With Marcus’s life no longer in danger, Lady Winstead announced that she and Honoria would be packing their things and leaving for London immediately. “It was highly irregular to make the trip in the first place,” she told Marcus privately. “I doubt there will be talk, given our previous connection and the precariousness of your health, but we both know that society will not be so lenient if we linger.”

“Of course,” Marcus murmured. It was for the best, really. He was beyond bored and would miss having them about, but the season would be starting in earnest soon, and Honoria needed to get back to London. She was an unmarried daughter of an earl and thus in search of a suitable husband; there was no other place for her at this time of year.

He would have to go, too, to keep his vow to Daniel and make sure she didn’t marry an idiot, but he was stuck in bed – doctor’s orders – and would be for at least another week. After that he would be confined to his home for another week, possibly two, until Dr. Winters was confident that he was free of infection. Lady Winstead had made him promise to follow the doctor’s directives.

“We did not save your life to have you squander it,” she told him.

It would be close to a month before he could follow them to town. He found that inexplicably frustrating.

“Is Honoria about?” he asked Lady Winstead, even though he knew better than to inquire about an unmarried young lady to her mother – even with those two. But he was so bored. And he missed her company.

Which was not at all the same thing as missing her.

“We had tea just a little while ago,” Lady Winstead said. “She mentioned she saw you this morning. I believe she plans to find some books for you in the library here. I imagine she’ll be by this evening to bring them.”

“That will be much appreciated. I’m almost done with . . .” He looked over at his bedside table. What had he been reading? “Philosophical Inquiries Into the Essence of Human Freedom.”

Her brows rose. “Are you enjoying it?”

“Not very much, no.”

“I shall tell Honoria to hurry along with the books, then,” she said with an amused smile.

“I look forward to it,” he said. He started to smile as well, then caught himself and assumed a more serious mien.

“I’m sure she does, too,” Lady Winstead said.

Of this Marcus was not so certain. But still, if Honoria didn’t mention the kiss, then neither would he. It was a trifling thing, really. Or if not, then it should be. Easily forgotten. They would be back to their old friendship in no time.

“I think she is still tired,” Lady Winstead said, “although I can’t imagine why. She slept for twenty-four hours, did you know that?”

He did not.

“She did not leave your side until your fever broke. I offered to take her place, but she would not have it.”

“I am very much indebted to her,” Marcus said softly. “And to you, too, from what I understand.”

For a moment Lady Winstead said nothing. But then her lips parted, as if she was deciding whether to speak. Marcus waited, knowing that silence was often the best encouragement, and a few seconds later, Lady Winstead cleared her throat and said, “We would not have come to Fensmore if Honoria had not insisted.”

He was not sure what to say to that.

“I told her that we should not come, that it was not proper, since we are not family.”

“I have no family,” he said quietly.

“Yes, that is what Honoria said.”

He felt a strange pang at that. Of course Honoria knew that he had no family; everyone did. But somehow, to hear her say it, or just to hear someone else tell him she’d said it . . .

It hurt. Just a little. And he didn’t understand why.

Honoria had seen beyond all that, past his aloneness and into his loneliness. She had seen it – no, seen him – in a way even he had not understood.

He had not realized just how solitary his life was until she had stumbled back into it.

“She was most insistent,” Lady Winstead said, breaking into his thoughts. And then, so quietly that he barely heard her: “I just thought you should know.”

Chapter Fifteen

Several hours later, Marcus was sitting in bed, not even pretending to read Philosophical Inquiries Into the Essence of Human Freedom, when Honoria came by for another visit. She held about half a dozen books in her arms and was accompanied by a maid bearing a supper tray.

He was not surprised that she’d waited until someone else had had to come up to his room as well.

“I brought you some books,” she said with a determined smile. She waited until the maid placed the tray on his bed and then set the stack down on the bedside table. “Mother said you’d likely need entertainment.” She smiled again, but her expression was far too resolute to have been spontaneous. With a little nod, she turned and started to follow the maid out of the room.

“Wait!” he called out. He couldn’t let her go. Not yet.

She paused, turned, and gave him a questioning look.

“Sit with me?” he asked, tilting his head toward the chair. She hesitated, so he added, “I’ve had only myself for company for the better part of two days.” She still looked uncertain, so he smiled wryly and said, “I find myself somewhat dull, I’m afraid.”

“Only somewhat?” she replied, probably before she remembered she was trying not to enter into a conversation.

“I’m desperate, Honoria,” he told her.

She sighed, but she had a wistful smile as she did so, and she walked into the room. She left the door to the hallway open; now that he was not at death’s door, there were certain proprieties that must be obeyed. “I hate that word,” she said.