The governess looked up at the sound of her name, then back down when it became clear she need not reply.

Iris turned on her sister with something bordering malevolence. “You wouldn’t know good – Euf! Honoria!”

“Sorry. Was that my elbow?”

“In my ribs.”

Honoria hissed something at Iris that Marcus supposed only she was meant to hear, but it was clearly about Daisy, because Iris gave her younger sister a disparaging glance, then rolled her eyes and said, “Fine.”

He looked back over at the governess. She appeared to be counting spots on the ceiling.

“Shall we try it one last time?” Honoria said with weary determination.

“I can’t imagine what good it might do.” This came from Iris, naturally.

Daisy gave her a withering stare and snipped, “Practice makes perfect.”

Marcus thought he saw the governess try to stifle a laugh. She finally looked up and saw him standing there with his pitcher of lemonade. He put his finger to his lips, and she gave a little nod and smile and turned back to the piano.

“Are we ready?” Honoria asked.

The violinists lifted their instruments.

The governess’s hands hovered over the keys of her pianoforte.

Iris let out a miserable groan but nonetheless put her bow to her cello.

And then the horror began.

Chapter Twenty

Marcus could not possibly have described the sound that came forth from the four instruments in the Smythe-Smith rehearsal room. He was not sure there were words that would be accurate, at least not in polite company. He was loath to call it music; in all honesty, it was more of a weapon than anything else.

In turn, he looked at each of the women. The governess seemed a little frantic, her head bobbing back and forth between the keys and her music. Daisy had her eyes closed and was weaving and bobbing, as if she were caught up in the glory of the – well, he supposed he had to call it music. Iris looked as if she wanted to cry. Or possibly murder Daisy.

And Honoria . . .

She looked so lovely that he wanted to cry. Or possibly murder her violin.

She did not look as she had in last year’s musicale, when her smile had been beatific and her eyes aglow with passion. Instead she attacked her violin with grim determination, her eyes narrowed, her teeth gritted, as if she were leading her troops into battle.

She was the glue holding this ridiculous quartet together, and he could not have loved her more.

He wasn’t sure if they had intended to do the entire piece, but thankfully Iris looked up, saw him, and let out a loud enough “Oh!” to halt the proceedings.

“Marcus!” Honoria exclaimed, and he would have sworn she looked happy to see him, except that he wasn’t so sure he trusted his judgment on the matter any longer. “Why are you here?” she asked.

He held up the pitcher. “Your mother sent me in with lemonade.”

For a moment she stared, and then she burst out laughing. Iris followed suit, and the governess even cracked a smile. Daisy just stood there, looking baffled. “What is so funny?” she demanded.

“Nothing,” Honoria sputtered. “It’s simply – good heavens, the entire day – and now my mother has sent an earl in to serve us lemonade.”

“I don’t find that funny,” Daisy said. “I find it inappropriate in the extreme.”

“Pay no attention to her,” Iris said. “She has no sense of humor.”

“That is not true!”

Marcus held himself extremely still, allowing only his eyes to glance over at Honoria for guidance. She gave a tiny nod, confirming Iris’s assessment.

“Tell us, my lord,” Iris said with great exaggeration, “what did you think of our performance?”

Under no circumstance was he going to answer that. “I’m just here to serve lemonade,” he said.

“Well done,” Honoria murmured, standing up to join him.

“I hope you have glasses,” he said to her, “because there were none for me to bring in.”

“We do,” she said. “Please, won’t you pour for Miss Wynter first? She has been working the hardest, having joined the quartet only this afternoon.”

Marcus murmured his assent and walked over to the piano. “Er, here you are,” he said a bit stiffly, but then again, he was not used to proffering drinks.

“Thank you, my lord,” she said, holding forth a glass.

He poured, then gave her a polite bow. “Have we met?” he asked. She looked deuced familiar.

“I don’t believe so,” she replied, and she quickly took a drink.

He gave a mental shrug and moved on to Daisy. He would have supposed that the governess simply had one of those faces that always looked familiar, except that she didn’t. She was staggeringly beautiful, but in a quiet, serene way. Not at all the sort of person a mother usually wished to hire as a governess. He supposed that Lady Pleinsworth had felt safe in doing so; she had no sons, and if her husband ever left Dorset, Marcus had never seen him.

“Thank you, my lord,” Daisy said when he poured for her. “It is most democratic of you to take on such a task.”

He had no idea what to say to that, so he just gave her an awkward nod and turned to Iris, who was rolling her eyes in open mockery of her sister. She smiled her thanks when he served her, and he finally was able to turn back to Honoria.

“Thank you,” she said, taking a sip.

“What are you going to do?”

She looked at him questioningly. “About what?”

“The musicale,” he said, thinking that should be obvious.