Sarah snorted and rolled her eyes.

“But,” Honoria continued, her smile sneaking back onto her face as she rose to her feet, “I can also honestly say that I am very glad I was not present when she saw him.”

Hugh moved to the side as Honoria made her way to the door. “One hour,” she said. She paused before stepping into the hall. “You should lock the door.”

Hugh started in surprise. “I beg your pardon?”

Honoria swallowed uncomfortably, and her cheeks took on a telltale blush. “It will be assumed that Sarah is resting and does not wish to be disturbed.”

Hugh could only stare at her in shock. Was she giving him permission to ravish her cousin?

It took but a moment for Honoria to realize where his thoughts had led him. “I did not mean— Oh, for heaven’s sake. It’s not as if either of you is in a state to do anything.”

Hugh glanced over at Sarah. Her mouth was hanging open.

“You don’t want anyone walking in while you’re alone,” Honoria said, her skin now on hue with a slightly unripe strawberry. She narrowed her eyes at Hugh. “You’ll just be sitting in the chair, but still.”

Hugh cleared his throat. “Still.”

“It would be highly improper,” she said, followed by: “I’m leaving now.” She hurried from the room.

Hugh turned back to Sarah. “That was awkward.”

“You’d best lock the door,” Sarah said. “After all that.”

He reached out and turned the key. “Indeed.”

With Honoria gone, however, they had no buffer upon which to rely for a sense of normalcy, and Hugh found himself standing near the door like a badly posed statue, unable to decide where to take his feet.

“What did you mean,” Sarah blurted out, “when you said ‘there are men who hurt women’?”

He felt his brow furrow. “I’m sorry. I don’t know—”

“Last night,” she interrupted, “when you found me, you were so upset, and you said something about men who hurt people, men who hurt women.”

His lips parted and his throat closed, choking any words that might have formed there. How could she not have understood his meaning? Surely she wasn’t so innocent. She had led a sheltered life, but she had to know what went on between a man and a woman.

“Sometimes”—he began slowly, for this was not a conversation he’d ever anticipated—“a man can—”

“Please,” she cut in. “I know that men hurt women; they do it every day.”

Hugh wanted to flinch. He wished that her statement had been shocking, but it wasn’t. It was merely the truth.

“You were not speaking generally,” she said. “You may have thought you were, but you weren’t. Who were you talking about?”

Hugh went very still, and when he finally spoke, he did not look at Sarah. “It was my mother,” he said, very quietly. “Surely you have realized that my father is not a kind man.”

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“He hurt her in bed,” Hugh said, and suddenly he did not feel quite right. His neck cricked, and he jerked it to one side, trying to shake off the weight of his memories. “He never hurt her out of bed. Only in.” He swallowed. Took a breath. “At night I could hear her cries.”

Sarah didn’t speak. He was very grateful for that.

“I never saw anything,” Hugh said. “If he marked her, he was always careful to do it where it would not show. She never limped, she never bruised. But”—he looked up at Sarah; he finally looked up at Sarah—“I could see it in her eyes.”

“I’m sorry,” Sarah said again, but there was something wary in her expression, and after a moment she looked away.

Hugh watched as she tucked her chin against her shoulder, shadows flickering across her throat as she swallowed. He’d never seen her so uncomfortable, so ill-at-ease.

“Sarah,” he began, and then he cursed himself for an idiot, because she looked up, expecting more, and he had no idea what he ought to say. His mouth hung wordlessly slack, and she let her eyes fall back down to her lap, where her hands were nervously picking at her bedsheets.

“Sarah, I would—” he blurted out. And what? What? Why couldn’t he finish a bloody sentence?

She looked up, again waiting for him to continue.

“I would never . . . do that.” The words choked forth from his throat, but he had to say it. He had to make sure she understood. He was not his father. He would never be that man.

She shook her head, the motion so tiny he nearly missed it.

“Hurt you,” he said. “I would never hurt you. I could never—”

“I know,” she said, blessedly cutting off his awkward avowals. “You would never . . . You don’t even need to say it.”

He nodded, turning sharply away when he heard himself draw a short, tortured breath. It was the sort of sound one made right before losing oneself completely, and he couldn’t—after everything that had happened that day—

He could not go there. Not now. So he shrugged, as if an insouciant motion could flick it all away. But all it seemed to do was intensify the silence. And Hugh found himself in the same position he’d been in before she had asked about his mother, frozen near the door, not knowing what to do with himself.

“Did you sleep?” Sarah finally asked.

He nodded and found the momentum to move forward and settle into the chair Honoria had vacated. He hooked his cane over the arm and turned to look at her. “And you?”