The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy(5)

By: Julia Quinn



Which he wasn’t.

Iris took no offense at this, or at least not much. She was rarely engaged for more than half the dances at any given assembly, and she liked having the opportunity to observe society in full swirl. She often wondered if the stars of the ton actually noticed what went on around them. If one was always at the eye of the proverbial storm, could one discern the slant of the rain, feel the bite of the wind?

Maybe she was a wallflower. There was no shame in that. Especially not if one enjoyed being a wallflower. Why, some of the—

“Iris,” someone hissed.

It was her cousin Sarah, leaning over from the pianoforte with an urgent expression on her face.

Oh, blast, she’d missed her entrance. “Sorry,” Iris muttered under her breath, even though no one could possibly hear her. She never missed her entrances. She didn’t care that the rest of the players were so mind-numbingly awful that it didn’t really matter if she came in on time or not—it was the principle of the matter.

Someone had to try to play properly.

She attended to her cello for the next few pages of the score, doing her best to block out Daisy, who was wandering all over the stage as she played. When Iris reached the next longish break in the cello part, however, she could not keep herself from looking up.

He was still watching her.

Did she have something on her dress? In her hair? Without thinking, she reached up to brush her coiffure, half expecting to dislodge a twig.

Nothing.

Now she was just angry. He was trying to rattle her. That could be the only explanation. What a rude boor. And an idiot. Did he really think he could irritate her more than her own sister? It would take an accordion-playing minotaur to top Daisy on the scale of bothersome to seventh circle of hell.

“Iris!” Sarah hissed.

“Errrrgh,” Iris growled. She’d missed her entrance again. Although really, who was Sarah to complain? She’d skipped two entire pages in the second movement.

Iris located the correct spot in the score and leapt back in, relieved to note that they were nearing the end of the concerto. All she had to do was play her final notes, curtsy as if she meant it, and attempt to smile through the strained applause.

Then she could plead a headache and go home and shut her door and read a book and ignore Daisy and pretend that she wasn’t going to have to do it all over again next year.

Unless, of course, she got married.

It was the only escape. Every unmarried Smythe-Smith (of the female variety) had to play in the quartet when an opening at her chosen instrument arose, and she stayed there until she walked down a church aisle and claimed her groom.

Only one cousin had managed to marry before she was forced onto the stage. It had been a spectacular convergence of luck and cunning. Frederica Smythe-Smith, now Frederica Plum, had been trained on the violin, just like her older sister Eleanor.

But Eleanor had not “taken,” in the words of Iris’s mother. In fact, Eleanor had played in the quartet a record seven years before falling head over heels for a kindly curate who had the amazing good sense to love her with equal abandon. Iris rather liked Eleanor, even if she did fancy herself an accomplished musician. (She was not.)

As for Frederica . . . Eleanor’s delayed success on the marriage mart meant that the violinist’s chair was filled when her younger sister made her debut. And if Frederica just happened to make certain that she found a husband with all possible haste . . .

It was the stuff of legend. To Iris, at least.

Frederica now lived in the south of India, which Iris suspected was somehow related to her orchestral escape. No one in the family had seen her for years, although every now and then a letter found its way to London, bearing news of heat and spice and the occasional elephant.

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