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.
The following week
strong>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.”
“I don’t see why not,” Sarah said. “I can’t imagine anyone would recognize it from our interpretation.”
“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.