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Just like heaven, p.20
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       Just Like Heaven, p.20

           Julia Quinn
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  “I don’t see why not,” Sarah said. “I can’t imagine anyone would recognize it from our interpretation.”

  Iris slumped.

  “But it will have been printed in the program,” Honoria pointed out.

  “Do you really think anyone saves our programs from one year to the next?” Sarah asked.

  “My mother does,” Daisy said.

  “So does mine,” Sarah answered, “but it’s not as if she pulls them out and compares them side by side.”

  “My mother does,” Daisy said again.

  “Dear God,” Iris moaned.

  “It’s not as if Mr. Mozart wrote only one piece,” Daisy said pertly. “We have loads from which to choose. I think we should play Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. It is my absolute favorite. It’s so sprightly and gay.”

  “It has no piano part,” Honoria reminded her.

  “I have no objection,” Sarah said quickly. From behind the piano.

  “If I have to do it, you have to do it,” Iris practically hissed.

  Sarah actually pulled back in her seat. “I had no idea you could look so venomous, Iris.”

  “It’s because she doesn’t have eyelashes,” Daisy said.

  Iris turned to her with complete calm and said, “I hate you.”

  “That’s a terrible thing to say, Daisy,” Honoria said, turning on her with a stern expression. It was true that Iris was extraordinarily pale, with the kind of strawberry blond hair that seemed to render her lashes and brows almost invisible. But she’d always thought Iris was absolutely gorgeous, almost ethereal-looking.

  “If she didn’t have eyelashes, she’d be dead,” Sarah said.

  Honoria turned to her, unable to believe the direction of the conversation. Well, no, that was not completely accurate. She believed it (unfortunately). She just didn’t understand it.

  “Well, it’s true,” Sarah said defensively. “Or at the very least, blind. Lashes keep all the dust from our eyes.”

  “Why are we having this conversation?” Honoria wondered aloud.

  Daisy immediately answered, “It’s because Sarah said she didn’t think Iris could look venomous, and then I said—”

  “I know,” Honoria cut in, and then, when she realized Daisy still had her mouth open, looking as if she was only waiting for the right moment to complete her sentence, she said it again. “I know. It was a hypothetical question.”

  “It still had a perfectly valid answer,” Daisy said with a sniff.

  Honoria turned to Iris. At twenty-one, they were the exact same age, but Iris had not had to take part in the quartet until this year. Her sister Marigold had kept the cello part in a death grip until she’d married last autumn. “Do you have any suggestions, Iris?” Honoria asked brightly.

  Iris crossed her arms and hunched over herself in her seat. To Honoria, it looked as if she were trying to fold herself into nothingness. “Something without the cello,” she muttered.

  “If I have to do it, you have to do it,” Sarah said with a smirk.

  Iris glared at her with all the fury of a misunderstood artist. “You don’t understand.”

  “Oh, believe me, I do,” Sarah said with great feeling. “I played last year, if you recall. I’ve had an entire year to understand.”

  “Why is everyone complaining?” Daisy asked impatiently. “This is exciting! We get to perform. Do you know how long I have been waiting for this day?”

  “Unfortunately, yes,” Sarah said flatly.

  “About as long as I have been dreading it,” Iris muttered.

  “It is really quite remarkable,” Sarah said, “that the two of you are sisters.”

  “I marvel at it every day,” Iris said flatly.

  “It should be a piano quartet,” Honoria said quickly, before Daisy figured out she was being insulted. “Unfortunately, there aren’t many from which to choose.”

  No one offered an opinion.

  Honoria fought off a groan. It was clear she was going to have to take the reins, lest they fall into musical anarchy. Although she supposed that anarchy might actually be an improvement over the usual Smythe-Smith state of affairs.

  It was a sad statement, that.

  “Mozart’s Piano Quartet no. 1 or Mozart’s Piano Quartet no. 2,” she announced, holding up the two different scores. “Does anyone have an opinion?”

  “Whichever one we didn’t do last year,” Sarah sighed. She let her head rest against the piano. Then she actually let her head drop to the keys.

  “That sounded good,” Daisy said with surprise.

  “It sounded like a fish vomiting,” Sarah said into the piano.

  “A charming image,” Honoria remarked.

  “I don’t think fish do vomit,” Daisy remarked, “and if they did, I don’t think it would sound like—”

  “Can’t we be the first set of cousins to mutiny?” Sarah cut in, lifting her head. “Can’t we simply just say no?”

  “No!” Daisy howled.

  “No,” Honoria agreed.

  “Yes?” Iris said weakly.

  “I can’t believe you want to do this again,” Sarah said to Honoria.

  “It’s tradition.”

  “It’s a wretched tradition, and it will take me six months to recover.”

  “I shall never recover,” Iris lamented.

  Daisy looked as if she might stomp her foot. She probably would have done if Honoria had not quelled her with a sharp glare.

  Honoria thought of Marcus, then forced herself not to think of Marcus. “It’s tradition,” she said again, “and we are fortunate to belong to a family that prizes tradition.”

  “What are you talking about?” Sarah asked, shaking her head.

  “Some people have no one,” Honoria said passionately.

  Sarah stared at her a moment longer, then said it again. “I’m sorry, but what are you talking about?”

  Honoria looked at all of them, aware that her voice was rising with feeling but completely unable to modulate it. “I may not like performing in musicales, but I love rehearsing with the three of you.”

  Her three cousins stared at her, momentarily nonplussed.

  “Don’t you realize how lucky we are?” Honoria said. And then, when no one leapt to agree, she added, “To have each other?”

  “Couldn’t we have each other over a game of cards?” Iris suggested.

  “We are Smythe-Smiths,” Honoria ground out, “and this is what we do.” And then, before Sarah could offer a word of protest, she said, “You, too, regardless of your last name. Your mother was a Smythe-Smith, and that is what counts.”

  Sarah sighed—loud, long, and weary.

  “We are going to pick up our instruments and play Mozart,” Honoria announced. “And we are going to do it with smiles on our faces.”

  “I have no idea what any of you are talking about,” Daisy said.

  “I will play,” Sarah said, “but I make no promises about a smile.” She looked at the piano and blinked. “And I am not picking up my instrument.”

  Iris actually giggled. Then her eyes lit up. “I could help you.”

  “Pick it up?”

  Iris’s grin grew positively devilish. “The window is not far . . .”

  “I knew I loved you,” Sarah said with a wide smile.

  While Sarah and Iris were making plans to destroy Lady Winstead’s brand new pianoforte, Honoria turned back to the music, trying to decide which score to choose. “We did Quartet no. 2 last year,” she said, even though only Daisy was listening, “but I’m hesitant to choose Quartet no. 1.”

  “Why?” Daisy asked.

  “It’s rather famous for being difficult.”

  “Why is that?”

  “I don’t know,” Honoria admitted. “I’ve just heard that it is, and often enough to make me wary.”

  “Is there a Quartet no. 3?”

  “I’m afraid not.”

  “Then I think we should do no. 1,” Daisy said boldly. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.


  “Yes, but it is a wise man who understands his limits.”

  “Who said that?” Daisy asked.

  “I did,” Honoria answered impatiently. She held up the score to Quartet no. 1. “I don’t think we could possibly learn this, even if we had three times as long to practice.”

  “We don’t have to learn it. We’ll have the music in front of us.”

  This was going to be much worse than Honoria had feared.

  “I think we should do no. 1,” Daisy said emphatically. “It will be embarrassing if we perform the same piece as last year.”

  It was going to be embarrassing regardless of what music they chose, but Honoria didn’t have the heart to say it to her face.

  On the other hand, whichever piece they performed, they would surely butcher it past recognition. Could a difficult piece played badly be that much worse than a slightly less difficult piece played badly?

  “Oh, why not?” Honoria acquiesced. “We’ll do no. 1.” She shook her head. Sarah was going to be furious. The piano part was especially difficult.

  On the other hand, it wasn’t as if Sarah had deigned to take part in the selection process.

  “A wise choice,” Daisy said with great conviction. “We’re doing Quartet no. 1!” she called out over her shoulder.

  Honoria looked past her to Sarah and Iris, who had actually pushed the pianoforte several feet across the room.

  “What are you doing?” she nearly shrieked.

  “Oh, don’t worry,” Sarah said with a laugh. “We’re not really going to push it out the window.”

  Iris positively collapsed on the piano stool, her entire body shaking with laughter.

  “This isn’t funny,” Honoria said, even though it was. She’d love nothing more than to join her cousin in silliness, but someone had to take charge, and if she didn’t do it, Daisy would.

  Good heavens.

  “We’ve chosen Mozart’s Piano Quartet no. 1,” Daisy said again.

  Iris went utterly pale, which for her meant almost ghostlike. “You’re joking.”

  “No,” Honoria replied, in all honesty a bit fed up. “If you had a strong opinion, you should have joined the conversation.”

  “But do you know how difficult it is?”

  “That’s why we want to do it!” Daisy proclaimed.

  Iris looked at her sister for one moment and then turned back to Honoria, who she clearly judged to be the more sensible of the two. “Honoria,” she said, “we cannot do Quartet no. 1. It’s impossible. Have you ever heard it played?”

  “Only once,” Honoria admitted, “but I don’t remember it very well.”

  “It’s impossible,” Iris cried. “It’s not meant for amateurs.”

  Honoria was not so pure of heart that she was not enjoying her cousin’s distress just a little bit. Iris had been complaining all afternoon.

  “Listen to me,” Iris said again. “If we attempt this piece, we will be massacred.”

  “By whom?” Daisy asked.

  Iris just looked at her, completely unable to articulate a reply.

  “By the music,” Sarah put in.

  “Oh, you’ve decided to join the discussion, then,” Honoria said.

  “Don’t be sarcastic,” Sarah snipped.

  “Where were the two of you when I was trying to pick something out?”

  “They were moving the piano.”

  “Daisy!” all three of them yelled.

  “What did I say?” Daisy demanded.

  “Try not to be so literal,” Iris snapped.

  Daisy hmmphed and started leafing through the music score.

  “I have been trying to keep everyone’s spirits up,” Honoria said, planting her hands on her hips as she faced Sarah and Iris. “We have a performance to practice for, and no matter how much either of you complains, there is no getting out of it. So stop trying to make my life so difficult and do what you’re told.”

  Sarah and Iris could only stare.

  “Er, please,” Honoria added.

  “Perhaps this would be a good time for a short break,” Sarah suggested.

  Honoria groaned. “We haven’t even started.”

  “I know. But we need a break.”

  Honoria stood still for a moment, feeling her body deflate. This was exhausting. And Sarah was right. They did need a break. A break from doing absolutely nothing, but a break nevertheless.

  “Besides,” Sarah said, giving her a sly look, “I’m parched.”

  Honoria raised an eyebrow. “All this complaining has made you thirsty?”

  “Precisely,” Sarah returned with a grin. “Have you any lemonade, darling cousin?”

  “I don’t know,” Honoria said through a sigh, “but I suppose I could inquire.” Lemonade did sound nice. And to be perfectly honest, not practicing also sounded nice. She got up to ring for a maid and had barely sat down again when Poole, Winstead House’s longtime butler, appeared in the doorway.

  “That was fast,” Sarah remarked.

  “A caller for you, Lady Honoria,” Poole intoned.

  Marcus?

  Honoria’s heart thumped wildly in her chest until she realized it couldn’t possibly be Marcus. He was still confined to Fensmore. Dr. Winters had insisted.

  Poole came over with his tray and held it forward so that Honoria could take the calling card.

  THE EARL OF CHATTERIS

  Good heavens, it was Marcus. What the devil was he doing in London? Honoria completely forgot to be mortified or angry or whatever it was she was feeling (she had not quite decided) and went straight to out-and-out fury. How dare he risk his health? She had not slaved at his bedside, braving heat, blood, and delirium only to have him collapse in London because he was too foolish to stay home where he belonged.

  “Admit him at once,” she snapped, and she must have sounded rather fierce, because all three of her cousins turned to stare at her with identical expressions of shock.

  She scowled at them all. Daisy actually took a step back.

  “He should not be out and about,” Honoria growled.

  “Lord Chatteris,” Sarah said, with complete confidence.

  “Stay here,” Honoria said to the others. “I shall return shortly.”

  “Need we practice in your absence?” Iris inquired.

  Honoria rolled her eyes, refusing to dignify that with a response.

  “His lordship is already waiting in the drawing room,” Poole informed her.

  Of course. No butler would insult an earl by forcing him to leave his calling card on the silver tray and depart.

  “I’ll be right back,” Honoria said to her cousins.

  “You said that,” Sarah said.

  “Don’t follow me.”

  “You said that, too,” Sarah said. “Or something quite synonymous.”

  Honoria gave her one last glare before leaving the room. She had not told Sarah much about her time at Fensmore, just that Marcus had taken ill, and she and her mother had aided in his convalescence. But Sarah knew her better than anyone; she was going to be curious, especially now that Honoria had nearly lost her temper at the mere sight of Marcus’s calling card.

  Honoria marched through the house, her anger growing with every step. What on earth was he thinking? Dr. Winters could not have been more clear. Marcus was to stay in bed for a week and then remain at home for another week after that, possibly two. In no mathematical universe could that equate to his being here in London at that moment.

  “What on earth were you—” She thundered into the drawing room but stopped short when she saw him standing by the fireplace, a veritable picture of health. “Marcus?”

  He smiled, and her heart—wretched, traitorous organ—melted. “Honoria,” he said. “It’s lovely to see you, too.”

  “You look . . .” She blinked, still not quite believing her eyes. His color was good, his eyes had lost that sunken look, and he appeared to have regained whatever weight he’d lost. “ . . . well,” she finally finished,
unable to keep the surprise from her voice.

  “Dr. Winters declared me fit to travel,” he explained. “He said he had never seen anyone recuperate from a fever with such speed.”

  “It must have been the treacle tart.”

  His eyes grew warm. “Indeed.”

  “What brings you to town?” she asked. She wanted to add, “Since you’ve been recently released from your obligation to ensure that I don’t marry an idiot.”

  She was, perhaps, just a little bit bitter.

  But not angry. There was no point, and indeed no reason, to be angry with him. He had only been doing what Daniel had asked of him. And it wasn’t as if he had thwarted any real romances. Honoria had not been terribly enamored of any of her suitors, and the truth was, had any of them proposed, she probably would not have accepted.

  But it was embarrassing. Why couldn’t someone have told her that Marcus had been meddling in her affairs? She might have made a fuss—oh, very well, she would definitely have made a fuss—but not a big one. And if she had known, she would not have misinterpreted his actions at Fensmore. She wouldn’t have thought that maybe he might be falling a little bit in love with her.

  And she wouldn’t have allowed herself to fall in love with him.

  But if there was one thing she was sure of, it was that she was not going to let him know that anything was out of the ordinary. As far as he knew, she was still oblivious to his machinations.

  So she put her best smile on her face and was quite sure she looked terribly interested in everything he had to say as he answered, “I didn’t want to miss the musicale.”

  “Oh, now I know you’re lying.”

  “No, really,” he insisted. “The knowledge of your true feelings will bring an entirely new dimension to the endeavor.”

  She rolled her eyes. “Please. No matter how much you think you are laughing with me, and not at me, you cannot escape the cacophony.”

  “I am pondering discreet balls of cotton for my ears.”

  “If my mother catches you, she shall be mortally wounded. And she, who saved you from a mortal wound.”

  He looked at her with some surprise. “She still thinks you’re talented?”

  “Every one of us,” Honoria confirmed. “I think she is a little sad that I am the last of her daughters to perform. But I suppose the torch will soon pass to a new generation. I have many nieces who are practicing their little fingers off on their tiny little violins.”

 
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