"I expect you shall see a great deal more of him over the summer."
"I expect so." She cleared her throat. "Er, how long do you plan to stay?"
He paused, and they did a lovely little whirl to the left before he finally said, "I'm not certain. Not long, I think."
"I'm supposed to be in mourning, anyway. Mother was aghast that I left off the armband."
"I'm not," she declared.
He smiled down at her, and this time it wasn't brotherly. It wasn't full of passion and desire, but at least it was something new. It was sly and conspiring and it made her feel a part of a team. "Why, Miss Cheever," he murmured mischievously, "do I detect a hint of the rebel in you?"
Her chin rose a full inch. "I have never understood the necessity of donning black for someone with whom one is not acquainted, and I certainly don't see the logic in mourning a person one finds detestable."
For a moment his face remained blank, and then he grinned. "Who were you forced to mourn?"
Her lips slid into a smile. "A cousin."
He leaned in a hair closer. "Has anyone ever told you it's unseemly to smile when discussing the death of a relation?"
"I'd never even met the man."
Miranda let out a ladylike snort. She knew that he was goading her, but she was having far too much fun to stop. "He lived his entire life in the Caribbean," she added. It wasn't strictly true, but it was mostly true.
"Bloodthirsty little wench, you are," he murmured.
She shrugged. Coming from Turner, it seemed a compliment.
"I do believe you shall be a welcome member of the family," he said. "Provided you can tolerate my younger brother for lengthy periods of time."
Miranda tried for a sincere smile. Marrying Winston was not her preferred method of becoming a member of the Bevelstoke family. And despite Olivia's urgings and machinations, Miranda did not think a match was forthcoming.
There were many excellent reasons to consider marrying Winston, but there was one compelling reason not to, and he was standing right in front of her.
If Miranda was going to marry someone she did not love, it was not going to be the brother of the man she did.
Or thought she did. She kept trying to convince herself that she didn't, that it had all been a schoolgirl crush, and that she would outgrow it- that she already had outgrown it, and just didn't realize it yet.
She was in the habit of thinking herself in love with him. That's all it was.
But then he would do something utterly loathsome, like smile, and all her hard work flew out the window, and she had to start anew.
One day it would stick. One day she would wake up and realize it had been two days of sensible Turnerless thought, and then it would be magically three and then four and-
She looked up. He was watching her with an expression of amusement, and it would have been patronizing except his eyes were crinkling at the corners…and for a moment he looked unburdened, and young, and maybe even content.
And she was still in love with him. At least for the rest of the evening, there would be no convincing herself otherwise. Come morning, she'd start again, but for tonight, she wasn't going to bother to try.
The music ended, and Turner let go of her hand, stepping back to execute an elegant bow. Miranda curtsied in turn, and then took his arm as he led her to the perimeter of the room.
"Where do you suppose we might find Olivia?" he murmured, craning his neck. "I suppose I'll have to boot one of the gentlemen off her card and dance with her."
"Goodness, don't make it sound such a chore," Miranda returned. "We're not so very dreadful."
He turned and looked at her with a touch of surprise. "I didn't say anything about you . Don't mind dancing with you in the least."
As compliments went, it was lukewarm at best, but Miranda still found a way to hold it next to her heart.
And that , she thought miserably, had to be proof that she'd sunk quite as low as she could go. Unrequited love, she was discovering, was much worse when one actually saw the object of one's desire. She'd spent nearly ten years daydreaming about Turner, waiting patiently for whatever news the Bevelstokes happened to drop at afternoon tea, and then trying to hide her bliss and joy (not to mention her terror at being found out) when he happened to visit once or twice per year.
She'd thought that nothing could be more pathetic, but as it happened, she was wrong. This was definitely worse. Before, she'd been a nonentity. Now she was a comfortable old shoe.
She stole a glance at him. He wasn't looking at her. He wasn't not looking at her, and he certainly wasn't avoiding looking at her. He simply wasn't looking at her.
She perturbed him not at all.
"There's Olivia," she said, sighing. Her friend was surrounded, as usual, by a ridiculously large assortment of gentlemen.
Turner regarded his sister with narrowed eyes. "It doesn't look as if any of them are misbehaving, does it? It's been a long day, and I'd rather not have to play the ferocious older brother tonight."
Miranda rose onto her toes for a closer look. "I think you're safe."
"Good." And then he realized that his head was tilted to the side, and he was watching his sister with a strangely detached eye. "Hmmm."
He turned back to Miranda, who was still at his side, watching him with those ever curious brown eyes.
"Turner?" he heard her say, and he replied with another "Hmmm?"
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