“And you?” he asked.
“Do you plan to go down to London for the season?”
Her lips parted. Surely he could not be serious. Where else would she possibly go, given her unmarried state? It wasn’t as if –
“Are you laughing?” she asked suspiciously.
“Of course not.” But he was smiling.
“It’s not funny,” she told him. “It’s not as if I have a choice. I have to go for the season. I’m desperate.”
“Desperate,” he repeated, and he looked dubious. It was a frequent expression on his face.
“I have to find a husband this year.” She felt her head shaking back and forth, even though she wasn’t sure what she might be objecting to. Her situation was not so very different from most of her friends’. She wasn’t the only young lady hoping for marriage. But she wasn’t looking for a husband so that she could admire the ring on her finger or bask in the glory of her status as a dashing young matron. She wanted a house of her own. A family – a large, noisy one that didn’t always mind their manners.
She was just so sick of the silence that had taken over her home. She hated the sound of her footsteps clacking across the floor, hated that it was so frequently the only noise she heard all afternoon.
She needed a husband. It was the only way.
“Oh, come now, Honoria,” Marcus said, and she didn’t need to see his face to know his expression precisely – patronizing and skeptical, with just a touch of ennui. “Your life cannot possibly be so dire.”
She grit her teeth together. She despised that tone. “Forget I said anything,” she muttered, because really, it wasn’t worth it, trying to explain it to him.
He let out a breath, and even that managed to be condescending. “You’re not likely to find a husband here,” he said.
She pressed her lips together, regretting that she’d brought up the subject.
“The students here are too young,” he remarked.
“They are the same age as I am,” she said, falling neatly into his trap.
But Marcus did not gloat; he wasn’t the sort. “That is why you’re here in Cambridge, isn’t it? To visit with the students who have not yet gone down to London?”
She looked determinedly straight ahead as she said, “I told you, we’re here to listen to lectures.”
He nodded. “In Greek.”
He grinned at that. Except it wasn’t really a grin. Marcus was always so serious, so stiff, that a grin for him would be a dry half-smile on anyone else. Honoria wondered how often he smiled without anyone realizing it. He was lucky she knew him so well. Anyone else would think him completely without humor.
“What was that about?” he asked.
She started and looked over at him. “What was what about?”
“You rolled your eyes.”
“Did I?” Honestly, she had no idea if she had or not. But more to the point, why was he watching her so closely? This was Marcus, for heaven’s sake. She looked out the window. “Do you think the rain has let up?”
“No,” he replied, not turning his head even an inch. Honoria supposed he didn’t need to. It had been a stupid question, meant for nothing but changing the subject. The rain was still beating down on the carriage mercilessly.
“Shall I convey you to the Royles’?” he asked politely.
“No, thank you.” Honoria craned her neck a bit, trying to see through the glass and the storm and the next bit of glass into Miss Pilaster’s. She couldn’t see a thing, but it was a good excuse not to look at him, so she made a good show of it. “I’ll join my friends in a moment.”
“Are you hungry?” he inquired. “I stopped at Flindle’s earlier and have a few cakes wrapped to take home.”
Her eyes lit up. “Cakes?”
She didn’t say the word as much as she sighed it. Or maybe moaned it. But she didn’t care. He knew that sweets were her weakness; he was the same way. Daniel had never been particularly fond of dessert, and more than once, she and Marcus had found themselves together as children, huddled over a plate of cakes and biscuits.
Daniel had said they looked like a pack of savages, which had made Marcus laugh uproariously. Honoria never did understand why.
He reached down and drew something out of a box at his feet. “Are you still partial to chocolate?”
“Always.” She felt herself smile in kinship. And perhaps in anticipation, as well.
He started to laugh. “Do you remember that torte Cook made – ”
“The one the dog got into?”
“I almost cried.”
She grimaced. “I think I did cry.”
“I got one bite.”
“I got none,” she said longingly. “But it smelled divine.”
“Oh, it was.” He looked as if the memory of it might send him into a rapture. “It was.”
“You know, I always thought Daniel might have had something to do with Buttercup getting into the house.”
“I’m sure he did,” Marcus agreed. “The look on his face . . .”
“I hope you thrashed him.”
“To within an inch of his life,” he assured her.
She grinned, then asked, “But not really?”
He smiled in return. “Not really.” He chuckled at the memory and held out a small rectangle of chocolate cake, lovely and brown atop a crisp piece of white paper. It smelled just like heaven. Honoria took a deep, happy breath and smiled.