Then she looked over at Marcus and smiled anew. Because for a moment she’d felt like herself again, like the girl she’d been just a few years ago, when the world lay before her, a bright shiny ball that glittered with promise. It had been a feeling she hadn’t even realized she’d been missing – of belonging, of place, of being with someone who knew you utterly and completely and still thought you were worth laughing with.

Strange that it should be Marcus who should make her feel that way.

And in so many ways, not strange at all.

She took the cake from his hand and looked down at it questioningly.

“I’m afraid I haven’t any sort of utensil,” he said apologetically.

“It might make a terrible mess,” she said, hoping that he realized that what she was really saying was Please tell me that you don’t mind if I spread crumbs all over your carriage.

“I shall have one, too,” he told her. “So that you don’t feel alone.”

She tried not to smile. “That is most generous of you.”

“I am quite certain it is my gentlemanly duty.”

“To eat cake?”

“It is one of the more appealing of my gentlemanly duties,” he allowed.

Honoria giggled, then took a bite. “Oh, my.”


“Heavenly.” She took another bite. “And by that I mean beyond heavenly.”

He grinned and ate some of his own, devouring half in one bite. Then, while Honoria watched with some surprise, he popped the other half into his mouth and finished it.

The piece hadn’t been very large, but still. She took a nibble of her own, trying to make it last longer.

“You always did that,” he said.

She looked up. “What?”

“Ate your dessert slowly, just to torture the rest of us.”

“I like to make it last.” She gave him an arch look, accompanied by a one-shouldered shrug. “If you feel tortured by that, that must be your own problem.”

“Heartless,” he murmured.

“With you, always.”

He chuckled again, and Honoria was struck by how different he was in private. It was almost as if she had the old Marcus back, the one who had practically lived at Whipple Hill. He had truly become a member of the family, even joining their dreadful pantomimes. He had played a tree every time; for some reason that had always amused her.

She liked that Marcus. She had adored that Marcus.

But he’d been gone these past few years, replaced by the silent, scowling man known to the rest of the world as Lord Chatteris. It was sad, really. For her, but probably most of all, for him.

She finished her cake, trying to ignore his amused expression, then accepted his handkerchief to wipe the crumbs from her hands. “Thank you,” she said, handing it back.

He nodded his welcome, then said, “When are you – ”

But he was cut off by a sharp rap at the window.

Honoria peered past him to see who was knocking.

“Beg your pardon, sir,” said a footman in familiar livery. “Is that Lady Honoria?”

“It is.”

Honoria leaned forward. “That’s . . . er . . .” Very well, she had no idea of his name, but he had accompanied the group of girls on their shopping expedition. “He’s from the Royles.” She gave Marcus a quick, awkward smile before standing, then crouching so that she might exit the carriage. “I must go. My friends will be waiting for me.”

“I shall call upon you tomorrow.”

“What?” She froze, bent over like a crone.

One of his brows rose in mocking salute. “Surely your hostess won’t mind.”

Mrs. Royle, mind that an unmarried earl not yet thirty planned to pay a call upon her home? It would be all Honoria could do to stop her from organizing a parade.

“I’m sure that would be lovely,” she managed to say.

“Good.” He cleared his throat. “It has been too long.”

She looked at him in surprise. Surely he didn’t give her a thought when they were not both in London, swanning about for the season.

“I am glad you are well,” he said abruptly.

Why such a statement was so startling, Honoria couldn’t have begun to say. But it was.

It really was.

Marcus watched as the Royles’ footman escorted Honoria into the shop across the street. Then, once Marcus was assured of her safety, he rapped three times on the wall, signaling to the coachman to continue.

He had been surprised to see her in Cambridge. He did not keep close tabs on Honoria when he was not in London, but still, he somehow thought he’d have known if she was going to be spending time so close to his home.

He supposed he ought to start making plans to go down to town for the season. He had not been lying when he’d told her he had business to attend to here, although it probably would have been more accurate to say that he simply preferred to remain in the country. There was nothing that required his presence in Cambridgeshire, just quite a lot that would be made easier by it.

Not to mention that he hated the season. Hated it. But if Honoria was hell-bent on acquiring herself a husband, then he would go to London to make sure she made no disastrous mistakes.

He had made a vow, after all.

Daniel Smythe-Smith had been his closest friend. No, his only friend, his only true friend.

A thousand acquaintances and one true friend.

Such was his life.

But Daniel was gone, somewhere in Italy if the latest missive was still current. And he wasn’t likely to return, not while the Marquess of Ramsgate still lived, hell-bent on revenge.