Sir Richard Kenworthy has less than a month to find a bride. He knows he can’t be too picky, but when he sees Iris Smythe-Smith hiding behind her cello at her family’s infamous musicale, he thinks he might have struck gold. She’s the type of girl you don’t notice until the second-or third-look, but there’s something about her, something simmering under the surface, and he knows she’s the one.
Iris Smythe-Smith is used to being underestimated. With her pale hair and quiet, sly wit she tends to blend into the background, and she likes it that way. So when Richard Kenworthy demands an introduction, she is suspicious. He flirts, he charms, he gives every impression of a man falling in love, but she can’t quite believe it’s all true. And when his proposal of marriage turns into a compromising position that forces the issue, she can’t help thinking that he’s hiding something…even as her heart tells her to say yes.
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After a minute, Richard found himself adjusting the cotton in his ears. By the end of the first movement, he could feel a vein twitching painfully in his brow. But it was when they reached a long violin solo that the true gravity of his situation sank in.
“The flask,” he nearly gasped.
To his credit, Winston didn’t even smirk.
Richard took a long swig of what turned out to be mulled wine, but it did little to dull the pain. “Can we leave during intermission?” he whispered to Winston.
“There is no intermission.”
Richard stared at his program in horror. He was no musician, but surely the Smythe-Smiths had to know that what they were doing … that this so-called concert …
It was an assault against the very dignity of man.
According to the program, the four young ladies on the makeshift stage were playing a piano concerto by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But to Richard’s mind, a piano concerto seemed to imply actual playing of a piano. The lady seated at that fine instrument was striking only half the required notes, if that. He could not see her face, but from the way she was hunched over the keys, she appeared to be a musician of great concentration.
Albeit not one of great skill.
“That’s the one with no sense of humor,” Winston said, motioning with his head toward one of the violinists.
Ah, Miss Daisy. She of the bouncing blond curls. Of all the performers, she was clearly the one who most considered herself a great musician. Her body dipped and swayed like the most proficient virtuoso as her bow flew across the strings. Her movements were almost mesmerizing, and Richard supposed that a deaf man might have described her as being one with the music.
Instead she was merely one with the din.
As for the other violinist … Was he the only one who could tell that she could not read music? She was looking anywhere but at her music stand, and she had not flipped a single page since the concert began. She’d spent the entire time chewing on her lip and casting frantic glances at Miss Daisy, trying to emulate her movements.
Which left the cellist. Richard felt his eyes settle on her as she drew her bow across the long strings of her instrument. It was extraordinarily difficult to pick out her playing underneath the frenetic sounds of the two violinists, but every now and then a low mournful note would escape the insanity, and Richard could not help but think—
She’s quite good.
He found himself fascinated by her, this small woman trying to hide behind a large cello. She, at least, knew how terrible they were. Her misery was acute, palpable. Every time she reached a pause in the score, she seemed to fold in on herself, as if she could squeeze down to nothingness and disappear with a “pop!”
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.
Richard Kenworthy didn’t believe in omens, but this one, he’d take.
About Julia Quinn
JULIA QUINN started writing her first book one month after finishing college and has been tapping away at her keyboard ever since. The New York Times bestselling author of twenty-four novels for Avon Books, she is a graduate of Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges and is one of only fifteen authors ever to be inducted in the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family.