And then he left her standing in the corner, murmuring his greetings to Mr. Hardy as he departed. Miranda bobbed a dutiful curtsy at her dance partner and then took his gloved hand and followed him onto the dance floor for a quadrille. She was not surprised when, after commenting on her gown and the weather, he asked after Olivia.
Miranda answered his questions as politely as she was able, trying not to encourage him overmuch. Judging from the crowd around her friend, Mr. Hardy's chances were slim indeed.
The dance was over with merciful speed, and Miranda quickly made her way over to Olivia.
"Oh, Miranda, dear," she exclaimed. "Where have you been? I've been telling everyone about you."
"You have not," Miranda said, raising her brows disbelievingly.
"Indeed I have. Haven't I?" Olivia poked a gentleman in the side, and he immediately nodded. "Would I lie to you?"
Miranda bit back a smile. "If it suited your purposes."
"Oh, stop. You're terrible. And where have you been?"
"I needed a breath of fresh air, so I escaped to a corner and had a glass of lemonade. Turner kept me company."
"Oh, has he arrived, then? I shall have to save a dance for him."
Miranda was doubtful. "I don't think you have any left to save."
"That cannot be so." Olivia looked down at her dance card. "Oh, dear. I shall have to cross one of these off."
"Olivia, you can't do that."
"Why ever not? Listen, Miranda, I must tell you- " She broke off suddenly, remembering the presence of her many admirers. She turned, smiling radiantly at them all.
Miranda would not have been surprised if they had dropped to the floor, one by one, like proverbial flies.
"Would any of you gentlemen mind fetching some lemonade?" Olivia asked sweetly. "I'm utterly parched."
There was a rush of assurances, followed by a flurry of movement, and Miranda could only stare in awe as she watched them scuttle off in a pack. "They're like sheep," she whispered.
"Well, yes," Olivia agreed, "except for the ones who are more like goats."
Miranda had about two seconds to attempt to decipher that before Olivia added, "Brilliant of me, wasn't it, to be rid of all of them at once. I tell you, I'm getting quite good at all this."
Miranda nodded, not bothering to speak. Really, there was no use in forming a proper comeback, because when Olivia was telling a story-
"What I was going to say," Olivia continued, unknowingly confirming Miranda's hypothesis, "is that really, most of them are dreadful bores."
Miranda could not resist giving her friend a little jab. "One would certainly never be able to tell that from watching you in action."
"Oh, I'm not saying I'm not enjoying myself." Olivia gave her a vaguely sardonic look. "I mean, really, I'm not going to cut off my nose to spite my mother."
"To spite your mother," Miranda repeated, trying to recall the origin of the original proverb. "Somewhere someone is surely rolling in his grave."
Olivia cocked her head. "Shakespeare, do you think?"
"No." Blast, now she wasn't going to be able to stop thinking about it. "It wasn't Shakespeare."
Miranda mentally ran down her list of famous writers. "I don't think so."
"My brother ."
Miranda's head snapped up. "Turner?"
Olivia leaned a bit to the side, stretching her neck as she peered past Miranda. "He looks quite purposeful."
Miranda looked down at her dance card. "It must be time for our waltz."
Olivia tilted her head to the side in a ponderous sort of motion. "He looks handsome as well, doesn't he?"
Miranda blinked and tried not to sigh. Turner did look handsome. Almost unbearably so. And now that he was a widower, surely every unmarried lady- and all their mamas- would be after him like a shot.
"Do you think he'll marry again?" Olivia murmured.
"I- I don't know." Miranda swallowed. "I would think he'd have to, wouldn't you?"
"Well, there is always Winston to provide an heir. And if you- euf!"
Miranda's elbow. In her ribs.
Turner arrived at their sides and bowed smartly.
"Lovely to see you, brother," Olivia said with a wide smile. "I'd almost given up on your attendance."
"Nonsense. Mother would have had me filleted." His eyes narrowed (almost imperceptibly, but then again, Miranda tended to notice everything about him), and he asked, "Why'd Miranda jab you in the ribs?"
"I didn't!" Miranda protested. And then, when his stare turned quite dubious, she mumbled, "It was more of a tap."
"Jab, tap, it has all the hallmarks of a conversation that's a damned sight more entertaining than any of the rest in this ballroom."
"Turner!" Olivia protested.
Turner dismissed her with a flick of his head and turned to Miranda. "Do you think she objects to my language or my judgment of the attendees of your ball as idiots?"
"I think it was your language," Miranda said mildly. "She said most of them were idiots, too."
"That is not at all what I said," Olivia put in. "I said they were bores."
"Sheep," Miranda confirmed.
"Goats," Olivia added with a shrug.
Turner began to look alarmed. "Good God, do the two of you speak your own language?"
"No, we are being perfectly clear," Olivia said, "but tell me, do you know who first said, 'Do not cut off your nose to spite your face'?"
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