“Of course I do,” Sarah replied.
“Oh, yes, and I love you, too,” Sarah said.
Honoria smiled, and for a moment all felt right with the world. Or if not right, then at least normal. She was in London, at a ball, standing next to her favorite cousin. Nothing could have been more ordinary. She tilted her head a bit to the side, gazing out over the crowd. The minuet really was a lovely dance to watch, so stately and graceful. And maybe it was Honoria’s imagination, but it seemed as if the ladies were dressed in similar colors – shimmering across the dance floor in blues, greens, and silvers.
“It almost looks like a music box,” she murmured.
“It does,” Sarah agreed, then spoiled the moment by saying, “I hate the minuet.”
“Yes,” she said. “I don’t know why.”
Honoria kept looking out at the dancers. How many times had they stood this way together, she and Sarah? Side by side, both staring off at the crowd as they carried on a conversation without ever once looking at each other. They didn’t really need to; they knew each other so well that facial expressions were not necessary to know what the other was feeling.
Marcus and Cecily finally came into view, and Honoria watched as they stepped forward and back. “Do you think Cecily Royle is setting her cap for Marcus?” she asked.
“Do you?” Sarah countered.
Honoria kept her eyes on Marcus’s feet. He was really quite graceful for such a large man. “I don’t know,” she murmured.
“Do you care?”
Honoria thought for a moment about how much of her feelings she was willing to share. “I believe I do,” she finally said.
“It won’t matter if she does,” Sarah replied. “He’s not interested in her.”
“I know,” Honoria said softly, “but I don’t think he’s interested in me, either.”
“Just you wait,” Sarah said, finally turning to look her in the eye. “Just you wait.”
An hour or so later, Honoria was standing by an empty platter at the dessert table, congratulating herself for having captured the last éclair, when Marcus came to claim his waltz.
“Did you get one?” she asked him.
“An éclair. They were heavenly. Oh.” She tried not to smile. “I’m sorry. From your expression I can see that you did not.”
“I have been trying to get over here all evening,” he admitted.
“There might be more,” she said, in her best imitation of optimism.
He looked at her with a single raised brow.
“But probably not,” she said. “I’m terribly sorry. Perhaps we can ask Lady Bridgerton where she got them. Or” – she tried to look devious – “if her own chef made them, perhaps we can hire him away.”
He smiled. “Or we could dance.”
“Or we could dance,” she agreed happily. She placed her hand on his arm and allowed him to lead her toward the center of the ballroom. They had danced before, even the waltz once or twice, but this felt different. Even before the music began, she felt as if she were gliding, moving effortlessly across the polished wooden floor. And when his hand came to rest at the small of her back, and she looked up into his eyes, something hot and liquid began to unravel within her.
She was weightless. She was breathless. She felt hungry, needy. She wanted something she could not define, and she wanted it with an intensity that should have scared her.
But it didn’t. Not with Marcus’s hand at her back. In his arms she felt safe, even as her own body whipped itself up into a frenzy. The heat from his skin seeped through her clothing like nourishment, a heady brew that made her want to rise to her tiptoes and then take off in flight.
She wanted him. It came to her in an instant. This was desire.
No wonder girls ruined themselves. She had heard of girls who’d “made mistakes.” People whispered that they were wanton, that they had been led astray. Honoria had never quite understood it. Why would someone throw away a lifetime of security for a single night of passion?
Now she knew. And she wanted to do the same thing.
“Honoria?” Marcus’s voice drifted down to her ears like falling stars.
She looked up and saw him gazing at her curiously. The music had begun but she had not moved her feet.
He cocked his head to the side, as if to ask her a question. But he didn’t need to speak, and she didn’t need to answer. Instead, she squeezed his hand, and they began to dance.
The music dipped and swelled, and Honoria followed Marcus’s lead, never taking her eyes off his face. The music lifted her, carried her, and for the first time in her life, she felt as if she understood what it meant to dance. Her feet moved in perfect time to the waltz – one-two-three one-two-three – and her heart soared.
She felt the violins through her skin. The woodwinds tickled her nose. She became one with the music, and when it was done, when they pulled apart, and she curtsied to his bow, she felt bereft.
“Honoria?” Marcus asked softly. He looked concerned. And not whatever-can-I-do-to-make-her-adore-me concerned. No, it was definitely more along the lines of Dear-God-she’s-going-to-be-ill.
He did not look like a man in love. He looked like a man who was concerned that he was standing next to someone with a nasty stomach ailment.
She had danced with him and felt utterly transformed. She, who could not carry a tune or tap her feet to a rhythm, had become magic in his arms. The dance had been just like heaven, and it killed her that he had not felt the same way.