The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy(4)

By: Julia Quinn

This was Miss Iris Smythe-Smith, one of the florals. It seemed unfathomable that she might be related to the blissfully oblivious Daisy, who was still swiveling about with her violin.

Iris. It was a strange name for such a wisp of a girl. He’d always thought of irises as the most brilliant of flowers, all deep purples and blues. But this girl was so pale as to be almost colorless. Her hair was just a shade too red to be rightfully called blond, and yet strawberry blond wasn’t quite right, either. He couldn’t see her eyes from his spot halfway across the room, but with the rest of her coloring, they could not be anything but light.

She was the type of girl one would never notice.

And yet Richard could not take his eyes off her.

It was the concert, he told himself. Where else was he meant to look?

Besides, there was something soothing about keeping his gaze focused on a single, unmoving spot. The music was so jarring, he felt dizzy every time he looked away.

He almost chuckled. Miss Iris Smythe-Smith, she of the shimmering pale hair and too-large-for-her-body cello, had become his savior.

Sir Richard Kenworthy didn’t believe in omens, but this one, he’d take.

WHY WAS THAT man staring at her?

The musicale was torture enough, and Iris should know—this was the third time she’d been thrust onto the stage and forced to make a fool of herself in front of a carefully curated selection of London’s elite. It was always an interesting mix, the Smythe-Smith audience. First you had family, although in all fairness, they had to be divided into two distinct groups—the mothers and everyone else.

The mothers gazed upon the stage with beatific smiles, secure in their belief that their daughters’ display of exquisite musical talent made them the envy of all their peers. “So accomplished,” Iris’s mother trilled year after year. “So poised.”

So blind, was Iris’s unsaid response. So deaf.

As for the rest of the Smythe-Smiths—the men, generally, and most of the women who had already paid their dues on the altar of musical ineptitude—they gritted their teeth and did their best to fill up the seats so as to limit the circle of mortification.

The family was marvelously fecund, however, and one day, Iris prayed, they would reach a size where they had to forbid the mothers from inviting anyone outside of family. “There just aren’t enough seats,” she could hear herself saying.

Unfortunately, she could also hear her mother asking her father’s man of affairs to inquire about renting a concert hall.

As for the rest of the attendees, quite a few of them came every year. A few, Iris suspected, did so out of kindness. Some surely came only to mock. And then there were the unsuspecting innocents, who clearly lived under rocks. At the bottom of the ocean.

On another planet.

Iris could not imagine how they could not have heard about the Smythe-Smith musicale, or more to the point, not been warned about it, but every year there were a few new miserable faces.

Like that man in the fifth row. Why was he staring at her?

She was quite certain she had never seen him before. He had dark hair, the kind that curled when it got too misty out, and his face had a finely sculpted elegance that was quite pleasing. He was handsome, she decided, although not terrifyingly so.

He was probably not titled. Iris’s mother had been very thorough in her daughters’ social educations. It was difficult to imagine there was an unmarried nobleman under the age of thirty that Iris and her sisters could not recognize by sight.

A baronet, maybe. Or a landed gentleman. He must be well connected because she recognized his companion as the younger son of the Earl of Rudland. They had been introduced on several occasions, not that that meant anything other than the fact that the Hon. Mr. Bevelstoke could ask her to dance if he was so inclined.

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