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Home > The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy (Smythe-Smith Quartet #4)(14)

The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy (Smythe-Smith Quartet #4)(14)
Author: Julia Quinn

He didn’t say anything right away, so she added, “I suppose you think me cynical.”

“Oh, without a doubt. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

She turned toward him in surprise. “I beg your pardon?”

“I think we should conduct a scientific experiment,” he announced.

“An experiment,” she repeated. What on earth was he about?

“Since you have observed my fellow gentlemen as if we were specimens in a rather grandly decorated laboratory, I propose that we make the experiment more formal.” He looked to her for reply, but she was speechless, utterly speechless.

“After all,” he continued, “science requires the gathering and noting of data, does it not?”

“I suppose,” she said suspiciously.

“I shall lead you back toward the dancing. No one will approach you here in the chaperones’ chairs. They’ll suppose you injured. Or ill.”

“Really?” Iris drew back in surprise. Maybe that was part of the reason she was not often asked to dance.

“Well, it’s what I’ve always thought, at any rate. Why else would a young lady be over here?” He glanced in her direction, causing Iris to wonder if perhaps his question had not been hypothetical, but the moment she opened her mouth, he continued with: “I shall lead you back, and leave you be. We shall see how many men ask you to dance.”

“Don’t be silly.”

“And you,” he continued, as if she had not said a word, “must be honest with me. You must tell me truthfully if you are engaged for more dances than usual.”

“I promise to tell the truth,” Iris said, stifling a laugh. He had such a way about him, of saying the silliest thing as if it were of grave importance. She could almost believe this was all in the pursuit of science.

He stood and held out his hand. “My lady?”

Iris set down her empty lemonade glass and stood.

“I trust you are no longer suffering the effects of light-headedness,” he murmured as he led her across the ballroom.

“I believe I shall manage for the rest of the evening.”

“Good.” He bowed. “Until tomorrow, then.”

“Tomorrow?”

“We are walking, are we not? You did grant me permission to call on you. I thought we might stroll about town if the weather cooperates.”

“And if it doesn’t?” she asked, feeling just a bit saucy.

“Then we shall discuss books. Perhaps”—his head dipped closer to hers—“something your sister has not read?”

She laughed, loud and true. “I am almost hoping for rain, Sir Richard, and I—”

But she was cut off by the approach of a sandy-haired gentleman. Mr. Reginald Balfour. She’d met him before; his sister was good friends with one of hers. But he’d never done more than greet her politely.

“Miss Smythe-Smith,” he said, bowing to her curtsy. “You look exceptionally fine this evening.”

Iris’s hand was still on Sir Richard’s arm, and she could feel him tensing as he tried not to laugh.

“Are you engaged for the next dance?” Mr. Balfour asked.

“I am not,” she said.

“Then may I lead you out?”

She glanced over at Sir Richard. He winked.

NINETY MINUTES LATER, Richard stood near the wall, watching Iris as she danced with yet another gentleman he did not recognize. For all her talk about never dancing every dance, she appeared to be well on her way to that goal tonight. She seemed honestly surprised by the attention. Whether she was enjoying herself, he was not certain. He supposed that even if she weren’t, she would view the evening as an interesting experience, one worthy of her particular brand of observation.

Not for the first time, it occurred to him that Iris Smythe-Smith was highly intelligent. It was one of the reasons he’d chosen her. She was a rational creature. She would understand.

No one seemed to notice him in the shadows, so he took advantage of the moment by mentally ticking through his list. He’d drawn one up when he’d found himself racing back to London a few days earlier. Well, not drawn. He wasn’t so foolish as to write such a thing down. But he’d had ample time on the journey to reflect upon what he needed in a wife.

She could not be spoiled. Or the sort who liked to draw attention to herself.

She could not be stupid. He had good reason to marry quickly, but whomever he chose, he was going to have to live with the lady for the rest of his life.

It would be nice if she was pretty, but it was not imperative.

She ought not be from Yorkshire. All things considered, it would be much easier if she was a stranger to the neighborhood.

She probably could not be rich. He needed someone for whom he might be considered an advantageous match. His wife would never need him as much as he needed her, but it would be easier—at least at the beginning—if she did not realize this.

And above all, she must understand what it meant to value one’s family. That was the only way this was going to work. She had to understand why he was doing this.

Iris Smythe-Smith fit his needs in every way. From the moment he saw her at her cello, desperately wishing that people were not looking at her, she had intrigued him. She’d been out in society for several years, but if she’d received any marriage proposals, he had not heard of them. Richard might not be rich, but he was respectable, and there was no reason for her family to disapprove of him, especially when no other suitors were forthcoming.

And he liked her. Did he wish to throw her over his shoulder, spirit her away, and ravish her? No, but nor did he think it would be unenjoyable when the time came.

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