The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy(8)

By: Julia Quinn

“Oh, right,” Winston said with a nod. “I remember. Jolly good of her. Remarkable, really, that she knew the piece.”

“Was your cousin ill?” Richard inquired.

Miss Smythe-Smith opened her mouth to speak, and then at the last moment changed her mind about what she was going to say. Richard was sure of it.

“Yes,” she said simply. “She was quite ill. Now if you will excuse me, I’m afraid there is a matter I must attend to.”

She curtsied, they bowed, and she departed.

“What was that about?” Winston asked immediately.

“What?” Richard countered, feigning ignorance.

“You practically threw yourself in front of the door to prevent her from leaving.”

Richard shrugged. “I found her interesting.”

“Her?” Winston looked toward the door through which Miss Smythe-Smith had just exited. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” Richard lied.

Winston turned to Richard, then back to the door, and then back to Richard again. “I must say, she’s not your usual type.”

“No,” Richard said, even though he’d never thought of his preferences in those terms. “No, she’s not.”

But then again, he’d never needed to find himself a wife. In two weeks, no less.

THE FOLLOWING DAY found Iris trapped in the drawing room with her mother and Daisy, waiting for the inevitable trickle of callers. They had to be at home for visitors, her mother insisted. People would want to congratulate them on their performance.

Her married sisters would stop by, Iris imagined, and most likely a few other ladies. The same ones who attended each year out of kindness. The rest would avoid the Smythe-Smith home—any of the Smythe-Smith homes—like the proverbial plague. The last thing anyone wanted to do was make polite conversation about an aural disaster.

It was rather as if the Dover cliffs crumbled into the sea, and everyone sat about drinking tea, saying, “Oh yes, ripping good show. Too bad about the vicar’s house, though.”

But it was early still, and they had not yet been graced by a visitor. Iris had brought down something to read, but Daisy was still aglow with delight and triumph.

“I thought we were splendid,” she announced.

Iris lifted her eyes from her book just long enough to say, “We weren’t splendid.”

“Perhaps you weren’t, hiding behind your cello, but I have never felt so alive and in tune with the music.”

Iris bit her lip. There were so very many ways she could respond. It was as if her younger sister was begging her to use every sarcastic word in her arsenal. But she held her tongue. The concert always left her feeling irritable, and no matter how annoying Daisy was—and she was, oh, she was—it wasn’t her fault that Iris was in such a bad mood. Well, not entirely.

“There were so many handsome gentlemen at the performance last night,” Daisy said. “Did you see, Mama?”

Iris rolled her eyes. Of course their mother had seen. It was her job to notice every eligible gentleman in the room. No, it was more than that. It was her vocation.

“Mr. St. Clair was there,” Daisy said. “He’s so very dashing with his queue.”

“He’ll never look twice at you,” Iris said.

“Don’t be unkind, Iris,” their mother scolded. But then she turned to Daisy. “But she’s right. And nor would we wish him to. He’s far too rakish for a proper young lady.”

“He was talking with Hyacinth Bridgerton,” Daisy pointed out.

Iris swung her glance over to her mother, eager—and, truth be told, amused—to see how she’d respond to that. Families didn’t get more popular or respectable than the Bridgertons, even if Hyacinth—the youngest—was known as something of a terror.

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