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Just like heaven, p.27
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       Just Like Heaven, p.27

           Julia Quinn
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  But Daniel wasn’t interested in talking, at least not unless Marcus was answering his very specific questions. Before Marcus could finish his sentence, Daniel got him by the neck and pinned him to the wall. “What,” he hissed again, “were you doing to my sister?”

  “You’re going to kill him,” Honoria shrieked. She rushed forward again, trying to pull Daniel back, but Marcus must have been able to fend for himself, because his knee shot up, catching Daniel squarely in the groin. Daniel let out a sound that was positively inhuman, and he went down, taking Honoria with him.

  “The two of you are mad,” she gasped, trying to untangle her legs from her brother’s. But they weren’t listening; she might as well have been speaking to the floorboards.

  Marcus touched his hands to his throat, wincing as he rubbed where Daniel had choked him. “For the love of God, Daniel,” he said. “You nearly killed me.”

  Daniel glared up at him from the floor even as he panted through his pain. “What were you doing to Honoria?”

  “It doesn’t—” She tried to intercede, tried to say it didn’t matter, but Marcus cut her off with “What did you see?”

  “It doesn’t matter what I saw,” Daniel snapped. “I asked you to watch over her, not to take advan—”

  “You asked me,” Marcus cut in angrily. “Yes, let’s think about that. You asked me to watch over your young, unmarried sister. Me! What the hell do I know about bringing out a young lady?”

  “Apparently more than you should,” Daniel spat. “You had your tongue down her—”

  Honoria’s mouth fell open, and she smacked her brother on the side of his head. She would have hit him again, if only because Daniel had given her a shove in return, but before she could make a move, Marcus came hurtling through the air.

  “Hhhhhrrrrrrcccchhhh!” A sound emerged from his mouth that was completely unintelligible. It was the sound of rage, pure and simple, and Honoria just managed to scoot out of the way before Marcus threw himself on the man he’d always considered his one true friend.

  “For God’s sake, Marcus,” Daniel gasped between blows. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

  “Don’t you ever talk about her like that,” Marcus seethed.

  Daniel slid out from under him and staggered to his feet. “Like what? I was insulting you.”

  “Really?” Marcus drawled, also rising. “Well, then this”—his fist connected with the side of Daniel’s face—“is for the insult. And that”—other fist, other side of the face—“is for abandoning her.”

  It was very sweet of him, but Honoria wasn’t sure that was quite accurate. “Well, he didn’t really—”

  Daniel clutched at his mouth, which was now dripping blood. “I was going to hang!”

  Marcus shoved Daniel’s shoulder, then shoved him again. “You could have come back long ago.”

  Honoria gasped. Was that true?

  “No,” Daniel responded, shoving Marcus right back. “I couldn’t. Or did you not realize that Ramsgate is absolutely insane?”

  Marcus crossed his arms. “You did not write to her for over a year.”

  “That’s not true.”

  “It’s true,” Honoria said, not that anyone was listening to her. And that was when she realized it. They weren’t going to listen to her. Not in this fight, at least.

  “Your mother was wrecked,” Marcus said.

  “There was nothing I could do about that,” Daniel returned.

  “I’m leaving,” Honoria said.

  “You could have written to her.”

  “My mother? I did! She never wrote back.”

  “I’m leaving,” Honoria repeated, but they were now almost nose to nose, hissing epithets and heaven knew what else. She shrugged. At least they weren’t trying to kill each other any longer. All would be well. They had brawled before and likely would again, and she had to admit that a little piece—oh, very well, a bigger than little piece—of her had been thrilled that they had come to blows over her. Not so much her brother, but Marcus . . .

  She sighed, remembering the fierce expression on his face when he had defended her. He loved her. He hadn’t said it yet, but he did, and he would. He and Daniel would sort out whatever they needed to sort out, and this love story—her love story, she thought dreamily—would have a blissfully happy ending. They would marry, and have scads of babies who would grow up to become the happy, teasing family she’d once had. The happy, teasing family Marcus had always deserved. And there would be treacle tart at least once a week.

  It would be grand.

  She shot one last glance at the men, who were shoving each other’s shoulders, although thankfully without quite so much force as before. She might as well get back to the musicale. Someone had to tell their mother that Daniel was back.

  “Where’d Honoria go?” Daniel asked a few minutes later.

  They were sitting side by side on the floor, leaning against the wall. Marcus’s legs were bent; Daniel’s stretched out long. At some point their poking and shoving had petered out, and in silent agreement they’d slumped down the wall, wincing with pain as their minds finally caught up with their bodies and realized what they’d done to each other.

  Marcus lifted his head and looked around. “Back to the party, I imagine.” He really hoped that Daniel wasn’t planning to turn belligerent again, because he just wasn’t sure he had the energy to launch himself at him again.

  “You look like hell,” Daniel said.

  Marcus shrugged. “You look worse.” At least he hoped so.

  “You were kissing her,” Daniel said.

  Marcus shot him an annoyed glare. “And?”

  “And what are you going to do about it?”

  “I was going to ask you for her hand before you punched me in the gut.”

  Daniel blinked. “Oh.”

  “What the hell did you think I was going to do? Seduce her and toss her to the wolves?”

  Daniel went instantly tense, and his eyes flashed with fury. “Did you sedu—”

  “Don’t,” Marcus bit off, holding up a hand. “Do not ask that question.”

  Daniel held his tongue, but he eyed Marcus with suspicion.

  “Don’t,” Marcus said again, just to make it clear. He reached up and touched his jaw. Damn, it hurt. He looked over at Daniel, who was wincing as he flexed his fingers and inspected the bruises on his knuckles. “Welcome home, by the way.”

  Daniel looked up, quirking a brow.

  “Next time, tell us when you plan to arrive.”

  Daniel looked as if he might reply but then just rolled his eyes.

  “Your mother did not mention your name for three years,” Marcus said quietly.

  “Why are you telling me this?”

  “Because you left. You left, and—”

  “I didn’t have a choice.”

  “You could have come back,” Marcus said dismissively. “You know you—”

  “No,” Daniel interrupted. “I couldn’t. Ramsgate had someone following me on the Continent.”

  Marcus was silent for a moment. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

  “It’s all right.” Daniel sighed, then let the back of his head rest against the wall. “She never answered my letters.”

  Marcus looked up.

  “My mother,” Daniel clarified. “I’m not surprised she never mentioned my name.”

  “It was very difficult for Honoria,” Marcus said softly.

  Daniel swallowed. “How long have you, er . . .”

  “Just this spring.”

  “What happened?”

  Marcus felt himself smile. Well, with one side of his mouth. The other was beginning to swell up. “I’m not sure,” he admitted. It didn’t seem right to tell him about the mole hole, or the sprained ankle, or the infection on his leg, or the treacle tart. Those were just events. They weren’t what had happened in his heart.

  “Do you love her?”

  Marcus looked up. He nodded.

  “Well,
then.” Daniel gave a one-shouldered shrug.

  It was all they needed to say. It was all they ever would say, Marcus realized. They were men, and that was what they did. But it was enough. He started to reach out, to pat Daniel on the leg or maybe the shoulder. But instead he gave him a friendly poke in the ribs with his elbow. “I’m glad you’re home,” he said.

  Daniel was quiet for several seconds. “Me, too, Marcus. Me, too.”

  Chapter Twenty-three

  After leaving Marcus and Daniel in the hall, Honoria slipped quietly into the rehearsal room. It was empty, as she’d expected, and she could see a strip of light spilling onto the floor where the door to the main room was ajar. Honoria checked her reflection one last time in a mirror. It was dark, so she couldn’t be sure, but she thought she looked presentable.

  There were still quite a few guests milling about, enough so that Honoria was hopeful that she had not been missed, at least not by anyone outside her family. Daisy was holding court near the center of the room, explaining to anyone who would listen how her Ruggieri violin had been constructed. Lady Winstead was standing off to the side, looking terribly happy and content, and Iris was—

  “Where have you been?” Iris hissed.

  Right next to her, apparently.

  “I wasn’t feeling well,” Honoria said.

  Iris snorted with disgust. “Oh, next you’re going to tell me you’ve caught whatever it is Sarah has.”

  “Er, maybe.”

  This was met with a sigh. “All I want to do is leave, but Mother won’t hear of it.”

  “I’m sorry,” Honoria said. It was difficult to sound truly sympathetic when she herself was so brimming with joy, but she tried.

  “The worst is Daisy,” Iris said malevolently. “She’s been prancing around like— I say, is that blood on your sleeve?”

  “What?” Honoria twisted her neck to take a look. There was a penny-sized splotch on the puffy part of her sleeve. Heaven only knew which man it belonged to; they’d both been bleeding by the time she’d left. “Oh. Er, no, I don’t know what that is.”

  Iris frowned and looked closer. “I think it’s blood.”

  “I can tell you for a fact that it’s not,” Honoria lied.

  “Well, then what is—”

  “What did Daisy do?” Honoria cut in quickly. And when Iris just blinked at her, she said, “You said she was the worst.”

  “Well, she is,” Iris declared fervently. “She needn’t do anything specific. She just—”

  She was cut off by a loud trill of laughter. Coming from Daisy.

  “I may cry,” Iris announced.

  “No, Iris, you—”

  “Allow me my misery,” Iris cut in.

  “Sorry,” Honoria murmured contritely.

  “This was the single most humiliating day of my life.” Iris shook her head, her expression almost dazed. “I cannot do this again, Honoria. I tell you, I cannot. I don’t care if there’s no other cellist waiting to take my spot. I cannot do it.”

  “If you marry . . .”

  “Yes, I’m aware of that,” Iris nearly snapped. “Don’t think it did not cross my mind last year. I almost accepted Lord Venable just to get out of having to join the quartet.”

  Honoria winced. Lord Venable was old enough to be their grandfather. And then some.

  “Just please don’t disappear again,” Iris said, the choke in her voice almost breaking through into a sob. “I can’t manage when people come up to compliment me on the performance. I don’t know what to say.”

  “Of course,” Honoria said, taking her cousin’s hand.

  “Honoria, there you are!” It was her mother, hurrying over. “Where have you been?”

  Honoria cleared her throat. “I went upstairs to lie down for a few minutes. I was suddenly exhausted.”

  “Yes, well, it was a long day,” her mother said with a nod.

  “I don’t know where the time went. I must have fallen asleep,” Honoria said apologetically. Who knew she was such a good liar? First the blood and now this.

  “It is of no consequence,” her mother said before turning to Iris. “Have you seen Miss Wynter?”

  Iris shook her head.

  “Charlotte is ready to go home and can’t find her anywhere.”

  “Perhaps she went to the retiring room?” Iris suggested.

  Lady Winstead looked dubious. “She’s been gone quite a long time for that.”

  “Er, Mother,” Honoria said, thinking of Daniel back in the corridor, “if I might have a word with you.”

  “It will have to wait,” Lady Winstead said, shaking her head. “I’m beginning to grow worried about Miss Wynter.”

  “Perhaps she needed a lie down as well,” Honoria suggested.

  “I suppose. I do hope Charlotte thinks to give her an extra day off this week.” Lady Winstead gave a little nod, as if agreeing with herself. “I believe I will go find her right now and make that suggestion. It is the least we can do. Miss Wynter truly saved the day.”

  Honoria and Iris watched her leave, then Iris said, “I suppose it depends upon your definition of the word ‘saved.’ ”

  Honoria let out a little giggle and looped her arm through her cousin’s. “Come with me,” she said. “We shall take a turn about the room and look happy and proud while we’re doing it.”

  “Happy and proud is beyond my capabilities, but—”

  Iris was interrupted by a resounding crash. Or not exactly a crash. More like a splintering sound. With a few pops. And twangs.

  “What was that?” Iris asked.

  “I don’t know.” Honoria craned her neck. “It sounded like—”

  “Oh, Honoria!” they heard Daisy shriek. “Your violin!”

  “What?” Honoria walked slowly toward the commotion, not quite able to put two and two together.

  “Oh, my heavens,” Iris said abruptly, her hand coming to her mouth. She lay a restraining hand on Honoria, as if to say—It’s better if you don’t look.

  “What is going on? I—” Honoria’s jaw went slack.

  “Lady Honoria!” Lady Danbury barked. “So sorry about your violin.”

  Honoria only blinked, staring down at the mangled remains of her instrument. “What? How . . . ?”

  Lady Danbury shook her head with what Honoria suspected was exaggerated regret. “I have no idea. The cane, you know. I must have knocked it off the table.”

  Honoria felt her mouth opening and closing, but no sound was emerging. Her violin didn’t look as if it had been knocked off a table. Honestly, Honoria was at a loss as to how it could have got into such a state. It was absolutely wrecked. Every string had snapped, pieces of wood were completely detached, and the chin rest was nowhere to be seen.

  Clearly, it had been trampled by an elephant.

  “I insist upon buying you a new one,” Lady Danbury announced.

  “Oh. No,” Honoria said, with a strange lack of inflection. “It’s not necessary.”

  “And furthermore,” Lady Danbury said, ignoring her completely, “it will be a Ruggieri.”

  Daisy gasped.

  “No, really,” Honoria said. She couldn’t take her eyes off the violin. There was something about it that was absolutely riveting.

  “I caused this damage,” Lady Danbury said grandly. She waved her arm through the air, the gesture directed more toward the crowd than toward Honoria. “I must make it right.”

  “But a Ruggieri!” Daisy cried.

  “I know,” Lady Danbury said, placing a hand on her heart. “They are terribly dear, but in such a case, only the best will do.”

  “There’s quite a waiting list,” Daisy said with a sniff.

  “Indeed. You mentioned that earlier.”

  “Six months. Maybe even a year.”

  “Or longer?” Lady Danbury asked, with perhaps a touch of glee.

  “I don’t need another violin,” Honoria said. And she didn’t. She was going to marry Marcus. She would never have to play in anot
her musicale for the rest of her life.

  Of course she could not say this to anyone.

  And he had to propose.

  But that seemed a trifling matter. She was confident that he would.

  “She can use my old violin,” Daisy said. “I don’t mind.”

  And while Lady Danbury was arguing with her about that, Honoria leaned toward Iris and, still staring at the mess on the floor, said, “It’s really remarkable. How do you suppose she did it?”

  “I don’t know,” Iris said, equally baffled. “You’d need more than a cane. I think you’d need an elephant.”

  Honoria gasped with delight and finally ripped her eyes from the carnage. “That’s exactly what I was thinking!”

  They caught each other’s eyes and then burst out laughing, both with such fervor that Lady Danbury and Daisy stopped arguing to stare.

  “I think she’s overset,” Daisy said.

  “Well, of course, you nitwit,” Lady Danbury barked. “She’s just lost her violin.”

  “Thank God,” someone said. With great feeling.

  Honoria looked over. She wasn’t even sure who it was. A fashionable gentleman of middling age with an equally fashionable lady at his side. He reminded her of the drawings she’d seen of Beau Brummell, who had been the most fashionable man alive when her older sisters had made their debuts.

  “The girl doesn’t need a violin,” he added. “She needs to have her hands bound so she can never touch an instrument again.”

  A few people tittered. Others looked very uncomfortable.

  Honoria had no idea what to do. It was an unwritten rule in London that while one could mock the Smythe-Smith musicale, one must never ever do so within earshot of an actual Smythe-Smith. Even the gossip columnists never mentioned how dreadful they were.

  Where was her mother? Or Aunt Charlotte? Had they heard? It would kill them.

  “Oh, come now,” he said, directing his words to the small crowd that had gathered around him. “Are we all so unwilling to state the truth? They’re dreadful. An abomination against nature.”

  A few more people laughed. Behind their hands, but still.

  Honoria tried to open her mouth, tried to make a sound, any sound that might be construed as a defense of her family. Iris was clutching onto her arm as if she wanted to die on the spot, and Daisy looked simply stunned.

 
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