There was something captivating about his sister. Even Turner had to admit it.
But Miranda was different. She watched. She smiled, but it was almost as if she had a secret, as if she were jotting notes in her mind about the people she met.
"Go dance with her," his mother urged.
"Miranda?" he asked, surprised. He would have thought she'd wish him to bestow his first dance with Olivia.
Lady Rudland nodded. "It will be a huge coup for her. You have not danced since…since I cannot even recall. Long before Leticia died."
Turner felt his jaw tighten, and he would have said something, except his mother suddenly gasped, which was not half as surprising as what followed, which, he was quite certain, was the first incidence of blasphemy ever to cross her lips.
"Mother?" he queried.
"Where is your armband?" she whispered urgently.
"My armband," he said, with some irony.
"For Leticia," she added, as if he did not know that.
"I believe I told you that I have chosen not to mourn her."
"But this is London," she hissed. "And your sister's debut."
He shrugged. "My coat is black."
"Your coats are always black."
"Perhaps I am in perpetual mourning then," he said mildly, "for innocence lost."
"You will create a scandal," she fairly hissed.
"No," he said pointedly, "Leticia created scandals. I am simply refusing to mourn my scandalous wife."
"Do you wish to ruin your sister?"
"My actions will not reflect half so badly upon her as my dear departed's would have done."
"That is neither here nor there, Turner. The fact of the matter is your wife died , and- "
"I saw the body," he retorted, effectively halting her arguments.
Lady Rudland drew back. "There is no need to be vulgar about it."
Turner's head began to pound. "I apologize for that, then."
"I wish you would reconsider."
"I would prefer that I did not cause you distress," he said with a bit of a sigh, "but I will not change my mind. You may have me here in London without an armband, or you may have me in Northumberland…also without an armband," he finished after a pause. "It is your decision."
His mother's jaw clenched, and she did not say anything, so he simply shrugged and said, "I shall find Miranda, then."
And he did.
* * *
Miranda had been in town for two weeks, and while she was not sure she could term herself a success, she did not think she qualified as a failure, either. She was right where she'd expected herself to be- somewhere in the middle, with a dance card that was always half full and a journal that was overflowing with observations of the inane, insane, and occasionally in pain. (That would be Lord Chisselworth, who tripped on a step at the Mottram ball and sprained his ankle. Of the inane and insane, there were too many to count.)
All in all, she thought herself rather accomplished for one with her particular set of God-given talents and attributes. In her diary, she wrote-
Am meant to be honing my social skills, but as Olivia pointed out, idle chatter has never been my forte. But I have perfected my gentle, vacant smile, and it seems to be doing the trick. Had three requests for my company at supper!
It helped, of course, that her position as Olivia's closest friend was well known. Olivia had taken the ton by storm- as they all had known she would- and Miranda benefited by association. There were the gentlemen who reached Olivia's side too late to secure a dance, and there were those who were simply too terrified to speak with her. (At such times, Miranda always seemed like a more comfortable choice.)
But even with all the overflow attention, Miranda was still standing alone when she heard an achingly familiar voice-
"Never say I have caught you without company, Miss Cheever."
She could not help but smile. He was devastatingly handsome in his dark evening clothes, and the candlelight flickered gold against his hair. "You came," she said simply.
"Didn't you think I would?"
Lady Rudland had said he was planning on it, but Miranda hadn't been so sure. He had made it abundantly clear that he wanted no part of society that year. Or possibly any year. It was hard to say just yet.
"I understand she had to blackmail you into attendance," she said, as they assumed side-by-side positions, both gazing idly out at the crowd.
He feigned affront. "Blackmail? What an ugly word. And incorrect in this instance."
He leaned toward her ever so slightly. "It was guilt."
"Guilt?" Her lips twitched, and she turned to him with mischievous eyes. "What did you do?"
"It's what I didn't do. Or rather, what I wasn't doing." He gave a careless shrug. "I'm told that you and Olivia will be successes if I offer my support."
"I expect Olivia would be a success if she were penniless and born on the wrong side of the blanket."
"I have no worries for you, either," Turner said, smiling down at her in a somewhat annoyingly benevolent manner. Then he scowled. "And what would my mother blackmail me with, pray tell?"
Miranda smiled to herself. She liked it when he was disconcerted. He always seemed so in control of himself to her, whereas her heart always managed to thump in triplicate whenever she saw him. Luckily the years had made her comfortable with him. If she hadn't known him for so long, she doubted she would be able to manage a conversation in his presence. Besides, he would surely suspect something if she were tongue-tied each time they met.
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