"Oh, I don't know," she pretended to ponder. "Stories of when you were small and such."
"Hush your mouth. I was a perfect angel."
She raised her brows dubiously. "You must think I'm very gullible."
"No, just too polite to contradict me."
Miranda rolled her eyes and turned back to the crowd. Olivia was holding court across the room, surrounded by her usual bevy of gentlemen.
"Livvy's a natural at this, isn't she?" she said.
Turner nodded his assent. "Where are all of your admirers, Miss Cheever? I find it difficult to believe you haven't any."
She blushed at his compliment. "One or two, I suppose. I tend to blend into the woodwork when Olivia is near."
He shot her a disbelieving look. "Let me see your dance card."
Reluctantly, she handed it over to him. He gave it a quick examination, then returned it. "I was right," he said. "It is very nearly filled."
"Most of them found their way to me only because I was standing next to Olivia."
"Don't be silly. And it's nothing to get upset about."
"Oh, but I'm not," she replied, surprised that he should think so. "Why? Do I look upset?"
He drew back and surveyed her. "No. No, you don't. How odd."
"I have never known a lady who did not wish for a gaggle of eligible young men surrounding her at a ball."
Miranda bristled at the condescension in his voice and was not quite able to keep the insolence out of hers , as she said, "Well, now you do."
But he just chuckled. "And how, dear girl, are you going to find a husband with that attitude? Oh, don't look at me as if I am being patronizing- "
Which only made her teeth grind harder.
"- you yourself told me that you wish to find a husband this season."
He was right, drat the man. Which left her with no option other than to say, "Don't call me 'dear girl,' if you please."
He grinned. "Why, Miss Cheever, do I detect a bit of temper in you?"
"I've always had a temper," she bit off.
"Apparently so." He was still smiling as he said it, which was all the more irritating.
"I thought you were meant to be moody and brooding," she grumbled.
He gave her a lopsided shrug. "You seem to bring out the best in me."
Miranda gave him a pointed look. Had he forgotten the night of Leticia's funeral? "The best?" she nearly drawled. "Really?"
He had the grace to look sheepish, at least. "Or occasionally the worst. But tonight, only the best." At her lifted brows, he added, "I am here to do my duty by you."
Duty . Such a solid, boring word.
"Hand me back your dance card, if you will."
She held it out. It was a festive little thing, with curlicues and a small pencil ribbon-tied to the corner. Turner's eyes grazed over it, and then narrowed. "Why have you left all of your waltzes free, Miranda? My mother told me quite specifically that she had secured permission for both you and Olivia to waltz."
"Oh, it's not that." She clenched her teeth for a split second, trying to control the flush that she knew was going to start creeping up her neck any second now. "It's just that, well, if you must know- "
"Out with it, Miss Cheever."
"Why do you always call me Miss Cheever when you're mocking me?"
"Nonsense. I also call you Miss Cheever when I'm scolding you."
Oh, well, that was an improvement.
"It is nothing," she muttered.
But he would not let it go. "It is quite obviously some- thing, Miranda. You- "
"Oh, very well, if you must know, I was hoping you would waltz with me."
He drew back, his eyes betraying his surprise.
"Or Winston," she said quickly, because there was safety- or at least fewer chances of embarrassment- in numbers.
"We are interchangeable, then?" Turner murmured.
"No, of course not. But I am not skilled at the waltz, and I would feel more comfortable if my first time in public is with someone I know," she hastily improvised.
"Someone who wouldn't take mortal offense if you trod on his toes?"
"Something like that," she mumbled. How had she got herself into this bind? He would either know she was in love with him or think her a silly twit scared to dance in public.
But Turner, bless his heart, was already saying, "I would be honored to dance a waltz with you." He took the little pencil and signed his name to her dance card. "There. You are now promised to me for the first waltz."
"Thank you. I shall look forward to it."
"Good. So do I. Shall I put myself down for another? I can't think of anyone else here with whom I'd rather to be forced into conversation for the four or so minutes of the waltz."
"I had no idea I was such a chore," Miranda said, grimacing.
"Oh, you're not," he assured her. "But everyone else is. Here you are, I'm putting myself down for the last waltz, too. You'll have to fend for yourself for the rest of them. It wouldn't do to dance with you more than twice."
Heavens no, Miranda thought acerbically. Someone might think he hadn't been browbeaten into dancing with her. But she knew what was expected of her, so she smiled tightly and said, "No, of course not."
"Very well, then," Turner said, with the tone of finality men liked to use when they were ready to end a conversation, regardless of whether anyone else was. "I see young Hardy over there is coming this way to claim the next dance. I'm going to get something to drink. I shall see you at the first waltz."
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