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Home > The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy (Smythe-Smith Quartet #4)(3)

The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy (Smythe-Smith Quartet #4)(3)
Author: Julia Quinn

This was Miss Iris Smythe-Smith, one of the florals. It seemed unfathomable that she might be related to the blissfully oblivious Daisy, who was still swiveling about with her violin.

Iris. It was a strange name for such a wisp of a girl. He’d always thought of irises as the most brilliant of flowers, all deep purples and blues. But this girl was so pale as to be almost colorless. Her hair was just a shade too red to be rightfully called blond, and yet strawberry blond wasn’t quite right, either. He couldn’t see her eyes from his spot halfway across the room, but with the rest of her coloring, they could not be anything but light.

She was the type of girl one would never notice.

And yet Richard could not take his eyes off her.

It was the concert, he told himself. Where else was he meant to look?

Besides, there was something soothing about keeping his gaze focused on a single, unmoving spot. The music was so jarring, he felt dizzy every time he looked away.

He almost chuckled. Miss Iris Smythe-Smith, she of the shimmering pale hair and too-large-for-her-body cello, had become his savior.

Sir Richard Kenworthy didn’t believe in omens, but this one, he’d take.

WHY WAS THAT man staring at her?

The musicale was torture enough, and Iris should know—this was the third time she’d been thrust onto the stage and forced to make a fool of herself in front of a carefully curated selection of London’s elite. It was always an interesting mix, the Smythe-Smith audience. First you had family, although in all fairness, they had to be divided into two distinct groups—the mothers and everyone else.

The mothers gazed upon the stage with beatific smiles, secure in their belief that their daughters’ display of exquisite musical talent made them the envy of all their peers. “So accomplished,” Iris’s mother trilled year after year. “So poised.”

So blind, was Iris’s unsaid response. So deaf.

As for the rest of the Smythe-Smiths—the men, generally, and most of the women who had already paid their dues on the altar of musical ineptitude—they gritted their teeth and did their best to fill up the seats so as to limit the circle of mortification.

The family was marvelously fecund, however, and one day, Iris prayed, they would reach a size where they had to forbid the mothers from inviting anyone outside of family. “There just aren’t enough seats,” she could hear herself saying.

Unfortunately, she could also hear her mother asking her father’s man of affairs to inquire about renting a concert hall.

As for the rest of the attendees, quite a few of them came every year. A few, Iris suspected, did so out of kindness. Some surely came only to mock. And then there were the unsuspecting innocents, who clearly lived under rocks. At the bottom of the ocean.

On another planet.

Iris could not imagine how they could not have heard about the Smythe-Smith musicale, or more to the point, not been warned about it, but every year there were a few new miserable faces.

Like that man in the fifth row. Why was he staring at her?

She was quite certain she had never seen him before. He had dark hair, the kind that curled when it got too misty out, and his face had a finely sculpted elegance that was quite pleasing. He was handsome, she decided, although not terrifyingly so.

He was probably not titled. Iris’s mother had been very thorough in her daughters’ social educations. It was difficult to imagine there was an unmarried nobleman under the age of thirty that Iris and her sisters could not recognize by sight.

A baronet, maybe. Or a landed gentleman. He must be well connected because she recognized his companion as the younger son of the Earl of Rudland. They had been introduced on several occasions, not that that meant anything other than the fact that the Hon. Mr. Bevelstoke could ask her to dance if he was so inclined.

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.

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