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Just like heaven, p.19
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       Just Like Heaven, p.19

           Julia Quinn
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  “Oh, no,” she told him, “I like the rehearsals. Especially now that all of my siblings are gone, and my house is nothing but ticking clocks and meals on trays. It’s lovely to gather together and have someone to talk to.” She looked over at him with a sheepish expression. “We talk at least as much as we rehearse.”

  “This does not surprise me,” Marcus murmured.

  She gave him a look that said she had not missed his little dig. But she did not take offense; he had known she would not.

  And then he realized: he rather liked that he had known she would not take offense. There was something wonderful about knowing another person so well.

  “So,” she continued, quite determined to finish the topic, “Sarah will be at the pianoforte again this year, and she really is my closest friend. We have a grand time together. And Iris will be joining us at the cello. She’s almost exactly my age, and I have always meant to spend more time with her. She was at the Royles’, too, and I—” She stopped.

  “What is it?” he asked. She looked almost concerned.

  Honoria blinked. “I think she might actually be good.”

  “At the cello?”

  “Yes. Can you imagine?”

  He decided to view the question as rhetorical.

  “Anyway,” she continued, “Iris will be playing, as will her sister Daisy, who, I’m afraid to say, is dreadful.”

  “Ehrm . . .” How to ask this politely? “Dreadful when compared to most of humanity or dreadful for the Smythe-Smiths?”

  Honoria looked like she was trying not to smile. “Dreadful even for us.”

  “That is very grave indeed,” he said, amazingly with a straight face.

  “I know. I think poor Sarah is hoping she will be struck by lightning sometime in the next three weeks. She has only just recovered from last year.”

  “I take it she didn’t smile and put on a brave face?”

  “Weren’t you there?”

  “I wasn’t looking at Sarah.”

  Her lips parted, but not from surprise, not at first. Her eyes were still lit with anticipation, the kind one feels when one is about to deliver a brilliantly witty remark. But then, before any sound emerged, she seemed to realize what he’d said.

  And it was only then that he realized what he’d said.

  Slowly, her head tilted to the side, and she was looking at him as if . . . As if . . .

  He didn’t know. He didn’t know what it meant, except that he would have sworn that her eyes grew darker even as she sat there, staring at him. Darker, and deeper, and all he could think was that she could see into him, right down to his heart.

  Right down to his soul.

  “I was looking at you,” he said, his voice so quiet he barely heard it. “I was looking only at you.”

  But that was before . . .

  She put her hand on his. It looked small, and delicate, and pinkishly-pale.

  It looked perfect.

  “Marcus?” she whispered.

  And then he finally knew. That was before he loved her.

  Chapter Sixteen

  It was extraordinary, Honoria thought, but the world really did stop spinning.

  She was sure of it. There could be no other explanation for the headiness, the dizziness, the sheer singularity of the moment, of that moment, right there, in his room, with a dinner tray and a stolen treacle tart, and the breathless longing for a single, perfect kiss.

  She turned, and she felt her head tilt ever-so-slightly to the side, as if somehow, if she changed her angle, she would see him more clearly. And amazingly, she did. She moved, and he came into focus, which was so very strange, because she would have sworn that her vision had been crystal clear just a moment earlier.

  It was as if she’d never really seen him before. She looked into his eyes, and she saw more than color, more than shape. It wasn’t that the iris was brown, or the pupil was black. It was that he was there, and she could see him, every last bit of him, and she thought—

  I love him.

  It echoed in her mind.

  I love him.

  Nothing could have been more stunning, at the same time more simple and true. She felt as if something within her had been dislodged for years, and he had, with five innocent words—I wasn’t looking at Sarah—bumped it into place.

  She loved him. She would always love him. It made such sense. Who could she possibly love but Marcus Holroyd?

  “I was looking at you,” he said, so softly she couldn’t even be sure she’d heard it. “I was looking only at you.”

  She looked down. Her hand was on his. She didn’t remember putting it there. “Marcus?” she whispered, and she didn’t know why it was a question. But she couldn’t have made herself say any other word.

  “Honoria,” he whispered, and then—

  “My lord! My lord!”

  Honoria jumped back, nearly falling out of the chair. There was a small commotion in the corridor, the sound of feet hurrying toward them. Hastily, Honoria stood and stepped back behind the chair.

  A moment later, Honoria’s mother and Mrs. Wetherby came tearing into the room. “A letter has arrived,” Lady Winstead said breathlessly. “From Daniel.”

  Honoria swayed slightly, then grabbed the back of the chair for support. They had not heard from her brother in over a year. Well, perhaps Marcus had, but she had not, and Daniel had long since stopped trying to write to their mother.

  “What does it say?” Lady Winstead asked, even though Marcus was still breaking the seal.

  “Let him open it first,” Honoria admonished. It was on the tip of her tongue to say that they ought to leave the room to allow him to read the letter in private, but she could not bring herself to do so. Daniel was her only brother, and she’d missed him so dreadfully. As the months had gone by without even a simple note from him, she’d told herself that he hadn’t meant to ignore her. His letter surely had been lost; international post was notoriously unreliable.

  But right now she didn’t care why she had not heard from him in so long; she just wanted to know what was in his letter to Marcus.

  And so they all stood there, staring at Marcus with bated breath. It was beyond rude, but no one was willing to budge.

  “Is he well?” her mother finally ventured when Marcus finished the first page.

  “Yes,” he murmured, blinking as if he couldn’t quite believe what he was reading. “Yes. He’s coming home, actually.”

  “What?” Lady Winstead went pale, and Honoria rushed over to her side lest she need support.

  Marcus cleared his throat. “He writes that he has received some sort of correspondence from Hugh Prentice. Ramsgate has finally agreed to let bygones be bygones.”

  As bygones went, Honoria could not help but think, this one was rather large. And the last time she’d seen the Marquess of Ramsgate, he’d nearly gone into an apoplectic fit at the sight of her. Granted, that had been over a year earlier, but still.

  “Could Lord Hugh be playing a trick?” Honoria asked. “To lure Daniel back into the country?”

  “I don’t think so,” Marcus said, looking down at the second page of the letter. “He’s not the sort to do such a thing.”

  “Not the sort?” Lady Winstead echoed, disbelief making her voice rise in pitch. “He ruined my son’s life.”

  “That’s what made it all so very strange,” Marcus said. He was still looking down, reading the words on the paper even as he spoke. “Hugh Prentice has always been a good man. He is eccentric, but he is not without honor.”

  “Does Daniel say when he’ll return?” Honoria asked.

  Marcus shook his head. “He is not specific. He mentions that he has a few matters to take care of in Italy, and then he will commence his journey home.”

  “Oh, my heavens,” Lady Winstead said, sinking into a nearby chair. “I never thought I would see the day. I never even allowed myself to think about it. Which of course meant that I thought of nothing but.”

  For a moment
Honoria could do nothing but stare at her mother. For three years she had not even mentioned Daniel’s name. And now she was saying that he was all she had thought about?

  Honoria shook her head. There was no point in being angry with her mother. Whatever she had done or been these last few years, she had more than redeemed herself in these last few days. Honoria knew without a doubt that Marcus would not be alive were it not for her mother’s nursing skills.

  “How long does it take to travel from Italy to England?” Honoria asked, because surely that had to be the most important question.

  Marcus looked up. “I have no idea. I’m not even sure what part of Italy he’s in.”

  Honoria nodded. Her brother had always had a habit of telling stories and leaving out all the most important details.

  “This is very exciting,” Mrs. Wetherby said. “I know you’ve all missed him terribly.”

  For a moment the room went silent. It was one of those comments that was so obvious that no one quite knew how to agree. Finally, Lady Winstead said, “Well, it’s a good thing we are already planning to leave for London tomorrow. I should hate to be away from home when he arrives.” She looked over at Marcus and said, “We shall take our leave for the evening. I’m sure you wish to get some rest. Come along, Honoria. We have much to discuss, you and I.”

  What Lady Winstead wished to discuss, it turned out, was how they might celebrate Daniel’s return. But the discussion did not get very far; Honoria sensibly pointed out that there wasn’t much they could do if they did not know the date of his arrival. Her mother managed to ignore this for at least ten minutes, debating small gatherings versus large, and whether Lord Ramsgate and Lord Hugh should be invited, and if they were, could one be certain that they would decline? Any reasonable person would do so, but with Lord Ramsgate, one never could tell.

  “Mother,” Honoria said again, “there is nothing we can do until Daniel arrives. He may not even want a celebration.”

  “Nonsense. Of course he will. He—”

  “He left the country in disgrace,” Honoria cut in. She hated to be so blunt, but there was nothing else for it.

  “Yes, but it wasn’t fair.”

  “It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t fair. It is what it is, and he might not wish to remind anyone of it.”

  Her mother looked unconvinced, but she let the matter drop, and then there was nothing to do but go to bed.

  The following morning, Honoria arose with the sun. They were to depart early; it was the only way to make it to London without having to stop for the night along the route. After a quick breakfast, she made her way to Marcus’s room to say good-bye.

  And maybe more.

  But when she arrived, he was not in his bed. A housemaid was there, however, pulling the sheets from the mattress.

  “Do you know where Lord Chatteris is?” Honoria inquired, hoping that nothing was amiss.

  “He’s just in the next room,” the maid replied. Then her cheeks went a bit pink. “With his valet.”

  Honoria swallowed and probably turned a little pink herself, understanding quite well that this meant that Marcus was taking a bath. The maid departed with her bundle of linens, and Honoria stood alone in his bedchamber for a moment, wondering what to do next. She supposed she would have to say good-bye in writing. She could not wait for him here; it was beyond irregular, beyond even all the other irregularities they had committed in the past week.

  There were certain rules of propriety that could be bent when someone was deathly ill, but now Marcus was up and about, and apparently in some degree of undress. There was no way her presence in his room could lead to anything other than complete ruination.

  And besides, her mother was most impatient to be off.

  She glanced about the room for paper and pen. There was a small desk by the window, and on his bedside table she saw—

  The letter from Daniel.

  It lay where Marcus had set it down it the night before, two somewhat wrinkled pages filled with the small, tight writing people used when they were trying to save postage. Marcus hadn’t told her anything that was in the letter other than the fact that Daniel was coming home. Which was of course the most important thing, but even so, she was ravenous for news. It had been so long since she’d had any information of him. She didn’t care if he only mentioned what he’d eaten for breakfast . . . It would be breakfast in Italy and thus terribly exotic. What was he doing? Was he bored? Could he speak Italian?

  She stared at the two sheets of paper. Would it be so very terrible if she took a peek?

  No. She couldn’t. It would be a gross breach of trust, a complete invasion of Marcus’s privacy. And of Daniel’s.

  But then again, what could they possibly have to talk about that would not be of her concern?

  She turned, glancing toward the door the maid had motioned to. She couldn’t hear anything coming through it. If Marcus was finished with his bath, surely she’d hear him moving about. She looked back at the letter.

  She was a very fast reader.

  In the end, she didn’t really make a decision to read Daniel’s letter to Marcus. Rather, she didn’t allow herself to decide not to. It was a small distinction, but one that somehow allowed her to ignore her own moral code and do something that would have incensed her if it had been her letter lying on the table.

  She moved quickly, as if speed might make the sin smaller, and snatched up the two sheets of paper. Dear Marcus et cetera et cetera . . . Daniel wrote about the apartment he’d rented, describing all the neighborhood shops in lovely detail but managing to omit the name of the city he was in. He then went on about the food, which he insisted was superior to English fare. After that there was a brief paragraph about his plans to come home.

  Smiling, Honoria turned to the second sheet of the letter. Daniel wrote the way he spoke, and she could practically hear his voice coming from the page.

  In the next paragraph Daniel asked Marcus to inform his mother of his impending return, which made Honoria smile more broadly. Daniel could never have imagined that they would be standing with Marcus when he read the missive.

  And then, at the end, Honoria saw her own name.

  I have not heard any news of Honoria marrying, so I assume she is still unwed. I must thank you again for scaring off Fotheringham last year. He’s a rotter, and it infuriates me that he even attempted to court her.

  What was this? Honoria blinked, as if that might somehow change the words on the page. Marcus had had something to do with Lord Fotheringham not coming up to scratch? She had decided that she did not like Lord Fotheringham and would not accept him, but still . . .

  Travers, too, would have been a bad alliance. I hope you did not have to pay him to leave her alone, but if you did, I shall reimburse you.

  What? People were being paid to . . . to what? To not court her? That didn’t even make sense.

  I appreciate your looking out for her. It was a great deal to ask, and I know I did not give you much choice, asking as I did on the eve of my departure. I shall assume the responsibility when I return, and you shall be free to leave London, which I know you detest.

  And that was how Daniel ended his letter. Setting Marcus free of the dreadful burden that was, apparently, her.

  She set the pages down, then rearranged them so that they would appear as they had been when she had picked them up.

  Daniel had asked Marcus to watch over her? Why hadn’t Marcus said anything? And how stupid was she, really, that she had not figured it out? It made such perfect sense. All those parties when she’d caught Marcus glowering in her direction—he hadn’t been glowering at her because he disapproved of her behavior; he’d been in a bad mood because he was stuck in London until she received a good marriage proposal. No wonder he had seemed so miserable all the time.

  And all those suitors who had mysteriously dropped her—he’d scared them off. He’d decided they were not what Daniel would want for her, and he’d gone behind her back and scared
them off.

  She should be furious.

  But she wasn’t. Not about that.

  All she could think about was what he’d said the night before. “I wasn’t looking at Sarah.”

  Of bloody course he hadn’t been looking at Sarah. He’d been looking at her because he’d been forced to do so. He’d been looking at her because his best friend had made him promise.

  He’d been looking at her because she was an obligation.

  And now she was in love with him.

  A horrified spurt of laughter burst from her throat. She had to get out of his room. The only thing that could make her mortification more complete would be his catching her reading his correspondence.

  But she couldn’t go without leaving a note. That would be completely out of character; he’d know for sure that something was amiss.

  So she found paper, and she found a pen, and she scrawled a perfectly ordinary, perfectly boring farewell.

  And then she left.

  Chapter Seventeen

  The following week

  The recently aired-out music room

  Winstead House, London

  “Mozart this year!” Daisy Smythe-Smith announced. She held her new violin aloft with such vigor that her blond curls nearly bounced out of her coiffure. “Isn’t it gorgeous? It’s a Ruggieri. Father bought it for my sixteenth birthday.”

  “It’s a beautiful instrument,” Honoria agreed, “but we did Mozart last year.”

  “We do Mozart every year,” Sarah drawled from the piano.

  “But I didn’t play last year,” Daisy said. She shot Sarah a peevish look. “And this is only your second time in the quartet, so you can hardly complain about what you do every year.”

  “I believe I may kill you before the season is out,” Sarah remarked in much the same tone she used when saying, I believe I shall have lemonade instead of tea.

  Daisy stuck out her tongue.

  “Iris?” Honoria looked over at her cousin at the cello.

  “I don’t care,” Iris said morosely.

  Honoria sighed. “We can’t do what we did last year.”

 
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