She gave him a look. It wasn't difficult to decipher.
"Ah, bloody- " He let out an irritated breath and looked away. Brilliant job , Turner. Kiss a girl and then tell her you didn't do it out of desire . "I'm sorry, Miranda. That came out the wrong way. I'm being an ass. I can't seem to help myself these days."
"Perhaps you ought to write a book," she said bitterly. "One hundred and one ways to insult a young lady. I daresay you're up to at least fifty by now."
He took a deep breath. He wasn't used to apologizing. "It's not that you aren't attractive."
Miranda's expression turned to disbelief. Not at his words, he realized- at the mere fact that he was saying them, that she was being forced to sit there and listen as he embarrassed them both. He should stop, he knew, but the hurt in her eyes had awakened a painful little corner of his heart that he'd kept shuttered for years, and he had this strange compulsion to make things right.
Miranda was nineteen. Her experience with men consisted of Winston and himself. Both of whom had heretofore been brotherly figures. The poor girl must be confused as hell. Winston had suddenly decided that she was Venus, Queen Elizabeth, and the Virgin Mary all rolled into one, and Turner had all but forced himself on her. Not exactly an average day in the life of a young country miss.
And yet here she was. Her back straight. Her chin high. And she didn't hate him. She should, but she didn't.
"No," he said, actually taking her hand in his. "You must listen to me. You are attractive. Quite." He let his eyes settle on her face and took his first really good look at her in years. She wasn't classically pretty, but there was something about those big brown eyes that was rather engaging. Her skin was flawless and quite elegantly pale, providing a luminescent contrast to her dark hair, which was, Turner suddenly noticed, rather thick, with just the slightest tendency to curl. It looked soft, too. He had touched it the night before. Why didn't he remember what it felt like? Surely he would have noticed its texture.
"Turner," Miranda said.
He was staring at her. Why was he staring at her?
His gaze moved down to her lips as she said his name. A sensual little mouth, she had. Full lips, very kissable.
"Quite," he said softly, as if just coming to an unbelievable realization.
"Quite attractive." He shook his head slightly, pulling himself out of the spell she had somehow cast over him. "You're quite attractive."
She let out a sigh. "Turner, please don't lie to spare my feelings. It shows a lack of respect for my intellect, and that is more insulting than anything you can say about my appearance."
He drew back and quirked a smile. "I'm not lying." He sounded surprised.
Miranda caught her lower lip nervously between her teeth. "Oh." She sounded just as surprised as he had. "Well, thank you, then. I think."
"I'm not usually so clumsy with compliments that they cannot be identified."
"I am sure you are not," she said tartly.
"Now why do I suddenly feel like you're accusing me of something?"
Her eyes widened. Had her tone been that cold? "I don't know what you're talking about," she said quickly.
For a moment it looked as if he might question her further, but then he must have decided against it, because he picked up the reins and offered her a bland smile as he said, "Shall we?"
They rode on for several minutes, Miranda stealing glances at Turner when she could. His expression was un-readable, placid even, and it was more than a bit irritating, when her own thoughts were in such a turmoil. He'd said he hadn't desired her, but then why had he kissed her? What had been the point? And then it just slipped out- "Why did you kiss me?"
For a moment it looked as if Turner were choking, although on what, Miranda could not imagine. The horses slowed a bit, sensing a lack of attention from their driver, and Turner looked at her with obvious shock.
Miranda saw his distress and decided that he couldn't find any kind way to answer her question. "Forget that I asked," she said quickly. "It doesn't matter."
But she didn't regret having asked. What had she to lose? He wasn't going to mock her and he wasn't going to spread tales. She had only the embarrassment of this one moment, and that could never compare with the embarrassment of the night before, so-
"It was me," he said quite suddenly. "Just me. And you were unfortunate enough to be standing next to me."
Miranda saw the bleakness in his blue eyes and placed her hand on his sleeve. "It's all right to be angry with her."
He did not pretend not to know what she was talking about. "She's dead, Miranda."
"That doesn't mean she wasn't an exceptionally awful person when she was alive."
He looked at her strangely and then burst out laughing. "Oh, Miranda, sometimes you say the damnedest things."
She smiled. "Now that I will definitely take as a compliment."
"Remind me never to put you up for the position of Sunday school teacher."
"I have never quite mastered Christian virtue, I'm afraid."
"Oh, really?" He looked amused.
"I still hold a grudge against poor little Fiona Bennet."
"And she is…?"
"That dreadful girl who called me ugly at Olivia and Winston's eleventh birthday party."
"Dear God, how many years ago was that? Remind me not to cross you."
She quirked a brow. "See that you don't."
"You, my dear girl, are decidedly lacking as pertains to charitable nature."
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