In his heart, she’d been smiling for him.

But now she was smiling at Colin Bridgerton, he of the famous charm and sparkling green eyes. That had been almost tolerable, but when Colin Bridgerton had started smiling at _her _. . .

Some things could not be borne.

But before he could intercede, he had to extricate himself from his conversation with Felicity Featherington – or, rather, Felicity Featherington’s mother, who had him in the verbal equivalent of a vise. He had probably been impolite; no, he had certainly been impolite, but escape from the Featheringtons was not something one accomplished with tact or subtlety.

Finally, after literally wrenching his arm from Mrs. Featherington’s grasp, he made his way over to Honoria, who was all aglow, laughing merrily with Mr. Bridgerton.

He had every intention of being polite. He really did. But just as he approached, Honoria took a little step to the side, and he saw, peeking out from the hem of her skirt, a flash of red satin.

Her lucky red shoes.

And suddenly he was on fire.

He didn’t want another man seeing those shoes. He didn’t want another man even knowing about them.

He watched as she stepped into place, the seductive little scrap of red hiding itself back beneath her skirt. He stepped forward and said, in perhaps a frostier voice than he’d intended, “Lady Honoria.”

“Lord Chatteris,” she replied.

He hated when she called him Lord Chatteris.

“How lovely to see you.” Her tone was that of a polite acquaintance, or perhaps a very distant cousin. “Are you acquainted with Mr. Bridgerton?”

“I am,” was Marcus’s succinct reply.

Bridgerton nodded, then Marcus nodded, and that, it seemed, was the extent of the conversation the two men wished to share.

Marcus waited for Bridgerton to make up some excuse to leave, because surely he would understand that that was what was expected of him. But the annoying sod just stood there grinning, as if he hadn’t a care in the world.

“Mr. Bridgerton was just saying – ” Honoria began, at the precise time that Marcus said, “If you will excuse us. I require a private word with Lady Honoria.”

But Marcus was louder, and more to the point, he actually finished his sentence. Honoria clamped her mouth shut and retreated into stony silence.

Mr. Bridgerton gave him an assessing stare, holding his ground for just long enough to make Marcus’s jaw clench, and then, as if the moment had never occurred, he turned charming in the space of a second, executed a jaunty bow, and said, “But of course. I was just thinking that I should like a glass of lemonade above all things.”

He bowed, he smiled, and he was gone.

Honoria waited until he was out of earshot, then she turned to Marcus with an angry scowl. “That was incredibly rude of you.”

He gave her a stern look. “Unlike the younger Mr. Bridgerton, this one is not wet behind the ears.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You should not be flirting with him.”

Honoria’s mouth fell open. “I wasn’t!”

“Of course you were,” he retorted. “I was watching you.”

“No, you weren’t,” she shot back. “You were talking with Felicity Featherington!”

“Who stands a full head shorter than I am. I could see right over her.”

“If you must know,” Honoria ground out, quite unable to believe that he was acting like the aggrieved party, “your aunt called him over. Do you expect me to be rude and cut him here in my own home? At an event to which, I might add, he possesses an invitation?”

The last she was not strictly positive about, but she couldn’t imagine that her mother wouldn’t have invited one of the Bridgertons.

“My aunt?” he asked.

“Lady Danbury. Your great-great-great-great . . .”

He glared at her.

“Great-great-great-great . . .” she continued, just to be annoying.

Marcus said something under his breath, then said, in only a slightly more appropriate tone, “She is a menace.”

“I like her,” Honoria said defiantly.

He didn’t say anything, but he looked furious. And all Honoria could think was, Why? What on earth did he have to be so angry about? She was the one who was in love with a man who clearly thought of her as a burden. A burden with whom he had a pleasant friendship, but still, a burden. Even now he was still guided by his stupid promise to Daniel, scaring away gentlemen whom he deemed inappropriate.

If he wasn’t going to love her, then at least he could stop ruining her chances with everyone else.

“I’m leaving,” she declared, because she simply could not take it any longer. She didn’t want to see him, and she didn’t want to see Daisy, or Iris, or her mother, or even Mr. Bridgerton, who was off in the corner with his lemonade, being charming to Felicity Featherington’s older sister.

“Where are you going?” he demanded.

She didn’t answer. She didn’t see that it was any of his business.

She left the room without a backward glance.

Bloody hell.

Marcus would have liked to have chased Honoria right out of the room, but nothing would have caused a bigger scene. He would also like to have thought that no one had noticed their argument, but Colin Bridgerton was smirking in the corner over his glass of lemonade, and Lady Danbury had that I-am-all-knowing-and-all-powerful look on her face that Marcus normally disregarded.

This time, however, he had a sinking suspicion that she had somehow orchestrated his downfall.

Finally, when the annoying Mr. Bridgerton raised his bandaged paw in mock salute, Marcus decided he had had enough, and he strode out the same door through which Honoria had exited. To hell with the gossips. If anyone noticed that they had both left and wanted to make a fuss over it, they could bloody well demand that Marcus propose marriage.