He couldn’t have done. She could barely stand, and he just looked . . .
The same old Marcus, who saw her as a burden. A not wholly unpleasant burden, but a burden nonetheless. She knew why he could not wait for Daniel to return to England. It meant he could depart London and go back to the country, where he was happier.
It meant he would be free.
He said her name again, and she somehow managed to pull herself from her daze. “Marcus,” she said abruptly, “why are you here?”
For a moment he stared at her as if she’d sprouted a second head. “I was invited,” he replied, a little indignantly.
“No.” Her head hurt, and she wanted to rub her eyes, and most of all, she wanted to cry. “Not here at this ball, here in London.”
His eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Why do you ask?”
“Because you hate London.”
He adjusted his cravat. “Well, I don’t hate – ”
“You hate the season,” she cut in. “You told me so.”
He started to say something, then stopped after half a syllable. That was when Honoria remembered – he was a terrible liar. He always had been. When they were children, he and Daniel had once pulled an entire chandelier from the ceiling. To this day, Honoria still wondered how they’d done it. When Lady Winstead had demanded that they confess, Daniel had lied right to her face, and so charmingly that Honoria could see that their mother had not been sure if he was telling the truth.
Marcus, on the other hand, had gone a bit red in his cheeks, and he’d tugged at his collar as if his neck was itchy.
Just as he was doing right now.
“I have . . . responsibilities here,” he said awkwardly.
“I see,” she said, almost choking on the words.
“Honoria, are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” she snapped, and she hated herself for being so short of temper. It wasn’t his fault that Daniel had burdened him with, well, her. It wasn’t even his fault for accepting. Any gentleman would have done so.
Marcus held still, but his eyes flitted to either side, almost as if he was looking for some explanation as to why she was behaving so strangely. “You’re angry . . .” he said, a little bit placatingly, maybe even condescendingly.
“I’m not angry,” she bit off.
Most people would have retorted that she sounded angry, but Marcus just looked at her in that annoyingly self-composed manner of his.
“I’m not angry,” she muttered, because his silence practically demanded that she say something.
“Of course not.”
Her head snapped up. That had been patronizing. The rest she might have been imagining, but not this.
He said nothing. He wouldn’t. Marcus would never make a scene.
“I don’t feel well,” she blurted out. That, at least, was true. Her head hurt and she was overheated and off-balance and all she wanted was to just go home and crawl into bed and pull her covers over her face.
“I will take you to get some air,” he said stiffly, and he put his hand at her back to lead her to the French doors that opened onto the garden.
“No,” she said, and the word burst forth overly loud and dissonant. “I mean, no, thank you.” She swallowed. “I believe I will go home.”
He gave a nod. “I will find your mother.”
“I’ll do it.”
“I’m happy to – ”
“I can do things for myself,” she burst out. Dear God, she hated the sound of her own voice. She knew it was time to shut up. She couldn’t seem to say the right words. And she couldn’t seem to stop. “I don’t need to be your responsibility.”
“What are you talking about?”
She couldn’t possibly answer that question, so instead she said, “I want to go home.”
He stared at her for what felt like an eternity, then gave her a stiff bow. “As you wish,” he said, and he walked away.
So she went home. As she wished. She’d got exactly what she’d asked for.
And it was awful.
The day of the musicale
Six hours before the performance
“Where is Sarah?”
Honoria looked up from her music. She had been scribbling notes in the margin. Nothing she wrote made any sense, but it gave her the illusion that she knew a little something about what she was doing, so she made sure to have some sort of notation on every page.
Iris was standing in the middle of the music room. “Where’s Sarah?” she said again.
“I don’t know,” Honoria said. She looked one way, and then the other. “Where’s Daisy?”
Iris waved an impatient arm toward the door. “She stopped to attend to herself after we arrived. Don’t worry about her. She wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
“Sarah’s not here?”
Iris looked about ready to explode. “Do you see her?”
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude, but where the devil is she?”
Honoria let out an irritated exhale. Didn’t Iris have something more important to worry about? She hadn’t made a complete fool of herself in front of the man she’d only recently realized she loved.
Three days had passed, and she felt ill just thinking about it.
Honoria couldn’t remember exactly what she’d said. Instead, she recalled the terrible sound of her voice, all jerky and choked. She remembered her brain begging her mouth to just stop talking, and she remembered her mouth having none of it. She’d been completely irrational, and if he had considered her a responsibility before, now he must think her a chore.