” ‘Desperate’?” he guessed. “You find it overused?”

“No,” she sighed, sitting down in the chair by his bed. “Too frequently apt. It’s a terrible feeling.”

He nodded, although in truth, he didn’t think he understood desperation. Loneliness, certainly, but not desperation.

She sat quietly at his side, her hands folded in her lap. There was a long silence, not quite awkward, but not comfortable, either, and then she said rather suddenly, “The broth is beef.”

He looked down at the small porcelain tureen on his tray, still covered by a lid.

“The cook called it boeuf consommé,” she continued, speaking a little faster than she usually did, “but it’s broth, plain and simple. Mrs. Wetherby insists that its curative powers are beyond compare.”

“I don’t suppose I have anything other than broth,” he said dolefully, looking down at his sparse tray.

“Dry toast,” Honoria said sympathetically. “I’m sorry.”

He felt his head hang forward another inch. What he wouldn’t give for a slice of Flindle’s chocolate cake. Or a creamed apple tart. Or a shortbread biscuit, or a Chelsea bun, or bloody well anything that contained a great deal of sugar.

“It smells quite nice,” Honoria said. “The broth.”

It did smell quite nice, but not as nice as chocolate would.

He sighed and took a spoonful, blowing on it before taking a taste. “It’s good,” he said.

“Really?” She looked doubtful.

He nodded and ate some more. Or rather, drank some more. Did one eat soup or drink it? And more to the point, could he get some cheese to melt on top of it? “What did you have for supper?” he asked her.

She shook her head. “You don’t want to know.”

He ate-drank another spoonful. “Probably not.” Then he couldn’t help himself. “Was there ham?”

She didn’t say anything.

“There was,” he said accusingly. He looked down at the last dregs of his soup. He supposed he could use the dry toast to soak it up. He hadn’t left enough liquid, though, and after two bites, his toast really was dry.

Sawdust dry. Wandering-the-desert dry. He paused for a moment. Hadn’t he been wandering the desert thirsty a few days earlier? He took a bite of his entirely unpalatable toast. He’d never seen a desert in his life, and likely never would, but as far as geographical habitats went, it did seem to be offering a multitude of similes lately.

“Why are you smiling?” Honoria asked curiously.

“Am I? It was a sad, sad smile, I assure you.” He regarded his toast. “Did you truly have ham?” And then, even though he knew he didn’t want to know the answer: “Was there pudding?”

He looked at her. She wore a very guilty expression.

“Chocolate?” he whispered.

She shook her head.

“Berry? Ca – Oh, Lord, did Cook make treacle tart?”

No one made treacle tart like Fensmore’s cook.

“It was delicious,” she admitted, with one of those amazingly happy sighs reserved for the memories of the very best of desserts. “It was served with clotted cream and strawberries.”

“Is there any left?” he asked dolefully.

“I should think there must be. It was served in a huge – Wait a moment.” Her eyes narrowed, and she speared him with a suspicious stare. “You’re not asking me to steal you a piece, are you?”

“Would you?” He hoped his face looked as pathetic as his voice. He really needed her to pity him.

“No!” But her lips were pressing together in an obvious attempt not to laugh. “Treacle tart is not an appropriate food for the sickbed.”

“I don’t see why not,” he replied. With utmost honesty.

“Because you’re supposed to have broth. And calf’s-foot jelly. And cod liver oil. Everyone knows that.”

He forced his stomach not to turn at the mention. “Have any of those delicacies ever made you feel better?”

“No, but I don’t think that’s the point.”

“How is it possibly not the point?”

Her lips parted for a quick reply, but then she went quite comically still. Her eyes tipped up and looked off to the left, almost as if she were searching her mind for a suitable retort. Finally, she said, with deliberate slowness, “I don’t know.”

“Then you’ll steal me a piece?” He gave her his best smile. His best I-almost-died-so-how-can-you-deny-me smile. Or at least that’s how he hoped it appeared. The truth was, he wasn’t a very accomplished flirt, and it might very well have come across as an I-am-mildly-deranged-so-it’s-in-all-of-our-best-interests-if-you-pretend-to-agree-with-me smile.

There was really no way to know.

“Do you have any idea how much trouble I could get into?” Honoria asked. She leaned forward in a furtive manner, as if someone might actually be spying on them.

“Not very much,” he replied. “It’s my house.”

“That matters very little when put up against the collective wrath of Mrs. Wetherby, Dr. Winters, and my mother.”

He shrugged.

“Marcus . . .”

But she had no coherent protest beyond that. So he said, “Please.”

She looked at him. He tried to look pathetic.

“Oh, all right.” She let out a little snort, capitulating with a remarkable lack of grace. “Do I have to go right now?”

He clasped his hands together piously. “I would be most appreciative if you would.”