Turner quirked a brow and stopped, waiting to see how long it took them to notice his presence.
"And that ," Miranda was saying, clearly coming to the close of a story, "was when I knew Olivia could not be trusted with the chocolate."
Winston laughed, his eyes surveying her warmly. "You've changed, Miranda."
She blushed prettily. "Not so very much. Mostly I have just grown up."
"That you have."
Turner thought he might gag.
"Did you think you could go away to school and find me just the way you left me?"
Winston grinned. "Something like that. But I must say I'm pleased with the way you've turned out." He touched her hair, which had been coiled into a neat chignon. "I daresay I won't be yanking on this anymore."
She blushed again, and, really, this simply could not be tolerated.
"Good morning," Turner said loudly, not bothering to move from his spot across the hall.
"I believe it is now afternoon," Winston replied.
"For the uninitiated, perhaps," Turner said with a mocking half smile.
"In London morning lasts until two?" Miranda asked coolly.
"Only if the evening prior was disappointing in its results."
"Turner," Winston said reproachfully.
Turner shrugged. "I need to speak with Miss Cheever," he said, not bothering to look at his brother. Miranda's lips parted- with surprise, he supposed, and perhaps a bit of anger as well.
"I should think that is up to Miranda," Winston said.
Turner kept his eyes on Miranda. "Inform me when you are ready to return home. I will escort you."
Winston's mouth opened in dismay. "See here," he said stiffly. "She is a lady, and you would do well to offer her the courtesy of asking permission."
Turner turned to his brother and paused, staring until the younger man squirmed. He looked back to Miranda and said it again. "I will escort you home."
He cut her off with a pointed look, and she acquiesced with a nod. "Of course, my lord," she said, the corners of her mouth uncharacteristically tight. She turned to Winston. "He wanted to discuss an illuminated manuscript with my father. I'd quite forgotten."
Clever Miranda. Turner almost smiled.
"Turner?" Winston said doubtfully. "An illuminated manuscript?"
"It's a new passion of mine," Turner said blandly.
Winston looked from him to Miranda and back, then finally gave in with a stiff nod. "Very well," he said. "It has been a pleasure, Miranda."
"Indeed," she said, and from her tone, Turner knew that she did not lie.
Turner did not relinquish his position between the two young lovers, and Winston shot him an irritated glance before facing Miranda and saying, "Will I see you again before I return to Oxford?"
"I hope so. I have no firm plans for the next few days, and- "
Miranda cleared her throat. "I am sure we can make arrangements. Perhaps you and Olivia can come by for tea."
"I would enjoy that very much."
Turner managed to extend his bored mien to his fingernails, which he inspected with a significant lack of interest.
"Or if Olivia cannot visit," Miranda continued, her voice impressively steely, "perhaps you can come by yourself."
Winston's eyes grew warm with interest. "I would be delighted," he murmured, leaning over her hand.
"Are you ready?" Turner barked.
Miranda moved not a muscle as she ground out, "No."
"Well, hurry it along, then, I haven't all day."
Winston turned to him in disbelief. "What is wrong with you?"
It was a good question. Fifteen minutes earlier, his only aim was to escape his parents' house with all possible haste, and now he'd all but insisted that he take the time to escort Miranda home.
Very well, he had insisted, but he had his reasons.
"I am quite well," Turner returned. "Best I've been in years. Since 1816, to be precise."
Winston shifted his weight uncomfortably from foot to foot, and Miranda turned away. 1816 was, they all knew, the year of Turner's marriage.
"June," he added, just to be perverse.
"I beg your pardon?" Winston said stiffly.
"June. June of 1816." And then he beamed at both of them, a patently false, self-congratulatory sort of smile. He turned to Miranda. "I will await you in the front hall. Don't be late."
Don't be late?
Don't be late??!
For what, Miranda fumed for about the sixteenth time as she yanked on her clothing. They hadn't set a time. He hadn't even asked to escort her home. He'd ordered her, and then, after he'd instructed her to tell him when she was ready to leave, he'd not bothered to wait for an answer.
Was he so eager to have her gone?
Miranda didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
"Are you leaving already?"
It was Olivia, slipping in from the corridor.
"I need to return home," Miranda said, choosing that moment to pull her dress over her head. She didn't particularly wish Olivia to see her face. "Your habit is on the bed," she added, the words muffled by the muslin.
"But why? Your father won't miss you."
Kind of her to point it out, Miranda thought uncharitably, even though she'd voiced the same opinion to Olivia on countless occasions.
"Miranda," Olivia persisted.
Miranda turned her back so that Olivia could do up her buttons. "I don't wish to overstay my welcome."
"What? Don't be silly. My mother would have you live with us if it were possible. You will, in fact, once we go to London."
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