You’re not wearing a shirt, he rasps. Carson shook his head. I hafta be in a booster seat.

I jest want yer coin, the ruffian said. He smiled, and his eyes held a glittery sheen of cruelty. Give me yer money, and we’ll all walk away. He was lying. Daniel knew this as well as he knew how to draw breath. If he let go of the man’s wrists, even for one moment, that knife would be plunged between his ribs. As it was, he had only moments before the man on the ground regained his equilibrium.

There were no appropriate boys in northern Cambridgeshire with whom Marcus might play. The closest noble family were the Crowlands, and they had only girls. The next best family was landed gentry, which would have been acceptable under the circumstances, but their sons were of entirely the wrong age. Lord Chatteris wasn’t about to have his son consorting with peasants, so he simply hired more tutors. A busy boy couldn’t be a lonely boy, and besides, no son of his could possibly want to run wild across the fields with the baker’s rowdy brood.If the earl had asked Marcus his opinion, he might have got a different answer. But the earl saw his son once per day, just prior to the evening meal. Their interview lasted about ten minutes, then Marcus went up to the nursery and the earl to his formal dining room, and that was that.

In retrospect, it was nothing short of remarkable that Marcus was not utterly miserable at Eton. He certainly had no idea how to interact with his peers. On the first day, when all the other boys were running about like (in the words of his father’s valet, who had dropped him off) a pack of savages, Marcus stood to the side, trying not to stare, trying to look as if he meant to stand at the side, looking off in the other direction.He did not know how to act. He did not know what to say.But Daniel Smythe-Smith did.

Daniel Smythe-Smith, besides being the heir to the Earldom of Winstead, had five siblings and thirty-two first cousins. If ever there was a boy who knew how to get on with other children, it was he. Within hours, he was the undisputed king among the youngest boys at Eton. He had a way about him – an easy smile, a happy confidence, an utter lack of shyness. He was a born leader – able to make decisions just as quickly as he made jokes.And he was assigned to the bed directly next to Marcus’s.

They became the best of friends, and when Daniel invited Marcus home for their first holiday, he went. Daniel’s family lived at Whipple Hill, which wasn’t very far from Windsor, so it was easy for him to make frequent trips home. Marcus, on the other hand . . . Well, it wasn’t as if he lived all the way in Scotland, but it did take more than a day to get back to the northern reaches of Cambridgeshire. Plus, his father had never gone home for the minor holidays and saw no reason why his son should do so, either.

So when the second holiday came up, and Daniel invited Marcus again, he went.He was breathing hard, and he was terribly agitated, but his eyes did not seem to focus on her. Indeed, she wasn’t sure if he realized she was there. His head snapped back and forth, as if he were looking for something, and then it seemed to speed up into a strange shake. No, he said, although not forcefully. He didn’t sound angry, just upset. No.

He’s not awake, Mrs. Wetherby said softly.Honoria nodded slowly, and the enormity of what she had undertaken finally settled upon her. She didn’t know anything about sickness, and she certainly didn’t know how to care for someone with a fever.

Was that why she had come? To care for him? She had been so frantic with worry after reading Mrs. Wetherby’s message that all she’d been able to think about was seeing him for herself. She hadn’t thought ahead to anything past that.What an idiot she had been. What had she thought she was going to do once she saw him? Turn around and go home?