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Just like heaven, p.18
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       Just Like Heaven, p.18

           Julia Quinn
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  “I owe you for a great deal more than treacle tart,” he told her quite seriously.

  She exited the room without another word, leaving Marcus with his empty tureen and bread crusts. And books. He looked over at the table, where she’d left the books for him. Carefully, so as not to upset the glass of lukewarm lemon water Mrs. Wetherby had prepared for him, he moved the tray to the other side of the bed. Leaning over, he grabbed the first book and took a look. Striking and Picturesque Delineations of the Grand, Beautiful, Wonderful, and Interesting Scenery Around Loch-Earn.

  Good Lord, she’d found that in his library?

  He looked at the next. Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron. It wasn’t something he would normally choose, but compared to the Striking and Picturesque Delineations of the Grand, Beautiful Et Cetera, Et Cetera Somewhere in the Wilds of Scotland I Shall Bore You to Death, it looked positively pithy.

  He settled in against his pillows, flipped the pages until he was at the opening chapter, and sat down to read.

  It was a dark and windy night—

  Hadn’t he heard that before?

  —and Miss Priscilla Butterworth was certain that at any moment the rain would begin, pouring down from the heavens in sheets and streams . . .

  By the time Honoria returned, Miss Butterworth had been abandoned on a doorstep, survived the plague, and been chased by a wild boar.

  She was quite fleet of foot, Miss Butterworth.

  Marcus turned eagerly to Chapter Three, where he anticipated Miss Butterworth stumbling upon a plague of locusts, and was quite engrossed when Honoria appeared in the doorway, out of breath and clutching a tea towel in her hands.

  “You didn’t get it, then?” he asked, looking at her over the edge of Miss Butterworth.

  “Of course I got it,” she replied with disdain. She set the tea towel down and unfolded it to reveal a somewhat crumbly, but nonetheless recognizable, treacle tart. “I brought an entire pie.”

  Marcus felt his eyes go wide. He was tingling. Honestly. Tingling with anticipation. Miss Butterworth and her locusts were nothing compared to this. “You are my hero.”

  “To say nothing of having saved your life,” she quipped.

  “Well, that, too,” he demurred.

  “One of the footmen gave chase.” She looked over her shoulder toward the open door. “I think he might have thought I was a thief, although really, if I were coming to burgle Fensmore, I’d hardly start with treacle tart.”

  “Really?” he asked, his mouth full of heaven. “It’s exactly where I’d start.”

  She broke off a piece and popped it in her mouth. “Oh, it is good,” she sighed. “Even without the strawberries and cream.”

  “I can think of nothing better,” he said with a happy sigh. “Except, perhaps, chocolate cake.”

  She perched on the side of the bed and took another small piece. “Sorry,” she said, swallowing before she continued, “I didn’t know where to get forks.”

  “I don’t care,” he said. He didn’t. He was just so damned happy to be eating real food, with real flavor. That required real chewing. Why people thought that clear liquids were the key to recovering from a fever he would never know.

  He began to fantasize about cottage pie. Dessert was marvelous, but he was going to need some real sustenance. Beef mince. Sliced potatoes, lightly crisped from the oven. He could almost taste it.

  He looked over at Honoria. Somehow he did not think she was going to be able to sneak that out of the kitchen in a tea towel.

  Honoria reached for another piece of the tart. “What are you reading?” she asked.

  “Miss Butterworth and the, er . . .” He looked down at the book, which lay pages down and open on his bed. “Mad Baron, apparently.”

  “Really?” She looked stunned.

  “I couldn’t bring myself to crack open Reflections and Illuminations of a Small Unpopulated Area of Scotland.”

  “What?”

  “This one,” he said, handing her the book.

  She looked down and he noticed that her eyes had to move quite a distance to take in the entirety of the title. “It looked quite descriptive,” she said with a little shrug. “I thought you would enjoy it.”

  “Only if I was worried that the fever hadn’t done me in,” he said with a snort.

  “I think it sounds interesting.”

  “You should read it, then,” he said with a gracious wave. “I shan’t miss it.”

  Her lips pressed together peevishly. “Did you look at anything else I brought you?”

  “Actually, no.” He held up Miss Butterworth. “This was really quite intriguing.”

  “I can’t believe you’re enjoying it.”

  “You’ve read it, then?”

  “Yes, but—”

  “Did you finish it?”

  “Yes, but—”

  “Did you enjoy it?”

  She did not seem to have a ready reply, so he took advantage of her distraction and pulled the tea towel closer. Another few inches and the treacle tart would be entirely out of her reach.

  “I did enjoy it,” she finally said, “although I found some parts to be implausible.”

  He flipped over the book and peered down. “Really?”

  “You’re not very far into it,” Honoria said, tugging the tea towel back in her direction. “Her mother is pecked to death by pigeons.”

  Marcus regarded the book with newfound respect. “Really?”

  “It’s quite macabre.”

  “I cannot wait.”

  “Oh, please,” she said, “you can’t possibly want to read this.”

  “Why not?”

  “It’s so . . .” She waved a hand through the air as she searched for the right word. “Unserious.”

  “I can’t read something unserious?”

  “Well, of course you can. I just find it difficult to imagine that you would choose to.”

  “And why is that?”

  Her eyebrows rose. “You’re sounding awfully defensive.”

  “I’m curious. Why wouldn’t I choose to read something unserious?”

  “I don’t know. You’re you.”

  “Why does that sound like an insult?” Said with nothing but curiosity.

  “It’s not.” She took another piece of treacle tart and nibbled at it. And that was when the strangest thing happened. His eyes fell to her lips, and as he watched, her tongue darted from her mouth to lick an errant crumb.

  It was the tiniest movement, over in less than a second. But something electric shot through him, and with a gasp he realized it was desire. Hot, gut-clenching desire.

  For Honoria.

  “Are you all right?” she asked.

  No. “Yes, er, why?”

  “I thought I might have hurt your feelings,” she admitted. “If I did, please accept my apologies. Truly, it wasn’t meant to be an insult. You’re perfectly nice the way you are.”

  “Nice?” Such a bland word.

  “It’s better than not nice.”

  It was at this point that a different man might have grabbed her and showed her precisely how “not nice” he could be, and Marcus was actually “not nice” enough to imagine the scene in great detail. But he was also still suffering the aftereffects of a near-deadly fever, to say nothing of the open door and her mother, who was likely just down the hall. So instead he said, “What else did you bring me to read?”

  It was a much safer avenue of conversation, especially since he had spent much of the day convincing himself that kissing her had had nothing to do with desire. It had been a complete aberration, a momentary burst of madness brought on by extreme emotion.

  This argument, unfortunately, was presently being shot to pieces. Honoria had shifted her position so that she could reach the books without standing up, and this meant that she’d moved her bottom quite a bit closer to . . . well, to his bottom, or really, his hip if one wanted to put a fine point on it. There was a sheet and a blanket between them, not to mentio
n his nightshirt and her dress and heaven knew what else she had under it, but dear God he had never been as aware of another human being as he was of her right that very moment.

  And he still wasn’t sure how it had happened.

  “Ivanhoe,” she said.

  What was she talking about?

  “Marcus? Are you listening? I brought you Ivanhoe. By Sir Walter Scott. Although, look at this, isn’t this interesting?”

  He blinked, certain he must have missed something. Honoria had opened the book and was flipping through the pages at the beginning.

  “His name is not on the book. I don’t see it anywhere.” She turned it over and held it up. “It just says ‘By the Author of Waverley.’ Look, even on the spine.”

  He nodded, because that was what he thought was expected of him. But at the same time, he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off her lips, which were pursed together in that rosebuddish thing she did when she was thinking.

  “I haven’t read Waverley, have you?” She looked up, eyes bright.

  “I have not,” he answered.

  “Perhaps I should,” she murmured. “My sister said she enjoyed it. But at any rate, I didn’t bring you Waverley, I brought you Ivanhoe. Or rather, the first volume. I didn’t see any point in lugging all three.”

  “I have read Ivanhoe,” he told her.

  “Oh. Well, let’s put that one aside, then.” She looked down at the next.

  And he looked at her.

  Her lashes. How had he never noticed how long they were? It was rather odd, because she hadn’t the coloring that usually accompanied long lashes. Maybe that was why he hadn’t noticed them; they were long, but not dark.

  “Marcus? Marcus!”

  “Hmmm?”

  “Are you all right?” She leaned forward, regarding him with some concern. “You look a bit flushed.”

  He cleared his throat. “Perhaps some more lemon water.” He took a sip, and then another, for good measure. “Do you find it hot in here?”

  “No.” Her brow wrinkled. “I don’t.”

  “I’m sure it’s nothing. I—”

  She already had her hand on his forehead. “You don’t feel warm.”

  “What else did you bring?” he asked quickly, motioning with his head toward the books.

  “Oh, er, here we are . . .” She took hold of another one and read from the cover. “History of the Crusades for the Recovery and Possession of the Holy Land. Oh, dear.”

  “What is it?”

  “I brought only Volume Two. You can’t start there. You’ll miss the entire siege of Jerusalem and everything about the Norwegians.”

  Let it be said, Marcus thought dryly, that nothing cooled a man’s ardor like the Crusades. Still . . .

  He looked at her questioningly. “Norwegians?”

  “A little-known crusade at the beginning,” she said, waving aside what was probably a good decade of history with a flick of her wrist. “Hardly anyone ever talks about it.” She looked over at him and saw what must have been an expression of complete amazement. “I like the Crusades,” she said with a shrug.

  “That’s . . . excellent.”

  “How about The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey?” she asked, holding up another book. “No? I also have History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution.”

  “You really do think I’m dull,” he said to her.

  She looked at him accusingly. “The Crusades are not dull.”

  “But you brought only Volume Two,” he reminded her.

  “I can certainly go back and look for the first volume.”

  He decided to interpret that as a threat.

  “Oh, here we are. Look at this.” She held up a very slim, pocket-sized book with a triumphant expression. “I have one by Byron. The least dull man in existence. Or so I’m told. I have never met him myself.” She opened the book to the title page. “Have you read The Corsair?”

  “On the day it was published.”

  “Oh.” She frowned. “Here is another by Sir Walter Scott. Peveril of the Peak. It’s rather lengthy. It should keep you busy for some time.”

  “I believe I will stick with Miss Butterworth.”

  “If you wish.” She gave him a look as if to say, There is no way you are going to like it. “It belongs to my mother. Although she did say you may keep it.”

  “If nothing else, I’m sure it will rekindle my love of pigeon pie.”

  She laughed. “I’ll tell Cook to prepare it for you after we leave tomorrow.” She looked up suddenly. “You did know that we depart for London tomorrow?”

  “Yes, your mother told me.”

  “We wouldn’t go unless we were certain you were recovering,” she assured him.

  “I know. I’m sure you have much to attend to in town.”

  She grimaced. “Rehearsals, actually.”

  “Rehearsals?”

  “For the—”

  Oh, no.

  “—musicale.”

  The Smythe-Smith musicale. It finished off what the Crusades had begun. There wasn’t a man alive who could maintain a romantic thought when faced with the memory—or the threat—of a Smythe-Smith musicale.

  “You’re still playing the violin?” he asked politely.

  She gave him a funny look. “I’ve hardly taken up the cello since last year.”

  “No, no, of course not.” It had been a silly thing to ask. But quite possibly the only polite question he might have come up with. “Er, do you know yet when the musicale is scheduled for this year?”

  “The fourteenth of April. It’s not so very far off. Only a bit more than two weeks.”

  Marcus took another piece of treacle tart and chewed, trying to calculate how long he might need to recuperate. Three weeks seemed exactly the right length of time. “I’m sorry I’ll miss it,” he said.

  “Really?” She sounded positively disbelieving. He was not sure how to interpret this.

  “Well, of course,” he said, stammering slightly. He’d never been a terrifically good liar. “I haven’t missed it for years.”

  “I know,” she said, shaking her head. “It has been a magnificent effort on your part.”

  He looked at her.

  She looked at him.

  He looked at her more closely. “What are you saying?” he asked carefully.

  Her cheeks turned ever so slightly pink. “Well,” she said, glancing off toward a perfectly blank wall, “I realize that we’re not the most . . . er . . .” She cleared her throat. “Is there an antonym for discordant?”

  He stared at her in disbelief. “Are you saying you know. . . . ehrm, that is to say—”

  “That we’re awful?” she finished for him. “Of course I know. Did you think me an idiot? Or deaf?”

  “No,” he said, drawing out the syllable in order to give himself time to think. Although what good that was going to do him, he had no idea. “I just thought . . .”

  He left it at that.

  “We’re terrible,” Honoria said with a shrug of her shoulders. “But there is no point in histrionics or sulking. There’s nothing we can do about it.”

  “Practice?” he suggested, but very carefully.

  He wouldn’t have thought a person could be both disdainful and amused, but if Honoria’s expression was any indication, she had managed it. “If I thought that practice might actually make us better,” she said, her lip curling ever so slightly even as her eyes danced with laughter, “believe me, I would be the most diligent violin student the world has ever seen.”

  “Perhaps, if—”

  “No,” she said, quite firmly. “We’re awful. That’s all there is to it. We haven’t a musical bone in our bodies, and especially none in our ears.”

  He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He’d been to so many Smythe-Smith musicales it was a wonder he could still appreciate music. And last year, when Honoria had made her debut on the violin, she had looked positively radiant, performing her part with a sm
ile so wide one could only assume she’d been lost in a rapture.

  “Actually,” she continued, “I find it all somewhat endearing.”

  Marcus was not sure she would be able to locate another living human being who would agree with that assessment, but he saw no reason to say that out loud.

  “So I smile,” Honoria went on, “and I pretend I enjoy it. And in a way I do enjoy it. The Smythe-Smiths have been putting on musicales since 1807. It’s quite a family tradition.” And then, in a quieter, more contemplative voice, she added, “I consider myself quite fortunate to have family traditions.”

  Marcus thought of his own family, or rather, the great big gaping hole where a family never had been. “Yes,” he said quietly, “you are.”

  “For example,” she said, “I wear lucky shoes.”

  He was quite certain he could not have heard her correctly.

  “During the musicale,” Honoria explained with a little shrug. “It is a custom specific to my branch of the family. Henrietta and Margaret are always arguing over who started it, but we always wear red shoes.”

  Red shoes. That little curl of desire that had been stamped out by thoughts of crusading amateur musicians sprang back to life. Suddenly nothing in this world could have been more seductive than red shoes. Good Lord.

  “Are you sure you’re all right?” Honoria asked. “You’re looking somewhat flushed.”

  “I’m fine,” he said hoarsely.

  “My mother doesn’t know,” she said.

  What? If he hadn’t been flushed before, he was now. “I beg your pardon?”

  “About the red shoes. She has no idea that we wear them.”

  He cleared his throat. “Is there any particular reason you keep it a secret?”

  Honoria thought for a moment, then reached out and broke off another piece of treacle tart. “I don’t know. I don’t think so.” She popped it in her mouth, chewed, and shrugged. “Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t know why it’s red shoes. It could just as easily be green. Or blue. Well, not blue. That wouldn’t be the least bit out of the ordinary. But green would work. Or pink.”

  Nothing would work as well as red. Of this Marcus was certain.

  “I imagine we’ll begin rehearsing as soon as I get back to London,” Honoria said.

  “I’m sorry,” Marcus said.

 
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