He just stared at her, his dark brows coming ever-so-slightly together. He was trying to decide the most effective way to scold her, she was sure.
“I am staying here in town. With the Royles,” she told him, even though he hadn’t yet asked. “We are here for five days – Cecily Royle, my cousins Sarah and Iris, and I.” She waited for a moment, for some sort of flash of recognition in his eyes, then said, “You don’t remember who they are, do you?”
“You have a great many cousins,” he pointed out.
“Sarah is the one with the thick, dark hair and eyes.”
“Thick eyes?” he murmured, cracking a tiny smile.
He chuckled. “Very well. Thick hair. Dark eyes.”
“Iris is very pale. Strawberry blond hair?” she prompted. “You still don’t recall.”
“She comes from that family of flowers.”
Honoria winced. It was true that her uncle William and aunt Maria had chosen to name their daughters Rose, Marigold, Lavender, Iris, and Daisy, but still.
“I know who Miss Royle is,” Marcus said.
“She’s your neighbor. You have to know who she is.”
He just shrugged.
“At any rate, we are here in Cambridge because Cecily’s mother thought we could all use a bit of improving.”
His mouth tipped into a vaguely mocking smile. “Improving?”
Honoria wondered why females always needed improving, while males got to go to school. “She bribed two professors into allowing us to listen to their lectures.”
“Really?” He sounded curious. And dubious.
“The life and times of Queen Elizabeth,” Honoria recited dutifully. “And after that, something in Greek.”
“Do you speak Greek?”
“Not a one of us,” she admitted. “But the professor was the only other one who was willing to speak to females.” She rolled her eyes. “He intends to deliver the lecture twice in a row. We must wait in an office until the students leave the lecture hall, lest they see us and lose all sense of reason.”
Marcus nodded thoughtfully. “It is nearly impossible for a gentleman to keep his mind upon his studies in the presence of such overwhelming female loveliness.”
Honoria thought he was serious for about two seconds. She managed one sideways glance in his direction before she burst out with a snort of laughter. “Oh, please,” she said, giving him a light punch in the arm. Such familiarities were unheard of in London, but here, with Marcus . . .
He was practically her brother, after all.
“How fares your mother?” he asked.
“She is well,” Honoria replied, even though she wasn’t. Not really. Lady Winstead had never quite recovered from the scandal of Daniel being forced to leave the country. She alternated between fussing over supposed slights and pretending her only son had never existed.
It was . . . difficult.
“She hopes to retire to Bath,” Honoria added. “Her sister lives there, and I think the two of them would get on well together. She doesn’t really like London.”
“Your mother?” Marcus asked, with some surprise.
“Not as she used to,” Honoria clarified. “Not since Daniel . . . Well. You know.”
Marcus’s lips tightened at the corners. He knew.
“She thinks people are still talking about it,” Honoria said.
Honoria shrugged helplessly. “I have no idea. I don’t think so. No one has given me the cut direct. Besides, it was nearly three years ago. Wouldn’t you think everyone has something else to talk about?”
“I would have thought that everyone would have had something else to talk about when it happened,” he said darkly.
Honoria lifted a brow as she regarded his scowl. There was a reason he scared off so many debutantes. Her friends were terrified of him.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. They were only scared while in his presence. The rest of the time they sat at their escritoires, writing their names entwined with his – all in ridiculous loopy script, adorned with hearts and cherubs.
He was quite the matrimonial catch, Marcus Holroyd.
It wasn’t that he was handsome, because he wasn’t, not exactly. His hair was a nice dark color; his eyes, too, but there was something about his face that Honoria found harsh. His brow was too heavy, too straight, his eyes set a bit too deeply.
But still, there was something about him that caught the eye. An aloofness, a tinge of disdain, as if he simply did not have the patience for nonsense.
It made the girls mad for him, even though most were nonsense personified.
They whispered about him as if he were some dark storybook hero, or if not that, then the villain, all gothic and mysterious, needing only to be redeemed.
Whereas to Honoria he was simply Marcus, which wasn’t anything simple at all. She hated the way he patronized her, watching her with that disapproving stare. He made her feel as she’d been years ago, as an annoying child, or gawky adolescent.
And yet at the same time, there was something so comforting in having him about. Their paths did not cross as often as they used to – everything was different now that Daniel was gone – but when she walked into a room, and he was there . . .
She knew it.
And oddly enough, that was a good thing.
“Do you plan to come down to London for the season?” she asked politely.
“For some of it,” he replied, his face inscrutable. “I have matters to attend to here.”