The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy (Smythe-Smith Quartet #4) by Julia Quinn

Chapter One

Pleinsworth House

London

Spring 1825

TO QUOTE THAT book his sister had read two dozen times, it was a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

Sir Richard Kenworthy was not in possession of a fortune, but he was single. As for the wife . . .

Well, that was complicated.

“Want” wasn’t the right word. Who wanted a wife? Men in love, he supposed, but he wasn’t in love, had never been in love, and he didn’t anticipate falling in such anytime soon.

Not that he was fundamentally opposed to the idea. He just didn’t have time for it.

The wife, on the other hand . . .

He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, glancing down at the program in his hand.

You are Cordially Welcomed to

the 19th Annual Smythe-Smith Musicale

featuring a well-trained quartet of violin,

violin, cello, and pianoforte

He had a bad feeling about this.

“Thank you, again, for accompanying me,” Winston Bevelstoke said to him.

Richard regarded his good friend with a skeptical expression. “I find it unsettling,” he remarked, “how often you’ve thanked me.”

“I’m known for my impeccable manners,” Winston said with a shrug. He’d always been a shrugger. In fact, most of Richard’s memories of him involved some sort of what-can-I-say shoulder motion.

“It doesn’t really matter if I forget to take my Latin exam. I’m a second son.” Shrug.

“The rowboat was already capsized by the time I arrived on the bank.” Shrug.

“As with all things in life, the best option is to blame my sister.” Shrug. (Also, evil grin.)

Richard had once been as unserious as Winston. In fact, he would very much like to be that unserious again.

But, as mentioned, he hadn’t time for that. He had two weeks. Three, he supposed. Four was the absolute limit.

“Do you know any of them?” he asked Winston.

“Any of who?”

Richard held up the program. “The musicians.”

Winston cleared his throat, his eyes sliding guiltily away. “I hesitate to call them musicians . . .”

Richard looked toward the performance area that had been set up in the Pleinsworth ballroom. “Do you know them?” he repeated. “Have you been introduced?” It was all well and good for Winston to make his customary cryptic comments, but Richard was here for a reason.

“The Smythe-Smith girls?” Winston shrugged. “Most of them. Let me see, who’s playing this year?” He looked down at his program. “Lady Sarah Prentice at the pianoforte—that’s odd, she’s married.”

Damn.

“It’s usually just the single ladies,” Winston explained. “They trot them out every year to perform. Once they’re married, they get to retire.”

Richard was aware of this. In fact, it was the primary reason he had agreed to attend. Not that anyone would have found this surprising. When an unmarried gentleman of twenty-seven reappeared in London after a three-year absence . . . One did not need to be a matchmaking mama to know what that meant.

He just hadn’t expected to be so rushed.

Frowning, he let his eyes fall on the pianoforte. It looked well-made. Expensive. Definitely nicer than the one he had back at Maycliffe Park.

“Who else?” Winston murmured, reading the elegantly printed names in the program. “Miss Daisy Smythe-Smith on violin. Oh, yes, I’ve met her. She’s dreadful.”

Double damn. “What’s wrong with her?” Richard asked.

“No sense of humor. Which wouldn’t be such a bad thing, it’s not as if everyone else is a barrel of laughs. It’s just that she’s so . . . obvious about it.”

“How is one obvious about a lack of humor?”

“I have no idea,” Winston admitted. “But she is. Very pretty, though. All blond bouncy curls and such.” He made a blond bouncy motion near his ear, which led Richard to wonder how it was possible that Winston’s hand movements were so clearly not brunette.

“Lady Harriet Pleinsworth, also on violin,” Winston continued. “I don’t believe we have been introduced. She must be Lady Sarah’s younger sister. Barely out of the schoolroom, if my memory serves. Can’t be much more than sixteen.”

Triple damn. Perhaps Richard should just leave now.

“And on the cello . . .” Winston slid his finger along the heavy stock of the program until he found the correct spot. “Miss Iris Smythe-Smith.”

“What’s wrong with her?” Richard asked. Because it seemed unlikely that there wouldn’t be something.

Winston shrugged. “Nothing. That I know of.”

Which meant that she probably yodeled in her spare time. When she wasn’t practicing taxidermy.

On crocodiles.

Richard used to be a lucky fellow. Really.

“She’s very pale,” Winston said.

Richard looked over at him. “Is that a flaw?”

“Of course not. It’s just . . .” Winston paused, his brow coming together in a little furrow of concentration. “Well, to be honest, that’s pretty much all I recall of her.”

Richard nodded slowly, his eyes settling on the cello, resting against its stand. It also looked expensive, although it wasn’t as if he knew anything about the manufacture of cellos.

“Why such curiosity?” Winston asked. “I know you’re keen to marry, but surely you can do better than a Smythe-Smith.”

Two weeks ago that might have been true.

“Besides, you need someone with a dowry, do you not?”

“We all need someone with a dowry,” Richard said darkly.

“True, true.” Winston might be the son of the Earl of Rudland, but he was the second son. He wasn’t going to inherit any spectacular fortunes. Not with a healthy older brother who had two sons of his own. “The Pleinsworth chit likely has ten thousand,” he said, looking back down at the program with an assessing glance. “But as I said, she’s quite young.”

Richard grimaced. Even he had limits.

“The florals—”

“The florals?” Richard interrupted.

“Iris and Daisy,” Winston explained. “Their sisters are Rose and Marigold and I can’t remember what else. Tulip? Bluebell? Hopefully not Chrysanthemum, poor thing.”

“My sister’s name is Fleur,” Richard felt compelled to mention.

“And a lovely girl she is,” Winston said, even though he had never met her.

“You were saying . . .” Richard prompted.

“I was? Oh, yes, I was. The florals. I’m not sure of their portions, but it can’t be much. I think there are five daughters in the family.” Winston’s lips twisted to one side as he considered this. “Maybe more.”

This didn’t necessarily mean that the dowries were small, Richard thought with more hope than anything else. He knew little of that branch of the Smythe-Smith family—he knew little of any branch, truth be told, except that once a year they all banded together, plucked four musicians from their midst, and hosted a concert that most of his friends were reluctant to attend.

“Take these,” Winston suddenly said, holding out two wads of cotton. “You’ll thank me later.”

Richard stared at him as if he’d gone mad.

“For your ears,” Winston clarified. “Trust me.”

“Trust me,” Richard echoed. “Coming from your lips, words to send a chill down my spine.”

“In this,” Winston said, stuffing his own ears with cotton, “I do not exaggerate.”

Richard glanced discreetly about the room. Winston was making no effort to hide his actions; surely it was considered rude to block one’s ears at a concert. But very few people seemed to notice him, and those who did wore expressions of envy, not censure.

Richard shrugged and followed suit.

“It’s a good thing you’re here,” Winston said, leaning in so that Richard could hear him through the cotton. “I’m not sure I could have borne it without fortification.”

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