him beyond foolish for wanting to see it for himself. But it hurt. It hurt a lot, and he was grateful for the pain. At least he knew it was still where it was supposed to be.
Honoria pulled her hand free to stifle an enormous yawn. “Oh, excuse me,” she said when she was done. “I’m afraid I haven’t slept very much.”
His fault, he realized. Yet another reason he owed her his gratitude. “That chair can’t possibly be comfortable,” he told her. “You should take the other side of the bed.”
“Oh, I couldn’t.”
“It couldn’t possibly be any more improper than anything else that’s happened today.”
“No,” she said, looking as if she might laugh if she weren’t so tired, “I mean really, I couldn’t. The mattress is still wet from when we cleaned your leg.”
“Oh.” And then he did laugh. Because it was funny. And because it felt so good to smile.
She squirmed a little, trying to get comfortable in the chair. “Maybe I could lie on top of the blanket,” she said, craning her neck to look over him to the empty spot.
“Whatever you wish.”
She let out an exhausted sigh. “My feet might get wet. But I don’t think I care.”
A moment later she was up on the bed, lying on the blanket. He was, too, actually, although most of him was under a second quilt; he supposed they’d wanted to leave his leg open to the air.
She yawned again.
“Honoria,” he whispered.
A moment went by, and then he said, because he had to, “I’m glad you were here.”
“Me, too,” she said sleepily. “Me, too.”
Her breathing slowly evened out, and then so did his. And they slept.
Honoria woke the next morning delightfully snuggly and warm. Her eyes still closed, she pointed her toes, then flexed her feet, rolling her ankles one way and then the other. It was her morning ritual, stretching in bed. Her hands were always next. Out they went like little starfishes and then back into claws. Then her neck, back and forth and around in a circle.
She yawned, balling her hands into fists as she stretched her arms forward and –
Crashed into someone.
She froze. Opened her eyes. It all came back to her.
Dear heavens, she was in bed with Marcus. No. That was not the right way to phrase it. She was in Marcus’s bed.
But she wasn’t with him.
Improper, yes, but surely there was a special dispensation given to young ladies who find themselves in bed with a gentleman who is clearly too ill to compromise them.
Slowly, she tried to inch away. No need to wake him. He probably had no idea she was even there. And by there she meant right next to him, side to side, feet touching his. Certainly not on the far end of the bed, where she’d started the night before.