“And the rest of you aren’t?”
“Touché, but no, not like that.”
“So what you are saying is that when I do attend the musicale, I should endeavor to secure a seat at the back?”
“In the next room, if you can manage it.”
“Really?” He looked remarkably – no, make that comically – hopeful. “Will there be seats in the next room?”
“No,” she replied, rolling her eyes yet again. “But I don’t think the back row is going to save you. Not from Daisy.”
“You should have considered this before you rushed your convalescence.”
“So I am coming to realize.”
“Well,” she said, trying to sound as if she was a very busy young lady with many appointments and quite a few things to do who also happened not to be pining over him in the least, “I really must be going.”
“Of course,” he said, giving her a polite nod of farewell.
“Good-bye.” But she didn’t quite move.
“It was very good seeing you.”
“And you,” he said. “Please give my regards to your mother.”
“Of course. She will be delighted to hear that you are so well.”
He nodded. And stood there. And finally said, “Well, then.”
“Yes,” she said hastily. “I must go. Good-bye,” she said again. This time she did leave the room. And she didn’t even look over her shoulder.
Which was more of an achievement than she would ever have dreamed.
The truth was, Marcus thought as he sat in his study in his London home, he knew very little about courting young ladies. He knew a great deal about avoiding them, and perhaps even more about avoiding their mothers. He also knew quite a lot about discreetly investigating other men who were courting young ladies (more specifically, Honoria), and most of all he knew how to be quietly menacing while he convinced them to abandon their pursuit.
But as for himself, he had not a clue.
Flowers? He’d seen other men with flowers. Women liked flowers. Hell, he liked flowers, too. Who didn’t like flowers?
He thought he might like to find some of the grape hyacinths that reminded him of Honoria’s eyes, but they were small blooms, and he didn’t think they would work well in a bouquet. And furthermore, was he supposed to hand them to her and tell her that they reminded him of her eyes? Because then he would have to explain that he was talking about a very specific part of the flower, at the bottom of the petal, right near the stem.
He could not imagine anything that might make him feel more foolish.
And the final problem with flowers was that he had never given them to her before. She would be immediately curious, and then suspicious, and if she did not return his feelings (and he had no particular reason to suppose that she did), then he’d be stuck there in her drawing room, looking like a complete ass.
All things considered, this was a scenario he’d rather avoid.
Safer to court her in public, he decided. Lady Bridgerton was hosting a birthday ball the next day, and he knew that Honoria would attend. Even if she didn’t want to, she would still go. There would be far too many eligible bachelors in attendance for her to decline. This included Gregory Bridgerton, about whom Marcus had revised his opinion – he was far too wet behind the ears to take a wife. If Honoria decided that she was interested in the young Mr. Bridgerton after all, Marcus was going to have to intercede.
In his usual quiet and behind-the-scenes manner, of course. But still, it was another reason why he needed to be in attendance.
He looked down at his desk. On the left was an engraved invitation to Bridgerton House. On the right was the note Honoria had left for him at Fensmore when she’d departed the week before. It was a stunningly nondescript missive. A salutation, a signature, two ordinary sentences in between. There was nothing that might indicate that a life had been saved, a kiss had occurred, a treacle tart had been stolen. . . .
It was the sort of note one wrote when one wished to thank a hostess for a perfectly correct and polite garden party. It was not the sort one wrote to someone one might consider marrying.
Because that was what he intended. As soon as Daniel got his bloody arse back to England, he was going to ask him for her hand. But until then, he had to court her himself.
Hence his dilemma.
He sighed. Some men knew instinctively how to talk to women. It would have been very convenient to have been one of those men.
But he wasn’t. Instead, he was a man who knew only how to talk to Honoria. And lately even that wasn’t working out so well for him.
Thus, the next night, he found himself in one of his least favorite places on earth: A London ballroom.
He assumed his usual position, off to the side, his back to the wall, where he could watch the proceedings and pretend he didn’t care. Not for the first time, it occurred to him that he was inordinately fortunate not to have been born female. The young lady to his left was a wallflower; he got to be dark, standoffish, and brooding.
The party was a mad crush – Lady Bridgerton was immensely popular – and Marcus couldn’t tell if Honoria was there or not. He didn’t see her, but then again he also couldn’t see the door through which he himself had entered. How anyone expected to have a fine time amidst so much heat and sweat and crowding he would never know.
He stole another glance at the young lady next to him. She looked familiar, but he couldn’t quite place her. She was perhaps not quite in the first blush of youth, but he doubted she was much older than he was. She sighed, the sound long and weary, and he could not help but think that he was standing next to a kindred spirit. She, too, was glancing over the crowd, trying to pretend that she was not searching for someone in particular.