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Just like heaven, p.28
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       Just Like Heaven, p.28

           Julia Quinn
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  “I beg of you,” the gentleman said, turning to face Honoria directly. “Do not accept a new violin from the countess. Do not ever even touch one.” And then, after a little titter directed toward his companion, as if to say—Just wait until you hear what I have to say next, he said to Honoria, “You are abysmal. You make songbirds cry. You almost made me cry.”

  “I may still do so,” his companion said. Her eyes flared and she shot a gleeful look toward the crowd. She was proud of her insult, pleased that her cruelty held such a witty edge.

  Honoria swallowed, blinking back tears of fury. She’d always thought that if someone attacked her publicly she’d respond with cutting wit. Her timing would be impeccable; she’d deliver a set-down with such style and panache that her opponent would have no choice but to slink away, proverbial tail between his legs.

  But now that it was happening, she was paralyzed. She could only stare, her hands shaking as she fought to maintain her composure. Later tonight she’d realize what she should have said, but right now her mind was a swirling, inchoate cloud. She couldn’t have put together a decent sentence if someone had placed the complete works of Shakespeare in her hands.

  She heard another person laugh, and then another. He was winning. This awful man, whose name she did not even know, had come to her house, insulted her in front of everyone she knew, and he was winning. It was wrong for so many reasons except the most basic. She was dreadful at the violin. But surely—surely—people knew better than to act in such a manner. Surely someone would come forward to defend her.

  And then, over the muted laughs and hissing whispers came the unmistakable sound of boots clicking across a wooden floor. Slowly, as if in a wave, the crowd lifted their heads toward the door. And what they saw . . .

  Honoria fell in love all over again.

  Marcus, the man who had always wanted to be the tree in the pantomimes; Marcus, the man who preferred to conduct his business quietly, behind the scenes; Marcus, the man who loathed being the center of attention . . .

  He was about to make a very big scene.

  “What did you say to her?” he demanded, crossing the room like a furious god. A bruised and bloody furious god who happened to be lacking a cravat, but still, most definitely furious. And in her opinion, most definitely a god.

  The gentleman standing across from her recoiled. Actually, quite a few people recoiled; Marcus did look a bit wild.

  “What did you say to her, Grimston?” Marcus repeated, not stopping until he was directly in front of her tormentor.

  A flash of memory lit through Honoria. It was Basil Grimston. He’d been away from town for several years, but during his heyday he had been known for his brutal wit. Her sisters had hated him.

  Mr. Grimston lifted his chin and said, “I said only the truth.”

  One of Marcus’s hands made a fist; his other hand cradled it. “You would not be the first person I struck this evening,” he said calmly.

  That was when Honoria finally got a good look at him. He looked positively untamed—his hair was sticking every which way, his eye was ringed with shades of black and blue, and his mouth looked as if it was beginning to swell on the left side. His shirt was ripped, stained with blood and dust, and if she wasn’t mistaken there was a tiny feather stuck to the shoulder of his coat.

  She thought he might be the most handsome man she’d ever seen.

  “Honoria?” Iris whispered, her fingers digging hard into her arm.

  Honoria just shook her head. She didn’t want to talk to Iris. She didn’t want to turn her head away from Marcus for even a second.

  “What did you say to her?” Marcus asked yet again.

  Mr. Grimston turned toward the crowd. “Surely he must be removed. Where is our hostess?”

  “Right here,” Honoria said, stepping forward. It wasn’t strictly true, but her mother wasn’t anywhere to be found, and she figured she was the next best thing.

  But when she looked at Marcus, he gave her a little shake of his head, and she quietly stepped back into place next to Iris.

  “If you do not apologize to Lady Honoria,” Marcus said, his voice so mild as to be terrifying, “I will kill you.”

  There was a collective gasp, and Daisy faked a swoon, sliding elegantly into Iris, who promptly stepped aside and let her hit the floor.

  “Oh, come now,” Mr. Grimston said. “Surely it won’t come to pistols at dawn.”

  “I’m not talking about a duel,” Marcus said. “I mean I will kill you right here.”

  “You’re mad,” Mr. Grimston gasped.

  Marcus shrugged. “Perhaps.”

  Mr. Grimston looked from Marcus to his friend, to the crowd, and then back to his friend again. No one seemed to be offering him any advice, silent or otherwise, and so, as any dandy about to get his face smashed in would do, he cleared his throat, turned to Honoria, and said to her forehead, “I beg your pardon, Lady Honoria.”

  “Do it properly,” Marcus bit off.

  “I apologize,” Mr. Grimston said through clenched teeth.

  “Grimston . . .” Marcus warned.

  Finally, Mr. Grimston lowered his gaze until he was looking Honoria in the eye. “Please accept my apologies,” he said to her. He looked miserable and sounded furious, but he said it.

  “Thank you,” she said quickly, before Marcus could decide the apology did not pass muster.

  “Now leave,” Marcus ordered.

  “As if I would dream of staying,” Mr. Grimston said with a sniff.

  “I’m going to have to hit you,” Marcus said, shaking his head in disbelief.

  “That won’t be necessary,” Mr. Grimston’s friend said quickly, casting a wary eye at Marcus. She stepped forward, grabbed his arm, and yanked him back a step. “Thank you,” she said to Honoria, “for a lovely evening. You can be sure that if anyone asks, I shall say it passed without incident.”

  Honoria still didn’t know who she was, but she nodded anyway.

  “Thank God they’re gone,” Marcus muttered as they departed. He was rubbing his knuckles. “I really didn’t want to have to hit someone again. Your brother has a hard head.”

  Honoria felt herself smile. It was a ridiculous thing to smile about, and an even more ridiculous time to smile. Daisy was still lying on the floor, moaning in her faux swoon, Lady Danbury was barking at anyone who would listen that there was “nothing to see, nothing to see,” and Iris would not stop asking her questions about heaven knew what.

  But Honoria wasn’t listening to Iris. “I love you,” she said, as soon as Marcus’s eyes fell on her face. She hadn’t meant to say it right then, but there was no keeping it in. “I love you. Always.”

  Someone must have heard her, and that someone must have told another someone, who told another someone, because within seconds, the room fell into a hush. And once again, Marcus found himself at the absolute center of attention.

  “I love you, too,” he said, his voice firm and clear. And then, with the eyes of half the ton on him, he took her hands, dropped to one knee, and said, “Lady Honoria Smythe-Smith, will you do me the very great honor of becoming my wife?”

  Honoria tried to say yes, but her throat was choked with emotion. So she nodded. She nodded through her tears. She nodded with such speed and vigor that she almost lost her balance and had no choice but to sway into his arms when he stood back up.

  “Yes,” she finally whispered. “Yes.”

  Iris told her later that the entire room was cheering, but Honoria didn’t hear a thing. In that perfect moment, there was only Marcus, and her, and the way he was smiling as he rested his nose against hers.

  “I was going to tell you,” he said, “but you beat me to it.”

  “I didn’t mean to,” she admitted.

  “I was waiting for the right time.”

  She stood on her toes and kissed him, and this time she did hear the cheer that erupted around her. “I think this is the right time,” she whispered.

  He must hav
e agreed, because he kissed her again. In front of everyone.

  Epilogue

  One year later

  “I’m not sure the front row is the best vantage point,” Marcus said, casting a look of longing over the rest of the empty chairs. He and Honoria had arrived early at this year’s Smythe-Smith musicale; she had been most insistent that they do so in order to secure the “best” seats.

  “It’s not about vantage points,” she said, looking up and down the front row with a discerning eye. “It’s about listening.”

  “I know,” he said morosely.

  “And anyway, it’s not even really about listening, it’s about showing our support.” She gave him a bright smile and lowered herself into her chosen seat—front row, dead center. With a sigh, Marcus took the seat on her right.

  “Are you comfortable?” he asked. Honoria was with child, and far enough along that she really shouldn’t be making public appearances, but she had insisted that the musicale was an exception.

  “It’s a family tradition,” she replied. And for her, that was explanation enough.

  For him, it was why he loved her.

  It was so strange, being a part of a family of his own. Not just the hordes of Smythe-Smiths, who were so legion in number that he still couldn’t keep track. Every night as he lay down next to his wife, he couldn’t quite believe that she belonged to him. And he to her. A family.

  And soon they would be three.

  Amazing.

  “Sarah and Iris are still very disgruntled about performing,” Honoria whispered, even though there was no one else around.

  “Who is taking your place?”

  “Harriet,” she said, then added, “Sarah’s younger sister. She’s only fifteen, but there was no one else before her.”

  Marcus thought about asking if Harriet was any good, then decided he didn’t want to know the answer.

  “It is two sets of sisters in the quartet this year,” Honoria said, apparently only just then realizing it. “I wonder if that has ever happened before.”

  “Your mother will know,” he said absently.

  “Or Aunt Charlotte. She has become quite the family historian.”

  Someone passed by them on their way to a seat in the corner, and Marcus glanced around, noticing that the room was slowly filling up.

  “I’m so nervous,” Honoria said, giving him an excited grin. “This is my first time in the audience, you know.”

  He blinked in confusion. “What about the years before you played?”

  “It’s different,” she said, giving him a you-couldn’t-possibly-understand look. “Oh, here we are, here we are. It’s about to start.”

  Marcus patted her on the hand, then settled into his seat to watch Iris, Sarah, Daisy, and Harriet take their positions. He thought he might have heard Sarah groan.

  And then they started to play.

  It was awful.

  He’d known it would be awful, of course; it was always awful. But somehow his ears managed to forget just how awful it was. Or maybe they were even worse than usual this year. Harriet dropped her bow twice. That couldn’t be good.

  He glanced over at Honoria, certain he’d see an expression of empathy on her face. She’d been there, after all. She knew exactly how it felt to be on that stage, creating that noise.

  But Honoria didn’t look the least bit upset for her cousins. Instead, she gazed upon them with a radiant smile, almost like a proud mama basking in the glow of her magnificent charges.

  He had to look twice to make sure he wasn’t seeing things.

  “Aren’t they wonderful?” she murmured, tilting her head toward his.

  His lips parted with shock. He had no idea how to answer.

  “They’ve improved so much,” she whispered.

  That might very well have been true. If so, he was ferociously glad that he had not sat in on any of their rehearsals.

  He spent the rest of the concert watching Honoria. She beamed, she sighed; once she put a hand over her heart. And when her cousins set down their instruments (or in the case of Sarah, rolled her eyes as she lifted her fingers from the keys), Honoria was the first on her feet, clapping wildly.

  “Won’t it be wonderful when we have daughters who can play in the quartet?” she said to him, giving him an impulsive kiss on the cheek.

  He opened his mouth to speak, and in all honesty, he had no idea what he planned to say. But it certainly wasn’t what he did say, which was, “I cannot wait.”

  But as he stood there, his hand resting gently at the small of his wife’s back, listening to her chatter with her cousins, his eyes drifted down to her belly, where a new life was taking shape. And he realized it was true. He couldn’t wait. For any of it.

  He leaned down and whispered, “I love you,” in Honoria’s ear. Just because he wanted to.

  She didn’t look up, but she smiled.

  And he smiled, too.

  About the Author

  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-one novels for Avon Books, she is a graduate of Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges and lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest.

  Please visit her on the web at www.juliaquinn.com.

  Visit www.AuthorTracker.com for exclusive information on your favorite HarperCollins authors.

  By Julia Quinn

  Just Like Heaven

  Ten Things I Love About You

  What Happens in London

  Mr. Cavendish, I Presume

  The Lost Duke of Wyndham

  The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever

  On the Way to the Wedding

  It’s In His Kiss

  When He Was Wicked

  To Sir Phillip, With Love

  Romancing Mister Bridgerton

  An Offer From a Gentleman

  The Viscount Who Loved Me

  The Duke and I

  How to Marry a Marquis

  To Catch an Heiress

  Brighter Than the Sun

  Everything and the Moon

  Minx

  Dancing at Midnight

  Splendid

  Copyright

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  JUST LIKE HEAVEN. Copyright © 2011 by Julie Cotler Pottinger. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive, nontransferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse-engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.

  EPub Edition JUNE 2011 ISBN: 9780062079534

  FIRST EDITION

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  About the Publisher

  Australia

  HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty. Ltd.

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  www.harpercollins.com.au/ebooks

  Canada

  HarperCollins Canada

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  HarperCollins Publishers (New Zealand) Limited

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  http://www.harpercollins.co.nz

  United Kingdom

  HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

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  http://www.harpercollins.co.uk

  United States

  HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

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  http://www.harpercollins.com

  Table of Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Contents

  Prologue

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-one

  Chapter Twenty-two

  Chapter Twenty-three

  Epilogue

  About the Author

  By Julia Quinn

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

 


 

  Julia Quinn, Just Like Heaven

 


 

 
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