He had no problem with that.
After searching the garden, the drawing room, the music room, the library, and even the kitchens, he finally found Honoria in her bedroom, a location he forced his mind to disregard. But he’d spent enough time at Winstead House to know where the private apartments were, and after he’d gone through every other bloody room in the house, well, did she really expect that he wouldn’t find her there?
“Marcus!” she nearly shrieked. “What are you doing here?”
Apparently, she had expected that he wouldn’t find her here.
The first words out of his mouth were the absolutely ill-advised “What is wrong with you?”
“What is wrong with me?” She sat up quickly on her bed, scooching her body toward the headboard rather like a crab. “What is wrong with you?”
“I’m not the one who stormed out of the party to go sulk in a corner.”
“It’s not a party. It’s a musicale.”
“It’s your musicale.”
“And I’ll sulk if I want to,” she muttered.
“Nothing.” She glared at him, crossing her arms tightly across her chest. “You shouldn’t be here.”
He flicked his hand palm up through the air as if to say (with great sarcasm), Oh, really?
She looked at his hand, and then at his face. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“You just spent the better part of a week in my bedroom.”
“You were almost dead!”
She had a rather good point, but he was not prepared to admit it. “Now see here,” he said, getting back to the point that actually mattered, “I was doing you a favor when I asked Bridgerton to leave.”
Her mouth fell open in outrage. “You – ”
“He is not the sort of person with whom you should be associating,” he said, cutting her off.
“Will you keep your voice down?” he hissed.
“I wasn’t making noise until you came in,” she hissed right back.
He took a step forward, unable to keep his body entirely in check. “He is not the right man for you.”
“I never said he was! Lady Danbury brought him over.”
“She is a menace.”
“You said that already.”
“It bears repeating.”
She scrambled – finally! – off the bed. “What on earth is so ‘menacing’ about introducing me to Colin Bridgerton?”
“Because she was trying to make me jealous!” he fairly yelled.
They both went absolutely silent, and then, after a quick look toward the open door, he hastily went over and shut it.
When he turned back to Honoria, she was standing so still he could see her swallow. Her eyes were huge in her face – that owlish stare of hers that had always unnerved him. In the flickering candlelight, they glowed nearly silver, and he felt himself almost mesmerized.
She was beautiful. He knew that already, but it hit him again, with a force that nearly knocked him to his knees.
“Why would she want to do that?” she asked softly.
He clamped his teeth together in an attempt not to answer, but finally he said, “I don’t know.”
“Why would she think she could do it?” Honoria pressed.
“Because she thinks she can do anything,” Marcus said desperately. Anything to avoid telling the truth. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to tell her he loved her, but this wasn’t the time. This wasn’t the way he wanted to do it.
She swallowed again, the movement painfully exaggerated by the stillness of the rest of her. “And why do you think it’s your job to select which men I do and do not associate with?”
He didn’t say anything.
“Daniel asked me to,” he said in a tight, even voice. He wasn’t ashamed of it. He wasn’t even ashamed of not having told her. But he did not appreciate being backed into a corner.
Honoria took a long, shaky breath, then let it back out. She brought one hand to her mouth, capturing the last puff of air, and then squeezed her eyes shut. For a moment, he thought she might cry, but then he realized she was just doing what she needed to contain her emotions. Sorrow? Fury? He couldn’t tell, and for some reason this struck a stake in his heart.
He wanted to know her. He wanted to know her completely.
“Well,” she finally said, “he’s coming back shortly, so you are absolved of your responsibilities.”
“No.” The word came from him like an oath, emerging from the very core of his being.
She looked at him in impatient confusion. “What do you mean?”
He stepped forward. He wasn’t sure what he was doing. He knew only that he couldn’t stop. “I mean no. I don’t want to be absolved.”
Her lips parted.
He took another step. His heart was pounding, and something within him had gone hot, and greedy, and if there was anything in the world besides her, besides him – he did not know it.
“I want you,” he said, the words blunt, and almost harsh, but absolutely, indelibly true.
“I want you,” he said again, and he reached out and took her hand. “I want you.”
“Marcus, I – ”
“I want to kiss you,” he said, and he touched one finger to her lips. “I want to hold you.” And then, because he couldn’t have kept it inside for one second longer, he said, “I burn for you.”
He took her face in his hands and he kissed her. He kissed her with everything that had been building within him, every last aching, hungry burst of desire. Since the moment he had realized he loved her, this passion had been growing within him. It had probably been there all along, just waiting for him to realize it.