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Just like heaven, p.16
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       Just Like Heaven, p.16

           Julia Quinn
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  His fault, he realized. Yet another reason he owed her his gratitude. “That chair can’t possibly be comfortable,” he told her. “You should take the other side of the bed.”

  “Oh, I couldn’t.”

  “It couldn’t possibly be any more improper than anything else that’s happened today.”

  “No,” she said, looking as if she might laugh if she weren’t so tired, “I mean really, I couldn’t. The mattress is still wet from when we cleaned your leg.”

  “Oh.” And then he did laugh. Because it was funny. And because it felt so good to smile.

  She squirmed a little, trying to get comfortable in the chair. “Maybe I could lie on top of the blanket,” she said, craning her neck to look over him to the empty spot.

  “Whatever you wish.”

  She let out an exhausted sigh. “My feet might get wet. But I don’t think I care.”

  A moment later she was up on the bed, lying on the blanket. He was, too, actually, although most of him was under a second quilt; he supposed they’d wanted to leave his leg open to the air.

  She yawned again.

  “Honoria,” he whispered.

  “Mmmm?”

  “Thank you.”

  “Mmm-hmm.”

  A moment went by, and then he said, because he had to, “I’m glad you were here.”

  “Me, too,” she said sleepily. “Me, too.”

  Her breathing slowly evened out, and then so did his. And they slept.

  Honoria woke the next morning delightfully snuggly and warm. Her eyes still closed, she pointed her toes, then flexed her feet, rolling her ankles one way and then the other. It was her morning ritual, stretching in bed. Her hands were always next. Out they went like little starfishes and then back into claws. Then her neck, back and forth and around in a circle.

  She yawned, balling her hands into fists as she stretched her arms forward and—

  Crashed into someone.

  She froze. Opened her eyes. It all came back to her.

  Dear heavens, she was in bed with Marcus. No. That was not the right way to phrase it. She was in Marcus’s bed.

  But she wasn’t with him.

  Improper, yes, but surely there was a special dispensation given to young ladies who find themselves in bed with a gentleman who is clearly too ill to compromise them.

  Slowly, she tried to inch away. No need to wake him. He probably had no idea she was even there. And by there she meant right next to him, side to side, feet touching his. Certainly not on the far end of the bed, where she’d started the night before.

  Bending her knees, she planted the soles of her feet on the mattress for traction. First she lifted her hips, moving them an inch to the right. Then her shoulders. Then her hips again, and then her feet to catch up. Time for the shoulders, and then—

  Whomp!

  One of Marcus’s arms came down heavily across her.

  Honoria froze again. Good heavens, what was she supposed to do now? Maybe if she waited a minute or two, he’d roll back to his previous position.

  She waited. And she waited. And he moved.

  Toward her.

  Honoria swallowed nervously. She had no idea what time it was—sometime after dawn, but other than that, she had not a clue—and she really did not want Mrs. Wetherby coming in to find her pressed up against Marcus in bed. Or worse, her mother.

  Surely no one would think badly of her, especially not after all that had transpired the day before. But she was unmarried, and so was he, and it was a bed, and he was wearing very little clothing, and—

  That was it. She was getting out. If he woke up, he woke up. At least he wouldn’t wake up with a proverbial gun at his back, pointing him toward marriage.

  She wrenched herself up and out of the bed, trying to ignore the rather pleasantly sleepy sounds he made as he rolled over and nestled beneath his quilt. Once she had her feet firmly on the carpet, she took a quick peek at his leg. It seemed to be healing properly, with no sign of those ominous red streaks Dr. Winters had warned about.

  “Thank you,” she whispered, sending up a quick prayer for his continued recovery.

  “You’re welcome,” Marcus murmured.

  Honoria let out a little shriek of surprise, jumping back nearly a foot.

  “Sorry,” he said, but he was laughing.

  It was quite the loveliest sound Honoria had ever heard.

  “I wasn’t thanking you,” she said pertly.

  “I know.” He smiled.

  She tried to smooth down her skirts, which were horribly wrinkled. She was wearing the same blue dress she’d donned in London, which had been—oh, dear heavens—two days earlier. She couldn’t even imagine what a fright she must look.

  “How are you feeling?” she asked.

  “Much better,” he said, sitting up. She noticed he pulled the blankets along with him. Which was surely the only reason her blush was pink instead of deep red. It was funny—almost. She’d seen his bare chest a hundred times the day before, had poked and jabbed at his naked leg, and even—not that she would ever tell him about it—caught a glimpse of one of his buttocks when he’d been tossing about. But now, when they were both fully awake and he was no longer at death’s door, she could not even bring her eyes to meet his.

  “Is it still very painful?” she asked, motioning to his leg, which stuck out from under the covers.

  “More of a dull ache.”

  “You will have a terrible scar.”

  He smiled wryly. “I shall wear it with pride and mendacity.”

  “Mendacity?” she echoed, unable to contain her amusement.

  He cocked his head to the side as he regarded the huge wound on his leg. “I was thinking I might set it about that I’d wrestled with a tiger.”

  “A tiger. In Cambridgeshire.”

  He shrugged. “It’s more likely than a shark.”

  “Wild boar,” she decided.

  “Now that’s just undignified.”

  She pressed her lips together, then let out a little bubble of laughter. He did, too, and it was only then that she allowed herself to believe it: He was going to get better. It was a miracle. She could think of no other word to describe it. The color had returned to his face, and if perhaps he looked a little too thin, that was nothing compared to the clarity in his eyes.

  He was going to be all right.

  “Honoria?”

  She looked up in question.

  “You swayed,” he said. “I would help you, but . . .”

  “I do feel a little unsteady,” she said, making her way to the chair by his bed. “I think . . .”

  “Have you eaten?”

  “Yes,” she said. “No. Well, some. I probably should do. I think I’m just . . . relieved.” And then, to her utmost horror, she began to sob. It came on suddenly, hitting her like a tall ocean wave. Every bit of her had been wound so tightly. She had pulled herself as long and as far as she could go, and now that she knew he would be well, she fell apart.

  She was like a violin string, pulled taut, and then snapped in two.

  “I’m sorry,” she said, gasping for breath between the sobs. “I don’t know . . . I didn’t mean . . . I’m just so happy . . .”

  “Shhhh,” he crooned, taking her hand. “It’s all right. Everything is going to be all right.”

  “I know,” she sobbed. “I know. That’s why I’m crying.”

  “That’s why I’m crying, too,” he said softly.

  She turned. There were no tears rolling down his face, but his eyes were wet. She had never seen him show such emotion, never even thought it possible. With a trembling hand, she reached out and touched his cheek, then the corner of his eye, drawing her fingers back when one of his tears slid onto her skin. And then she did something so unexpected that it took both of them by surprise.

  She threw her arms around him, burying her face in the crook of his neck, and held tight. “I was so scared,” she whispered. “I don’t think I even knew how scared I w
as.”

  His arms came around her, hesitantly at first, but then, as if he needed only that little push, he relaxed into the embrace, holding her softly against him, stroking her hair.

  “I just didn’t know,” she said. “I didn’t realize.” But these were only words now, with meanings even she did not understand. She had no idea what she was talking about—what it was she didn’t know or didn’t realize. She just . . . She just . . .

  She looked up. She just needed to see his face.

  “Honoria,” he whispered, looking down at her as if he’d never seen her before. His eyes were warm, chocolaty brown and rich with emotion. Something flared in their depths, something she didn’t quite recognize, and slowly, ever so slowly, his lips dipped to meet hers.

  Marcus could never have explained why he kissed Honoria. He didn’t know why he’d done it. He was holding her while she cried, and it had seemed the most natural, innocent thing to do. There had been no inclination to kiss her, though, no urge to take it further.

  But then she looked at him. Her eyes—oh, those amazing eyes—glistening with tears, and her lips, full and trembling. He stopped breathing. He stopped thinking. Something else took over, something deep within him that felt the woman in his arms, and he was lost.

  He was changed.

  He had to kiss her. He had to. It was as basic and elemental as his breath, his blood, his very soul.

  And when he did . . .

  The earth stopped spinning.

  The birds stopped singing.

  Everything in the world came to a halt, everything but him and her and the feather-light kiss that connected them.

  Something stirred to life within him, a passion, a desire. And he realized that if he hadn’t been so weak, so debilitated, he would have taken it further. He would not have been able to stop himself. He would have pressed her body against his, glorying in her softness, her scent.

  He would have kissed her deeply, and he would have touched her. Everywhere.

  He would have begged her. He would have begged her to stay, begged her to welcome his passion, begged her to take him within her.

  He wanted her. And nothing could have terrified him more.

  This was Honoria. He had sworn to protect her. And instead . . .

  He lifted his lips from hers, but he couldn’t quite pull himself away. Resting his forehead against hers, savoring one last touch, he whispered, “Forgive me.”

  She left then. She could not exit the room fast enough. He watched her go, saw her hands shaking, her lips trembling.

  He was a beast. She had saved his life, and this was what he had done in return?

  “Honoria,” he whispered. He touched his fingers to his lips, as if he might somehow feel her there.

  And he did. It was the damnedest thing.

  He still felt her kiss, still tingled with the light touch of her lips under his.

  She was with him still.

  And he had the strangest feeling she always would be.

  Chapter Fourteen

  Mercifully, Honoria didn’t have to spend the next day of her life agonizing over her brief kiss with Marcus.

  Instead, she slept.

  It was a short walk from Marcus’s bedchamber to her own, so she set her mind to the task at hand—namely, putting one foot in front of the other and remaining upright long enough to reach her bedchamber. And once she did that, she lay on her bed and did not rise again for twenty-four hours.

  If she dreamed, she remembered nothing.

  It was morning when she finally awakened, and she was still in the same frock she’d been wearing since she’d got dressed—how many days ago was it?— in London. A bath seemed in order, and a fresh change of clothing, and then breakfast, of course, where she quite happily insisted that Mrs. Wetherby join her at the table and talk about all sorts of things that had nothing to do with Marcus.

  The eggs were extremely interesting, as was the bacon, and the hydrangeas outside the window were absolutely fascinating.

  Hydrangeas. Who would have imagined?

  All in all, she avoided not just Marcus but all thoughts of Marcus quite well until Mrs. Wetherby asked, “Have you been by to see his lordship yet this morning?”

  Honoria paused, her muffin suspended halfway to her mouth. “Er, not yet,” she said. The butter from her muffin was dripping onto her hand. She set it back down and wiped her fingers.

  And then Mrs. Wetherby said, “I’m sure he would love to see you.”

  Which meant that Honoria had to go. After all the time and effort she’d put into caring for him when he’d been in the depths of his fever, it would have looked very odd if she’d simply waved her hand and said, “Oh, I’m sure he’s fine.”

  The walk from the breakfast room to Marcus’s bedchamber took approximately three minutes, which was three minutes longer than she wanted to spend thinking about a three-second kiss.

  She had kissed her brother’s best friend. She had kissed Marcus . . . who, she supposed, had become one of her own best friends, too.

  And that stopped her almost as short as the kiss had done. How had that happened? Marcus had always been Daniel’s friend, not hers. Or rather, Daniel’s friend first, and hers second. Which wasn’t to say—

  She stopped. She was making herself dizzy.

  Oh, bother. He probably hadn’t even thought of it once. Maybe he’d even still been a little bit delirious. Maybe he wouldn’t even remember.

  And could it even really be called a kiss? It had been very, very short. And did it mean anything if the kisser (him) had been feeling terribly grateful to the kissee (her) and possibly even indebted, in the most elemental of ways?

  She’d saved his life, after all. A kiss was not entirely out of order.

  Plus, he had said, “Forgive me.” Did it count as a kiss if the kisser had asked for forgiveness?

  Honoria thought not.

  Still, the last thing she wanted was to talk with him about it, so when Mrs. Wetherby told her that he had still been sleeping when she’d gone to check on him, Honoria decided to make her visit posthaste in order to catch him before he awakened.

  His door had been left slightly ajar, so she placed her palm against the dark wood and pushed very slowly. It was unfathomable that a house as well run as Fensmore might have creaky hinges on its doors, but one could never be too careful. Once she’d made a head-sized opening, she poked in, turned her neck so that she could see him, and—

  He turned and looked at her.

  “Oh, you’re awake!” The words popped out of her mouth like the chirp of a small, stunned bird.

  Drat it all.

  Marcus was sitting up in bed, his blankets tucked neatly around his waist. Honoria noticed with relief that he had finally donned a nightshirt.

  He held up a book. “I’ve been trying to read.”

  “Oh, then I won’t bother you,” she said quickly, even though the tone of his voice had been clearly of the I’ve-been-trying-to-read-but-I-just-can’t-get-into-it variety.

  Then she curtsied.

  Curtsied!

  Why on earth had she curtsied? She’d never curtsied to Marcus in her life. She’d nodded her head, and she’d even done a little bob at the knees, but good heavens, he would have collapsed laughing if she’d curtsied to him. In fact, he was quite possibly laughing right at that moment. But she would never know, because she fled before he could make a sound.

  Still, when she came across her mother and Mrs. Wetherby in the drawing room later that day, she could say with utmost honesty that she had been to visit Marcus and she had found him to be quite improved.

  “He’s even reading,” she said, sounding gorgeously casual. “That must be a good sign.”

  “What was he reading?” her mother asked politely, reaching forward to pour her a cup of tea.

  “Ehrm . . .” Honoria blinked, recalling nothing beyond the dark red leather of the book cover. “I didn’t notice, actually.”

  “We should probably brin
g him some more books from which to choose,” Lady Winstead said, handing Honoria her tea. “It’s hot,” she warned. Then she continued, “It is dreadfully dull to be confined to bed. I speak from experience. I was confined for four months while I was carrying you, and three with Charlotte.”

  “I didn’t know.”

  Lady Winstead waved it off. “There was nothing to be done about it. It’s not as if I had a choice. But I can tell you that books positively saved my sanity. One can either read or embroider, and I don’t see Marcus picking up a needle and thread.”

  “No,” Honoria agreed, smiling at the thought.

  Her mother took another sip of her tea. “You should investigate his library and see what you can find for him. And he can have my novel when we leave.” She set down her cup. “I brought that one by Sarah Gorely. I’m almost done with it. It is marvelous thus far.”

  “Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron?” Honoria asked dubiously. She’d read it, too, and had found it to be highly diverting, but it was almost farcically melodramatic, and she could not imagine Marcus enjoying it. If Honoria recalled correctly, there was quite a lot of hanging from cliffs. And from trees. And window ledges. “Don’t you think he would prefer something more serious?”

  “I’m sure he thinks he would prefer something more serious. But that boy is far too serious already. He needs more levity in his life.”

  “He’s hardly a boy any longer.”

  “He will always be a boy to me.” Lady Winstead turned to Mrs. Wetherby, who had remained silent during the entire exchange. “Don’t you agree?”

  “Oh, indeed,” Mrs. Wetherby agreed. “But of course I have known him since he was in nappies.”

  Honoria was certain Marcus would not approve of this conversation.

  “Perhaps you can choose some books for him, Honoria,” her mother said. “I am sure you know his taste better than I.”

  “I’m not sure that I do, actually,” Honoria said, looking down at her tea. For some reason that bothered her.

  “We have a comprehensive library here at Fensmore,” Mrs. Wetherby said with pride.

  “I’m sure I’ll find something,” Honoria said, pasting a bright smile on her face.

 
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