The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy(7)

By: Julia Quinn

“How long have you played the cello?” he blurted out. It was the first question that came to mind, and it was only after it had left his lips that he realized it was rather rude. She knew the quartet was terrible, and she knew that he must feel the same way. To inquire about her training was nothing but cruel. But he’d been under pressure. He couldn’t let her leave. Not without some conversation, at least.

“I—” She stammered for a moment, and Richard felt himself floundering inside. He hadn’t meant to—Oh, bloody hell.

“It was a lovely performance,” Winston said, looking as if he’d like to kick him.

Richard spoke quickly, eager to rehabilitate himself in her eyes. “What I meant was that you seemed somewhat more proficient than your cousins.”

She blinked several times. Bloody hell, now he’d gone and insulted her cousins, but he supposed better them than her.

He plowed on. “I was seated near to your side of the room, and occasionally I could hear the cello apart from the other instruments.”

“I see,” she said slowly, and perhaps somewhat warily. She did not know what to make of his interest, that much was clear.

“You’re quite skilled,” he said.

Winston looked at him in disbelief. Richard could well imagine why. It hadn’t been easy to discern the notes of the cello through the din, and to the untrained ear, Iris must have seemed just as dreadful as the rest. For Richard to say otherwise must seem the worst sort of false flattery.

Except that Miss Smythe-Smith knew that she was a better musician than her cousins. He’d seen it in her eyes as she reacted to his statement. “We have all studied since we were quite young,” she said.

“Of course,” he replied. Of course that would be what she’d say. She wasn’t about to insult her family in front of a stranger.

An awkward silence descended upon the trio, and Miss Smythe-Smith made that polite smile again, with the clear intention of excusing herself.

“The violinist is your sister?” Richard asked, before she could speak.

Winston shot him a curious look.

“One of them, yes,” she replied. “The blond one.”

“Your younger sister?”

“By four years, yes,” she said, her voice sharpening. “This is her first season, although she did play in the quartet last year.”

“Speaking of that,” Winston put in, thankfully saving Richard from having to think up another exit-preventing question, “why was Lady Sarah seated at the pianoforte? I thought the quartet was for unmarried ladies only.”

“We lack a pianist,” she answered. “If Sarah had not stepped up, the concert would have been canceled.”

The obvious question hung in the air. Would that have been such a bad thing?

“It would have broken my mother’s heart,” Miss Smythe-Smith said, and it was impossible to tell just what emotion colored her voice. “And those of my aunts.”

“How very kind of her to lend her talents,” Richard said.

And then Miss Smythe-Smith said the most astonishing thing. She muttered, “She owed us.”

Richard started. “I beg your pardon?”

“Nothing,” she said, smiling brightly . . . and falsely.

“No, I must insist,” Richard said, intrigued. “You cannot make such a statement and leave it unclarified.”

Her eyes flitted to the left. Maybe she was making sure her family could not hear. Or maybe she was simply trying not to roll her eyes completely. “It is nothing, really. She did not play last year. She withdrew on the day of the performance.”

“Was the concert canceled?” Winston asked, brow furrowed as he tried to recall.

“No. Her sisters’ governess stepped in.”

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