"As well as can be expected." The countess sighed and took a sip of her tea. "These are trying times. But I must thank you again for spending the night. I know it was a solace to Olivia."
"Of course," Miranda murmured. "I was happy to be of help." She followed Olivia to the sideboard and fixed herself a plate for breakfast. When she returned to the table, she found that Olivia had left her a seat next to Winston.
She sat and looked up at the Bevelstokes. They were all smiling at her, Lord and Lady Rudland quite benignly, Olivia with a hint of shrewdness, and Winston…
"Good morning, Miranda," he said warmly. And his eyes…They held…
Good heavens, could Olivia have been right? There was something different in the way he was looking at her.
"Very well, thank you," Miranda said, completely unsettled. Winston was practically her brother, wasn't he? He couldn't possibly think of her like- And she couldn't, either. But if he could, then could she? And-
"Do you intend to remain at Haverbreaks through the morning?" he asked. "I thought we might go for a ride. Perhaps after breakfast?"
Dear God. Olivia was right.
Miranda felt her lips part with surprise. "I, er, I hadn't decided."
Olivia kicked her under the table.
"Has the mackerel gone off?" Lady Rudland inquired.
Miranda shook her head. "Sorry," she said, clearing her throat. "Ehrm, it was just a bone, I think."
"It's why I never eat fish for breakfast," Olivia announced.
"What say you, Miranda?" Winston persisted. He smiled- a lazy, boyish masterpiece that was certain to break a thousand hearts. "Shall we go for a ride?"
Miranda carefully edged her legs farther from Olivia and said, "I didn't bring a habit, I'm afraid." It was the truth, and it was really too bad, because she was beginning to think that an outing with Winston might be just the thing to banish Turner from her mind.
"You can borrow one of mine," Olivia said, smiling sweetly over her toast. "It will be only a little too big."
"It's settled, then," Winston said. "It shall be splendid to catch up. It has been an age since we have had the chance."
Miranda found herself smiling. Winston was so easy to be with, even now, when she was befuddled by his intentions. "It's been several years, I think. I always manage to be in Scotland when you're home from school."
"But not today," he announced happily. He picked up his tea, smiling at her over the cup, and Miranda was struck by how very much he looked like Turner when he was younger. Winston was twenty now, just a year older than Turner had been when she'd fallen in love with him.
When they'd first met, she corrected. She hadn't fallen in love with him. She'd merely thought she had. She knew better now.
11 April 1819
Splendid ride with Winston today. He is much like his brother- if his brother were kind and considerate and still in possession of a sense of humor.
Turner had not slept well, but this did not surprise him; he rarely slept well anymore. And indeed, come morning, he was still irritable and still angry- mostly with himself.
What the hell had he been thinking? Kissing Miranda Cheever. The girl was practically his little sister. He'd been angry, and maybe just a little bit drunk, but that was no excuse for such poor behavior. Leticia had killed many things within him, but by God, he was still a gentleman. Otherwise, what had he left?
He hadn't even desired her. Not really. He knew desire, knew that gut-wrenching need to possess and claim, and what he'd felt for Miranda…
Well, he didn't know what it was, but it hadn't been that.
It was those big brown eyes of hers. They saw everything. They unnerved him. Always had. Even as a child, she had seemed uncannily wise. As he'd stood there in his father's study, he'd felt exposed, transparent. She was just a chit, barely out of the schoolroom, and yet she saw through him. The intrusion had been infuriating, and so he lashed out in the only way that had seemed appropriate at the time.
Except nothing could have been less appropriate.
And now he was going to have to apologize. God, but the thought of it was intolerable. It would be so much easier to pretend it had never happened and ignore her for the rest of his life, but that clearly wasn't going to wash, not if he intended to maintain ties with his sister. And besides that, he hoped he had some shred of gentlemanly decency left within him.
Leticia had killed most of what was good and innocent within him, but surely there had to be something left. And when a gentleman wronged a lady, a gentleman apologized.
By the time Turner went down to breakfast, his family had departed, which suited him fine. He ate quickly and gulped down his coffee, taking it black as a penance and not even flinching when it rolled hot and bitter down his throat.
"Will there be anything else?"
Turner looked up at the footman, hovering at his side. "No," he said. "Not at this time."
The footman stepped back, but he did not exit the room, and Turner decided at that moment that it was time to depart Haverbreaks. There were too many people here. Hell, his mother had probably given instructions to all the servants to keep a close eye on him.
Still scowling, he shoved back in his chair and strode out into the hall. He'd alert his valet that they would be departing posthaste. They could be gone in an hour. All that remained was to find Miranda and get this bloody business over and done with so he could go back to skulking about in his own home and-
He looked up. Winston and Miranda had just entered, rosy-cheeked and practically blooming with fresh air and sunshine.
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