He flipped over the book and peered down. “Really?”
“You’re not very far into it,” Honoria said, tugging the tea towel back in her direction. “Her mother is pecked to death by pigeons.”
Marcus regarded the book with newfound respect. “Really?”
“It’s quite macabre.”
“I cannot wait.”
“Oh, please,” she said, “you can’t possibly want to read this.”
“It’s so . . .” She waved a hand through the air as she searched for the right word. “Unserious.”
“I can’t read something unserious?”
“Well, of course you can. I just find it difficult to imagine that you would choose to.”
“And why is that?”
Her eyebrows rose. “You’re sounding awfully defensive.”
“I’m curious. Why wouldn’t I choose to read something unserious?”
“I don’t know. You’re you.”
“Why does that sound like an insult?” Said with nothing but curiosity.
“It’s not.” She took another piece of treacle tart and nibbled at it. And that was when the strangest thing happened. His eyes fell to her lips, and as he watched, her tongue darted from her mouth to lick an errant crumb.
It was the tiniest movement, over in less than a second. But something electric shot through him, and with a gasp he realized it was desire. Hot, gut-clenching desire.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
_No. _”Yes, er, why?”
“I thought I might have hurt your feelings,” she admitted. “If I did, please accept my apologies. Truly, it wasn’t meant to be an insult. You’re perfectly nice the way you are.”
“Nice?” Such a bland word.
“It’s better than not nice.”
It was at this point that a different man might have grabbed her and showed her precisely how “not nice” he could be, and Marcus was actually “not nice” enough to imagine the scene in great detail. But he was also still suffering the aftereffects of a near-deadly fever, to say nothing of the open door and her mother, who was likely just down the hall. So instead he said, “What else did you bring me to read?”
It was a much safer avenue of conversation, especially since he had spent much of the day convincing himself that kissing her had had nothing to do with desire. It had been a complete aberration, a momentary burst of madness brought on by extreme emotion.
This argument, unfortunately, was presently being shot to pieces. Honoria had shifted her position so that she could reach the books without standing up, and this meant that she’d moved her bottom quite a bit closer to . . . well, to his bottom, or really, his hip if one wanted to put a fine point on it. There was a sheet and a blanket between them, not to mention his nightshirt and her dress and heaven knew what else she had under it, but dear God he had never been as aware of another human being as he was of her right that very moment.
And he still wasn’t sure how it had happened.
“Ivanhoe,” she said.
What was she talking about?
“Marcus? Are you listening? I brought you Ivanhoe. By Sir Walter Scott. Although, look at this, isn’t this interesting?”
He blinked, certain he must have missed something. Honoria had opened the book and was flipping through the pages at the beginning.
“His name is not on the book. I don’t see it anywhere.” She turned it over and held it up. “It just says ‘By the Author of Waverley.’ Look, even on the spine.”
He nodded, because that was what he thought was expected of him. But at the same time, he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off her lips, which were pursed together in that rosebuddish thing she did when she was thinking.
“I haven’t read Waverley, have you?” She looked up, eyes bright.
“I have not,” he answered.
“Perhaps I should,” she murmured. “My sister said she enjoyed it. But at any rate, I didn’t bring you Waverley, I brought you Ivanhoe. Or rather, the first volume. I didn’t see any point in lugging all three.”
“I have read Ivanhoe,” he told her.
“Oh. Well, let’s put that one aside, then.” She looked down at the next.
And he looked at her.
Her lashes. How had he never noticed how long they were? It was rather odd, because she hadn’t the coloring that usually accompanied long lashes. Maybe that was why he hadn’t noticed them; they were long, but not dark.
“Are you all right?” She leaned forward, regarding him with some concern. “You look a bit flushed.”
He cleared his throat. “Perhaps some more lemon water.” He took a sip, and then another, for good measure. “Do you find it hot in here?”
“No.” Her brow wrinkled. “I don’t.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing. I – ”
She already had her hand on his forehead. “You don’t feel warm.”
“What else did you bring?” he asked quickly, motioning with his head toward the books.
“Oh, er, here we are . . .” She took hold of another one and read from the cover. “History of the Crusades for the Recovery and Possession of the Holy Land. Oh, dear.”
“What is it?”
“I brought only Volume Two. You can’t start there. You’ll miss the entire siege of Jerusalem and everything about the Norwegians.”