She sighed, remembering the fierce expression on his face when he had defended her. He loved her. He hadn’t said it yet, but he did, and he would. He and Daniel would sort out whatever they needed to sort out, and this love story – her love story, she thought dreamily – would have a blissfully happy ending. They would marry, and have scads of babies who would grow up to become the happy, teasing family she’d once had. The happy, teasing family Marcus had always deserved. And there would be treacle tart at least once a week.

It would be grand.

She shot one last glance at the men, who were shoving each other’s shoulders, although thankfully without quite so much force as before. She might as well get back to the musicale. Someone had to tell their mother that Daniel was back.

“Where’d Honoria go?” Daniel asked a few minutes later.

They were sitting side by side on the floor, leaning against the wall. Marcus’s legs were bent; Daniel’s stretched out long. At some point their poking and shoving had petered out, and in silent agreement they’d slumped down the wall, wincing with pain as their minds finally caught up with their bodies and realized what they’d done to each other.

Marcus lifted his head and looked around. “Back to the party, I imagine.” He really hoped that Daniel wasn’t planning to turn belligerent again, because he just wasn’t sure he had the energy to launch himself at him again.

“You look like hell,” Daniel said.

Marcus shrugged. “You look worse.” At least he hoped so.

“You were kissing her,” Daniel said.

Marcus shot him an annoyed glare. “And?”

“And what are you going to do about it?”

“I was going to ask you for her hand before you punched me in the gut.”

Daniel blinked. “Oh.”

“What the hell did you think I was going to do? Seduce her and toss her to the wolves?”

Daniel went instantly tense, and his eyes flashed with fury. “Did you sedu – ”

“Don’t,” Marcus bit off, holding up a hand. “Do not ask that question.”

Daniel held his tongue, but he eyed Marcus with suspicion.

“Don’t,” Marcus said again, just to make it clear. He reached up and touched his jaw. Damn, it hurt. He looked over at Daniel, who was wincing as he flexed his fingers and inspected the bruises on his knuckles. “Welcome home, by the way.”

Daniel looked up, quirking a brow.

“Next time, tell us when you plan to arrive.”

Daniel looked as if he might reply but then just rolled his eyes.

“Your mother did not mention your name for three years,” Marcus said quietly.

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because you left. You left, and – ”

“I didn’t have a choice.”

“You could have come back,” Marcus said dismissively. “You know you – ”

“No,” Daniel interrupted. “I couldn’t. Ramsgate had someone following me on the Continent.”

Marcus was silent for a moment. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“It’s all right.” Daniel sighed, then let the back of his head rest against the wall. “She never answered my letters.”

Marcus looked up.

“My mother,” Daniel clarified. “I’m not surprised she never mentioned my name.”

“It was very difficult for Honoria,” Marcus said softly.

Daniel swallowed. “How long have you, er . . .”

“Just this spring.”

“What happened?”

Marcus felt himself smile. Well, with one side of his mouth. The other was beginning to swell up. “I’m not sure,” he admitted. It didn’t seem right to tell him about the mole hole, or the sprained ankle, or the infection on his leg, or the treacle tart. Those were just events. They weren’t what had happened in his heart.

“Do you love her?”

Marcus looked up. He nodded.

“Well, then.” Daniel gave a one-shouldered shrug.

It was all they needed to say. It was all they ever would say, Marcus realized. They were men, and that was what they did. But it was enough. He started to reach out, to pat Daniel on the leg or maybe the shoulder. But instead he gave him a friendly poke in the ribs with his elbow. “I’m glad you’re home,” he said.

Daniel was quiet for several seconds. “Me, too, Marcus. Me, too.”

Chapter Twenty-three

After leaving Marcus and Daniel in the hall, Honoria slipped quietly into the rehearsal room. It was empty, as she’d expected, and she could see a strip of light spilling onto the floor where the door to the main room was ajar. Honoria checked her reflection one last time in a mirror. It was dark, so she couldn’t be sure, but she thought she looked presentable.

There were still quite a few guests milling about, enough so that Honoria was hopeful that she had not been missed, at least not by anyone outside her family. Daisy was holding court near the center of the room, explaining to anyone who would listen how her Ruggieri violin had been constructed. Lady Winstead was standing off to the side, looking terribly happy and content, and Iris was –

“Where have you been?” Iris hissed.

Right next to her, apparently.

“I wasn’t feeling well,” Honoria said.

Iris snorted with disgust. “Oh, next you’re going to tell me you’ve caught whatever it is Sarah has.”

“Er, maybe.”

This was met with a sigh. “All I want to do is leave, but Mother won’t hear of it.”