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Just like heaven, p.22
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       Just Like Heaven, p.22

           Julia Quinn
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  Once the dances had been sorted out, they stood there again, a silent little quartet (all quartets should be so silent, Marcus thought), until Honoria’s cousin cleared her throat and said, “Actually, I think the dancing is beginning right now.”

  Which meant that it was time for the minuet.

  Miss Royle looked over at him and beamed. Belatedly he remembered that her mother had a mind to pair the two of them up.

  Honoria looked over at him as if to say—Be very afraid.

  And all he could think was—Damn it, I never got one of those éclairs.

  “He likes you,” Sarah said, the moment Marcus and Cecily headed off for their minuet.

  “What?” Honoria asked. She had to blink. Her eyes had become unfocused from staring at Marcus’s back as he’d walked away.

  “He likes you,” Sarah said.

  “What are you talking about, of course he does. We have been friends forever.” Well, that was not quite true. They had known each other forever. They had become friends—true friends—quite recently.

  “No, he likes you,” Sarah said, with great exaggeration.

  “What?” Honoria said again, because clearly she’d been reduced to idiocy. “Oh. No. No, of course not.”

  But still, her heart leapt.

  Sarah shook her head slowly, as if coming to a realization even as she spoke. “Cecily told me she suspected it, back when the two of you went to check on him at Fensmore after he was caught out in the rain, but I thought she was imagining things.”

  “You should pay attention to your first inclinations,” Honoria said briskly.

  Sarah scoffed at that. “Didn’t you see the way he was staring at you?”

  Honoria, practically begging to be contradicted, said, “He wasn’t staring at me.”

  “Oh, yes he was,” Sarah countered. “Oh, and by the way, in case you were worried, I am not interested in him myself.”

  Honoria could only blink.

  “Back at the Royles’,” Sarah reminded her, “when I was pondering the possibility that he might fall rather quickly in love with me?”

  “Oh, right,” Honoria recalled, trying not to notice how her stomach turned to acid at the thought of Marcus falling in love with someone else. She cleared her throat. “I’d forgotten.”

  Sarah shrugged. “It was a desperate hope.” She looked out over the crowd, murmuring, “I wonder if there are any gentlemen here who might be willing to marry me before Wednesday.”

  “Sarah!”

  “I’m joking. Good heavens, you should know that.” And then she said, “He’s looking at you again.”

  “What?” Honoria actually jumped in surprise. “No, he can’t be. He’s dancing with Cecily.”

  “He’s dancing with Cecily and looking at you,” Sarah replied, sounding rather satisfied with her assessment.

  Honoria would have liked to have thought that that meant he cared, but after having read Daniel’s letter, she knew better. “It’s not because he cares for me,” she said, shaking her head.

  “Really?” Sarah looked as if she might cross her arms. “Then what, pray tell, is it?”

  Honoria swallowed, then looked furtively about. “Can you keep a secret?”

  “Of course.”

  “Daniel asked him to ‘watch over me’ while he is gone.”

  Sarah was unimpressed. “Why is that a secret?”

  “It’s not, I suppose. Well, yes, it is. Because no one told me about it.”

  “Then how do you know?”

  Honoria felt her cheeks grow warm. “I might have read something I wasn’t meant to,” she muttered.

  Sarah’s eyes grew wide. “Really?” she said, leaning in. “That is so unlike you.”

  “It was a moment of weakness.”

  “One you now regret?”

  Honoria thought about that for a moment. “No,” she admitted.

  “Honoria Smythe-Smith,” Sarah said, positively grinning, “I am so proud of you.”

  “I would ask why,” Honoria replied warily, “but I’m not sure I want to know the answer.”

  “This is probably the most improper thing you’ve ever done.”

  “That’s not true.”

  “Oh, perhaps you forgot to tell me about the time you ran naked through Hyde Park?”

  “Sarah!”

  Sarah chuckled. “Everybody has read something they weren’t meant to at some point in their lives. I’m just glad you have finally chosen to join the rest of humanity.”

  “I’m not so stiff and proper,” Honoria protested.

  “Of course not. But I wouldn’t call you adventurous.”

  “I wouldn’t call you adventurous either.”

  “No.” Sarah’s shoulders drooped. “I’m not.”

  They stood there for a moment, a little bit sad, a little bit reflective. “Well,” Honoria said, trying to inject a note of levity back into the air, “you’re not going to run naked through Hyde Park, are you?”

  “Not without you,” Sarah said slyly.

  Honoria laughed at that, then impulsively put her arm around her cousin’s shoulders and gave her a little squeeze. “I love you, you know that.”

  “Of course I do,” Sarah replied.

  Honoria waited.

  “Oh, yes, and I love you, too,” Sarah said.

  Honoria smiled, and for a moment all felt right with the world. Or if not right, then at least normal. She was in London, at a ball, standing next to her favorite cousin. Nothing could have been more ordinary. She tilted her head a bit to the side, gazing out over the crowd. The minuet really was a lovely dance to watch, so stately and graceful. And maybe it was Honoria’s imagination, but it seemed as if the ladies were dressed in similar colors—shimmering across the dance floor in blues, greens, and silvers.

  “It almost looks like a music box,” she murmured.

  “It does,” Sarah agreed, then spoiled the moment by saying, “I hate the minuet.”

  “You do?”

  “Yes,” she said. “I don’t know why.”

  Honoria kept looking out at the dancers. How many times had they stood this way together, she and Sarah? Side by side, both staring off at the crowd as they carried on a conversation without ever once looking at each other. They didn’t really need to; they knew each other so well that facial expressions were not necessary to know what the other was feeling.

  Marcus and Cecily finally came into view, and Honoria watched as they stepped forward and back. “Do you think Cecily Royle is setting her cap for Marcus?” she asked.

  “Do you?” Sarah countered.

  Honoria kept her eyes on Marcus’s feet. He was really quite graceful for such a large man. “I don’t know,” she murmured.

  “Do you care?”

  Honoria thought for a moment about how much of her feelings she was willing to share. “I believe I do,” she finally said.

  “It won’t matter if she does,” Sarah replied. “He’s not interested in her.”

  “I know,” Honoria said softly, “but I don’t think he’s interested in me, either.”

  “Just you wait,” Sarah said, finally turning to look her in the eye. “Just you wait.”

  An hour or so later, Honoria was standing by an empty platter at the dessert table, congratulating herself for having captured the last éclair, when Marcus came to claim his waltz.

  “Did you get one?” she asked him.

  “Get what?”

  “An éclair. They were heavenly. Oh.” She tried not to smile. “I’m sorry. From your expression I can see that you did not.”

  “I have been trying to get over here all evening,” he admitted.

  “There might be more,” she said, in her best imitation of optimism.

  He looked at her with a single raised brow.

  “But probably not,” she said. “I’m terribly sorry. Perhaps we can ask Lady Bridgerton where she got them. Or”—she tried to look devious—“if her own chef made them, perhaps we can hire him away.


  He smiled. “Or we could dance.”

  “Or we could dance,” she agreed happily. She placed her hand on his arm and allowed him to lead her toward the center of the ballroom. They had danced before, even the waltz once or twice, but this felt different. Even before the music began, she felt as if she were gliding, moving effortlessly across the polished wooden floor. And when his hand came to rest at the small of her back, and she looked up into his eyes, something hot and liquid began to unravel within her.

  She was weightless. She was breathless. She felt hungry, needy. She wanted something she could not define, and she wanted it with an intensity that should have scared her.

  But it didn’t. Not with Marcus’s hand at her back. In his arms she felt safe, even as her own body whipped itself up into a frenzy. The heat from his skin seeped through her clothing like nourishment, a heady brew that made her want to rise to her tiptoes and then take off in flight.

  She wanted him. It came to her in an instant. This was desire.

  No wonder girls ruined themselves. She had heard of girls who’d “made mistakes.” People whispered that they were wanton, that they had been led astray. Honoria had never quite understood it. Why would someone throw away a lifetime of security for a single night of passion?

  Now she knew. And she wanted to do the same thing.

  “Honoria?” Marcus’s voice drifted down to her ears like falling stars.

  She looked up and saw him gazing at her curiously. The music had begun but she had not moved her feet.

  He cocked his head to the side, as if to ask her a question. But he didn’t need to speak, and she didn’t need to answer. Instead, she squeezed his hand, and they began to dance.

  The music dipped and swelled, and Honoria followed Marcus’s lead, never taking her eyes off his face. The music lifted her, carried her, and for the first time in her life, she felt as if she understood what it meant to dance. Her feet moved in perfect time to the waltz—one-two-three one-two-three—and her heart soared.

  She felt the violins through her skin. The woodwinds tickled her nose. She became one with the music, and when it was done, when they pulled apart, and she curtsied to his bow, she felt bereft.

  “Honoria?” Marcus asked softly. He looked concerned. And not whatever-can-I-do-to-make-her-adore-me concerned. No, it was definitely more along the lines of Dear-God-she’s-going-to-be-ill.

  He did not look like a man in love. He looked like a man who was concerned that he was standing next to someone with a nasty stomach ailment.

  She had danced with him and felt utterly transformed. She, who could not carry a tune or tap her feet to a rhythm, had become magic in his arms. The dance had been just like heaven, and it killed her that he had not felt the same way.

  He couldn’t have done. She could barely stand, and he just looked . . .

  Like himself.

  The same old Marcus, who saw her as a burden. A not wholly unpleasant burden, but a burden nonetheless. She knew why he could not wait for Daniel to return to England. It meant he could depart London and go back to the country, where he was happier.

  It meant he would be free.

  He said her name again, and she somehow managed to pull herself from her daze. “Marcus,” she said abruptly, “why are you here?”

  For a moment he stared at her as if she’d sprouted a second head. “I was invited,” he replied, a little indignantly.

  “No.” Her head hurt, and she wanted to rub her eyes, and most of all, she wanted to cry. “Not here at this ball, here in London.”

  His eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Why do you ask?”

  “Because you hate London.”

  He adjusted his cravat. “Well, I don’t hate—”

  “You hate the season,” she cut in. “You told me so.”

  He started to say something, then stopped after half a syllable. That was when Honoria remembered—he was a terrible liar. He always had been. When they were children, he and Daniel had once pulled an entire chandelier from the ceiling. To this day, Honoria still wondered how they’d done it. When Lady Winstead had demanded that they confess, Daniel had lied right to her face, and so charmingly that Honoria could see that their mother had not been sure if he was telling the truth.

  Marcus, on the other hand, had gone a bit red in his cheeks, and he’d tugged at his collar as if his neck was itchy.

  Just as he was doing right now.

  “I have . . . responsibilities here,” he said awkwardly.

  Responsibilities.

  “I see,” she said, almost choking on the words.

  “Honoria, are you all right?”

  “I’m fine,” she snapped, and she hated herself for being so short of temper. It wasn’t his fault that Daniel had burdened him with, well, her. It wasn’t even his fault for accepting. Any gentleman would have done so.

  Marcus held still, but his eyes flitted to either side, almost as if he was looking for some explanation as to why she was behaving so strangely. “You’re angry . . .” he said, a little bit placatingly, maybe even condescendingly.

  “I’m not angry,” she bit off.

  Most people would have retorted that she sounded angry, but Marcus just looked at her in that annoyingly self-composed manner of his.

  “I’m not angry,” she muttered, because his silence practically demanded that she say something.

  “Of course not.”

  Her head snapped up. That had been patronizing. The rest she might have been imagining, but not this.

  He said nothing. He wouldn’t. Marcus would never make a scene.

  “I don’t feel well,” she blurted out. That, at least, was true. Her head hurt and she was overheated and off-balance and all she wanted was to just go home and crawl into bed and pull her covers over her face.

  “I will take you to get some air,” he said stiffly, and he put his hand at her back to lead her to the French doors that opened onto the garden.

  “No,” she said, and the word burst forth overly loud and dissonant. “I mean, no, thank you.” She swallowed. “I believe I will go home.”

  He gave a nod. “I will find your mother.”

  “I’ll do it.”

  “I’m happy to—”

  “I can do things for myself,” she burst out. Dear God, she hated the sound of her own voice. She knew it was time to shut up. She couldn’t seem to say the right words. And she couldn’t seem to stop. “I don’t need to be your responsibility.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  She couldn’t possibly answer that question, so instead she said, “I want to go home.”

  He stared at her for what felt like an eternity, then gave her a stiff bow. “As you wish,” he said, and he walked away.

  So she went home. As she wished. She’d got exactly what she’d asked for.

  And it was awful.

  Chapter Nineteen

  The day of the musicale

  Six hours before the performance

  “Where is Sarah?”

  Honoria looked up from her music. She had been scribbling notes in the margin. Nothing she wrote made any sense, but it gave her the illusion that she knew a little something about what she was doing, so she made sure to have some sort of notation on every page.

  Iris was standing in the middle of the music room. “Where’s Sarah?” she said again.

  “I don’t know,” Honoria said. She looked one way, and then the other. “Where’s Daisy?”

  Iris waved an impatient arm toward the door. “She stopped to attend to herself after we arrived. Don’t worry about her. She wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

  “Sarah’s not here?”

  Iris looked about ready to explode. “Do you see her?”

  “Iris!”

  “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude, but where the devil is she?”

  Honoria let out an irritated exhale. Didn’t Iris have something more important to worry about? She hadn’t made a complete fool of herself
in front of the man she’d only recently realized she loved.

  Three days had passed, and she felt ill just thinking about it.

  Honoria couldn’t remember exactly what she’d said. Instead, she recalled the terrible sound of her voice, all jerky and choked. She remembered her brain begging her mouth to just stop talking, and she remembered her mouth having none of it. She’d been completely irrational, and if he had considered her a responsibility before, now he must think her a chore.

  And even before that, before she had started spouting nonsense and acting so emotional that the men of the world must surely think themselves justified in considering women the flightier sex, she’d still been a fool. She’d danced with him as if he’d been her salvation, she’d looked up at him with her heart in her eyes, and he’d said—

  Nothing. He hadn’t said anything. Just her name. And then he’d looked at her as if she’d gone green. He’d probably thought she was going to cast up her accounts and ruin another perfectly good pair of his boots.

  That had been three days earlier. Three days. Without a word.

  “She should have been here at least twenty minutes ago,” Iris grumbled.

  To which Honoria muttered, “He should have been here two days ago.”

  Iris turned sharply. “What did you say?”

  “Perhaps there was traffic?” Honoria asked, making a quick recovery.

  “She lives only half a mile away.”

  Honoria gave her a distracted nod. She looked down at the notes she’d made on page two of her score and realized she’d written Marcus’s name. Twice. No, three times. There was a little M.H. in curlicue script hiding next to a dotted half note. Good Lord. She was pathetic.

  “Honoria! Honoria! Are you even listening to me?”

  Iris again. Honoria tried not to groan. “I’m sure she’ll be here soon,” she said placatingly.

  “Are you?” Iris demanded. “Because I’m not. I knew she was going to do this to me.”

  “Do what?”

  “Don’t you understand? She’s not coming.”

  Honoria finally looked up. “Oh, don’t be silly. Sarah would never do that.”

 
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