Home > The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy (Smythe-Smith Quartet #4)(12)

The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy (Smythe-Smith Quartet #4)(12)
Author: Julia Quinn

“No.” Iris didn’t think Daisy heard her, but she didn’t much care. She’d figure out eventually that no refreshment was forthcoming.

Like Daisy, Iris had been watching the door all evening. Unlike Daisy, she’d been trying to do it surreptitiously. When Sir Richard had returned her to her home earlier in the day, she had mentioned that she would be at the Mottram ball that evening. It was an annual affair, and always well attended. Iris knew that if Sir Richard did not have an invitation, he would be able to procure one with ease. He had not said that he would be in attendance, but he had thanked her for the information. Surely that meant something?

Iris skirted around the perimeter of the ballroom, doing what she did best at events such as these—watching everyone else. She liked standing at the periphery of the dance floor. She was an avid observer of her friends. And her acquaintances. And the people she didn’t know, and the people she didn’t like. It was entertaining, and truly, most of the time she enjoyed it more than she did dancing. It was just that tonight . . .

Tonight there was someone she actually wanted to dance with.

Where was he? Granted, Iris had arrived unfashionably on time. Her mother was a stickler for punctuality, no matter how often she was assured that the time listed on a ball invitation was merely a guideline.

But the ballroom was now bustling, and anyone concerned about arriving too early would have no cause to worry. In another hour, it would be—

“Miss Smythe-Smith.”

She whirled around. Sir Richard stood before her, strikingly handsome in his evening clothes.

“I didn’t see you come in,” she said, and then proceeded into mental self-flagellation. Stupid stupid. Now he’d know she’d been—

“Were you watching for me?” he asked, his lips curving into a knowing smile.

“Of course not,” she stammered. Because she’d never been a good liar.

He bowed over her hand and kissed it. “I would be flattered if indeed you were.”

“I wasn’t watching for you exactly,” she said, trying not to let her embarrassment show. “But I did look about from time to time. To see if you were here.”

“Then I am flattered by your ‘looking about.’”

She tried to smile. But she was not good at flirtation. Put her in a room of people she knew well, and she could carry her end of a conversation with flair and wit. Her deadpan sarcasm was legend in her family. But put her before a handsome gentleman, and her tongue twisted in knots. The only reason she had performed so well that afternoon was that she had not been sure that he was pursuing her.

It was easy to be oneself when the stakes were low.

“Dare I hope you have set aside a dance for me?” Sir Richard asked.

“I have many unclaimed dances, sir.” As she usually did.

“That cannot be.”

Iris swallowed. He was gazing down at her with an unnerving intensity. His eyes were dark, almost black, and for the first time in her life she understood what people meant when they said they could drown in someone’s eyes.

She could drown in his eyes. And she’d enjoy the descent.

“I find it difficult to believe that the gentlemen of London are so foolish as to leave you at the side of the room.”

“I do not mind,” she said, then added, “Truly,” when she saw that he did not believe her. “I very much like to watch people.”

“Do you?” he murmured. “What do you see?”

Iris looked out over the ballroom. The dance floor was a swirl of color as the ladies spun about. “There,” she said, motioning toward a young lady about twenty feet away. “She is being scolded by her mother.”

Sir Richard leaned slightly to the side for a better view. “I see nothing out of the ordinary.”

“One could argue that being scolded by one’s mother is not out of the ordinary, but look more carefully.” Iris pointed as discreetly as she could. “She’s going to be in much more trouble later. She’s not listening.”

“You can tell this from twenty feet away?”

“I have some experience with being scolded myself.”

He laughed aloud at that. “I suppose I must be too much of a gentleman to inquire what you did to warrant such a scolding.”

“Certainly, you must,” she said with an arch smile. Maybe she was finally learning how to flirt. It was rather nice, actually.

“Very well,” he said with a gracious nod, “you are most observant. I shall count that among your many positive attributes. But I will not believe that you do not like to dance.”

“I did not say I do not like to dance. I merely said I do not like to dance every dance.”

“And have you danced every dance yet this evening?”

She smiled up at him, feeling bold and powerful and quite unlike herself. “I am not dancing this dance.”

His dark brows rose at her impertinence, and he immediately gave a gracious bow. “Miss Smythe-Smith, will you do me the very great honor of dancing with me?”

Iris smiled widely, quite incapable of feigning sophisticated nonchalance. She placed her hand in his and followed him to the dance floor, where couples were lining up for a minuet.

The steps were intricate, but for the first time in her life, Iris felt as if she were moving through the dance without having to think about what to do. Her feet knew where to go, and her arms reached out at precisely the right moments, and his eyes—oh, his eyes—they never left hers, even when the dance sent them to different partners.

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