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“Why don’t you and George have brandy in the parlor? I’ll join you once I square this away.”
Nicholas rose as she did and filed out behind George. “How do you normally spend your evenings?” he asked.
“Reading, smoking. Emma’s embroidery is over there.” He pointed to the piece Nick had admired earlier.
“We could retire,” George suggested, striding toward Nicholas.
Nicholas didn’t answer immediately, letting George wrap his arms around his neck. Before he’d gotten to kiss Nicholas, Emma joined them. She headed straight for the brandy decanter.
“Can I pour for you, George? Nicholas?”
“No, thank you,” Nicholas said.
George took a step back and turned to face his cousin. “Thank you,” he said, taking the glass she held out.
Emma filled a second for herself and took a full swallow, her eyes squeezing shut from the burn. She didn’t splutter, but it seemed a near thing. Rather than embroider, she pulled out a violin, plucking the strings and tuning it.
“You play?” Nick asked, sitting in the chair nearest her.
“You haven’t played in months,” George commented.
George was flushed too, and drained his glass rather than reply.
“I’m not offended, Emma.” Nicholas told her. “I hope we aren’t intruding on your evening.”
“No, you aren’t. I just... I’m jealous,” she said honestly.
Before Nick could reply, she lifted her violin and began to play. She wasn’t a fiddler, flying through lively dances as he was used to. She played slow, haunting pieces that shredded his heart. George sipped his brandy, but both he and Nick were silent, listening carefully.
Emma’s fingers stumbled and she lowered the instrument. “It has been too long. I’ve forgotten the rest.”
“That was wonderful,” Nicholas argued, applauding as he rose. “I’m surprised I’m not in tears.” He touched the corner of his eye where one had formed. “Beautiful.”
“Yes, Em. You can still play. I wish you’d been able to train longer.”
Emma frowned and packed the violin away. “Concert halls are no places for women, except as guests.” Her voice was clipped. “If you’ll excuse me, I’d like my bed.” She strode to the door before the men could answer.
“Of course,” Nicholas said, watching her.
George rose and blocked her path, hand on her shoulders. “I’m sorry, Emma. I know it hurts. I love you.” He whispered as he embraced her. Were Nicholas’ ears not so sharp he would never have heard. “I’m sorry, Emma. I know it hurts. I love you.”
“I know you meant no harm. I’m just unsettled. Please,” she said more clearly, “enjoy the evening.” She nodded to Nicholas again as she moved past George and out the door.