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Just like heaven, p.17
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       Just Like Heaven, p.17

           Julia Quinn
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  “You shall have to,” her mother said, “unless you wish to teach him to embroider.”

  Honoria shot her a panicked look, then saw the laughter in her eyes. “Oh, can you imagine?” Lady Winstead said with a chuckle. “I know that men make marvelous tailors, but I am sure they have teams of needlewomen hiding in their back rooms.”

  “Their fingers are too big,” Mrs. Wetherby agreed. “They can’t hold the needles properly.”

  “Well, he couldn’t be any worse than Margaret.” Lady Winstead turned to Mrs. Wetherby and explained, “My eldest daughter. I have never seen anyone less skilled with a needle.”

  Honoria looked over at her mother with interest. She had never realized that Margaret was so dismal at needlework. But then again, Margaret was seventeen years older than she was. She had been married and out of the Smythe-Smith household before Honoria had even been old enough to form memories.

  “It’s a good thing she had such talent for the violin,” Lady Winstead continued.

  Honoria looked up sharply at that. She’d heard Margaret play. “Talent” was not a word she’d have used to describe it.

  “All my daughters play the violin,” Lady Winstead said proudly.

  “Even you, Lady Honoria?” Mrs. Wetherby asked.

  Honoria nodded. “Even me.”

  “I wish you had brought your instrument. I should have loved to have heard you play.”

  “I’m not as capable as my sister Margaret,” Honoria said. Which, tragically, was true.

  “Oh, don’t be silly,” her mother said, giving her a playful pat on the arm. “I thought you were magnificent last year. You need only to practice a bit more.” She turned back to Mrs. Wetherby. “Our family hosts a musicale every year. It is one of the most sought-after invitations in town.”

  “Such a treasure to come from such a musical family.”

  “Oh,” Honoria said, because she wasn’t sure she’d be able to manage much of anything else. “Yes.”

  “I do hope your cousins are rehearsing in your absence,” her mother said with a worried expression.

  “I’m not sure how they could,” Honoria said. “It’s a quartet. One can’t really rehearse with one of the violins missing.”

  “Yes, I suppose so. It’s just that Daisy is so green.”

  “Daisy?” Mrs. Wetherby asked.

  “My niece,” Lady Winstead explained. “She is quite young and”—her voice dropped to a whisper, although for the life of her, Honoria couldn’t figure out why—“she’s not very talented.”

  “Oh, dear,” Mrs. Wetherby gasped, one of her hands rising to her chest. “Whatever will you do? Your musicale will be ruined.”

  “I am quite certain Daisy will keep up with the rest of us,” Honoria said with a weak smile. Truthfully, Daisy was bad. But it was difficult to imagine her actually making the quartet worse. And she would bring some badly needed enthusiasm to the group. Sarah was still claiming that she’d rather have her teeth pulled than perform with the quartet again.

  “Has Lord Chatteris ever been to the musicale?” Mrs. Wetherby asked.

  “Oh, he comes every year,” Lady Winstead replied. “And sits in the front row.”

  He was a saint, Honoria thought. At least for one night a year.

  “He does love music,” Mrs. Wetherby said.

  A saint. A martyr, even.

  “I suppose he will have to miss it this year,” Lady Winstead said with a sad sigh. “Perhaps we can arrange for the girls to come here for a special concert.”

  “No!” Honoria exclaimed, loudly enough that both the other women turned to look at her. “I mean, he wouldn’t like that, I’m sure. He doesn’t like people going out of their way for him.” She could see from her mother’s expression that she was not finding this to be a strong argument, so she added, “And Iris doesn’t travel well.”

  A blatant lie, but it was the best she could come up with so quickly.

  “Well, I suppose,” her mother conceded. “But there is always next year.” Then, with a flash of panic in her eyes, she added, “Although you won’t be playing, I’m sure.” When it became obvious she would have to explain, she turned to Mrs. Wetherby and said, “Each Smythe-Smith daughter must leave the quartet when she marries. It is tradition.”

  “Are you engaged to be married, Lady Honoria?” Mrs. Wetherby asked, her brow knit with confusion.

  “No,” Honoria replied, “and I—”

  “What she means to say,” her mother interrupted, “is that we expect her to be engaged by the end of the season.”

  Honoria could only stare. Her mother had not shown such determination or strategy during her first two seasons.

  “I do hope we’re not too late for Madame Brovard,” her mother mused.

  Madame Brovard? The most exclusive modiste in London? Honoria was stunned. Just a few days ago her mother had told her to go shopping with her cousin Marigold and “find something pink.” Now she wanted to get Honoria in to see Madame Brovard?

  “She will not use the same fabric twice if it is at all distinctive,” her mother was explaining to Mrs. Wetherby. “It is why she is considered the best.”

  Mrs. Wetherby nodded approvingly, clearly enjoying the conversation.

  “But the downside is that if one sees her too late in the season”—Lady Winstead held up her hands in a fatalistic manner—“all the good fabrics are gone.”

  “Oh, that is terrible,” Mrs. Wetherby replied.

  “I know, I know. And I want to make sure we find the right colors for Honoria this year. To bring out her eyes, you know.”

  “She has beautiful eyes,” Mrs. Wetherby agreed. She turned to Honoria. “You do.”

  “Er, thank you,” Honoria said automatically. It was strange, seeing her mother act like . . . well, like Mrs. Royle, to be completely honest. Disconcerting. “I think I will go to the library now,” she announced. The two older ladies had entered into a spirited discussion about the distinction between lavender and periwinkle.

  “Have a good time, dear,” her mother said without even looking her way. “I tell you, Mrs. Wetherby, if you had a lighter shade of periwinkle . . .”

  Honoria just shook her head. She needed a book. And maybe another nap. And a slice of pie. And not necessarily in that order.

  Dr. Winters stopped by that afternoon and declared Marcus well on his way to recovery. His fever had cleared entirely, his leg was mending splendidly, and even his sprained ankle—which they’d all quite forgotten about—no longer showed signs of swelling.

  With Marcus’s life no longer in danger, Lady Winstead announced that she and Honoria would be packing their things and leaving for London immediately. “It was highly irregular to make the trip in the first place,” she told Marcus privately. “I doubt there will be talk, given our previous connection and the precariousness of your health, but we both know that society will not be so lenient if we linger.”

  “Of course,” Marcus murmured. It was for the best, really. He was beyond bored and would miss having them about, but the season would be starting in earnest soon, and Honoria needed to get back to London. She was an unmarried daughter of an earl and thus in search of a suitable husband; there was no other place for her at this time of year.

  He would have to go, too, to keep his vow to Daniel and make sure she didn’t marry an idiot, but he was stuck in bed—doctor’s orders—and would be for at least another week. After that he would be confined to his home for another week, possibly two, until Dr. Winters was confident that he was free of infection. Lady Winstead had made him promise to follow the doctor’s directives.

  “We did not save your life to have you squander it,” she told him.

  It would be close to a month before he could follow them to town. He found that inexplicably frustrating.

  “Is Honoria about?” he asked Lady Winstead, even though he knew better than to inquire about an unmarried young lady to her mother—even with those two. But he was so bored. And he missed her

  Which was not at all the same thing as missing her.

  “We had tea just a little while ago,” Lady Winstead said. “She mentioned she saw you this morning. I believe she plans to find some books for you in the library here. I imagine she’ll be by this evening to bring them.”

  “That will be much appreciated. I’m almost done with . . .” He looked over at his bedside table. What had he been reading? “Philosophical Inquiries Into the Essence of Human Freedom.”

  Her brows rose. “Are you enjoying it?”

  “Not very much, no.”

  “I shall tell Honoria to hurry along with the books, then,” she said with an amused smile.

  “I look forward to it,” he said. He started to smile as well, then caught himself and assumed a more serious mien.

  “I’m sure she does, too,” Lady Winstead said.

  Of this Marcus was not so certain. But still, if Honoria didn’t mention the kiss, then neither would he. It was a trifling thing, really. Or if not, then it should be. Easily forgotten. They would be back to their old friendship in no time.

  “I think she is still tired,” Lady Winstead said, “although I can’t imagine why. She slept for twenty-four hours, did you know that?”

  He did not.

  “She did not leave your side until your fever broke. I offered to take her place, but she would not have it.”

  “I am very much indebted to her,” Marcus said softly. “And to you, too, from what I understand.”

  For a moment Lady Winstead said nothing. But then her lips parted, as if she was deciding whether to speak. Marcus waited, knowing that silence was often the best encouragement, and a few seconds later, Lady Winstead cleared her throat and said, “We would not have come to Fensmore if Honoria had not insisted.”

  He was not sure what to say to that.

  “I told her that we should not come, that it was not proper, since we are not family.”

  “I have no family,” he said quietly.

  “Yes, that is what Honoria said.”

  He felt a strange pang at that. Of course Honoria knew that he had no family; everyone did. But somehow, to hear her say it, or just to hear someone else tell him she’d said it . . .

  It hurt. Just a little. And he didn’t understand why.

  Honoria had seen beyond all that, past his aloneness and into his loneliness. She had seen it—no, seen him—in a way even he had not understood.

  He had not realized just how solitary his life was until she had stumbled back into it.

  “She was most insistent,” Lady Winstead said, breaking into his thoughts. And then, so quietly that he barely heard her: “I just thought you should know.”

  Chapter Fifteen

  Several hours later, Marcus was sitting in bed, not even pretending to read Philosophical Inquiries Into the Essence of Human Freedom, when Honoria came by for another visit. She held about half a dozen books in her arms and was accompanied by a maid bearing a supper tray.

  He was not surprised that she’d waited until someone else had had to come up to his room as well.

  “I brought you some books,” she said with a determined smile. She waited until the maid placed the tray on his bed and then set the stack down on the bedside table. “Mother said you’d likely need entertainment.” She smiled again, but her expression was far too resolute to have been spontaneous. With a little nod, she turned and started to follow the maid out of the room.

  “Wait!” he called out. He couldn’t let her go. Not yet.

  She paused, turned, and gave him a questioning look.

  “Sit with me?” he asked, tilting his head toward the chair. She hesitated, so he added, “I’ve had only myself for company for the better part of two days.” She still looked uncertain, so he smiled wryly and said, “I find myself somewhat dull, I’m afraid.”

  “Only somewhat?” she replied, probably before she remembered she was trying not to enter into a conversation.

  “I’m desperate, Honoria,” he told her.

  She sighed, but she had a wistful smile as she did so, and she walked into the room. She left the door to the hallway open; now that he was not at death’s door, there were certain proprieties that must be obeyed. “I hate that word,” she said.

  “ ‘Desperate’?” he guessed. “You find it overused?”

  “No,” she sighed, sitting down in the chair by his bed. “Too frequently apt. It’s a terrible feeling.”

  He nodded, although in truth, he didn’t think he understood desperation. Loneliness, certainly, but not desperation.

  She sat quietly at his side, her hands folded in her lap. There was a long silence, not quite awkward, but not comfortable, either, and then she said rather suddenly, “The broth is beef.”

  He looked down at the small porcelain tureen on his tray, still covered by a lid.

  “The cook called it boeuf consommé,” she continued, speaking a little faster than she usually did, “but it’s broth, plain and simple. Mrs. Wetherby insists that its curative powers are beyond compare.”

  “I don’t suppose I have anything other than broth,” he said dolefully, looking down at his sparse tray.

  “Dry toast,” Honoria said sympathetically. “I’m sorry.”

  He felt his head hang forward another inch. What he wouldn’t give for a slice of Flindle’s chocolate cake. Or a creamed apple tart. Or a shortbread biscuit, or a Chelsea bun, or bloody well anything that contained a great deal of sugar.

  “It smells quite nice,” Honoria said. “The broth.”

  It did smell quite nice, but not as nice as chocolate would.

  He sighed and took a spoonful, blowing on it before taking a taste. “It’s good,” he said.

  “Really?” She looked doubtful.

  He nodded and ate some more. Or rather, drank some more. Did one eat soup or drink it? And more to the point, could he get some cheese to melt on top of it? “What did you have for supper?” he asked her.

  She shook her head. “You don’t want to know.”

  He ate-drank another spoonful. “Probably not.” Then he couldn’t help himself. “Was there ham?”

  She didn’t say anything.

  “There was,” he said accusingly. He looked down at the last dregs of his soup. He supposed he could use the dry toast to soak it up. He hadn’t left enough liquid, though, and after two bites, his toast really was dry.

  Sawdust dry. Wandering-the-desert dry. He paused for a moment. Hadn’t he been wandering the desert thirsty a few days earlier? He took a bite of his entirely unpalatable toast. He’d never seen a desert in his life, and likely never would, but as far as geographical habitats went, it did seem to be offering a multitude of similes lately.

  “Why are you smiling?” Honoria asked curiously.

  “Am I? It was a sad, sad smile, I assure you.” He regarded his toast. “Did you truly have ham?” And then, even though he knew he didn’t want to know the answer: “Was there pudding?”

  He looked at her. She wore a very guilty expression.

  “Chocolate?” he whispered.

  She shook her head.

  “Berry? Ca—Oh, Lord, did Cook make treacle tart?”

  No one made treacle tart like Fensmore’s cook.

  “It was delicious,” she admitted, with one of those amazingly happy sighs reserved for the memories of the very best of desserts. “It was served with clotted cream and strawberries.”

  “Is there any left?” he asked dolefully.

  “I should think there must be. It was served in a huge—Wait a moment.” Her eyes narrowed, and she speared him with a suspicious stare. “You’re not asking me to steal you a piece, are you?”

  “Would you?” He hoped his face looked as pathetic as his voice. He really needed her to pity him.

  “No!” But her lips were pressing together in an obvious attempt not to laugh. “Treacle tart is not an appropriate food for the sickbed.”

  “I don’t see why not,” he replied. With u
tmost honesty.

  “Because you’re supposed to have broth. And calf’s-foot jelly. And cod liver oil. Everyone knows that.”

  He forced his stomach not to turn at the mention. “Have any of those delicacies ever made you feel better?”

  “No, but I don’t think that’s the point.”

  “How is it possibly not the point?”

  Her lips parted for a quick reply, but then she went quite comically still. Her eyes tipped up and looked off to the left, almost as if she were searching her mind for a suitable retort. Finally, she said, with deliberate slowness, “I don’t know.”

  “Then you’ll steal me a piece?” He gave her his best smile. His best I-almost-died-so-how-can-you-deny-me smile. Or at least that’s how he hoped it appeared. The truth was, he wasn’t a very accomplished flirt, and it might very well have come across as an I-am-mildly-deranged-so-it’s-in-all-of-our-best-interests-if-you-pretend-to-agree-with-me smile.

  There was really no way to know.

  “Do you have any idea how much trouble I could get into?” Honoria asked. She leaned forward in a furtive manner, as if someone might actually be spying on them.

  “Not very much,” he replied. “It’s my house.”

  “That matters very little when put up against the collective wrath of Mrs. Wetherby, Dr. Winters, and my mother.”

  He shrugged.

  “Marcus . . .”

  But she had no coherent protest beyond that. So he said, “Please.”

  She looked at him. He tried to look pathetic.

  “Oh, all right.” She let out a little snort, capitulating with a remarkable lack of grace. “Do I have to go right now?”

  He clasped his hands together piously. “I would be most appreciative if you would.”

  She didn’t move her head, but her eyes turned one way, and then the other, and he couldn’t quite tell if she was trying to act sneaky. Then she stood, brushing her hands against the pale green fabric of her skirts. “I will be back,” she said.

  “I cannot wait.”

  She marched to the door and turned around. “With tart.”

  “You are my savior.”

  Her eyes narrowed. “You owe me.”

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