Mondays are rough, but Tuesdays aren’t always any better. Luckily, we have just the fix you need to recharge and tackle today like a boss. Today, Julia Quinn shares an exclusive excerpt from her latest Historical Romance, The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy, out on January 27. Read the excerpt below with an intro from Julia!
I’ve often wondered just what it is about the marriage-of-convenience plot that is so appealing. It’s certainly nothing I would enjoy in real life. But in romance fiction, where you know a happy ending awaits, there is something fascinating about watching a husband and a wife who barely know each other navigate the early stages of marriage. The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy isn’t precisely a marriage of convenience story — there is certainly nothing convenient about this marriage for Iris. But she and Richard still have those awkward Oh-my-God-what-have-I-done? moments as they realize just how little they know their new spouses. And perhaps how much they’d like to know them …
The following scene takes place on the day of their wedding, as they stop at an inn on the journey north to Richard’s home.
— Julia Quinn
At precisely the correct time, Richard rapped upon her door. She opened it immediately.
“You did not change,” he blurted out. Like an idiot.
Iris’s eyes widened as if she feared she had made an error. “Was I meant to?”
“No, no. I’d meant to tell you not to bother.” He cleared his throat. “But I forgot.”
“Oh.” She smiled. Awkwardly. “Well, I didn’t. Change, that is.”
Richard made a note to compliment himself on his sparkling wit.
She stood there.
So did he.
“I brought a shawl,” she said.
“I thought it might get cold.”
“Yes, that’s what I thought.”
He stood there.
So did she.
“We should eat,” he said suddenly, holding out his arm. It was dangerous to touch her, even under such innocent circumstances, but he was going to have to get used to it. He could hardly refuse to offer her his escort for the next however many months.
“Mr. Fogg was not exaggerating about his wife’s roast,” he said, struggling for something utterly innocuous. “She is a splendid cook.”
He might have imagined it, but he thought Iris looked relieved that he had initiated a bit of ordinary conversation. “That will be lovely,” she said. “I’m quite hungry.”
“Did you not eat in the carriage?”
She shook her head. “I meant to, but I fell asleep.”
“I’m sorry I was not there to entertain you.” He bit his tongue. He knew exactly how he’d have liked to entertain her, even if she was innocent of such activities.
“Don’t be silly. You do not do well in carriages.”
True. But then again, he had never taken a long carriage ride with her.
“I imagine you will wish to ride alongside the carriage again tomorrow?” she asked.
“I think it would be best.” For so many reasons.
She nodded. “I might have to find another book to read. I’m afraid I shall finish this one up rather more quickly than expected.”
They reached the door to the private dining room, and Richard stepped forward so that he might open it for her. “What are you reading?” he asked.
“Another book by Miss Austen. Mansfield Park.”
He held out her chair. “I am not familiar with it. I do not think my sister has read it.”
“It is not as romantic as her others.”
“Ah. That explains it. Fleur would not like it, then.”
“Is your sister such a romantic?”
Richard started to open his mouth, then paused. How to describe Fleur? She was not exactly his favorite person these days. “I think she is, yes,” he finally said.
Iris seemed amused by this. “You think?”
He felt himself smile, sheepishly. “It’s not the sort of thing she discusses with her brother. Romance, I mean.”
“No, I suppose not.” She shrugged and stabbed a potato with her fork. “I certainly would not discuss it with mine.”
“You have a brother?”
She gave him a startled look. “Of course.”
Damn, he should have known that. What sort of man did not know that his wife had a brother?
“John,” she said. “He’s the youngest.”
This was even more of a surprise. “You have a brother named John?”
At that she laughed. “Shocking, I know. He should have been a Florian. Or a Basil. It’s really not fair.”
“What about William?” he suggested. “For Sweet William?”
“That would have been even more cruel. To have a flower’s name and still be so utterly normal.”
“Oh, come now. Iris isn’t Mary or Jane, but it isn’t so uncommon.”
“It’s not that,” she said. “It’s that there are five of us. What is common and ordinary becomes awful in bulk.” She looked down at her food, her eyes dancing with amusement.
“What?” he asked. He had to know what was causing such a delightful expression.
She shook her head, her lips pressed together, obviously trying not to laugh.
“Tell me. I insist.”
She leaned forward, as if imparting a great secret. “If John had been a girl, he would have been called Hydrangea.”
“I know. My brother is a lucky, lucky boy.”
Richard chuckled, then suddenly realized that they had been talking quite comfortably for several minutes. More than comfortably — really, she was quite good company, his new wife. Maybe this would all work out. He just had to get past this first hurdle…
“Why was your brother absent from the wedding?” he asked her.
She didn’t bother to look up from her food as she answered. “He is still at Eton. My parents did not think he should be removed from school for such a small celebration.”
“But all of your cousins were there.”
“You had no family in attendance,” she countered.
There were reasons for that, but he wasn’t prepared to go into them now.
“And at any rate,” Iris continued, “that wasn’t all of my cousins.”
“Good Lord, how many of you are there?”
Her lips pinched together. She was trying not to smile. “I have thirty-four first cousins.”
He stared at her. It was an incomprehensible number.
“And five siblings,” she added.
“That is … remarkable.”
She shrugged. He supposed it didn’t seem so remarkable if it was all she had known. “My father was one of eight,” she said.
“Still.” He speared a piece of Mrs. Fogg’s famous roast beef. “I have precisely zero first cousins.”
“Truly?” She looked shocked.
“My mother’s older sister was widowed quite young. She had no children and no wish to remarry.”
“And your father?”
“He had two siblings, but they died without issue.”
“I’m so sorry.”
He paused, his fork halfway to his mouth. “Why?”
“Well, because — ” She stopped, her chin drawing back as she pondered her answer. “I don’t know,” she finally said. “I cannot imagine being so alone.”
For some reason he found this amusing. “I do have two sisters.”
“Of course, but — ” Again, she cut herself off.
“But what?” He smiled to show her he was not offended.
“It’s just so … few of you.”
“I can assure you it did not feel that way when I was growing up.”
“No, I imagine not.”
Richard helped himself to two more of Mrs. Fogg’s Yorkshire puddings. “Your home was a hive of activity, I imagine.”
“Closer to a madhouse.”
“I’m not jesting,” she said. But she grinned.
“I hope you will find my two sisters an adequate substitute for yours.”
She smiled and cocked her head flirtatiously to the side. “With a name like Fleur, it was predestined, don’t you think?”
“Ah yes, the florals.”
“Is that what they call us now?”
She rolled her eyes. “The Smythe-Smith bouquet, the garden girls, the hothouse flowers … “
“The hothouse flowers?”
“My mother was not amused.”
“No, I don’t imagine she was.”
“It was not always ‘flowers,’ ” she said with a bit of a wince. “I’m told that some gentlemen were fond of alliteration.”
“Gentlemen?” Richard echoed doubtfully. He could come up with all sorts of things that began with H, and none of them were complimentary.
Iris speared a tiny potato with her fork. “I use the term loosely.”
He watched her for a moment. At first glance, his new wife seemed wispy, almost insubstantial. She was not tall, only up to his shoulder, and rather thin. (Although not, he had discovered recently, without curves.) And then of course, there was her remarkable coloring. But her eyes, which on first glance had seemed pale and insipid, sharpened and glowed with intelligence when she was engaged in conversation. And when she moved it became clear that her slender frame was not one of weakness and malaise but rather of strength and determination.
Iris Smythe-Smith did not glide through rooms as so many of her peers had been trained to do; when she walked, it was with direction and purpose.
And her name, he reminded himself, was not Smythe-Smith. She was Iris Kenworthy, and he was coming to realize that he had barely scratched the surface of knowing her.
Find out what happens next when the book releases next week! For more Historical books, authors and excerpts, visit our Everything Romance page!